Elvis and the White Buck Shoes

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I was only around for 14 years
When I got what you could consider…
My first job.

Never had waited on tables before
But that night I had found myself
In a giant coliseum normally reserved for rock stars
Elvis’s early 1970’s ghost wandering though it
In his blue jumpsuit
Tassels whipping off his arms
“Thank you….. thank you very much”
It was a place I knew well
From Garth Brooks to Aerosmith
To rodeo clowns and barrel racing
I stood at attention on the second deck
Looking out over an entire floor
Filled with hundreds of tables
With tiny ants darting everywhere
Serving tables
I must have made the walk a hundred times that night
From the floor to the back halls
Grabbing plates of food and glasses of tea

At the time Casey Kasem
Read heartfelt letters and introduced
Roxette, Simply Red and Bad English to me
Nearly every Sunday morning
When I wasn’t being taught to bust a move
I was emoting over eternal flames

But Elvis was sitting this night out
Everyone here tonight was there to see the one
Who had given Elvis a run for his money
The one who had made a fortune off of black artists
And taught white boys they could have soul as well

When rock and roll was deemed a danger to kids
He made it safe again
With his white buck shoes, perfectly combed hair and gleaming smile

But he was 40 years older than me
27 years removed from his last radio hit
Kasem didn’t talk about him anymore
But those who were diving into their chicken cacciatore
Had stars in their eyes
The spirit of youth coming back to life
Like a dormant fire that had found a tiny piece of kindling
He sang a few songs that didn’t match his age
He danced along to the numbers
Like a 50 year old teenager

My parents had talked about him
Ever since I was born
The teenage heartthrob
That was well into his 40’s before I was even born.

I walked down that back hall
With the walls painted white
But nearly gray from years of use
I could just imagine Elvis walking the hall
Running his hand down the wall
Making his way off the stage
A lone sweat drop falling from his brow

I passed the food warmers
The crowd got thicker
I lifted my backstage pass that hung around my neck
And presented it
The guy was big enough to block the door just by standing in it
He eyed it carefully then let me pass
I finally made it to a back room
I pushed open the door slowly
The room was packed
And in the center of the room
A group congregated around a rock star
I could only see shoes
I had been told to look for the shoes

I pressed through the crowd
He was having conversations
With what seemed like 4 people at once
He seemed to have had a lot of practice doing that
I stood quietly and observed
He was older looking than I had imagined
And while I could not name one song he had sang
I could tell everyone around him could

After a moments time
He glanced down at me
Offered his hand and flashed his teeth
I don’t remember what he said
But as quickly as he acknowledged me
He turned back to his 50 year old teenage fans
Lost once again in conversation
I backed out of the room slowly
Heading back down the hall
I again passed through the room full of food warmers
Where bustling servers with white aprons
Kept busy trying not to knock into each other
Elvis had not left the building
But he had waited quietly in the wings that night
And allowed the only guy who had ever given him a run for his money
A chance to breath
To be that kid again
The one who sang about how he almost lost his mind
Then sold my grandfather a Chrysler
While making an appearance in my Dad’s comic books
And smiling brightly on the poster above my Mom’s bed
But to me
Pat Boone was just the guy with the white buck shoes

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Professor Five Footer – Hip-Hop 101

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*DOWNLOAD* A Tribe Called Quest Mixtape! – ONCE Electric Relaxation Sounds

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The year was 1992. I was a sophomore in high school. The only exposure to hip-hop that I had up until that point in my life was 3rd Bass and Whodini. I was not aware that it could morph. That it could teach a lesson. I had no idea hip-hop wasn’t about a sound but about a movement that incorporated art among others things to tell a story. And I for sure had never heard hip-hop that spun social issues into carefully crafted sonic landscape think pieces.

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But that morning in school my friend showed up with a “dubbed” copy of an album called “The Low End Theory” by a group called A Tribe Called Quest. It was a blank labeled Maxwell cassette tape that contained some of the most serious flows and beats that I had ever heard. It was a jazz infused trip that took me on a trip through Queens, NY. It took a few days but I finally got him to loosen his grip on the tape long enough for me to make my own dub of the dub. I carefully wrote the track listing on both sides of the album. At the time little could have made me part ways with Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’. But this was no contest. Shortly afterwards I caught their performance of “Scenario” on the Arsenio Hall Show.

A Tribe Called Quest – Live on the Arsenio Hall Show

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While the album introduced me to the formidable and unwavering talent of Q-Tip,  the flows I was truly loving was coming from Phife Dawg. The Five Foot Assassin, as he called himself. He might have been height challenged…but his flows….. I waited for them! The highlight of the album was the classic banger “Buggin’ Out”. Track #2 on the album. Made me a believer in everything Quest. And while Q-Tip was awesome, Dawg quickly became my favorite.

A Tribe Called Quest – Buggin’ out

Flash forward 24 years later and I can safely say that both The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders are still my top go-to albums. I count them as immense influences on me musically. They laid the groundwork for artists like Kendrick Lamar who might not have existed had ATCQ not shown the hip-hop world that Jazz was cool.

A Tribe Called Quest – Electric Relaxation

This morning I woke up to find out that at the age of 45, Phife Dawg passed away. Way too soon. Leaving a legacy behind that makes his absence seem surreal. I have spent all day listening to my favorite albums, remembering those days in high school when we met and the way he changed my entire life. He made me a better person who could see the world with a little better vision because I attended Professor Phife Dawg’s hip-hop 101 class. He helped a white kid living in the suburbs understand, even if just slightly, the trials and tribulations of being a black man from Queens. RIP Phife Dawg. Write some new verses so that when we get to Heaven we have some fresh stuff to jam to. Thanks for everything.

Now go download the amazing ONCE mixtape!! Link at the top.

The Legacy of Rock and Wood

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They are just a pile of rocks. Anytime I am going less than 30mph my speed becomes a mystery. It comes with a story. About a prized piece of petrified wood given to a small boy by his grandfather.

It was the summer of 1986. I was 12 years old and enjoying a month long visit to my grandparents. My favorite thing to do was hang out with my Grandpa. He was always doing something cool in his custom wood shop. While he crafted his latest inventive design I would keep busy. I would put on his welders shield and stare at the sun or grab my own piece of wood and land nail after nail into it.

Other times he and I would sit down and discuss what I most wanted. We would sketch designs for things like wooden rifles, wasp swatters or puzzles made from National Geographic pictures. One day I came to him with a rock I had found that I thought was particularly amazing in its own way. I told him about my other rocks at home. And right there at the kitchen table, on swivel chairs, in their double wide trailer he sketched out a design for a small shelf to display my rocks. Using his giant carpenters pencil from Builders Square he added custom touches and measurements.

All day we hung out in his shop picking out pieces of wood and going from tool to tool. I watched as it slowly took shape. I could hardly wait. Once sanded and stained, he applied a finish that made it glossy and beautiful. As nice as anything you could buy in a store.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but he wanted me to remember him even after he was gone. To always have and look at with loving memories of the day we hung out together in a hot wood shed with all the windows thrown open. He then turned to the window sill closest to him and picked up a small timber shaped rock. It was slick and marbled with wood grain patterns running through it. The rock was from another time. A time when giant Red Oaks stood tall. And then they fell and slowly turned into rock. He had visited Arizona many years back and had seen the great petrified forests. He had brought it back with him. It was like a rare jewel to me. I had always envied it. He turned back to me and sat the rock down on the new shelf. “This is yours now.”

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As soon as I got home I took all my rocks and lovingly placed them on the shelves. But the petrified rock was the crown jewel in a space reserved front and center. And there it sat for all middle and high school years. Other rocks joined it. But no rock came close to touching the mystique and beauty of the relic from the time of dinosaurs. In 10th grade he passed away suddenly but the rock and shelf remained. I graduated and moved into my first place all by myself. One of my first tasks was to unpack my rocks onto the shelf. Always ready to show it off to guests when they came over.

As time went on I met my wife and we started a home together. I still would display my rock collection. The shelf helped make our house a warm home. A real piece of furniture in the barren apartment of a young man working for minimum wage filling his apartment with hand me downs. And I still showed off the collection to anyone who inquired. Always making sure to end the rock tour with the prized piece of petrified wood. Then came the kids. All three of them.

It had been 25 years since that day hanging out with my Grandpa in the wood shop. My oldest girl was now 5. She had come to love my rock collection. One day she came home from school very excited. They were studying rocks and their assignment was to bring an unusual rock to class. She went straight for the petrified rock and proclaimed loudly that she wanted to take it to her class. I immediately was hesitant and resistant to the idea. It had always rested on the shelf and I really wasn’t keen on a 5 year old taking it to school and potentially losing or breaking it. All day she would have it in her book bag and there would be lots of opportunity for it to disappear. But I loved how much she adored the same things I did. So I agreed.

That morning I packed it into a zip lock bag and gave her a talk about how important it was to me and how I expected her to remember that throughout her day and keep it safe. She promised. As I watched her get out of the car and navigate the cross walk in front of the school I was happy.

My dad had taught me a lesson I never forgot when I was a kid. If you are going to loan something to someone… don’t expect it back. That way if they didn’t repay a loan or return an item, you were never expecting it back to begin with. Then relationships wouldn’t be ruined. I would ask him to borrow some money for a book and he would open his wallet and say, “I won’t loan you the money, but I will give it to you. And if you repay me that will be great!” That day she gave one look over her shoulder as she pushed the doors open and entered the school. And those words hit me again. If I get the rock back, it will be a bonus. If I don’t get it back it won’t matter.

The entire day I tried not to think about it. I rushed home after work and waited in the drive way for my wife to pull up with the kids. I was anxious to see if she had been responsible. And if she had… was her class impressed with her amazing rock. They pulled up and I could tell from her face she had been crying. My wife also had a look on her face that silently told me to prepare myself for bad news. As she exited the car I asked how it went. I immediately asked if she had lost the rock. She shook her head and pulled the zip lock bag out of her back pack. The petrified rock was in two pieces. What was once one whole smooth rock with no flaws was now two pieces with jagged edges.

I hugged her and asked what had happened. She had kept it safe all day. And while getting into the car to go home it slipped out of her hand and onto the ground. When it met the concrete it split in two. I could tell she felt really bad. And my first feeling was that I had a precious memory that had just been defiled and destroyed. But remembering my father’s words and quickly reassured her it was alright. I felt slightly defeated. But I also amazingly felt at peace with it and didn’t know why. We placed the two rocks back in its place on the wooden shelf.
The next day I picked her up from school and she had a flint rock she had found on the ground at school. She was excited to give it to me to help replace the broken one. I thanked her and put the rock in my dash up by the odometer. For the next week she brought me one rock every day. I quickly gained a small pile of rocks that blocked the lower speeds of the odometer. And then we all moved on. For a year I drove with that pile of rocks in the dash. We never talked about the broken rock.

But something strange happened. I was sitting at a stop light one afternoon a year later and glanced down at the rocks. Those common rocks (and even one piece of broken concrete) became just as precious to me as the petrified wood my grandfather had given me. I was swept back to that hot summer day in the wood shop. I suddenly wished he could have known my daughter. And I realized that he had wanted to know her as well. He wanted to be a part of my life long after he was gone. He wanted his legacy to live on. And the rock that had held so many memories for him, he had entrusted in the hands of a 12 year old boy was a trigger. Suddenly I knew he had accomplished what he wanted to do. He had remained a part of my life long after he was gone. He was with me as I grew up and became a man. He was part of my first home. And now he had been a part of his great grandkids life. I laughed as a remember his bear hugs and scratchy beard. And I laughed as I thought about telling him how his great granddaughter broke his rock.

To My Beloved Facebook Friends

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To my beloved Facebook friends:

I am aware that your timeline’s are often hijacked by my passionate pleas. My cries for global unity, equal rights, Human decency, social reform and firm and equal inalienable rights. You have watched from afar as spirited debates rage from within the walls of my Facebook page. You see trigger words and ideographs flashing like Vegas signs begging you to take the next exit and lay down some words of your own. Sometimes it is words that express displeasure. For others it is words of shared agreement. Thank you for doing that.

Debates are a wonderful way of learning about your beliefs Sometimes you walk away feeling like you got muddy and shouldn’t have gone in to play. Other times you are a gold medal winning Toastmaster who has taken the time to get the facts right and presented them in a way you are very happy about.  Thank you for doing that.

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Some don’t feel like commenting. They don’t have time or the energy. So they slip on their camouflage, smear eye black on and slip into a hostile camp. The warring sides barely notice as they click the “like” button on a comment. They are now a silent backer offering a comforting hand as a sign of solidarity on the shoulder of the one who crafted such a comment. Thank you for doing that.

I love for new people to drop in. And I anxiously those who frequently love to share their views. There have been times when I have failed my mission and said something that I regretted later. I have gained a lot of new friends. Some share my view of the world and others disagree. But I have also lost a few friends as well. They have reached their fill. For that I am regretful and miss their company. But I still thank you for doing that.

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But mostly I feel bad for those that perhaps do not appreciate the intensity and tension gracing their timeline’s. They have other more pressing things in life to worry about. What about my friends that may be suffering and see my debates as frivolous? For those who have thought that, I understand and am sorry.

So why do I do it? I do it because these are things I hold near to my heart. It is not a selfish endeavor. I promise I am not trying to start trouble. But I really do think it is time for us all to have these discussions. The world is at our fingertips. We have the power to change. We need to be able to take a long hard look at where we are as a nation and a planet and really inform ourselves about the issues that shape every aspect of life whether it is culturally, socially or even political. Who we are as a human race depends on it. Our voices have never in our entire future ever had the ability to be as loud as they are now in this present time.

So thank you for sticking with me when I drive you nuts. Thanks for contributing even when it runs counter to my beliefs. You are willing to be my friend even if we sometimes seem to share little in common. This little piece of Facebook is a wonderful and creative outlet for me and I thank you for making that possible.

Butterflies in Rain Storms Pt.2 (Reacting\Reaction)

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Things that should have made me happy
Suddenly left me with a suffocating sadness
How many more hugs would I receive from my son?
If I left the stage tomorrow
Would my kids remember me?
How would my family deal with my absence on their life stage?
It had sapped me of the happiness I normally had always carried.

I came to realize there was one mitigating factor
That had helped mortality get its claws in
A rare trip to the doctor coupled with a birthday
The first two decades of my life were about to come to a close
The protection youth had offered me
And slowly started to erode away
It didn’t happen over night
It was a gradual process that allowed for it to slip under my radar
Surprising me like a sucker punch to the gut

I wasn’t ready to die
But I could now see that was going to happen
At some point
In some distant or near future
And I couldn’t know when or how
Then afterwards
I would just be another former player
Who left the stage
I would become my dead friend
Whom I think less about everyday
I would become my grandparents
Who are now just a memory that I crafted
To represent who they were to me
I would become a moment in history
One that was quickly forgotten
I was leaving nothing behind that is tangible
Besides me kids
And now I knew that I had destined my kids
To the same cruel fate of our linear existence.
And that depressed me as well.
I saw myself as a kid in them.
And I recognized how quickly I had left childhood
Gone to school
Gotten a job
Married a beautiful woman
And had kids.
It all happened while my youth slowly drained away
Like winter syrup from a Maple

I sank deeper everyday with these thoughts
Thoughts of life
That at first were constructive and philosophical
Became morbid and dark
Saying goodbye to someone for the last time is hard
Saying goodbye to yourself was even harder
And I wasn’t ready
I wanted youth to wrapped its arms around me
To hold me tight and protect me
But it was gone
Leaving behind a note on the counter
That was filled with memories

I didn’t like being reminded that my existence was brief
Why couldn’t we have had a conversation before the change in perspective?

Finally I was told that mortality had never touched me
My health was impeccable
I was just letting fear create more fear
I quietly drew a breath
Even though I had been told it hadn’t happened
It was as if it had happened.
Now I had to take this by the horns
Deal with it the best way possible.
It wouldn’t be easy.
And life would always now be a bit sadder
And far more real.
But I was not alone.
There was not a person on this planet
That did not face the same things
If they had handled it
So could I
I could still feel confidence in knowing I was blessed
Sure I would be gone one day
But while I was here
I was doing some real good
Raising beautiful kids
Lying next to a beautiful woman every night in bed

I knew the one thing I couldn’t do though was forget
I had to remember that feeling of mortality tapping my shoulder
Channel that fear into inspiration
And with that hope and realization I moved forward
I knew now that there would be other times
There would be aches and pains
And I would feel worry
But conquering is a multifaceted response
And my weakness could be my strengths.

Butterflies in Rain Storms Pt. 1 (Quantum Chaos)

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A few months ago, mortality tapped me on my shoulder
then left immediately.
As quick as I could turn around, he was gone.
But the lingering touch stayed.
Like icy tentacles that grab unexpectedly at you from a dark hole.
I couldn’t shake the feeling.
Those in the know
Told me I was being foolish
But for me it was the tea leaves in the hands of the diviner.

“Something bad is going to happen, I can feel it deep inside
There are shadows, all around me, Like a bad moon on the rise.”
Lamented one blond haired rocker on the radio.

I hadn’t tasted mortality, but I felt it had visited me briefly.
He knew my address now.
Those around me suddenly turned into players on a stage.
Running through their lines
Until they were suddenly gone.
I saw myself on that stage for the first time
Playing my part
I no longer was the care free audience member
Watching from cheap seats
My unknown fate in life became a living breathing character
Those I loved would be gone one day
Those who loved me would one day say goodbye to me
And that knowledge left me without air
And my heart fluttering like a butterfly in a driving rain storm
Pummeled by the knowledge

I had seen mortality work before
Through accidents, illnesses and deaths
It hadn’t been long since I stood in the sterile emergency room
While my father writhed naked in pain on the table
I had seen alcohol and drugs claim a few
Cancer had also visited and won many times
I was used to life being fragile
Something that was precious
An entity that you were careful to appreciate
But I was untouchable
I attributed it mostly to people with attributed to bad life choices.
Even freak accidents with the odds that seemed impossible.
I was different.
I walked to a different more positive beat.
I was also young.
And youth is the best defense again the hopeless feeling of being out of control.
Free falling to an unknown fate.
I laughed it off at first.
But this new character in my life
Had been written in
He was to play the antagonist
But he ended up breaking through my fourth wall
Exposing and allowing two worlds to collide
And he was ever present
In my relationships with close family and friends
In my thoughts
In the very fabric of my life
I felt changed
A psychological switch had been thrown
A break in my peaceful lifeline

 

 

 

The Decay From Within

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Here is the dying animal. Slowly pulling itself along the journey. Unable or unwillingly to give up. It is pushed forward by generations of bad programming. When asked if it is alright, it stubbornly refuses to answer.

The past is present in its lungs. Each breath is a testament to tradition and indoctrination. It fears the end is coming. An end that will bring it to lie down, take its last bated breath and become a relic or reminder of something dark that had existed once. Banned to the shadows once again. Looked upon with scorn. These thoughts frighten it terribly. The nights are dark even though the moon shines brighter than ever before because its eyes have failed. Cataracts of panic, fear and delusion prevent it from seeing the world clearly. It attempts to look relevant in the face of those who condemn and wish its death was already a foregone conclusion that arrived much more rapidly than it was.

Sadness and desperation turn into anger and bitterness. And that all morphs into loneliness.

This animal was once mighty… the biggest of them all. Propped up by religion and politics…it tells itself that love… love is circling the wagons and loading the rifles. Defending its position hoping that somehow and somewhere, redemption will come to its rescue! It prays for that deliverance. But the attack becomes even fiercer with time. It gets harder to defend itself as a just and honorable animal.

Its hope and desires are mired in illogical and ill-conceived ideals that gently reassure the animal that it is on the right path. It tells itself that God is on its side. It tell itself that it operates on a blessed mandate that the unrighteous cannot comprehend.

But instead it feels the power of its muscles being drained. It senses that its jaws no longer have the power that they once had. It believes it has become a lesser being than the one it was born. It is now feels nearly as weak as the sparrow that walks alongside the wheezing animal watching it curiously. It continues to resist the weight of death.

From time to time an animal whisperer has appeared and given it a temporary renewed lease on life. He reassures the creature that its twisted views of the world is really just an almighty power to heal. An ability to see more clearly when others are blinded.

But God sits watching the dying animal. He is sad. Not because it is dying. But because it could have prevented its own death. It could have been a force for good. But it had long ago made a choice. It let a tiny pin prick fester into a raging infection.

God sits and watches the dying animal. Free will had been given, a chance to not destroy its own soul. This was not the beautiful animal he had created. This was an ever evolving monster many generations in the making. Unrecognizable. He watches it enter the death cycle of failed religious interpretations and prideful entitlements. This process is necessary. That is the design of the universe. The rotten must one day lay down and return to the Earth.
The dying animal now looks toward the heavens. A victim of the voices that rise above it. The voices that offer a protection for the mute. The voices that drop ballots.

It had learned nothing. It had taken love, the power of the cosmos, and dashed it upon the marbled floor of the drumbeater. It had taken the words from the creator of the cosmos and then tore it into pieces. Pieces that scattered across the depressed and oppressed minions of able ears.

God places his hand on the dying animal. The voices of love grow louder. The world brightens ever so slightly. The animal takes its last breath.