Monday in Manchester: The World Just Changed Again

An injured girl is helped from the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, on Monday, May 22, 2017. (AP photo)

Every tragedy seems to carry with it that one image that becomes iconic because it gets splashed across television screens worldwide, and in newspapers from Calcutta to California.

For Monday night’s terrorist attack at the Manchester Arena, at an Ariana Grande concert, of all places, the image is that of a teen-age girl being helped outside the venue (See above).

Her pants have been cut open, her knee has been wrapped up, blood streaming down her left arm.

But what grabs you – what hits you right in the heart – are the faces inside the photo.

The girl’s face. The face of another girl – a friend, perhaps? – behind her. To the left, a bystander looks stunned. Even the faces of the police woman helping this young lady seem stunned.

What the hell just happened?

My heart sunk when the news alert hit my Twitter account.

All it said was an explosion rocked the Manchester Arena after an Ariana Grande concert.

Ariana Grande in concert at Mohegan Sun Arena in February of 2017. (Photo by John Nash)

Terrorism. Period.

We knew. We all knew. It took a couple of hours, but we all knew what was coming.

Yet another piece of shit in this world’s Us vs. Them battle decided to attack.

Only instead of flying planes into a building filled with some of the greediest, money-loving adults on the planet, this one decided to attack our children.

Our children.

OUR FUCKING CHILDREN!!!!!

This is the world we now live. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does.

Our children are now terrorist targets. As if sending them to school here in the United States isn’t dangerous enough.

When terrorists opened fire and blew things up at the Bataclan theater in Paris, raining terror down on an Eagles of Death Metal concert, it shocked the world.

It was the next salvo in attacking soft targets and adults everywhere went into the next concert with their eyes wide open.

I know I did.

I’ve been blessed to see 98 concerts in my life and have never felt unsafe inside a venue. Walking in and walking out, though, you realize how easy it would be to pull off an attack like Mondays.

On Feb. 17 of this year, I walked into the Mohegan Sun Arena, to take photos of Ariana Grande.

I got a first-hand look at her audience and, for the most, they were children. They were little kids no doubt going to their first-ever concert. They were teenagers who idolized Grande for her ability to sing and act and dance. They were college-aged fans who undoubtedly watched Grande grow from a child actor on Nickelodeon’s “Victorious” or “Sam and Kat” into the actress who wowed a nation in a live performance of “Grease.”

They were people just like 18-year-old Georgina Callander, a person who could “light up a room,” according to friends. She was the first victim identified out of the 22 who were killed.

Georgina Callander, left, and Ariana Grande with a friend at a previous concert. (Photo via Instagram)

Who would attack this crowd? And why?

Why?

Because they can.

In the wee hours of the Manchester morning, Grande took to Twitter to send a message to her fans: “broken. from the bottom of my heart, i am so sorry. i don’t have words.”

None of us do.

This is a broken world and the hatred is too strong, coming at us from too many angles.

It’s wrong. Just wrong.

And now our children are dying.

We are left with lasting images that will remind us of the carnage that occurred, wondering when it will end even as we fear what is coming next.

An American Tragedy: A Fallen Star is Dead

Former NFL player Aaron Hernandez listens during his murder trial at the Bristol County Superior Court in Fall River, Mass., Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015. Hernandez is accused in the June 17, 2013, killing of Odin Lloyd, who was dating his fiancée’s sister. (AP Photo/Dominick Reuter, Pool)

Like every other New England Patriots fan — well, let’s make that NFL fan, why don’t we – I woke up to the news this morning that Aaron Hernandez was dead.

Hanged in his prison cell.

Just like that a former star is gone.

He was just 27.

I knew what was coming next. As I bounced around social media and the World Wide Web this morning, I would find a lot of hatred pointed in his direction.

After all, he blew an opportunity 99 percent of us can only dream about – success, money, adoration – and was found guilty of blowing it all by killing a man.

Me?

To be honest, I don’t feel any hatred.

I feel sadness.

Aaron Hernandez was a convicted murderer, yes, and he also killed his golden goose.

But he was also a son, a brother, a father.

As much as people hated him, he was also loved.

So I’m sad to hear this news this morning. For his family. For this whole damn story.

When I moved to Connecticut nearly 10 years ago, Aaron Hernandez was a senior in high school.

I was never a fan. He was a helluva football player, though. The colleges were calling. The NFL scouts was watching. The girls were flocking.

The world was his oyster.

His world was his downfall.

The word I’ve heard a lot today – just heard it on ESPN, in fact – was that Aaron Hernandez wanted to be a gangster more than he wanted to be a football star.

As such, his posse of hangers on weren’t ideal choices and trouble also seemed to follow the talented tight end at many turns.

His father died when he was 16 and things changed, people say.

Instead of going to play football at Connecticut, he opted to go to Florida, a national power.

Warning signals were fired almost immediately.

In 2007, Hernandez was in a restaurant drinking – despite being just 17 – and tried to leave without paying. He threw a punch that landed on a restaurant employee, rupturing the employee’s eardrum.

Later that fall, Hernandez was linked to a shooting of three people in Gainesville.

It was a sign of things to come.

Despite being drafted by the New England Patriots, Hernandez couldn’t escape his darker side.

In 2012 and 13, Hernandez was linked to three more shootings.

One of them – the murder of a man named Odin Lloyd – would begin Hernandez’s downfall.

He would be found guilty and sentenced to live in prison without parole.

Just days ago, he was found not guilty in another shooting.

And now he’s gone.

His story is over, but this story, for now, is just beginning.

People are offering up their opinions – some just flat-out emotional, others with some thought and conviction, others just spouting off at the mouth because they have their own hatred built into their own lives.

Today, the New England Patriots visit the White House to celebrate their latest Super Bowl championship.

A day of joy has been tinged with some mourning, some anger, some hatred.

Me?

Well, to me the whole story is just sad.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the Hernandez family today. Same to Lloyd’s family and the families of any other victims would might have been wronged by the poor choices of a man who made some mistakes.

It’s the end of another American tragedy.

Better Late Than Never: Thank You, Mr. Murphy

Mike Murphy and one of his “angels” from a long ago time. (Photo stolen from Dawn Norton’s facebook page)

I was sitting at the corner of the bar minding my own business when I felt him grab my arm.

“C’mon, John,” Mike Murphy said in his Irish brogue. “I need you.”

The next thing I knew I was standing on the edge of a bar fight with two men awash in alcohol-induced machismo verbally comparing sizes while threatening to throw punches.

This was Mr. Murphy’s Irish pub, not a boxing ring or a college frat house, and from his side of the bar he saw what was happening and cut it off before anything got out of control. I was just along for the ride because if punches were thrown I was likely going to be useless.

But, I’d like to think, Mr. Murphy knew my loyalty to his establishment and if somebody was going to have his back, he knew I was somebody he could trust.

I’ll drink to that, as I am right now as I write this — A toast to a long, lost friend who is now lost for all of time.

Word came today that Mike Murphy had passed away and that news, alone, is sad to hear.

Mike was a nice guy. He had his flaws — who of us doesn’t? — but he had bought me more than my fair share of beers over the seven or so years where I was a regular at his bar in Dover, New Hampshire.

With word of his passing, I also think back to those long ago times and the group Mike Murphy brought together as regulars in his little bar.

I started going there because I was smitten with a bartender — Katherine, was her name, if my memory serves me correctly — and her artwork still hangs in my apartment all these years later, a going away gift for me when she moved on to bigger and better things.

I started going there because of her, but I stayed because of everybody else.

The regular bartender became my roommate, the regular customers became my friends and family. And I loved them deeply and still care for them so much even today.

I would list them all here, but I know i’d leave people out and I don’t want to do that. If you are reading this, then you know who you are.

As individuals, we were all special people. As a group, it was like we were meant to be together as friends at this time of our collective lives.

I’ve had three vastly different sets of close friends in my life, all of which spark a flame inside my heart when I think of them.

My school-aged friends growing up were a part of my formative years. My young adult friends helped me make legendary memories while traversing the world between being a kid and being an adult.

And my New Hampshire friends — my grown up friends — were always there with a hug, a smile, a beer. Sometimes all three.

It didn’t matter the night. Monday, Tuesday, Friday, Saturday. When you walked into Mike Murphy’s bar you were going to see somebody you knew and wanted to catch up with, sitting there, having a beer, or playing pool.

Some nights you would see Mike. Other nights you would not.

But going out was like going home.

The regulars at Mr. Murphy’s pub welcomed me at a time when I had first moved away from home and was, if truth needs to be told, the perfect elixir to the touch of loneliness which was an everyday occurrence in my life.

The friendships spilled outside of the bar, too. That’s why they all rang so true. And, I suppose, that’s what made them all so special.

We shared many different aspects of our lives together. Highs, lows, laughter, tears.

And the occasional hangover.

Yet we kept going back, to be together once again.

We sang together, we danced together.

We drank together, we grew together.

Over time, some of us grew apart and we went our separate ways as different roads and goals led us away from Dover, led us away from Mike Murphy and that special, magical place he created.

Tonight, we are all back together, at least in spirit.

Mike is gone and as word spreads of his passing we mourn knowing that, but we also embrace the memories his death brings forth.

Our friend Joel, in a Facebook post, summed up our loss the best, I think.

“Damn, so sad,” Joel wrote in a comment under a post that shared the sad news with us. “He provided the setting that allowed me to meet so many of my friends. Thanks for everything Mike.”

That’s so true. He provided the setting for all of us to come together and create a time we are surely never to forget.

God speed, Mr. Murphy.

And thank you so much for that bar, that time, and those people you brought together.

The Unwritten Bucket List Loses Another Item

The view from left field at Charlotte Sports Park, spring training home of the Tampa Bay Rays. (Photo by John Nash)

Before I ever loved basketball – before I even truly knew what love was, in fact – I loved baseball.

It was 1975. I was 9. And it was beautiful, even after it broke my heart.

The Boston Red Sox went to the World Series that summer and captured my heart my heart while doing so.

My first favorite player was Doug Griffin, a little-known second baseman who played on a team that included a host of quick-hitting one-namers — Yaz. Rico. Pudge. Rooster. Louis.

The team featured two pitchers that season – one who gave me my first autograph (Jim Willoughby) and one who gave me my first double-entendre schoolboy giggle (Dick Pole).

As the 1970s rolled by players like Fred Lynn, Jim Rice, Bill Lee, and Butch Hobson would just continue to grow in stature to a young boy growing up in Maine, which was as much Red Sox country as downtown Boston.

I loved just two sports in my life … baseball and basketball. Basketball would be the girl with the great body and all the right moves and we were connected by affection for one another … but baseball, that first love, is something you never forget.

All these years since 1975 – and that’s 41 and counting – I’ve seen baseball games played far and wide at all kinds of different levels.

I’ve seen a 10-year-old national championship game in Florida. I’ve seen a college no-hitter in a conference championship game. I’ve been to dozens of Minor League Baseball games. And, I’ve sat in the nosebleeds at a World Series in New York City in 2015.

But I had never been to a spring training game.

Until Monday.

That’s when I trekked to Port Charlotte, Fla., to the Charlotte Sports Park – home of the Tampa Bay Rays’ Single-A farm team and site of the parent squad’s annual spring training pilgrimage.

I joined an old friend of mine and we watched the Pittsburgh Pirates hold off the Rays by a 5-4 count.

We saw players we knew – Evan Longoria of Rays and David Freese of the Pirates – both stood at third base not more than 10 yards from us when the game began.

By the time it was over we had seen a plethora of players take the field, grab a bat and throw off the mound.

We drank beer, ate a steak and cheese, circled the stadium and watched baseball at a leisurely pace under a gorgeous Florida sunshine.

Like baseball itself, it was almost perfect.

If I’m going to watch a sport on television, I’d pick basketball. College basketball to be specific.

But if you’re going to give me a ticket to go to a game, I’m likely to pick baseball.

I’m old school that way.

I like to sit back, relax, let the game unfold, while people watching and eaves dropping and talking to the people around me. (One of my Facebook friends is a woman I met when I trekked to Pittsburgh to watch the Red Sox play the Pirates in a three-game series a few summers ago at PNC Park).

To this day, baseball is pretty much the same it was when I was nine.

Nine innings. Four balls. Three strikes. No clock ticking down.

You throw the ball. The ball is hit. You field the ball.

Watching from the stands with 5,000 people was just what I needed on my first Monday in Florida, this latest work-ation that I find myself undertaking in the spring of 2017.

Would a Red Sox game have been better? Not necessarily. If the scheduled had fit better, I would have tried, but it didn’t, so that’s OK, too.

I don’t have a bucket list of things I want to do before I die. But I do have a mental list and I’d say attending a spring training game was on there somewhere.

Not anymore.

The played baseball on Monday in Port Charlotte and I was there to see it.

Mentally, she’s checked off.

Upon further review, I still say RIP Abbey

Abbey Meany
(1990-2017)
Photo courtesy of Abbey Meany’s Facebook page.

Earlier today, I published a post in this very space about a young lady named Abbey Meany, a 27-year-old Connecticut woman, and mother of one, who took her own live last week.

In that 429-word missive, I pondered how sad it was that such a young person with seemingly so much to live for met such a tragic ending. Looking from the far outskirts of her life, I openly wondered how it could happen.

In the hours after I hit publish, a couple of people — people who claimed to truly know Abbey — left a couple of comments, which i quickly approved.

As one person said, “She was wonderful person and mother.”

However, it also became obvious to me that the way I had written the post confused some people, who didn’t quite grasp what it was I was trying to say.

As a writer, this is on me.

Despite my obviously stating that I didn’t know her, and was just searching for the reasons why she might opt for such a way out of her life, somebody who claimed to know her seemed to think I was painting her in a light far less flattering than the Abbey they knew.

As I’ve stated in this space time and time again, I don’t care what the reader thinks about what I write. This space isn’t about them. It’s about me and this time of my life.

However, I have decided to take the previous post down from public view because the post was also about Abbey, and the last thing I wanted is for anybody to come away with the wrong idea about who she was as a person.

Most of my readers wouldn’t have a clue or a care about who Abbey Meany was in life, but in death I certainly don’t want anybody thinking less of her while her family and friends remain in mourning.

As such, I end this post the same way I ended the last one … which sums up my ultimate feelings about the entire incident.

Rest in peace, Abbey.

2016: The Year Our World Grew Darker

Arnold Palmer, left, and Jose Fernandez (inset) were both lost to the world on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.

Arnold Palmer, left, and Jose Fernandez (inset) were both lost to the world on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.

Sunday was, perhaps, the roughest day of all.

The future was taken from us in the waters off Miami. The past faded away inside the cold, sterile confines of a hospital in Pittsburgh.

Jose Fernandez, 24, a Major League Baseball baseball player whose story of his escape from Cuba, and success at such a young age, caught the eye of sports fans young and old was killed in a boat crash in the wee hours of the morning.

Later that day, the great Arnold Palmer, 87, the man credited with changing how the general public looked at the sport of golf, succumbed while waiting for heart surgery.

The kid and the king.

Gone.

The year of our Lord — or 2016, as the calendar calls it — has been a tough one.

In a time where the world needs hope, we have people being taken away from us at an alarming rate. What stuns as much as their deaths, though, is the realization of what we’ve lost with each passing.

In the spotlight of our stages, Prince and David Bowie and their artistry could lift us up from the lowest of lows. Our hearts broke when we heard the news — two more days when the music died.

Muhammed Ali was the greatest not just because of what he did in the boxing ring, but the effect he had outside of it, through the rest of the world — a place that has grown especially dark in 2016.

Death after death has rocked the year the 2016, but it is not just those losses that have created darker and sadder times.

Every day, we are seeing innocent people dying by the never-ending wave of culture-created violence in our country.

We claim we’ve had enough, and we step out on the streets to protest. But, when those whose hearts are true and pure and care enough to try to fight back the right way, when they go home, we leave ourselves vulnerable to our lesser side who destroy not just the physical objects in front of them, but the hope of all of us who think somebody we’ll find a better way for us all.

Black lives matter. Blue lives matter. All lives matter.

We are living in a society where nobody matters and, sadly, we prove it every single day in our actions as a society.

We walk down the street staring at our cell phones. Instead of talking to one another, we text. Sit down and visit? Why bother when we can just e-mail and stay home to Netflix and chill.

Until somebody else is loss and then we are shocked.

So, yes, we weep for our losses – for Prince and Bowie and Ali … and even Jose and Arnie … but we must soon start to weep for ourselves.

Once we mourn what we have truly lost, only then can we begin to heal.

And we need to heal.

Fast.

We have no true leader before us to step up and follow, so we wander, aimlessly, and as the world gets darker it grows harder for us to see our way.

Will it become so dark that we can no longer see our way back? Or the way forward?

There are still three months left in 2016 — one quarter of the year.

Anything is possible.

More people will die — famous, infamous, strangers, friends, family. When we think we can’t be shocked anymore, something will stun us into complete silence.

The world, I fear, will grow darker still.

I do try to find the light and sometimes there it is … in the smile of a child whose life is full of hope … in the embrace of friends and family … in that glimpse of something magical that is there for just a minute and then gone with the next waft of wind.

But that’s not enough.

I need more.

We need more.

Jose Fernandez came to this country full of hope. Arnold Palmer once raised an army and changed an entire sport.

Right now, we need an army of hope to light a path to tomorrow before its too late.

THE FLORIDA TRIP: Forever An Angel, Part II

When I was 19 years old, I took a picture of her. Just a simple push of a button and in one-500th of a second I knew I had captured everything that was beautiful and fun and sweet and special about her.

Lisa Marie Carleton — an angel in black and white — looking my way.

She was in her family pool, pulling herself up by the side, her wet hair slicked back tightly against her head. She had the slightest little smile, but her eyes were the story.

She looked my way.

Click.

She won my heart just as quickly, this girl.

I’ve written about her before. Back on May 11, 2016, I posted an item I titled, “Lisa Marie Carleton: Forever an Angel.”

I wrote, “Twenty years ago, Lisa Marie Carleton — one of the best friends I ever had in this world — flew too close to the arms of God, and He took her from all of us as the plane she was a passenger on fell out of the sky over the Florida Everglades.

It was May 11, 1996. I try not to think of that singular moment — Did she know what was happening? Was she scared? — but over the past two decades, I think of Lisa often and always smile.

It might be a song. A scent. A time and place. She is a ghost I still dance with often because a love and friendship that touches you so deep is hard to let go.”

On Friday night, I danced with Lisa again, thinking about her and so many of the memories we shared.

I knew her life came to an end not far from where I write this, but what I didn’t realize was how close.

Just 105 miles.

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The Flight 592 Memorial in the Florida Everglades (Photo by John Nash)

I knew there was a memorial built to honor the victims of ValuJet 592 and it didn’t take long to find out where it was.

So after waking up on Saturday morning, my first and only goal was to hop in my rent-a-car and head south, into the Everglades to once again remember a dear, dear friend.

Florida, I’ve found, is Florida … pretty much no matter where you drive a lot of it looks the same.

Palm trees. Strip malls. Golf Courses.

Then, driving West on U.S. Route 41, you hit Krome Ave., and the Miccosukee Resort and Gaming.

Beyond that, you enter the Everglades. And it looks like no other part of Florida that I’ve ever seen.

The Flight 592 Memorial is only 12 miles beyond Krome Ave., tucked away on the right side of the road across a small tributary of water.

The memorial contains 110 concrete pillars of varying heights, climbing upward toward the heavens — one for each person who passed away in the crash. At the far end of all the pillars is a plaque with the names of all 110 victims, as well.

And, the entire monument is built on a giant triangle surface which points in the direction of the crash site — an estimated 11 miles into the Everglades wilderness.

I made my way through the pillars, snapping a few photos as I did so.

Once I got to the plaque, I looked immediately to Lisa’s name. I knelt down and ran my fingers over it, wondering simply, “Why?” Why did she have to die? Why did any of them?

(Photo by John Nash)

(Photo by John Nash)

I’ve been to Lisa’s grave, back home in Maine. I’ve visited her family, who I still love so very much to this day.

There are no satisfactory answers. I’m old enough to know that. There is no way to fill that empty hole in your heart when you lose somebody you care about. You hope the memories can just stop the tears in time, and they do.

They even make you smile.

As I made the drive to the memorial thoughts of Lisa and her family filled my head, and I found myself smiling a lot. And as I climbed back into my rent-a-car for the drive back to my hotel, I picked up right where I left off.

And I thought of that picture I took when we were both teenagers.

That smile. Those eyes.

That girl.

I’ll never forget you, Lisa.