Enjoying a Different Kind of ‘Ball + Chain’

 

Rebecca Lobo, Steve Rushin and family. (Photo courtesy of masslive.com)

I have two new best friends. I’ve known who they were for many, many years, but only recently I have let them into my life on a personal level.

Well, truth be told, they’re letting me—and thousands upon thousands of others; especially those in St. Petersburg—into their lives on a personal level, and it’s absolutely priceless.

Former UConn women’s basketball star and present-day ESPN talking head Rebecca Lobo and Sports Illustrated writer Steve Rushin have a podcast called “Ball + Chain.”

They’ve put together 35 episodes, so far. I’m about 26 episodes in as I’m still playing catch up, but I’m enjoying the ride. So much so, in fact, that I’ll sit in the car for a few extra minutes, or drive around the block, just to finish listening to a segment … or perhaps the entire remaining minutes of a podcast.

It’s a home run. Or, in Robo-speak, it’s a pure swish.

First, let me say this: A big part of this podcast is right in my wheel house.

A former college basketball star that I once saw play joining forces with an SI writer, who I’ve spent a lot of my life reading?

What’s not to like, right?

But it’s more than the sports talk that keeps me hooked. It’s the people … well, the family, really .. that’s involved.

It’s like sitting on a back deck with friends, listening to them play off each other to much amusement. It’s like being invited to their breakfast nook the morning after spending the night and listening to husband and wife discuss their day in absolutely entertaining fashion. It’s like being in a car, with your friends in the back seat, gabbing about their family, their world, their lives.

And it’s so much fun. Yet it almost wasn’t.

When I first gave “Ball + Chain” a try, I didn’t even make it through the first episode.

There were some major sound quality issues that made listening to it almost impossible.

Many months later, on a recent road trip to New Jersey, though, when I was stuck in a car, driving through Connecticut, New York and New Jersey traffic, I gave it another try.

SI writer Steve Rushin, half of the “Ball + Chain” podcast. (Photo courtesy of jeffpearlman.com)

They fixed the sound issues, making the podcast much easier on the ears, and by the time my trip to and fro was over, I must have been eight episodes in.

I was hooked.

I was a fan.

I had two new friends to keep me company on pretty much every journey I’ve taken since.

If my drive is more than 30 minutes, I switch off my Sirius XM and tune in to the “Ball + Chain” podcast.

And, I repeat, it is so much more than the just the sports that keeps me tuned in and coming back for more.

First some background: Rushin is going to be turning 52 years old soon, while Lobo is soon to be 45.

As such, both are from my generation and for the most part grew up watching the same sports teams, sports moments, television shows and commercials and listening to the same music as I did.

They are my generation and they relish in their memories of growing up during the same era, and as they reflect on such moments, so do I.

Lobo grew up in Massachusetts, Rushin in Minnesota.

Fate, however, brought them together in a New York City bar. It’s a topic that is frequently brought up on the podcast, and it’s as a great of a first-meeting story as there is out there.

Rushin had once written, “Although Wilt Chamberlain claimed to have slept with 20,000 women in his lifetime, I had once slept with 7,138 women in a single night: We were all snoring in the stands at a WNBA game.”

Lobo happened to be a WNBA star at that time and confronted Rushin at the bar during a chance meeting.

Rebecca Lobo, half of the “Ball + Chain” podcast.

“She asked if I was the scribe who once mocked, in Sports Illustrated, women’s professional basketball,” Rushin later wrote. “Reluctantly, I said that I was. She asked how many games I’d actually attended. I hung my head and said, ‘None.’ And so Rebecca Lobo invited me to watch her team, the New York Liberty play at Madison Square Garden. We both reeked of secondhand Camels (and, quite possibly, of secondhand camels: It was that kind of a dive.) But my insult had been forgiven. It was—for me, anyway—love at first slight. She had the longest legs, the whitest teeth, the best-sown cornrows I had ever seen, and I imagined us to have much in common. I ate Frosted Flakes right out of the box, and she was on boxes of Frosted Flakes. I am ludicrous, and she was name-dropped in a rap by Ludacris. We were, I thought, made for each other.”

Give them a listen and you realize, they really are made for each other.

That’s why it works so well, I think.

I have this little fantasy in my head: Rushin makes Lobo laugh a lot and every time he does I can almost picture him smiling with the knowledge, “Yup, she still loves me.”

Their connection to each other radiates through their words and mannerisms. I don’t recognize true love when I see it. In this case, though, I hear it.

The two married and have four children—three girls, one boy—all of whom come up from time to time in the podcast.

I told you it was about more than sports.

The ball and chain—“Who’s the ball, who’s the chain? is a key line in the podcast’s opening ditty sung by Tom, Dick and Harry (Tom is Steve’s brother, by the way)—talk about their lives and everything that happens in it. Fathers, sons, mothers, daughters … even grandparents, uncles, aunts and neighbors.

As often as they trade good-natured jabs at one another, they also obviously keep their hearts open for each other, as well.

It’s funny. It’s interesting. It’s touching. It’s just a great listen, from start to finish.

It doesn’t matter if they’re reflecting on Larry Bird, Geno Auriemma, the Minnesota Vikings (or Twins), changing their car oil, or Steve’s inability to cook anything other than microwavable White Castle, they will keep you entertained.

While many podcasts have tunnel vision (i.e., I listen to The West Wing Podcast, too, which is focused just on the hit television show), you never know where “Ball + Chain” will take you.

Each episode is a different adventure, but is filled with enough memories and running jokes that Lobo and Rushin make it feel like you’re part of their larger extended family.

Sometimes, literally, it’s an adventure, too, as Lobo and Rushin discuss their different travels and travails, from airports to hotels to Uber (or Lyft) rides. Or maybe just a mini-van ride to an AAU basketball tournament in Massachusetts, or the local grocery store.

They’ve had some special guests—Lobo’s sister, former NFL player and current ESPN personality Mike Golic and his wife, and the podcast’s producer Deny (With one N!) Gallagher– to name a few. Even when others enter the podcast, it doesn’t throw off the enjoyment.

Semi-spoiler alert: The ending of the podcast with Deny (With one N!) is one of the best endings in podcast history.

The author, a Minnesota Vikings fan despite hailing from Maine, with his old friend, Charlie.

In closing, I remember the moment I realized “Ball + Chain” and I had a special connection.

It came when Lobo talked about a ventriloquism dummy she had received as a gift when she was younger. And, Rushin reflected on what it was like to work as a 14-year-old during a Minnesota Vikings game.

It took me back to a picture of myself when I was younger. Of me, wearing a Minnesota Vikings sweatshirt, holding on to a ventriloquist dummy I was given as a child.

Basketball. Sports. A Sportswriter. UConn basketball. A dummy. The Vikings.

How’s that for a fate?

In a different time and in different places, I could have been friends with Lobo and Rushin. We would have shared a lot of laughs.

Instead, I’m just a loyal listener, taking my new friends—one a ball, the other a chain–with me on countless rides to keep me company.

 

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A Family’s Tragic Loss Felt From Afar

I don’t know where the tears came from; from a faraway collection of broken hearts, I suppose.

But they came this morning, uninvited, when I learned Deven Lee Scott had passed away.

She was beautiful. She was 27. She was family. And now she’s gone.

Like I said, broken hearts feeling the pain of losing a daughter, a mother, a friend; it travels over time and space and, if you let it, it’ll hit you hard.

This morning it hit me as a few tears rolled down my face as I learned the news.

If I’m being honest, though, I never had the pleasure of meeting Deven.

She is my cousin’s husband’s brother’s daughter, so technically there is no direct connection to me, no shared bloodlines that run from me to her.

I never had the chance to meet her, to talk to her, or learn about her, though she is, no doubt, somebody who seemed so special to those who loved her.

I never had the chance to look directly into those sky blue eyes, or see her infectious, radiating smile.

And, I never had the chance to meet her children—Aleigha, Jayce, Natalie—just another limb off a branch on the other side of the extended family tree.

Deven was my cousin’s niece, my second cousins’ cousin. So, as far as I’m concerned, she is part of my family and I mourn her death along with all of them.

Growing up, my cousins were my first closest friends.

So many weeks we would travel from our home in the small town of Orrington, Maine, driving 30 miles over hill and dale, to an even smaller town called Garland.

It was there where my cousin Debbie, the oldest sibling in her family of four children, fell in love with Mike Scott.

Mike Scott had a bevy of brothers—Brent, Reggie, Cecil.

Cecil Scott is Deven’s father.

I don’t remember how old I was when I was asked to be the ring bearer at Mike and Debbie’s wedding. As such, I was in the wedding party along with the Scott brothers.

What I do remember, though, is the band of brothers the Scott family had; many of whom would always be around every time we visited over the years.

Cecil’s pain is immense, unfathomable. To lose a child? As parents, we can’t even think of it.

I know this week, those brothers stand beside him, strong for him, as he buries his daughter.

I haven’t seen Cecil in probably 25 years, perhaps at my aunt’s funeral, but I can’t honestly remember if he was there that day.

But, as distant family members are apt to do, we follow each other on Facebook, so we both know what is going on in each other’s lives.

It wasn’t too long ago that Cecil lost the love of his life, his wife, Bonnie. October 2, 2016, to be exact.

And now Deven, gone at 27, far too soon.

Perhaps the only comfort in this, as many people have pointed out, is that Deven is back in the loving arms of her mother.

We can only hope so.

So who was Deven Lee Scott, my cousin’s husband’s brother’s daughter?

I don’t know. I can’t tell you, though I wish I could.

Instead, I have to let other’s speak for her.

Deven was “a thrill seeker and loved the excitement of life. There was never a dull moment when she was around. She loved her family and children endlessly. She had an enormous heart with so much love to give.”

Those are just some of the words that appeared in her obituary this morning.

But those words are not enough.

Online, the place where so many of us are connected, the tributes began rolling in.

“RIP Deven Lee you will be greatly missed,” wrote one friend, in a Facebook post. “You were a wonderful kind hearted person that would do anything for anyone….You are a mother to three beautiful children. I just can’t believe you are gone. Gone but never forgotten.”

“May you rest at peace Deven Lee Scott and may a smile on your face and peace in your heart be with you always,” wrote another. “What a beautiful smile you had and the biggest heart.”

“I can’t believe my best friend Deven Lee Scott passed away,” was yet one more. “My heart is breaking in millions of pieces.”

Many hearts are broken this week, and as of this morning so is mine.

I send out my love and prayers to my cousins for the loss of their cousin and niece, and to Cecil and his other children, Stephanie and Cecil, two others I also haven’t had the pleasure of meeting.

At least, not yet.

May you forever rest in peace, Deven Lee Scott.

Happy 2017-Plus One (at least for now)

Let’s not flush 2018 away just yet, eh?

It took approximately two and half hours to fully realize that the peace-and-love salutations of the New Year were long gone.

From the time “Auld Lang Syne” ended to when the last party favor was sounded, peace and love took a back seat to an inebriated asshole pounding on his hotel room door.

And yelling. Loudly.

“Let me in! Quit being a bitch! What the fuck?!”

On the other side of his door – which just happened to be on the other side of my paper thin New York City hotel room wall – I could hear her crying as she yelled back incoherently.

She let him in – finally – but that didn’t stop the clamoring.

What was I listening to exactly?

A domestic situation? A lovers spat? A brother and sister disagreeing on who gets the family portrait and/or cat after the funeral? A guy downgrading a hooker because he didn’t get what he wanted for his $100?

It was 2:45 in the morning in New York City, but if it had been Atlantic City it’d be 1 to 5 to pick ‘em.

Part of me kept waiting for a gunshot, and for Detectives Briscoe and Green to show up at my door as the Law & Order music played.

Alas, neither came.

Finally, after a while, there was just silence. And sleep came again.

When I left the city for the trip home to Connecticut this morning, there was a note slid into the door-jam of the offending room.

I wondered who the author was.

Was it from him?

“I’m sorry, baby … Come back to me … I’m downstairs in the lobby, waiting for you … You’re my life, baby … I love you … They’re just words, baby …  You’re not really all those things I called you. It was the booze talkin’, baby … I’ll see you soon. Don’t forget my wallet. It’s on the dresser. Love, Man Who Yells A lot.”

Or, was it from her?

“Go to hell you rotten no good piece of shit … You know what you did last night and the fact you were still carrying on about it at two forty-five in the morning proves you don’t belong with somebody like me, so bite me! Sincerely, A Women Who Cries A lot. PS. I flushed your wallet down the toilet.”

As much as my curiosity wanted to get the best of me, and as much I as I had every right to read that note since they opted to be so loud as to include me in the early morning brouhaha, I opted to leave it all behind.

I pressed the elevator button and went down, hoping there wasn’t a dead person behind that closed door. Try explaining that finger print on the note to Detectives Briscoe and Green, as the Law & Order music plays.

Detectives Briscoe and Green (Courtesy of NBC)

I bring you this story because on my train ride home from the city that never sleeps, yet often brings the fight right to your doorstep, I realized that 2018 is simply the end of 2017, only a day later.

On my iPhone I perused my social media walls over and over again; from Facebook to Twitter to Instagram, and back again, updating over and over.

I saw so many people saying all the right things about 2018. How we have to be nicer to each other, care about each other more, and do all the right things to make this world a better place.

And then I realized some of them meant they would do so, only after they trashed this person with their words, or relayed/retweeted/shared somebody else’s thoughts on somebody in negative fashion.

Goodbye 2017. Hello 2017-plus one.

The guy I call 45 is still president, the country is still as torn apart as it’s ever been in my lifetime, and people just keep letting me down.

I wasn’t even 12 hours into the New Year when that hit me.

Like dominos falling, though, a second thought hit me soon after.

Why follow the negativity? Why have it as a daily part of my social (media) life? Why let it in?

I have the power to block, or unfollow, or unfriend, or X out people with the click of a mouse … and I don’t have to leave a note in the door to finalize what direction these online relationships are going.

I have the power.

I’ve used it before (after Newtown I unfriended family members and unfollowed long-time friends who made asinine statements) and it made my life better.

Certainly everybody has their First Amendment right to opine in any way they see fit, and I support that 110 percent. But I have my First-Plus One Amendment right to make sure I don’t have to read what I’m tired of reading in the safety of my own living room.

In some cases, I even agree with what’s being said, but if it’s negative, why even say it? I’m just so tired of the negativity. I think back to that lesson I learned as an 8-year-old about if you can’t say something nice.

So I’m going to take my power back.

Maybe I and I alone can make 2017-Plus One feel like 2018, at least to me, personally.

Maybe in my own pathetic little world (yes, that’s a negative, so maybe I’ll just block myself on social media), I can make things a tiny little brighter for me.

And, in doing so, maybe that extra watt of brightness that radiates from me, maybe it might rub off on somebody else.

Just like that the world is a better place. Maybe not a lot, but I’ll take a little these days.

Last week, I read a post about the butterfly effect, about how if somebody goes back in time and does something as insignificant as stepping on a butterfly, it could change the future.

The post asked, if do so something so little today, why can’t we realize we’re changing the future, too?

So here is my note, slid into all of your social-media door jams: Change the future. Think positive. Be positive.

And watch Law & Order. Such a good show.

Happy 2017-Plus One.

Oh Danny Boy: Hoping an old friend finally finds peace

Danny Paul Carroll. (1963-2017)

He was sitting in a hot tub, buck naked with two women, dressed like-wise, or so he said, and even though Danny Paul Carroll was all about having fun, something was missing.

So sometime after midnight – the drinks having flowed freely all evening, no doubt – he picked up the telephone and made a call.

I answered almost immediately.

When you’re single and living in party mode, phone calls after midnight are either really bad news, or truly great opportunities.

Plus, they didn’t sell home safety systems via telemarketers after the sun went down in the early ought’s of the 21st century, so I knew answering wouldn’t be a waste of time.

And when Danny called it was never a waste of time.

I won’t lie. I entertained the idea of driving the 20-or-so minutes down to the New Hampshire seacoast to frolic the night away with my roommate and his two new friends in a Portsmouth hotel room.

But, in the end, after working all night, and finding the couch simply a little too inviting and far too comfortable, I never left the house.

An hour later, Danny walked through the door, a devilish grin on his face and a twinkle of mischief in his eyes. He made himself another drink, sat down and finished his story.

One of the women’s husbands had figured out where she was, he explained. He showed up, obviously upset, pounding on the door, demanding to see her.

Danny barely escaped with his boxers and socks on, the rest of his clothes in his arms and a story for the ages.

And that, in just one brief story, was Danny in a nutshell.

A man for the ages, full of stories for the ages. He lived them (probably embellished a few for comic effect), loved them, told them and retold them to anybody who would listen.

Sadly, on Wednesday afternoon, one last story was told.

The headline simply read: “Dead Man Found In Cocheco River.”

As they pulled his lifeless body from the Cocheco’s cold, unforgiving waters, Danny’s story was over.

He was 52 years old.

The end.

• • •

I met Danny sometime in 1998, shortly after I moved from Maine to Dover, New Hampshire.

He wound up dating my first New Hampshire roommate, Monique, when the two of us started being regular customers at the pub where Danny worked.

As I often joked back in the day, when the two of them finally broke up, he got me in the divorce.

I moved in with him and we were roommates for close to three years, living in a house just off Route 108 in Somersworth.

Living with a bartender meant one thing.

The parties didn’t stop at last call, and I can’t tell you how many times I would be rustled from sleep by the noise of an after-hours party going on in the pool room, the living room and the kitchen.

And I never got mad, angry or frustrated.

How could I?

Circling around us during this time – at the pub, at our home, at other houses and apartments – was a tight circle of friends who cared about each other despite our eclectic idiosyncrasies.

We were all vastly different people from vastly different places with vastly different backgrounds, but we were tight-knit and loved each other dearly.

I’ll never forget any of those people which is why I’ll never forget Danny, the man who in a way helped bring us all together beer by beer, story by story.

He was a bartender to many, but a friend it seemed to many more. For a while, when we lived as roommates, he was one of my best friends.

Even as his demons started to rise up from inside him, you could still count on him.

Until you couldn’t.

More and more nights he would disappear into his room and I wouldn’t see him again.

One night I was finally invited in and immediately felt the draw of the slide he knew all too well.

In the end, that’s the reason I moved out of the house, taking a step to distance myself from him. I had to get away from Danny and his demons and in a heart-felt and brutally honest face-to-face I explained that to him.

He never held my decision against me and we remained friends even as he continued his struggles, as he switched jobs, changed apartments.

His world was being snatched away from him one small bag of white powder at a time, but Danny was Danny and it seemed as though he could charm the devil himself to find a way out of it.

Until he couldn’t, I suppose.

• • •

When I left New Hampshire, I left a lot of people and the past behind me. I cut the cord as a way to survive, or at least that’s what I told myself.

That slide – the one Danny couldn’t control, or stop – was too scary for me, no matter how great it felt. Getting away from all of it was my only option to escape.

I relocated and came out the other side.

I don’t know if Danny ever did.

I’ve reconnected with many of my friends from my New Hampshire days through the magic of Facebook, and I’m grateful.

In times like this we can mourn together and remember what was great in all of us, as individual people and as a group.

Jennifer England, who worked as a bartender with Danny and is now a school teacher, changing lives for the better wrote, “I loved Danny. I hated his addiction, but I always loved him.”

Her husband, Marty – who had made such beautiful music his whole life, including for a time with Danny – wrote, “Full disclosure: I haven’t seen Danny in at least 8 years. It doesn’t lessen the love at all.”

Both statements are so true.

Danny was a guy who once he tugged at your heart, you could never let him go. Even when you had to.

It’s been more than 13 years since I’ve seen Danny, but I’ve thought of him a lot over that time.

Memories would pop up out of nowhere. Songs would trigger a smile (I can’t listen to Alice in Chains without thinking of him and his Jeep.) Dreams would make a life lived long ago seem so current.

On random trips back to New Hampshire, I’ve reached out to people who knew him, looking for updates on my old friend.

But nobody seemed to know anything.

I heard things had gotten so bad for him that he was homeless for a while, really struggling with the demons that dragged him down.

But, the most recent messages popping up on Facebook, following Danny’s death, paint a less bleak picture.

He was doing better, it seemed. Somebody had seen him out in the last year and wrote, “We had a good hang.”

It’s what makes the news so much harder.

What happened on the shores of the Cocheco earlier this week? Nobody knows for sure. Two people walking along a path saw a body floating in the water and called police.

According to Foster’s Daily Democrat, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has said the cause of death was drowning.

“At this time, there does not appear to be any indication that Carroll’s death was the result of a crime,” the release stated.

Danny’s obituary reads simply he had passed away “after losing a long battle with addiction.”

Just like that Danny’s last story was told.

Another of my closest friends talked about all the positive messages and wondered aloud if Danny knew so many people loved him.

I hope so. Because I did. He was a good guy, so good-hearted to the people who knew him the best.

Rest in peace, Danny.

And I truly hope you have found the peace you so deserve.

Remembering my 13-mile long classroom

Many of my friends and former classmates are mourning the loss of a former teacher today.

The news of Jeffrey Johnson’s passing takes many of us back to our high school days, to our interactions with him and how he changed our lives.

I never had Mr. Johnson as a teacher, however.

Instead, he changed my world as a friend, and I realize now – suddenly, now that he’s gone — what a debt of gratitude I owe the man.

As the crow flies, my family home in Orrington, Maine, was just about two miles or so from Hampden Academy, the school from which I graduated.

It was directly across the Penobscot River and from certain points in Orrington you could look across the river and the see the school.

By car, however, it was 13 miles away … six-plus miles to Brewer, across the bridge to Bangor, and six-plus miles to Hampden on the other side of the river.

When I made the decision to transfer from John Bapst Memorial High School to Hampden Academy for my senior year, transportation was my biggest hurdle.

This is where Jeff Johnson changed my life.

I had known Jeff prior to my year at Hampden Academy. In fact, looking back on it, I had known him when I was in middle school.

He lived in Bucksport, the town south of my hometown, and was a regular visitor to the convenience store my mother and step-father owned.

As one of my stomping ground places where I spent much of my time, I got to know Jeff and his wife, Pam, also a teacher, enough to ask them a big-time question leading into my senior year.

Could I hitch a ride to school every day?

As far as I know, they never gave it a second thought.

So pretty much every morning from Labor Day of 1983 to graduation in 1984, I would walk a half mile from my house to the Main Road where Jeff and Pam would pick me up and allow me to attend Hampden Academy.

Every morning, we would talk about life and love, family and education.

(As an athlete who always stayed after school for practices, I rarely if ever got a ride home. Instead, I hitchhiked the journey home … though that, too, became a regular journey of regulars who would pick me up and drop me off at certain spots).

The Johnson family decision to allow me to ride with them to school changed my life.

First and foremost it allowed me to avoid attending Brewer High School, a thought I dreaded.

It gave me a new set of friends I still care about to this day.

And, it opened my door to two new English courses, one of which was journalism, pushing me further down the path that would become my life’s career.

I’m sure I thanked Mr. Johnson for the rides back then, but only today – after hearing of his passing – did the magnitude of them hit me.

My heart hurts knowing he’s gone, but what an effect he had on so many lives, as a teacher … and as a friend.

Thanks again, JJ.

May you rest in peace.

Again in America

(Photo by John Locher/Associated Press)

I never wanted to go to Las Vegas. It was never on my bucket list of places to visit or things to do.

I had no interest in the bright lights, The Strip, the casinos, that silly sign that sits obnoxiously on the edge of the city as a photobomb for tourists who stand in line to pose for photos underneath it.

It was never a take it or leave it situation, either.

I was leaving it without ever being there.

Until I went.

I loved it and can’t wait to go back.

This Monday morning though, as the sun rises over the southern Nevada desert city, Las Vegas has changed.

Its lights won’t flicker as brightly. The bells and whistles of the casino slot machines won’t sound so musical as it plays as the city’s soundtrack.

Not with the echoes of all those gunshots still ringing out.

Late Sunday, from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, a 64-year-old man opened fire with an automatic weapon.

Photo by John Nash

He pointed his killing machine toward an outdoor concert venue across the street, a plot of land that had more than 30,000 people sardined in front of a stage to attend a country music festival.

More than 50 people were killed – children, daughters, sons, parents. That’s a number that’s likely to go even higher after this diatribe is published.

More than 200 people were injured, their bodies torn apart by flying bullets, or hurt during the stampede to escape with their lives.

A small part of Las Vegas died last night.

The rest of the country could only cry.

Another day in 21st century America, folks.

Less than two months ago, I was across the Mandalay Bay casino floor. I did one big loop and left the way I came, back to the Luxor, which is where I was staying while in town for an AAU Basketball Tournament.

Directly across the street from the Luxor was the open space that held the Route 91 Harvest Country Festival.

Maybe that’s why this latest American tragedy hits so close to home.

While I walked the Las Vegas Strip, from The Venetian south, I had spent four days living within a football field from the place where so many people would be innocently gunned down.

With my trip to Vegas almost 60 days behind me, I had gone to bed in the safety of my humble abode two hours before the shooting started.

I woke up at 3 a.m. local time, glanced at my cell phone and saw a long line of text message alerts telling me off the shooting.

I got out of bed and turned on CNN for more information. I tuned in to the Las Vegas Police Department’s online scanner. I turned to Twitter and saw the videos and heard the gunshots.

At that time, only two were confirmed dead and more than 20 were injured.

I was pretty sure those numbers would grow by morning.

Sadly, I wasn’t wrong.

More than 50 people dead.

More than 200 people injured.

By a man with a gun.

Again in America.

There are still many questions to be answered and the LVPD, FBI, ATF and all those other alphabet agencies will do its best to answer those.

And, this isn’t just about the guns, believe me. That’s part of the problem, certainly, but it’s a far bigger issue about the society we live in.

Sadly, because this is the – ahem – “United” States of America nothing will change.

You won’t work with us to do what’s truly right, so we won’t work with you.

Somewhere down the road, in another city of another state, another mass shooting will shock us and sadden us.

More of our children and parents will die in pools of blood, be it in a public venue like the one in Las Vegas, a movie theater in Colorado, a night club in Orlando, or schools located in Columbine, or just up the road in Connecticut.

To those lost on a suddenly violent Sunday night alongside the Vegas Strip, may their souls rest in peace.

To those of us once again left behind, may our souls dig deep to start finding the answers to change the world before it’s too late.

Dear Lottery Winner, What if?

Dear $758 Million Lottery Winner,

I woke up this morning and discovered the bad news. I was not the big money winner of last night’s Powerball drawing.

Instead, you were.

Congratulations.

Then, I discovered more bad news.

After walking up to my local deli, and plugging my own two lottery tickets under the scanner (I didn’t even bother to check the actually numbers) I learned I won $4 on one ticket and another $4 on the next ticket.

That’s $8 out of your winnings going into my pocket. Eight bucks worth of food out our your mouth and into my belly.

I’m sure you’ll find a way to survive. I just hope you’re wise enough to thrive with such winnings.

To paraphrase Voltaire – or maybe it was Spiderman – with great money comes great responsibility.

Spend wisely.

Last night, after hearing  a promo for the upcoming drawing, I allowed myself to briefly wander into the “What if” land of a Lottery Wannabe.

What if by shit luck and circumstance my numbers came up.

Well, first and foremost, I know I wouldn’t have been pocketing $758 million.

According to USAMega Website, “If the winner opts for the lump sum cash payout, as most do, then he or she is being awarded $443,300,000.”

That’s before the United States Federal Government steps in, though.

Federal taxes would steal $110,825,000 — for “45’s” golf fees? State taxes would eat up another $22 million or so.

I’d have to pay my mother $1 million as the obligatory thank you for raising me, as well.

In other words, the $758 million actually becomes something closer to $310 million.

Still wouldn’t fit in my wallet, but you get my point.

So back to my “What if?” scenario.

I’m sure the first year would be just silly and ridiculous in terms of blowing money like it grew on trees. In fact, I might even have paid somebody to place the money on trees at the house I bought so I could just pick it off and spend it.

But in my 51 years and three months on this planet, I like to think I’ve lived rather frugally.

No silver spoon here, folk. I’ve lived paycheck to paycheck for all of my life because I chose a career that made me happy, even if it left my wallet light.

As a lottery winner, I thought to myself, I could live off of $2 million a year quite easily.

If I have 20 years of life left in me, that’s $40 million spent just living – which means I would have close to $200 million left over, even with my initial spending binge.

One of two things would happen, I think.

I’d either be making a bunch of strippers very happy, or I’d have my name on something.

A gymnasium somewhere, I suppose. Or a new wing of a journalism building at some college campus.

I’d give a lot to education because if there is one thing I’ve learned in a half century of life, education is the way out of the mess this country has made for itself.

Instead of continuing to fall behind, why not start taking the steps to catch up.

Maybe I’d buy a weekly newspaper somewhere and as publisher just run it right, not giving a flying fig about the bottom line of the financial books, but the bottom line of Page 36.

We lost a $1 million last year? No problem. Here it is from my lottery winnings. But we did journalism right!

That’s the way I’d professionally want to go out.

Sadly, in this day age of the Fifth Estate, I’m likely going out as a Walmart greeter, informing the public that there’s a 2-for-1 savings on toilet paper in aisle seven.

But all that, of course, was in the “What if?” world.

In the real world, I won $8 playing Power Ball.

I bought a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich, and a 20-ounce coffee for $5.44. I pocketed the other $2, waiting for the next time the lottery hits a couple of hundred million.

Then, realizing I had spent $20 in tickets to win that $8 prize, I started to head off into the “What if” world again.

What if I had that $12 back? What would I spend it on?