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.

Happy Mother’s Day To One Brave Lady

My mother, Marion Brown, being cool on a trip to Connecticut.

I was about an hour away from having a doctor stick a knife into me and splice open my skin when the nerves started getting the better of me.

This was just about three years ago and, in the larger scheme of things, going under the knife for an umbilical hernia was rather minor surgery and I would be home in a matter of hours.

To calm my nerves, though, I only had to think of one person.

My mother.

Marion Brown.

I was closing in on 50 years of age when I had this surgery and came through it was flying colors, I suppose.

But to make sure I don’t sound like a little boy crying for his mommy when he was scared, I decided today – Mother’s Day – is the perfect day to share that story.

The reason I thought of my mother is because more than a decade earlier she bravely faced major surgery – open heart surgery for a valve replacement.

How could I be scared of a three-inch incision next to my belly button when my mother had survived – and thrived – after something much more serious?

But it also made me think of my mother in a different light.

Brave?

Yes, brave.

It dawned on me that my mother had shown many different levels of bravery over the course of her own whole life.

Knowledge of that left me rather staggered and stunned.

My mother was a brave woman.

She was born in Watford, England, and it was just today that I realized that her bravery might have started there and then.

During World War II, her father, my grandfather, was one of 11 brothers who went off to fight for the allied forces in defense of their country, against the epitome of history’s most-evil figure.

God blessed our family as all 11 brothers came home safe and sound.

My mother remembers racing into bomb shelters, or hiding under stairs during the war. She remembers seeing the red skies over London, just 16 miles away, as the city burned from one of the Nazi forces steady bombing runs.

Our children are growing up worried that the cable will go out, or the Internet gets bogged down and streaming videos start to lag.

My mother was hiding in bomb shelters hoping her father would come home from the war.

The times they have a changed.

In the mid-1960s, she and my dad hopped up on a ship and left their entire family behind – save for a sister, my aunt – for a new life in the United States.

That’s bravery, right there.

She knew one person on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, but she decided to head off into the great unknown, leaving everything she knew behind.

I left Bangor, Maine, in the fall of 1998, moving three hours south to Dover, N.H., and I had a small (albeit left unsaid) concern about being alone from the only home I had ever known.

My mother wound up having three kids – none of us perfect, each of us testing her in our own vastly different ways.

My mother with her first born.

She loved us all, though, (some more than others, right favorite middle-sister Michelle? Ha) and says she’s proud of where we all have ended up in life.

It is us, though, that should be proud of her.

She made a life for us, making sure we never went without, even if that meant months of government cheese and powdered eggs during our darker times.

She knew nothing about sports, but she would make it a point to go to my games in Little League and in high school. Or, sould be sit there beside me in the living room watching an NCAA college basketball game.

She went through a divorce and made it a point to never bad mouth our father, and when she remarried, she opened her home and her heart to two other children.

She quit smoking (after I moved out of the house, which she claims to be the reason she was able to quit) and along with my step father she became a home owner.

They owned their own business, showing us children first-hand what hard work was all about.

And, after she got all five of us kids out of the house, she started to travel to see many different places she wanted to see.

As proud as she was to be our mother, I sense a deeper pride in becoming the grandmother of our own children.

My mother, left, and step-father along with my son.

I can only hope they brave the future she faced her own so many years ago.

The last year as been tough on my mother as a variety of different maladies and infections have chipped away at her health.

Yet she keeps fighting back, refusing to give in.

There’s that bravery thing again.

She’s even proud (brave?) enough to admit she’s a Donald Trump supporter.

I’m not perfect and this proves that neither is she.

But I remain proud of my mother, one of the bravest woman I know.

And I love her and thank her for everything she’s done for me over the past 51 years and one week.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

Stay strong. Stay brave.

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.

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.

Don’t run and hide: Join me on our bully pulpits

President Donald Trump, the man who people are letting divide the country.

President Donald Trump, the man who people are letting divide the country.

I was called a bully the other day.

Anybody that knows me — truly knows me — would laugh at that as much as I did considering over the course of my life I’ve loved and accepted everybody that has come and gone.

My only “fight” was in fourth grade with a kid named Joe Vachon, both of us urged on by our blood-lust filled peers, and we danced around in a circle at recess, and threw one punch each.

Once we connected fists and felt the pain, the fight was over. We were friends again.

Yet here I am, now in my 50s, still friendly and accepting of everybody, and I get called a bully because of one Facebook post.

Here’s what happened: On Monday, I shared a story from CNN on my Facebook page. The CNN headline was, “Trump: Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”

It was such a stupid, asinine statement from the guy less than half our country elected President that in the comment section of the post, I opined, “Nobody knew? Well except for the countless presidents who did everything they could to find a way to give everybody in the United States healthcare — and that’s people far smarter than you, sir. When one finally did – even with a few flaws – you were the blowhard who came in saying you were going to blow it all up. Not so easy, is it, “Mr.” President … Go ahead and fix it, if you can, and find a way to make it better. Just quit being an embarrassing human being that is destroying America and start taking steps to fulfill your ultimate promise of making the country better.”

Just a flat-out reaction to a stupid statement with a touch – barely, but it was there – of support at the end.

Later in the day came a comment from a Facebook friend, a man I respect and love on a personal level.

“Keep acting like a school yard Bully John. GOOD BYE.”

I checked. He had un-friended me on Facebook. Again.

The first time this man de-friended me on Facebook, I was upset. This time, not so much. This time I was much more flabbergasted.

Bully?

I wasn’t the one who ordered ICE Agents to storm through neighborhoods in caravans, jumping out, guns drawn and scaring the hell out of children and mothers and grandmothers, in search of illegal immigrants who might or might not have done something wrong.

I wasn’t the one overseeing a country where custom agents accost travels on a domestic San Francisco-to-New York flight, demanding to see people’s paperwork to prove they were Americans who deserved to fly across what was once the land of the free.

I’m not the one shitting all over journalists world-wide who are doing their job, taking the term “Fake news” that was started to combat all the non-reputable websites and blogs who were printing out-right lies against both parties, and turning it on to main stream media like the New York Times, the LA Times, CNN — who were writing and reporting things that our leader didn’t like.

So how am I the bully?

Because I called Donald Trump a blow hard? (He is! There can be no argument about it. Even his supporters would have to admit his characteristics are that of a self-serving blowhard. It’s an adjective that, to me, can’t be argued). Just like I’m fat because I weigh too much.

Because I called him an embarrassment to the United States, because some of the things he has try to pull off (immigration ban, Russia, grabbing pussies, insert many other proofs of not-so-Presidential actions here that the world has laughed at)?

When I post political opinions to my Facebook page, I try to limit myself to one a day. After all, Facebook has become a deluge for hatred and divisiveness in this country, but the positives still outweigh the negatives – barely – in terms of keeping up with old friends.

I’m proud to say that I have not de-friended anybody over any post regarding the election of this president, because I do love the fact that, as Americans, we can support different sides and ideas, and yet still somehow work together for what’s best for our country.

Some people, I guess, can’t handle that type of America – Where we argue and debate and support what we believe in.

They want it their way, the only way, period .. and I guess if you don’t support their way of thinking you’re nothing but a bully.

And that saddens me.

I have friends and family who support Trump and I love them all. I have friends who lean so far to the left, I’m afraid they’re going to fall into the Pacific Ocean, but I love them as people with all my heart.

And, I’m a liberal-leaning independent who sees things differently – Nashist, I call it – and there are times I have defended Trump (not many, but I have) while also laughing at his comically frustrating first 40 days.

Trump the President doesn’t scare me. Not one single iota. Those powerful men he surrounded himself — after his broken promise to drain the swamp – are what scares me.

From what I see, they are the bullies in this world.

But if one man wants to call me a bully for standing up for what I believe in, then I’ll carry that banner proud.

Because when I see something that I feel is wrong, I will have the courage to point it out. When I support something or somebody, I’ll proudly stand before anybody who has the guts to listen to me argue my point.

I will not run and hide, head in the sand, from those who have a different opinion than me. Join me in the fight. Tell me why you support what you do. Don’t run away and be scared of the other side.

To the contrary, I will give them their own bully pulpit to try and out-shout me in our arguments.

When we’re tired and hoarse, then we can climb down, embrace and headed to the local bar for a beer.

That’s the kind of America I want.

I fear, though, that it’s gone forever.

Happy Anniversary To Us

• • •

Four years ago — well, four years and one day ago, to be exact — The October Weekend was reborn.

I was sitting around, feeling old, and wanting to write, so I moved off my couch, sat down at my computer chair, and still feeling old, I started to write.

Over the past 1,424 days — well, 1,425 days to be exact — I’ve sat down with “The October Weekend” and spilled my guts about things both personal and random.

The results have produced 169 posts — this one is 170 — and 28,502 people have taken the time to read my words.

Some of you are loyal readers who read everything I post (Thanks Mom, thanks Dad) … Others are regular returnees who are trying to figure out what’s going on in my mind (Is that you, Liz?) … some of you randomly find me through Google or word of mouth … and most of you get bored too easily and perhaps click here to lull yourself to sleep late at night.

Better me than porn, I suppose.

I didn’t know exactly what life “The October Weekend” would take when I started. I haven’t posted nearly as much as I wanted to when I first hit “publish” on my very first post back on Feb. 22, 2013.

But, alas, like a good friend who is always there for me, this space has allowed me to spit out my thoughts on a variety of topics that have popped into my head, touched my heart, or simply pissed me off.

I’ve publicly backed a loser for President — though most of us know the real loser appears to have wound up in office — and reminisced about friends and loved ones from long ago.

I’ve also told stories both sad and motivational about people I don’t know, but whose tales came to my attention, made me want to know more and allowed me to share their story with you.

Just like I was clueless to the future of all this white space when I first sat down four years (and one day) ago, I remain in the dark as I move forward.

When I feel the urge, I’ll sit down and write.

That still is what “The October Weekend” means to me. A place to express my feelings, my emotions, my memories and more.

Feel free to keep enjoying the ride.

My life if Donald Trump was Coach Trump

If Donald Trump were a basketball coach ... (Photo courtesy of SI.com)

If Donald Trump were a basketball coach … (Photo courtesy of SI.com)

If Donald Trump and his people were in my world …

Reporter: Hey Coach Trump, tough loss tonight, what do you think happened?

Coach Trump: Loss? What loss? We won. Season-opening win. Go team. Make Team Great Again.

Reporter: Coach, the other team scored 65 points. Your team only scored 62. You lost by three points.

Coach Trump: No, that’s not right, we won the first, third and fourth quarters. We won 3-1. Victory is ours.

Reporter: Coach, you’re one preseason scrimmage was against a team of Russian players. How do you think that helped you prepare for this game?

Coach Trump: Russians? There was no Russian help whatsoever. Coach Putin and I saw each other at a basketball camp once, but there was no Russian help. They’re hackers. They foul a lot. Not that I would know that because we didn’t play them. Who told you all this? Somebody intelligent? Anybody with intelligence is worthless and horrible and not worth my time as Coach. Next question.

Reporter: Umm, uh… Well, on the 3-point shot at the buzzer, the one that gave the other team the, umm, uh, 65-62 score … It was launched from 50 feet away. Was there a breakdown?

Coach Trump: Launches from far away? It’ll never happen. Not on my watch. And how you can say you this team has broken down? It’s the first game. That’s it, no more questions from you … Next question, Doug Love Donald’s Basketball Blog … where are you?

Reporter looks around and sees assistant coach Kellyanne Conway gathering her things by the bench.

Reporter: Coach Conway … Can you comment on how much the crowd might have bothered the team the down the stretch?

Coach Conway: Crowd? Why are you talking about the crowd? Eight years ago when a game was played here, the crowd wasn’t bigger. It was just you people in the press who said this crowd wasn’t as big.

Reporter: Umm, that game was a first-ever meeting of rivals from the same city. Of course, people came out to support their teams. Your team are outsiders. A bigger crowd wasn’t expected.

Coach Conway: It was the rain. They said it was going to rain and with all the acid rain falling from the sky, people know acid burns the skin and we need skin to survive, because how many people survive without skin, except for those patients who have had skin grafts and it’s important for us to raise doctors to help these people while making sure car manufacturers stay in America, and before the start of the next game we’re going to build a wall that other team won’t be able to come on our side of the court and …

Reporter: Coach … You’re not answering the question. I’m asking if the crowd …

Coach Conway: I am answering the question. I can’t believe your laughing at me. You can’t make that comment. That’s not your job. This crowd wants us to build that wall so doctors who help people will stay and not get paid by Obama-care because on our team nobody is insured until we come up with something better, and once we do that, we’ll come out with a point guard who can push us further to the right and then we’ll be ready to …

Reporter: Coach, answer the question, please?

Team spokesman Sean Spicer then stepped into the press gathering. He takes no questions and just starts to speak.

Spicer: This was the largest audience to ever witness a basketball game – period – both in person and around the globe. This game was on the internet and billions of people have the internet. These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the game are shameful and wrong. There’s been a lot of talk in the media about the responsibility to hold Coach Trump accountable. And I’m here to tell you it goes two ways. We’re going to hold the press accountable, as well.

Spicer storms off leaving the reporters stunned and looking at each other. They know how to do their jobs, but if they report the final score as 65-62, they know Trump’s people will counter with a 3-1 victory. There are no winners in the world of sports anymore. That is obvious.

Reporter: That’s it. I’m done. I think I’m going to go cover girls field hockey.

Reporter 2: Yeah? I hear there are going to be a bunch of players walking to the National Mall to play some pick-up games tomorrow.

As the reporters walk out, they pass Coach Trump talking with a recruit he hopes to join the team.

Coach Trump: Say, you’re pretty intelligent. I love intelligent people. I’m behind them 1,000 percent. Come play with us. You won’t regret it.

And, scene. Or, as they in my business … 

— 30 —

EPILOGUE: Sports writing never felt so good, even in this day and age of newspapers dying a slow and painful death.