The Uninspired Version of Me

So I’m on vacation. Well, not really.

When you’re working two jobs whose hours total 57.5 hours a week — and one of those jobs is journalism-based — you’re never really on vacation.

At least I’m not.

I’m old school and I’m a firm believer in the fact that because I chose this profession, I’m on call 24 hours a day when needed, as needed. Period. No questions asked.

I’ve already checked my e-mail and set up a photo/story to be sent in to us for use this week. I reached out to a freelancer yesterday — Christmas Day — to make sure coverage would be set up this week, so I can work less than normal.

Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

It dawned on me this morning that I’m at an uninspired point of my life.

I came here to blog this morning — about what, I didn’t know — and I realized my last three posts were all based on the death of somebody — one person close to me, another just a random teammate, one a teacher from my days as a school boy.

That’s my inspiration when I’m in my 50s? Death.

Yikes.

This place a been a potpourri of my words. Some have been read a lot, some have been ready quite little. I feel pride when a lot of people read my words, and I really don’t care when people don’t take the time.

In my very first post in this space, I wrote, “If you’re bored, and wondering what the hell you’re doing here? Well, frankly, I don’t care. I’m writing this one for me, not for anybody else.”

What bugs me, though, is when I don’t write.

What bugs me is when I feel uninspired.

Maybe it’s the exhaustion. The two jobs things is tough at this age. My heart is in one place, my health insurance is another.

Maybe it’s the season. From Thanksgiving through the New Year has never been a time when I shined. Or thrived.

So maybe it’s that.

I don’t feel the tank is on empty. I’m just too uninspired to head to the gas pumps to fill myself up.

I haven’t run out of words. I’m at 360 as of this sentence.

The inspiration to find the best of those words is what is missing.

The spark.

The muse.

As the Moody Blue’s once sang:

“I know you’re out there somewhere
Somewhere, somewhere
I know I’ll find you somehow
Somehow, somehow
And somehow I’ll return again to you”

 

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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 Walter: A long-lost weekend’s lesson remains true

Walter Crabtree, left, touched the author’s life more than 30 years ago. It hasn’t been forgotten. (Photo stolen from Walter Crabtree’s Facebook Page.)

I didn’t know Walter Crabtree well, but it’s safe to say he taught me one of life’s most important athletic lessons.

Play your role 100 percent and you’ll be successful.

After a life full of teaching those around him, Walter passed away two days after Thanksgiving Day at the age of 60.

Personally, I’m thankful I got to know Walter over a couple of weekends, far too many moons ago.

I actually knew of Walter before I met him.

As a young cub sports writer at the Bangor Daily News, his athletic prowess in his native Maine was larger than life.

A graduate of tiny Sumner High School, in an even tinier town of East Sullivan, Walter was one hell of an athlete; or so said those who knew him.

I never saw Walter play in person, at least not to my knowledge.

My life-changing run-in with Walter came in Act 2 of our athletic careers.

I had just turned 21, was living in Bangor, and I was hand-picked (read invited) to play in a regional softball tournament with a team that was based out of the Ellsworth.

Walter Crabtree was a member of the team and, perhaps, the one closest to my age, though he was likely pushing 30 at the time.

Being 21, I had a cockiness about me – probably one not as deserved as I thought. I thought I was pretty good.

In truth, looking back on it with hindsight, I wasn’t that good.

I was average, which in slow-pitch softball isn’t saying much.

But I digress.

During that regional tournament, I mostly played catcher – which, to be honest, I didn’t mind doing.

Sure, at the end of a long six-game weekend, my knees would be worn out, but I was playing and plays at the plate were always fun.

If my mind, I believe we finished as regional runners-up, which meant we qualified for the state tournament in division.

That meant an overnight weekend in Lewiston, playing softball.

Good times, right?

Not really.

It was one of the worst weekends of my athletic life.

I was no longer catching. Somebody else was added on to the roster from a team that didn’t qualify, so I was relegated to the bench.

Once a game, I might get an opportunity to pinch run for some fat guy in his 50s.

Life is funny, you know.

Today, I am one of those fat 50-something guys wishing I had a pinch runner that could run to the bathroom for me at two in the morning.

Walter knew I was having a miserable weekend, though.

I’ll admit it. I was pissed. I drove two hours to Lewiston to play softball, not collect splinters on my ass.

As Saturday became Sunday and we kept winning, I remember Walter sitting next to me before a game and it was then he gave me sage advice.

I might not have been the best softball player in the world – even though my 21-year-old mind would have fought that – but in those days I was fast.

“Why do you think you were picked for this team?” Walter asked me. “We all know how fast you are and we’re going to need that speed in one of these games.”

The message was obvious: Play your role. It’s going to help the team.

I had always heard coaches talking about playing your role through 13-plus years of my sports career.

It never truly sunk in until Walter Crabtree sat down next to me and taught me that important lesson.

In our last win of that tournament, late in the game, I was called on to pitch run during a rally. I was one of the runners who scored, helping to send us to the next round.

We would get blown out in that next game and the running joke on the bench during the final inning was whoever made the last out would buy a case of beer for everybody to indulge in.

With two outs, I was finally given an opportunity to pinch hit.

I laced a single into the outfield.

I got stranded on the bases, but after the final out was recorded, the first person to shake my hand was Walter Crabtree.

In his obituary, printed in the Bangor Daily News, it was written, “Walter dedicated his life to using his talents, abilities, and skills to help others succeed. Over the years, Walter filled a number of roles as he touched literally thousands of lives; teacher, coach, referee, mentor, colleague and friend.

“He was a role model for both his students and his peers. His wisdom, common sense, kindness, compassion and humor will be greatly missed.”

That sums him up quite nicely. I should know. I was one of those people whose life was touched just by knowing him.

Rest in Peace, Walter.

And, thank you.

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.

Taking a Stand: When are we going to get to the real issues?

Roofers in Waterville, Maine, stand for the National Anthem playing at nearby football game.

So three roofers are standing on a roof.

What sounds like the beginning of a lame bar joke is actually one of the problems with what’s wrong with America, at least in my humble opinion.

Let’s get one thing straight, though: Three roofers taking time out from doing their job and standing for the National Anthem isn’t the problem.

The fact that act is going viral?

I have an issue with that.

My own job puts me in places where the National Anthem is played from five to seven times a week.

I can say with 100 percent authority that in my 33-year career as a sports writer, 99.99 percent of the people within my eye sight are standing when Francis Scott Key’s words start getting sung.

“Oh say can you see….”

A problem in America?

Boy, can I.

Why is something 99 percent of Americans do going viral?

Because the hatred in this country in 2017 for that other 1 percent runs so deep, it’s scary.

Now I’ve gone on the record saying I can’t ever see myself NOT standing for the National Anthem, regardless of the fact that “God Bless America” should truly be our country’s Anthem.

I do support those who want to “protest” by not standing, however.

Their freedom to do that, at least to me, is the ultimate statement of how truly free this country is.

This fall, for journalistic reasons, I’ve been looking around a lot more during the National Anthem to see if anybody dares to take a knee or stay seated during the twilight’s last gleaming.

I’ve seen baseball players two fields away stop their game and stand at attention. I’ve seen adult softball players in the same complex put down their hidden beers and stand at attention. I’ve seen people outside of the stadium stop what they’re doing as the music wafts across the air and disappears into the distance.

I’ve seen people standing in their backyards having lunch, or a swim in their pool, climb out on their decks, face the flag while soaking wet, and honor America.

It’s what we do. Well, 99 percent of us.

So when I see a photo of three guys doing what I’ve seen countless others do “go viral” I can only shake my head.

Only in America.

The fact the National Anthem keeps being an issue, at least to me, is nothing but a deflection from the Orange Glow out of Washington, D.C., to distract us from the real problems this country refuses to deal with.

And that saddens me.

Why are we having this fight?

When are we going to get to the real issues?

If I had to guess, it won’t be until 2020 when the next President of the United States is voted in and has the unenviable task of trying to heal a shattered country.

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.

Five dollars for your thoughts

She asked me if I would buy some oil from her for $2.

That’s how we met, me and the girl who had once been so pretty.

I could see it in her eyes as I looked at her. She had been beautiful once, probably not that long ago, albeit before the demons called on her and changed her life forever.

I didn’t need any oil, but I knew what she really wanted.

I told her I didn’t think I had any cash, until I put my hand in my pocket and pulled out $11 – a ten and a one.

I handed her a George and told her I needed the rest to buy something inside.

As I shopped my mind argued with itself.

She’s probably hungry, my better half tried to convince me. What’s a few more bucks so she can get some chips or some water … something to put just a little bit more color in that once-pretty face.

I also scoffed at myself. Whatever was given to her was going to either get shot into her vein, or snorted up her nose before the clock struck ten.

Every so often, I do this.

I’m approached from somebody asking for just a few bucks.

Sometimes I ignore them.

Sometimes I lie to their faces and tell them I’m using plastic when a roll of bills is burning a hole in my pocket.

Sometimes I reach in and hand it over some cold, hard cash.

Not a lot, mind you. But enough to keep her going for the next soft-hearted dope to come along.

What money they have likely is going to go to drugs or alcohol. I know.

But druggies need to eat. They need to drink water, or soda, or juice to survive before the drugs finally get the best of them and they really do die.

I bought $11.28 worth of sustenance and handed the cashier my $10 bill.

“Could you change this for two fives?” I asked.

Split the difference, I figured.

Just in case.

I walked out of the store and walked up to the woman, looking again in those eyes.

“Here you go,” I said, handing her one of the $5 bills. “I hope it’s not going straight into your arm.”

By the time I let go, I saw her reaction.

I had my answer.

Her eyes told me as they looked down to the ground. The sore near her chin disappeared as she lowered her head.

She tried to recover, tried to recover and stammer out an answer.

“No,” she said. “I need gas for my car. I can show you.”

“If you had asked me to buy you some gas I would have filled your tank,” I said.

I paused.

My heart sank.

“Be safe tonight,” I said, walking away from her and back toward my car.

I just got home and put the other $5 bill on my dresser.