Category Archives: Life

Stuck In The Eighties

Howard Jones

Howard Jones

Those who know me will tell you that I’m one of those people who’s stuck in the Eighties.

Admittedly, I do love my hair metal and wish that I could somehow get inside of a time machine and go back to those carefree days of youth. To be able to use the confidence and knowledge I’ve gained through years of being an adult to make up for the lost opportunities I missed because of my shyness and lack of social interaction.

Some days I’ll take a trip to the Palmer Park Mall and remember all of those Friday and Saturday nights thirty years ago. A time when the only thing that really mattered was the usual excursions to Orange Julius, the arcade, Waldenbooks and topping it off with a visit to Listening Booth to check out the new albums by by Night Ranger, The Hooters and Bon Jovi.

But I don’t think I’m “stuck” in the Eighties. It’s just that every once in a while you need to go back to those times if for no other reason than to remember who you were.

Last night I had the chance to do just that.

Singer/songwriter Howard Jones – who many of us MTV nuts will remember for his big hair, monster songs as well as a multitude of synthesizers, performed an acoustic show at a local theater in town. What I thought at first would just be a typical trip down memory lane instead turned out to be something much deeper.

When Howard came out, gone was the arsenal of keyboards, the colorful fashion and the big eighties hair. In it’s place was a simple keyboard, a microphone and small MAC laptop. For the next hour, Jones performed many of the songs that a teenaged me listened to. Songs that were the soundtrack of summer pool parties, trips up and down the “Strip” on Northampton Street and background music in the Palmer Park Mall.

But it also felt different. These stripped down, acoustic versions of “Life In One Day,” “What Is Love,” “Things Can Only Get Better” and “No One Is To Blame” took on a new meaning. Every nuance of every word resonated. It wasn’t just music. It was therapy.

For a moment, I was no longer the middle-aged man who worries about bills, health and his family’s future. Instead, I was the wide-eyed, shy boy hanging out at a record store in small town America.

And it was good.

 

Adventures in Hollywood: The Final Chapter

10923259_10153057495824339_7483274293066628765_n“Good morning. This is US Airways calling to let you know that there is a delay in your flight from Los Angeles to Charlotte. As a result, you will need to contact an airline representative to change your connecting flight itinerary. We are sorry for any inconvenience.”

This was the message that greeted me first thing this morning. As if the return to sub-zero temperatures in Easton weren’t bad enough, realizing that there would be no connecting flights from Charlotte to Allentown isn’t exactly something I needed to hear on the last day of an amazing journey. But as I now sit here on a plane en route to Philadelphia with a ninety-minute car ride to follow, I know that nothing is going to dampen my mood. So while we cruise at altitudes above 30,000 feet, let me take the time to tell you about my final day in Hollywood.

I spent most of yesterday cruising around Los Angeles with one of my favorite people. Someone who; although she is a fan of the dreaded San Francisco 49ers, is one of the coolest, most talented people I’ve never ever met.

Carrie Carnevale is a filmmaker who has written and directed amazing short films that have won her quite a lot of acclaim over the years (including many times by yours truly). And like most of the other people I’ve met on this west coast excursion, Carrie and I had up til now only known each other through emails and various telephone conversations. Today was going to be the day we would meet each other after nearly three years of this back and forth banter. There was a heightened sense of excitement in the air.

When Carrie arrived at the hotel, it was a surreal moment. Yes, I had already experienced this giddy feeling of meeting people for the first time a lot during this trip but this meeting was extra special. After making our long overdue introductions we soon ventured off to spend the afternoon doing touristy stuff.

LA From The Getty Museum

LA From The Getty Museum

During our trip I was unfortunately introduced to real Los Angeles traffic. So bad was it that we ended up having to change our plans on a few occasions. But I didn’t care one bit. Carrie and I talked for hours about our lives, our work and families as well as all of the other things that friends do. Carrie even managed to hook us up with a few actresses from her films: Anna Hanson and Ashley Watkins. Two people I’ve interviewed who I had also never met and two of the most creatively inspiring and independent women doing their thing in a place where the deck is often stacked against them – and they are succeeding! I could literally go on for hours about them and their awesome projects but in the interest of time, I’ll save those stories for future articles you’ll read!

After spending most of the day with Carrie, the final destination on my adventure was a planned night of debauchery with actor David Banks (a fellow metal head) cruising the Sunset Strip and visiting all of the metal head clubs where our favorite music began. But what happened next was completely unexpected and no doubt the last thing you would ever think I would do.

As I’m walking Hollywood Blvd to the rendezvous point where David is going to pick me up, he suddenly sends me this interesting text:

“Hey man. I just got invited to a red carpet fashion show event down on Melrose Avenue. Wanna go?”

This red carpet event would be another chance for David to have his picture taken and to talk about his killer new movie, “CUT!” which had it’s premiere last night. Then came the big decision for Metal Head James Wood —- Do I go visit the infamous Sunset Strip and bars like The Whisky and Viper Room (places I have never been to) or, do I go to a fashion show red carpet?

We went rogue.

10523832_10153057627824339_4654375714197440878_nFor the next several hours, David, his super cool companion Karen and I walked the red carpet, drank free booze and hob nobbed with Hollywood’s fashion elite. I could not tell you what the event was for or 99% of the people who were there. All I know is that there were so many beautiful women dressed to the nines as well as a few I’d rather not ever think about again. Although I did recognize actress Bai Ling on the carpet, most of the rest of the people at this event were complete unknowns (at least to me).

Following our adventures on the carpet, David took us back to the Arena Cinema for the last showing of “CUT!” for the evening. Together, the two of us sat and watched his movie again on the big screen. I recall looking over at him several times during the course of the film and seeing the biggest smile on his face. He was witnessing the end result of years of hard work, and I could not be happier for my friend. Forget about the Sunset Strip. This was David’s dream and he had made it come true.

This morning, David and Karen picked me up and drove me to LAX. As the radio in his car blasted some of our favorite tunes we talked about the music as well as his movie. Both of us promising we’d get together again soon. My guess is that this time our reunion will include the trip down Sunset Strip that never happened.

But then again, maybe there will be another red carpet event to go to!

This trip has been the adventure of a lifetime. Me, James Wood was at a Hollywood premiere, walked a red carpet and connected with amazing people who are strangers to me no more. It’s been fun, exciting, exhausting and everything in between.

In addition to missing my family and the small town I grew up in, this trip has made me realize that dreams really do come true. All it takes is a spark, a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck. I’m ready.

I hope that by reading this journal of my adventures in Hollywood it gives you the inspiration to follow your own dreams. It certainly did for me.

Now, let’s go home.

 

 

Adventures In Hollywood Part Three

10805658_10153055131419339_6334037093380049681_nTo say that yesterday was surreal is a bit of an understatement. It was actually the culmination of three years of phone calls, emails, interviews and follow-up conversations about this amazing new horror/thriller, “CUT!” which finally saw it’s premiere in Hollywood last night.

It was an evening where I finally got the chance to meet all of the wonderful people I’ve been writing about and to come face to face with a fellow brother in hair metal. Someone who would have taken on the world with me playing in bands on the Sunset Strip back in the glory days.

The story of how I met actor/musician David Banks is an interesting one. One that has its own musical connection as well at involves an incredible actress from a cult-classic horror film.

Back when I first started doing interviews, one of my angles was to seek them out through milestone events. Such was the case in 2012 when Wes Craven’s film, “The Hills Have Eyes” reached its 35th anniversary. Through hard work, due diligence and a little bit of luck, I had the opportunity to speak with Suze Lanier-Bramlett, who was the star of the original film as well as an accomplished musician and songwriter herself (Suze was also married to the legendary Delaney Bramlett).

Suze and I spent the better part of forty-five minutes discussing everything about the original “Hills Have Eyes” as well as her latest CD – Swamp Cabaret (which by the way is wonderful). After we were through I asked Suze if there were any other projects she was currently working on. Without hesitation, she told me she was involved in this little indie horror film project called “CUT!” where she got to play the role of herself. It was something that was new, interesting and exciting.

Suze Lanier-Bramlett

Suze Lanier-Bramlett

That’s what got the ball rolling for me. I decided to seek out these filmmakers and see what it was all about.

The first person I was able to contact was David Banks, who was one of the producers, writers and actors. What I thought was only going to be a fifteen minute interview wound up turning into a nearly two hour conversation. You see, David and I have almost the exact same taste in music.

Long story short, the two of us became instant friends. Not only talking about “CUT!”, but all of the bands and music we grew up loving in the 80s. David’s enthusiasm and passion was infectious and it was through him that I was able to reach out to many of the other actors involved in the film for interviews, including David Rountree, Dahlia Salem and Gabrielle Stone.

Fast forward to January of this year. David and I were emailing back and forth and he told me that the film was finally complete and that they would be having a Hollywood premiere.

That’s when I came up with the idea of paying tinsel town a visit.

Dahlia Salem and Me!

Dahlia Salem and Me!

The premiere was as exciting as any high energy metal show I’ve been to – and more. It was connecting with friends who up until that point had been nothing more than words typed in an email or a voice on the end of a telephone 3,000 miles away– and I just sat back and took it all in. I’m sure there were some people who noticed me standing aloof in the corner, wondering why I was there all by myself. The smile on my face would tell them the story. It was incredible.

Some quick highlights:

Suze Lanier-Bramlett gave me the biggest hug when we finally met and made it a point of getting the introverted James Wood on to the red carpet for pictures with her.

Dahlia Salem and I talked for quite a while about her upcoming appearance on Patricia Arquette’s new show, “CSI: Cyber”. She was telling me how great it was for her to be able to work with Patricia and I said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if she wins the Oscar next week?” [Arquette is up for Best Supporting Actress for “Boyhood”]….What a question to ask an actress!

David Rountree and David Banks

David Rountree and David Banks

David Rountree, who is terrific in CUT!, told me about a new project he is working on in New Orleans next month and promised to talk more about it as things got rolling. It was a truly magical evening.

As David Banks and his beautiful companion drove me back to my hotel at 2am, I couldn’t stop telling him how great it was to be here and to finally meet him in person. Tonight we’ll be getting our metal on by visiting places like The Rainbow, The Whisky and Viper Room. Venues David and I would have surely frequented (and no doubt played in) back in the day if we had grown up in Hollywood.

As their car drove off into the wee hours I couldn’t help but go back to the conversation David and I had a month ago when he first told me about the premiere. He said, “You know, it’s too bad you can’t come out for this. It would be so cool to have you here.”

And somewhere in that statement there’s a lesson to be learned.

Carpe Diem.

Adventures In Hollywood Part Two

The view from where my day began.

The view from where my day began.

Yesterday, I decided to spend most of my time wandering through the streets of Hollywood. As someone with an east coast perspective, I saw walking down Hollywood Blvd as equivalent to taking a stroll through Times Square in New York City.

In some ways the two largest cities in America are very similar to each other. There are plenty of pizza joints, tattoo parlors, strip clubs and city tours available. Crowds of tourists from all walks of life roam the city streets (the size of which much less in LA than in NYC), and costumed people and unknown rap artists peddle their wares to those who inevitably cross their paths.

Side note: — I can’t tell you how many times I refused a picture with Catwoman and Spiderman or turned down the next Jay Z’s CD that was offered to me free of charge.

My day began as they normally do whenever I visit a new town – by seeking out the nearest Starbucks. While sitting there drinking my morning java this attractive blonde walks in, orders some sort of high-tech drink and sits down at the table next to me where a gentleman is already seated.

Unaware of my nosiness, the woman proceeds to pull out a portfolio and begins chatting with this fellow about all of the things she’s involved with. In this impromptu meeting session she tells him about her artwork, the photographs she’s taken for local magazines, how she’s in the process of making a video for some musical group I’ve never heard of, but one which made the dude sitting across from her sit up straight with curiosity.

Before long the two of them are exchanging email addresses and Facebook account information with the promise of connecting again soon. It felt like a twenty-first century version of “have your people call my people”.

That’s when it hit me. There is so much creativity in this town.

Me at The World Famous Chinese Theatre

Me at The World Famous Chinese Theatre

I know. I know. This sort of thing happens in every town all across America. But there’s something about it happening in Hollywood that feels different.

There’s no doubt that Hollywood is one of the hardest places in the world to make your dreams come true. And yet, that’s where thousands of amazing artists, musicians and actors continue to pound the pavement every day trying to make it happen.

I liken it to winning the lottery. There’s a million to one chance that you’ll succeed. So much riding against you that it makes it easy to just give up. But the people here seem to take the “if you don’t play, you can’t win” attitude very seriously, and it’s inspiring to be around.

The rest of my day was spent wandering the streets in search of a little fame and fortune of my own. I made it a point to look down at the stars on The Walk of Fame as much as possible. What I discovered was: A) There are a lot of people who made significant contributions to radio, television and film whose names I didn’t recognize and B) About 80% of the names I did recognize were people who were long dead.

The Chinese Theatre was another interesting place to visit – if only briefly. I loved seeing all of the hands and footprints that were left in the cement. Seeing dates as far back as 1928 was surreal and I pictured what life must have been like in this town nearly a century before Hollywood became “Hollywood”.

Then there was the a-ha moment on the walk back to my hotel.

FullSizeRenderIn my touristy slowness, this dude with shoulder length blond hair passes by with a Gibson hardshell guitar case in his hands. He’s wearing a denim jean jacket and ball cap along with a pair of bright red Chuck Taylor converse sneakers. No doubt he is either en route to band practice or just coming from a rehearsal.

I imagined the backpack he was also carrying over his shoulder contained cables, picks and guitar strings as well as the chord changes and secret lyrics to the next big radio hit.

I quickly fumbled for my camera to capture the moment. Not because taking a picture of just another kid with rock star dreams would be so typical of Hollywood. No, my intention was much more selfish.

Thirty years ago, that dude would have been me.

Adventures in Hollywood Part One

LosAngelesIt’s 4:00 am and I am sitting in a hotel room somewhere in the heart of Hollywood, California. It’s a small room with an even smaller bathroom next to it. One with no more than a stand-up sink and shower with the barest of essentials.

There is no food in this hotel room to speak of and the only drinking water is what comes from the bathroom spigot. An option even the most renegade of Hollywood notables would want to reconsider. It’s a private and cramped space to spend the next few days but one that will do very nicely.

After all, it is only me.

For the better part of the last hour I’ve been seated at a round table next to the door listening to the sounds of an empty, portable refrigerator hum its docile tones while outside, the beeping from a garbage truck with its transmission in reverse welcomes in a new LA morning.

I’ve spent most of the last twenty-four hours either in the air, on a bus in highly congested LA traffic (what they say about it is true) or walking many miles as a junkie East Coast tourist just taking it all in. In between checking emails, sending texts, running to baggage carousels and Flyaway buses as well as finding time to eat, the day was a complete whirlwind.

During this trip I will finally meet a few of the people I’ve been conversing with online for the past several years. Amazing people I’ve interviewed and written about several times during that span, but ones who’s own existence is known to me only through emails and telephone conversation. It’s going to be exciting and surreal at the same time.

Of course, somewhere along the way I’m also going to find time to write, which is another one of the main reasons I’m here. This trip is a nice retreat to catch up on some articles I’ve been meaning to get to while at the same time getting into the real meat of a few new stories! I am looking forward to sitting in a Hollywood coffee shop and letting others hear the sound of my laptop keys clicking away while I busily write down my thoughts and emotions.

And right now there are certainly a lot of them!

 

Reflections of 2014

gojimmygoWell, here we are. The end of another very productive year of writing and creativity.

One thing I’ll always remember about 2014 is that it was definitely a year of transition and change.

From a blog standpoint, 2014 was also surreal. Go Jimmy Go had more than 29,000 visitors from 139 different countries this year. Many of them from countries I never knew existed before. It boggles my mind thinking that people from such far off, distant lands managed to stumble across my articles – even if it might have been by accident.

You may have noticed that the frequency of my regular rants have gone down this year. The reason for that is because I’ve been focusing most of my efforts on GuitarWorld.com and aXs.com articles. If you like, you can click on the links I’ve highlighted to see what I’ve been up to!

One of the surreal interviews I did this year was with “GRL” – an all-girl group put together by Pussycat Dolls founder, Robin Antin. The five member outfit released two insanely hooky songs and videos this year; one of which featured rapper and celebrity music awards host,  Pitbull.

I was asked to do a last-minute phone interview with all five of the girls at one time. No small task considering that they only gave me fifteen minutes to talk, but we somehow managed to make it work. We talked about their music and tour plans as well as what they like most about the creative process. Although the conversations were brief and kind of all over the place, I really got the sense that these girls were on the brink of something really special. Jetting to exotic locations; hanging with celebrities; recording songs and filming music videos. Man, they were living the life!

Then a month or so later – shortly after my article was posted, it was revealed that one of the members of GRL; singer Simone Battle, had committed suicide. Initial reports suggested that she had been severely depressed over money-related issues and decided to take her own life.

Tragic.

On a similar, yet no less tragic personal note, I also lost one of my best friends in 2014. Nathan Brown and I had been compadres ever since we roamed the halls of Easton High School in the mid 1980’s. Dreaming about (and often forming) short-lived bands that we thought would take over the world.

Sadly, none of them did.

JimmyBut that never stopped Nathan and I from having late night conversations about our musical goals at a local diner. Actively discussing everything we intended to do once we “made it” – usually over coffee and cheese french-fries. Nathan was the best man at my wedding in 1995 and someone who always knew how to make you laugh. In short, he was one of a kind.

As life would have it, the two of us started to lose touch with each other towards the end of the 90’s. Although we eventually reconnected at a Thin Lizzy concert three years ago, we never really hung out again or talked like we used to. It was always a case of “maybe someday”. Yeah, there would always be a someday — right?

Unbeknownst to me, Nathan died suddenly on August 9th, 2014. And even though we hadn’t really seen each other in nearly 15 years, the loss is still real and raw and has really put things into perspective. No longer am I just the shy, teenaged kid in high school with endless possibilities. Back in the 80’s, the year 2000 seemed like an eternity away. Now, the 80’s feel that way.

Which reminds me of a picture I saw the other day. One that really hits home about 2015. See if it does the same for you.

YearEnd

The fact is, there’s a time limit to this thing called life and our job is to make the most of it!

I hope that you’ve found my articles and interviews this year to be beneficial and had as much fun reading them as I had writing them. And I do hope that you’ll be along for the ride with me in 2015 because, as the saying goes – the best is yet to come!

Here’s wishing you all the best the New Year has to offer!

A Reprobate Remembers Mr. Jankowich

JankowichI heard the news this morning that John Jankowich, a beloved teacher at Easton Area High School, passed away in Florida earlier this week at the age of 72.

As is typical for me whenever I receive news like this, my memory banks quickly took me back to where it all began. So come along with me for the ride….

***

When I was a bright-eyed, fresh-faced sophomore at Easton High School in 1984, one of the urban legends going around the hallowed halls was of a teacher who lived on the upper floors of the school and taught senior students the importance of mythological creatures like Zeus, Odin and Pegasus. To make things even more interesting, rumors swirled that this teacher also came to class dressed in full mythological garb. It was from that very moment I knew that “Mythology” had to be one of my 12 grade classes.

That was my first exposure to Mr. Jankowich and for the next two years all I heard about was how cool, how mean and how fun “Janks” was in his Mythology class and how I couldn’t wait to be one of his pupils.

Fast forward two years….

FullSizeRenderAt the time of my arrival to Mr. Jank’s Mythology class in 1986 I was heavily into role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. So in addition to it being a course on literature, Mythology was also kind of like a pep talk for me about a world I one day longed to live in.

Another thing I fondly recall about Jank’s class was that it was also the first time I heard the word “reprobate”. It was a term he gleefully used to often describe his students…

“SIT DOWN YOU REPROBATES!”

…. and a term that I myself would become (unbeknownst to him) that following Spring….

One of the benefits of being a Senior at Easton High School in 1987 was being able to go off campus for 5th period lunch every day. So long as you were doing well in class you were eligible to leave the premises with your homies for a ninety-minute visit to the local McDonalds, Burger King or Richard’s Drive-In. Yes, it was the ultimate perk for being a senior. Unless of course your grades weren’t quite up to par or you didn’t follow the rules of the school.

Mr. Jankowich had the wonderful opportunity of overseeing that 5th period. A ninety-minute “class” that ran through all three lunch periods and was held daily in the school’s auditorium. This class was intended to be used as a silent place of study but ironically became the final destination for school reprobates under the name, “restricted study hall” or “restricted” for short.

“SIT DOWN YOU REPROBATES!”

Bad grades, tardiness and other devious and malicious intent would always result in the removal of senior privileges and land you a spot in Jank’s “class” where silence was strictly enforced.

Does this look like a reprobate to you?

Does this student look like a reprobate to you?

But Jimmy Wood (who had refused to dress for swimming in gym class and had thus landed in restricted) had other intentions. Jimmy found himself stuck for a week in Jank’s class while his other classmates were out enjoying spring afternoons over a Big Mac, Whopper or Greasy Dick’s cheeseburger – and Jimmy didn’t like it.

So Jimmy the reprobate came up with a plan.

One day during restricted, Jimmy asked Mr. Jankowich if he could go to the gym. Jimmy told Jank that he wanted to get excuse passes made to allow him to  go make-up his swimming requirement during 5th period. Mr. Jankowich – now proud of Jimmy’s desire to do good, agreed and sent Jimmy on his way. But what Jank didn’t know was that Jimmy would have something more sinister in mind.

Jimmy kept his word though and went down to the gym and had Ms. David (the instructor) write him up several slips excusing him from restricted in order to make up gym class.

The next day at 5th period, Jimmy showed Mr. Jankowich the signed pass. Jank happily patted Jimmy on the head and excused him from restricted. But as Jimmy made his way down the hall to gym he realized that there was now nothing to stop him from simply leaving the school and joining his friends for lunch. I mean, he really was excused from restricted, right?  So for the next five days, Jimmy showed Jank the pass, received a pat on the head and then enjoyed the freedom from restricted until his full senior privileges were reinstated.

And he lived happily ever after….

***

Although I’m sure he would have gotten a giggle out of my mischievous deed now, I never saw Mr. Jankowich again after graduation. But I will never forget that spring, how much fun his class was or when he came to school dressed like he was going to a toga party.

John Jankowich’s obituary stated that he taught English, British Literature and Mythology for over 30 years and also taught English as a Second Language to immigrants in night school for 18 years. The four loves of his life were God, family, friends and education and he used those blessings to help others —-

—- including this reprobate.

RIP Mr. Jank.

 

Birthday Reflections At 45

BirthdayCakeToday is October 5th, 2014: My 45th birthday.

Wait a minute. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was reminiscing about my life on my 44th birthday?

I swear, time is going by WAY too fast. I am now officially half-way to 90. A staggering accomplishment if I do say so myself.

I’m grateful every day for all of the blessings in my life: a loving family, friends, good health and being able to do something I really love to do – write.

I’m not sure if I’ll make it to be a nonagenarian but what I do know is that for each year that goes by time seems to be going at breakneck speed – and I don’t think I like it.

Case in point: my daughter turned thirteen this year. And although there have certainly been a few teen drama moments that have tried my patience, I still find myself always thinking that in five short years she will begin building a life on her own.

Slow down.

2014 has been a year of firsts for me. This year saw me achieve some monumental interviews. Pipe dreams for the kid who played guitar endlessly throughout high school in his upstairs bedroom. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Perry (Aerosmith), Slash (Guns N’ Roses), Ted Nugent, Steve Vai and Don Felder (The Eagles) among many others.

I’ve also had the once in a lifetime opportunity of attending Jim Peterik’s book release event in New York City where I got to see him perform an intimate acoustic set for an audience of about thirty people. I sit here now with a smile on my face recalling how the music he made with the band Survivor got me through my own teenage drama in the 1980’s. When times were tough, I knew I could always find solace in songs like “I Can’t Hold Back,” “High On You,” “The Search is Over,” “Is This Love,” “Man Against The World” and “In Good Faith”.

Photo: Kat Gallaso

Photo: Kath Galasso

Jim’s music was so influential to me that at my high school graduation party my friend Nathan Brown and I set up an impromptu jam session. Out on my parent’s patio, Nathan and I set up his drum set and I plugged in my guitar. Then for the next two hours — to the delight chagrin of those in attendance, the two of us jammed along to the entire “Vital Signs” album while it spun on my mother’s worn out turntable.

For me to now sit in a small club and watch Jim Peterik do a few of those same songs in 2014 was nothing short of incredible.

Slow down.

As I think of that post graduation party I am suddenly reminded that 2014 was also a year of loss. Nathan Brown and I had been the best of friends when we roamed the halls of Easton High School. Dreaming about (and often forming) short-lived bands that at the time we thought would take over the world. I still remember all of those conversations we had late in the night talking about everything we were going to do once we “made it”. Nathan was the best man at my wedding in 1995 and someone who always knew how to make you laugh. In short, he was one of a kind.

I always thought that our bond of brotherhood would be inseparable, but life sometimes has a funny way of throwing a wrench into even the best of circumstances. Sadly, towards the end of the 1990’s and the start of the 21st century, the two of us lost touch. Although we would eventually reconnect at a concert three years ago, we never really hung out again like we used to. It was the usual case of “maybe someday”. Yep, there would always be a someday — right?

Ironically, on September 11th of this year, Nathan’s name popped into my head for some reason. Suddenly, “someday” was today! I decided to do a quick Google search on him to see if maybe he had a Facebook or something so that I might reach out to him. But when the first hit came back from the search engine, my heart just sank.

It was his obituary.

Nathan had passed away suddenly in his home on August 9th. He had already been gone for more than a month. His final service was already over and I am still devastated for not being there to at least say goodbye and pay my respects.

Please….Slow down.

As I begin to celebrate my 45th year on this bouncing ball my heart is heavy but I’m feeling optimistic. There’s a big world out there just waiting to be explored. Family and friends to love, books to read, articles (and books) to write, music to create and new dreams to find.

But my real wish on this October 5th is to have the strength to seize each day and then slow down. I still want to enjoy those big moments, but now I want to savor the small ones just as much. I’ve realized there’s only so much time we are given here in this life.

And I plan on making the most of it.

A Quick Thought On The Passing of Robin Williams

MorkJust a quick little blurb with my thoughts on the passing of Robin Williams.

First of all, let me just say that I too am a huge fan of his work. I will never forget seeing him for the very first time as Mork on “Happy Days” and following him along on the “Mork and Mindy” spinoff.

As an eleven-year old boy, I also fondly recall begging my parents to take me to see him in “Popeye”, one of his first film roles.

Shortly after graduating high school, I spent the summer working as an usher at a movie theater. Coincidentally, it was also the same year that “Dead Poet’s Society” was released. So in between sweeping up popcorn and picking up stuck wads of bubblegum, I must have watched that movie no less than fifty times – and never got tired of it. There was just something about Robin Williams’ performances that were so engaging.

I can’t say that I’ve felt the same way about every one of his films. Although I did enjoy him in “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Good Will Hunting” (the film that won him the Academy Award), I didn’t really care for “What Dreams May Come” or “Hook”.

I was one of the many who was shocked when I heard the news that Robin Williams had committed suicide. How could someone so larger than life and with the ability to bring joy to so many people be so sad inside that the only escape he could find was through the final solution? I am not a doctor and have never met Williams but do count my blessings that I don’t have to deal with the issues that plagued him for years.

I also find it “funny” – truthfully, a bit sad that there are people in this world who (also without having known him) are either assuming to know why Mr. Williams decided to take his own life or are using this tragedy as yet another means to forward their own agendas.

There are some in the news media who are actually calling Robin Williams a coward for “feeling sad” and for taking his own life. Which makes me wonder if these same pundits would say the same about a veteran returning from Iraq who finds it unbearable to assimilate back into civilian life? And then we have the ones who see Williams’ death as a metaphor for a political party. As if suffering from severe depression is similar to that of being a liberal. How sad it is that these people are given a nation wide platform to spew ignorance and hate while a family is grieving.

I’ll admit, I too was selfish when I first heard the news of Robin’s passing. I immediately wanted to rent all of those movies I loved just to see Robin Williams one more time. I wanted to watch that episode of “Happy Days” again. The one where he challenges Richie Cunningham and the Fonz. Yes, even though that part of my own life had moved on, I still wanted Robin Williams to be here.

DPS

We sometimes lose sight of the fact that the people we love and the ones who’ve touched our lives will not be with us forever. Instead, we tend to see them as kind of like our favorite pair of jeans or our go-to security blanket. Something that can just lie around for years in a dresser (or on a DVD shelf) and only be pulled out when we need them for comfort.

Ironically, today (August 13) also happens to be the 30th anniversary of the death of my grandfather. The first time I ever had to experience the loss of someone dear to me. So I will use Robin Williams’ death as a reminder that everything in life is only temporary, and will find comfort in the words he spoke in one of my favorite films from 25 years ago…

Carpe Diem.

‘When Times Get Ruff’: New ‘Doodle’ Book Benefits Ronald McDonald House Charities

WhenTimesGetRuffIt’s hard to believe that we’re already on the third installment of our Doodle Dog Book series. What started out as a dream by two high school friends has turned into something bigger than either of us could have ever imagined.

But Michele and I both believe that the real fulfillment in accomplishing a dream comes from giving it a purpose – and that’s exactly what we’ve done, by donating 100% of our profits from sales of our first two books to worthy causes.

In keeping with this trend, all personal proceeds from sales of our brand-new book, “Doodle: When Times Get Ruff” will go to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio, a non-profit organization which provides a home away from home for families with seriously ill children staying and receiving treatment at nearby hospitals.

“Doodle: When Times Get Ruff” tells the story of Chloe, a young girl who faces uncertainty when her younger brother Christopher becomes ill. With help and love from both family and friends, Chloe is able to overcome her fear.

If you’re already a fan of the first two books you’ll notice the return of a few familiar characters, but with an added twist. You may also discover a few “easter eggs” that have been hidden somewhere within the text as well.

As an added bonus, from now until December 31st, Michele and I will be donating all future profits from sales of our first two books, “Doodle” and “Doodle Meets The Pound Pup” to RMHC of Central Ohio as well.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Mackenzie Schuler, the Marketing & Communications Coordinator for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio, to find out more about her job and what goes on at RMH. We hope that after reading this interview with Mackenzie and seeing all of the good work that she and the rest of the staff and volunteers at RMHC of Central Ohio do for their community, you will consider purchasing a copy of our book or helping us spread the word!

Ruff

How did you become involved in non-profit work?

I grew up in Iowa with a family full of outdoors men. During my senior year in high school, my Grandpa was sitting up in a tree stand when it suddenly gave out. He fell fifteen feet and broke all of the vertebrae in his neck and back; completely shattering his spine. While he was in the hospital being treated my mom, grandma and aunt would all take turns staying either in his room or in the hospital waiting room. I remember they would be there for days on end and I got to see firsthand how draining it was for them to be in that environment and not have any break or an oasis to get away from it. I had originally intended to be a journalism major but that experience shifted my focus to non-profit work. I had two great internships while I was in college and fell in love with it.

RonaldMCdonaldWhat’s the mission of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio?

Our mission is to serve the families of seriously ill children in central Ohio and we create, find and support programs that do just that. When a family checks in, we don’t ask them to pay anything. That means we have a large gap that we have to makeup through fundraising. 

People may already know what the Ronald McDonald House is, but we also have a number of other things – including the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile which is basically a traveling, pediatric doctor’s office that goes around and visits kids who may not be able to get access to healthcare otherwise. It travels north to Mansfield all the way down to southern Ohio.

What’s a typical day like for you?

Well, there is no “typical” day in a non-profit setting [laughs]. We get to wear many different hats. I remember one Saturday I was here and we were all unloading head boards. We don’t hire anyone to do it for us. We do all of the work ourselves. So one day I might be meeting with a family to talk about their experience at RMH and the next day, I might be moving furniture or reupholstering chairs.

My main focus here though is being the Marketing and Communications Coordinator. I do all of our social media as well as all of internal and external communications. I also work directly with families to tell a story each month for our electronic newsletter. I’ll work with our Family Services department to find a family who would be willing to talk about their experience and then tie it back to everyone who helps give their time, money and effort to the Ronald McDonald House.

What can you tell me about the recent expansion at RMH?

Currently, we have 80 guest rooms and have just added a 42-room expansion. With 122 rooms, it makes us the largest Ronald McDonald House in the world. It’s really exciting. In addition to the rooms, we’ve also added things like a roof-top garden and a salon area. We have lots of common spaces for families to spend their time together and keep their lives as normal as possible in not so normal circumstances. We’ll be having a Community Open House on Sunday, Sept 14th from 1-4pm. We want to use this opportunity to thank people for all of their support and want them to feel like they’re a part of the project as well.

What are some of the ways people can help?

There are a number of ways you can get involved. When you visit our website you’ll find a tab there that says “How You Can Help”. It can be anything from volunteering regularly to making a meal or even collecting pop tabs.

StoriesOfHope

Is there something that people might not know about RMH that you think they should be aware of?

One of the things people might not be aware of is that we rely 100% on donations from the community. We also have a very small staff, so in order to keep our facility running we have volunteers that are here from 9am – 9pm every day of the week. Our volunteers also help us save money. As an example, since we don’t have a hired cleaning staff, our volunteers are the ones who keep our house spotless. It’s because of their hard work that we’re able to save over a million dollars a year.

What is the best part of your job?

There are so many great stories that are told every day here at the Ronald McDonald House. I love the mission and how no one is ever asked to pay. It’s an amazing service provided to the community. One where the only thing the family has to be concerned about is helping their child heal. They don’t need to focus on anything else. Only on what’s important.

 For more information on
Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio – Click Here!

Click here to Order a Copy of Doodle: When Times Get Ruff

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