Category: Life

Back To School

Me, June 11, 1987

Thirty years ago I had an epiphany. It was March of 1990 and I was in the middle of my second semester at West Chester University. My goal at the time was to major in education and, eventually, go on to teach young, impressionable minds about the only subjects I truly cared about: guitar and music.

Before we go any further, allow me to give you a little back story:

I had already graduated high school three years prior to this revelation but things didn’t turn out the way that I planned. Don’t get me wrong, I still loved music, but back then all I wanted to do was be the next Eddie Van-Halen. I knew that was something that wasn’t going to hapen overnight, so I decided to enroll at Penn State University in the Fall of 1987 as a music major.

I had no money set aside for school and my parents, who’d recently divorced, had no means of helping to fund my education either. So I applied for grants and took out loans. Quite a few loans if you really want to know. I was told at the time I wouldn’t have to worry about paying them back, at least not until six months after I’d finished school. It was almost too good to be true. I’d be rich and famous by then.

Most of my tuition for that first semester was covered by loans, and the people at the bank were kind enough to give me plenty of extra money as well. Checks made out to James Wood rolled into the bursar’s office faster than cars at a Chik-fil-A drive-thru, and every day I’d sneak down to the office in between classes to see if another one had arrived. Ones that were supposed to be set aside for schooling but instead I used to buy important things, like guitars and amps and treating my friends to coffee and cheese french fries at the local Perkins. I went to school three times a week, didn’t have to work and the money continued to roll in. I was living the life, or so I thought. Don’t believe me? Here’s an entry from a journal I kept back in 1987:

Journal Entry: Sept 2, 1987 while sitting in Psychology class.

By November, I was getting pretty tired of going to school. I just wanted to rock, and there was no one who could tell me otherwise or point me in the right direction. I dropped out of Penn State and spent most of 1988 working odd jobs while trying and failing, often miserably, at starting a band.

One day I received a letter in the mail informing me that, since I was no longer enrolled in college, the funds from my student loans would have to be repaid. The bill had come due. Not just for all the classes I dropped, but for all those guitars, amps and five-star meals I’d consumed. I needed a way out and fast.

I decided to attend the local community college with an emphasis on music education and an eventual transfer to West Chester University. This worked out well for me in two ways: First, it put the money I already owed on the back burner again. Second, and even more importantly, it allowed me to continue to take out more loans for tuition while pocketing the rest. By August of 1999 and my first semester at West Chester, I was already looking at some serious debt, and I was not even twenty-years-old.

“This is going to be worth it,” I assured myself.

Which leads me back to the ephipany of 1990 and to when I’d once again pretty much given up on college. Sure, I was going through the motions, but I wasn’t paying attention in class and was driving home almost every weekend. One day two of my roomates who, unlike me, had just finished studying, asked if I wanted to join them for a night out. When I reached into my pocket to see what funds were available, I fished out a single dollar bill and thirty-seven cents worth of loose change. It was all the money I had to my name. I reluctanly told them I’d have to pass.

That’s when I had the epiphany. Even though I’d given it the old college try, school just wasn’t going to be for me. I had to face the inevitable and do the one thing I hated most in life….. find and keep a job.

I decided to drop out of West Chester. Well, let me rephrase that, I didn’t actually drop out of school. I abandonded it. Yep, I packed my things, drove home and never went back. Eventually received the report card stating I had received all “F’s,” save for an English II course where the instructor was kind enough to put down a WP (withdrawl passing) for me. I would wind up spending the next ten years slowly making payments on my loan while working as a garbage man and pharmacy technician. I did try going back to community college in the mid-nineties and, although grateful my loan payments were again put on hiatus, once again never finished more than just a few courses.

Around the turn of the century (still blows my mind to say that) I decided to change careers and enrolled at the now defunct Allentown Business School where I received a quick diploma in Information Technology and have spent the better part of the last twenty years resetting passwords. Yes, I do a LOT more than that but don’t want to bore you with tech stuff. It took more than a dozen years but I even managed to pay back every penny I owed in student loans.

Journal Entry: September 1987

Recently, I had another epiphany. My daughter, now a high school graduate herself, enrolled at the same community college I attended. As I looked over her schedule it got me thinking about all the classes I’d taken over the years and how much I’d left on the table. All the money I spent on education, guitars and meals that went absolutely nowhere. Having not thought about such things for the longest time, I decided to find out what classes I had.

I started by logging onto the community college’s website and viewed my transcript. I was suprised to find that I had accumulated 51 credits in subjects ranging in everything from psychology and music to French and philosophy. This led me to check West Chester’s website where I discovered more than a dozen more I’d earned.

Hmmmmm…..

With newfound curiosity I decided to reach out to an advisor at the community college to see what this hodgepodge of classes might get me in terms of a degree… any degree… and how fast it could get me there. After reviewing everything I’d given her, the woman I spoke with told me that if I took an environmental science course over the winter and four other courses in Spring (English II, Developmental Psychology, Environmental Sustainability and Nature of Mathematics) I would earn an Associate in Arts Degree in General Studies and graduate in May of 2021. What’s more, all of the required courses could be taken completely online at my convenience, so it wouldn’t interfere with my current job.

So, guess what I’m doing after more than thirty years? …. I’m going back to school. It is an idea as frightening as it is thrilling.

What do I intend to do with this degree? I’m so glad you asked. Because that was the same thing the advisor wanted to know when I told her I wanted one as quickly as possible.

Initially, she asked me what prompted a 51-year-old man to consider a career change, noting that my answer would be crucial in determining which courses I should enroll in.

“If your goal is to move on to a four-year college and become a teacher,” she said, “you’ll definitely want to make sure you cover your education requirements.”

“I have no intention of becoming a teacher or even changing careers,” I told her. “I enjoy what I do.”

“Then why would you want to get a degree at this stage of your life?” she asked, curiously.

I thought about high school and the three colleges I attended. The classes I took, the guitars I bought, the meals I ate and the loans that were now long paid off. I was grateful to finally be in a position where I wouldn’t have to worry about taking out any more of them. Then I smiled.

“I want it for me,” I said.

Birthday Reflections At 51

October 5th, 2020: My 51st Birthday.

This is my eighth entry in this series of birthday posts. Something I started shortly after I began my writing journey in the fall of 2011. 

To be honest, especially with everything that’s happened over the course of the last twelve months, I didn’t feel like posting one at all. But instead of rehashing all the gloom and doom about viruses, failed leadership and elections, I’ll try to remain upbeat about it. So here goes:

Birthdays are the one day where we, collectively, celebrate the individual. And by that I mean we don’t use the day as a reason to inundate social media with over the hill jokes, pay for lavish lunches, or give someone a number of spankings equivalent to their new age, plus an extra one to grow on–although I do remember that was the best part about attending birthday parties as a kid in the 1970s, so long as you weren’t the one on the receiving end.

No, the real reason people blow out candles, consume large quantities of cake, receive greeting cards (hopefully, with a few greenbacks in them) and open whimsical presents is to commemorate the day you arrived on Earth.

You’re alive, and that’s reason enough to celebrate.

For me, it seems like it was only yesterday that I was a youthful teenager; driving me and my buddies around in a beat-up, 1972 Toyota Corona (honest, I’m not talking about the virus. There really was a car called a Corona). Going to the mall on Friday nights after school, pouring my hard-earned, summer lawn mowing earnings into video game cabinets and drinking gallons of Orange Julius. Wishing I could somehow muster the courage to go over and talk to the cute girl who stood with her friends outside the Listening Booth record store. Ah, youth.

Wasn’t I the one who was able to go to rock concerts and stay up til the wee hours of the morning? Sitting in some dingy diner; smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee while talking to friends about what would happen when we took on the world and made all of our dreams came true? Now, I’m lucky if I can stay up til 10 p.m. most nights.

There’s an odd sense of immortality you have when you’re young that makes you believe time will always stand still and that you’ll never be as old as your parents. But then, one day, you take a nap and wake up in their role.

I promised I would keep things upbeat for this post so I won’t rehash the past. Instead, I’ll talk about the future. In addition to continuing to do interviews, I’m also heavily in the writing process of my next book. Something that has been put off for quite a while but something I am extremely excited about. I am giving myself to the end of the year to finish. More on that in the months ahead.

I’ve also been dabbling a lot in watercolor painting. Not only has it been a great stress reliever but it’s something you can do that doesn’t cost a lot of money and where you can literally see your progress every day:

I called this one “The Road Beyond 50.” If you visualize yourself in it, the painting is a metaphor for life. You can’t see where you’ve been (the past) or the scars that you carry. All you can see is where you’re standing now and the road to what lies ahead of you. As in life, there is beauty all around us and a brave new world just waiting to be explored. 

I hope my next trip around the sun, and walk down this path, brings us all a sense of hope, peace and love. 

 

A Silver Lining

2020 has been the absolute worst year of my life.

I know, it probably has been for you as well. But my streak of bad started way before the corona virus and debating the usefulness of masks while hating each other. For me, the black cloud hovering over my head began last October when I lost my beloved dog, Doodle, three days before I turned 50. That single event set the wheels of gloom in motion.

It really began in early March of this year when my mother suffered a fatal stroke and, a week later, the Covid-19 lockdown officially began. I do writing on the side and was grateful to be able to continue to work from home with my real job in IT.

Unfortunately, one month after quarantine began, I was told that my position had been eliminated, effective immediately. My company offered to pay me until the end of the month. This was contingent upon them overnighting all the things at my desk along with a box for me to return my laptop and other company equipment.

I used those two weeks to secure a contract position at another company. The bummer of it was, the new job didn’t start for eighteen days and there would be no pay coming in. So, like thousands of other people, I applied for unemployment benefits to fill the gap and was accepted. I won’t go into great detail about my experience with the Department of Unemployment other than to say that as of this writing, I still have not received one single penny for the two-weeks unemployment they owe me. I tried calling, emailing, voicemails… all met with constant busy signals or completely ignored. I had to dig into savings in order to pay bills. The fact they still owe me for two-weeks unemployment is unsettling, but I cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like for others who are going through a similar process and still haven’t found a job.

Just when I thought there might be a break in the storm, this past week I had to say goodbye to another one of my dogs. Ginger Snap, a senior pup we adopted after she was rescued from a kill shelter in 2011, and who had spent the next four years living a life filled with love and luxury, told me it was time. She had been diagnosed with Cushing’s Disease a few weeks ago and I was giving her medication that was supposed to alleviate the symptoms that were ruining her quality of life. I came downstairs on Saturday morning to find her unable to get up. It will take me a long time to get over the thought that I failed her.

So, during a period of ten months, I’ve not only become mired in this pandemic but also lost my mother, two dogs and my job. Which kind of leads me to the title of this post – The Silver Lining.

The day after Ginger went to the rainbow bridge, I went to visit my brother, who had lived with my mom in the house we all grew up in. He had recently installed windows in places of the house where none previously existed. I marveled at the sun, gleaming through the new windows and showering the space that was once our childhood bedroom in bright, summer light.

As I admired his work, he mentioned how he should’ve installed the windows twenty-five years ago and how he wished our mom would’ve been alive to see them. I agreed.

After I left the house to go home, I walked past the huge blue spruce tree lumbering in the yard. Its towering branches reaching high to the heavens like it had always done even before I was born. I suddenly remembered how deathly afraid I was of that tree as a child, and how I would often have nightmares about it coming out of the ground at its roots to get me.

I decided I wanted to have a piece of that big tree to stick in my curio cabinet at home. It’s a place where I keep all of my childhood knickknacks of times gone by. I bravely reached for a low hanging limb and plucked off a tiny piece of branch. I held the small stem to my nose and breathed deeply, inhaling the faint scent of pine from something that forty-five years ago scared the living shit out of me.

That night as a lay in bed, I had a dream that I was back at my brother’s house. I can’t recall all the details, but I remember my brother and I were standing in the kitchen talking about something when in walked my mom. In the dream, she looked exactly as she did as when I was a boy, but in my heart, I knew she had died. You would think that I would be terrified at the sight of a ghost, but I wasn’t afraid to see her at all. Instead, there was something I wanted to know.

“Are you all right?” I asked. Meaning, is it ok when you die.

She nodded her head. “Yeah, I’m fine,” she said. “Everything is ok.”

The dream quietly transitioned into something else I can’t remember, but that revelation of seeing her still haunts me. It’s been years since I’d dreamt about my mother, and even when I did there was never a conversation that felt so visceral.

I’m not sure if what I experienced was the culmination of visiting my brother and all the things that have been happening to me in 2020, or that my mother really was trying to tell me that everything is going to be all right.

But if I had to make a choice, I like to think that it was the latter.

33 Years of Employment

Me, June 11, 1987

Who would have thought how much could change in a thirty three years? To think that at the time since I received my high school diploma in June of 1987 the world has become such different place.

I’ll be honest, when this picture was taken I figured it would probably only be a year before I’d be on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, talking about my band’s debut album and world tour with Def Leppard. I had high hopes and wasn’t going to let anything stand in my way.

Thirty-three years ago the only thing I wanted to do was rock. I’m serious. I mean that’s ALL I wanted to do. I really didn’t want to go to college, and I sure as hell had no interest in doing anything that resembled actual work.

On the contrary, my days were usually spent sleeping til around noon, noodling on my guitar and mooching money off of my mom and grandmother for such things as gas for my car and coffee and cheese fries at Perkins. After all, a man’s gotta eat, right?

“Borrowing” money from them soon began to get old and my options for disposable funds was starting to run out. I was worried that I might be completely broke before fame came knocking at the door.

What to do?

It wasn’t until I discovered that student loans were readily available that I began to have second thoughts about going to college. I mean, who wouldn’t want some free money? Money you wouldn’t have to pay back until after you graduated college!! Hell, that could take YEARS!! I quickly signed the first promissory note I saw and still have vivid memories of running down to the bursar’s office every day at Penn State Allentown to see if there was a big check for me. And what did I do with this windfall of cash you ask? The money I was supposed to use for books and tuition? I bought a guitar and amp and wound up dropping out.

This cycle inevitably repeated itself over the next few years as I applied to community college and eventually, West Chester University. I discovered that as long as I was enrolled in school I was “off the hook” as far as paying back the money. At least in the short-term. It wasn’t until I woke up one morning in my dorm, dug into my pockets and realized I had $1.37 to my name that I had an epiphany. I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing. Here I was, twenty years old with $1.37 to my name and nothing more. The friends I’d graduated with were now halfway done with college and most were well on their way to bigger and better things. It was my wake up call. Rock and Roll would have to wait.

On May 29th, 1990 (thirty years ago as of this writing), I started working full time on the 4-12:30 am shift as the head garbage man at Easton Hospital. That’s right, I literally started at the very bottom. Any gum wrapper, cigarette butt or operating room bio hazardous waste was handled by me. I hated it with a passion. They even fucked up and spelled my name wrong in the company newsletter. Despite all of my self-doubt and embarrassment of being a garbage man, something inside kept me going. I knew better days were ahead.

A year later, a position opened up in the pharmacy. It was a 2:30-11pm shift but was the perfect chance for me to get out of garbage. I worked that position for eight years.

Eventually, I made the decision to go back to school and get my degree in computers, married, bought a home and became the father of a beautiful daughter. It took me fifteen years but I eventually paid back every cent of my student loan debt.

Perhaps the best thing of all was that my own rock star dream didn’t die. I now live it vicariously through my writing. The point being, we can do anything we want to do. Be anything we want to be. We just need to make a plan and do what it takes to get there.

As I look back on this picture, three decades after it was taken, I see someone who had big dreams. And someone who, thirty-three years later, found a way to make them come true.

A Different Perspective: Why You Should Take Covid-19 Seriously

Whether I’m out walking my dogs from a safe social distance or driving to pick up much-needed groceries, I can’t help but see members of my community assembling in large numbers at places like parks and shopping centers, despite government and medical professionals advising us to the contrary. It’s become apparent that a vast majority of people are still not taking the Corona Virus (Covid-19) seriously.

Perhaps there’s a reason for this disconnect, because I’ve also read dozens of news articles and listened to a bunch of so-called experts bloviate their opinions. Casting blame for this “virus” pandemic we’re experiencing on everything from a person in China eating a bat, to a biological weapon experiment gone awry, to the new 5G frequency that’s being used for our smart phones. Some are even suggesting that it’s not a virus at all and that the whole thing is nothing more than a crude hoax. In every case, the misinformation given is being shared through various social media outlets where many recipients, who are already unsure and in fear, eagerly accept it as fact without bothering to research it on their own.

The reason I’m writing this is not to fuel debate or cause heated tension. Quite frankly, I’m in no mood to argue. I’d just like to share with you a story that I hadn’t really thought much about until my mother passed away on March 7. I’ll preface what follows by telling you that my mother died of a stroke at the age of 73, and not from Covid-19.

My mom’s mother, Helena (Lyons) Appleman, was born in Easton on April 19, 1914. She was one of eight children from a relatively poor family who grew up to become a wife, mother, seamstress and homemaker, before spending the last nine years of my grandfather’s life being his primary caregiver after he, ironically, also suffered a severe stroke.

Shortly after my brother was born in 1967, when my newly married mother and father had nowhere else to go, my grandparents invited them to move in with them into their small, three-bedroom turn of the century colonial. I came along two years later and was followed by my sister two years after that.

My connection with my grandmother during my formitive years growing up remains my most treasured memory. For, in addition to taking care of my disabled grandfather 24/7, she was also the one who cared for me and my siblings whenever we were sick because our parents were away at work. I remember those days fondly because she’d always have me lie on the soft lumpy couch underneath a mountain of warm blankets; feeding me hot chicken noodle soup and sitting with me to watch shows like “The Price is Right” and “The Joy of Painting,” while getting a much-needed respite from my grandfather, who was taking an afternoon nap.

Every day, unless she was feeling under the weather, she would make supper for my family and would always have extra for any of our friends and relatives who happened to straggle in while we were eating. If I think back now, I can still smell the Sunday roast beef and the Thanksgiving feasts she used to prepare.

My grandmother loved everyone and would go out of her way to do anything to help someone in need. In short, she was the foundation of our family and I remember sitting in wonder as she told me all kinds of stories about what life was like during The Great Depression and World War II. Things I’d give anything to be able to hear from her again because I miss her dearly.

The stories part is where I’m going with all of this, because there’s one story she never told any of us. One that she kept to herself her entire life, and didn’t reveal until she was on her death bed in December of 1996.

One evening, not too long before she passed, my cousin’s husband was at the nursing home visiting her. At the time, he was taking an English course on interviewing and was asking my grandmother pointed questions about her life. Things she always discussed openly. I’m not sure if it was because she was fully aware of her own mortaility, or because she just wanted to get something out that she’d kept bottled up, but she used the opportunty to reveal a little more with one of the questions that was asked.

The question was this: “What was the worst moment of your entire life?”

Without hesitation, she answered. “The day of Clara’s funeral.”

“Clara?” he asked, curiously. “Who’s Clara?”

My grandmother explained that Clara was one of her sisters who had contracted the Spanish Flu during the pandemic of 1918 and died shortly thereafter. Clara was ten-years-old at the time and my grandmother was four. We all knew that my grandmother had lost a sister at a young age but were never offered anything beyond that. She never told and we dared not to ask.

My grandmother then went on to tell him that because the funeral parlors were full due to the large number of deaths, they needed to have Clara’s funeral service inside their home. For some reason; one that even I can’t begin to understand, they were unable to get Clara’s casket out of the house after the service, and several men had to work together to lower it through an open window in order to take it to the cemetery for burial. So, in addition to already being grief stricken over the death of her beloved sister, my grandmother had to witness this entire emotional scene of despair and confusion play out in real time.

Let me say this again in a way that’s more easily understood. My grandmother, who was four-years-old when her sister died, lived almost eighty years after the pandemic of 1918. She lived through a Great Depression, a World War, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Vietnam and many other horrific things in our world, in addition to having to be a caregiver to my grandfather and taking care of my family. Yet the absolute worst day of her entire life was when her sister died of the Spanish Flu. The Pandemic of 1918.

So when I see people, a century later, not taking what’s going on seriously, it’s very concerning. My grandmother’s generation never had access to all the information we do today about what’s going on. Even something as simple as washing your hands thorougly and keeping a safe social distance. In 1918 there was no radio, television, smart phones or social media. Heck, you were lucky if you had access to a newspaper. All you had to rely upon was hearsay. Which is why I can only imagine how scary it must have been for her back then, not knowing what was going on.

The truth is you can believe all the hyperbole and conspiracy theories you want because you have that right. But you’ll never be able to convince me that what we’re going through right now is not something to take seriously.

Here’s a little epilogue to take with you. Something that happened on the night of December 31st, 1996. The night my grandmother died.

My grandmother had shared a room for the last month of her life and, on the day after her death, my mom was talking to my grandmother’s elderly roommate.

“Can I ask you a question?” the woman asked my mother, sounding a bit confused.

“Of course,” my mom answered.

“Do you know anyone named Clara?”

My mom looked at her with concern. “Yeah, as a matter of fact I do. Clara was my mom’s sister. She died when my mom was four.”

“Oh, maybe that explains it,” the woman replied with relief. “Because last night, I kept hearing your mother calling out that name in the dark. She said it over and over, and then she was silent.”

Birthday Reflections at 50

October 5th, 2019 – My 50th Birthday.

I’m sitting here in a daze, trying to comprehend what I’ve just written. It can’t be true, can it? A whole f#cking half century? WOW!

I liken it to the same feeling I had twenty years ago, when the calendar was getting ready to change over to the year 2000 and the eventual dawning of a new millenium. I vividly remember, when I was growing up, that year seemed like it was a lifetime away. I’m talking futuristic, meet George Jetson style distance. And yet, not only have we reached that year, but we’ve now gone almost twenty years beyond it.

The past 365 days have been some of the best and absolute worst days of my entire life. It started in January when my very first interview, with Dan Donegan from Disturbed, was posted in the pages of Guitar World magazine. I will NEVER forget the day I walked into the shopping center on a misty gray afternoon and saw the new issue sitting on the shelves. It was like when Indiana Jones first saw the golden idol in “Raiders of The Lost Ark.” Or the feeling I had when I opened it up and fumbled through its crisp white pages and saw that my name had been printed under “Contributing Writers.”  Knowing that this magazine would be in stores all over the world was surreal. Thinking about it now still gives me chills. I went on to do three more interviews this year – one with Jim Heath (Reverand Horton Heat), one with Vivian Campbell (Def Leppard, Dio) and another with Alan Parsons.

Another monumental event that took place this year was my daughter’s high school graduation this past June. One that, when I think about it now, really puts the big FIVE-OH into perspective. I still remember putting her on the school bus for her very first day back in 2006. Back then, I was on the cusp of turning 37 and thought to myself, “Wow! She will graduate the same year I turn 50. That’s so far away.”

And now here we are.

Still makes me think about my own tenure in the hallowed halls of education and the day I received my first student ID card. This was wayyyy back in 1980. I looked at the reverse side of that card and saw “Year Grad – 1987” printed and thought THAT was a lifetime away. Realizing that by this time next year the card will be 40 years old is simply unbelievable to me.

This past year was also the one where I had to say goodbye to the best dog I’ve ever had — just three days before this monumental birthday. To say that I was devastated is an understatement, but a wonderful tribe of family and friends have made the burden a little bit easier.

So, what’s in store for this next journey around the sun? Well, I’m hard at work on two new books. The first is a prequel to “Neapolitan Sky,” which takes place thirty years before the events of that story. The other is another thriller based on the whole ancestry concept. There is a lot of life left to live, art to create, books to write, interviews to be done and most importantly, love to give freely.

This song always makes me stop in my tracks whenever I hear it. Does it do the same for you?

There’s an odd sense of immortality you have when you’re young that makes you believe time will always stand still, and that you’ll never be as old as your parents (my father died at the age of 51)… but then you take a nap and wake up to find yourself in that role.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few days of my 40’s is that it’s no longer about the years left in your life. It’s about the life left in your years.

Goodbye Palmer Elementary

It was the suddeness of the hypnagogic jerk that roused me from my sleep. It’s centrifugal force igniting every molecule of my brain back into consciousness. My eyes opened to the sight of the ceiling fan gently rotating above my head. Nearby, the metal vents on the floor rattled with a soothing clinking sound as cool, conditioned air made its way from the basement into the living room where I lay.

I’d been power napping on the couch for a little more than five minutes. Something I tend to do frequently on weekends these days, especially when I’m out late the night before. Although I do enjoy these afternoon breaks from reality they rarely last longer than fifteen minutes. What can I tell you, I’m old. Not “Hey you kids! Get off my f#cking lawn” old, but more of a “It’s Saturday afternoon and I feel like taking a nap” old. There’s a difference.

I gazed over at the clock and noticed the time: 2:00 p.m. I sat up quickly and pursed my lips. “There’s something I need to be doing today,” I thought to myself. “Somthing important and, if I don’t act quickly enough, something I’m going to miss.” I fished the cell phone from my pants pocket and glared at the calendar app, where I saw the overdue notification blaring on the screen:

“Walk Through.. Palmer School”

I rose from the sofa with all the energy of a grizzly bear that’d just woken from a winter hibernation. With cracking knees and slight disorientation I grabbed the keys from the kitchen counter and made my way to the car.

Palmer Elementary is part of the Easton Area School District and, if memory serves me correctly (remember, I said that I’m old), it’s the oldest one still being used under the same name. The school is unique because it’s actually two buildings in one. The original one is called The Cole building and the other attached structure, built a few years later, is referred to as The Auld building. About the only thing I remember about Palmer Elementary was its odd, sprawling shape, and the green-tiled walls and wooden stage that were now riddled with the ghosts of generations of students who’d spent kindergarten through fifth grade roaming it’s corridors from September until June each year.

The school is now scheduled to be demolished and replaced with a new, state of the art strucuture, but the district was kind enough to let people walk through its hallowed halls one final time before it’s leveled into dust. I only attended Palmer for one year, fifth grade, back in 1979. A mind boggling thought to consider forty years later.

All Purpose Room

As a fifth grader, I was confined to The Auld building and as I entered the door to that part of the school again I felt a wave of emotion rush over me. My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to find the homeroom class where I’d spent most of my time. Heck, I couldn’t even remember the room number, even though I suddenly recalled it was something familiar that I could easily associate with.

As I trudged through the corridors I found myself walking in a certain direction. I passed something that was once called The All Purpose Room; a large room with filing cabinets, chairs and even a stage for talent shows. It was there that I recalled it’s significance. On June 5th, 1980 this room served as the location for Palmer’s Silent Spelling Bee where me and a bunch of my teammates came in second place.

It was the most exciting thing that ever happened to me at school up to that point, because the entire Spelling Bee was being filmed live on this crazy new contraption called a video recorder. Our tiny little selves could actually watch our performances on the television screen almost instantly after it happened!

As I walked out of that room my thoughts raced back to the Second Place ribbon I’d kept from that day. One that, almost 40 years later, still resides in a curio cabniet is my office.

I exited the all-purpose room and into another winding corridor that led past the gym, where the smell of old wood and the blood, sweat and tears of youth still lingered heavily. It was then that my strides began to come more in earnest, as if I knew there was some place I needed to be. I walked past doors with signs printed on them that said “Janitor,” “Teachers” and “Boiler Room,” along with black, scuff-marked floors from decades of abuse by children’s boots and shoes. Each sign and scrape as oddly familiar as the nose on my face. Finally, I came to the beginning of a single long corridor, and my heart skipped a beat.

“It’s down here,” a youthful voice inside my head said. “Down here on the left! Take your time. It’s not the last room, but the one just before it.”

Room 409

I started doubting myself. Could it be possible that I’d actually remember the exact location of my homeroom? A school that I’d only spent one year of my life in? I trudged the corridor, peeking into each room on the way down as I slowly made my way toward the end.

Finally, with my heart still racing, I came to the second to last classroom on the left. I peered at the number that hung above the door and laughed out loud. It was Room 409. The same number as that f#cking cleaning product, Formula 409. THAT was how I’d always remembered my 5th grade classroom!! I stood there, staring at those three digits for the longest time, remembering the ten year old boy who regularly walked through it’s archway and into learning. Although I was hesitant about entering nearly forty years after I’d last walked out, I nonetheless forced myself inside.

Room 409, just like all the other classrooms in the building, was completely empty, but my mind quickly filled in the blanks. I could once again see the desks that were occupied by me and my classmates. I could see my teacher, Ms. Reiersen, with her dirty-blonde bob, standing at the blackboard near her desk lecturing. I remembered looking out the window at the monkey bars and longing for recess. I recalled the hottest of days in May when the open windows did little to relieve the unbearable heat. It was in this room where I learned about reading and social studies. It was also where me and my friend Steve came up with the idea of auditioning for the school talent show by wearing paper bags over our heads and doing a skit called “Unknown Comic News.”

If you don’t know who The Unknown Comic is, look him up on YouTube.

I walked the room very slowly taking it all in, running my fingers softly along the walls and reading the memories people had scrawled on the chalk board. I pushed on the closet doors to see where my childhood coat once hung. Yes, it still took a herculean effort to open them. I thought about all the kids that went to school with me at Palmer and how forty years had passed by in a blink of an eye. That’s when it hit me that all of us will be turning 50 this year

Well, they are, I can’t possibly be THAT old.

After what seemed like a lifetime (in reality, it was) it was time to say goodbye to Room 409, Palmer School, and that long ago part of my life. I’m not afraid to admit that I looked back several times through glassy eyes to see if time would stop. Of course, it didn’t.

I’d taken a lot of pictures to remember this day but something still felt missing, and then I realized what it was. I walked back to the board, grabbed a chunk of chalk from the tray and, the same way I would’ve done forty years ago, scribbled a final message.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interview: Theresa Caputo discusses ‘Live! The Experience’ event coming to Bethlehem, PA

Photo: Alex Chaput

Theresa Caputo’s “Live! The Experience” is a one-of-a-kind event that connects the Long Island Medium with legions of loyal fans and skeptics from across the country. Each show is uniquely different in that it brings people from all walks of life together for an evening that’s spontaneously spiritual and, at times, beyond belief.

The New York Times Best-Selling Author and star of her acclaimed series, “Long Island Medium,”is about embarking on a whole new round of dates that will take her across the U.S. to deliver messages of hope while challenging cynics to believe that anything is possible. One of those stops will be a two-night stay at The Sands Event Center in Bethlehem, PA on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 1 and 2.

Caputo’s been sensing Spirit since she was a small child, but it wasn’t until she was in her twenties that she began to hone her intuitive, sixth-sense ability to put pieces of the puzzle together and help others to heal. Her “Live! The Experience” is certain to be an unforgettable evening.

AXS recently spoke with Theresa Caputo about her Live! The Experience event and more in this exclusive new interview.

AXS: What can fans expect from your upcoming “LIve! The Experience” events at The Sands Event Center in Bethlehem, PA?

Theresa Caputo: With the live show, I always tell people it’s just like watching “Long Island Medium,” but without the shopping [laughs]. I’m so proud of what we’ve been able to create and bring to the live show. Whether there are five people in the room or five-thousand, it’s all spontaneous. I start off the night like any other reading by coming out and giving a quick speech about what people can expect over the next two hours. Then Spirit starts communicating. I’ll leave the stage and whether it’s in the front row, back, or balcony, I’ll stop and deliver the message right in front of the person. We have big screens set up and cameras that follow me around so everyone feels a part of it. No matter where you’re seated you’ll be able to see the messages being delivered up close and personal. Every message provides so much healing. Spirit allows us to continue to go on with life no matter what we’ve been through. It lets us know that there’s more to life than just here in the physical world.

AXS: What do you think attracts people to your live events?

TC: One of the main things is that when a tragedy happens or when we lose someone we sometimes don’t understand why and lose our faith. This show restores that faith and gives hope. Another thing I’ve learned is that people come to the show because they’re skeptical or intrigued. But it doesn’t matter if people believe in what I do or not. I want them to believe in themselves and have their own connection. I want you to believe that all of the things you are feeling are real.

AXS: Was there ever a “wow” moment for you during these live events?

TC: It may sound cliché but with every reading, there are those moments. There are always things that happen where you’ll say, “There’s no way. How could this happen?” But what I do is so much more than just communicate with someone who has died. It reunites families and gives people a sense of peace they can’t get through anything else.

Read the rest of my
Interview with Theresa Caputo by Clicking Here!

Go Jimmy Go: 2018 Year in Review

As a musician and writer, 2018 has been the best of year of my life. Not only did I complete more than 124 interviews for this blog, GuitarWorld.com and AXS.com over the course of these last twelve months, but 2018 also marked a trifecta of amazing milestones for me.

I began this whole writing journey with a single, simple Facebook resolution I made to myself on New Year’s Day in 2011. If you’ve been a regular follower of this blog over the last seven years, you’ll know that its the same one I post every January 1st to remind me of how it all began and just how far I’ve come:

Keeping that promise to myself over these last seven years has been an amazing ride, but 2018 saw three of the biggest, pinch yourself moments ever. Things I only ever dreamed about doing. So, as this year comes to close, I’d like to revisit them one more time.

2018 started out with a trip to Los Angeles in February for a once in a lifetime experience at Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp. Not only did I get to jam with two guys from my all-time favorite band, REO Speedwagon, but I also had the rare opportunity to perform on stage with Night Ranger at The Whisky A Go Go! Joining me that night were Craig Goldy (Dio) and three guys, Bobby, Rik and Tom, who I’d never met before but who quickly became friends and bandmates I’ll never forget.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: all the while I was in L.A preparing for Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp, I was also busily putting the finishing touches on something I think every writer dreams about doing, and in May of this year that dream finally came to fruition with the release of my first novella, “Neapolitan Sky.”

The story about Nica Mitchell’s journey actually began in the Summer of 2017 and took nearly six months to complete. It was a labor of love, pain and constant rewrites and second guesses. When I finally put the pen (or in this case, the lid of the laptop) down, I had the good fortune of having more than a dozen of my friends help me by being test/proof readers and editors. Their input and experience was invaluable in getting the story ready for publication. Following the release of “Neapolitan Sky,” I also had two amazingly successful book signings in Bethlehem and New Hope, PA.

Equally as surreal as the physical book was the release of an Audible version, which was read by one of my favorite artists and actresses, Ashley Watkins. Where I had brought the words of Nica Mitchell and her friends to the page, Ashley literally brought them to life!

But perhaps the biggest, and most exciting, event of the year came just a few weeks ago with the release of my first two interviews in the pages of Guitar World magazine. As a guitarist, I’ve been absorbing this magazine like religion every month since 1985. It’s a bible for any aspiring guitarist. Having already been blessed (religion – bible – blessed, get it?) to write for the website for nearly six years, getting the opportunity to contribute content to the physical magazine was another dream come true. When you open the magazine and see your name printed on the page right next to some of your guitar heroes its not only poweful, it’s humbling. Moreover, it’s proof that hard work, networking and kindness pays off.

Next year will mark another major milestone as I’ll be turning fifty years old. But as I look to that day with both fear and wonder I’m reminded that each and every day is part of the journey. Collectively, I look back on these last seven years and can’t believe some of the things I’ve accomplished. I’ve met so many amazingly talented people along the way. Not just actors, musicians, artists and filmmakers. In many cases, these are people who’ve become dear friends to me. Friends I’m proud to have in my life and ones who inspire me to do better.

Here it is in a nutshell: Since 2011, I’ve done nearly 2,000 interviews and articles, released three children’s books with one of my dearest friends, wrote my first novel, and have rounded out 2018 with two interviews published in the pages of Guitar World magazine. Even with all of that it still feels like I’m just getting started. There’s so much more to do, and I can’t wait to get started. As a preview, I already have an interview on deck with Def Leppard, who will be inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2019. I’m also halfway through my new book, a prequel to “Neapolitan Sky” that’s set in the year 1986!

Please don’t read that last paragraph and think I’m tooting my own horn. I’m nobody special. What I’m trying to say by writing it down is that if I can do it — so can you. Dreams don’t just fall into your lap. You have to go out and make them happen. And sometimes, all that can start with just a simple resolution:

“I’ve resolved to do some writing. So here goes:”

I hope reading this blog will inspire you to do the same thing I did on January 1st, 2011, and that is to make a promise to yourself for 2019. A resolution to do something you’ve always dreamed about. Take the first sentence of my resolution and change the word “writing” to something you’re passionate about. Then go out and make it happen.

Here’s wishing you peace, love, music, art, writing….and all the best for the New Year.

Birthday Reflections at 49

October 5th, 2018. My 49th birthday.

I look at those words on the computer screen, with the cursor synchronously blinking, and find it hard to believe it’s even possible. I can’t help but think about my father who, when he was this age, had only two years left to live.

Seriously, wasn’t it just yesterday that I was the youthful teen driving my beat-up, 1973 Toyota to the Palmer mall on Friday nights after school? Pouring every last cent of my lawn mowing allowance into video game cabinets at the arcade while drinking gallons of Orange Julius and wishing I could muster up the courage to go talk to the cute girl who stood with her friends in the Listening Booth record store?

I’ve grown accustomed to listening to the creaks and cracks of getting out of bed every morning, and the inevitable gray or missing hairs I see whenever I look into the mirror. Reading glasses have become the norm for me now, and summers are often spent resisting the urge to tell young children to get off my lawn.

But these past twelve months have really been something special. I finally realized my lifelong dream of writing a novel, and after six years of interviewing and writing articles for a half-dozen websites, I was invited to write for Guitar World magazine. What’s more, I submitted my first article, which should appear in the January 2019 issue, three days before my 49th birthday.

And now, the countdown is officially on. In 365 days I will officially be a half-century old. As I look to that milestone with both fear and uncertainty, I find myself going back to that 12-year-old me, and the day I received my very first student ID at school. On the back of the plastic, laminated card were the words, “Year of Graduation – 1987.”  A year that seemed a lifetime away, just like the year 2000 did… 18+ years ago.

This song always makes me stop in my tracks whenever I hear it. Does it do the same for you?

There’s an odd sense of immortality you have when you’re young that makes you believe time will always stand still, and that you’ll never be as old as your parents. But then you take a nap and wake up in that role.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few years of my 40’s it’s that it’s no longer about the years left in your life. It’s about the life left in your years.