Love Thy Neighbor

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It’s been a peaceful Thanksgiving. We had dinner with the family. Festivities included arranging our nieces and nephews to recreate a famous family snapshot in the front of my in-laws house. As is normal with me lately I enjoyed things from afar, sneaking candid photos of the family while the rest of them conversed, keeping this otherwise quiet Southern California cul-de-sac buzzing with conversation about Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, college studies, church fund raising and even Cyber Monday. We all enjoyed a delicious Thanksgiving dinner, celebrated by millions of friends, neighbors and countrymen.

Later in the evening Steph and I were in bed watching a movie when the phone rang. It was Stephani’s Mom, Dottie. The conversation consisted of “no”, “for how long?” and “We’ll be right there”, at which point she put the phone down and told me her Dad was feeling ill and we needed to take him to the hospital. We threw on whatever outfit made sense in a panic and bolted out of the house.

When we arrived back at my in-laws and entered the house, I could see my Father in law, John, hunched over the kitchen table in obvious pain. I’ve never seen him grimace like that before, so we got him into the car and headed off to Hoag Hospital. He told us he had pain in his lower right side for the past five hours and had been vomiting, so the hospital recommended bringing him in as a precaution.

We got him checked in, Dottie went with him while Steph and I sat in the waiting room and watched the steady stream of patients come in over the next few hours. A woman who had been drinking wine came in with her right hand bandaged and held above her head, her fingers were purple. She had apparently fell and landed on glass. There were drops of blood on her orange shirt, or was that Cabernet? After the wine lover came “Tequila Sam”, a large man now positioned in a Hoag Hospital wheelchair. Tequila Sam had sprained his ankle earlier while drinking tequila. He looked a little bit like Bryant Gumble, was jovial, even disclosed to us in the first 60 seconds that he had been married four times. He was wearing expensive slacks that had been cut to length with scissors, which gave him a slightly homeless look. His companion wore expensive snowboarding pants and sat quietly across from Tequila Sam as stretch marks around his ankle grew larger while he was feeling no pain.

We sat in the waiting room gazing at our mobile phones until a slim man in dark jeans and hoodie stood in front of us pacing. He looked like a healthy Southern California surfer in his mid to late 50’s. I didn’t get his name, but he looked like a Sal. So let’s call him Southern California Sal. Sal had striking white cropped hair, was either very tanned or of Hawaiian descent. He had a magnificent white toothy smile, and white white eyes which peeked out from his silver rimmed glasses. He was nervous and jumpy. After a few seconds he sat in the chair in front of us and started to recount why he was at ER. He pointed out a young man on the far end of the waiting room who was sitting with his wife and a young teenager, and told us that he and the man had become friends over the past few months. The man had recently relocated his young family to Southern California from New Orleans. Sal said “He was like a breath of fresh air to the neighborhood.” A few days ago his new neighbor’s Father flew in from New Orleans to join them for Thanksgiving and while at the airport fell and broke his shoulder and injured other parts of his body. He was a man who had lived the hard life, had, as Sal put it “not taken care of his body”.  He wound up at Hoag Hospital for two days and had been checked out with a clean bill of health on Thanksgiving morning.

Sal was instantly likable and someone who I wished I could trade for one of my current neighbors. He was friendly without being pushy, and had a kindness about him. I started to sense that I was not giving him 100% of my attention given the gravity of the current situation, checking the screen of my phone. But then he told us why they were there tonight. He said they were all enjoying Thanksgiving dinner together when his neighbor’s Dad stopped breathing and went down. Sal had a firefighter background and knew CPR, while his neighbor called 911, Sal performed CPR until the ambulance arrived saying “I wasn’t going to let this guy get away from me.” Sal had our full attention at this point. Stephani and I sat there listening to him retell the past 30 harrowing minutes.

The door of the ER flew open and the doctor called the name of the son who was sitting in the far side of emergency. The two of them went around the corner and the two women who were with him went into the ward. After about 2 minutes the door of the ward opened and the two women slowly walked out. They were crying. Sal walked up to them and they said “He didn’t make it.”

We don’t know why the man died. All we know is these two neighbors were enjoying a Thanksgiving meal together. Sal’s 6 year old daughter had presented his neighbor’s Father with “Get well soon” paintings just a few hours earlier and Sal wondered how he was going to be able to explain to his little girl that the man had not survived. Sal called a cab, but before he left he shook our hands and said how nice it was to talk with us about it. I think in that moment he just wanted somebody, anybody to talk to.  Minutes later I thought to myself wow, I just touched the hand that within the past hour had been pressing on his neighbor’s family member’s chest, trying to keep him alive.

After a battery of tests John was released and Stephani took him home. It’s been one of the most memorable Thanksgivings ever, getting to see how my neighbors are helping each other. This morning I wonder where Sal lives and hope I run into him again at a Starbucks. The next time I will get his number and try to make a new friend. Sorry I didn’t seize the opportunity to do that this time Sal wherever you are.

Love thy neighbor as they say.

What being a father means to me

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Source: Katalina-Marie Kruszewski (Flickr)

Source: Katalina-Marie Kruszewski (Flickr)

I never had children, but if I did, I would try to be a good Father.  Being a Father is a huge responsibility. You pass on your DNA, your wisdom, your hopes, your aspirations and yes your love.  But sometimes you pass on your troubles, your guilt, sometimes your anger to your children. You expect them to behave a certain way, you expect them to accomplish what you may have wanted to accomplish and when they fall short, some Fathers take out their frustrations on their kids. It’s a hard job. A  big responsibility.

What do I know of Fatherhood anyway? I never had children.  I almost did when I was a teenager, but that was interrupted. I think that was my opportunity, but the timing wasn’t right, I was an immigrant, I was dirt poor and needed to find my path.  I think back on those times and wonder what kind of Father I would have been sometimes.  I know I would have been a hard worker, that has been a constant in my life, work.  That was a constant in my own Father’s life. I know that it was a constant in my Grandfather’s life when he worked in the shipyards of Belfast, and his Father before him when he built furniture for the inside of Titanic.

Being a Father takes patience and dedication. When your kids have problems you need to be able to communicate with them. You need to be able to love them unconditionally, and for a great many Fathers out there, this comes naturally, for others it’s hard. I admire Fathers who stand by their children and support them no matter what. Fathers who work at having a good relationship with them have my respect and admiration.  Fathers who give up on their kids are lazy.  Fathers who place conditions on their relationships lose in the end.  The children stop calling, stop coming around because they grew tired of the moaning, tired of the criticism, they grew tired of being victimized. They move on.

If I had children I know what kind of Father I would try to be. I would be a kind, patient, generous Father. I would covet education. I would teach my kids to love their fellow man. I wouldn’t discriminate against others. I would try to teach them practical life lessons. How to manage money, how to negotiate, how to play guitar, you know, the important stuff. I would teach them to stick with a job, even though its tough.  I’d encourage them to look inward and explore their emotions.  I would actively listen to them and encourage without browbeating them.  Above all I would love them unconditionally. I think if I did that they might respect me as a Father.

That’s a tall order isn’t it?  Being a Father sure is a hard job. So, Happy Father’s Day to all the Fathers out there who are doing it right, every day.



Philip Seymour Hoffman, Another Senseless Victim of Addiction

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Oscar winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman

This morning I clicked onto the headlines to see what was happening around the world and was jarred by the sad news that actor Philip Seymour Hoffman had died at 46, apparently from a drug overdose.  Hoffman was one of my favorite actors, perhaps one of the finest actors I have ever seen. Each time a new movie would come out staring Philip Seymour Hoffman, we wouldn’t wait for the DVD, we would go to the cinema to watch it. His performance in “The Master” was one of the most powerful pieces of acting I have ever seen.  He was brilliant in “Doubt”, electrifying in “Charlie Wilson’s War” and masterful in “Capote”.

Drama as a genre is my favorite.  In my DVD’s you’ll find movies starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jack Nicholson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ewan McGregor, Michael Shannon, Robert Di Niro and Al Pacino. My movie collection contains an equally magnificent assortment of films with women like Dame Judy Dench, Kate Winslet, Meryl Streep, Tilda Swinton and Cate Blanchett.  I relish great acting, and feel sad at the prospect of never seeing a new film from Philip Seymour Hoffman ever again. All day I’ve been trying to come to grips with the loss, it’s going to take a while to accept.

What makes it harder as a long time fan of Mr Hoffman’s work is speculation he died from a drug overdose, a heroin overdose, and had been separated from his partner since October, and that he was a Father to three middle school aged children.   Was it hopelessness? Was it heartbreak?  Was it boredom? Was it selfishness? What was it that allowed the dark vines of addiction reach out to such a gifted man and pull him back under? A talented, complex man like Hoffman would be hard to truly figure out based on the body of work he left us. The depth in each of the characters, the intensity, the passion.  In “Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead“, Hoffman played Andy Hanson, a man who had been embezzling money from his firm, and was about to coax his younger sibling played by Ethan Hawke into joining him in a scheme to rob his parents business so they could benefit from the insurance money. In the movie there were scenes where Andy would visit a heroin dealer who would inject him. The apartment was a new age, feng shui, high end Manhattan apartment, much like the $10,000 per month abode Mr. Hoffman had been renting since October. These scenes seemed a little out of place in the movie, a little too raw for my own taste. I wonder now if these scenes might have posed a risk of triggering Hoffman.  When he died, he had been clean for 23 years.

I will never understand drug addiction. Heroin is a killer. Last week I heard about a new blend of heroin that’s made with Fentanyl, a powerful pain killer, more powerful than  morphine. Twenty eight addicts had died in one town in just two weeks. Truly frightening.  Heroin scares me.  I once started to watch the film “Trainspotting” starring Ewan McGregor, but was so disturbed by the heroin scenes, I had to turn it off.   Heroin has killed so many of our most beloved artists and musicians. Drugs in general are killing thousands.

Tonight I am sad for Mr. Hoffman’s family, his little children and the acting community who have lost one of the greatest actors of our generation. It will take me a long time to get over Philip Seymour Hoffman. I am truly gutted.

Deafness and relationships

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Stephani met me when I was in my early 30’s and by then my hearing loss had started to manifest its self, mostly in social settings, where I had started to retreat from loud environments.  She puts up with a lot. It must be tough having to repeat yourself constantly.    My hearing loss is profound in my left ear, and partial on the right. If I can control my environment, sitting in a particular seat in relation to a gathering I am more comfortable, however, if I end up with someone to my left, event with my cross-aid hearing aids, it can be a real challenge understanding what is being said to me.   The other thing is misunderstanding things completely if I am not wearing my hearing aids.

This video was published on the Phonak “Hearing Like Me” site.  It encapsulates a very upbeat version of what life is like for a hearing impaired or deaf person vs. what it is like for the hearing person.   I think reality is somewhat less rosy than this lovely picture, particularly when you balance things like the stresses of traveling with a hearing impaired individual, anxiety and confusion with other emotions like pride or fear of humiliation.   If I could put my life experience into one sentence it would be “bashing through it, one day at a time”.   I’d give anything to have my hearing back, honestly I would.

So, what has your experience been? If you are similar to us, what is life like for you?

He was loved

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It’s been an emotional day.  We attended a beautiful mass in Fountain Valley for Stephani’s cousin, Tony Cardullo Jr., who passed away suddenly in mid November over in Thailand. We heard so many moving eulogies. It was a day of tears.

Following the service Tony’s parents hosted a very special reception at the Huntington Beach Hilton. Hundreds of people who knew Tony came together to celebrate his life.  And what a life it was. Today I learned that Tony was in a band in the 80’s, even played the same festival as No Doubt back in the day. Listening to his brother Andrew describe him,  Tony was a driven, but kind and compassionate man who lived the life he wanted to live.  Red tape, bureaucracy, procedures that hold us all back did not exist for Tony.  He was a person who always looked on the bright side of life, always gave others the benefit of the doubt, and later in life became something of a local hero to the people in his community, volunteering his time, working with the homeless and less fortunate.

Tony was a very successful business man. While working on a film in Thailand some years ago, he fell in love with the place and decided to set down roots and become part of the community. He was loved by so many people.  He took care of his employees, and was very generous and compassionate to his fellow man.

Listening to his friends and family speak today, all of them still very broken up by his loss, I had a real feeling of regret that I had but a few scant opportunities to spend time with Tony.   He was a person who initiated and nurtured friendships. He was a true friend.  I could use a friend right now.  The world seems like such a lonely place without Tony in it.


Irish Getaway

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I’ve been in Ireland with Stephani for about 10 days visiting family and exploring the parts we missed out on last time. The last time we were in Ireland together was 2008 and our visit involved a day trip to Dublin and return train to Belfast five hours later, so this time we made sure to book ourselves hotel for five nights so we could thoroughly explore.

On the first part of the trip, we stopped in to setup my Mum on broadband, her first experience using a computer in the form of an iPad which I am hoping she takes to. While in Belfast we went to PRONI (Public Records of Northern Ireland) to lookup information on my great grandfather who had worked in the shipyards, taking part in the build of Titanic in the early 1900’s.  We also got to see exactly how large Titanic was, walking the marked off concrete on the exact location of the former dry dock.

Samson & Goliath Cranes - Belfast

Samson & Goliath Cranes – Belfast

In Southern Ireland, our friends Mark and Jill flew over to take us for an amazing day trip to the Glendalough Valley where we explored an ancient village and wonderful nature walk in the crisp Irish air.  My head feels much clearer from it.

So, we are sitting in Heathrow waiting for our flight to begin boarding so we can make the last leg of the trip home and get back to our work-rest-play-work-rest-work routine.   I’d like to spend more time visiting Ireland and England to see more of where I grew up and find out more about my family origins.


Aldershot Turning Into a Ghost Town

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Aldershot Wellington Statue

I grew up in Aldershot, am proud to say that’s where I hail from. Aldershot used to be the home of the Army. Wellington settled the troops there after Waterloo. Aldershot was a Historic Military Town in the truest sense.

This weekend I have been participating in a sentimental trip down memory lane on Facebook in a group setup by Keith Bean, an Aldershot local. We have been remembering our teachers, the football team’s struggles, the trouble we used to get into, and how far away from Aldershot many of us now live.  Some of us moved to other parts of England, some of us ended up down under in Australia and others like myself are in America.

Even though I am half way around the world in glorious, afluent Orange County, I still care about the place I grew up. I really wish Aldershot could rise like a phoenix from the ashes and become a thriving metropolis.

Here’s a little video taken inside Aldershot’s Wellington Centre mall, the main mall in the town center. When I visited the town after 25 years back in 2008 it looked the same, and this video made a year ago November 12th confirms the place is a ghost town. It makes me sad to see the place I grew up going through such hard times.

Watch Video

When the Army left, it blasted a gaping hole into the infrastructure which had kept the town going for many years. The town had been in general decline for decades, but the Army leaving was the final nail in the coffin.

Here’s a two-part documentary I filmed back in 2008 in Aldershot.

Part 2

I hope there is some master plan that we don’t all know about which includes a solution which will turn the situation around in Aldershot.

Hat’s off to Keith Bean for creating such a vibrant group.

On Old Pictures and The Shining

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Do you have a shoe box or old cigar box full of old photos?  I do. I like to pull it out every so often to glance at them.  None of the pictures are older than 30 years or so, I wish I had more of my grandparents and great grandparents.   My great grandfather helped to build the Titanic so they tell me. Would love to know if there are pictures of him floating around, would love to know what he looked like.

Photos help to link us to our past. They help to connect us to who we are, or who we were. When I look at old pictures of myself, I can’t believe how relatively normal I look, while remembering how insecure I always felt about how I looked. I don’t think there has ever been a time in my life where I have felt happy with my appearance.  Today I am happy. I can look in the mirror and accept that this is my 49 year old version. I try not to be so hard on myself, after all, we all get older and our bodies change, we lose our hair, the wrinkles come a creeping.

There’s a great scene at the very end of the film “The Shining.”  Music plays from the roaring twenties as the camera pans in on a large photograph of a New Years Eve party which took place at the Overlook hotel. The camera zooms right in on the main character, Jack Torrance, laughing, dressed in a tuxedo, having the time of his life.   Sometimes I wonder if there is a photo floating around of my great grandfather doing the same thing.

So, do you have a shoe box or cigar box full of old photos?  Send me a tweet so I can take a look.


Tis The Season of Discontent for Common Courtessy

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I like to walk around the mall and listen to music during lunch. The other day when I was on my way back to work, I stepped off the curb where a large gray SUV was parked in front of the exit door. There was a BMW which had stopped in front of it by the curb. I glanced to my left and noticed the mall security car was approaching to get the cars out of the way when I felt a very hard thump on my right shoulder. It felt like someone had given me a hefty punch. I turned to my right and felt the back end of this large SUV pushing the entire right side of my body out of the way. I exclaimed Woah!! and took a look at the driver, it was a woman, nicely dressed with a sequined hat on. She didn’t even roll her window down or look at me, she was too busy maneuvering her SUV around the BMW.

At first it didn’t bother me, but the more I thought about it as I drove back to work, the angrier I got. I mean, this is supposed to be the holiday season when we walk the talk of good will toward our fellow man, and this woman didn’t give a hoot about almost knocking me to the ground. What if it had been a little kid, what if I was not almost past the back of her car? It could have ended much worse, but had it been me who had done this, I would have at least got out of my car to apologize.

Maybe its Orange County and the way the people around here act. Everyone is so busy and wrapped up in themselves, jumping from moment to moment missing the moment in the process.

Let’s be more careful out there. Let’s take better care of each other. When we hit people with our SUV’s, let’s take a second to apologize.