Oh, the Memories of Hazleton

March 1997. I receive a phone call from my former fiancé stating that our son Jeremiah, who was then in kindergarten, had been disciplined for talking too much by having duct tape placed on his mouth and told to stand in a closet. Thinking that she was surely exaggerating the situation, I called the school principal expecting to find out the real truth. When he started reading from what sounded like a prepared legal statement, I knew this bizarre incident was actually true.

Out of a Clear Blue Sky

World Trade Center
Who’d ever imagine what the day had in store?
Terrorists, explosions and so much more.
September 11, 2001, was like a movie take.
Or a terrible nightmare, though we were awake.

But I didn’t cry as much today.
Time heals all wounds, that’s what they say.
To heal the wounds of such attrocity,
Would be miraculous it seems to me.

Dear Lord, where are You? Help us please!
Give us peace, fulfill our needs.
How will all those who lost someone,
Ever find peace in what was done?

Will those searching, having so much trouble,
Finding someone alive in all that rubble,
Be able to feel the peace You give’
When so many died and so few live?

The tears are back, my eyes are full.
How could anyone be so cruel?
Bless us Lord that we may be
Closely united, closer to Thee,
In the face of all this tragedy.

Peggy Albano
September 2001

One Giant Loss for Mankind


Neil ArmstrongThe first man to set foot on the moon, Neil Armstrong passed away this afternoon at age 82. The Ohio native was one of the last true pioneers and is considered by most an American hero along with fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. When he set foot on the lunar surface 43 years ago this past July 20th, Armstrong marked the moment with one of the most famous quotes in human history;

That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind…”

These profound words can at the precise moment of an extraordinary accomplishment of a goal set by President John F. Kennedy seven years earlier in 1962. Such a goal would be the equivelent today of getting a man on Mars by 2019, and there was even money thgat these astronauts would not survive that trip on which they bravely embarked. The computing power on that entire Apollo 11 capsule which traveled to the moon was less than that of the latest iPhone. Yet the mission was successful due to a tremendous amount of scientific principles, physics, math, and grace under pressure.

It is important to remember some of the remarkable accomplishments of the past, especially in a time when some views are so cynical that many believe trhis entire moon mission was “faked” on some Hollywood soundstage. (Really? Then where was the 1975 sequel of the Mars landing or any other “fake” accomplishments?) America is still the greatest nation on Earth and can still accomplish amazing things if we really wanted to do so. The only difference between now and 1969 is that then we had no doubt we were the best.

Rest in peace, Mr. Armstrong.

~

The R & R Music Express


Mitt Romney and Paul RyanI was a professional disc jokey for several years starting in the late 1980s through the early years of this century. One of those incarnations of my DJ business was called R & R Music Express, which was a partnership between my buddy “Rico” and me . This morning I found that we have a new “R & R express” as Mitt Romney chose Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan.

I love this choice as Ryan is brilliant, bold, young, and from a modest working class background. In the last two years, he has become the clear fiscal leader in Congress and has put out a bold budget each year as a fiscal guru. This has made him a lightening rod from some quarters, but shows his willingness to put himself out there as an agent of change in an era when the Senate hasn’t passed a budget in over three years. In this health care summit in early 2010, Ryan shows his absolute mastery of budgetary matters:

Ryan is 42 and has been in congress for most of his adult life, having been first elected in 1998. This makes him a good counter-balance to Romney’s vast business experience (as well as in several other factors). Yet, in a near-hilarious article in The New Yorker this morning, Ryan Lizza lamented Paul Ryan’s lack of private sector experience by stating he has no business-world experience “…besides summer jobs working at McDonald’s or at his family’s construction company, or waiting tables as a young Washington staffer…” As if to say we don’t want anyone who has had to work THOSE kind of jobs. No, Ryan does not fit into the left wing’s narrative about Republican “Wall Street” elitists. In fact, even though Ryan has been in Washington for nearly 14 years, he still sleeps on a cot in his office when congress is in session and returns to his wife and three children in Wisconsin at every possible opportunity.

In announcing Paul Ryan as his VP running mate this morning, Romney mistakenly called him the next PRESIDENT of the United States. Well, perhaps not the NEXT President.

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Baring My “Soul” on a Saturday Night

Sinclair SoulIt has been five years since I’d done this and I had sworn it off many times before. I tried doing it during several fits and starts in the early 1990s, but none of those worked. Through the years I was convinced to do it for various causes, once even in a chemotherapy unit to cheer up the patients, but none of those times worked out as planned. But this past Saturday night (08/24/13) I gave it one more shot.

I performed my music solo, without support, without a net, at the Cornerstone Coffeehouse in Camp Hill, PA. Now, for most this may not seem like a big deal, after all the Cornerstone always has solo performers playing on the weekends. But for me this was truly an event. It was a sort of mission and redemption wrapped in one. Long ago, I concluded that my musical talents lie in composing and not performing, although I have been involved in scores of rock bands and have played every major position on the field – lead vocal, guitar, bass, keyboards, drums. However, being a bit of a control freak, bands have always felt limiting and the urge to do it alone has persisted despite the consistent disasters when attempted.

What brought me out this time was the fact that I have composed a whole bunch of new songs but have not had the time nor resources to record it. I had spent five years on my previous recording project, a 33-song double CD international release called Imaginary Lines 33 , in 2009. I was also involved with a band and we recorded an album in 2010 that never got released because of internal disagreements. At that time I was pretty sure I was retired from all things music. But that pesky muse kept bothering me, and soon new song ideas started to form. I came up with the idea of “One More Rock to Roll” as an upfront declaration that this would be my last go-round. I also brought back the fictional “Sinclair Soul”, an alias I had used for years when writing articles as well as on some music projects.

The music was written on piano but had rich arrangements for several guitars and other rock instruments. I was eager to enlist many of the fine musicians I had worked with over the years as well as find a “front man” to handle the dynamic vocals, but as of mid 2013 I had not had any luck getting the recording process started. So I inquired about playing my songs solo on piano at the Cornerstone, a website client of mine and a much better alternative to performing at a bar room or any other “noisy” situation.

So, after all this background, how did the gig itself go?

In one sense it was quite a disappointment. Many of the folks I invited did not show up and I didn’t quite get the capacity crowd I had hoped for. Also, I made some really air-headed mistakes on some of the cover songs I performed (the songs which I , ironically, walked into the gig without performance worries).

However, in a larger sense Saturday’s gig was a tremendous success. I performed 14 brand new “Sinclair Soul” songs (including one so new that it doesn’t yet have a name) and each went off without a hitch. None of these songs had every been performed live for anyone except my dog and these were obviously my main focal point on Saturday’s gig. The dozen or so cover songs and three old Imaginary Lines tunes were really just there to fill up the two hour commitment.

Also, the crowd that was there was tremendous in quality if not quantity. For the first time ever, I performed music with my wife, all three sons, and mother in the audience. The rest of the audience gave me a warm reception, even if many only sat in for a song or two while they enjoyed a coffee, beverage, or ice cream cone. There was a woman in the audience who knitted throughout the first set and gave me the resultant winter hat when she was completed. There was also a tremendously talented musician in the audience named Suzi Brown who stayed for the whole gig and gave a compliment at the end and, of course, the Cornerstone staff was gracious and helpful.

Although I was hoping to perform everything perfectly and fill the place up, it didn’t quite work that way. But getting the new songs out there after all this time kind of made them real entities and not just figments of my imagination, which makes this past Saturday a very special occasion indeed.

~

SinclairSoul.com

Knocked Down by a 15-Year-Old!

My eldest son Dylan started playing football at the age of six. That year he was the youngest and smallest kid on the team, which meant he naturally got the least playing time. I volunteered to be part of the chain crew for home games and would often be on the same sideline with Dylan as he rode the bench in boredom. He soon developed a way to entertain himself. Emboldened by his full football gear, he would charge after me full speed and try to knock me down. He would even get sneaky and covert, coming at me when I’d least expect it or when my back was to him. Still, the little six-year-old was never able to succeed in his mission.

My 3 Sons
My 3 sons in 2011. L-R: Jake, Bryen, and Dylan
Later that same year (1997), Dylan’s twin brothers Jake and Bryen were born. Through all the following years of football, wrestling, slap-boxing, and Ricky-ball (don’t ask!) these boys would also try to knock me off my feet, to which I would reply; “You kids have been trying to knock me down since your oldest brother was six years old, and no one has ever succeeded.” I must admit there were some very close calls where I stumbled and nearly lost my balance, but there was no clear-cut “knockdown”.

Until this morning, that is.

My now 15-year-old son Jake had gathered together a pile of old video games to re-sell to Game Stop, which I then grabbed and jokingly told him I was going to throw in the pool. He moved to block me from getting out the door and half-heatedly swiped at me as I kept the video games out his reach. Then I started to “trash talk” saying something like “you know I can get past year you whenever I want”. To this, Jake calmly lowered his shoulder, wrapped his arms around me and “pile-drived” me right into the couch.

Now in my defense, Jake is not built like your typical 15-year-old. At a doctor’s visit a week and a half ago he measured in at 6′ 3″ and 242 lbs (and that was a week and a half ago, he may have grown since then!) But the fact remains, although it took 15 and a half years, I can no longer brag about none of my boys being able to knock me down.

Keep chasing your dreams kids, anything is possible!

 

Goodnight, Good Guy

August 21, 2012
by J.D.Cook

 
Pap Pap and Me, 2008The following is the eulogy, written and delivered by J.D. Cook at his grandfather Pat Albano’s funeral on August 20th.
 
On behalf of my family I’d like to thank you all for coming to honor my late grandfather’s memory.

Born Pasquale John Albano; his friends and family came to know him best as Pat while his grandchildren dubbed him Pap Pap. Pat’s childhood home became the sight of many happy Christmas’s for his grandchildren. He would entertain his grandson Jake and granddaughter Erin with silly stories created over misheard phrases or words. His grandson Bryen would often find himself being chased through the house by Pat pretending to be a ghoul or ghost and whenever I needed a ride to football practice or home from school he was there.

This is, of course, a snap shot into Pat’s life near its conclusion. He was born in Hazleton Pennsylvania; the 9th of 10 children and spent the vast majority of his life here; taking an interest in local politics and serving the community for 31 years as a mail man who would ring the door bell for the elderly folks when their social security checks arrived. Pat was one of the great unsung pillars of the Hazleton community who never asked for anything in return for the years of service and effort he put into the city. He was the back bone of an American generation that emphasized hard work, generosity and friendliness.

This is best emphasized by his relationship with Morris and Bessie, two Jewish Russian immigrants, who he met while on his mail route. Although originally virtual strangers to him he became friends with them and as they grew older he helped them run errands, visit doctors and provided friendship for them in the twilight of their lives.
Of course he did the same for his family; taking care of his sister Theresa for twelve years.

Pat AlbanoPat graduated from the Hazleton High School which many of us know as “the castle” in 1954 and many years later he worked to preserve the building which has since been reopened as a middle school. It was a great source of pride for him while he lived. After high school, he spent a short time in the army visiting Texas, Kentucky and Washington D.C. Perhaps it was during this time that he picked up his love for Johnny Cash as he stayed near the base in San Antonio where Cash wrote his famous tune “Folsom Prison Blues”. Not long after returning to Hazleton and starting as a mailman, he married Peggy Fay, my Nana, whom he had two children with. Although their marital relationship did not work out; they remained lifelong friends and my Nana was always near Pat’s side in his last days.

Pat spent his life as a member of the Democratic Party and was always willing to discuss politics; although the debates between him and his son Ric, a conservative, tended to become pretty energized around the dinner table of Pat’s childhood home at 671 Monges Street on Nanny Goat Hill. This home has stayed in the Albano family as his daughter Cindy moved in and took care of him before his health deteriorated to the point of requiring a nursing home where he continued on into his own personal sunset long after Doctors had all but wrote him off.

Life is a garden that one sows throughout life. Moments like Pat’s 65th Birthday; where he danced his feet off; attending a Neil Diamond concert and singing at the top of his lungs with his Daughter-in-law Karyn; or just driving through New York City to see the World Trade Center with his son were the metaphoric fruits of his garden. Simple times like these are the measure of a man’s life. Pat’s garden was full and his 75 years on Earth are something to admire and marvel at but I will not say do not weep; for not all tears are sad.

I’ll leave you all with a quote from the 19th century poet Ralph Waldo Emerson which has been at the forefront of my mind since I received news of my Pap Pap’s passing. It is striking because it not only relates to those of us left in Pat’s absence but to Pat himself wherever he has transcended to.

Finish each day and be done with it.
You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can.
Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

Thank You.

~
J.D. Cook

 

Am I Really a God?


GhostbustersYears ago (I believe it was the mid 1980s) I had a business in New York City with a few partners. Although I am prohibited by pending litigation from disclosing the finer details about this company, I can say that we were a startup which used cutting edge technology and set up shop in an old municipal building. Anyway, we were out on a service call one night when one of my partners said to me “Ray…” (they called me ‘Ray’ back then, long story) anyway, he said;

Ray, when someone asks you if you’re a god, you say ‘YES’!”

Although this was some sound advice which I’ve never forgotten, I really hadn’t given it much thought through the years as, surprisingly, no one has really asked me if I’m a god in the past 30 years or so. But lately I’ve been considering it.

About a year ago, my son Jacob and I were driving home from visiting my eldest son in New York City. When we passed the exit for Annandale (New Jersey) I was naturally moved to exclaim;

California tumbles into the sea, that will be the day I go back to Annandale…”

At first Jacob looked at me strangely, not getting the reference but just then “My Old School” by Steely Dan (the very song I had just quoted) came on the satellite radio. Was this a coincidence? I think not!

Angry BirdsJust this morning, a new Walmart commercial came on the television in which they advertised all the brand name clothing that they are offering this back-to-school season. At the end of the commercial they showed the logos for all these brands and I noticed an “Angry Birds” logo. “Angry Birds?” I asked out loud, “Since when do they make clothing?” “What was that, dear?” my wife asked. “Angry birds!” I shouted, just as a large bird flew into our bay window with a loud “thump!” Now would someone please explain just what supernatural forces I conjured up to compel that bird to risk life and wing at the very moment when I shouted?

This is something that will need much more exploration.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes


SmokeToday is the 20th anniversary of my giving up cigarettes once and forever. I smoked for ten years during my younger days from ages 13 until 23, but only ever really “enjoyed” it during the first few years when I was youngest and dumbest.

I started because I wanted to look cool – really no other reason. I had friends who smoked and friends who didn’t and I never really made a distinction between the groups morally, but liked the rebellious and “grown-up” image of having a smoke between my fingers or lips. In the earliest days it was all a kind of an adventure, a certain kind of mischievous fun. I didn’t smoke all that much in those days, just during strategic social moments. In fact, I remember there was a group of seven of us who walked to school together and we would each chip in a dime to buy a pack each morning at the corner store (that’s right, cigarettes were only about $0.69 a pack at the time!) Of course, there was the rebellious sense of getting away with something that grown-ups would not approve of, and my friends and I would constantly share new and creative ways of hiding the evidence from parents and teachers.

However, within a few years smoking was no longer as much fun. I was now able to do it more openly and stopped enjoying a cigarette as a symbolic indulgence but more as a necessary crutch to get me through the day. For several years before July 13, 1992, I had wanted to quit as I became more and more aware of the dangers and really started to loath the side effects of the habit itself. In spite of this, I had never once actually tried to quit because I wasn’t only physically addicted, but more so psychologically addicted. I could not get to sleep at night if I had less than a few smokes in my pack because I had a fear that I might wake up several times during the night and need a cigarette. Think about how crazy that is – I couldn’t sleep because I was afraid that I might wake up and not be able to sleep! Further, I had seen many friends try to quit, struggle, and ultimately fail after a few days, weeks, or even months and couldn’t justify going through the “ritual” if I was ultimately going to fail anyway.

My dear ol' Mom during her smoking daysIt was ultimately my concern for a loved one which moved me into action. My mother, who had also been a smoker since her teen years, was now about 50 and I was really becoming concerned for her health. I implored her to quit and she would always comeback with,”I’ll quit when you do.” I was in a box. I had no comeback other than I was a lot younger and had “much more time” to quit. It was a weak argument and I knew it, so I reluctantly agreed to a pact with her that we each give it up for Lent that year (1992). To my mother’s credit, she kept her word. To my shame, I did not and I just kept on smoking, not even making a token effort to give it up. My mother quit a 30-something year habit, not just for Lent, but for good and for the next months between the spring and summer, I lived with a heavy guilt that I had not kept my word (and I HATE to break my word). Finally, I decided I would make a legitimate effort to kick the habit.

There was nothing remarkable about the date July 13th other than it was a Monday and Mondays always seem like a good day to start things like resolutions and diets and such (although I’m not really quite sure why). I woke up that day, took my shower, and headed off to work as normal, except on this day I left my pack of cigarettes at home. I remember struggling quite a bit through the morning and having some serious doubts whether I could really do this. But then came lunchtime, and I was in a convenience store buying an iced tea and found myself in line when the guy in front of me requested a pack of Marlboro Lights (my favorite brand). At that very moment, something inside me just clicked and I thought to myself, “that will never again be me” and I felt an overwhelming great feeling of relief. It was only Noon of the very first day that I had ever attempted to quit smoking and I knew I had it licked for life. Sure, I did go through the physical withdrawals from nicotine over the coming weeks, but my psychological outlook had totally changed and there was rarely a fleeting moment of doubt from that day forward.

I had done it with no patch, no gum, no hypnotism or support group, just cold turkey and success on the very first attempt. Now, I’m not claiming that my method is for everyone and I know a tobacco habit comes with a serious physical addition. But the lesson I learned was that when you’re sure something is the right thing to do, you just need to do it, even when the odds seem ludicrously against success. You may surprise yourself and discover abilities or resolve that you did not know you had.

~
R.A.


Pinocchio Lives!


PinocchioSo it is that the Supreme Court has ruled that the individual mandate within Obamacare is a tax after all. This contradicts what the president himself said when selling the policy to the American people in 2009 and 2010. It also contradicts Obama’s repeated promise that taxes would be raised “not a single dime” on the “middle class” making less than $250k per year. For obvious reasons, Pinocchio comes to mind when I think of this situation.

Beyond the nose-growing bold-faced liar aspect of this issue, there is also a less than obvious, yet more profound allegory which brings the Pinocchio story to mind. It is the dramatic sequence involving Toyland.

Pinocchio turning into donkeyIn this sequence Pinocchio is lulled away from his responsibilities by Lampwick, who leads him to a place called Toyland where everyone plays all day and never works. At first, they have a wonderful time until one morning Pinocchio awakes with donkey ears. It turns out that Playland was just a trap entice little boys into a life of servitude as donkeys. Aside from the great irony that the donkey is the official symbol of the Democratic Party, this is perfectly symbolic. Those who actually believe the promise of all this “free” stuff in Obamacare without regard for the crippling debt which awaits on the other end may someday wake up and find their donkey ears and tail are permanent.

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