Think / Able

Think / Able

Monday, July 10, 2017

Iron Maiden Day or People to Not Ride in Cars With

Back when I was 16 in high school, Trevor, my link to the wild blue yonder of the Air Force, was a sort of friend that I knew from hanging around other people. He was incredibly into running and keeping fit, which made him different than almost all of my other friends. As a result, we didn’t always see eye to eye since I was a lazy slacker, but when my friend Ken wanted to sell his ticket to Iron Maiden, a concert that we had planned to see for so long, it was Trevor who jumped at the chance to go, so it was like, "OK. Let's do this.
So the next day, Trevor and I jumped into his dad’s black Triumph TR-7 convertible ragtop, and headed off to Allentown to see Iron Maiden. It was a shame that I hadn’t been able to see them in 8th grade, because that was when they changed my world. Piece of Mind, Power Slave, Number of the Beast, Live after Death, and Somewhere in Time made them the epitome of all that was heavy metal. Their artistic skeleton, Eddie, was the coolest rock image that was ever known to man. Their stage show was fantastic, artistic, and dramatic, and I was finally going to see them in all of their live glory! Life was good.
It was just a shame that nobody else was going to see them...

By the time we were driving on Route 222 to go see them, my life had already been changed by the rock show. I had been to see Anthrax, Exodus, and Celtic Frost, which meant well and it was entertaining, but it wasn’t the same as punk energy. In particular, Henry Rollins’ explosive one-man wrecking crew force was the most intense live act I ever saw in the 41 years of my life.

Standing in a bingo hall that was transformed into a club and watching this hardcore punk legend call out all the kids that he wanted in his mosh pit was unlike anything that I had seen or would see in the rest of my life. It was so new and awe inspiring that my pre-16-year old self couldn’t be anything other than thrilled to be a part of this spectacle. Here was this man, standing only in a pair of shorts, sweating, shaved headed, and covered in tattoos of punk bands, philosophical ideas, and random cool stuff. Here I was, a goofy suburban white boy, looking across the room, which couldn’t even masquerade as a club, and there was Rollins who was unlike anything I had ever seen in person. His face was the rock hard Nietzschian special forces assault against weakness, pain, and bullshit, and his intensity kicked into gear as he burst into song. Behind him, the band slammed into full-fledged assault on their guitars and drums. The album title said it all: Hot Animal Machine. Moving through the post-teenage depression and angst that was Black Flag, Rollins was changing into thee warrior of the suburban apocalypse. Of course, in twenty years, he would be the only man in Hollywood who had almost as many jobs as Ryan Seacrest. In addition, he was definitely someone that you would be more interested in sitting down and talking to about life and living than you would with Ryan Seacrest… that is if he had time for you. Then again, I understand him not having time for me. I did kind of barge into his dressing room.
As I wandered back the hallway, I was followed by several Brits, my friend Mike, who we all called by his last name and a few other Americans that were in tow with us. I was first in line, and when I walked into the dressing room and professed my worship of his highness, Rollins just looked at me like I was from Mars.
The look of surprise quickly vanished, and he then angrily asked me how I got backstage. I told him the bouncer let me. He responded that this dude shouldn’t have done that. At the point, the Brits barged in with typical English joviality. Immediately, they asked for autographs. When they got them, they walked out as they had entered, still bubbling with their joy for the universe as Rollins looked over at me, the instigator, and asked what I wanted signed. I told him that all I wanted was for him to stand there and take a picture with me. When we both got into the picture, I called Mike over, and as we stood for the photo, Rollins asked in the most annoyed way that I’d seen since Basic Training if everyone was in the picture now. I said yes, and we left without another word said after some guy we were with who I can’t remember the name of took the picture.
In the end, I had met my hero, and I had offended him in one life-changing moment. Still, it was a great moment that I will always remember (Henry - if you're reading. I'm sorry. I was a jerk, and I shouldn't have done that).

At the time, punk rock and its transitional forms that became grunge, indie rock, and alternative rock took the anger and hostility of metal and replaced it with politics and perhaps more importantly, a sense of trying to describe and explain the existential vacuum that existed in my high school life. Of course, I would have never known it as some deep philosophical concept at the time; I just knew that I didn’t have a car, didn’t have a girlfriend, didn’t have that many friends, didn’t relate to my parents (as many teenagers feel), and I didn’t have any sort of solid future lined up, let alone money or proximity to do the things that I wanted, whatever the hell that was. Without music, I would have been lost to all that was hovering over my head. Who would have known that it was the backdoor that took me into all that I was going to find in literature 10 years later?
There was a part of me that was still clinging onto metal, even after hearing The Smiths’ “There is a Light that Will Never Go Out” on WXPN led me to the classic album The Queen is Dead, which came along and left Kiss, Ozzy, and W.A.S.P.  in the dust. Nevertheless, I still found louder, heavier music in early Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Slayer, which sufficed for a year or two, but most of it was just a passing fad until I really got back into hiking in 2013 and used it to energize myself up for pre-hikes (though I tend to go more mellow or poppy on the way back - some of the LaLaLand stuff is just incredible for positive energy).

With my affection for an Emma Stone / Ryan Gosling musical being said, let it also be said that the dudes in Slayer just kick the holy hell out of anything that is frustrating, annoying, or nonsensical to my life. Granted, they’re not relaxing music, and they’re broken out for energy in times of extreme angst, but I will say they’re still one of my favorite bands. How could they not be? Songs like “Disciple,” “Haunting the Chapel,” and “Raining Blood” represent the purest greatness of thrash metal as a genre. For what it’s worth, “Reigning Blood” was number 87 on VH1’s America’s Hard 100. That said, when Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” is number one, it kind of says a lot about the order and fairness of things as well as a definition of what is hard.
Nevertheless, most of the louder metal-core bands of the 1980s, forgettable ensembles such as DRI, Corrosion of Conformity, SOD, and the Cro-Mags faded into nothingness to be replaced with punk staples like Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks, Minor Threat and Black Flag, which also faded into obscurity soon after I realized that teenage rebellion really only matters until the pre-frontal cortex fully forms or until you are paying your own room board. All the same, at the time, these were the singers that would make a difference in my life in all of those lonely high school days. Eventually, they would be replaced and modified by more experimental tastes such as Husker Du, Sonic Youth, Bauhaus, Joy Division, the Minutemen, and the late 80’s / early 90’s industrial scene. For all these guys never achieved in commercial success with tours to the Enormodome, they combined to say one thing: The nothingness that was my America at that time was not mine alone. There were many others just like me, and at the same time, while they were different than me, they were also people who didn’t fit in and were looking to belong to something.
Together, we formed a place to go in those 10 months or so after high school and before the Air Force.
However, in 1988, I was still 2 years away from the Air Force. I was still a year from graduating from high school. At the time, I was also three years away from stepping foot in merry ol’ England, a place that would erase much of the American culture void and replace it with the unique wonder that was being able to allow myself to be absorbed in British styles, while still retaining the select parts of the American culture that I liked or would come to call my own identity, which was pretty much all music at the time.
In short, I was light years from getting to know who I really was so that I could journey on Route 80 through Ohio and become who I was truly meant to be.

And in that lost period, I was riding as a passenger on that other highway, Route 222 in Pennsylvania, and I was heading to a concert that would be cancelled for lack of fan support, and then, I was coming home on that same highway.
As we passed the halfway point back to the West Lawn area, I looked over and told Trevor that I was going to fall sleep, and he nodded, as he continued to drive home. I don’t know how long it took my drowsy self to fall asleep in that hot July hazy sun, but no sooner had I fallen asleep than Trevor fell asleep, too. I woke up and felt him driving off the road, the gravel making the speeding car rumble. Then in the shock of my screaming to be awoken in this position, I woke him up too by screaming, “Trevor, we’re going off the road!
Just like that, we hit a telephone pole, a tree, and a do not pass sign. The car spun around and came to a stop, as Trevor got out of the car to survey the situation. As he did, he started talking to himself.
“I’m going to be grounded forever, I’m not going to get my senior license, My dad is going to kill me.”
I looked back at him and summoned up all that is my trademark sarcasm and lack of sense of reverence for any serious moment.
“Trevor, My head is bleeding. My arm is broken. It’s really not that bad”.
It was then that he turned off the Contour’s “Do You Love Me,” which was playing on the radio because the movie Dirty Dancing had brought back an LP’s worth of oldies but goodies for eighties girls to feel nostalgic about a time they never knew.

And it was then that the other cars began to pull over to help us out.
Medical attention was also soon upon us, and everyone who came to rescue the scrawny kid in the passenger seat with the broken arm kept asking me how many fingers they were holding up and wanting to know if my neck was okay. After a while, the pain and anxiousness that I felt caused me to get annoyed with the repetitive questioning (as I said, I was an annoying teenager), and I told the well-wishers that I had already answered that question. I don’t think they understood my sense of frustration and lack of ability to tolerate pain or process what just happened. I also don’t think that they understood the fact I just wanted to be done with it, but oh well.
At least I was safe for the time being.

When the real medics came, they also asked me if my neck was sore. For some reason, I said yes, and they upped the medical situation as they placed a neck brace on me for 2 days. The neck brace also gave me a Med-Evac ride from Kirbyville to Allentown where I was treated for my broken arm. At the hospital, they cut off my clothes leaving me naked on the table as a male nurse told me to tell him if I had to go the bathroom. Immediately, my nakedness, which hadn’t been an issue suddenly was a very big problem. Where I thought that they would only cut off my shorts, they also cut off my underwear and my cool Metallica T-shirt, which I paid someone to pick up for me at Monsters of Rock for concert price, which is hefty for a teenager! In addition, now I also had to go to the bathroom, which really was a nightmare because if that was the case, then I would have to let a room full of nurses, doctors, and technicians watch me make a steady stream.
Though I tried to control this sensation as best as I could, I eventually had to cave in, and so, in the end, I was forced to face the pee bottle and lose all modesty as they gave me pain killers and prepped me for surgery.
In short order, my parents arrived, and for the first time ever, I felt like I had been meant to survive the incidents of my life for a reason, as if it was part of a greater plan that I had made it this far. At the time, I had no idea what this meant. I just remember feeling like a survivor. There are those incidents that are so momentary or fleeting to the teenage years, but that seem to have little or temporary bearing on a life, have a way of coming back to affect us as something far more than they ever did at the time. They are a lot of what makes us who we are. And this moment, was far from that since it was not a small moment by any means. This glowing neon light of demarcation would hold bearing on my life for some time after this. 
But those other events, when they start making more sense in the aftermath, even if that aftermath is all but 30 years removed, that’s saying something.

For all that the feeling of purpose in life would have later, that something else, which was going to have potential implications for the immediate future was what it meant to have a steel plate on my right arm.
This metal device was hinged into place with 3 solid screws boring deep into my radius. As a result, I was barred from entering the military with the plate intact, and therefore, since I couldn’t pass the physical, the Air Force had no time and / or patience for me. The Army talked to me because they wanted to get all of their ducks in a row when it came to meeting new entrant quotas, and to be honest, I wanted to be talked to. I didn’t want to be in school, and I wanted to do something towards a future, which was two-fold thing in that it kept my parents off my back as well.’
Months of uncertainty and stupid high school days passed, and when the plate came out toward the end of my senior year, I still had several weeks to wait before I could get a doctor’s approval to say that I was capable of doing whatever motions it was that I needed to be doing with my arm. Like all things, the necessary time quickly passed, and I was given the note, and then it was off to sign up for the Air Force.

Even in signing up for the Air Force, I was never wooed. There was never a feeling of you’re our boy, so let us take you out to dinner so we can wine you and dine you before we let your ass get yours handed to you in Basic Training. Instead, I was made to feel like a fish that was going to bite, got reeled in, and now here I was, waiting the required amount of time until I would become one of them in some participatorial orgiastic love fest where all my youthful weakness would be the main course. But that's a whole other story, this is a story about Iron Maiden.
Over time, I drifted away from Maiden, but I found them again in 2004, which I'm glad that I did since they were a part of my life as a kid, and some things from our
I finally did get to see Iron Maiden in June at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. They put on a really good show and played a lot of old songs and quite a few newer ones. I have to say that I liked their new disc, which is a collection of extended songs that tend to move closer to 8-10 minutes of jammed out metal. They may be old, but they sure know how to rock. As an older person with a long drive home and an early morning commute, I gave up the encore to get out of the parking lot and missed them doing "Wasted Years," my favorite song of theirs, but still I got to see them do "Book of Souls," "Fear of the Dark," "Powerslave," "Speed of Light," and "The Trooper." and quite a few other great songs.  The last song I heard was "Number of the Beast."
So this day is in honor of them and the show I never saw, the one to support the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son tour. There's nothing on here from that disc (of which the best track is "Infinite Dreams"), so here's a live "Wasted Years" from this current tour. Enjoy.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

What a Difference a Week Makes or When Parkinson's Induced Sciatica Comes Calling...

            What a difference a week makes. Last Friday, I was pushing 8.2 miles round trip up the mountain to the Appalachian Trail in Port Clinton, Pennsylvania (near the Cabela’s in Hamburg, for those who are more familiar with landmarks, and really, for all the tourism it brings, that really is an attraction). By Tuesday, I was waking up in pain with serious lower back nastiness that left my right leg in pain and hobbling to the point where I felt I had gone 12 rounds with Jaws and lost.

            As Tuesday was a holiday, I was ticked off because I wanted to hike and lose weight while seeing some sights, but nope. The pain made me feel really gimped up, so it was hard to get moving to go spend the 4th with my family. Then, when I went home from my parents, I was in worse pain than earlier from the pressure on my back. Working Wednesday and Thursday didn’t help much either. Nevertheless, by Friday, I was determined that my Parkinson’s induced sciatica was going to get better. It had to. I’ve had it a few times before, but it always went away in a couple days, but yesterday had me hobbling really badly in the morning and afternoon, so other than tutoring a soon to be 9th grader for an hour and doing errands, I was eager to get back home and rest again instead of getting out and doing what I wanted, which was pushing for distance on the Horseshoe Trail (relatively flat local trail that I can get to in a short time without spending a ton on gas).

            About 3-4:00PM, I finally got up and moved around to see the scenic sights of my living room and kitchen, which really are nice since my wife is quite the HGTV person, but at the end of the day, I’d rather be seeing a mountain or a waterfall, personally. After moving around for a little while, I actually felt better and more stretched out than my stretching exercises allowed me to be. It’s definitely interesting to see how rusty Parkinson’s can make me; that’s for sure!

Silverthread Falls in the Poconos of Pennsylvania

            So last night, I was standing and sitting more comfortably and even to bend down to pick things up better, as long as I didn’t sit too long. As I tried to take it easy, but keep myself stretched out, we decided to go to my wife’s work to take advantage of the hydrotherapy option for stretching and feeling better. Yep, one of her job benefits is to be able to use her retirement community’s indoor pool and hot tub, and like Eddie Murphy playing James Brown, I was feeling “too hot in the hot tub (in a good kind of way, like we do when we would go see our friends in Florida at the vacation home they would get)”! There’s something about a water jet right on the source of the pain to make it all feel better.

            Michael J. Fox Foundation is big on moving and exercise to include yoga. Other recommendations that looked good on the list included the ever popular massage, which is definitely looking to be a vacation option – when the last month of the term goes by and I get 2.5 weeks off to unwind before classes start again. I’m always down for a good massage, and I promise to purr like a cat when my aches and pains get taken away.
            Acupuncture is another option for pain relief, but I’m not convinced about that yet. Maybe someone who had it done can convince me otherwise. I also read a trusted source (Paul Offit) who wasn't subscribing to that based on his research, so yeah. 
            Othernon-surgical choices include ibuprofen, stronger meds (which didn’t help for my spondylosis issues, so I’m not into going that route), stretching, hot+cold treatments, and medication. Of course, there is surgery, but as my one former PA once said, “Go to a chiropractor or a voodoo practitioner or do whatever you can before you cut because there are 3 options that can occur.
1)      You get better (ideal)
2)      You don’t improve (pain and money and time)
3)      You get worse (more pain and money and time)
So at the end of the day, I do like that advice enough to say that I’m not backed up into any corner for surgery I don’t necessarily want or need.
All the same, I sit here today reflecting on how we Parkies seem to have won the lottery with our condition and its accoutrements, so the next time you’re feeling a symptom, look it up on a reputable site like Michael J. Fox, and you’ll probably find that, like back pain, it’s a free toaster for playing this game.
That said, thanks for listening to me whine about my pain. Know that I feel a heck of a lot better today, and I’m thinking about having a fun day with my family for my aunt’s 71st birthday tomorrow. Before that, it’s dinner, an independent league baseball game, and fireworks with the wife.
Life is too short to not get up and make ourselves find ways to enjoy it.

Here’s to a great week for all of us!

England... It was 21 Years Ago Today...

            When I was a kid, I remember my parents talking about how fast time went when you got older. As an adult, I have to say that’s pretty much true, except when my wife and I are on the turnpike to drive to Ohio. After the 4 tunnels on the Pennsylvania turnpike, there’s really nothing to see except a few bridges and a whole lot of billboards that support the coal industry. It’s not even like South Dakota, where they count down how long it is until Wall Drug Store.

            On the note of time, a child born on this date in 1996 would be old enough to drink legally in America. Putting that date into perspective, 21 years ago today I was flying back from England to return to America. After I boarded the plane, I don’t remember much about that flight. I know that I took a cab to the bus station and then took a bus to Cambridge, where I took the train to the airport, and then I went back to America.

            Such was the end of my adventure in England, which began on December 27, 1990, when I arrived at Bentwaters Air Force Base. I spent 2 years there, and then I chose to stay at Lakenheath Air Force Base, which was over an hour’s drive from there. I only went back to Bentwaters one time after that, which was to pick up some stuff that I had in a storage cage while going to see a woman that I had met right before PCSing (changing bases permanently, if you’re not versed in military-ese).

If I had Bentwaters to do over again, I would have gone to the UFO stuff at Rendlesham Forest, which was between that base and Woodbridge. I would have liked to have experienced that more than just one night’s walk trying to find out where it happened. Everything else there pretty much made me who I am.

Sure, it would have been nice to see Europe, but I think I’ll be happy I saved Paris, Rome, and Amsterdam for later since my wife’s appreciation of them will mean more to me than just having hopped on some ferry to spend a couple days on the cobblestone streets of Bruges.

In my time abroad, about 5.5+ years, which continued after I got out of the Air Force on November 17, 1995, at approximately 10AM, when I did sign the papers to make myself a free man, I saw a lot of England. It was a great place to be for an under 25 year old. I experienced the grunge explosion from 1991-1992 with many shows in London and other little British towns like Cambridge, Norfolk, Ipswich, and Colchester, and I also spent many nights in the pubs of Bury St. Edmunds when I moved onto my second base. It was a good time to be young and caught up in a cultural explosion with a lot of great people who I enjoyed my time with. 

I did some travels in the early days, but I did most of my travels during the early part of the relationship days (until I was poor from not having a solid Air Force paycheck). However, before I left, I finally made it to Scotland and Ireland. Those were some neat places. Then again, so were places like Cambridge, Avebury (a stone formation in the tradition, though not pattern of Stonehenge, and Ely (a huge cathedral). A part of me will always consider England “home,” though there’s no way I would ever enjoy it the way I did then if I were to go over there now. I’m way too American for that (not a bad thing – just an ingrained cultural thing). It’s not that I wouldn’t like those things, it’s just that I have no reason to stay as I did then (both for the relationship and my attachment to my youthful understanding of that country). Nevertheless, even if I were to want to stay, I think the country would have something to say about it.

I remember British security being pretty tight when they took me to the room where the visitors who don’t speak English and didn’t have proper passports were grilled about their intentions (in my case, to work on an Air Force Base and to eventually get married – kind of tough to do since I wasn’t allowed to get a job until after I got out of the military, and I had to out-process in New Jersey). The security rooted through my bag (remember, this was pre 9/11 on December 18, 1995), and other than some obnoxious punk CDs that my cousin bought for me because he thought I would “appreciate” them (and other than wondering if they would keep me from coming into the country, I did find them amusing), there was nothing much to keep me from coming in to see if marriage and life in England was in the cards (which it obviously wasn’t, though we still stay in touch – she’s happily married for almost 20 years with 2 kids, one of which is a legal adult, so yeah, time flies and I’m glad she’s happy – all of the good people truly deserve that).

            Unfortunately, my memory of specifics has vanished in the haze of time, but there are some clear things about my time over in England that I do remember. Pictures are good for that and so are old accounts of my time. I’m glad I took the time to jot a lot of things down since I don’t remember much about the minute by minute accounts anymore. Instead, I remember the good moments and the things people taught me.

            At one point, I was given a scarf that was Bury St. Edmunds College’s colors. I hadn’t been to college yet, but it was to commemorate how I learned and changed so much while I was there. I think about that now, and I remember how when I signed up for the Air Force, I had chosen bases close to Pennsylvania. My furthest bases were Ohio and Virginia. I was originally supposed to go to Dover in Delaware, but a woman asked me if I would trade because her husband was going there. I told her to let me think about it. In one hour, I told her I would. In 1990, before the Internet, I never looked up where the base was. I just went. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. For better or worse and all that I learned in my time in England to include staying those extra 6-7 months, I consider that one of the best decisions of my life, too. It helped me become who I was in those times after it, and it created a part of my personality. It also helped me to meet and enjoy a lot of great people, some of whom I still stay in touch with in person and online.

spot the face in the picture above... a statue not decapitated!

           And so on this day, I think about that and include some songs that made that time for me. I hope they make you feel a little bit British, too. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Fourth of July and the Question of What is America (with some help from Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Choi, and Tom Friedman)

On July 8, 1996, I came home from my time in England, and while it wasn’t by choice, rather by the necessity of avoiding poverty and a life of working crap jobs and the effect it took on my relationship with the British woman that I was with at the time, I knew that in some ways I had to make peace with my idea of what America was if I was ever going to survive and thrive in this change I was about to face.

Prior to going to England with the Air Force, I made the mistake of assuming, as many people are prone to do, that America was the leaders and the institutions that seemed remote, misguided, and elite to me. To make a long story short (and save it for Saturday, which is the 21st anniversary of my time back in America after being away from December 27, 1990, to that July day in 1996 (save a few vacations)), I ended up finding meaning on the highways of America, which led to the Nature, history, and the specific culture of this country. For me, that culture was literature, baseball, music, and the expression of the people. In the end, America is whatever you want it to be since there are so many distinct things that make lots of cultures American.
With that being said, nothing sums up America to me more than John Dos Passos’s quote from his 1919 book (a part of the U.S.A. Trilogy):
“U. S. A. is the slice of a continent. U. S. A. is a group of holding companies, some aggregations of trade unions, a set of laws bound in calf, a radio network, a chain of moving picture theatres, a column of stock quotations rubbed out and written in by a Western Union boy on a blackboard, a public-library full of old newspapers and dog-eared history books with protests scrawled on the margins in pencil. U. S. A. is the world's greatest river valley fringed with mountains and hills, U. S. A. is a set of big-mouthed officials with too many bank accounts. U. S. A. is a lot of men buried in their uniforms in Arlington Cemetery. U. S. A. is the letters at the end of an address when you are away from home. But mostly U. S. A. is the speech of the people.
As a tribute to Mr. Dos Passos, here are some images I've seen that reflect America to me. There are many more, but this is a good representation. 

Reflecting on the ideas enclosed within, a task that allows for much more thought than the limited words of a simple paragraph, we get a lot of the things that bring us to the Fourth of July. Be it George and Thomas and Patrick and all of those other Founding Fathers who did what they had to do (while keeping Ben protected enough from himself and his indiscretions not to spill the beans on American revolutionary intentions) to make the day possible in the first place. And speaking of those men, we have Misters Jefferson and Adams dying on the same day (July 4, 1826). There was also the announcement of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 a year after West Point was established. In 1845, Thoreau went to Walden to live deliberately, observe nature, protest the US government’s wartime actions, and write a book of the same name, declaring his independence in an act that mattered a whole lot more to the world after he died. Ten years later, Walt Whitman published Leaves of Grass in 1855. In 1863, the battle at Gettysburg ended with the South crushed after Pickett ordered his misguided charge. Several decades later, the Tuskegee Institute was founded in 1881 and Buffalo Bill had his first Wild West Show in 1883. A year later, the U.S. was given the Statue of Liberty. In 1931, the first fireworks display is held in Cleveland (then in 1969, an Ohio fireworks accident killed 18 and destroyed a lot boats on Lake Erie – fireworks safety, guys!). In 1942, America begins a bombing campaign in Europe. Two years later, 1,100 American guns fire a “salute” at German lines and American Marines raise a flag on Iwo Jima. In 1970, Casey Kasem debuts American Top 40. In 1989, Drew Barrymore, at age 14, attempts suicide unsuccessfully (thankfully), and she goes on to make the classic movie The Wedding Singer with Adam Sandler, which really is that good. In 1996, Hotmail becomes a thing. In 2004, the corner of the Freedom Tower was laid. In 2012, the scientists at CERN announced the finding of the Higgs-Boson (God) Particle. And last year, NASA put the spacecraft Juno into Jupiter’s orbit.

Oh yeah, and in 1939, the great Lou Gehrig gave a speech.

On the day after Jimmy Choi, Parkinson’s athlete, completed the first 2 obstacles on the American Ninja Warrior course despite the condition that holds him (and me) in its grasp, thinking about the words of a man who nearly hit .300 the first year of his having ALS is something defining and particularly American. While Gehrig had to retire his second year of having ALS, his speech is an encouragement to all people, not just people with disabilities. The same is true for Mr. Choi, who stood tall as a strong athlete as a role model for all people, not just all Parkisnon's people. If you get a chance, watch the video for the first time or again. You'll be glad you did.

We are a nation of doers. We speak in active voice. Things don’t happen to us. We do them. The world looks to us for innovation and leadership. While we aren’t unique in this, we are exceptional in this. That’s why people the country and world over look at us like “what the heck are you doing?” when our politics and attitudes get so out of line with what’s good for today, tomorrow, and the next day. Simply put, the answer is, "We aren't that guy or the other woman, who we were given as a choice. Hell, the ones that are elected do little to represent us a whole," but that's not us. We are a good lot of people that care about a lot of things. We want a better life for us and those around us (to include our children's children). We don't want to sacrifice what belongs to the collective us for the benefit of others. Isn't that taxation without representation? We fought a war to get rid of kings, queens, and out of touch authority, so for those asking us that question now, nothing has changed except the faces who aren't governing for the people.

On that note, I think of the recent words of one of my favorite authors, Tom Friedman, who writes about international relations and technology for the New York Times (in books like The World is Flat, That Used to Be Us, and Thank You for Being Late). A couple of weeks ago, he said:
"I fear we're seeing the end of 'truth' - that we just can't agree any more on basic facts. And I fear we're becoming Sunnis and Shiites - We call them 'Democrats' and 'Republicans,' but the sectarianism that has destroyed nation states of the Middle East is now infecting us."
After talking about how the extremes of both sides of the coin have gotten out of hand, he ended the article with these thoughts:
"In the long run, the only thing that will save us is if more people - no matter what age, color, gender, or faith - build moral authority in their respective realms and then use it to do big, meaningful things. Use it to run for office, start a company, operate a school, lead a movement, or build a community organization. And in doing so, you can help put the 'we' back in 'we the people.'"
To that end, I felt inclined to give you 2 other versions of the Star Spangled Banner (Hendrix and Jose Feliciano) as well as an old playlist I had of songs that said America to me (from 2011). Both versions of this song caused a stir because they weren't the voice of the people (or something like that with regard to whatever the original intent of the song was theoretically supposed to be). However, I think they're still important, perhaps more so than ever despite being almost 50 years old, so enjoy them.

1. America by Simon and Garfunkel
2. Guaranteed by Eddie Vedder
3. When You Wake up Feeling Old (live) by Jeff Tweedy
4. Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes
5. Windfall by Son Volt
6. May This Be Love (Waterfall) by Hendrix
7. Stars Fell on Alabama by Jimmy Buffett
8. My Back Pages by The Byrds
9. Mrs. Potter's Lullaby by Counting Crows
10. Freefallin by Tom Petty
11. I Got You by Train
12. Superbad by James Brown
13. The Joker by Steve Miller Band
14. More Than a Feeling by Boston
15. Get off This by Cracker
16. Pink Houses by John Cougar Mellencamp
17. Piano Man by Billy Joel
18. I Can Hear Music by the Beach Boys
19. When You're Smiling by Frank Sinatra
20. Take Me out to the Ball Game by Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly.

And since I feel a post thought coming, I'll leave you with this version of "This Land is Your Land" by Bruce Springsteen. Happy 4th of July. May your picnics, fireworks, and days be filled with happiness and joy, today and every day!