10 Shots At A Life Worth Living From The Rifleman.

“Guns don’t make you strong, they make you hesitate and respect the value of human life.”

Lucas McCain

With a foundation in New York, now a life (or mid-life), in Texas, I’m sensitive to the frenzied disparate bombardment of opinions.

About everything.

On social media it’s North meets South, again.

Gun control, border walls, homegrown terrorists. Workplace violence.

Kim Kardashian.

Donald Trump.

Rhetoric, vitriol.

Electronic bullets.

People blown to bits in 140 characters or less.

Makes me realize.

People are shooting off their mouths indiscriminately.

The world needs The Rifleman more than ever.

Let’s return to September 1958, shall we?

Turn the clunky black dial flush to a rich, mahogany console. Fire up the RCA Victor, boys and girls.

TV tubes resonate a low hum. They sound like the wings of a thousand agitated bees until a black & white moving picture emerges. Out of nowhere from behind thick glass.

 

RCA 1958

No matter how clear the picture, a perpetual cinematic room for a clearer clear exists. You toil endlessly with dual rabbit-ear antenna rods.

Feverishly you orchestrate two straw-thin antennas, stare at the screen. Stop. Work again. An awkward tango with thin aluminum arms. You’re expecting magic. Only you know when it’s found.

Battling rabbit ears is lost to the annals of American household pop culture. The endless search for medieval high-def is history. Dead.

Warmth seeps in on air waves. Vacuum tubes that resemble bulbous laboratory vials glow yellow. Heat rises. Conjures a musty, heady aroma from a warm brown felt grid stapled to the back of the set.

Cozy up to a screen of the thick glass. Watch your arm hair come alive, tingle to attention from static electricity.

You feel good all over.

And then.

Mom bellows from the kitchen because of course, she knows everything.

“Don’t sit too close, you’ll ruin your eyes!”

The Rifleman, a half-hour western drama, ran for five seasons: 1958-1963. Prime time on ABC.

Chuck Connors portrayed chisel-jawed Civil War veteran Lucas McCain. A widower raising a young son Mark McCain, alone. Building a life, a ranch, in the fictional town of North Fork.

I feel the ladies fading fast.

“I don’t like westerns.”

OK, The Rifleman is officially a western. You got me. However, life lessons roll larger than thunder arteries blistering the clouds in Oklahoma skies. The  guns, bullets, dust, horses, and saloon brawls are set dressings for stories of challenge and perseverance. True grit.

Now, let’s get those ladies corralled into readin’.

A 6’6″ Lucas McCain holds a rigid stance against the searing heat of nature. Overworked boots. Heels in dry dirt. His broad shoulders glisten wet under the blistering New Mexico summer. The straight-line high blue gushes the same color as his eyes. Jaw clenched in determination, he removes his hat, the felt brim dark with sweat.

The salty sting in his eyes feels good. He’s alive. One with the land. His land.

Cotton is wet-heavy. A blast furnace against his skin.

Soaked with the fire of his toil.

He pauses to toss his shirt. Abruptly, it lands with a thick thud and soaks the parched earth underneath. A seldom breeze lands cool on his back. At 37, Lucas is fit, perhaps more so than a decade earlier.

His bare torso is lean. Working the earth, relishing the ‘sodbuster’ way of life has made him hard in body, sharper in mind. His farming a cleansing of where he came from, buried under black-pitch soil mixture of the present. Hopeful yet guarded for the future.

For him.

For Mark McCain. His boy.

Lucas reaches for a nearby bucket. Drinks deep from it. The sweet liquid from the ladle is lukewarm but invigorating. He carefully pours the precious liquid over his upper body. Drops embrace and crawl down his tired muscles.

The anterior of his right shoulder is tight but pliable. It had to do. Only a short time for a breather. There are more chores before sunset.

Lucas returns to his regimen. The thick spade handle grips small in large, callused hands. It comes alive. Ironically, his hands could kill yet it was easier to save a life. Grow it, too.

rifleman one

Whew, the ladies have returned.

Lucas McCain. A man of determination and wisdom formed by serving as Union lieutenant in the Civil War. Behind steeled eyes that witnessed the worst of the human condition, Lucas McCain became a master of placing himself in another’s veins. He knew when to strike and when, as a man of wisdom, back down.

Yea, there’s much one can learn from watching, no observing, The Rifleman.

rifleman three

Random Thoughts:

Shot #1: How much pain will it take to release the truth inside? 

The emergence of your internal compass, a definition of truth as it breaks away from the fence lines of long roads traveled. How does this happen?

An uncompromising life philosophy.

What I call “Rifleman’s Awareness” is not born of happy or pretty.

It’s not of sunshine.

The source is internalized writhing maggots. Thick layers of spilled blood that attach to every cell. A tight-wedged coagulation of unhealed festering wounds that slither from unresolved torment under relentless pressure. A billion lifetimes in the making.  The rot of past trials go back that far.

Sharp enemies of the past, the ones that carry and cut with rusted blades, never die. They continue to pierce until an injured limb goes numb and severed. At that point, you’ve won against fear and pain.

The opportunity has arrived for you to crush hideous demons into beautiful diamonds.

Nothing can hurt you. The higher plain is no longer fallowed grounds but an endless bounty.

You must learn to train these devils to do your bidding or allow their disease to stick to you. Consume who you are. Who you can be. Until you’re dead.

The Rifleman corralled and controlled internal torment. He could aim and fire the perfect dose of justice every time. His skills with a rifle were legendary. Known for miles. His words were delivered with similar velocity as bullets.

It’s safe to assume from binge watching  what moves Lucas forward is life earned (and learned) –  a bloody war, the loss of a spouse, a vigilance over his only child.

It can take years, decades (perhaps never) to develop a personal truth, an internal guide that motivates daily actions. The release of wisdom from a greater guide than self is an exhausting, ongoing process.

Beliefs that seed in the soul can break away to help you conquer the renegades in black hats. The gatekeepers. The enemies. When forced to protect everything you hold dear, those seeds will grow to mighty oaks.

Your personal rule book will be lived only after you’ve tamed the beast of fear. That mastery comes from confronting and melting the freeze that is born of it.

But first, you’re going to need to understand who makes the rules and why.

If you feel sick going into work every day, ostracized for disagreeing with your boss, shunned by co-workers, well then you sort of know already.

You’re walking the path of The Rifleman.

Recently, my friend and greatest teacher James Altucher wrote about personal rules on Facebook.

You see, he appears to be a nerd. However, he’s a self-aware rifleman (armed with pen and a waiter’s pad):

ARE YOU FOLLOWING THE RULES?

The government has rules.
Schools have rules.
Society has rules.
Parents and then family have rules.
Relationships have rules.

I tried to follow all the rules. I was a good boy.

Sometimes it’s hard to keep track. The rule book is too big.

And then I got the phone calls. Why didn’t you follow that rule?

I don’t know. It didn’t make me feel good.

Well, if the only thing that is important to you is feeling good you would just kill and steal and lie to people all the time.

Why would any of that make me feel good?

Well, what does make you feel good?

Talking to you on the phone makes me feel good.

Aside from that.

Walking outside and looking at people. Feeling the last remnants of sun on my cheek before the winter comes.

Being kind to someone when they least expect it. Surprise makes me feel good.

Knowing that every now and then I can still make my teenage children laugh.

I gave a talk a few months ago and I heard my youngest laugh. That is the best feeling I’ve ever had. She laughed right after I said something that felt like it was breaking the rules (I forget the statement: I was describing either lying or stealing or saying something about my mom).

Seeing the smile of a woman up close after a first kiss. That makes me feel good.

Being with friends who love me and I love. Anybody else…and I don’t feel so good. I feel sick.

Feeling like I’m improving at something I love. Because that grounds me and let’s me enjoy the company of others with the same passions.

Feeling like I need less than I thought I needed. Because needing less allows me to float into the sky without feeling scared, without feeling burdened to the ground.

Feeling always like I’m exploring.

Writing something really really awful. Because who gives a fuck.

Like this.

—-

So many times I hear from people who say: I have to follow the career (or marry the person), my parents want.

Or someone says: I have to go to college or nobody will give me a job.

Or someone tells me: you should be around these people. They can help you succeed. (But I don’t like them so what should I do?).

Or someone says: I want to have ten million dollars to relax. And own a big home so I can feel roots.

Or someone says: You have to vote in order to have your voice heard in society.

Or someone says: I feel stuck because I can’t quit my job because I have all of my family responsibilities.

I built a prison for myself also. It had triple locks. It had lots of guards. It had solitary confinement when I was bad. I didn’t much like my fellow prisoners but they were in here with me so I figured I would be with them.

I felt ashamed when I broke the rules of the prison. When I went broke. When I didn’t take the career I was supposed to.

When I didn’t return the calls or network with the right people or when I quit without warning the job I didn’t like or lost the homes I could no longer pay for.

Or when I was thrown out of school or when I didn’t pay the IRS or when I didn’t love enough the people I was supposed to love. Or the things I have done when I was so scared about money I thought I would go broke and die.

Or when I tried to live in a homeless shelter just to meet women or when I demanded love back from the women who didn’t love me or when I cried because I was scared that my life would disappear and nothing would be left behind.

This was solitary confinement. And it was lonely and I was afraid.

And one day I walked out.

And nobody ever saw me again.

That is some Lucas McCain kind of shit.

Lucas McCain Shooting

Lucas’ motives are consistently noble. No. Perfectly noble. Even when he’s left little choice but to use his modified Winchester Model 1892 to take out villains, he is delivering  justice. His guide is a higher calling. A shiny key to living a life in the rough.

When you do a Lucas on who or what threatens you (and you will; rifle not required), be noble in your intentions. Standing for something you believe in is important to not only you, but to others.

Half-assed nobility is better than none.

I worked for (was enslaved by) Charles Schwab. Plainly speaking, my perception, my code, defines them as bad guys in white hats. Difficult to detect a rotted underbelly unless you’re homesteading within their bowels for a spell (cowboy lingo).

They hide behind edicts created by terrifying gatekeepers and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on vigilante attorneys to intimidate and in many cases, destroy others. They’ll lie in cold-blood to slaughter the warm blooded.

They live to frame you for horse stealing or cattle rustlin’ and immediately call for your neck in a noose and a swing until you’re dead.

Underneath their so-called ‘code’ rolls an insidious dark residue of unethical dissonance. I know their employees work in fear. At least 100 of them have contacted me. They reach out from the shadows. Punch smartphone keys from hidden places. They ask me questions about how to break free. I’m happy to provide information.

It’s part of who I am. Help others. Don’t ask or seek anything in return.

I cut the wire fence. I spoke out. I did a Lucas McCain.They tried for years to wipe me out. High-noon style. I was willing to go broke exposing them. Ultimately, they were exposed for who they truly are. I’m still damaged. It’s fine. I learned. I won.

Oh, I forgot to mention: Every noble effort requires spilled blood. Your own or others. Not literally, silly. Well, perhaps, but let’s not go there. Could be money, an internal organ, a relationship.

Be prepared to lose something close or dear to you.

However I now live according to my own definitions. Rifleman-style.

Most likely, aggressively staking out villains is not for you. I don’t recommend it. Like The Rifleman, know when to take pressure off the trigger.

Those with personal codes think clear. Even under tremendous stress. They’re in control. Admittedly, I’ve made mistakes. Lucas rarely outed the rogues or took violent action unless those he loved or he, was in danger.

Recall what James wrote: Walk. Never be seen again. Fleeing from a cancerous environment can prevent well, cancer. Or worse. A long meaningless life within an unhealthy, suffocating environment.

“There’s dark corners in everybody’s lives. Sometimes it’s doesn’t pay to poke around in them.”

Lucas McCain

Like Lucas McCain did on several occasions, retreat from the gatekeepers. But walk with your front to them. Don’t take your steeled glance off them.

Don’t blink.

Never trust the fuckers.

Heed The Rifleman: Sometimes it pays to stay out of dark corners.

Be at peace. Take your ego out of it and understand you cannot change those who harm others even if they do it unintentionally. However, you have a choice. They can’t fathom a choice. In their minds, their worlds, there are no other roads.

Hey, you can move to another town (North Fork is coming along).

Perhaps you require more time, life experience, sorrow, regret, before you act. That’s OK, too.

Your time will come. No need to exhaust all your ammo right now. I’m not saying you won’t need to fire multiple shots. I’m saying it’s not required for every situation.

You’ll choose what’s right. Live to die. Or die to live. Codes don’t need to be complicated. Simple and powerful will get the chores done every time.

Go ahead: Get ready to fire your first shot. Tap into the diamond of your greatest powers. What are your personal beliefs? The ones the gatekeepers seduce you to believe cause grief for them and great obstacles for you.

The ones that scare the rule makers out of town.

“The rules tell me I can shoot. My own rules tell me that I hate gunfightin’ and will avoid it until I can’t.”

Lucas McCain.

Shot #2: Be Lucas McCain for only an hour a day. What you tell your brain, it will believe. It’s that simple. For an hour a day be – The Rifleman. Embrace his spirit of uncomfortable wisdom. Navigate a tough, admirable road you’ve been afraid to travel.

Like my friend Tanya. She’s battling a bully. She’s relentless to seek justice against a predator and helping other victims to speak up. The episode has affected her health. However, she’s steadfast and has a deep passion for justice.

The Rifleman lives in Tanya.

Like her, take one uncomfortable action that will draw you closer to understanding why you were put on the planet. One heroic act before you go.

Never be afraid to question your personal code. Lucas did. He was willing to listen when people he trusted advised him of a misconception. He kept an open mind. He was seasoned enough to adjust his thinking. Humble enough to apologize (and mean it).

 

badlands one

People tell me The Rifleman isn’t real.

I call those renegades out at high-noon to face their bullshit.

Perhaps I’m immersed. Too deep in writing for television. Regardless, fiction and fact are cut from two sides of a blade. One man’s reality is another man’s fiction. Fiction and fact co-exist and shoot from the same barrel.

One hour a day to heed a higher calling, an enriched life.

Not much to ask.

See those eyes? Lucas McCain is watching (I advise against resistance).

rifleman steel eye

Shot #3: Don’t let bad guys off the hook until (unless) they have proven change. Lucas’ history collided with his present, often.  He knew he couldn’t escape (for long) the bad inflicted on people or the horrific marks others have left.

In many episodes, the karma coach rolls into town. Like a wagon wheel across the mid-section. Straight out of the Oklahoma territory.

Lucas’ dark place.

Ironically, the beasts entered North Fork frequently (drama folks, is good television). At times, he overreacted to their presence. He relived what they did to him. Like it was yesterday, he recalled their evil behavior.

Those who had proven redemption were forgiven. The others? Well, a dead-eye trigger finger took care of them. Lucas believed everyone could change, even the vilest of characters. If not, western justice was served.

You’ve lived long enough to be fooled by the bad guys. I bet they outnumber your good souls 2 to 1. Most of them can’t change. Too far gone. You can’t shoot them. I wouldn’t advise it.

Unless ‘The Purge’ becomes a thing, then go for it. I keep my ‘purge’ list fresh.

Hey, you never know.

The purge two

Nah, you don’t need to resort to anything ugly. As a matter of fact, even under the intensity blasts of an August New Mexico sun, beauty will eventually appear out of the dirt for a patient sodbuster.

The strength in beauty bursts from heat. Cold is death.

Heat is life.

So don’t forgive the bad ones. Whatever you do. Don’t let them off the hook. Forgiveness just for the sake of it, for nothing, is death by ice. A soul in deep freeze. It signals you’ve given the bad ones a free pass. It’s you crawling belly down through the tundra, all the way cutting your gut open, dragging entrails.

Forgiving those who never seek redemption is a crime against your own heart.

Forgiveness foolishly exposes your hand, weakness. The seasoned poker players of North Fork would shoot you dead before you back away from the table. Embrace the anger. Let it take you. Allow it to scorch a personal path to victory.

The anger furnace will fuse your internal organs into barbed wire. Every cell grows sharp and deadly. You’ll become a master at detecting the presence of those who put your mental health at risk and seek to drain precious internal resources.

Because if you don’t learn, it’ll keep happening. Until the darkness saddles up alongside you and sticks to you forever like the spiny wings of Canadian thistle.

Back to our regularly scheduled program…

One early Saturday morning, Marshal Micah Torrance found out some disturbing news.

Micah

A woeful cloud recently rolled into town.

And he needed to think fast.

Or a friend’s life held in the balance.

Behind heavy-iron lattice of a lawman’s office office, Micah appears to require Lucas’ assistance with reinforcing a shelf to the deep interior of the middle jail cell.

For 62, the silver-haired lawman is surprisingly swift in gait. With Lucas holding the shelf against the wall, ready for the marshal to secure it, Micah makes his move.

Backwards exit.

On quiet footfalls. Steady. Micah clears the heavy cell door, shuts it quickly with a loud clank. Lucas at first believes his old friend is reciprocating a prank that embarrassed Micah the night before.

Far from it.

Micah was protecting Lucas from himself.

Reef Johnson was back.

Reef Johnson.

Once Lucas’ best friend.

Until.

He shot him in the back.

Until.

He left him to die.

Until.

He attempted to steal Lucas’ wife.

Ten years had gone by. For Lucas, it was a minute.

It was said that Lucas and Reef could pass for brothers back then.

A decade later, Lucas cared only about one thing.

To find this man. Track him. Destroy him.

No pass go. No collect $200. Just a death wish fulfilled.

Locked behind the cell door, the rage in Lucas’ eyes turned bars into molten steel.

“Micah, let me out of here. NOW!”

Tough lives roll the travails of revenge road.

Both parties lose a piece of themselves in the gravel. Their souls forever connected in a demon’s gambol. They spin and grind worn under the passage of time, or death.

Or confrontation.

From behind stark-black lines of shadows. Into dust-frizzed daylight that slivers through wooden slats of an old barn wall, a man emerges from a distant corner.

Tired of running.

As the enemy moves into half/dark half/light, Lucas full of anger, gun sharp and raised. He is a thick step closer to get a better look at the fire, his invidious focus.

As slit light slashes across Reef’s face you can’t stare. You can’t look away.

His hair matted, disheveled.

Deep lines across his cheeks, facial skin as sallow as worn leather.

“I’m here, Lucas. I can’t run any longer. Kill me! Get it over with!”

This man. What’s left of this man. A man who once resembled Lucas McCain, smooth of youth, clear of eye was nothing but a shell. He looked 77, not 37.

Lucas lowered his rifle. Revenge no longer held captive the ready grip on the trigger.

“Lucas! You can’t leave me like this! Please!”

As The Rifleman created distance between himself and that barn. That place where his anger ceased. The place he left in silence, yet heard the screams for miles…

He realized.

What he felt was pity.

The heave in Lucas’ chest was sorrow.

This wasn’t forgiveness. Release wasn’t forgiveness.

Never forgive those who shoot you in the back and leave you to die.

Time and the universe will take care of those villains in the proper manner.

In due time.

Sit back. Tend to your fields. Nurture the ground.

Be patient.

rifleman four

Shot #4: Forge strong financial boundaries around you and yours.

The financial landscape post-Great Recession is enemy territory.

Oklahoma badlands.

Your money isn’t safe.

There’s not enough barbed wire to protect the homestead.

And the soil. Underneath the dirt, a bounty in stocks for 6 years or so, is over. Frankly, many retail investors didn’t participate in the 159% total return of the S&P 500 off the March 2009 bottom, anyway. They’re still trying to recover from the 2000 tech wreck and a flat-lined market from 2000-2013.

It’s still a whirlwind ribbon of dust.

Lance Roberts, Clarity Financial’s Chief Investment Strategist revealed his truth, discovered his rifleman years ago through his thorough, no-spin analysis of the stock market and the economy.

Refreshing. Rare.

The accounting magic used to prop up earnings, the foolish optimism of estimated earnings, profit-margin reversion.  It’s all here, folks.  You want fiery shots of wisdom in your gut? Read it.

And people call The Rifleman fiction and the stock market reality.

It’s silly, isn’t it?

pensive

Lucas is not amused by this information.

You shouldn’t be either.

Shot #5:  Always teach and always expect nothing in return.

One of the greatest rewards in life is teaching others and expecting zero.  It’s a positive rate of return to the world, the universe. It makes the stars shine brighter above a blue-black New Mexico sky.

The Rifleman shares memorable words, bits of shotgun-wisdom with his son Mark. He never holds back. Even when Mark doesn’t quite get it.

Doesn’t matter.  Eventually Lucas’ invaluable guidance kicks in. On occasion, it saves Lucas’ hide.

 

“How can a man be so good with animals and so mean to people?

Lucas McCain: That’s a sign you’re growing up.

Mark McCain: What do you mean, Pa?

Lucas McCain: The older you get, the more questions there are without answers. ”

lucas and mark

Today, I teach young investors how to not get killed by the buy-and-hold investment mantra and how true diversification includes investment in personal education and health.

I guide gifted financial services pros away from big box financial retailers and direct them to havens that have fiduciary intent. It’s a part of what I do. They’re my Mark McCains. My kids. I set them forth with noble intentions and a different world view.

How will you teach today? Who will you inspire?

Will you seek nothing in return except the stare at the stars in the sky?

Shot #6: now the difference between dumb fear and smart fear. Those who are reckless with your heart, your money, your emotions. Predators who dig beneath your vulnerability and then rip you apart from the inside, should be feared and avoided.

Individuals who have a track record of apathetic and non-empathetic behavior should never be allowed on the ranch.  You’ll know them. You’ll be sickened by what you’re feeling. You’ll ignore what your intuition is telling you.

That’s plain dumb fear. And that will eventually leave you out in the desert with no water.

Vultures circling. Dead meat. You’ll crawl to safety but some part of you will be gone forever.

However, smart fear will keep you alive.

How do you develop smart fear?

Unfortunately, smart fear only comes with experience and knowledge.

You’ll require a construct. Questions are a solid foundation for said construct.

Create a simple framework to identify, fortify your defenses against enemies.

Start small. Big results.

All you need are three questions to get to the heart of anything.

My humble opinion.

Here’s a trio I use for dating (based on personal experience – yours will indeed, differ).

Let your inquiry flow naturally. You’ll become The Rifleman at separating friend from foe, now from forever, life from death.

How would you describe your long-term relationships with friends and family?

Big one. If she doesn’t have any close ties, or they’re full of weird sexual or resentful experiences I’m dodging a bullet.

Have you ever broken off an engagement? 

Sure, nobody’s perfect: I’m just looking for an inability to commit, serial monogamy. Murder. “He fell from the upper deck on a Carnival cruise.”

How many times have you accused others of something you’re guilty of yourself?

Somewhat inflammatory. Granted. On purpose. We’re all guilty. I’m seeking to get a handle on frequency, accusations, assumptions. “Never” is not a good answer either.

Three questions.

For everything.

To create a personal SFDS – Smart Fear Detection System.

“It’s the price you pay on staying alive and in your right senses, it’s manhood. And I can promise that when you come to the far end of it, you’ll raise your old hands to bless this wonderful life you’ve been given, taken all together with the roast beef, and the moon rises, and a boy and his father riding out in the morning, after you’re grown up to be a father yourself.”

 

Remember – SMART FEAR SAVES A LIFE. YOURS.

Shot #7: Get in or cause trouble for the right reasons.

My favorite bullet. Hits me in the heart every time.

There’s a point in your life where you don’t give a shit any longer about what others think. You’ve been living your code. Those who fit in stay. Those who don’t, go. Life gets simpler. You begin to figure shit out, you begin to help others figure shit out.

The ranch is humming along, the crops are bountiful, the soil is the right composite, the enemies are at bay.

Then there are times when the trouble in your life resembles weather systems. When the turbulence begins, you also know it will pass. Makes it easier to deal with the aftermath, the cleanup. Healing.

And you can create your own weather. Spark your own thunder as the needs arise. For the right reasons.

Shot #8: Don’t be afraid to confront a person with their truth.

Lucas will place himself in precarious situations. Smack in the middle of the rough.Tip toe on the blade.

He’ll go out of his way to wake people up. Help them understand their truth. Most of us live in a state of denial. We hurt others, we lie, we make promises, we kill, we have little empathy and yet we want to be perceived as ‘good’ people.

Frankly, most people are assholes. They use you for what you can provide and then move on. That’s fine.

But make sure to tell them they’re assholes and deal with the consequences.

Perhaps you’ll enlighten. Regardless, you gave them some shit to chew on whether they like it or not.

Shoot the asshole a verbal bullet. Then walk.

You know how to eat shit, right?

Best not to nibble.

Bite, chew, swallow, repeat.

Because if you deliver, you’ll eat it, too.

Comes with the territory.

Shot #9: Learn when somebody confronts you with yours.

If you dare to shoot, you must be willing to be shot. You can’t protect yourself from a gunfight. The key is for bullets to graze, but not kill.

You must respect your opponent, however. That’s the key.

Hey, if you’re going to learn a tough lesson best to get it from a person you respect for whatever reason. Doesn’t need to be a grandiose reason. There’s just something about this individual you admire.

When Lucas shoots his mouth off and Micah gives it to him straight, Lucas doesn’t like it but he listens because he respects the marshal.

“Lucas, I think you’re wrong about this one.”

If someone provides constructive criticism, it’s acceptable, normal, to hate it at first. It’s fine to feel the sting of the words like bullets, and bleed out.

Right there on Main Street, North Fork.

Just as long as you step back, dig out the fragment. Feel the pain. Examine it. Ponder why you were shot. Was it one of the best shots of your life?

Learn from the bullets that hit and take you off balance.

Just as long as you respect the shooter.

Otherwise it’s an enemy and you need to return the blast.

Rifleman-style.

Shot #10: Stick your neck out for those you love. Place your neck in the noose if it means someone you love remains happy, moves on, sticks around.

What else you got?

Sacrificing a part of yourself for someone you cherish isn’t a bad thing. It’s walking like McCain.

I did it for clients and a fiduciary right to care for them.

You’ve done it for children. Parents. Friends. Animals.

Recognize, remember, reward yourself for sticking your neck out for those you love.

Heck, you’ll be called horrible things. I know.

You think everybody loved Lucas?

Why do you really think he needed that rifle?

lucas rifle

The thing in this life is to stay alive. Ride easy.

Like in the old west.

Lucas McCain never spoke the words at the start of this blog post.

As I write dialogue for television I place words in mouths of fictional characters. The commentary would have been delivered perfectly however. I can hear the deep-baritone voice of The Rifleman resonating right now.

You don’t get endless shots at this stuff because eventually you’re in adult diapers and drooling into a liquefied breakfast.

Give yourself a number. I chose four.

Four bullets in my rifle.

I believe Lucas suffered from overwhelming, lasting grief that he channeled into something bigger than himself.

Last, I learned from Lucas that death isn’t frightening.

Bad memories?

Ghosts from the past?

Now they’re frightening.

They haunt, relentlessly.

Yet there’s something good that arises.

When the demons dance.

They create.

Riflemen.

Dedicated to radio host,  veteran broadcaster, all-around good guy and most important: Hard-core “The Rifleman” fan – Gary McNamara. 

Special mention to dear friend Tanya Bilisoly, Austin realtor extraordinaire who is taking on a bully, living her “Rifleman moment,” right now.

 

 

Living Lessons From Dead Kittens.

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Kittens were flying.

flying Kittens

Not in the joyful verse of a storybook tale read aloud to wind down the kids before sleep.

Distant from a place of precious fluff balls, gossamer wings; where white feathers lullaby children.

Just the opposite.

This memory jumps right from the pages of a magazine I loved almost as much as Mad.

Terror Tales.

terror tales

Bone-chilling cries.

A skyscraper wall of piercing sound – decibels of feline sirens carried three city-blocks deep, two buildings high.

I remember. Straight up at 2:10am, my nightmares, which are frequent due to a three-year horrific fight with a former employer, increasingly begin with flying, howling kittens. Fur matted in life fluids. The more kittens, the stronger the images, the stronger I cold-sweat the bed.

1975 – Drowned out pop melodies of summer booming from open windows; 70’s tunes played from Panasonic hand held radios from behind shadows, dingy shades that framed pre-WW2 tenement pane glass.

“Brandy, you’re a fine girl…”

City traffic fumes rise high and hang heavy in humidity. Inhaling them is a compromise. A choice to swelter through a New York August behind closed windows, or fool yourself into believing a blast furnace of urban air is a refreshing alternative.

I enjoyed the confluence of odors; after years they smelled like home – auto exhaust, hot tar, ethnic cooking; easier on eyes and nostrils compared to the rank of cigarettes and beer that destroyed oxygen within our small apartment.

I swear the lead-based wall paint would emit a strange odor when the worst of summer heat arrived. The walls were coated in poison. I was doomed. At night, I’d dream how the shiny white lead chips that always pooled at the baseboards, would come alive, enter my bed and eat my skin. I didn’t sleep much as a kid.

“What a good wife you would be…”

The strong signal from Music Radio 77 WABC-AM drowned out. Harry Harrison’s legendary airwave trademark phrases fade to black; overwhelmed by shrill feline vocal daggers which ricocheted off concrete, found its human auditory target, and penetrated my skull.

Urban dwellers fortunate enough to enjoy white noise and chilled air of window air-conditioning units were spared of the sounds of people living and dying in a restless city.

window AC

I hated them; all comfortable in their icy luxury.

And there was the laughter.

It was out of place. Insane.

No way in hell should giggling immediately shadow the screams. Horror squares in happy round holes just don’t fit. In psycho movies – sure, but not real life.

I approached the red brick and banged-up aluminum doors of single-car garages in rows that bordered the Brooklyn apartment complex I called home. The panic noises I’ll never forget, grew louder. It sounded like babies being tortured. And that disturbing chuckling.

insane laughter

I needed to understand what was happening. My mind screamed “run.” My legs moved ahead. Faster than the upper part of my body. Labored but steadily onward.

I was close enough to observe three pre-teen boys on a garage roof. A kitten in each hand; six small lives gripped by the mid-section, writhing desperately to break free.

The ringleader of the demon trio, I recognized immediately. That ruddy complexion, dark eyes closer to his ears than the middle of his face, the unkempt hair. No surprise it was the neighborhood terrorist, a bully to all: V. He made so much of an impression on me that today all bullies I encounter lose their identities and take on bloated, blotchy Vinny face.

He and two other soulless boys in unison were raising helpless animals above their heads and like taking jump shots with basketballs, were propelling tiny bodies into the air. I took solace in the fact that cats land on their paws. I imagined them a bit shaken, possibly injured, but still able to flee from the scene quicker than these pudgy kids could catch them.

Wishful thinking.

It was a cowardly method for a frightened brain to work through the disgusting activity unfolding before my eyes. I despised the fear that gripped me more than I hated the thugs.

Deep breaths.

I felt my speeding heart squeeze through the veins inside my ears; t temporarily blocked all other input. I needed to see the kittens. In my head, I was already cycling through save-and-escape plans; my goal was to grab as many of the injured I could carry and then run like the wind. Anywhere. Just away. How can I get this done without getting my ass kicked?

I couldn’t move faster. I tried.  I was disappointed by sludgy footfalls. As I turned the corner, as I came upon the asphalt alley between long rows of garage doors, there stood a fourth culprit.

I was shocked to see a thug at ground level. Right below where the three other boys were up and into the driveway.

I didn’t recognize number four; I thought I knew all the assholes in my Brooklyn neighborhood.

Tall, sinewy. I remember the definition in his biceps that popped his veins.

A devil in red Ked sneakers.

Kitten three released – fly in the sky.

Damn the fate of gravity.

Tiny legs, paws flailing.

I was far enough from the action remain noticed but close enough to take in the fiendish plan unfolding.

Red Ked gripped a wooden bat.

In a pro-baseball player stance, he swung with full force at kittens “pitched” to him from 8 feet above.

bloddy bat

The home run kitten-head balls were the worst.

There was living sound one second, deadly silence the next. Mid scream. Then nothing.

And again – laughter. The serious side-splitting kind.

The swing-and-miss felines dazed by a rough asphalt landing, failed to hit pavement and flee. They sort of dragged themselves off, walking with an unsteady gait. Definitely not fast enough. Much different than I imagined.

I observed the keen sweat beads on Vinny’s face as he maintained visual contact on the shaky cat balls.

Close to ripe for another pitch.

I prayed for a strike-out afternoon.

I stood unnoticed. In front of a garage – door open. Empty, dark. I sauntered into the black to gather my wits. I needed to think fast. I glanced upon an abandoned tire iron in a back corner. Upright against a cinder block wall, begging me for my attention. Not sure how I noticed it in the darkness but there it was. Calling me.

I grabbed for it hard. I held on to it like it was a lifeguard and I was about to go under for a third time.

As I accepted what I needed to do.

From dark to light.

Firm stride onward.

Closer now to red Keds, I’m able to observe how his sneakers were white at one time. Sick to my stomach. He looked at me then.

I was the next fat pitch.

No matter what I was in a strikeout zone.

No matter what.

Secure in a place where dead kittens don’t interrupt the summer, my life and ultimately my dreams (nightmares).

Looking Glass pop stuck in my head. An endless musical loop that refused to stop.

“He came on a summer’s day. Bringin’ gifts from far away.”

Surprise. Your turn to be the ball, red Keds.

Here’s your gift.

red ked

Random Thoughts.

At one time, any time, you’re at risk of becoming a dead kitten. Something bigger and menacing will swing at you, long to crush your skull, ruin what’s left of your existence.

For three years I’ve been hit repeatedly by a large corporate red Ked, a former employer spinning outright lies, bashing my reputation, attempting to take me out and away from the profession I love.

Oh, I’m staggering, my gait a bit shaky, but I won’t be tossed in front of high-paid legal bullies for another chance at a feeding frenzy. They took much from me, already. Money, family, physical and mental health. But I’m still here. And I have found my weapons.

Ready to strike. My turn to swing.

It’s these incidents, the events that position me next in line behind the next dead kitten, that ultimately define how quickly I escape and survive (thrive). Unfortunately, I know Louisville Sluggers continue to lurk; bullies are like that. Life is good. Then they come out of nowhere just to fuck with you. Dryer lint can catch on fire and take the house down with it. I heard that.

Whatever swings with murder in its eyes, will eventually tire and move on because it can’t kill me. What stays after the hit sharpens my resolve, clarifies me and steels my purpose. And I’m not sure what energy stays exactly, but I’m glad for it. Like a warm, comforting shadow. Bullies and dead kittens show up right before defining moments.

It’s all about tire irons. The strongest arsenal, the most effective weapons I possess reveal themselves deep in black corners. Just when I think I’m a sitting duck, an obliterated feline, I accept and allow what’s about to happen as if I chose it. At that point, I am a clear thinker. A fighter.

Many people look for hope in light. Not sure I get it. I’ve learned that you must venture and stumble through darkness to discover what’s good. The universe reveals itself and nurtures me when I accept my fate and understand deeply that what I’m experiencing, as painful as it may be, needed to occur.

It couldn’t have happened any other way.

Looking back, those challenging episodes have formed a perspective I’ve used to help others make their way through red Ked moments.

Death is only the beginning. A music legend once told me that death is only the beginning. Near death, too. And before he passed, he told me again. I’m thinking in life we face several deaths. Illness, divorce, loss of inner circle relationships. And the beat goes on. Then stops. Then continues. The beating is the same, the sound is different.

Before nightfall I sit in the backyard, my dog Rosie next to me. I ponder who and what I lost up to then. I sort of feel like Michael Corleone at the end of Godfather III. Alone. Thinking in my last scene I should fall out of my chair. Dead. Rosie’s hot breath yapping in my cold face.

What an embarrassing way to go for Michael.

dead michael

Except I don’t drop. I’m fortunate to remember that with each liability, every loss, I gain a greater asset.

And I’m at peace. Finally.

Dead kittens are also dead presidents. How many times have I bloodied my net worth with a bat? Oh, many. I’ve loaned money to relatives who didn’t care if my credit went bust (never again), I worked for one of the worst penny stock chop shops and had my father purchase stock I knew would go bust (sorry dad), just to collect a commission, I have over-purchased shit I didn’t need, spent extravagantly at restaurants, too much wine. All dead money that taught me valuable living lessons.

“Hey asshole, what do you think you’re going to do with that thing?”

And as kittens were falling, I kicked red Ked in the shin. Before another word, he went down. I remember one furball jump in panic over his face, her back paws scratching deep into red Ked forehead (score).

I then slammed the iron down hard on his right shoulder.

RK lost his grip on the bat.

I wanted to hit him again.

I wanted him dead.

For all the kittens.

Past, present and future.

I grabbed his weapon and ran.

Directly to my Cousin Louis’ apartment 9 blocks away. He was NYPD. Built like Sly Stallone.

When I’m asleep and I see dead kittens, I know something big and life-changing is clawing at me.

Another lesson up at bat.

From the blood.

The music plays in my head.

And they disappear.

At least for now.

I hit the snooze.

“I know what you look like and I’ll see you before long.”

Ben Nichols.

This Old Death.

kittens with angel wings

3 Ways Sexy Plastic Can Make You Smarter.

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As I kid, I was turned on by plastic.

Plastic models.

Well, plastic model (hobby) kits.

From a company named Aurora.

A wonderful place.

Fuck off Willy Wonka and your chocolate minions.

This factory was IT.

Aurora

Oh Aurora how I miss your wonderfully kitschy plastic pop-culture glue and snap together sexiness.

It was a company I adored. No. more than adored. I was obsessed.

Everything they manufactured was perfect in my eyes.

Aurora Plastics Corporation was founded in 1950 by Joseph Giammarino in Brooklyn, New York (my hometown, sniff).

I thank him to this day. He was a model master.

I required every molded monster, television personality that came of the magical Aurora factory. Even the box art was cool.

Don’t ask me how much the empty boxes go for on auction sites.

aurora box Empty box. – $300.Gasp.

My favorite series was the controversial Monster Scenes plastic snap-together kits.

They primed me for puberty before the the babysitter nudie-girlie dances entered my  Saturday nights (long story).

Released in the early 70’s to revitalize the brand, (then owned by Nabisco the cookie company interestingly enough), Aurora released the scantily clad, barefooted “Victim” model kit complete with outfit of a hottie hitchhiker right out of a Grindhouse flick.

It was love at first snap.

Bless her plastic cutoffs.

I owned two of the kits.

Don’t ask.

the victim

Then out came Vampirella  complete with ample bosom and sharp teeth that dealt the final blow to my childhood.

A busty female vampire in an outfit or what was left of one; cut way too provocative for the audience it was designed for. How I wished she could bite me with those plastic fangs (or at least rub against me in that outfit). Well, she did rub against me in that outfit. I don’t recall any objections although she did come apart at the seams at times. Glue was definitely stronger then *snap*.

I’m ashamed to recall how many times I ran my hands over her fine tan plastic (I never used paint as suggested by the instructions). Stopping at her breasts. Creating ringlets. Gently with an index finger. Giggling. Always giggling.

Me. Not her.

vampirella Her artwork was A cup. The actual kit? D cup. Definitely.

Let’s just say parents (pent-up moms; dads were too busy with spinning index fingers), were enraged with this line of model kits.

Didn’t help how the box illustrations were provocative artsy, plastered with “Rated X…for Excitement,” printed on the tops.

The “Victim” model was an accessory of sorts, well she was a victim. Slim enough to fit into scene kits named “The Pain Parlor” and “The Hanging Cage.” Guess it’s understandable why the National Organization for Women were in an uproar and stormed Nabisco headquarters.

hanging cage victim The cage. My victims favored the cage.

It’s tough to swallow but these kits were responsible for the final blow to the Aurora empire. Concerned parents’ groups in the early 70’s deemed these model kits and playsets too sinister and depraved for their sensitive, impressionable youth.

Worried moms and dads (oh please, dads were forced), mounted an assault on all the popular monster toys and comics of the day, urging boycotts and letter writing campaigns.

In November 1971, the kits were shipped for sale in Canada (yet another reason to admire Canada, I guess), and the original molds destroyed.

The entire creative team for Aurora was fired. Heartbreaking.

I would trek miles to find these kits. Several stores in Brooklyn still carried them after they were discontinued. I remember one dimly-lit five & dime outlet across town with the balls to still sell them. Cost was 2-4 bucks.Today at auction I’ve seen pristine kits, still in shrink wrap going for up to $800. Talk about an investment!

The gold old days of voluptuous plastic are gone. Well, not really. There is some around. It’s cost prohibitive but replace may your love interest. Add it up. Should be cheaper than a significant other.

realistic love doll

I confess. My mother made my entire (10) G.I. Joe Adventure Team disappear in 1975 when she discovered a couple of naked Barbies in the map room of the G.I. Joe Headquarters.

What a shame. Another fortune lost.

It was all innocent. Really!

GI JOe command center The map room was comfy.

Random Thoughts:

1). Cherish your memories. Remember the joy of your personal history. It made you who you are. It placed you where you are right now. Cherish the plastic chains of your past yet know when they’ve overstayed their welcome. Your past has no place in your current. Unless you fit nicely into a Vampirella outfit. In that case, call me.

2). Know when it’s time to destroy the molds. Of who you were. You’re not there anymore. I believe I’m smarter and better than the day before. Know when it’s time to fire the creative team or the inner and outer voices that stir your ego, feed you stories that don’t suit your life path and tell you how you must follow rules you didn’t create.

3). Plastic toys can still be fun. OK, read into this the way you like. I control my credit cards. I use and abuse them for everything. My new plastic “victims.” I pay them off monthly and take the reward points. I also use the itemized statements to monitor my spending habits and seek areas of improvement. Like when I cut $20,000 in annual restaurant spending down to $3,000.

Plastic can be your friend. It can do all kinds of stuff, even vibrate from what I hear.

Discover how the enjoyment over your present is much better than what thrilled you in the past.

I can admire a “Victim” Monster Scenes Kit in original packaging without regret over where I’ve been.

It keeps me out of the cages and pain parlors created by those who don’t have my best interests at heart.

You must do the same to survive.

dont worry its new york

 

 

Inflamed: The Red Stain Goes Deeper. 4 Steps To Resurface.

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“You gotta stay who you are, not who you were.

Places like this..

You have to put it away.”

What if you can’t?

“You have to.

Or it kills you.”

broken heart Here.

Rip open what’s been sealed tight and the past will bubble up on airy ringlets of regret. Pain grabs and fuses with it on the journey higher – they rise as one, gather momentum, and then explode into a fog of thick fear that absorbs you.

You’ll feel a boulder hit in the gut when this creature surfaces.

Everything you love or thought you loved will crumble. Ashes.

You don’t know it yet but you’re fighting a force you can’t beat.

But you’ll fight all the same.

And the stain begins to take hold.

blood spray

You hate every minute of its movement.

You feel the crawl. It’s cold.

Your initial response is to resist.

Resistance is an inflammation that blisters from a white soul red.

Resistance is a malignancy; it’s your ego constructing walls to protect itself and destroy you in the process.

And yet you’re still fighting.

You’ll need to face this thing. You know.

Your instinct says rage and battle when you really should relent.

To victory.

Standing breathless in the cold. Or a journey into darkness.

To another side, another life, another dimension. Wherever that is.

A mission to cut out what’s malignant about yourself.

Extracting a part of you that’s been around for decades.

And you’re reeling.

Search desperately for perspective.

A faint light of faith erupts.

But it burns out too quick.

And the stain continues to spread, thicken. Go deeper.

How do you restore your faith when the stain blocks out every source of light?

It’s black pitch from the start. Shaky and sticky underneath. Each step is a blast furnace full force inside your chest.

Lead. Coals.

hot coals

The urge to go back is strong. Where is back? Perspective gone. You’re frozen but moving. Stiff. Halfway. Into the dark. Partially across.

Stumbling.

The red stain is all over you now. It’s forming tentacles. Wrapping you in a crimson vise.

Sweltering.

Look up at the sky.

Catch a breath.

Peace.

For a second. You rise above the stain.

Hope calls out.

Faint. A vibrato that takes over.

It wants you closer. To nurture you.

Pull you in.

Everything feels right for a second.

Then it’s gone.

The light fades.

Did you imagine it?

But you do remember.

What it said.

The voice.

Three words:

Do not fight.

It’ll be better.

But.

You’re not ready.

You don’t believe.

You refuse.

You mock.

This voice.

You don’t recognize the tone.

It’s gentle. Soothing.

Too loving. 

Too real.

It speaks the truth. That you know.

On a blue breeze.

Air around you is clean.

You shake it off.

Fall back.

To the hot red of the past.

When you were told.

You’re not supposed to feel good.

People. Those you trusted – they told you you were not supposed to feel good.

Most of who you love. Gone. You watched them die. You helped a few along.

Questions remain unanswered.

The sharp edge is ready.

Still three

And before you rise to battle once more.

There’s the voice again.

It’s almost musical.

It pleads: Release the past.

Let it burn.

But you can’t.

Still.

Because it’s comfortable to stay where the past lives.

You choose to fight once more.

With alcohol and anger as your weapons.

The damage is self-inflicted.

You raise the dagger of blame.

Blame for everything that went wrong because it feels better.

There’s a tug on you. At you. A thousand magnets. Drawing you away and in.

You reach out wildly to grasp on to what meant everything.

And now means… 

“Why you keeping all that stuff?”

Beth Greene.

burn money

Nothing.

The stain is thickest.

Dead weight.

The past is dead weight.

One more attempt to pull out of internal quicksand.

Last gasp.

A final attempt to return to.

Who you believe you are.

Who you were.

And this time it’s too much.

The puncture is fatal.

It pierces your heart.

Red flames escape; lick at your soul.

red burn lady

You understand. Finally.

No longer will you be able to thin the thickness of the stain.

With resistance.

You shut others out.

The stain shows itself.

And you let it swallow you. Finally.

Surrender.

Then death.

A mourning.

You can no longer return.

The prison that protected you is ablaze.

Gone.

daryl deeper

Accepting the past is a wound you must not run from. You must fall to its blade. Own it. It needs to puncture the third dimension of you. A last layer.

To create and re-direct the light.

To build again.

You must extinguish.

The past that governed your present.

But it will need to drive up to your gates first.

And puncture you and those you love.

And the red-black will bleed out.

Good people in its wake.

Part of you is gone, too.

Still four

Your wounds are exposed.

Your mind is ready.

Open now.

The silence and beauty of surrender dissipates the fog.

The voice is clearer. Louder. Out from the shadows.

You can make it.

You go for it.

It’s strong now.

So are you.

You’re about ready to.

Resurface.

Five ways.

Random Thoughts:

1). Regret is living death. The word “maybe” will destroy you. It’s a disharmonious life footfall. I’ve learned even more so lately, that nothing is by chance. Everything happens with purpose. Good or bad. Be open to the signs of the universe. With ego out of the picture and the red stain fading out, you will believe again and the word “maybe” will never spill from your mouth. It’s a foul word. Maybe leaves a door open for the mental zombie hoard to eat your brain. Maybe is a downhill path for the red stain to roll.

“If you think about it, how much time do we spend in our heads wishing things were different, beating ourselves up, beating others up, crafting a different past, wishing for a different future? All of this is resistance. All of that is pain.”

Kamal Ravikant.

Still five

“Maybe because I gave up.” Daryl Dixon.

Some of the best words (and I’m the fortunate receiver of great words) from friend and mentor James Altucher resonate here.

Remove the dead weight. Daily, I write down one negative thought, one bad habit from the past, and toss it.

“I find that if I dig deep and throw one thing a day (on my shelf, in my head, an ugly memory, in my heart a small anxiety in my stomach a frown, a doubt, an insecurity a person who drains my energy) fewer things upset me, fewer people bother me; I have fewer regrets about things long dead and buried, fewer anxieties about a future that may or may not exist.”

James Altucher

2). The reddest stain of finance. Is the worst of damage inflicted. A foreclosure. Lost savings on an investment that went sour, got suckered in by a “Nigerian prince” because greed got the best of you, the hot babe needed new dresses. Whatever. I have a section of a notebook I document all my bone-headed financial decisions and purchases (yes financial advisors do stupid things with money). Some of them include – flowers, beanie babies, more shirts and ties than I’ll ever wear in a lifetime, so many watches. All the investments I ever lost on, all the people I invested in who turned out to be a bust. Lessons I never forget. They stay with  me. Teach. The red stain abhors knowledge and acceptance. If you don’t accept you messed up, you’ll continue the mistakes.

3). It’s acceptable to give up. Throw in the towel. Say fuck it. Burn it. Hell, I’m all for burning things. I’m Italian. I do dramatic crap all the time; it’s in my DNA. Buy me a gift and I don’t see you anymore I’m sending the shit back or carting it to a charitable organization. Somewhere in Houston there’s a bunch of homeless souls who are walking around in nice t-shirts and jackets emblazoned with the logo of my former employer. It’s beneficial branding for them. Not really. Good.

4). Be the last man (or woman) standing. How? It’s easy. The best solutions come down to a single, present action.

A personal stand that cuts through the smoke.

And helps you rise above who you were.

Your middle finger.

Yep.

That’ll work.

That’ll work just fine.

Don’t go back inside.

Open your window. Your mind.

There’s the place.

Your heart is lighter now.

Lift.

The weight is off.

I opened the back door.

Finger is up.

I thought I heard the squirrels.

Cheering me on.

The red stain is a spot.

Contained.

Outside of me.

I gave it the finger, too.

Your turn.

Still two

Lessons Face Up: Three from Funerals.

I was racing toward her house. In shock. I was numb to the potholes and other obstacles on Brooklyn roads.

 Sweating, pushing deep, in dense summer heat. 1977. My new Schwinn Sting Ray was sizzling tires on hot August NY streets. The banana seat, a metallic plastic with a double black vertical racing stripe, was as scorching as a furnace on full blast. But I didn’t care. I didn’t feel it.  For most of the two mile ride, I was standing up pedaling anyway.

Sting ray

It was grandma Nellie. On dad’s side of the family. His mother. What was to be a routine gall bladder operation, turned out to be the last time we saw her alive. After a blood transfusion. Since she always had some type of ailment, we sort of took grandma’s illnesses for granted. Gee grandma has another ache, gee what else is new? Another operation? She’ll be out in no time cooking again, for sure. No?

This time was different. Very different. Something went way wrong. And I never had a loved one, one so close to me die, so I pushed those pedals at a maddening pace for reasons I don’t quite understand. I had no idea what I was supposed to do once I arrived at grandma’s house. She died in the hospital but we were “instructed to meet” at the house per grandpa’s instructions. All I knew is I needed to get there. I was instructed. I obeyed.

It’s all blur after that. Until the funeral  – or the “wake,” where family allows viewing of the body which is all fancied up for the next energy adventure. The experience remains vivid in my mind. I can still smell the cloying odor of flowers. So many. My first open casket too, Nellie was in a misty-blue gown with silver shoes. Her gray hair was coiffed tight, slight smile, her third chin, not as “third” as it once was.

I touched her. Cold.

I withdrew my hand quick. Then suddenly felt ashamed.

Too many zombie flicks even then.

I placed my hand back on her joined fingers, a silver rosary string between them.

She looked more peaceful than she had in years. I was amazed. After all those tortuous years with my grandfather I’m sure she was glad to be rid of him. He was colder alive than she was dead. They slept apart. Did everything apart. I bet she was relieved to be rid of him, finally. And I could see it on her face.

But what about him now? Some family episodes you never forget..

Random Thoughts:

1). Wish always for one more day. Consistently, as I come across a person in my inner circle, I’m never afraid to express how grateful I am for their existence. There are those who have disappeared suddenly, like a friend from September, grandma who I didn’t visit in the hospital because she was always sick so what’s the big deal, a music icon, close friends, cousins, both parents, (Jesus, so many) that I wish I had one more day to see, touch, talk to them.

Regrettably, I can’t go back. But in my head, I do. I’ll hear a song, watch a movie, a date on the calendar will pass, I’ll come across a photo I thought I deleted, and there you are again – Wishing for one more day. It’s part of what I call “the human drag.” The tormented thoughts that tire you, push hard on a nerve, never go away, throb in a distance but close enough to injure. Right around a mental corner. There the fuck it is – the big turd in the middle of your mental soup.

Regret is part of our psyche. And for some, it’s strong. When investing, we regret we sold a stock too soon, too late, we didn’t invest enough money in Apple or we sold it and it went higher by a billion percent. So now, I’m a bit more vocal with those I care about. To lessen the regret. If I miss someone I tell them, if I care I say it. If I don’t, well,  I say that too. If I sell an investment too soon but I made a profit, I let it go. If I sell it too late, well I learn an expensive lesson. But I never stop wishing.for.one.more.day. A client: “I sold that stock in 1983, like an asshole.” My gosh, we’re reliving a Phillip Morris stock trade from 1983? Seriously? 

Dad was out with some model chick, 25 years his junior, the night grandma died. What dumb luck. Or fate.  He was supposed to visit his mother but decided the hot model was more important. He called Nellie in the hospital for like five seconds. Said he would see her tomorrow. There was no tomorrow. A week before he died in 1993, dad told me how much he regretted that decision. Two decades later he still carried that mind weight around like an anchor. I asked: “What was that model’s name again?” He laughed. He said “I don’t know.” Yikes. Then he gave me a gaunt, smart-ass look. Message received.

2). What will people think of you after you’re gone? My grandmother did some incredible things for poor families, especially kids. She loved kids. She was the janitor of my public school (P.S. 215) when I was attending; I was embarrassed because she cleaned toilets. Then, at her funeral, I discovered how so many of the kids loved her, how she gave candy, played Santa Claus at Christmas for them at the local library. I totally missed it. I didn’t want to see it. I loved her but she was a janitor. I did tell her how much I loved her, so at least I don’t live with complete regret so many years after her death. But I wish I knew what others thought of her while she was alive. Write down what you want people to remember about you. The good things. Then execute the plan so it works out that way. Oh and no strippers at my funeral, please? Thanks.

3). People feel their mortality at funerals. Do you? Attend enough funerals and you begin to see how blood and bones wear out. You become overly sensitive to it. We’re all equal at the end. All those funerals have given me the motivation to stay as healthy as possible. And now that I have a physical problem preventing a right kidney from functioning properly, I’m striving more than ever to stay in shape, eat right, follow a better sleep discipline. Want to gain health? Follow James Altucher’s The Daily Practice as best you can. You will see, feel the results.

Grandpa Frank was beside himself.

As they closed Nellie’s casket, he collapsed. Screaming: “I wish I would have treated you better, I LOVE YOU!” 

I never heard “I LOVE YOU” from him before. Ever.

From that point he was a different man. Completely.

On Christmas eve 1985 I called him.

“Grandpa, you’re my friend, I love our relationship. I’m just so grateful we’ve become so close. I’ll never forget it.”

He died the next day.

Christmas.

And I’m thankful.

One less weight on my head.

I have enough already.

So do you.

Time to bury them.

The Lives you Sever to Save your Own (and Others).

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“Are you done yet?”

I was kneeling. Looking up. At a shell. A skull with eyes. At ninety-seven pounds, mostly bones. Slumped in an ornate, chipped wooden chair I still own and stare at today. He still commands it. Owns it.  I can’t sit in it. After all these years. The chair frightens me.

dark chair

When he spoke, I remembered happily. I recalled the power. His presence. His flair. How strong he was. Even after cancer took 70 pounds away. Like a thief. Draining him. He was in a three-piece suit four sizes too big. We couldn’t alter clothes fast enough to keep up with the weight loss.

Yes,” he said. along with a tear. His. “I’m done.”

Water rolled down his face. Landed on our joined hands. I put my head in his lap. He stroked it. I told him I loved him. I didn’t want him to go. How can I convince him to stay. To change his mind. I would do anything. Anything. Wasn’t my love enough to keep him here?

Told me “it’s no big deal. You’ll be fine. You’ll see.”

Huh? I wasn’t going to be “fine.” I couldn’t “see.”  It was tough to ask the question and receive the answers I knew I was going to hear. But it was nothing less than I expected. I then understood how I needed to be strong. To help him move forward. Because I knew he wasn’t “done.” He had more to do in this life. It was a time. A snapshot of sweet surrender and acceptance. Still. Quiet. Like God was taking a photo of a moment for me. There was nothing else we could do. And surrender and acceptance are on occasion, not easy. Sometimes surrender and acceptance rips your heart out.

Through life you’ll need to sever lifelines to those who hold power over you. Those you love more than anything. Yet, they’re not there. Or here. And you can’t move forward. And last night I had a dream about dad. What he said to me that day in 1993.

His one last thought. Because he always had the last thought.  One lesson I’ll never forget.

He said: “Sometimes love isn’t enough.”

I literally carried him down the stairs. He let me. I know that was tough for him. Tough on his pride. But he let me. Because he knew I needed to. He spent years being the strong one. Carrying me. I rested him on the couch. The vigil began. He wanted to die at home. I made sure nobody would dissuade me from the mission. I held his hand as he slipped into a coma.

On a frigid, gray February day before he spent 48 hours dying on a couch, dad severed his lifeline to save me. Made me feel ok about his inevitable exit. At least he tried. He even worked a full day at the office before coming home and slumping in that damn chair. The death chair. Like it was no big deal. Close some car deals. Drive home. Die.

“I don’t want you to be done.”

But sometimes love isn’t enough. And you always want love to be enough.

Random Thoughts:

1). Some lifelines get severed carelessly. Why must they? What the hell stands in the way of happiness? There are people we should engage as friends, lovers, mentors, yet sometimes love isn’t enough. Respect isn’t enough. Something unspoken hangs like a deep cancer you can’t cut out so you decide to cut off. It’s easier – but is it the right move? Do you sit in the chair and say “I’m done?”

2). Some threads need to be severed so both parties can survive, move forward. And it’ll rip your heart out because you know the sever feels wrong. You lose a part of yourself when it comes to this cut. This one is gonna hurt. It’s going to take time to heal. But sometimes, love isn’t enough and it needs to be done.

3). On occasion the attempt to sever causes reflection. Do you really want this person out of your life? Is there an illness, an internal hemorrhage that can be healed? Is there some feeling other than love which blossoms health and unity? Or do you allow release? Do you move a person you love to another plane?

4). Be prepared to sacrifice yourself, go out on a limb, be cold. For resolution, or severing you’ll need to “prep” the area. Not easy. What is the catalyst that gets you to this point? It’s different for everyone. Dad knew when it was time. After all, it was going to be fine. No big deal, right? At least that’s what he said when I know it tore his soul to say what he did to me. He appeared strong, almost defiant, flippant? Just so I would have the balls to move forward. An ultimate sacrifice. Sometimes love is enough?

5). Don’t sit in the death chair. Until you’re ready. And you may never be ready. Surrender isn’t easy. Acceptance is worse. Understanding you have too much debt, or you suck at saving, or you can’t handle investing in stocks, or you got duped by a financial professional promising unrealistic returns, is a good first step. Accept and improve.

It was 1am. Dad woke out of his coma. Briefly. He moaned. The whites of his eyes turned blood red. He spoke to me one last time. He said – “you’re going to be great.”

I whispered in his ear. I had all these memories I need to share.

“Remember when my green Schwinn with the banana seat was stolen two hours after you  bought it for me? You came home and bought me another one.”

He grimaced. Maybe he smiled. Then he was gone.

He stopped breathing. I could still see the movement in his chest. It was his heart.

It was still beating. Fighting to stay. His body moved with the rhythm of it. Because of it.

He was strong that way. He needed to leave me a lasting impression.

I told him his love was enough. It was time for him to go.

Then the world stopped.

But I didn’t.

heart light

He wouldn’t accept it.

The Life In The Mirror. 3 Ways to Save It.

I bolted. Ran out the door. Down three flights of stairs. 3am. Screaming. For a Brooklyn street it was eerie quiet. Dark. Street lights out. A desperate sprint. In pajamas. To the only pay phone close by. Would it be working? It had to be the most vandalized pay phone in the city. Odds weren’t good.

Directly across the avenue from Harold’s Pharmacy.

Neon beacon in the night. Still around.

It was a shabby three-room apartment in a pre-WWII three-story walk up.  But it was shelter. That’s all I cared about. It was my world for a time and to me it felt big when things were good and amazingly small and cloying when things were bad.

Lately it felt as if I was living on a pin and the head was about to run out of room.   For an old building, the steam heat worked amazingly well. New York cold was occasionally harsh, so I was grateful. Turn the valve for the first time and the radiator clanked and clunked loud like an old car starting up after a long hibernation. Steam heat smelled good to me. Like a change of season coming. Only because there were summers. Rough summers. Rough seasons overall. This summer was a scorcher. Hotter than usual. It was ready to crescendo to one of the most memorable electrical blackouts in New York City history.

Two weeks before it felt as if I leaped from the heat right into the fire. A life or death decision flare up. A three alarmer. I wasn’t mentally ready to play God, but God didn’t seem to give a shit. I was in the intense heat of a crossroad on fire. I needed to make a move. Otherwise someone was gonna die. I remember thinking: “I’m too young to be dealing with this shit.”

Is it really worth growing older? I ponder this question.

Mom & I alternated use of the only bedroom (for sleeping. Me anyway.) One night couch (no sleep), next night bed (sleep). There was this full-length mirror. I recall dad cursing, fighting to secure the clunky structure to the hall-closet door. It was his good deed. Got mom off his back. And he wasn’t very good at chores around the house.     If  the closet door was open just right, I could get a full view of the kitchen as it reflected into my line of sight. From the bedroom.     Since mom always seemed to gravitate to the kitchen especially late, the reflection in the mirror of her her pacing back and forth would always wake me.  Prevent me from staying asleep. My habit was to wake, look in the mirror, turn over. Eventually,  I was forced to get up and close the door so I couldn’t see what was going on. Back to precious sleep time. It was my turn to have the bed, dammit!  The night before she destroyed the red trimline phone. The entire phone right down to the wall. And beyond. R.I.P. trimline.

10pm: Wake up. Look in mirror. See kitchen. Fridge door open. More beer I was sure.  Midnight: Wake up. Look in mirror. See kitchen. Fridge door open. Heavy drinking binge. Turn over. 2:30am: Wake up. Turn over. Look in mirror. See kitchen. Fridge door open. Again? Or Still? Weird.

I was mad. So mad. Until I saw. Mom on the floor. On her side. Tangled in the phone cord. Her head literally inside the bottom shelf of the fridge. I picked her up from the shoulders. She was so cold. Her joints were stiff. She was a 100-pound human accordian who wouldn’t unfold. I thought this was how rigor mortis started. Yet she was alive. How could that be? Stll breathing. Her breath was far from normal. Shallow. Her tongue shriveled. Mouth open wide. Lips colorless, perhaps light blue.  I was in a panic. Half asleep. My mind reeling.

Then suddenly, I was overcome with calm. I sat on the floor. Staring at her. Thinking. I watched mom’s small chest closely as it went still for longer on the exhale. Then her machine started up again. I was waiting for stillness. Perhaps hoping for it. I was at a crossroad. I knew I was. It was the power to make a decision that would change everything.  An inside voice was talking. One I never heard before. It kept asking. Slightly teasing. The repetition of the query felt forbidden. But it continued.

Does she live or die? Choose.

Would it be humane but inhuman just for me to return to bed? She had lived such a horrible life so far. Mom was 35 but looked twice that age. Especially now. On the floor. I sort of understood the weight of what was unfolding in front of me.

I knew my path, my karma, my thought process would be shaped, or changed forever perhaps in a way I wasn’t sure I could live with.

I rose. Moved strangely calm, to the hall mirror. Stood there. Staring at myself. So many questions rolled through my head.

Would I look the same in this damn mirror tomorrow if I decided just to leave her there? She would most likely be dead in a few minutes. Was I supposed to find her? Was there a higher power guiding me? Was the mirror the conduit for the message?

What if I woke up just 5 minutes later? Then I wouldn’t need to deal with a choice like this. And why was this even a choice for me?

Was the phone, now ripped from the wall, dead, a sign? Why was I given the responsibility of dealing with this situation? I never asked for this challenge.

Random Thoughts:

1). Seek Out Your Mirrors. When up against the wall, at a crossroad, what decisions will you make? Would you be able to live with them? How would you go on? I’ve trained myself to ask tough questions and imagine how I would respond. What if I had a life-threatening illness, lost a leg, lost a loved one to tragedy? How would I appear in the mirror. My actions would shape my image.

2). Be Open to Reflection. Never question why a challenge, a person, an illness, an opportunity, a setback gets thrown in your life path. It was placed there from an energy source  you’ll never be able to explain or fully understand. Signs are all around you if you just let go of skepticism. Stay open minded.  What does your life mirror reflect upon? Whose life remains in the balance once you open your eyes, mind and heart to the signs?

3).  Own the Decision of Life or Death. Don’t let family members, children, parents, friends, be forced to make a decision that concludes your life. Who would make healthcare decisions for you when you can’t make them? What kind of medical treatment would you want, or don’t want if faced with a terminal illness? It’s not fair to place this burden on others, especially without notice. Go to www.agingwithdignity.org and complete the Five Wishes exercise.  Five Wishes is changing the way America talks about and plans for care at the end of life.  More than 18 million copies of Five Wishes are in circulation across the nation, distributed by more than 35,000 organizations.  Five Wishes meets the legal requirements in 42 states and is useful in all 50.

Five Wishes has become America’s most popular living will because it is written in everyday language and helps start and structure important conversations about care in times of serious illness. I was required to make the life or death decision for close family. It’s not a good feeling-It will change forever who you see in the mirror.

I ran. I bolted. The pay phone was working (a sign I made the right choice at least to me). I called 911.

It took mom 6 months to recover. I stayed out of school nursing her back to health. And then one day she noticed. Puzzled.

“What happened to the mirror?”

“Don’t you remember? You broke it the night you fought with what’s-his-name?”

She didn’t remember. I didn’t share the truth. I never did.

The hall mirror and its reflections were best left buried.

I wonder if it’s still in the ground?

I’ll never share the location.

That’s a decision I can live with.

Happily.