Recently, on a relative whim, I decided to fly out to Ohio and visit where I attended college. I had noticed about halfway through March that the Bruins were playing in Pittsburgh on a Saturday afternoon (April 1) and I figured that might be fun to attend, so why not take a couple of days off from work and hit Kent for old times sake while I was at it? So the plan came together quickly. A few visits to JetBlue.com and Budget.com and I was all set. The itinerary was pretty basic:
Thursday: fly to Cleveland, visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the afternoon, drive to Kent afterwards (35 min drive)
Friday, walk around campus in the morning, have lunch, explore downtown in the afternoon
Saturday, get up, eat breakfast, drive to Pittsburgh for the 3pm game between the Penguins and Bruins (1 hr, 45 min drive)
Sunday, get up, fly home
Simple. I’ll break down the itinerary further here:
Thursday A completely uneventful flight had me touching down in Cleveland right around noon. Completely uneventful flights are my favorite kind of flights, by the way. I collected my rental car and proceeded directly to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Sidenote – I had been there once before, and believe it or not, it was actually before it even opened. In another one of those weird stories in my life where I end up somehow being involved in iconic moments, I had lucked out and snagged a freelance video production job with VH-1, who was covering the opening of the Hall of Fame and, specifically, the concert celebration as part of the grand opening. The concert was being held at the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium, so I was there for a few days at the end of August, 1995, before the grand opening on September 2. The concert was held on September 1st. Prior to the concert, all the VH-1 people got to tour the museum before it opened, myself included. Crazy! There are a lot of other stories and memorable experiences to talk about during that week, so I will save those for another blog post.
Anyway, it had been 28 years since I’d been to the rock hall. My expectations were low. I’m not totally a fan of the whole idea of a rock hall of fame, with new inductees every year. Save that for sports, I suppose. That whole part of it feels like an overly commercial, political money-grab to me. But upon visiting the hall last week, I had forgotten how much cool stuff they actually have in there, and not just from multi-gazillion selling bands and performers. But still, it was super-cool to see a guitar of Joe Strummer’s, an actual suit that Hank Williams wore, John Lennon’s rooftop concert guitar, an Elvis suit, Michael Jackson’s jacket from the Thriller video, Michael Anthony’s Jack Daniels bass, and one of Angus Young’s schoolboy outfits. All good. But I really loved seeing stuff from unheralded legends like a guitar from Robert Lockwood Jr, coats from Fats Domino, Cheap Trick’s Dream Police era tour costumes, a lot of other stuff from “deeper” blues legends, and some really cool handwritten lyrics from legendary songs. So while I’m still dubious about what a portion of the rock hall represents, I was still very glad to have dropped by.
Friday Friday’s plan to get up early, walk the campus, and then check out downtown got off to a late start because of rain. Universities across the country are, of course, different sizes. Some campuses can be walked in less than hour. Kent is not one of them. It has a total undergraduate enrollment of around 22,000, spread out across 953 acres. Without being biased, it’s a beautiful campus. While I was a little bummed that it was a grey day, the rain did stop and I set out to explore the changes made to campus since I attended (1990-1994).
I won’t bore my reader(s) to tears with the details of this building or that building because most of you have no familiarity with the campus itself. But what I found most interesting about walking the campus was the unexpected emotions that it dredged up. Walking around the Radio/TV building, where I spent the most time in 93/94, was harder than I thought. Just peeking into the old college radio station, the old TV production studio, and some of my old classrooms just got me nostalgic and sad for a simpler time. Walking by my now torn-down freshman dorm was harder than I thought, as some incredible, specific and clear memories happened there. Just being around the Ice Arena again, where I did play-by-play for the Div 1 hockey team, walking around my first off-campus apartment building, exploring the student center…all harder than I thought.
What was so hard about this? I didn’t go there to be sad. It took me a while to figure it all out, but it comes back to a common theme for me. Sometimes when I’m trapped in my own head, I get sad about time passing. College, in particular, was a real novelty. It was my first exposure to freedom and liberation from living under my parent’s roof. It was all these new friends, being able to budget my own time, and make my own decisions. It was all intoxicating, and it’s all out of reach now. The whole era was like a beautiful comet on a clear night – there and gone. In walking around the campus, I found myself wanting more “there” and less “gone.” But it’s not coming back. And I know that. On top of that, the campus has undergone some pretty phenomenal changes which, for a fleeting second, had me a little bitter. Like why couldn’t I have had this when I was here? This emotion was all exacerbated by two things – I was alone and it was during spring break, so nobody was on campus. I resorted to sharing my feelings via text with my friends Dave and Leo. They helped me zoom out a little on it all.
All this to say it wasn’t all sadness and mild jealousy! And revisionist history was also very much in play, as I referred to in those texts. Yes, looking back on college 30 years out, one tends to remember the big fun stuff. Which is absolutely the way it should be. But there were plenty of times when finances were a real struggle. I had to have a job all four years I was there. Not every class was awesome. Not every moment was big fun. Remembering that end of it brought me back down to Earth. And I had to remember that I was walking the campus and the downtown as a far different person in terms of maturity and what I could afford. I realized I was placing my 2023 self into my 1992 self. My 1992 self could not enjoy Kent, Ohio in the same way as my 2023 self.
Anyway, these all were just emotions that I wasn’t expecting to pop-up and be in the mix. As I walked around, there were also plenty of things that brought big smiles and lovely memories to mind. The campus remains beautiful. The memories are intact, and they are great. Exploring downtown Kent was similar, but by the time I got there, my text exchange above had helped me to embrace the now and to appreciate the past for what it was – an immensely positive and pivotal time, but not all rainbows and unicorns.
The day got sunnier as it went on, both literally and metaphorically. By later afternoon, the sun was casting its brightest light of the day and I was marveling at the downtown and all the major improvements that have been done. Kent’s downtown is very similar to a town like Northampton, MA, for those of you that are familiar with Northampton. It is not infected by national chains for the most part, and it has retained its funk from when I was there, mixed in with some new life. It remains very much the liberal college town it has always been. The momentum increased for me when I met up with Jen, an old classmate (and her husband) at Ray’s for a beer. We were both in the same area of study, so we had some warm conversations about life today and life back then. I got a real kick out of Jen commenting on all the CD’s and long hair I had back then. True true! I was so happy to have caught up with her after so long.
And that was that. I’ve made a vow to get back there more often, and I will. I think I need to weave that area into my life more, as it was foundational for me and it’s just a picturesque, neat little corner of the Earth.
Saturday I woke up in Kent on Saturday morning feeling very good about the prior day, after my initial, albeit minor spiral. My cup was full. My next step was overflow that cup with a drive to Pittsburgh, about an hour and 45 minutes east, for a Bruins-Penguins game with my old roommate and friend John Horton. Another person I hadn’t seen in forever. We first met in the autumn of 1990 in the now-demolished Terrace Hall during my first year at Kent, and we became roommates in my second year in an off-campus hole apartment with two other friends. We had so many hilarious moments and fun times during those two years and I was really looking forward to seeing John and having the Bruins beat the Penguins (which they did). John was the editor of the Daily Kent Stater – we had a daily college newspaper, yes – and I was the Technical Director of the TV2 news – we had a nightly newscast, yes – so we also frequented a lot of the same school buildings, though now that I think about it, I don’t think we ever had a single class together. Memory might be failing me though.
Memory failed me in a few other ways, too, as John reminded me of a few things I did (and said) back then that really made me laugh and really made me realize that I am now a very different person, but in some ways exactly the same person. But spending the day with him brought me right back to all of our old hangouts and laughs. He had never been to an NHL game before, so I was really happy to be the wingman for that. Unfortunately for him, we had 3rd row seats behind the net, so he’s spoiled for life. If he goes to any more NHL games, those seats will be the standard to compare against, and it’ll be hard to beat! After the game, we drove around a bit and I got to see some real beautiful views of Pittsburgh, a city I’ve always liked quite a bit, and we ended up at a brewery for a cold craft beverage and more talk of glory days – past and current. They’re all glory days.
Anyway, we both share very similar interests – ridiculous sports stories, weird or funny news events and pretty much anything else that can make us laugh out loud. I really enjoyed getting to spend some time with him, meet one of his kids and just chat about life with him and his wife Debbie for a bit. They graciously let me stay in their nice new house just outside of Pittsburgh. It was too short a stay and we both agree that we need to find ways to hang more often.
No more waiting for someone or something to show me the way.
I attended my first in-person Mitzvah ever this weekend, a Bat Mitzvah. I attended at Bar Mitzvah a couple of years ago, but it was on Zoom because it was during COVID. I’m not even sure if I’m supposed to use the word “Mitzvah” alone? Is it only correct if I say it with the “bar” or the “bat” in front of it? I don’t know. Wikipedia’s definition looks like this:
A bar mitzvah (masc.) or bat mitzvah (fem.) is a coming-of-age ritual in Judaism. According to Jewish law, before children reach a certain age, the parents are responsible for their child’s actions. Once Jewish children reach that age, they are said to “become” b’nai mitzvah, at which point they begin to be held accountable for their own actions. Traditionally, the father of a bar or bat mitzvah offers thanks to God that he is no longer punished for his child’s sins.
Why or how it took almost 52 years for me to attend one of these is a question in and of itself. Perhaps it should be tackled in another blog post? Does it signal a lack of culture on my part? A lack of friends, maybe? Don’t answer either one of those questions, thank you.
The service itself was really quite nice. I might even say it was uplifting. As a child, I attended a Greek Orthodox church, but those trips were very much few and far between. My immediate family was not particularly religious at all. I’d have to ask my parents, but I sense that maybe we went a few times when I was very young because my dad felt some sort of obligation or pull, as his parents were devoted. And as I got to be 7 or 8 years old and older, Sunday mornings found me at another church of sorts – a hockey rink. Our weekly games or practices were often right at the same time as church service. A kid my age did not mind that at all.
Back to the Bat Mitzvah. I must say I found myself very interested in the whole thing. The cantor, playing guitar and singing, and the Rabbi, both working together in a comfortable synagogue on this happy occasion. The focus was on the 13-year-old girl, who is a family member on my wife’s side and just a tremendously impressive person. I admired her ability to stand up in front of a fairly large group of people and recite all kinds of things, sing in Hebrew, and inject her own perspectives and thoughts into some of the Torah passages she was reading. I can’t even imagine myself at 51 being able to handle that.
But funny things happen to me when I am at a church service of any kind. I am, as mentioned above, an outside observer. Not religious. I have my issues with organized religion. But I do seem to have very specific memories of certain services I’ve gone to as a tag-along. I distinctly recall going to a church service with my then-girlfriend in 1989, when I was 18. I remember being so struck by the…collective harmony. There was a peace in being there, a calmness. That a large collection of people gathered together, unrelated, from all walks of life, could leave whatever issues they had outside the door and share some kind of oneness inside a church was something that really resonated with me. I felt the same this weekend. I’ve been to a few services in between these two, and have felt the same. I still haven’t really figured out why it strikes me so much.
While it does make me occasionally wonder if there’s a religion out there for me, it would have to be something different than mainstream, organized religion. I find myself believing more in something and becoming more open. But I don’t yet know how that is going to formulate itself. Time will tell. It’s more the community and togetherness aspect for me that I’m after, not the specific beliefs and rules.
I don’t consider myself to be overly dramatic, and I’m happy to say that a few people on my team at work have told me that my relatively calm demeanor is one of the things that makes being on our team enjoyable. I’m always glad to hear that. My general approach at work is “take it seriously, but try to have fun doing it.” This morning I was browsing through my daily online bookmarks and I came across this article, another hard-hitting news piece from CNN, about how sighing is good for you. The premise is that sighs historically indicate some level of stress or anxiety, it should be viewed as a form of stress relief.
I had to laugh at that a little, not because CNN is wasting yet more space on dumb articles and not because I agree or disagree with their position on sighing. I laughed because I am known around my own house as a person who adds a high degree of melodrama to the noises that I make. For example, when I sneeze, I really let it loose. And on purpose, I will make it way louder than it should be, because a) I think it’s funny and, b) I do think there’s some sort of subconscious *release* happening for me there. Like, it’s an excuse for me to not be calm for just a fleeting second, so I can continue on my path of trying to be calm and collected. The other people who live with me, however, are often startled when this happens, though I think they’ve now adjusted to it, perhaps begrudgingly.
The other noise that often raises eyebrows around the house is yawns. I do like to add a little drama to those as well by, um, a significantly enhanced and high-volume exhale. I find this to be quite funny, but again, my family finds it to be quite ridiculous.
I do think there is something to my theory, though, that these over-dramatized expressions are subconscious ways of giving my introverted self a good dose of quick yet effective scream therapy. I don’t particularly know what I am trying to get out of my system, but I know that it’s helpful somehow, if only to elicit a laugh – usually from myself, but sometimes from my family. And if I’m alone in the car and there’s a good song playing, well, all bets are off. That’s a longer and very satisfying therapy session.
The hockey locker room is such an interesting place for so many reasons, many of which I won’t talk about in this post. Haha. But two things struck me over the past few weeks about the locker room. You see, I’ve been playing in this early-morning league for the better part of 8 years now. We play at 6:30 in the morning, which I love, and then I presume we all go off to work or whatever it is we do in our daily lives. It is great fun and I can’t think of a better way to get valuable exercise and cardio. I do not like the gym and I’m not particularly interested in things like CrossFit. I’m blessed and so incredibly grateful that I still have the physical capability to do this three mornings per week.
It’s also important to note before I get into the two things that every few months, they basically mix up the 4 teams and re-draft. So over 8 years, you end up playing on the same team with pretty much everyone. And you end up playing against everyone. It’s the perfect setting to get to know all kinds of different people.
So first, it occurred to me that, for the most part, I know very little personally about this group of people. You catch a little here and there through locker room conversation, but the oddest thing to me as I looked around the room was that I still don’t know what 90% of them do for a living, and I don’t really know what town they live in. You think that would have come up at some point. And hockey locker room conversations are not and should not be about deep feelings. There is a high level of amusement to them, another part of why I value being able to do this. But then I double-take and realize, “oh, maybe it’s ME?” Perhaps, because I’m more on the introverted side, I am the one not making enough of an effort to find out? I do think it takes most people longer than usual to get to know me. And that’s probably on me. Last year I recall talking to a referee who mentioned that I was always “serious” or something along those lines. If you know me well, I think the last thing you might say is that I am serious. I have, in fact, the maturity level of a 12-year-old. I guess it just takes five+ years to get to know me? I don’t know. You are reading inner-conversations with my brain right now! Congratulations.
The second thing is more specific. The conversation in the room a few weeks back turned to beer, local breweries, etc. So, history lesson for you, my life trajectory with alcohol looks very much like this:
This trend-line is relatively normal, yes? Late teens and 20s were copious. There are a lot of good stories from college and in my 20s. My 30s were a dramatic ramp-down and I’d say since the age of about 40, I have a single beer with dinner and that’s it. There are definitely days when I’ll have 2 beers, there are days when I will have no beers. But on average, it’s one a day. There’s probably a whole different blog post on why I’ve taken this approach, but to put it succinctly and simply, a lot of it has to do with my overall physical wellness, keeping weight down, and just…here we go again…risk aversion. I definitely do not want to deal with hangovers, either. The last time I was probably drunk, I mean really getting after it, would have been New Years Eve of 1999, Y2K! That’s now 23 years ago! I think that part is probably not as normal, but also not crazy. “Getting hammered” is just not something that interests me as it did in my 20s. But I love, I mean really love, a good beer. So that’s my alcohol track. Now, back to the locker room. So I shared that rough history with my current teammates in the room and it was an interesting moment. A few of the guys expressed real surprise about my non-hammeredness for 23 years. There were a few other good laughs from guys who said “yeah, it’s been a while for me, too, I think since last Thursday.” One other person said “well, we know who’s on the no-fun list now.” All this is why I love a good hockey locker room. It’s all in good fun and jest! Put me on the no-fun list! (please don’t)
I love all the hype around Cocaine Bear. It’s not going to slot anywhere in the pantheon of the top 10 movies ever made, but I do think it checks a post-pandemic box – a movie that is made to be consumed in a theatre with a bunch of strangers. Perhaps aside from Top Gun – Maverick, and maybe even more, this movie is made for theatres and I think we need more of those. That’s where I plan to see it. It’ll be funny, gory, campy, and super fun.
In the same breath as Cocaine Bear, I came across this New York Times article this morning about the growing number of animals making their way into places where there are more people and how that has increased the amount of weird food and other objects that animals are ingesting. I had to laugh at a few parts of the story where they cite a few real examples. A skunk in a panic because it couldn’t get a McFlurry cup off its head, or a bear who entered a house several times and *only* took vanilla ice cream. Raccoons, in particular, were the most amusing: dazed and zoned out on marijuana and benzos, one had a soda can stuck on its leg, and another had it’s head stuck in a container of peanut butter. Animals are funny. And dumb.
I listened intently to The First Person podcast on my way to and from work this week, featuring a high school senior named Logan Lane, who seems to be wise beyond her years. She recognized early in high school that, ick, smartphones, endless scrolling, and non-stop screentime made her feel like a non-functioning, brain-dead zombie of sorts. So she did something that 99.9999% of kids today would never do – she gave it up and started “The Luddite Club,” a group of kids who approach screens and phones the same way that Straight-Edge kids avoid drinking, smoking, and drugs. She spoke eloquently about how life’s beauty and the meaning of real interaction and connection with others in the group have proven far more satisfying to her. At a cost, of course. She lost some friends and was probably subject to some ridicule, but gained other meaningful connections. I’m toying with making my kids listen to it. Not because I want them to STOP all screens and join the Luddite Club, but because I’d like to see better balance, I guess.
I’ve already watched the Pavement appearance on Austin City Limits twice. It’s sooooo good. I sometimes really miss the anticipation of knowing a favorite band was releasing an album, that I would have to plan a trip to the record store, of getting it off the rack, buying it, getting it home and experiencing the art, reading the liner notes, experiencing the music. It was a more full-on experience than it is today. I’d love for Spotify or some other entity to somehow bring that experience back to me in some way. There must be some methods to make that happen. I don’t really even know the individual names of members in new bands anymore. I don’t like that. I used to know ALL the names of the players in the bands I like!