Youthful Dreaming

When I was younger, I wanted so badly to be a superhero.

I recall when I seriously considered how hard it would be to become Spider Man. I thought through what it would take to cross myself with radioactive spiders so I’d obtain the traits of the spider while still human. I wanted that possibility to be so real.

SpidermanI imagined myself running through the streets of Cleveland, jumping from building to building, in search of criminals and making the city a safer place. It felt so real and so possible that when it dawned on me it wouldn’t happen, I was crushed.

Then as I thought on it further, I realized the chances of that happening were slim. There was no way I’d find a spider like that and no way to tell if the desired effects would actually occur.

With those hopes dashed, I turned to a more realistic hero in Batman. I figured if I could create or obtain enough gadgets like him, I’d be a force to be reckoned with. Having no money or technical skill to create those devices, I soon found myself distraught once again with the realization it would never happen.

BatmanThe thing is, I wanted these to be real possibilities in life. I wanted to be a hero, to save others, and do good. I felt an ache inside when I couldn’t make it happen. I blurred fantasy with reality and when reality won, I had a difficult time reconciling that harsh truth.

I suppose reading comic books and being aware of bad things around me made me want to do something about it. As a young pre-teen, I had no control over evil. Murderers, kidnappers, drug dealers-I could do nothing to stop them. Visualizing myself as a superhero was my way of trying to contribute to a positive outcome in an otherwise difficult world.

I’ve yet to find a radioactive spider or create an arsenal of cool gadgets, but I have tried to do good as much as possible in all situations. I fail, but my mindset is always to do what’s right. It’s not the same as jumping between buildings with the strength and dexterity of an oversized spider, but I do what I can.

 

Advertisements

Cleveland Rocks: The Same, But Different

A couple months ago, my wife, son, and I took a quick trip back to my hometown of Cleveland, OH to attend a Cavaliers game. I really wanted to see LeBron, Kyrie, and Kevin Love while the team was still intact and I’d never been to an NBA game before. We decided on a game against a sub-par opponent (in order to get reasonably priced seats!), bought tickets, and made plans.

I also wanted to give my almost sixteen year-old son a family history lesson. He’d been to Cleveland before, but it was about ten to twelve years ago and he doesn’t remember much from that trip. I wanted him to see where I grew up–to see my old neighborhood, my old house, and where I was “formed” into the person I am today. So much of where we grew up plays a pivotal role in who we become. We can change for the better (or worse) but our lens to the the world is created in part by our surroundings in our early years.

img_3299

View of Downtown Cleveland from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I wanted him to see and appreciate what made me – “me.” It will be years before the lesson sinks in. He’s a teenager, my expectations aren’t too high yet. (I know what I was like back then!)

But something else happened on this trip. My city–the city I claim with every chance, the city I root for in the darkest moments, the city I identify with–isn’t mine anymore. Not like it used to be anyway.

Forever my lens to the world will be dominated by my upbringing in that city, but I’ve been gone so long, it doesn’t feel mine anymore.

So many things have changed. New office buildings downtown, Public Square closing off to traffic, and buildings torn down and replaced with new stores and offices. As a drive-thru worker where I used to work so eloquently stated, “It’s the same but different.” It’s still the city of my childhood, it’s still the city of close sports championship opportunities (still hate you MJ and Elway!) but the city doesn’t exactly feel like mine anymore.

We ate lunch in Terminal Tower sitting at a window overlooking the Cuyahoga River and I remember feeling like a stranger. I felt like an outsider. I’d been gone so long my Cleveland existed in my memories. It existed as a series of moments forever branded in my mind, but it wasn’t the city as it is today.

I guess that happens to everyone that moves away from the town or city they grew up in. We move on hoping for a brighter future with awesome opportunities while always leaning on our past for strength and identity.

I hadn’t expected to feel that way. I hoped to reconnect with the city and in some ways I did, but a sense of strangeness overwhelmed me.

It’s still my city. But now it’s different. It’s dynamic, it’s changing, it’s the same, but different.

Mingling With Celebrity

Most all of us have had our brush with celebrity at one point in our lives. I’ve had a few opportunities to share a moment with someone more known than myself and I wanted to share that in today’s post.

My first recollection of meeting someone famous occurred when I lived in Cleveland. My school used to be in downtown and we had to take public buses and the subway (known as the rapid) to get to and from school. One day after school while waiting with a bunch of other students and a few non-student riders, a fight broke out between two young teens. I was probably in seventh or eight grade at the time. A fancy car pulled up to the bus stop and a large man jumped from the car and broke up the fight. That man was the all time great Cleveland Browns cornerback Hanford Dixon! Together with Frank Minnifield, they were one of the most fearsome cornerbacks in the league and he is also credited with creating the infamous “Dawg Pound” in Cleveland Municipal Stadium. The fight stopped almost immediately and he signed autographs for all who asked. I got one as well though he signed them “Top Dawg” instead of Hanford Dixon but any Browns fan knew who that was!

Over the years while in Cleveland, I was able to meet and get signatures from many bands that I listened to: Kreator, Nuclear Assault, and others. There was an awesome record store not too far from my house that booked a lot of bands for signings and I went to many of them.

IMG_2612More recently Twitter has brought me in touch with celebrities I would never have been able to reach otherwise. One of my Twitter followers is none other than Mr. Chuck, or Chuck D. the lead MC for the iconic rap group Public Enemy. Last year I posted about an actual dream I had involving the rapper/actor Ice T and he acknowledged it with a “like.” One of my recent blog posts about John Scalzi earned a message from the author thanking me for liking his books. Then days after that, when I was fortunate enough to sign my name next to the award winning SciFi author Ann Leckie on the author wall at my first book signing, she too acknowledged my post with a “like.” Twitter has been fun reaching new people and moments like these keep me posting.

My most exciting moment of being close to someone more famous than myself was when I was able to skate with Tony Hawk. Yeah, that Tony Hawk. The god-father of skateboarding. It must have been over twenty years ago that I met him and his Birdhouse Projects team in Memphis. My friends and I decided we were going to travel four hours or so from Southern Illinois to Memphis for a demo put on by Tony Hawk and his team. I had to work an overnight shift and when I got off work at seven in the morning, I cleaned up and we loaded in my little Honda Civic 4-Door and drove down to Memphis. My car was a stick and none of my friends knew how to drive a manual so even though I was dead tired, I had to drive.

By the time we made it to Memphis, it was pouring down rain. We drove to where the demo was held but no one was there. We decided we drove this far that we weren’t leaving until we got to meet the man himself! I drove around the square several times looking for the team when we found them driving in a van. They waved at us and pointed to the square and after cutting them off, we all made it to the demo spot. When we got out of the car the rain had stopped. We were the only ones there. The five of us and the five of them. We got to skate around the square with Tony and his team. He even skated on my friend Doug’s board (whose dad later threw it away thinking the broken board was worthless junk!) It was an awesome opportunity to meet with and skate with a legend. It’s a memory I’ll never forget. When I’d tell that to my students while I was a graduate assistant in college, I instantly gained some street cred with my students!

I’ve had my brushes with celebrity. I’ve tried to not act like a fool around people I respect and I think so far I’ve kept it under wraps. When Scalzi sent me that message on Twitter you better believe I wanted to go all “fan-boy” about it but it’s so much better if I don’t.

What about you? Do you have any interesting stories to share? Leave them in the comments below!


As a heads up, I’ll be at the Indie Book Fair in St. Louis on May 7th from 10-5. Stop by and say hi and pick up a book. There will also be 40 to 50 other authors for you to check out. I’ll be doing a reading at 11:40 that morning. Sounds like a great time. Come on out!

On May 18th, one of my stories will be featured on the podcast “No Extra Words.” I’m super excited about this opportunity! Find the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcatcher and subscribe today! They offer new flash fiction stories every week.

How Will I Laugh Tomorrow: My Albums

Music has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. My parents were always listening to classic rock and when I got old enough I found my own music. I’ve gone through musical phases but for the most part I’ve been true to my roots.

Inspired by a post making its rounds on Facebook, these are the ten albums that I could play over and over again. If I had no other music but these, I’d be a happy man. These ten albums shaped me and made me who I am. If you want to understand me, these albums will go a long way to that end. They are staples in my library. So…here we go!

AmongAnthraxAmong the Living (1987)  This album is a classic. It’s heavy, fast, and exemplifies thrash metal. I came across Anthrax just after this album’s release and have been a fan ever since. Of the “big 4” thrash bands, they’ve always been my favorite. I could relate to the band’s attitude of being who they were, no frills and no pretensions. I was introduced to Judge Dredd because of this album and further became a fan of Stephen King (the title track is based on “The Stand”)  Runner up album: Persistence of Time.

 

Metallica_-_Master_of_Puppets_coverMetallicaMaster of Puppets (1986)  Metallica is the god-father of thrash metal. They are by far the most famous and well known of the “big 4” thrash bands. This album starts with a mellow acoustic that soon slams in your face with heavy distortion. Every track on this album is exceptional. James Hetfield’s vocals are dead on and the heavy sound is accentuated by the deep subject matter of drug addiction or losing one’s mind. Out just before “Among the Living” these two albums go hand in hand and formed the foundation for all that came after in my musical tastes. Runner up album: …And Justice For All.

 

Megadeth-RustInPeaceMegadethRust in Peace (1990)  Megadeth was founded by former Metallica guitarist Dave Mustaine. The band is considered one of the “big 4” thrash bands (Slayer is the fourth). Their music tends to be heavy with plenty of intricate guitar playing. The opening track “Holy Wars” is mind-blowing and the subject matter still resonates today. Early on I wasn’t the biggest Megadeth fan but over the years I’ve gained a greater appreciation for the band and this is by far my favorite album of theirs.  Runner up album: Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?

 

Suicidal_Tendencies-How_Will_I_Laugh_TomorrowSuicidal TendenciesHow Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I can’t Even Smile Today (1988)  Despite their name, I always felt Suicidal was more about building up their fans and giving them something positive to look forward to. This album reminds me of playing Super Mario Bros. with my friends and my early skateboarding days. I was (and am) a big fan of these guys. Mike Muir always seemed to pour everything in his music, good or bad. He was honest and I appreciated that. As an angry teenager, the title track spoke to me like nothing else. Runner up album: Lights, Camera, Revolution.

 

Dimension_HatrossVoivodDimension Hatross (1988) Voivod is a Canadian band that is heavily influenced by science fiction. Their albums were concept albums that told complex stories often involving space travel and exploration. This album is heavy with vocals only Snake (their singer) could do. The song “Tribal Convictions” has this heavy drum beat I’ve always loved. These guys headlined the first concert I ever went to (with opening acts Faith No More and Soundgarden. Think about that for a minute!) They aren’t as widely known as they should be. Runner up album: Nothingface.

 

RHCP-BSSMRed Hot Chili PeppersBlood Sugar Sex Magic (1991)  Wow. By far one of my favorite albums of all time. This has it all: heavy funk laced songs intertwined with soulful ballads. All coming from a place of vulnerability. The sound of this album is amazing. The band’s energy pours through every song. When I moved from Cleveland to Southern Illinois this album carried me through. “Under the Bridge” the commercial success of the album spoke a lot to me, not that I was a recovering addict but because of the love Anthony had for his city. I felt the same way about the city I was forced to leave. I can put this album on, hit repeat, and never turn it off. Runner up album: Mothers Milk.

 

Stormtroopers_Of_Death_-_Speak_English_or_DieStormtroopers of DeathSpeak English or Die (1985)  A side project of Scott Ian and Charlie Benante of Anthrax with bassist Dan Lilker of Nuclear Assault and singer Billy Milano, this album influenced many thrash bands. Created almost as a joke, they played as hard and heavy as possible. Written and recorded within a week, the short songs on this album insulted everyone. I always understood the joke behind it though many still don’t. I loved how heavy the songs were and how raw they sounded. If you ever watched Headbanger’s Ball on MTV, you’ve heard tracks off this album as it was the intro music to the show. Runner up album: None. It was one and done for them.

 

PearlJamTenPearl JamTen (1991)  When this album first came out, it didn’t register on my radar. All you have to do is look at the albums above this to see where my musical tastes were. However when I went to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers on the “Blood Sugar Sex Magic” tour, there was this band I’d barely heard of called Pearl Jam that opened for them (along with the Smashing Pumpkins). I was impressed by their sound and later picked up this album. It has never left my rotation since. Eddie Vedder’s voice is amazing. My all-time favorite song “Alive” is on this album. Along with “Blood Sugar Sex Magic” this followed me from Cleveland to Southern Illinois and I spent many days and evenings in my room listening to this. Any time I hear “Alive” on the radio, I turn it up loud and sing along. And I cannot sing. Runner up album: VS.

 

Beastieboys_checkyourheadBeastie BoysCheck Your Head (1992)  Skateboarding brought so much to my life and I will never forget it. We used to watch skate videos to get pumped up before going out on our stunt-wood and trying new tricks. I’d known about the Beastie Boys but lost interest with their second album. One of the songs, “Pass the Mic” was featured in a skate video and the sound with the skating was so powerful it instantly became a classic. When I finally listened to the entire album and heard the punk roots of the group come through their rap, it was like a new era of music opened up. Heavy metal and punk were not supposed to be associated with rap, but they did it (to be fair, Anthrax did so earlier with “I’m the Man” and even Aerosmith with Run DMC). Runner up album: Ill Communication

 

Foos-ESPGFoo FightersEchoes, Silence, Patience, and Grace (2007)  From the moment I heard “The Pretender” I couldn’t put this album down. There isn’t one bad song on the entire record. I listened to this over and over again. I’d heard most of their hits before this came out and enjoyed the songs but never really gave them much credit. I always thought of them as “that band with the dude from Nirvana.” I was wrong. Dave Grohl is an amazingly talented musician and although Nirvana is often viewed as the “more important” band, I honestly think the Foo Fighters deserve more attention. This album spoke to me like none of their previous ones and to this day when “Home” comes on I think about my family and wanting to be home. Runner up album: The Colour and the Shape.

 

This list is not intended as a “best ever” list of music, but the ten most influential albums to me personally. I’d love to hear your thoughts. How many are on your list? Who’s created art that’s moved you? Add yours to the comments below.

 

 

Cleveland Lenses

I’ve talked about this before but it needs addressing bit more in depth. I think I have more explaining to do.  

My worldview is seen through the eyes of Cleveland. Better yet, I frame things as though I’ve got a great big glob of Cleveland covering my eyes. I know it sounds gross, but it’s not that bad.

If you aren’t from there, I don’t expect you to understand. Just…nod your head and let us go by. We’re harmless.

Cleveland is a great city full of vibrant culture and economy. It’s a port city and full of ethnic diversity. And yet there seems to me to be a certain way of viewing the world.

Using my Cleveland lenses, I see things as potential disasters all the time. I see the world as one step away from ridicule and shame. Paranoia is around every corner, creeping and ready to sink in. It’s real folks.

We’ve got good reason to think that. You tell me what other city had their river catch on fire. The river. On fire…yeah, that’s right. But at least it spawned the EPA.

Then there are so many sports close calls it’s painful. The Drive. The Fumble. The Move. The seventh inning against the freaking Marlins. The Decision. 

Every moment is seen through eyes that await the shoe to fall, that expect that shoe to come crushing down and destroying all hopes and dreams. 

But…that hope it tries to crush is real man. That hope, which at times feels like it’s about to lose, always keeps going. It’s what spurs us on. It’s what continues to fuel us even though the end might be gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, and always elusive victory. 

That’s the lense I use. That’s how I see the world. Always paranoid with a touch of hope. 

So what’s your lense? How do you view the world?

Cleveland to the Core

No matter how hard I try to remove or turn away from it, I am Cleveland to the core. It’s funny, I’ve lived in Illinois longer than I ever did in Cleveland, but I was born and raised there and I still feel a connection. It’s been maybe ten years since I’ve been there and I’m sure a lot has changed.


The one thing that keeps bringing me back are the sports teams. I have always been a huge Browns fan. My earliest sports memories involve Bernie Kosar and those teams of the eighties, powerhouses of the NFL. And the heartbreak…man I still don’t like Elway. But I will always remember the town painted orange and the songs on the radio. My favorite was “Bernie, Bernie,” which was sung along to the tune of “Louie, Louie.” 


I loved those times. Cleveland was something. It was a hard nosed, tough town and other teams wanted no part of them.


Then there were the Cavs. I loved those teams led by Brad Daugherty. I vividly remember Michael Jordan hitting his famous fade away over Ehlo, the shot you see in commercials or highlights about Jordan. He too was another iconic figure I didn’t like. I respected his talent but he had a tendency to bring out the flashy stuff against my team!



The Indians were always terrible when I was a kid, but they were my hometown team and I followed them anyway. It wasn’t till I moved to Illinois that they made it to the World Series. I tuned in to every game, just waiting and hoping they’d do Cleveland proud. Even though they lost, they did bring some excitement and hope to the city.


I loved my time there. Other than following all the Cleveland teams, I was a fun loving skater. I’d grab my board and be off for the day, skating anywhere I wanted. I had great friends that tought me how to be a better skater, how to appreciate music, and be a conscientious person.


My taste in music was clearly influenced by my city and my friends. I sided more with the gritty, do-it-yourself music of New York over the flashy Los Angeles scene. It fit more with what Cleveland was. And that music was political and social in nature, decrying social injustice and promoting lifting yourself up and standing up for what’s right. My friends and I steered clear of music from bands that wanted nothing more than to get in the pants of any girl that would let them. We respected music that spoke of things with more substance.


All of these things, and much much more influenced who I am today. I take those memories everywhere. At the core, my city was and is…Cleveland.