A Glass Half Nexty

“One of the inescapable encumbrances of leading an interesting life is that there have to be moments when you almost lose it.”

Jimmy Buffett, A Pirate Looks at Fifty

My friend, and early agent (he didn’t know it then) Robert Wright, posted a photograph recently of me playing at his restaurant a LONG time ago. He stood beside me for the photo, displaying his patented smile and offering his good cheer. I was swept immediately back to those easy days. I could feel the neck of the blond Alvarez (that would be my guitar…my first…won in a raffle at Leitz Music Company). It would change everything. I figured, “I should learn to play this thing,” and a year later I was crooning at this amazing little bistro downtown. I remember how the treble knob on my amp would always stick a little. I remembered my white Peavey mic that was so cool. I remember the rickety stool. The cheap music stand that held my binder of lyrics that I never really used. I just made up the lines I would forget. Most never noticed or they were at least nice enough not to give a damn. Robert and his crew would make their way around serving wine and cheese and great sandwiches and salads. I would play and sing. The playlist wasn’t extensive, but it was what I loved. Luckily, a few others did too. Fogelberg, Loggins & Messina, Croce, Hall & Oates, Willie Nelson, Dave Loggins, Billy Joel, an original or two or three, and a few others based on requests.

Billy Joel captured the essence of those nights. As “…the regular crowd shuffled in” I smiled and planned for their favorites. Friends, family, and the occasional tourist. There were a few of us who played regularly. Tom Collins, Phillip Leitz, me, and others. I was lucky enough to play with guys who were really great. The incomparable Tom Lane – who remains a gifted and inspiring artist. To this day he shares that gift with the world, literally, and remains a mate of the soul.  Tony Namynanik, who introduced me to Loggins and Messina and pure friendship and then changed my life in a thousand ways for the better. I would laugh harder in one night hanging out with Tony than in years and months since. Greg Todd, the most easy going guy I ever met and who could hit harmonies higher than Vince Gill on his best day. Sharon Stanley (Goldenberg) who could sing anything…and did. I would be so busy watching her that I forgot entire chords and lyrics and had to stop playing. Then I would act like something was wrong with the P.A. or something. One time she sang Blue Bayou and I slipped off of my stool in a trance. She laughed and kept on singing. I recovered from the slip, but never from the moment.

There would be a point every night when I would hit a particular chord and its progression that was unmistakable. C major with a walk down to an A minor then to an F major and back again. Robert would peek out from the kitchen and grin in anticipation. Back to Billy Joel … “It’s a pretty good crowd for a Saturday, and the manager gives me a smile…” Robert would always stop what he was doing and step out with a smile as big as Texas. It became tradition. One I hold dear to this day, decades later.

The friends, dare I say groupies (in my own damned mind) made my life full. They ordered sweet tea or coffee or a German beer or a great glass of wine. They and and listened and would sing along. Some under their breath and others in loud chorus. Fans. Mom was the greatest fan – she remains so to this day. Many of those loyalists are back in my life today on the pages of facebook (thank you, Mr. Zuckerburg) or through email or Skype. And, every once in a while, we find each other at a beach bar along the salty shores of the Riviera. We reminisce, but our nostalgia doesn’t consume us. We look to the possibilities. The songs yet to be sung and those revisited with our own twists and chords and harmonies. Other gypsies have joined me in penning or thoughts for those who might walk the trails later. I’m so grateful for you all. 

The photograph and the overwhelming memories took me to a place of context. Those were, as I said at the beginning, “easy days.” My life was about singing and playing and selling tennis rackets and shoes and CHAMPS Sporting Goods and deciding what part of the beach to hit on the weekend. College was a distraction, not a means to an end. It was all about relationships. Somewhere it all turned. Back again now.

So, here I am today. A pirate looked at fifty. Ironically, I’ve returned to the days of sun and song and being with good humans (and one perfect dog). In the midst of attempting to influence healthcare strategy and policy and operations of a wonderful organization, I spend late nights playing and writing and building relationships. I return to the old songs and they fill my soul. I play new ones from the amazing artists of this generation and am equally filled. I write about the journey and share it with those who like to come along the ride and add their own entries.

I want easy again. It’s time. Play. Sing. Laugh. Drink good drink. Be present…really present. Don’t take anyone or any moment for granted. Live.

Thanks Robert, for taking me back and reminding me that those days can be these days.

P.S. There is talk of a reunion with some of the original players. You in, kids?

When Love Takes You In

Steven Curtis Chapman wrote this beautiful song about adoption. Hoping he doesn’t mind a little license with it, I think it works for the precious animals hoping for a home as well.

I know you’ve heard the stories
But they all sound too good to be true
You’ve heard about a place called home
But there doesn’t seem to be one for you
So one more night you cry yourself to sleep
And drift off to a distant dream

Where love takes you in and everything changes
A miracle starts with the beat of a heart
When love takes you home and says you belong here
The loneliness ends and a new life begins
When love takes you in

Buddy, my mom’s dog of many years died a couple of years ago. Since then, we knew her life would be so much more complete when a new dog would find his or her home with her. Things needed to be put in place. Work had to be done. The time was right. Mom and Denise and Jenny and Gabi and Chelsea went to the Pound in search of the perfect pet. I have found that they will find us!

For the last sixteen years, Tybee has been my friend and my muse. A stand-up comedian. The best listener ever. Aerobic trainer before arthritis got the best of him…now he just cheers me on. He has inspired stories and has come to completely dig Americana and alternative rock. Life is so much more complete because of this old soul.

So the search began. This sweet mutt found her. He must have known she would be his new roommate, because he played with everyone but stayed almost exclusively by her side. I don’t care what they say; DOG’S SMILE. They love. They emote. They are multilingual. They get that the simple life is the best life. It is their mission to remind us of just that.

His name (already given): “Buddy” How cool is that?

Welcome home, Buddy. You belong here. Do your thing and add life to life.

Sittin’ On The Black of the Bay (published May 30, 2010)

An earthquake shakes countries and we respond en masse. Tsunamis come ashore and are followed by waves of dollars and volunteers and government aide. Our planet’s capacity to reach out is sometimes overwhelming. At other times it is strikingly absent.

I have spent the last few days on the water with sea life and river life and people whose lives move with the tides. We slowed the boat on our way to Daufuskie Island to let a pod of Bottlenose dolphin play. They jumped and danced and wrestled and glided all at the same time. They put on quite a show before smiling and moving down river. The pelicans moved stealthily in for the evening catch under a rising full moon. They perched on the buoys and the abandoned pilings and watched the boats and birds and waited the next course. The rhythm of the coastal breezes moved the marsh grass in wave after graceful wave.

I tried to imagine a dark death, like a plague, moving slowly in to suffocate all of this precious life. I visualized our  Pelican and Seagull friends diving and unable to return to flight from the thick coating on their wings. I saw the deep greens and browns of the marshland turning black and dying and taking with it the lives of the birds and the fish who live and thrive there.  I saw the banks of the river at low tide coated in this mess. The crab no longer able to run and burrow along the mud and the rocks.

Months ago the headlines were full of the response of humanity to other disasters. Where is that same humanity when the disaster is one of corporate doing? Does this make it any less a candidate for attention and response from those beyond the boardroom? Did other oil companies rush in with their best minds and resources? Where has been the humanitarian response from corporate and government organizations alike? Is it because many of the victims are not…human? Reality is that the livelihood of so many is threatened by this catastrophe. What is getting much less attention is that LIFE is at stake here too. An entire ecosystem is threatened and dying.

So, I grudgingly turn on the news. Instead of finding headlines filled with national and international response, I see a BP executive spending most of his air time answering to prosecutors from every possible group, agency, district, and agenda. The podium has no lineup of those who have come to a rescue. He stands alone. This isn’t about feeling sorry for a corporate exec. It is absolute sadness over the lack of collective good to save lives. To save livelihoods. To fix a terrible and accidental wrong that not only claimed eleven brave men, but is claiming more life with each creeping inch.

I’ve never boarded a Greenpeace boat. I don’t have a Save The Spotted Owl bumper sticker on my Jeep. I’ve never stood defiantly between a bulldozer and a Redwood. At one point I think I was even critical of these types as if they were all lunatics. But in these middle years I find myself drawn away from concrete and into the woods; from the airports and to the river; from the office and to the forest. So, here I was at dawn this morning, rowing my kayak down Richardson Creek along the marsh and feeling an even stronger conviction to preserve and protect this glorious life around me.

I am a lover of life. All kinds. Tonight I become what I once judged. I don’t want my legacy for the planet to be left to my reusable Harris Teeter shopping bag or a weekly recycling run. That is pissing in the proverbial wind. I am going for “cause” level. Too much at stake.


P.S. Save The Spotted Owl

Winter of our discontent – or our finest moment? (published Jan 30, 2010)

Steinbeck’s’ character, Ethan Allen Hawley, was a good man gone wrong. The pressure to become something more caused him to compromise his values and his very nature. Later, he would rationalize as if somehow he actually had helped those he harmed. Too close.

Now is not the first time a people have struggled in this Land of the Free. These days don’t offer a lot of hope for a lot of folk. You have to seek it, invent it, borrow it, build it. I personally believe that our leaders – left, right, middle, independent – go into their work to help build things, not tear them down. Do they get sucked into the bureaucratic machine that is perpetually running in D.C.? Sure they can. But I am not ready to write them all off. The mood of the country, and  that of most within my social circles, is dark, cynical, critical, and mean-spirited at times. I choose to believe in people. I choose to believe that our leaders feel it a privilege to work on the tough problems on behalf of me and of those who can’t speak so easily for themselves (not that I speak so easily myself).

I listened to our President last week. Just a speech? Nah. Vision. Vision changes. It should. Was “Yes, we can” just campaign rhetoric? I don’t think so. I choose to follow a belief in the human spirit, regardless of Red or Blue or Orange (what is the color for Independents anyway?).

Ethan Allen Hawley sold out under pressure. He came to understand what he did and had to live with it. He returned to his conscience and his heart. It may feel like a Winter of Discontent, but I choose to look for the moon on the water and the beauty and the possibilities just around the bend.

Back to the Future…This Wall…This Damned Wall (published Jan 23, 2010)

The comment was, “It’s time to get our country back.” Just another angry line from a cynical citizen whose version of the American Promise is threatened by the actions or the pending legislation or the questions being asked by anyone who doesn’t represent the good old days. The latest vengeful rhetoric was spawned by a Massachusetts election. It was quite the victory for a nervous lot. The guy seems like a capable thinker. He might have single-handedly slowed a decision that might require cooler heads and more thinking. That might just be a good thing.

My worry has more to do with the place this is emotion is coming from. The behavior of so many seemed less like a people who felt like a sense of balance was underway, but more like vultures waiting for the last breath of an injured animal. Then the words appeared across the social and mainstream media: “…time to get our country BACK.”

Back to what? Back to when? With the years and the moves and the tragedies I have become much less aligned to a position or a party and more to a set of values and what I think was the intent of a group of men and women who hoped for a better life. Not unlike anyone around today. Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness. Pretty good things, eh? “Back” to a time when people used emergency rooms for their primary healthcare because they lost their plan with their job? Back to when a nation’s financial health was measured by Dow Jones and dismisses a national debt? Back to when Bernie Madoff got more air time than boys and girls in uniform dying courageously, risking more than any stockholder could dream? Back to a time when we could hide our ignorance and judgement as long as we gathered around like-minded folks who made us feel legitimate in our prejudice?  Back to a time when we wrote off the perils of a globe in jeopardy because it might mean less horsepower or less square footage to go along with or suburban egos?

Cynical? No way! Idealist? Absolutely! Just amazed at the very idea that a pack ideologues can dismiss that a lot of folks don’t want to go “back.” What if we talked about the FUTURE? What if we acknowledged that the problems we have to solve for are not going to be solved by party lines or worn out colors and position papers and platforms. The planet and the people on it are evolving. Our thinking and our compassion and our intelligence needs to go with it. My beliefs haven’t changed as much as my appreciation for the fact that they aren’t everyone else’s. That is a good thing. I have grown to love and appreciate diversity beyond a corporate program. I, for one, don’t want to go “back” again. I hope we find that our strength will come from common purpose. I wonder what Conan thinks about it all?

‘Till The End of September (published sept 24 2009)

The Sons of the Desert have a song that speaks to when a loss is felt the most.

I’m just fine ’til the end of September

Then I remember losing you October ’89

If I live in the past, there’s no future

I’m looking forward to leaving October behind

We didn’t have much of a relationship. I don’t remember any words of wisdom. We didn’t play ball or hang out. Although he did coach my team one year in what I now look back as an attempt to bond with me. Thanks, Dad. Still, he was around and I was able to watch and glean what I could. He had a soldier’s set of values. Respect for elders and our President. Manners. Duty to country. It is in the fall, when seasons change and slow a bit that I remember him the most.

To my friends who loved and lost, I wish you peace. To my kids – I hope my time here leaves you better. You have made my life rich and full of blessing. Dad loves what has become of you. He sees what he hoped he would be through you.

He is with his comrades in Fort Barancus. They hang out and tell war time tales and bask in the glory of the fight. I hold on to the belief that his soul remains. The possibility that he watches and enjoys the goodness and hurts for the times when life is hard. I think he is learning although he is no longer here and is passing it on to me in ways I don’t know and surely can’t understand.

Stop and Smell and Grow Some Damned Roses (June 14, 2012)

It was an awkward moment. A glass of wonderful Cabernet in one hand and shaking the hands of other execs joining an evening dinner party with the other. Suits and greetings and small talk. Wine and appetizers and debate and long-overdue reunions for some of us who work only floors away in some cases; states away in others.

“The funeral was beautiful,” my friend said. A couple of other pals went on to describe the scene at yesterday’s funeral. I looked to my left and one of my colleagues had the same questioning look. He said, “Whose funeral are we talking about?”

A colleague, dare I say, a friend had passed away after a long battle with cancer. Beloved by so many. We had had a number of delightful encounters over the years. She made a point of commenting on my columns and my work on healthcare strategy. She was always so appreciative. We exchanged cards of thanks and congratulations for things here and there.

She died. I missed it. The message was probably buried in an email that I skipped in “preview” mode, or in a voice mail I didn’t recognize. Who knows?!

The bottom line is that someone I care for…care about…her life ended and I missed her passing and the celebration of her life. Things “got in the way.” BULLSHIT.

I woke up this morning and I was 5/8 through my life expectancy. She made it to half way. It could end tomorrow. It does for so many. Trying to change the world is a burdensome and beautiful privilege. Being PRESENT in it is required and so often dismissed.

To my friend, if there is an afterlife blog RSS or facebook for the next phase (Zuckerberg is probably working on it), then keep me posted. I’ll miss you.


I’ve Moved my Blog

Apple made some changes with MobileMe. I needed some new real estate for my thoughts…and for yours. So here I am. I’ll spend some time retrieving from the archives and re-posting some of the previous stuff. Looking forward to the conversations.