Friday, November 17, 2017

Precious Things

I wrote this in about half an hour while sitting in the back of the room at the Storytelling as Bungee Jumping event presented by the Writers of Central Florida or Thereabouts. Then I read it to the assembled crowd. I have no idea where it came from, but here it is...

I sat down in the coffee shop to write something. For no reason. I thought I'd start writing and see what came out. Usually, I have a purpose. This was just... random.

I go through these periods of self-reflection, wondering... what is the fucking point? I'm in one of those now.

Why is it that mankind has to try to find some meaning in life? I'm pretty sure cockroaches don't do this. Although, maybe I'm underestimating them.

Anyway, I sat down to write. I put on headphones. And, somehow, the first song I played was an obscure song by the The Who called "Cry If You Want." These are the first lines of the second verse...
Don't you get embarrassed when you read the precious things you said
Many, many years ago when life appeared rosy red
It's getting to the point where it's hard to remember my old self, my high school self. I didn't keep a journal. I still don't. I write a lot of my thoughts down now, of course, but I'm kind of glad I didn't then. I can't imagine how silly it would seem to me now.
Don't you get embarrassed when you read the precious things you said
Many, many years ago when life appeared rosy red
What was it like when your biggest concern was the giant zit that erupted on your forehead overnight? And why did it always happen on a Monday or Tuesday? So you had to walk the school hallways for the rest of the week with a festering Krakatoa erupting on your face?

What was it like when the most important side effect of badly breaking your right arm was having to learn how to masturbate left-handed?

I had questions then. Lots of questions. But I thought they'd be answered, one by one, as I grew up.

But... no.  Every time I answered one, another one came along. Sometimes they came in bunches. Lots of questions.

What is the fucking point?

What happens when you become convinced that  the only way people can be happy is if they're complete morons who are oblivious to what's going on around them?

What happens when you think to yourself, that, when you die, there might be some small group of people who are mildly upset, but at least you've made the owners of the funeral home happy?

What happens when you meet some wonderful woman, and you just walk away, thinking... no, she'd just break my heart anyway, if it wasn't already broken?

I have questions. Lots of questions.

There's not a decision I would take back. Not one. This is it. My magnum opus. This thing I created. This existence. In all its glory. In all its misery.

What if there is no fucking point?

I got up to pee, and get a fresh cup of coffee. I spoke to a couple of coffee shop regulars I see often. I lost my train of thought.

Then I looked through the lines I had just written. Jeezus. Where did that come from?

I leaned back. Closed my eyes. Took a deep breath. Put my headphones back on. And there was that song. "Cry If you Want."

Don't you get embarrassed when you read the precious things you said?

Friday, October 27, 2017

Cherries on Top

I presented this at the Ilyse Kusnetz Writing Festival: Master Class and Showcase at Valencia College on October 26.

It’s a product of my lifestyle (or maybe it’s a symptom) that I have a couple of beachside bars I regularly visit. One of them is Crackerjacks, a tiki bar perched on the edge of a small island in the shadow of the soaring bridge that crosses the Indian River Lagoon in Titusville.

Chillin' on the dock at Crackerjacks
Late on Sunday afternoons, I’m likely to be sitting on the dock, sipping a Rum Runner, waiting for the sunset. I usually see dolphins playing in the distance, and a slow parade of manatees passing under the pier.

I have come to value the time I spend there. It is like a punctuation mark that ends my week, and reminds me that a new one is to follow. I almost always see people I know, but I also take time to sit alone. It helps to stop every now and then, stop everything, and just feel alive. For some reason, it’s easy to do that on the dock at Crackerjacks. I’ll put my feet up on the old, wooden bench, and stay still long enough to feel my heart beating and my chest rising and falling with each breath.

It isn’t always peaceful bliss. I’ve been incredibly sad on that bench. Feeling sadness is part of being alive. Sometimes I think about the ways life has changed me, because change is part of being alive, too.

I used to believe there was at least some goodness inherent in all human beings. I’m not sure I believe that anymore. I used to believe love really does conquer all. I’m not sure I believe that anymore either. But Crackerjacks is a place I can contemplate these matters, and other less serious ones, as the sun dips below the horizon. It’s a home away from home.

Sometimes I stay long after sunset
Last October, that area became a home of another sort for a local family. When the father was laid off, and the mother’s income wasn’t enough to support them, they were forced to leave their apartment. They parked their van under the bridge, and stayed there. They had no place else to go.

A recent study by the Federal Reserve showed that 46% of American households did not have $400 on hand in the event of an unexpected or emergency expense.  46%. They’d have to borrow money, sell their possessions, or go without. Or worse. People living paycheck to paycheck are often only a week or two away from being homeless.

This particular household included two children. The boy looked to be about eight years old, the girl about ten. Every weekend, when I stopped at Crackerjacks, they’d be there. I can still see the parents as they tried to cope, the expression on their faces.  Confusion. Anxiety. Fear. But mostly… shame. They’d bow their heads, and look away from curious glances.

The kids acted like… kids. Sometimes laughing and playing, sometimes sitting around bored. There is alwayssomething happening on the pier. People are fishing and shrimping at all hours of the day. For the kids, it must have seemed like some crazy adventure.
Shrimpers on the pier under the bridge
But, in retrospect, I think they handled it so well because they knew they were loved. This was not normal, but mom and dad took care of them the best they could. They were the priority. They slept in the van. They washed in the public restroom. Their clothes were always clean.

Because they were local, there were people who knew their situation, and were sympathetic. A friend of mine is a school teacher in Titusville. Each week she would update me on what had happened.

One day, while sitting at a table in the shade of the thatched roof, she pointed and said, “Watch.”

A man she knew went over to the homeless father and held out his hand. Not to shake, but to give him something. The father declined at first, but the man insisted. It’s not hard to lip read when someone says thank you, but the look on the father’s face made that unnecessary.

“People have been helping them,” my friend said. “Ten, twenty, fifty dollars at a time.”

The bridge and pier at night
They would pull the father into shelter, behind a parked car or one of the massive support columns of the bridge, where he would not be embarrassed, and his children could not see.

I suppose I should mention that this is a black family. It shouldn’t matter to the story. But I think it’s relevant because this is a blue collar, white trash town. Confederate flags aren’t hard to find. Amazingly, neither are people willing to lend a hand.

The regulars and the staff at the bar pitched in. Uneaten sections of sandwiches and flatbreads were passed to the kids on paper plates. “Accidental” orders of French fries appeared, and were given to the young boy with a wink. The girl liked Sprite, so fountain drinks were served in a nearly endless supply.

One day, Heather was behind the bar. She was a part-timer who didn’t usually work Sundays.

The homeless girl hovered for a while, looking shy and uncertain, but she finally said, “Can I have a Sprite?”

Her mother was nearby, and, of course, provided a gentle reminder, “What do you say?”

“Pretty please.”

I knew Heather would be an easy target. She has two kids of her own. She scooped ice into a to-go cup, filled it with Sprite from the soda gun, and put it on the bar.

The young girl grabbed it, and started to walk away, saying, “Thank you.”

But Heather said, “Wait a minute!”

Heather took the cup, turned to the row of plastic bins on the bar, grabbed two Maraschino cherries, and dropped them on top of the icy liquid.

As long as I live, I will never forget the look on the girl’s face. Her smile was so wide and bright, it warmed everyone at the bar. After that, she turned and ran in the direction of the pier. No words were necessary.

Spectacular Crackerjacks sunset
The next time I visited Crackerjacks, the van was gone. I heard the father had gotten a new job, and the family had found a place to live, a home. I thought about all the people who had given them food and money. But I think the greatest gift they gave those children was the ability to go on thinking that goodness isinherent in mankind, and that love doesconquer all.

Every time I realize how simple life is for children, I wonder why adults make it so complicated. Life isn’t always easy, but it’s always beautiful. 

Maybe all you need is to know that someone loves you, no matter what. Maybe all you need is a warm hug and a cold drink. I’ll take some of that. Pretty please. With cherries on top.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Beach Art and Novels: Driven to Create

I adapted this from a previous version so that I might present it during the opening of a new exhibition, "Drawing the Unseen," at a Culture Pop event at the Art and History Museums in Maitland.

I'm trying to write a novel. The key word there is "trying." It's much more work than I thought it would be. It's mentally draining. It's frustrating. It's probably pointless. And the interesting thing is... it's not something I ever really wanted to do.

So... one might ask... why are you doing this?

The answer, of course, is because I have to.

Maya Angelou once wrote, "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."

And so it is with me.

I've been writing on and off for many years. I seem to have a knack for it. People seem to enjoy reading what I write. I've been paid to write. I've done it for free. And I've done it just because I felt like it.

Then came The Idea. This idea for a novel that planted itself in my head, and wouldn't go away.

I had never previously written fiction. Not once. Never even imagined myself as a fiction writer. When I found inspiration for some sort of long form writing, it was usually a historical narrative or maybe a travelogue. I actually like doing research, especially if it involves going somewhere.

But then came... The Idea.

During a vacation in the Virgin Islands, I noticed there were vestiges of facilities that dated back to World War II. And I became curious. So I did a bit of digging and thinking. Somehow, I combined that with thoughts I had from spending time in the Bahamas, injected some of my personal turmoil from the music business and the world of commercial radio, along with other details just to make things interesting, and it became... The Idea.

Phrases, plot details and character descriptions began boiling inside my head. I daydreamed them. I went to sleep with them. I woke up with them. I thought of them in the car, at the beach, in the grocery store, at the hairstylist, at the bar, and, yes, even in the men's room.

The Idea had become the dreaded untold story inside me.

And I knew it had to come out.

I'm trying.

But I now realize that some people are driven to create. It just happens. Whether they want it to or not.

I've often wondered about this when I see beach art.

I'm absolutely fascinated by it, for some reason. Bear in mind, my beach is pretty far off the beaten path. I've seen beach art that was at least a mile walk from the nearest parking space, and well beyond areas that most people frequent.

In some cases, the beach art is simple, and, obviously, relies on items that are already there (usually, trash). But, in other cases, it clearly took time, and thought. We're not talking about your basic sand castles. And there's usually more to it than just a passing desire to throw a few seashells into a pattern.

Some of them are really interesting. Some are even a bit creepy (the skeleton/hanging thing is my favorite).

Is there hidden symbolism involved? Things that are meaningful only to the creator?

The Oxford Dictionary defines art as "the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power."

The implication is that artists make things so others may enjoy them. I'm not sure that's entirely true. At least, not for every artist.

Obviously, the beach artists know their efforts will be obliterated, sooner or later, by the wind or the sea or the passage of time. And, based on the relatively remote location, they aren't motivated by the hope that others will see and appreciate the results of their efforts.

They just... do it.

What's the internal force that drives them to create?

Is this their untold story?

There is evidence that natural selection favors those with an innovative impulse - that thinking creatively might have been beneficial to pre-historic man when it came to finding ways to overcome the challenges presented by his environment.

But that doesn't really explain why he picked up bits of charcoal and pigments to scratch drawings on rocks, and on the walls of caves he inhabited.

It's a curious thing - this urge to leave a part of ourselves somewhere, in some way, even if only temporarily. Clearly, there is something about the act of creating that is as important, or more important, than the creation itself.

Were the paintings in places like Altamira and Lascaux nothing more than ancient graffiti? The caveman equivalent of "Killroy Was Here?"

Is the creative impulse like an itch? If we don't scratch, it will drive us crazy. But if we do, it will go away for a while...?

When my novel was taking shape in my head, it almost drove me crazy. It's become an itch that has to be scratched. It's an untold story begging to be told, and, while I will certainly be pleased if others like the finished product, I think I'll be happy just to have it done.

Maybe the itch will go away for a while.

At least until the next idea...

All photos by the author, except as indicated. All art by persons unknown.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Coffee Shop Anger

Note: I wrote this to read on stage at the Short Attention Span Storytelling Hour, a monthly gathering associated with the Writers of Central Florida or Thereabouts.

I hang out in coffee shops. I’ll admit it. I’ve become one of those people - a caffiend.

It’s basically the same as hanging out at a bar, but the drug is different.

Mostly, it’s as good thing. Load up on a few cups of the Sumatra stuff, and it’s surprising how much you can get done. I’m very productive in coffee shops. I’m driven. I’m determined. I can do my work, and still get some people-watching in, during those moments when I just have to stop and focus on something else.

Occasionally, I even have a meaningful interaction with someone at a nearby table. Or someone who has gotten up to pee at the same time as me.

Frequently, it’s a single seater restroom, and you have to stand in line with a complete strange. And, usually, It’s not awkward at all. You just kind of look at each other, and go, “Yes. I’ve had coffee. And I’m about to tinkle. You have a problem with that? No? Me neither.”

Then you have a quick convo… It’s almost like another version of speed dating. Caffeine dating…

Sometimes the conversation carries on, either in that moment or the next time you see that same person. And sometimes you just go back to your laptop and headphones.

But there are always the pretentious coffee shop patrons… the people who think they’re cool because they spend so much time hanging out in a coffee shop. Oh God, they’re so annoying.

They’ve been in there so many times that they think it’s ok to roam around and talk to anyone and everyone about… absolutely nothing.

“Hey, dude didn’t I see you here last week?”

“It’s quite possible, since you live here… like the fungus in the ventilation system.”

First of all, they’re usually men. So that’s annoying in itself. Here’s a hint for you… if you’re going to interrupt me when I’m coffeed up, focused, and in the middle of doing something productive, you should have a vagina, ok? It may not seem fair, but… hey… you know… life isn’t fair. And I have priorities.

Secondly, if you’re gonna spend that much time hanging out somewhere, it should be a bar. If you’re that annoying in a bar, someone will punch you in the face. And, if that happens, that’s definitely a story you can come tell me. So I can laugh my ass off while I listen to you explain the bruises and swelling.

So… you sit there, and these hipster wannabees are caffiened up and trying to chat with people. And they’re buzzing around the room like insects. Wouldn’t it be great if somebody invented a spray that would repel people like that? Instead of calling it “Off,” they could call it “Fuck Off.”

I’d use quarts at a time.

“Oh crap, I’m going in this coffee shop, gotta cover myself in Fuck Off.”

 (spraying noise)

“Stay away from me you little bastard.”

I know this is hard to believe, but I’m inherently a polite person. I understand that many of these people are just trying to fit in somewhere. And, usually, they don’t understand social cues.

So, if you’re one of them, and you come up to me when I look busy, I’ll pull my headphones off, stop what I’m doing, and humor you briefly. I’ll do my best to listen to whatever kind of horseshit you think it’s important to tell me. For a few minutes anyway. But you should know, if I start fidgeting with the cream or sugar, inside, I’m secretly wondering if the coffee stirrer is rigid enough to stab you in the eyeball.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Coffee Shop Awkwardness

Note: I wrote this to read on stage at the So You Think You Can Funny: A Comedy Cavalcade event, a monthly gathering associated with the Writers of Central Florida or Thereabouts. 

I hang out in coffee shops. Not the hipster kind of coffee shop hanging-out. I actually go to get work done. Not just to try to appear cool and make others nauseatingly aware of the fact that I haven’t bathed recently.

It may go without saying, but skinny jeans and man buns aren’t my style. And what is up with this out of control facial hair?

What’s the message there?

“I’m super cool cuz I stopped investing in razor blades…”  ??

“Oh yeah, man, I helped thwart Gillette in their quest for world domination…”  ??

I have news for you guys. ZZ Top already did that whole thing, ok? Way before the sexual rendezvous of your unfortunate parents produced the zygote that resulted in you.

Jesus Christ. (disgusted)

Why not find a new way to rebel? Become a soap and deodorant connoisseur. Or just eat some fucking food and wear regular jeans like normal people.

Ooooh. Your furry friends won’t know what to think.



I hang out in coffee shops. The experiences vary. Sometimes you make awkward eye contact with random people. Sometimes you just awkwardly avoid it. But… sometimes… you have a meaningful interaction. Something just… clicks.

Recently, there was a gal at the table next to me. Of course, we each had headphones on, and we were busy typing away at shit on our laptops, but we were both kind of ready for a break at the same time. You know… that moment when you have to unplug, and stretch, and look around. Maybe get up and pee.

I don’t recall who said what first, but we started talking. And… it was really easy. Maybe because I didn’t think anything of it. I was just… me. When I don’t try, the odd lines come naturally.

She asked what I did for work. I’ve learned that, when I tell people I teach online classes, and I’m a writer, they think I’m making that shit up. So, now… I just make shit up.

“Well, “ I said, “I have a backhoe and a wood chipper. So I was pulling and grinding tree stumps. But it turned into a lucrative side venture disposing of bodies.”


She didn’t laugh either.

She told me she was a lawyer, and I said, “Oh Jesus, I’m sorry.”

She did laugh at that.

“Actually, I enjoy it,” she said.

“That’s cool,” I said. “Life is much better when you like your job.”

There was an awkward pause, and I said, “I’m sorry. I just… kind of… throw shit out there sometimes.”

“Oh no, don’t apologize. It’s hard to find guys that are… honest. Honesty is really important to me.”

I said, “I can’t believe you have a hard time finding guys.”

She looked shy for a second, and she said, “Well, I am kinda… in a relationship. What about you?”

“Well, yeah… I kinda… I masturbate a lot.”

I learned two things immediately.

First, don’t be quite so forthcoming right after someone takes a giant sip of hot coffee.

Second... maybe that’s not the kind of honesty she had in mind.

She dabbed with a napkin. Then another. Then another. She snorted a lot of coffee, apparently. I apologized again.

“Oh no, “she said. “It’s my fault… You’re kinda funny.”

Hmm. Kinda funny. What did that mean? It could be a good thing. Like… kinda smart. Or… kinda cute. Or it could be a bad thing. Like… kind of an asshole.

Hmm. Kinda funny. Kinda funny? I didn’t know what to make of it. I really felt like we had a connection, you know? Something that should be explored. But I’ve been wrong about that before. Actually, I’m wrong… most of the time.

I just have a hard time recognizing social signals. Maybe I was overly optimistic. Or maybe just delusional. But I thought I felt something.

As all this was racing through my mind, she announced that it was time to leave.

Oh shit.

I don’t think I said that out loud. But I might have.

On the verge of panic, I took a breath and said, “Yeah… me too.”

I actually sounded calm.

I packed my shit and followed her out the door. Not quite like a pathetic puppy dog, but… pretty much like a pathetic puppy dog. I watched her get into her car. She drove one of those Fiat 500 things. It’s like something a modern Fred Flintstone would drive, but there’s not even enough room to stick your feet out through the floorboard.

I couldn’t help myself, I said, “You drive a gumball machine! What do you do? Put a quarter in a slot to turn the door handle?”

I guess she was already getting used to my comments. She laughed, closed the door and dropped the window as she started the car.

“You’re funny,” she said.

Hmm. Not kindafunny. Not kind of an asshole. Funny.

I gave her my business card. I didn’t know what else to do.

She looked at it and said, “Hi Brian. I’m Cindy.”

Hmm. Cindy. Cinnndy. The first syllable of her name was… sin. My mind raced. She backed out and pulled away.

Days went by. After many other awkward coffee shop moments, I’d forgotten about her.  Then… my phone rang.  A number I didn’t recognize. I usually don’t answer those calls, but, this time, I did.

“Hello,” I said.

A cute female voice said, “Brian? This is Cindy.”

Hmm. Cinnnndy.

I stuttered., “Hi… Cindy… I… I didn’t think you’d call.”

She laughed.

“Neither did I,” she said.

There was a long pause.

Finally, I said, “What do we do now?’

“I don’t know,” she said.

But she didn’t sound awkward. Just… calm. And… happy.

So I said, “Want to get a cup of coffee?”

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

An Album That Changed My Life - Houses of the Holy

The idea for this came from a friend who changed my life almost as much as this album did.

We were supposed to be in church. Well, my friend Mike was anyway.

Somehow, he had arrived at an arrangement with his mother. He would be allowed to go to the late mass, allegedly, with me and Mark. I think it was partly a matter of convenience. With his two sisters, they made a family of five who, as they all got to high school age, probably had a hard time fitting in their little car. So, the rest of them went to the early mass.

I think it was a matter of convenience in another way, too. It was becoming more of a battle to get Mike to worship every week, and, this way, his mother could let herself believe he went to church. And, while out of her sight, he could do what he wanted to do, which was drive around with his friends all afternoon.

That’s how Mark’s car came to be called “The Temple.” On most Sundays, if the surf wasn’t up, I would walk across the street to Mark’s house, and we’d drive around the corner to pick up Mike, ostensibly to go to church. Mark’s car had the best stereo system, so it became our place of worship, a rolling sanctuary where music and marijuana were doled out in strong doses.

We drove for hours, up and down our stretch of the Treasure Coast, from Vero Beach to Jupiter. Between us, we smoked a small forest of marijuana. And we listened to some incredible tunes. But the music selection was dominated by two bands. Pink Floyd. And Led Zeppelin.

Let me tell you a few things about Zeppelin. When they played live, they excelled at escalating their songs to crushing crescendos. A music writer at a Zeppelin show in Boston in 1969 saw concert-goers in the first few rows so invigorated by the band’s performance they began rhythmically slamming their foreheads against the front of the stage. It was from this event, and the subsequent review, that the term “headbangers” was coined.

But Zeppelin doesn’t get enough credit for their ability to unplug from the amps and play without losing their impact. They could be heavy and light. Their name, perhaps more so than any other band name, captures the essence of what they were.  Led. Zeppelin.

We explored the Led Zeppelin catalog in order. By then, everyone had heard the first two albums, and witnessed the blues being transformed into crunchy rock before their very ears. Led Zeppelin III was more acoustic and held hints of the Welsh countryside where most of the material was written. This was part of the genius of Led Zeppelin. Each album was distinctly different from the one that preceded it and the one that followed it, but still bore the unmistakable signature of the band.

After that came the fourth album, officially untitled, which combined the band’s different moods and influences with innovative production into something unique and eternal. And, of course, it informed the world that there just might be a Stairway to Heaven.  

The next one in line was called Houses of the Holy. This was an album that changed my life.

Each member of the band was at his musical peak. Bassist John Paul Jones had introduced the Mellotron to his repertoire. Robert Plant’s rangy yet throaty voice had never been better. John Bonham’s drumming was powerful to the point of being intimidating. Jimmy Page, in addition to being one of the greatest rock guitar players that’s ever lived, had become a gifted producer.

Page had perfected his technique of recording guitars by placing a microphone right in front of the speaker cabinet, as per the usual method, but also placing a microphone twenty-five feet behind it, and running the combined signal into one channel. The effect of this was that it recorded the sound in the space between the two microphones, and captured the ever-elusive ambience of the room in a simple but remarkable way.

I’ve never heard guitar tones better than those on Houses of the Holy. And they were recorded in 1972.

The album dripped with the raw energy of their earlier work, but it was more refined. It would still test the pain threshold of your ear drums if you wanted it to, but it had a pop sensibility that wasn’t in the first four albums. The subject matter wasn’t confined to the usual sexual angst or medieval lore.

 The first track is called “The Song Remains the Same.” Conceptually, it’s a simple expression of unity, the idea that music gives us all common ground. But the song is anything but simple. When I first heard the guitar work, my jaw dropped. It still does.

“Dancing Days” and “Over the Hills and Faraway” are rollicking party songs, the former with a simple but clever guitar riff, the latter with a folky twelve string acoustic opening that segues quickly and powerfully to Page’s layered electric guitars and Plant’s wailing vocals.

“The Crunge” and “D’yer Maker” contain elements of funk and reggae - and humor - that confuse music critics, but, ultimately, display even more of the band’s versatility.

“The Ocean” is a tribute to the fans as they appeared from the band’s point of view on stage – a rocking and rolling sea of people.

“No Quarter” is a dark song that’s dominated in the early portion by Jones’ keyboards. The production style gives it an eerie, almost psychedelic feel. Plant sings of howling dogs of doom and soldiers walking side by side with death. The middle section features an unusual guitar solo by Page, but each member of the band is suitably showcased. When played in concert, it stretched to twelve or fifteen minutes long, and ended in a knee-shaking climax.

Finally, there is “The Rain Song,” a seven and a half minute guitar symphony, with a healthy touch of the Mellotron. Using seasons and weather as an extended metaphor for emotions, Plant’s lyrics tell of the changes that occur in relationships.

I think I knew even then that “The Rain Song” would resonate with me decades into the future.

It was near the end of my senior year in high school. Mike and I were going off to different colleges. Mark was staying behind. Each of us was changing, and we knew it. Our relationship with each other was changing. We knew that too. But we behaved in that peculiar way teenage boys do, unable or unwilling to express complex emotions.

And then comes House of the Holy… with this whole range of feelings I hadn’t expected from a Led Zeppelin album; love, loss, friendship, confusion, sorrow… If the artistic growth of a band can be compared to the course of a human lifetime, like us, this raucus teen was becoming an adult.

I had avoided lengthy relationships with girls. I didn’t do break-ups well. I still don’t. I wanted the trust and comfort level that comes with commitment and time spent together. But I was terrified of being vulnerable, and of what the end might be like. That which I craved most was also that which I feared most.

Some things never change.

My friends and I discussed lyrics that touched us in one way or another, but never talked about why, or how. We recognized the power of music to penetrate pockets of emotion we didn’t want to acknowledge, or didn’t even know we had. But that was as far as we would go. My favorite songs usually expressed the things I felt, but didn’t have the nerve to say.

I will never forget this one Sunday. We were supposed to be in church. Or, at least, my friend Mike was.

But we were in The Temple, driving around, listening to Houses of the Holy. “The Rain Song” came on. It was a beautiful, sunny day. And there was something about that moment that struck us, the three of us.

All the things we were thinking about were there, in one song. Love, loss, friendship, confusion, sorrow. Beginnings… and endings.

Mike piped up from the back seat, and in the long, slow, drawl of someone who was very stoned, said, “Wow. I wish it would rain.”

Just then… I swear to you on a stack of Led Zeppelin albums… I saw a few small splashes on the windshield. Then a few more. Then a steady sprinkle for about thirty seconds. And then it was gone.


“Holy shit.”

“Are you kidding me?”

I can’t recall who said what, but I remember hearing those words.

After that, it was a long time before any of us spoke again.

I don’t believe in miracles, so I don’t know what to say about that afternoon, that moment.

Maybe it’s better left unsaid.

When we dropped Mike off a few hours later, his mother was standing in the driveway, smoking a cigarette. As he walked past, she raised a skeptical eyebrow, that gesture of silent interrogation parents do so well. There would have been no use trying to explain that we’d had a spiritual experience far more powerful than any we could have had at St. Patrick’s.

A few weeks later, I was gone. Off to college. I don’t recall any long good-byes. I just… left.

Every time I hear Houses of the Holy, I think of Mike and Mark, and of many other people, too. I think of relationships that didn’t end the way I wanted, or that ended for no reason at all. I think of all the things I left unsaid, and of what I would tell each of those people, if I had the chance.

Because, you see, I can say it now.

But I still can’t say it any better than Robert Plant did...

I’ve felt the coldness of my winter
I never thought it would ever go
I cursed the gloom that fell upon us
But I know that I love you so         

Track Listing –

The Song Remains the Same
The Rain Song
Over the Hills and Faraway
The Crunge
Dancing Days
D’yer Ma’ker
No Quarter
The Ocean