I started writing this as a justification for, and explanation of, some of the conclusions I have come to in the course of my life. It is turning into something of much greater scope, or maybe not. I would like to say at the outset that this is a fantasy based on a true story. I say “fantasy” because it is my version of the events of a lifetime. While the facts are true, my recollection may be faulty and I am presenting a subjective, and therefore biased, point of view. But, how can it be otherwise? For that I apologize but, I’m going to write it anyway. If anyone has a beef with my recollection, feel free to contact me and, if I feel so inclined, I may make corrections, or not. If it really bothers you, write your own damn book!
This work is a compilation of essays, notes and short stories; hence the mix of points of view, and tense.
That being said; this is a self-centered attempt to put the facts of my life in order, much as science is the attempt by humans to put the facts of nature into order. And I try to apply the same scientific method:
Does it make sense?
Does it violate anything we know to be true?
Does it explain something we couldn’t explain before?
Can we use this fact to make predictions?
Hopefully, it will help to explain how I got to some of the conclusions I am espousing and to show that every life is molded by the choices we make as we come into contact with people and events over which we appear to have little or no control. We always have a choice. It may be between two equally objectionable paths, but it’s still a choice.
As this work progresses, I see how the various choices I have made have defined my path. I present it as an example of consciousness creating matter. As I continue to form myself by the choices I make in my awareness of, and reaction to, “external” people and events, it becomes obvious that we are all interconnected and interdependent.
* * *
As a youth, I began questioning things, everything. Why are we, as humans, caught between the macrocosm in microcosm? What keeps the electron from falling into the nucleus? I knew there were 92 regenerative elements in the periodic table, why only 92? Why is calculus so confusing?
As the 20th century, and I, progressed, and science dug deeper and uncovered more and more of the facts; instead of clarifying things, it just got more confusing. Color enhanced images from the space telescopes showed us wonders beyond imagining. Super electron microscopes showed us what molecules and atoms actually looked like. The Large Hadron Collider confirmed, more or less, the existence of the Higgs boson, the so-called “God particle.”
It’s going to take another $20 billion and 20 years to sort through the data. Each of these discoveries opens new questions for science, and appear to be confirming my own questioning.
I was also having a difficult time resolving the teachings I had received growing up Catholic, with the discoveries I was making in science. Extensive and continued reading of Bucky Fuller, Christ, Jane Roberts and Seth, David Wilcock, Stephen W Hawking, Richard Feynman, Loren Eisley, Arthur C Clarke, William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, et. al. and the questions they raised or resolved, generally confirmed my own application of the concepts.
* * *
On Growing up Catholic
I am limiting this to Catholicism because it’s the only religious background I know. It may apply in other branches of Christianity, or amongst the heathen condemned to Hell but, I can’t speak for them.
We Catholics all have in common certain rInuals; Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation. The way it worked in virtually every family I knew; Mom was a good Catholic. Dad usually had better things to do on a Sunday morning; fishing or golf or sleeping in. Mom would get us up, much against our will, get us all cleaned up, dressed up, into the station wagon and off to St. Anthony’s for 9 o’clock Mass. I don’t remember anything about my Baptism but, I’ve seen so many pictures of myself and others that I am sure it is somehow burned into our collective psyche; not to mention Circumcision, another ritual of which I have no recollection but, I’m sure is burned into half of our psyche. I do however, remember first Communion quite well! I was about 10 years old.
The lead up to First Communion consisted of a series of classes based on The Baltimore Catechism. The only thing I remember about the classes was the final exam. This consisted of several of the parish priests seated in a row, facing us, on one side of several long tables. Each priest would call out a name and a kid and his mother would approach the table and answer a series of questions. I was jolted awake as I heard my name called and almost panicked as I realized it was being called by Father Francis, the oldest, toughest and most strident of our priests. I approached with much trepidation.
The very first question was, “Who created man?.”
Who created man, who created man? I was breaking into a sweat! It wasn’t the Apostles, it wasn’t Jesus. Who could it be?
My mother sensed my panic or maybe it was the whites of my eyes or maybe the beads sweat on my upper lip.
“Oh honey, you know this.” To Father Francis, “He knows this, Father Francis. Give him a second.”
(Eternally Long Pause)
Now it was the whites of her eyes and beads of sweat on her lip.
My field of vision was closing down, my head began to swim.
What can I do, what can I do?
Father Francis rolled his eyes!
He said, “Dis’ a you know, I tink. Make’a like’a…a’ Gee… (Pause)… Ohhh…
G… O… Oh, what is the man trying to tell me? What is this secret Code? G… O…
Suddenly a shudder! It hit me!
“D? ,” I shrieked in relief!
Everyone around me applauded. Not necessarily for me but, as an expression of sheer relief!
My mother was beaming.
Somehow, I got through the rest of the final exam without any fatal errors. I had made it!
So, I got my white suit, white shoes, white crucifix armband, washed up and a haircut. I was ready to roll! The day was a blur; church in the morning, receiving First Communion then; getting home, off with the suit and ready for the Communion Part a a a y! Payoff time!
Now, I knew from my older cousins in The City, that First Communion was treated much like a Birthday or Christmas and the key player (me) would be given gifts by all of my relatives in attendance and many of whom who were not, usually in the form of cash.
I think I got $48 that day. I remember the number because I remember walking around telling people that all I needed was another two dollars and I would have enough to buy the new bike I was looking at. I had no idea how rude I was being. Hey, I was 10!
Prior to Confirmation we attended confraternity classes on Wednesday afternoon, 4 till 6 PM. It wasn’t too bad. I kind of liked Charlotte Domow, the girl who sat next to me in class. She liked making funny jokes about mountains and boobs. I was going to ask her to the next CYO dance but choked when I tried to call her two days before. I was such a wimp!
By this time I was getting pretty bored with ritual and my Confirmation wasn’t very memorable.
In high school, when my cousins periodically came out from the city to our suburban getaway, I was always surprised at how worldly they were in spite of, or perhaps because of their stricter religious training. They always told the most off-color jokes and seemed so much more sophisticated than we “country” rubes. My biggest awakening, however, came when I took a rare trip into the city to stay with my cousin Jimmy for a weekend.
Several of my mother’s sisters; Francie, Jeannie and Marilyn (my godmother and the youngest of the sisters) lived on the same block, Charlotte Street, on the Queens/Brooklyn border.
Now, Jimmy was a few years older than I but many years wiser and much more worldly. Ironically, he was much more grounded in religious teachings than I and yet, or perhaps because of this fact, seemed to know how to get into trouble with far more skill. I remember hanging out in the Bohacks parking lot where the supermarket chain parked the empty tractor-trailers. Jimmy took one of the girls who were hanging out with us into one of the empty trailers for about 20 minutes. They both came out laughing. I had no idea what was going on but it sure seemed interesting.That same weekend we witnessed a gas station on fire among other things. It seemed like such a different world and I was more than a bit uncomfortable.
My cousin Johnny, known affectionately as Johnny Boy, had already been in the seminary for about three years by this time. I resembled him enough that my aunt Francie, the family matriarch and dominant female, would constantly grab me and smother me in her ample bosom while sobbing about how much she missed her Johnny.
Prior to his final year, Johnny came out to once more experience the outside world. He got a job in a bank and never went back.
A few years later, after Jimmy graduated high school and started working for the telephone company, I remember him coming to our house and falling asleep after dinner, in a chair, with his pocket protector full of pens and pencils. Such was life in our family. One day you were happy go lucky kid the next day you are grown up and the fun was over. This is what it meant to grow up in our family and I decided I would have none of it. I just decided never to grow up. A promise I have kept for over 55 years!
I defended Catholicism through my high school years but found it way too contradictory and abandoned it around my second year of college; even though I continued not eating meat on Friday for years; long after the church stopped requiring it. To this day I get a hankering for Chinese food almost every Friday, and generally refuse to work on Sunday. Strange how old ideas hang on.
My mother remained Catholic until the death of my brother at the age of 20. He had been in a motorcycle accident during his sophomore year of college in upstate NY. He lived for three days with my mother constantly praying at his side for the last two of those days. After he passed Mom couldn’t go inside a church again without bringing up too many painful memories. This, despite the fact that we have priests in the family and generally have a mass in the backyard during family reunions.
She did, however, receive Last Rites before she passed away. Her comment at the time:
“Hey, you never know.”
She passed two weeks later. I hope she got what she wanted, whatever it was.
* * *
In the Beginning…
There wasn’t a room big enough to contain both my father and me. By the time I was 10 or 12, his personality and mine had become polar opposites and I began questioning everything he told me. Actually, I questioned anything anybody told me. It was the beginning of an anti-authoritarian nature which would serve me well but for which I would pay dearly.
My father never had much time for me; or at least that was my perception. I would find out years later that he had been told, at the time, that he wouldn’t live much past 40. He had been in the 101st Airborne Division, the subject of the book Band of Brothers, and was wounded in France weeks before the D-Day invasion of Normandy. The military had done some type of experimental surgery on him and they weren’t sure of the long-term results. So they gave him a pension and a pat on the back and he was truly grateful. He eventually died of liver cancer at the age of 66. I’m sure it was exacerbated by years of working as a splicer for Bell Telephone and breathing carbon tetrachloride fumes. The solvent was used to clean wires prior to soldering in the underground manholes.
As a child of the depression he took work very seriously and was quite disappointed that I, a child of the 60s, did not. I remember his marijuana advice to me, “Son, if you ever get caught with marijuana, heroin or any of those other drugs; don’t bother calling or coming home.” End of the lecture.
I came to terms with Dad before he died but, I was determined to do something different with my kids and my life.
The World’s Fair
During the summer between my junior and senior years in high school I was introduced to the world via the 1964 NY World’s Fair. I believe it was the last of the great world’s fairs.
I had just gotten my senior drivers license and could take Dad’s VW Beetle (one of the first on Long Island) into Flushing where I spent many days and nights visiting such wonders as: the Republic of China Pavilion where I discovered real Chinese food ( as opposed to shrimp chow mein on a Friday night); the IBM Pavilion, a huge egg with a sliding people wall that introduced us to a multiscreen IMAX many years before it became popular; The House of the Future an underground, eco-friendly home. Ford showed us the cars of the future.
The Coca-Cola Pavilion was my favorite; with its simulated, walk-through environments but, very few people knew it housed an amazing amateur radio station with every piece of cutting-edge equipment provided by Hallicrafters, Hammerlund et al. Having just gotten my General Class Amateur Radio License, I was really excited when my high school club got to run the station for a full night. Even though I got stuck operating the two meter rig, which has a very limited range, I had a delightful evening! For me the fair was a beacon, a life-changing event that sent me in a new direction. I wanted to see how this New World worked!
* * *
A Very Lucky Guy
My brother had always been considered a very lucky guy.
When I was about 12 and he was 11 we built a cart with some discarded baby carriage wheels, some two by fours and a wooden box. Ropes for steering. You know the ones we saw on Spanky and Our Gang. We lived in an L-shaped ranch house on a quarter acre, adjacent to a subdivision (what we called a development) just off Jericho Turnpike (Route 25) between Smithtown and Commack on Long Island. When we first saw the house it was literally at the end of a dirt road! By the time Dad bought it and we moved in, it was the last non-tract house that backed on acres and acres of little houses made of ticky-tacky.
Now, this was a pretty hilly area and the street behind us, which ran parallel to our’s, was quite steep and, as it didn’t really go anywhere yet, we felt pretty safe hauling the cart up the hill and rolling down, achieving bone jarring speeds while hurtling across an active road at the bottom. Now that’s what we called fun! So, I was taking it down for a ride when I heard a muffled explosion behind me. When I reached the bottom Billy Monahan, our buddy from the development, came running down the hill saying, “Look what your brother did to his face!”
It was getting dark, so I turned his face up to a nearby streetlight and looked at it.
“Your face looks like a tennis ball that got pulled out of a fire! It’s all cracked!”
“You think mom will notice?”
“Ummm… Well… Ahh. Hey Billy, you take Rick home and I’ll go get the cart.”
I was seriously hoping that mom would’ve gotten over her initial shock by the time I showed up. Besides any explanation coming from Billy would have more veracity, with my mother, then anything coming from Rick or me. I mean Billy was going to Seton Hall. He was so Catholic!
By the time I dragged the cart home, Rick was sitting in the back of a police car apparently in quite a bit of pain. I was sensing trouble closing in!
“I don’t know!”
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
“I mean I don’t know. He found some lacquer cans and dumps them out on the ground and tried the light it. Nothing happened. So, I guess he dropped one of the matches into the can and it blew up. I don’t know!”
I never was a very good liar.
When he came back from the hospital he looked like some kind of freak! They had peeled all of the cracked skin off his face including eyebrows and eyelashes. He looked like a pink, peeled grape. It was gross! But they had him on some good pain meds and he took it all in stride. They told Mom he’d probably have permanent scars.
At first his eyelids would get stuck together at night and Mom would have to soak them open in the morning. Then, later, his eyelids got stuck open. He could hold them shut long enough to fall asleep but then they would pop open as he got into REM sleep so you would see his eyeballs moving around while his eyes were wide open. Now, that was freaky! The first time my mother saw it, she thought he was having some kind of seizure!
Well, he healed nicely and the only reminder of the burns were two, light scar lines below his eyes that only showed up when he blushed.
Several years later, as a senior volunteer in Boy Scouts, Rick was on a weekend camping trip and accidentally hit his shin with a hatchet and went to the hospital. He took a few stitches, got a tetanus shot and went back to the campsite. It was raining that night and apparently he got a bit of a chill. By Sunday evening he was running a temperature of about 103 which concerned my mother enough to call our family doctor. After some consultation, a police car came and he headed to the hospital as the temperature hit 105. At the hospital the temperature peaked at 107.5 and he was packed in ice to drop the temperature. The doctors told Mom that he faced serious brain damage. A few days after the fever broke, Rick was back in school. If there was any brain damage it was never apparent. He told me at the time that he was able to imagine any scenario, close his eyes, and dream it into reality. He would imagine having sex with the nurse, close his eyes and he’d be lucid dreaming it. I guess, if that’s brain damage, bring it on!
His luck ran out when he was 19.
I was in the Air Force, stationed in Italy at that time and Rick was going to Alfred University, the same school I had dropped out of the year before. He was coming back from Buffalo on a Sunday night on a two-lane stretch of road when two girls pulled out in front of him as he was descending a hill. He hit the front fender, went through the windshield and wound up in the front seat with the two girls. His helmet had been ripped off. I can’t imagine what they must’ve gone through.
He lived for three days. Back then, flights from Long Island to Buffalo were few and far between. So, my uncle Charlie drove Mom and Dad up to Alfred; about an eight hour trip back then. Mom prayed by Rick’s bedside, at the hospital, for two days to no avail.
My mother couldn’t go into a church after that. She said it made her too depressed and she pretty much walked away from the church. A few weeks before she died we called in a priest to give her Last Rights. Afterwards, she said to me, “Hey, you never know.”
She died several weeks later. When she woke up on Thursday and didn’t want a cigarette with her coffee I suspected the end was near. She died the following Tuesday. I hope she found the answer she was looking for.
* * *
The Fledgling Years
I left for college in the fall of 1965 and never looked back. I did go home a few times and, after constant battles about getting my hair cut, decided it just wasn’t worth it. It didn’t seem to bother Dad that I was smoking three packs of cigarettes a day, at least I wasn’t smoking pot. I was jumping out of the nest. It would take me a long time to discover my wings and, I had to learn to fly on the way down.
The Beatles had burst onto the scene and I discovered music, a gift I cherish to this day. Rolling Stones, Young Rascals, CCR, Shawn Phillips, Billy Joel, Simon and Garfunkel; all contributed to my evolution and supported me through some rough times. I thank them all, a debt of gratitude which I can never hope to repay.
I guess being born in 1947 puts me toward the front edge of the Baby Boom. Unfortunately, I was right on the cusp of the sexual revolution, missed it by about two years. In my day it seemed like everyone I knew got their high school sweetheart pregnant and got married. For us that’s what it was all about. And drugs? I couldn’t even talk about drugs in public until I was out of the service in 1971 due to security classifications.
* * *
I got the call in October 1966, the beginning of my sophomore year. After having had actual sex for the first (and only) time that summer, less than a month before, she was pregnant. When I went home for Thanksgiving break I tried seeing a priest to see if we could get married in December. When he asked me bluntly if she was pregnant, I was so taken aback and embarrassed, that I said, “No!” He then informed me that we would have to announce Bans and… Blah, blah, blah, the best we could hope for would be Spring Break. So we tried her minister and he managed to fit us into his schedule so that we could be married by Christmas. I never even told my parents about the pregnancy. I was still naïve enough to think they hadn’t figured it out.
We were off and running… Well, one of us was running and the other was being dragged at the end of a leash. I should have known, when she informed me that she was going to put the baby up for adoption. No discussion. No, “How do you feel about it?” That’s just the way it was. She didn’t want me at the hospital and I never saw the baby, at that point in my life I didn’t realize the choices I had. It was setting a very poor pattern which I was going to live with for most of my life.
We spent that winter in a single wide trailer on a river in Almond NY and the baby was born in June. After attending a class we affectionately called “Steam Shovel,” which I had entered with every intention of completing my degree program in Ceramic Engineering, I packed up my books and went to the recruiter in Buffalo to enlist in the Air Force. This was 1967, the height of the Vietnam War and the draft. There were waiting lines on Long Island for the non-infantry branches and I got into the Air Force through a delayed enlistment program in Buffalo. I trained as a language specialist in Serbo-Croatian, the language of Yugoslavia and spent 18 months in southern Italy listening to Yugoslav pilots yell at each other. I just didn’t want to carry a gun in somebody else’s backyard, I knew what I would do if someone came into my backyard with a gun. This was my convoluted way of avoiding the draft.
It was around this time that I discovered the Whole Earth Catalog. After all my questioning of religion and science here was a portal to another world, new ideas and my introduction to Richard Buckminster Fuller. It would be several years before Synergetics and Synergetics Volume 2 were published, another life-changing event!
* * *
A Troubling Discharge
I was discharged from the Air Force in 1971. I had been stationed in San Angelo, TX and decided to stay in Texas for the then foreseeable future. We had friends living in San Antonio and I was trying to see if I could get employment there. I finally landed a job working with Tobin Research creating maps from aerial photographs. We had a very odd work schedule, we worked nights for one week then switched to days the following week which gave us a long weekend every other week, from 3 o’clock on Friday until 3 o’clock on Monday. So I would stay in San Antonio, working until Friday afternoon. As I had left the car with my wife in San Angelo, it required me hitchhiking or taking the bus the approximately 250 miles from San Antonio to San Angelo. I would get to San Angelo sometime Friday night and turnaround Saturday morning and drive myself, my wife, and our one-year-old infant son back to San Antonio to look for an apartment. On Sunday we would drive back to San Angelo and, either Sunday night or Monday, I would hitchhike back to San Antonio, logging about 1000 miles per weekend.
It was an interesting period and I got to see much of Texas especially the Permian basin. We finally relocated to San Antonio in the following fall and I started a course in Architecture at San Antonio College where I spent the next two years. Having just spent nine months studying Serbo-Croatian at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey CA where we had six hours a day of classes and four hours of homework. I knew how to study!
We spent a lot of time visiting Austin, San Marcos and much of the hill country. I then got a job with Dow Chemical writing a newsletter for their Styrene Division in Lake Jackson TX. We spent an interesting seven years down there including having a second child and having the opportunity to fire Dr. Ron Paul (yes the Ron Paul) for his callous attitude towards his patients. He seemed more interested in making money than performing a service but that’s another story.
I worked as a model builder designing chemical plants and unfold in the phone number. One week we decided to take a vacation in Mexico City. We didn’t realize that it was Holy Week and the city was quite shut down which probably made for a nicer stay. I tried looking for work down there for the next year and, after having given up and devoting my time to the house, a friend placed an ad from the newspaper on my desk:
Model Builders wanted for Mexico City contract.
And the phone number.
Two weeks after that day, I stepped foot in Mexico City to start my new job. We had rented out the house, sold one of the cars and put all of our furniture in storage. When we told Adrian’s teachers we were going the Mexico City one of them told us he would get more education living in a foreign country then he would out of third grade in Texas.
After a year in Mexico City which we tried to extend, we returned to Texas in the Houston area where I worked for several years for CE Lummus, a major engineering firm, again building models of chemical plants, the job I truly enjoyed.
* * *
My wife and I spent a tumultuous 28 years together; many of which we enjoyed. I took the whole “married for life” thing very seriously. I didn’t realize what an anachronism we were, until I read one of my sons written pieces for school where he talks about his parents being married and having always been together and how they lived in their own house . It just seemed so mundane, until I read some of the other stories at a parent-teacher night. I realized all of their friend’s parents were divorced, or they were living with grandparents, or living with older siblings and that we were really the ones out of the ordinary. I guess I always took a sense of pride in that. But there was something missing. The mother of my children had some serious issues. She had been abused as a child to the point of having shot and killed her father during our junior year in high school.
It was Valentine’s Day 1964, our Junior year in high school, and I was surprised that she hadn’t shown up for school that morning. When I got home my mother was waiting to inform me that my girlfriend had shot her father. I was 16 at the time. And, while I was quite shattered by the experience, it was a Friday night so, much to my mother’s chagrin, I went out to the usual Friday night movie scene where I was besieged with questions I couldn’t answer.
She spent about six months in one of the state hospitals Long Island is famous for. What little communication we had was by written letters only. I did visit her in the hospital once but, after talking to her for about 15 minutes the doctor came in and asked me if I was her brother and, when informed that I was her boyfriend, I was promptly led out of the hospital.
This made for a rather arbitrary sex life. My wife had been taught that sex was what a woman used to get what she wanted from a man. For her it was a tool. I just assumed all women disliked sex.
Due to a thyroid problem, discovered many years after our divorce, my wife had two periods a month and a week of PMS before and after each one. Yeah, add it up! If I was lucky I got it about once a month which took me about a minute and a half to complete. We’ll just call it a sexless marriage. I probably contributed my own anxieties to the situation. Remember, I came from a generation where we got pregnant, we got married; that’s how it worked. Mom was supposed to take care of the kids and Dad worked. Of course, by this time Mom also wanted a career, and kids, and the house and equality. This also implied the right to choose between these directions arbitrarily; except when it came to shoveling snow and fixing the car and lifting heavy shit. Did I mention that Dad had to provide most of the income? Don’t get me started. And I hadn’t even met my first real feminist yet.
My wife was a pathological liar. You know, one of those people who can lie to you straight to your face and could probably pass a polygraph without even trying. Couple that with the fact that I really dislike confrontations and it’s a very bad combination. As when she told me she had to work late at her Dentist’s office and I had to go by later to get something from her car. I noticed that it was in the parking lot, with the office empty and dark. I also noticed that the black dress she had picked up from the cleaner was no longer in the car. I didn’t bother to confront her about it. Maybe I should have.
On another occasion I had received $6000 in cash from a customer of my construction business. I picked up the money late on a Friday, stuffed it in my glove compartment and forgot about it. The next morning we decided to go to Smith’s Point beach with our new four-wheel-drive Nissan Pathfinder. In order to drive in the soft sand it was recommended we drop the tire pressure and we spent the next two days camping on the beach. On the way out I refilled the tires and asked her to grab my tire pressure gauge from the glove compartment. As I’m checking the tires she decides to straighten out the glove compartment.
On the way home she very strangely decided we should stop at the Walt Whitman Mall, in Huntington, before we go home and get showers, even though the mall required us to go out of the way by a significant amount. It was odd, but nothing crazy. Then she told Gabe and me to go off by ourselves while she did some shopping on her own, very unusual. We reconnected in an hour and headed back to the car where she loudly announces, “You left the car unlocked.”
I had forgotten about the money; until Monday morning when my partner, Jack, brought it up. I immediately went out to the car to check in the glove compartment which was all neatly cleaned up but; the envelope with the $6000 in hundred dollar bills was gone! I immediately called home and when I asked was told emphatically, “No!”, there had been no money in the glove compartment. “It probably got stolen at the mall when you left the car doors open.” End of discussion. Turns out the distrust this precipitated between my partner Jack and me led to the demise of the company. I often wonder if it was intended to do just that.
It wasn’t until a year later that I found the envelope with three $100 bills in it; in a drawer, in a round table we had in the bedroom; with a tablecloth over it. It was a pattern I would see again and again and would rarely confront.
* * *
Adding Children to the Mix
When our first son, Adrian, was born we were advised to; give him a bath, put him to bed, let him cry for a bit, maybe go out for a walk and, let him cry himself to sleep. So, the first day home, we put Adrian into bed at 7 o’clock and, lo and behold, he slept right through until 7 o’clock the next morning. We even called the pediatrician’s office the next morning to ask if we should wake him up for feeding and the nurse said, “No, no! Whatever you do, don’t wake him up!” I can remember the few times he actually woke up at night. We were blessed. And, we knew we were damn good parents.
Five years later Gabe was born. A child who woke up three times a night for three years. Oh, we tried letting him sleep and he would, until he got hungry, or wet, or just plain annoyed. Then he wouldn’t stop screaming until the wrong was corrected; a characteristic which would prove to be a blessing and a curse. As he was being breast-fed and, as my wife was a very sound sleeper, I would actually; get him up, hook him up, let him eat, pop him off and put him back into bed without ever waking her up. Boy, was I trained well!
My wife was working evenings and I was on a rotating shift in the Air Force when Adrian was born which meant that I got to stay home with him most days. I was doing it all; cooking, cleaning, laundry. Keep in mind; we were using cloth diapers in those days! But, for all the work, I really did enjoy it! I grew up with my kids and did all of the things my father rarely did with me; bowling, fishing, bicycling. My wife on the other hand went into a serious depression immediately after each kid’s birth and was bipolar before the term became popular. It seemed that most of my work as a father consisted of protecting my kids from my wife. Now remember, back in those days if a couple got a divorce, Mom got custody of the kids. It rarely went the other way and I decided early on that I would not let another man raise my kids. So, I bonded with the kids and tolerated my wife because I couldn’t accept any other solution. We did camping, soccer, Boy Scouts, a lot of fishing; everything I could to determine interest and feed passions. This lead to many pitched battles.
* * *
The Blue Man
When Adrian was about five years old I was sitting at the dining room table taking a bong hit from one of my prized possessions. It was a blue ceramic bong in the shape of a tree with an old man’s face. The old man’s beard formed the bowl. As I was taking a hit I noticed Adrian watching me with rapt fascination. I was reminded of my own fascination with my father and mother smoking. I was constantly being told that I couldn’t smoke until I was 18. What a goal this was for me! I had to make a choice; do I subscribe to my parents hypocrisy or tell him the truth? I decided then and there that I would have to quit smoking pot which I did for the next 20 years.
The kids and I talked about drugs quite a bit. I wanted them to be informed so they could make their own choices. Neither one of them had even tried anything, other than an occasional beer, until their early 20’s. Adrian even had trouble convincing the recruiter that he had never even tried pot. This was somewhere around 1990.
Some years later we had a family reunion. Gabe, Adrian, my mother, Adrian’s girlfriend and Suzi and I all met at mom’s house in Georgia. I started telling the story about the bong and Adrian’s eyes lit up.
“The blue man who gargled!”
He proceeded to describe the bong in detail as well as my carved wooden stash box with its miniature combination lock. I had forgotten all about them. It’s amazing what imprints on a child’s mind, something we all need to think about.
I contend that everyone has their drug; it may be marijuana, alcohol, nicotine, sex, religion; legal or otherwise! The question one has to ask is; do the benefits outweigh the risks? Are the potential health risks to the body and mind worth it? We each have to ask and answer it for ourselves. A journalist, who was at the New School in Manhattan with several members of the “Beat” generation, reported them as saying collectively that if they had known what the use of drugs would do to them in later life they never would have done them. I think in all cases, moderation and understanding of potential risk are essential.
[Detail musical instruments, Scout meetings etc. (?)]
* * *
One of our big issues had to do with favoritism. My brother Rick and I had been treated very fairly; almost to a fault. My wife, on the other hand, was the favorite in her family, with her brother taking the brunt of abuse. I found it particularly troubling when she and her mother played favorites with my kids. Gabe could do nothing wrong and Adrian could do nothing right. Adrian was always the more intense while Gabe was the charmer. He could lie straight to your face and bat his eyes and you would believe him. Adrian and I, on the other hand, are incapable of actually lying and quickly collapse under any type of scrutiny; a trait we have paid for many times over.
One day the five of us, we were living at her mother’s house, returned home from a long day of shopping. We were all tired, hungry and a bit cranky. Adrian was asked to get down some plates. As he reached to the shelf over his head the top plate slid off and crashed to the floor and shattered. Adrian, startled and self-conscious, ran off to his room, afraid of the repercussions. His grandmother and my wife were both quite pissed and demanded an apology.
I told Adrian very simply that he should apologize to his grandmother even though he had done nothing wrong. I heard him go upstairs knock on her door and say, “Grandma, I’m sorry.” She immediately berated him, telling him how careless he was and that he should be ashamed of himself for breaking one of her dishes and would have to pay for it. Then she closed the door in his face. When he came back downstairs I pulled him aside and told him he should not apologise to his grandmother again unless he felt compelled to do so. She didn’t understand the meaning of the word.
Another time, we came home to find that several tall irises in our backyard had been chopped down. Now, our yard was accessible from any of the other yards adjacent as well as from the street. The kids both denied any knowledge of the incident but my wife and mother-in-law were convinced one of them had done it and demanded a confession. After some consultation the kids came out and admitted that Gabe had done it. I found out years later that neither of the boys had done it but; they knew that if Adrian admitted it he would be in serious trouble whereas if Gabe admitted it he would probably get off with a warning. They decided Gabe would take the hit. Actually, he was commended for stepping up and it was implied that Adrian should learn to do the same thing. Such was life in our household.
Adrian was about 19, living at home and working in a bicycle store as a mechanic. He loved his job, rode his bike to work and just didn’t bother much with a car which seemed to piss off his mother enormously. She wanted him out of the house. As this was quite a dilemma for me; I was quite relieved when he came home the next day and said he had enlisted in the Navy.
He spent two years in the Navy Nuke School and missed graduating by two points on his final exam. He spent the next eight years fixing shipboard helicopters. He was quite good at it.
* * *
We spent Gabe’s senior year, and the summers on either side of it, going to every concert available within 100 miles of Long Island! We went to Woodstock 2, Sting, Styx, Rush. You name it, we were there!
I think it started when Gabe won free tickets to a Sting concert at Nassau Coliseum. Actually, he had won the limo ride, backstage passes the whole 9 yards but, because he was only 15 they gave him two free tickets and went on to the next caller. Bummer! As he needed a ride, I acquiesced, though I wasn’t much of a Sting fan. Suffice it to say, I am now.
We saw Stevie Ray Vaughn on the water at the Jones Beach Amphitheater about a year before he died. We saw Billy and Elton at the Meadowlands. Caught Billy Joel at a New Year’s concert at the Nassau Coliseum. A friend had purchased 10 tickets. The six kids took the floor seats and we four adults got stuck behind the stage. Until halfway through the show when the piano was lowered through the floor and moved to the back of the stage. He played the remainder of the concert to “the other half.” We were about 10 rows back from the edge of the stage! Another great night!
We saw BB King in a late show at the Westbury Music Fair. We were leaving via one of the rear exits at about 2 AM when I realized we were standing next to the path from the theater exit to King’s tour bus. I remembered we had Gabe’s new Fender Stratocaster in the car so I ran back to get it. We waited in the drizzle for about an hour and a half hoping Mr. King would be willing to scratch something onto the guitar with a pencil we had. When he came out, there about 20 of us and he stopped and chatted with each one of us. When he got to Gabe and me we showed him the new guitar. He asked if anybody had a Sharpie and, across the white faceplate of his new Strat, BB King wrote, “To Gabe, Best of Luck” and signed it. What a night!
They didn’t all turn out so great. One day I got a call at work about lunchtime from Gabe.
“Dad, I have good news and bad news. The good news is Dream Theater is in town. The bad news is it’s tonight at the Beacon.”
So that afternoon, Gabe took the train from Ronkonkoma to my office in Hicksville for the first time. He got off at the wrong station and I had to go pick him up. Then we drove into Manhattan to get there for an 8 o’clock show time, only to have Dream Theater start at 2 AM! I got home in just enough time to drop Gabe off at school and head in to the office. It was still a good show.
We saw Rush several times, Styx more than once.
* * *
Woodstock 2, 1994
What a trip! Having missed the original Woodstock (I was in the Air Force stationed in Italy). I would be damned if I’d missed the second! Gabe and I and his friends had bonded reasonably well, to the point we could stand to be with each other for long periods of time. I bought six tickets to Woodstock 2 as soon as they came out. I was charging them on an American Express card my wife had encouraged me to get. Or should I say she got, in my name, and told me I could use. But, I mean this was Woodstock 2! I had no choice. Somehow, she actually managed to have my tickets canceled through American Express, even though they had told me there were no refunds. Well, by that time I had another credit card of my own so I repurchased them a few weeks later.
I don’t remember the exact preparations but I do remember arriving at the site sometime after midnight on Friday. We pulled up to a hill with a few trailers/offices and about 20 cars with some lights glowing slightly in the background. Assuming it was the parking lot, and congratulating myself for arriving so early, we pulled in, parked and started looking around. A guy came out of one of the huts and pointed toward the light and said, “Over that way,” and then went back into the trailer. We did as directed and pulled over the hill to see an area of several acres about half covered with hundreds of vehicles and lit up like daylight. We followed the trail of cars, picked a nice place to park and were told we’d have to wait till the next morning to get the shuttle to the concert site. So we hung out, drank beers out of the cooler and started wandering around looking for weed. Our neighbor John Dreyhaupt, who is Gabe’s age, and I, hung out together as did Gabe and Genese. We grabbed a little bit of sleep and got to the gate quite early only to wait another four hours to get into the show area. The buses were late and intermittent but, around noon we got to the site hauling our tent and gear. We found the nearest spot which was about a quarter of a mile from the stage. However, it was on top of a nice big hill which gave us a view of most everything; albeit at a distance. The next two days were a blur!
As I recall, Gabe and Genese were constantly wandering off leaving John and I to guard the tent. When they would leave someone would come up and offer us acid or mushrooms or weed and we’d buy some, wait for Gabe and Genese to come back and then, after what seemed like hours, John and I would eat whatever we had bought. Hey, I didn’t say I was great father. Gabe and Genese would show up, ask why we hadn’t saved anything for them and then go off looking and we’d go through the whole cycle again. I never realized that that was what was going on. For years I thought they just didn’t want to do any drugs. Funny how time and drugs interact. I just don’t think I wanted to contribute to their delinquency at that age. I know, I know; it defies logic. It appears to be the first of many abandonment issues. Several of which I only realized years later.
Every time they would wander off, a few more people would crowd onto our site and fill in the spaces around us. The majority of the kids had purchased a sleeping bag and pup tent which they had bought specifically for Woodstock. As experienced campers we not only had a large tent, but lawn chairs, coolers, and the assorted paraphernalia required. We wound up with about six tents around ours, forming a sort of patio and, as we were the only large tent around, became a bit of a landmark known as “The Porch.” I mean we had chairs and a table! Many people stopped by for a break or a bong hit before wandering off to somewhere else on the site. Then it started raining and things began to break down.
I fell asleep at some point Sunday evening and, when Gabe and Genese came back to the site, covered with mud and thoroughly miserable, probably due to lack of drugs, I decided to get up and wander around. I was afraid that when Gabe woke up he would want to leave. It was probably 3 AM Monday morning and I was starving!
Now, by this time, the fences had come down. It had rained Saturday and most of the night and the site had descended into chaos. The vendors had all left and food and water were in short supply. I talked to a cop at the main gate who basically told me his job was just to see that everybody got out of there safely. It looked like a scene from Apocalypse Now. You know, where they go way up river; lights and smoke, music and drumming.
As I walked down the line of vendors, eerily vacated, I saw a light around the corner. Then I saw some people. Then I smelled the bacon! Here was a lone vendor selling pancakes, bacon or sausage and OJ and, coffee! I thought I had died and gone to heaven! I heard some people complain about the cost, I think was about six dollars. I felt it was a gift from God! Whatever the price I would pay it. Anything to alleviate the acid “bounce”.
There were rumors that the show was going to go on forever with new acts arriving as word spread. But, it did wind down and by Monday afternoon we were packed and ready to head out. We were in no rush. I had met a couple of good-looking young women who were trying to get to California and I was trying to think of a way to help them out when cooler heads (Gabe’s) prevailed. So we left our tent, which had served us faithfully for probably 15 years, on the site at the top of the hill, overlooking the stage, and headed home. A fitting end for our Eureka 10 x 10!
Our glorious summer ended on a bit of a sour note. Gabe was supposed to go up to UB for freshman orientation on the first Friday in September. Unfortunately, he and his buddy Matt Baranello had been chosen to play with several other bands at Bald Hill, a small outdoor community stage on Long Island. After we talked about it, I told him we could skip the orientation. He could play Sunday, and I would have him up to school by Monday. His mother was livid and refused to go. That Sunday, one band had played and, just as Gabe was setting up, we heard via walkie-talkie that there was a storm coming in and we had better “batten down the hatches.” As clouds rolled in, the wind picked up and it started to pour. So much for Bald Hill. I remember it as one of the first manifestations of what was to become known as The Mayer Curse.
On a lighter note, as I was coming home from Buffalo, after dropping Gabe off at school, I heard an announcement that Yes was playing that night at Jones Beach and there were a few tickets left. I swung into the parking lot 20 minutes before the show, bought a single ticket about 10 rows back from the stage and listened to one of my all time favorite bands put on one of the greatest concerts of the entire summer!
A few years later, Gabe was at UB, Adrian was in the Navy, I was living in Ohio with Suzi and we decided to go to the Further Fest at Darien Lake. Adrian and his girlfriend Sibyl drove from Norfolk VA, where Adrian was stationed, to Ohio. I jumped in the back seat of Adrian’s little sports car with a bag of Doritos and about $100 in my pocket and we headed out. Now, Suzi and I had been out with some of Adrian’s Navy friends previously and, when we smoked pot, they just basically stayed away from us. I figured they just couldn’t do any drugs.
While waiting in the line of traffic for the Further Fest a young hippie chick tapped on the car window and said, “You guys want any acid?”
I chuckled and said, “Nah.”
Then, from the front seat, “ACID! Hell yeah!”
“But I thought you guys couldn’t do any drugs.”
“Pot you can be piss tested for. They can only detect acid with a hair sample and it’s much more difficult so they don’t bother with it.”
So, we bought 10 hits of acid and split it three ways. By the time we got to the site and paid for tickets we had no money left to get anything to eat but, by that time the acid had kicked in and we really didn’t need food. We hooked up with Gabe who was already tripping. Nice family reunion.
It was a great show and the finale was punctuated by a tremendous thunderstorm just as we were peaking. Well, I was peaking. Adrian and Sibyl were shivering. I guess the acid had worn off. We went back to Gabe’s place tired, cold and hungry and tried to sleep. Having no luck I wandered into the kitchen to find Adrian there, also unable to sleep. When Sibyl and Gabe wandered in we got to talking and Adrian realized that his Navy pay had been deposited at midnight. So, at 3:30 AM, we all stumbled out to the car and headed for Denny’s. Moons Over My Hammy never tasted so good!
* * *
Obviously, my life changed drastically after the accident. Ironically, it happened a mere six months after I discovered the joys of being single. I had been in relationships for my entire life prior to age 65 and I never realized how deleterious they can be until viewed from “outside.” These relationships were all marriages of a sort, though I was only actually married twice. I felt the need to be in a relationship to “complete” myself. Unfortunately, my “other half” never quite measured up to my expectations. Perhaps, I had just set the bar too high. Or, more likely, I needed the relationship to provide me other things.
I had always contended that the 3 things I wanted from a relationship were sex, conversation, and companionship. Of course, the fact that I jumped into every relationship as soon as I found out that the sex was there severely disturbed the equilibrium. Be that as it may, they never seem to have the right combination. And, having hit the dating market at 50 for the first time. It was a steep learning curve.
I was married the first time for 28 years, long enough to get my youngest to age 20, then I bailed. I went from Long Island, NY to Massillon, Ohio where I spent four years with a delightful sex maniac who showed me that women really do like sex! Unfortunately, she became paranoid about friendships I was developing at my workplace, and issued me an ultimatum, “commit to a relationship or leave.” I left.
I headed to Buffalo and moved in with Gabe and his friend, Nick. Shortly thereafter I hooked up with a radical eco-feminist who was fine, until we got married! She then proceeded to insert herself into my life in ways that I found truly troubling. It lasted roughly two years. Though she did introduce me to Brushwood (a clothing optional, pagan campground where I spent two summers) and to a lifestyle I was interested in but had never really experienced.
After my divorce, which cost me $25,000, I decided to go for a complete Ditz, another major mistake. She moved in with me and then, when I went down to Costa Rica to check it out as a place to retire, she tore my house apart and moved into what was formerly my studio. All basically unbeknownst to me until I returned six weeks later. Presciently, Adrian picked me up at Newark Airport and took the six-hour drive to Buffalo to prepare me for what I was about to find. My entire studio, and life, torn apart and dumped in another room. You would think that would’ve been the last try at relationships but no, it must be a masochistic twist to my DNA.
My final relationship, my “friend with benefits” (her description) turned out to be the most devastating. You see, most guys interpret “friend with benefits” as, “Yeah, I’m with him but I’m available.” She never did understand that her good looks enabled her to manipulate men. She thought it was just her great nature. Yeah, right! I found myself stuck in Edmonton, Alberta through a frighteningly cold winter, nursing her through cancer surgery for a tumor in her soft palate. Then we spent six months together in Costa Rica. When she returned to Edmonton in March for a job, I stayed in Costa Rica and we said goodbye. I felt the weight had been lifted off my shoulders!
So, I am through with relationships, for the foreseeable future, and will keep my affections from my dog, Roxy. Cheaper and less stressful!
* * *
Dropped in the Cuckoo’s Nest
It had taken me 65 years to get to the point where I had no stress in my life. Having lost my Last girlfriend, I found myself free at last. Free to eat when I felt like it, free to sleep when I felt like it, free to read a book or listen to the radio as I saw fit. It took some adjusting but the new freedom was something I truly relished. I have been in relationships all my life; from my mother to my first wife of 28 years, to a darling sexmaniac for four years, then married to a raging eco-feminist for two years, then living with a Blonde Ditz for two years, and finally a beautiful nymphomaniac I met in Costa Rica and followed to Canada for two miserable years.
I’ve been through menopause four times, hemorrhoidal surgeries, two caesarean sections, cancer twice, dental surgeries, thyroid issues and I’ve never been sick more than a day in my life! No wonder I’ve had stress through most of my life. I took care of my mother for the last five years of her life, a wonderful experience in which I got to know her like never before. When she passed away at the age of 83, I realized I had no further obligations and was free to do as I chose. I mean, in the course of these relationships I’ve dealt with a dozen children, only two of which were my own. I’ve lived with two stepdaughters going through puberty, a 23-year-old stepdaughter with the child of her own, a 15-year-old stepson undergoing born-again religious issues later turned Goth, as well as addiction issues, abandonment issues and all sorts of relationships. No regrets, but I have had a lot to deal with.
So, when Mom passed away and my relationship with the Blond Ditz was coming to an end, I decided to seek my own happiness. But where? It had to be warm, I was burned out by the Buffalo, NY winters, it had to have water in abundance and plenty of sunshine. I did some research and, after finding Eric Weiner’s book, The Geography Of Bliss, where he posits that Costa Ricans are the happiest people on the planet, a fact which has been stated many times, I decided to give it a try. The Blond Ditz, who had decided that sex wasn’t very interesting after all, had taken a cruise with her daughter so I decided to take a six-week vacation Costa Rica. It had a rocky start!
I had answered an ad for a place called Cascada Verde which promised a delightful two months for $300 a month and some volunteer work. So, I bought a ticket for Costa Rica only to be informed the following day that the place had been taken over by new management and all bets were off. I was panicky! Well, I figured the die had been cast and, though I hadn’t traveled much in the last 10 years, I was off.
As it was March and I had been carbohydrate loading for several months the heat and humidity of the coastal town of Uvita proved oppressive. I didn’t sleep or eat for the first week I was there and I felt oddly out-of-place as the only 62-year-old among a bunch of twentysomethings. Then I met Helen! We didn’t exactly hit it off the first few times we talked. It should’ve been a hint but, for some reason, I wound up following Helen around for the next two years enduring cancer surgery, an Edmonton, Alberta winter and a serious mental pummeling. But, the sex was good, very good! When she returned to Edmonton from Costa Rica in March I stayed.
So, there I was in Costa Rica, I woke up every morning knowing that I had full control of my life for the first time. No concerns about money, obligations, or things I had not done. My new-found friend, Roxie, an 85 pound rottweiler mix, was giving me all the attention and affection that I required at far less cost than a girlfriend. I mean sex is great but, is it worth the cost? Celibacy has its merits. I mean, I was living in the tropics in a perfect climate, 85° at noon and 68° in the morning, low humidity, plenty of sunshine, $250 a month rent which included utilities, DSL, cable TV. What more could I ask for? I was eating a beautifully balanced diet, taking no medications. I was home at last! And then, it all changed.
* * *
One night I was having dinner by the swimming pool and enjoying some fine Costa Rican rum when I realized how drunk I was. I stumbled back to my cabina, stepped over my dog, slipped on the wet bathroom floor and wound up head down in the shower with my chin pinned to my chest. I laid there for 10 hours, until my neighbor found me at 8:00 AM the next morning. I had lain awake the entire time, conscious, sleeping in bits yet aware that I was in serious trouble. My neighbor and landlord got me out of the shower, somehow, and I wound up in the emergency room of an under-staffed, low-end Costa Rican Hospital. I was parked under a pair of bare fluorescent tubes for three days. I could feel nothing below my neck and was unable to move. I kept asking for water and had doctors tell me on several occasions that I was drinking too much water. There were about 40 beds on the ward, and I could touch the hand of the person next to me. Each patient had three or four friends and relatives serving as nurses and advocates. On the third day I had one of my friends sign me out. I said I would rather lay in the parking lot than spend another day in that room. I was totally miserable, not in pain but completely numb, dehydrated and very hungry having been offered only salty soup and coffee.
I’d had a conversation with a neurosurgeon who informed me that if I had immediate surgery and three months of rehab I would be “better than new” and it would be $25,000. He then went on vacation for 10 days. The only other neurosurgeon in the region would be on vacation to the end of next month. When Dr. Pena returned he informed me that if I didn’t immediately have the surgery, my muscles would atrophy in 3 to 6 months and I’d be paralyzed for the rest of my life!
Well, not having $25,000 on hand, my choices were limited. A good friend of mine knew of a registered nurse who was not working and introduced us. This turned out to be a lifesaving event. The nurse had a young friend, who was available for nominal fee to basically move in with me and take care of my daily needs. Additionally, he was a very talented massage therapist. Unfortunately, my Spanish is limited and he knew no English. My entire goal at this time was just to remain comfortable for several hours at a time. For the first three days we stumbled along with him massaging me for as much as 2 hours a night just to get me comfortable enough so I could sleep for 6 hours. I had a Foley catheter which basically drained by bladder continuously and had to be emptied on a regular basis. My landlord had rented a hospital bed for me. It wasn’t easy but I survived.
On the third day we finally got a translator and Franck explained to me exactly what the problem was as well as a brief history of my medical life. He knew details I had never told him about! He also explained that his job was to get me stable enough to return to the United States to have the required surgery. So far, he is the only one of all the medical personnel to actually make an accurate diagnosis and do exactly what he said he would do. He spent the next six weeks getting me ready to get on a plane to return to the US and to the local VA hospital in Buffalo. He, and my nurse Betsy, were instrumental in my survival. I don’t know what I would’ve done without them. Now, keep in mind, I had no idea if VA was going to take care of my surgery and/or rehab but, I had nowhere else to go.
I arrived at VA on a Friday night after my sons had picked me up at the Airport. I was immediately sent to Buffalo General Hospital by ambulance for evaluation. The following day I was returned to the VA hospital to wait for the results of the evaluation. During that time I had an interview with a neurosurgeon, Dr. Leonardo, who agreed that I did indeed need the surgery and she approved it. It was performed a few days later. This was roughly seven weeks after the accident. Two days later I was transferred to the Spinal Cord Injury/Rehab Center in Syracuse, New York, where I spent 5 months in rehab.
Now, despite the name, it seems that I am the first quadriplegic to actually go through this new facility. Don’t get me wrong, I think the Syracuse facility is excellent. It’s just that it’s too new and very poorly designed for the nurses to do their job. Additionally the supervision has a long way to go to provide adequate training for the employees. The design flaws include poor layout; poor location of call bells, door access, mirror locations, commode facilities, sink access but, the greatest flaw is the lack of WiFi in the rooms. In fact, the only access to WiFi is at the ground floor which was basically inaccessible to me without supervision. It was only after five weeks of asking that I was informed that nurses did not have time to supervise me at WiFi. I finally had a friend get me a WiFi hotspot and help me install it in my room. So, for the first six weeks after the accident I had no communication whatsoever with the outside world! No Internet, couldn’t dial a phone couldn’t even find my glasses. Now, that’s lost! Then, to add insult to injury, being the only quadriplegic on the ward, I found the staff and management seriously lacking in the skills required to deal with my particular case. The longer I am here, the more convinced I am that the personnel and management here have no idea how to deal with someone in my condition. Seems odd for a Spinal Cord Injury facility, doesn’t it?