Photo: Archdiocese of Miami

When I was 12, my family lived for a time at my sister’s home in Bay Heights, a community in Coconut Grove, Florida.

We had just made the trek back from Southern California with our mom, a trip we were sort of used to by then. We were yanked back-and-forth across the country several times. My mom and dad stayed married, but I have yet to understand why. Dad remained in Los Angeles, and my brother and I eventually stayed with him permanently.

Bay Heights was a quiet, walled development – with a variety of mid-century modern homes and some with a decidedly Spanish flair. Across Bayshore Drive was Mercy Hospital (now HCA Florida Mercy Hospital) and Immaculata-La Salle High School. So much Catholicism a stone’s throw from the house…

Mom made us go to Mass regularly. We were parishioners at St. Hugh, also in the Grove – and we attended St, Hugh for the seventh and eighth grades.

I don’t know who found out that there was a chapel inside Mercy Hospital – with priests who celebrated Masses – but this was a boon for us. When we gained a bit of independence, Mom would let us run across for Mass, sometimes with our friend Billy, who lived close by.

I don’t recall if our niece Cathy was allowed to go with us. She’s three years younger than us, so she may have been under closer scrutiny. But as long as we kept our word and went to Mass, all was good with Mom.

At the time, there were two priests on rotation at the chapel. I don’t think we ever knew their real names, but they live in my memory by their nicknames – likely coined by Billy: Father English and Father Slow.

Father Slow was a very deliberate and methodical priest. He might have been Cuban, but I am not sure. He had a very thick accent, which made his approach a little harder to sit through as a boy. He also dragged out the Mass somehow – as we fidgeted and laughed at random sounds in the chapel – perhaps someone coughing, a baby crying or the inadvertent drop of a kneeler.

I’m sure Father Slow was a nice and good man. But we were never excited to see him.

Father English could have been Australian for all I know – but his Masses were quick and to-the-point. Probably a good thing for folks who might have had sick loved ones to visit. But it was like – in-and-out. No nonsense.

We got excited when we saw Father English stroll down the aisle. This meant we could be up to our preteen shenanigans in record time.

It finally happened!

KISS finally did their show in Raleigh (May 17) and we were able to, as my son says, give a nod to the band that has been a constant in our lives – mine since I was a teenager and Wesley’s since he was barely six.

I raised him right.

His best friend since middle school, Xavier, was just as blown away by KISS shortly after meeting Wesley – and I am happy to say he came with us as well.

The show was a long time coming. The original date was supposed to be in September of 2020, a couple of weeks before Wesley’s wedding – and meant as a bachelor getaway for the three of us. It was postponed due to the pandemic and rescheduled for August 2021 – but Paul got the virus ahead of their Pittsburgh show and I think Raleigh was the next stop. Canceled again. I wrote about that HERE.

But the day finally came, and we headed for the Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek – full of excitement and anticipation.

We listened to a couple of my set lists on Spotify, making sure to avoid rock and especially KISS, enjoying vintage hip-hop and funk instead. I also played a few ballads – heart-string pullers from the likes of Brian McKnight, Toni Braxton and Phil Collins.

We were creating a vacuum for the rock spectacle ahead of us.

Since I was a kid, I wasn’t a big fan of sitting through an opening act – especially when it came to the shows from artists I really loved. Some people give me a hard time about this – but that’s just me.

Thankfully, KISS chose a very talented painter named David Garibaldi to open – and he did some fantastic work, throwing together three images in record time: Steven Tyler, the Statue of Liberty and KISS. The last two were done upside-down and came to life at incredible speed.

Finally: “You wanted the best and you got the best. The hottest band in the world – KISS!”

Our seats were at stage left – where Tommy Thayer would spend most of the evening. Sometimes Gene Simmons would trade places with him – with Paul Stanley all over the place, consummate showman that he has always been.

Paul “flew” out to a platform in the middle of the venue for “Love Gun” and “I Was Made for Lovin’ You – telling the folks surrounding him that they now had front row seats.

Drummer Eric Singer deftly held the operation together – and delivered a solid and surprising drum solo between “Psycho Circus” and a partial taste of “100,000 Years.” He did a great job singing “Beth” while playing a baby grand.

Yes – Gene breathed fire and spewed blood. Yes – the drum riser rose not once, but twice – and the second time it did, it looked just like the first time I went to see KISS on the “Love Gun” tour – with two big cats appearing as the riser rose, just like when Peter Criss played.

Tommy and Gene had scissor lift-style risers on either side of the stage – and they deployed frequently. We were in hog heaven.

Tommy Thayer was on task the whole night. I mentioned to Wesley that I feel like Thayer is a guitar god. The guy has been with them for two decades – and he actually showed Ace Frehley how to play his own solos again ahead of 1996’s Reunion Tour.

Paul and Gene. What can I say? I’m almost 59, and I was constantly telling Wes and Xavier that – “they’re right there” – yards away from us. Fanboys never die.

I was 14 again – and I am sure the two young men with me felt the same way.

So long, KISS.

But if you go out again, I’ll be singing a different tune.

Photo: Culture Crusaders

I grew up in Coconut Grove – a part of Miami that is said to be the oldest permanent settlement in the Miami-Dade area.

We lived at the end of a dead-end street called Tigertail Court, in a long, single-story home with a large yard in the back, stretching down to Bayshore Drive.

We were very near an area called Dinner Key. I was five In 1969 when The Doors had a concert at the Dinner Key Auditorium, and this is the spot where Jim Morrison may or may not have exposed himself.

I have written about how Hollywood was a magical place for me and my twin brother, but The Grove was just as magical – and I am relying on memory here only, in the hope that these initial stabs will result in a harvest of more complete recollections.

How much can I dredge up from my memories?

The huge, pink house next door to us. Our screened-in swimming pool with weird little spiders that looked like small, brown stars that always seemed to be present. The blue-crab holes at the end of our yard underneath a banyan tree – the place me and my brother didn’t dare tread.

Whenever I saw one of those crabs, I got slightly freaked out. Somehow, their sideways walk just didn’t seem right.

It seemed like our neighborhood was almost indoors because of the canopy of vegetation around and above us.  With the exception of the spiders and crabs, it felt safe.

We rode our bikes everywhere – even across U.S. 1, better known to us as Dixie Highway.

Mom told us never to cross Dixie Highway. Even as early as eight or nine, we didn’t listen.

But once we crossed Dixie Highway, it didn’t feel the same to us. The Grove seemed far more interesting.

I remember once, later, we rode our bikes across the Rickenbacker Causeway into Key Biscayne with our friend Jorge,, whom we had known since something like the third grade.

It’s tough to piece together these fragments from nearly 50 years ago, but I want to remember – and I will keep trying.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I recently wrote that I needed to wake up earlier in order to be more productive.

So far, I have been ignoring my alarm.

I’m not proud of it – and I realize that proper sleep is essential to keep things running right.

As we head into what is known as “The Season” in Myrtle Beach, my retail schedule will find me at the shop until 11 o’clock. Right now, we close up at nine p.m. and head home. I spend some quality time then, usually catching up on articles I have saved in the Pocket app and taking in a session from a wonderful Jim Rohn personal development program I got for a song at the new year.

Usually you can find great deals on programs like this as the new year approaches. New year, new you – right? Just like gym memberships, these things are only effective if you continue with them.

In that respect, I am making good progress.

But today – at the beginning of the week – I blew off my 9:30 alarm and slept until 11. No bueno, because I prepared a to-do list for the day when I went to bed, along with my usual list of things I’d like to accomplish for the week.

I also planned a short run. It’s raining, but if it lets up a little I still plan on getting out there. if not, I’ll do some bodyweight exercises before work.

But I need some more front-end time in order to make things work. By waking up late, the time I need to be at the day job comes up quickly – meaning that the daily disciplines I am trying to keep in place become halfhearted stabs at productivity for the sake of crossing them off the list.

But what do you expect when you go to bed after two in the morning? Nobody had a gun to my head to watch an episode of Julia with my girlfriend before I went to bed – not even my girlfriend.

Let’s say I slept from 2:30 to 11:30. That’s still nine hours. Come on, man.

I want to try for seven hours. If this results in a groggy feeling, I’ll up it to eight.

I am a generally happy person – and I can’t really say I oversleep because of the late bedtime – but beyond eight hours is a bit ridiculous. Could I be suffering from dysthymic disorder – a persistent, daily mild depression?

I tell you this: Even if I suffered from dysthymia, I know that persistent action toward my goals would alleviate or eliminate it. Doing nothing would be far, far worse.

Realistically, I just need to get squared away on the sleep issue.

My dance card is full of interesting pursuits. I enjoy the “moving toward” process.

I’ll report back.

When I got home the other day, a new phone book was waiting for me – outside my door in a plastic bag.

For a moment, I forgot what decade it was – or in what century I was living.

The fact that phone books are still in production is a head-scratcher.

“The new phone book’s here….”

I need to know: Does anybody really use a phone book anymore?

I wonder how much it costs to print and distribute these doorstops. And there is another major communications provider in the area. I am sure they have a phone book too.

Of course, ad sales offset these costs – and there are even a couple of refrigerator magnets on this baby – one for a plumber and the other from a law firm (with a collection of emergency numbers included).

If I were to allow my fingers to do the walking, they would most likely be strolling over the keyboard on my phone or laptop (and the latter is becoming obsolete too).

Everything in this phone book can easily be accessed on the web – including the useful information like local events and attractions, tide charts, community service listings and more.

We Boomers are beginning to die out. How many of the remaining stragglers rely on a printed product to get the information they need?

“OK Boomer…”

A phone book is a throwback, for sure. The oldest Boomers – the technological holdouts – might look forward to the arrival of this relic, but as time goes by I am sure the bulk of these wind up in the trash without being used once.

Did I say trash? You betcha. How many people actually use a recycling bin? In my community, there are no such bins to be found, which places the sustainability burden on more mindful individuals – those with the time and the inclination to haul their recycling to local waste centers, which – let’s face it – is a pain in the ass.

And speaking of mindful – most people (am I wrong) are not inclined to recycle if the process is too labor-intensive. Come on, be honest.

It’s probably staggering to consider how many brand-new phone books now reside in landfills – their spines not even cracked.

The only reason I still have my new phone book is because I wanted to blog about it.

Now what the hell am I going to do with it?

Anybody?

Until Next Time

I colored Easter eggs at Christmastime with my daughter.

Taylor is 28 and now lives in Brooklyn. While she was here over the holidays, we decided that it would be a good idea to continue our Easter tradition of coloring and hunting for the eggs.

The hunting part is a showdown, with the two of us bringing our A games – leaving our compassion at the door and trying to snag as many eggs as we can. This spirit has continued for decades.

The idea of doing this over Christmas was a stroke of brilliance, albeit out of place on the holiday timeline.

The first order of business was to grab an egg coloring kit. Obviously, none of the grocery stores would have them on hand. I turned to Amazon, found a basic PAAS kit, and gladly paid more than seven bucks for it. We do what we must.

The coloring process was also basic – dropping the color tablets into the water/vinegar solutions and watching them fizz into the mix – and then adding the eggs. Nothing fancy, but they looked festive enough. The process was less art than it was utilitarian.

My girlfriend hid the eggs. Sometimes my son has hidden the eggs, but he wasn’t on hand this day. Wes is married and lives not far from us. He works nights so he was likely asleep.

Taylor and I battled it out, and I soon found myself ahead. The dad in me lingered a couple of times when I noticed where one of them was hidden, hoping Tay would notice it too and bring us to a tie.

But wait. She’s 28 and fiercely independent – I told her I was hesitating, trying to close the gap in her favor. Eventually, I scooped up that egg and found the last one for the win. The battle was tight.

I don’t think Taylor accepts defeat easily. Never has. But what doesn’t kill you, right?

I got lucky. Maybe she let me win, but I’d like to think she didn’t – like, “give the old man a hollow victory…”

I don’t want to go all cliché, but it was not about winning or losing. This was about spending time with my daughter and continuing a longstanding tradition. But we both enjoy winning.

Taylor has been able to be with us more than usual because the pandemic allowed her to work remotely. I hope she can continue to do so on the chance that I can see her often. If not, it’s time for another trip to The City.

The last time we were up there, we got to see Elton John at Barclays Center – and Taylor walked the hell out of us.

I’m proud of you, kid. But I also miss you. Your vibe is unlike anybody I have ever met.

For a decade, my father managed a forty-unit hotel in the middle of Hollywood called the Magic Hotel.

This place was (and still is) just west of the intersection of Franklin Avenue and Orange Drive, just two buildings down from the iconic Magic Castle, founded by Bill and Milt Larsen in 1962.

The hotel is now called The Magic Castle Hotel, probably a good move as far as branding and recognition, but when Dad managed the place, it was magical indeed.

In 1974, my father was writing and hawking screenplays in Hollywood. He had some wonderful ideas and scripts – and they are all in my possession, with the exception of a storyboard for one of his movie ideas, “Once Upon A Blue Sky,” meticulously drawn by Joseph Musso, who was then employed by Irwin Allen Productions and was a permanent resident at the hotel. I have a few slides depicting certain panels, but my uncle asked for it to make one more pitch after my dad died, and I relinquished the original storyboards, never to see them again.

Unfortunately – and he was not alone in this – Dad’s efforts were unsuccessful. But at that stage in his life, he already enjoyed a career as an entertainer and songwriter in the UK and in South Africa, his home country. He and my uncle Roger (well, not really my uncle but my dad’s showbiz partner – think Martin and Lewis with South African accents and tap shoes) had a music publishing business in London called Yale Music. The original Yale Brothers were also the hosts of a South African radio show called The Castle Beer Show, I’m guessing in the early 1950s.

But I digress.

While dad kept writing and pitching scripts, his efforts were coming up empty.

Somehow, a friend of his told Dad about an opportunity – a job opening to temporarily manage the Magic Hotel while the then manager Grady took an extended vacation.

That’s when things got interesting.

Dad took the job, and it turned out that Grady didn’t come back. Over the next ten years, Dad transformed that small hotel into a haven for theatrical touring companies, visiting actors, musicians, magicians and much more.

It’s also where I came of age with my twin brother – smack dab in the middle of Hollywood and smack dab in the middle of the 1970s.

I have so many memories of growing up, hanging out and working at the Magic Hotel – some vague and some in detail, that I can no longer put off the urge to set these things down for posterity.

Sights, smells and sense images from way back when – and I’m talking about the period between 1974 and 1984 – of that wonderful 40-unit building between the Magic Castle to the east and the Highland Gardens Hotel to the west. The Highland Gardens is the spot where Janis Joplin died, and there is an interesting documentary about the place HERE.

The hotel had a courtyard in the middle with a small swimming pool, with many of the rooms overlooking this area from balconies and landings.

The rooms were small singles and apartment-style units in one and two bedrooms. There were always a couple of housekeepers on hand. There was also a front desk – an L-shaped affair with a black Formica top. In the spaces from the business side of the desk, there was room for files, notebooks, keys and more.

The thing that fascinated us was the PBX – an old-school switchboard that Lily Tomlin could have used as a prop when she did her telephone operator shtick as Ernestine.

Chris and I mastered that old switchboard in no time, and although it seemed like a relic, we thought it was really cool

More to come.

Photo: Tripadvisor
Photo by Acharaporn Kamornboonyarush on Pexels.com

My alarm went off at 8:30 this morning – a predetermined time set to ensure that I would have enough time, moving forward, to be as productive as possible.

For some, an 8:30 wake-up time would seem to be a bit late – but because I work nights, I usually go to bed around 1:30. Sometimes I wake up past 10 a.m.

Because I have resumed my fitness regimen, I need to offset the time spent in that pursuit with a couple more hours to attend to writing, music and household tasks.

Part of my fitness routine involves driving to my son’s place to work out. This trip takes about 20 minutes each way, and the workout itself ranges from 30 minutes to an hour. I run on alternate days. I haven’t been particularly consistent with either of these things lately, but I am pleased to report that I have never exercised so much in my life.

But here’s the thing. I stopped my alarm and went back to sleep.

From my calculations, I probably slept nearly eight hours by the time I woke up just after 10 a.m.

This puts me behind. The to-do list I worked out last night is going to suffer because I factored that on waking up earlier. Now I have to eliminate a few items, and I can’t play catch-up after my work shift because it would set up a cycle of later bedtimes and late waking.

In my last blog post, I said that structure is important to me – and a damn sight better than going willy-nilly into the day. But the structure can also me imprisoning – and in today’s case fraught with self-imposed guilt (yes, I was raised Catholic, but that’s a different story).

I was under the impression that, as we age, our need for sleep decreases. I think I’m leaning on outdated research, though. When I get six hours of sleep, I surely need a nap during the day. My son recommends at least eight hours, and a cursory glance suggests that I can do well with between seven and eight hours.

I’d like to think that seven hours is fine, but I’ll aim for eight.

Tonight, I’ll head to bed at 1:30 as usual (with no lingering) and try for 8:30 again. If I find myself groggy during the week, I will set that alarm for 9:30 and go from there.

I’m 58. I’d love input from my peers about this.  

Putt-Putt Brigade

I am wired in such a way that spontaneity can be challenging.

Am I so regimented that a slight change in my daily routine can be physically and emotionally upsetting?

Can this be attributed to undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder?

Let’s explore.

I have long worked from daily and weekly lists to keep myself on track – covering everything from balancing my finances and paying bills to exercising, writing and journaling or making music.

Of course, my day job is a given, but it’s also on the list. Even spending time with friends and loved ones goes onto the list.

I can see the value of such a list. There is only so much time in a day, and many would think I spread myself thin. But in my mind there is much to do over a spectrum of varied pursuits – and staying on track actually gives me a sense of well-being.

Especially in the spring and summer, I have a weekly music gig with my brother, and I must factor in time spent learning new songs to include in our list of covers. We also play originals, and we’re in the process of ramping up or efforts on that front.

We are 60 episodes into our podcast. This used to be a weekly affair, but we have scaled that back and now aim at two episodes per month.

I am actively freelancing for a couple of local newspapers. Over the past few weeks, I have delivered three stories for an upcoming special section, with more assignments on the horizon.

It makes me nervous when too much time goes by between blog posts, so I make an effort to close that gap.

And for the past two years, I have been mindful about my fitness – more than ever before in my life.

As the years pass, I’m not interested in slowing down because I feel there is much left to do. I wasted an embarrassing and staggering amount of time in my addictions, and perhaps this fact is part of what drives me now.

I realize we’re all different and there is no time limit on accomplishment, so I choose to keep going while others are preparing for retirement.

But still, the idea of stopping to smell the roses is a thing – and I need work in the present moment.

I just spent the weekend with a bunch of my family – something that my girlfriend and I knew we were going to be doing for months. This gave me plenty of time to “clear the decks,” as it were. It was a wonderful time with no real agenda, except maybe mobilizing for a raucous game of putt-putt.

My son learned to stay ready for anything when he was in the Marine Corps. There is a saying, which I would do well to adopt: “Semper Gumby,” which means “Always Flexible.”

I like my lists, though – but I will learn to pencil in some time to simply be.

Sometimes I just feel awkward.

I consider myself to be a shy person, an introvert. That being said, I find myself in public-facing situations just about every day.

I am a freelance writer. The writing part might be a solitary pursuit, but when I am on assignment for a story or a profile, I have to work the phones or meet people for interviews. Sometimes, they think I am trying to sell them something, which makes me feel weird.

After I identified myself to a lady recently over the telephone for a story, she stopped me and asked how much this would cost her. In this case, she understood quickly that I was not trying to trap her into some sort of purchase – and this is not an isolated incident.

Last week, another lady hung up on me – and still others have been defensive and standoffish. Thankfully, the vast majority of the folks I talk to are not like this.

Maybe it’s my approach. Perhaps I need to get to the point quicker – like those hard-boiled reporters in the old movies who don’t take no from an answer.

I am also a working musician. Usually, I perform with my twin brother and this helps to offset some of the responsibility of going it alone. I have not a trace of stage fright at these gigs, but when the time comes to play a solo gig – particularly three sets by myself – I feel like any mistake would be cataclysmic. This anticipation of some impending misstep causes me to get clammy – and my fingers don’t seem to want to cooperate.

But after a get a few songs under my belt, I realize that I am going to be OK.

I also work in retail for a well-known cigar operation in the Carolinas. This is about as public-facing as you can be, especially in what is known as The Season in Myrtle Beach – where humanity descends in full force on our little burg.

But some people have laughed when I admit I am an introvert – like they don’t believe me.

Am I something else? A hybrid? We’re all different, of course.

I like people. I love my friends.  I enjoy talking to people and making new friends. It’s just that sometimes I don’t have it in me to be “on.” I read somewhere that introverts feel drained after being at a social gathering. While I don’t necessarily feel drained, I do feel that being present and engaged with others requires a stepping-away for a time.

Sometimes I just feel awkward.