On an otherwise awesome trip to Asheville, somebody jacked my favorite hat.
I wouldn’t even consider myself a hat guy, but this one fit me right – and the brim was bent just how I wanted it….
And now it’s gone.
Am I really grieving the loss of a hat?
It was made well, a Legacy baseball cap, grayish dark brown with the words TINDER BOX (I work there) emblazoned on the front. It was my go-to whenever I reached for a cap on the way out…
…and it was almost like a signature or calling card.
I have many other caps – and some have emotional significance for me. I want to treasure a couple of them into my old age – like the Marine Dad cap my son gave me or the College of Charleston Dad cap from my daughter.
Why – oh why did I take it off when I was checking in at our hotel? Why didn’t I just leave the thing on instead of laying it on the front desk? Thing is, I wasn’t even gone ten minutes until I realized I had left it there and went down to check on it.
I asked – and the manager (I think) told me he hadn’t seen it and “maybe it’s in the car.” The guy who checked me in remained quiet.
My girlfriend thinks his answer was a little too quick.
But of course there’s no way to prove who took it – and it’s astonishing in this age of COVID-19 that anybody would be interested in somebody else’s hat.
Maybe somebody else took it while they were checking in.
This was one of my “overthinking” moments – creating a veritable game of Clue in my head, all the while knowing that I would never get it back.
The hat was old, but it was cool – but it was my hat. The sense of violation and loss about this was acute for a couple of days. Now, it just stings a little.
See where I’m going with this? Just replace “man” with “American” and you get the idea.
And don’t get me started on the whole patriot thing. I love my country. Don’t presume that you love it more than I do. I’m every bit as American as you are, and you ain’t Paul Revere.
As I go through my day, I am subjected to the aggressive opinions of others with no regard for what I might or might not believe and whether or not those opinions are solicited – or a wink-wink, nudge-nudge from folks I might never have met before, as if I’m being vetted for membership in some sort of club I have no intention of joining.
It’s astonishing, this us-and-them mentality on crass display for all to see from people who really should know better – and clearly from those who do not.
What ever happened to keeping religion and politics out of general conversation? Can we vote on that?
When I was 12, I “gambled a stamp” and sent away for details on the Charles Atlas course.
Those of a certain age surely remember the above ad that appeared in comic books for years, featuring a guy who finally had enough of being marginalized, bullied and having sand kicked in his face.
While I can’t say I was physically bullied, somewhere in my childhood I was made to feel less-than by certain kids at school – and a daresay some adults I encountered outside of school. With apologies to my twin brother, he and I were the ones left standing when teams were being picked in phys-ed – until each side begrudgingly accepted one or the other of us.
We were different, Chris and I. Old souls, and literate before we started the first grade. (Math is another story. I still gaze slack-jawed when faced with a seemingly easy fractional equation.)
I never understood the sis-boom-bah – rah-rah-rah mentality attached to sports and foisted on kids who have absolutely no interest in participating. Most of the other boys embraced this mentality, but I wasn’t having any of it. Neither was my brother. I still don’t, and Chris doesn’t either.
But the Charles Atlas ad appealed to me in a visceral way, and when I got the booklet in the mail, I was ecstatic…
Here were success stories (modern marketing would call these case studies) of young men who had transformed their nerdy bodies into chiseled and rugged masterpieces.
I just had to order the course – if only to get even with those who ever doubted me. Not that I wanted the chance to compete with the other boys on the athletic field, but rather possess the ability to be ready and able to kick their asses if they decided to ramp up their disrespect.
But nobody actually beat me up or even tried to. Me and my brother never got jumped by marauding bands of street toughs. But it was enough for me that some of these kids were dismissive and that, if given the chance, they would exclude us from their reindeer games.
They didn’t understand different. And we were different in spades. The fact that we were finally embraced by kids like this after we started playing music is another story.
The course was expensive for that time. If I remember correctly, it was thirty dollars, payable in installments of five dollars each time a new component arrived. The course itself arrived, I believe, every couple of weeks or so – with each mimeographed section no more than like ten pages of instructions followed by what looked like ancient photos of Charles Atlas performing the “Dynamic Tension” exercises. These looked simple enough – and each installment focused on another part of the body.
“Dynamic Tension” was what many would come to call resistance training. The course also covered nutrition, grooming and some advice about the dangers of smoking and drinking to the physical specimen. I also recall advice from the strongman about being careful not to dissipate one’s energy on promiscuity. He didn’t use that word, but the gist was the same.
The first lesson was all about building up the pecs – and was supposed to continue throughout the three-month program – and then we were to add additional body parts as we went along. I can’t tell you how often I started, stopped, and started again.
I never finished the program, but even at 12 and 13, my chest was pretty well developed. I still have the course somewhere, and it would be fun to see it again.
At 57, I can tell you that the biggest bully I ever encountered was myself – and he beats me up regularly.
There are so many avenues to explore – but be mindful about the potential rabbit hole of having too many options – or believing you do.
There is only so much we can accomplish in our lives, but what we can accomplish is likely vastly more than we believe we can.
Someone once said that we overestimate what we can accomplish in a week but underestimate what we can accomplish in a year. That makes sense. We cram so many activities and “busy work” into our to-do lists that we always have items left undone at the end of the week. But many people surprise themselves by the progress they have made at the end of the year – especially when it comes to the action they took toward a specific goal.
But we can also crash and burn if we lose sight of our goal, failing to see that consistent action throughout the year would have brought us the result we were after.
We all know about how crowded gyms are at the beginning of the year and how attendance usually flattens a short time later. Bloomberg cited an analysis from Strava, a fitness-tracking app developer, that found most Americans giving up on their fitness resolutions as early as mid-January.
We give up so easily.
What if we made consistent progress on that one thing– the overriding thing that keeps us awake at night – the dream we can’t shake…
Just a bit of progress every day…?
One of my favorite writers and broadcasters, Earl Nightingale, “The Dean of Personal Development,” is attributed with the following quote, but he might have found it somewhere else:
“Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal or ideal.”
Makes sense to me. To-do-lists are one thing – but taking daily action on that one thing can make all the difference in the world.
Remember: Successful people get that way by doing the things that others are not willing to do.
Of course, success means different things to different people.
This could be about getting exercise every day, saving money, or waking up an hour early (or going to bed an hour later) to learn a new skill or write that story, or devoting quality time to your family.
In my heart of hearts, I know that this is usually not the case. I don’t recall a recent instance of having been deliberately ghosted. And I have written about intentions several times on this blog. I would like to think my intentions are pure – and 99.9 percent of the time, I get an appropriate response in due time.
This has nothing to do with romance. I have a longtime girlfriend. We live together. I’m sure she feels like ghosting me at times, but that’s another matter altogether.
What I am talking about here is mountains-out-of-molehills, worst-case-scenario overthinking in my day-to-day interactions with others. Because I believe that I have an above-average EQ (or emotional intelligence), this doesn’t mean that the very same gift might not be misfiring.
You can’t interpret somebody’s aura unless they are interacting with you.
Am I some sort of entitled prick who thinks I deserve top priority at all times? Am I a narcissist?
Not tonight, Narcissus, I have a headache…
I think this really goes back to intention and process. My friend, motivational author and speaker Jeff Yalden, always says to have patience in the process, and that makes sense to me.
Roger: Nobody’s ghosting you. It’s all in your head.
On October 3rd, The Sun News ran my story about Joe and the truck. You can read it by clicking HERE.
As with the travail of giving birth, most entrepreneurs go through labor pains of their own, and Joe is no exception. After a couple of false starts and the fact that he began this odyssey in the face of the COVID-19 situation with its inherent challenges, the man prevailed…
And Sunday’s event proved this beyond any shadow of doubt – and is a testimony to Joe’s tenacity.
Even under rainy conditions, the if-you-build-it-they-will-come paradigm proved to be correct. People did come – and lots of them.
Joe’s wife, Dawn, was handling orders at the window – while Joe handled the cooking with Anthony Novielli. The folks standing in line to order and those waiting for their orders seemed to be a friendly bunch, and I didn’t notice any drama from the ranks – although I noticed recently on Facebook that Joe received some feedback about ticket times and is working on of streamlining this process.
This reminded me of a music gig. It was showtime for NO FKS Given, and the downbeat had already happened. Keep playing.
We ordered the craft burgers – mine with cheddar, lettuce, tomato, and pickles – on a toasted potato roll. I also had freedom fries with sea salt and black pepper. Both items were piping hot and absolutely delicious. That potato roll, though – clearly fresh-baked and awesome.
Glad we got the chance to attend, and I wish the Czaplas the very best.
My firstborn twin, Wes, got hitched on September 26. Done deal.
I have gained a gorgeous daughter-in-law with a beauty that radiates from the inside out, and I am thrilled to death that I can now claim Leigh as such with impunity – and her parents and family are second to none.
What amazes me about major events like this is that time seems to compress the closer you get to the event – like what was 18 months away is now in the rear-view mirror.
Being the father of the groom is wonderful in itself, but I was also honored and humbled that Wes chose me as his best man and that the couple asked me to officiate. Does that count as a triple threat?
Our friend Aly caught the groom’s reaction as he first catches sight of the bride. Pure love.
THE BACHELOR GETAWAY
Wes didn’t want a traditional bachelor party, per se. He wanted to get away with me and Xavier, his best friend since middle school. The plan was to see KISS in Raleigh earlier in September, but the COVID-19 situation had other plans, and the show was postponed until next year. I am holding on to the tickets.
As an option, Wes chose an overnight trip to the Fayetteville area in North Carolina. The “three amigos” spent the first day shooting at an outdoor range called 37 PSR Gun Club. Wes, once-a-Marine-always-a-Marine, was in hog heaven – and I felt good being with him. He was methodical in making sure Xavier and I handled our weapons properly. Somehow, shooting with a Marine makes you want to shine.
But we were there to have fun, and we did. Afterwards, we checked in to the Hampton Inn Spring Lake and headed out to eat Mexican food at a great place called El Cazador.
The next day found us engaged in airsoft battles with maybe ten young people at a place called Black Ops Paintball. For me, this was much more fun. Shooting downrange is OK, but after a while it gets old. Airsoft battles in teams was more the ticket for me. I reconnected with that inner kid who used to play guns in the neighborhood.
We’ll likely do this again at the outfit’s Myrtle Beach location. The kid at the counter talked us into way too much ammo. Sorry, Xavier.
One caveat: Airsoft ain’t soft.
THE REHEARSAL DINNER
My girlfriend, Brenda, graciously offered to handle all aspects of the rehearsal dinner – from planning to execution.
Early on, we chose the historic Myrtle Beach Train Depot for the event. I have written about this place before. It’s a cool old brick building that is now rented out by the City of Myrtle Beach for all sorts of functions. Problem is, because of COVID-19, the maximum attendance was reduced to 21 people.
Because family was coming in from out of town, there was no way that would work…
Before we had the chance to fret about this too much, Leigh contacted Brenda and offered the use of the soon-to-be newlyweds’ backyard.
Plans were put in place for tables, chairs, dishes, linens and flatware. Brenda set up the catering with Fiesta Mexicana, a favorite local eatery – and began putting together ancillary items like votive candles, floral plans, photo booth balloons and much more.
But a potential shit show was looming. Rain – and lots of it – started showing up on the weather apps.
We ordered a 15×15 open tent, ostensibly to cover the food – but mother nature peppered us with rain all day and into the evening. I will forever be grateful for the time and effort Brenda put into this event – and thankful for the help of the friends who rolled up their sleeves and jumped into the fray…and transformed the newlyweds’ home into a dining showplace. We couldn’t have done this without them.
That night, I made my speech – a combination of best man and father of the groom – and I almost made it through without choking up. I said almost, didn’t I?
During dinner, things began to clear up enough for folks to head outside – some to eat under the tent, some to mingle, play cornhole, throw axes and listen to Wes’ awesome playlist.
THE BIG DAY
I gladly accept the rain the night before – because the wedding day was absolutely gorgeous.
The guys got together at the newlyweds’ place – to get into our tuxes and have some pre-wedding photos done, coincidentally, by my friend Scott Smallin, whom I first met and worked with in our Weekly Surge days. I was pleasantly surprised when I found out Scott would be handling the wedding photography. I think he took like two million photos.
The wedding? Stunning – from start to finish.
Kudos to Leigh’s parents, Michael and Cathy, for putting together such a wonderful day. Michael might tell you that all he had to do was show up, but he and Cathy are straight-up doers. While other people talk, they take action. I can learn a lot from them.
I can’t imagine the depth of planning that goes into a wedding like this – but everything seemed to go off without a hitch – in the serene and beautiful setting that is Pine Lakes.
The bride was a vision of beauty – absolutely flawless. And my son the groom, gorgeous. Together, they took my breath away as they stood in front of me for the vows. The honor of joining these two beautiful young people in holy matrimony is something I don’t take lightly, and I will never forget it.
Here are some great photos from my friend Brendan Wright:
Did I mention that the JAVA Band was off the hook? I did now. Unbelievably so!
Friends, family. New friends, new family. That’s what it’s all about.
The following day, many of us got together for brunch and go-cart racing at Broadway Grand Prix in Myrtle Beach. This, from what I understand, is a family tradition.
What was 18 months away is now a reality. May God richly bless the bride and groom, and may their love know no bounds.
AJ Case is a man of many hats, but those hats dovetail: He’s a Myrtle Beach-based singer/songwriter, musician, rapper and entrepreneur. Depending upon whom you ask, you might get different answers. Perhaps it’s somebody who laid down tracks at his now shuttered iT Recording & Mastering Studios in Surfside Beach, a venue owner who booked him for a solo acoustic gig or a tourist who got up to sing at one of his karaoke promotions in the area. Or it could be a music industry type drilling down on Case’s songwriting, recording, deejaying or vocal skills.
In every case, though, you will likely hear about the kind of guy he is – soft-spoken, sincere and always professional.
He recently released his third album. “Running In Place” (or “R.I.P.”), an acoustic guitar-driven live band hip-hop project.
In addition to the live band approach, Case covers his struggle with depression brought on by divorce and the loss of key people in his life in rapid succession – in what he called the worst week of his life.
But this album has proven cathartic for him. Much of is an ode to the woman he loves, Ruth Ann Millar, something he says goes against the grain of traditional rap.
He started writing this album years ago – and much of it was first presented in 2012’s “Dead at 32.” But he had no idea what he was in for personally and emotionally.
“At that time, I didn’t realize that I was writing my current situation. I feel like a reeled myself into it all,” he said.
The past two years have been an emotional roller coaster, beginning with what he calls “the week from hell.” He lost his mother, an uncle and an aunt – plus he went through a divorce.
Case fell into a deep depression.
Things got so bad that he wouldn’t even answer the door to his studio to let people come in and record.
“I’d never been to a point in my life where I was that low,” he said. “I hit rock bottom and pulled out a damn shovel.”
Picking up a pen was the last thing on his mind, but one day out of sheer desperation he started writing a song about his mother – and although he didn’t finish that actual song, this gave him the impetus to keep going. After he got started again in earnest, the process took about a year.
The finished product stands at eight tracks, including a duet with his friend Adam Wittenburg on “Halfway Home.”
Some live performance audio was spliced into a new version of “Lifted.”
“We took actual audio footage from shows like Bayfest and Summer Jam – just basically hung mics out over the audience – and I didn’t want it to sound like the original version. We wanted to do this with a live band, but I wasn’t used to recording guitars yet because I was just a pure rapper at that point.”
But the acoustic live band concept gelled for “Running In Place”
Long before this, Case played out live as a solo artist – on an acoustic guitar – so that he could showcase his material and travel light.
But Case said the material on “RIP” – including “Waiting on You” – goes against the grain of traditional rap.
“It’s kind of weird to explain. I hear some of the stuff that everybody else is rapping about, and it’s pretty much the same thing everybody has been rapping about: cars, women, money, how good I am or ‘listen to my lyrical skills’ – and I feel disappointed sometimes because I’m not talking about any of that shit. I’m mostly talking about one woman that I love. That’s it.”
Case contends that in the rap world in general, it’s not really cool to be in love with one woman.
“It’s not really cool to write a whole album about one woman. It’s a different type of world – and that’s where I felt like I was, man – I don’t know if I actually fit in here anymore. I think I’ve grown out of it.”
We mentioned that Case’s uncle taught him about the music business, but it was his late sister who made it fun.
In the song, “Nothing,” Case memorializes his sister.
“I had a guitar in my room when I was younger, but I never really messed with it. She would come in and say, ‘Oh – pick up the guitar. Let’s play…”
Those moments got Case to the point where he wanted to play music with his uncle and learn more.
“Until then, that guitar was just a brick in the corner of my bedroom.”
But “Nothing” is poignant and can really tug at your heart strings.
“My sister was a drug addict, and she was aware that she had problems and issues. She would always tell me that she felt like she never did anything with her life – like, she would go to her grave having literally done nothing but drugs. I wrote that song sitting beside her hospital bed before she died.”
He will always remember his sister’s silly way of dancing (she was not good at it) – and he regrets not getting up on the floor when she wanted to dance with him in public.
The COVID-19 lockdown helped to put thus project into high gear.
“Either make something of yourself – figure out a way to make something of yourself in this – or let it swallow you whole, you know?”
Can being a generalist be better than specializing?
That’s a good question. Being a specialist makes sense in some ways because you are laser-like in your precision when it comes to your area of expertise. But it must also be true that we become so caught up in our respective niches that we fail to see the options.
There are blogs about blogging – and presumably there are blogs about petunias. And many hard-at-it bloggers extol the virtues of a niche.
If there was some one thing I would blog about as a niche, it would be personal development. I am drawn to this because we are all on paths that could culminate in a zenith of self-aware bliss. Of course, another outcome could be the train wreck of nihilism.
But could I really add to this conversation? You bet. Anyone drawing breath can do the same. We all have something to bring to the human party, and we all come to it in varied ways and with diverse perspectives. And we all have a platform – a group of friends, perhaps, to share our views with.
Hell, some crash the party looking for free drinks or company with nothing to give in return. But at least they showed up.
But there has to be such a thing as too many options.
All my life, I would thrill to what I perceived as an endless supply of available options. I would love to be able to explain the excitement that welled up (and still does, for that matter – only in smaller doses) in the face of such intangibles. And it seemed (and still seems, although I am keenly aware of the inexorable march of time) like anything was possible – as if one could order and consume every existential item on the menu.
You might be able to order everything on the menu, but there’s no way you could finish it in one sitting. Let’s say this “one sitting” is your life. You now have all of these options sitting in front of you. It doesn’t matter to the restaurant owner what you do with them. In point of fact, the lion’s share of that stuff will wind up in the trash.
I was recently patting myself on the back because I thought I was procrastinating less. I’d like to think that I take care of things in a much timelier fashion than I once did. That includes handling deadlines, paying bills and getting where I need to be when I am supposed to get there.
Perhaps this is because I am 57, and somehow I’m acutely aware that the clock is ticking and that I had better get cracking on the things that matter – and I’m much better on that score.
But on closer examination, there is still a great deal of kicking-the-can-down-the-road going on.
For decades, efficiency experts have extolled the virtues of handling a piece of paper once. If that paper is important and needs to be retrieved later, then file it away with a “tickle” on your calendar – but by no means let it get lost in a jumble of mounting paperwork…
I get it.
But my digital life is another story. I have an email folder called “reading list – emails,” into which I have stuck everything that I’d like to revisit that isn’t urgent. Sounds like a good idea, but is it really? I also have an app called Pocket, a really useful reader. Every article I find interesting at a given time goes in there.
Here’s the thing. My list in Pocket is bulging at the seams – and only because I have been making a concerted effort to whittle down my email reading list, I’m proud to report that I have only 150 items in that queue at the moment. But if I hope to get that to zero – I need to handle my incoming emails only once – unless they need to be addressed later, much like the paper that the efficiency experts talked about.
Don’t even get me started about my photos and assorted cloud storage. I am about as fragmented as I can be.
Thank God my Word files are properly tagged for easy sorting and retrieval. That’s a win.
But I have been storing photos for more than a decade – and a great deal of them have not been properly renamed.
Much like I do with other keepsakes, I have these photos squirreled away for enjoyment later, but there is no rhyme or reason at play when it comes to finding something from a certain time period.
I have gotten wiser over the years and have tagged most of my newer photos for easy indexing.
I am guilty of not only procrastination but of digital hoarding as well.
But here’s the thing. These things are not half-eaten boxes of cereal or expired Spam. I’d like to get these things organized.
I suppose my flawed thinking centered around the “one day” when I would have the leisure to go through it all. I am beginning to sense that that “one day” may not come in the way I imagine it would come. Compound this with the march of time and all of the “live in in the now” rhetoric (I really should try that sometime), and you have the makings of a perfect storm.
As soon as I am done with my email reading list, I’ll be reviewing my notebooks – mining for potential gold, getting my digital hoard into a manageable state and working on my Pocket reading list.