Friday, December 12, 2008
They say all of us can. That's probably true, but how many of us actually discovered that one thing? I imagine that not everyone has, otherwise we'd all be famous or at least well known for something. I figured out early in life what my one thing is. Unfortunately, it's the stupidest (G-rated) talent in the world.
Why couldn't I be a great artist, or musician, or a great football player? Noooo ... it had to be arm-wrestling, of all things. How ridiculous. What can a guy do with arm-wrestling anyway? And who cares if he's good at it? The President of the United States isn't going invite a great arm-wrestler to the White House. There's no Pulitzer prize for it. Time Magazine isn't going run a cover feature on him. Hell, arm-wrestling isn't even in the Olympics! Canoeing and Figure Skating is. Canoeing and Figure Skating? What-the-fuck? But never mind; that's another story entirely.
Let's see ... I'm 52 now; my arm-wrestling career began at age-11. My stepfather got me started in it. He was a blue-collar construction worker who's worked with his hands all his life. He was strong but a mediocre arm-wrestler; I doubt he won many contests against his workmates.
The very first kid I arm-wrestled was my age and he had 20-pounds on me. I held him to a draw three-times. And that instilled in me the confidence to challenge every kid my size or bigger. Most were willing. I went undefeated until age-14. That opponent was the only person my size to ever beat me twice. He then moved away. Nobody my weight would beat me twice-in-a-row again. (I'd love to hunt that guy down for a rematch now).
On a rough guesstimate, I'd say I've arm-wrestled about 5,000 times, including a couple hundred rematches. And of those 5,000 or so, not a single opponent was lighter than me. In my mind that would have been cheating.
On another guesstimate, I'd say I lost somewhere between 300 and 600 times, and maybe 100-or-so draws. That means my lifetime winning percentage is probably no worse than .800 and maybe as high as .940. Not bad for a small-boned, underweight stick-boy who grew up never to exceed 176-pounds. And that on a hard but average six-foot frame.
I lost most of my matches while between the ages of 20 and 30-years-old. All that booze I was putting down had robbed my body of valuable vitamins and minerals. I had become a full-blown alcoholic. Also, I had no arm-wrestling technique whatsoever. Brute strength and the will to win got me a lot of wins, but determination alone would get me only so far. Plus I lost to or tied the same guy at least thirty consecutive times over the course of about five-years. (Those matches really dipped my overall win-loss record). I weighed between 140 and 150-pounds. He was a six-foot-five, 225-pound bouncer at The Blue Dolphin, one of the local local strip-joints.
Then, one day, I finally beat him. It was my finest victory up to that point. The following year I joined the Army. there, I met a real hodgepodge of strong GI's. Only one guy my weight would defeat me, but I avenged that loss in the rematch. I defeated or drew against the rest. By that time I developed a reputation, and off-base soldiers came to the NCO clubs to take me on for money.
After the Army, I continued to arm-wrestle in bars for bets. At a local college frat bar, I challenged two Monmouth University football linemen. They both went down fast, and they were so amazed that a 160-pound guy could beat them, they wound up buying me beer all night.
By age-35, I improved my cardio by learning the game of tennis. (It turned out that tennis and I were made for each other). And still weighing 160-pounds, I also perfected the ideal arm-wrestling technique for my body type.
Losing just wasn't happening anymore, and I took on all comers, no matter how much they weighed. Then I remembered that old TV program, Wide World of Sports as a kid. Occasionally, they aired the Professional Arm-wrestling Championships. And I had to wonder ... could I hang with the pros? Was I really a "freak of nature", as a guy once called me?
New Jersey isn't exactly a hotbed for pro arm-wrestling, but I put myself on the schedule mailing list... and waited. A few months later I found a flier in my mailbox. There was to be a New Jersey championship double elimination event in South Jersey. And it included a 160-pound weight class. The problem was: I was given only two-weeks notice. Not enough time to prepare, so I went in raw and untrained.
Unfortunately, the event was to be held at 9:00 PM. That meant I'd be drunk by that time. So I recruited my best friend as my impromptu chauffeur/bodyguard.
We arrived at a crowded and noisy nightclub. They were drilling the arm-wrestling table into the floor as we walked in the door.
...to be continued...
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
These ten great MMA matches are right off the top of my head...hardly written in stone. I’ll stick with the two heavyweights of MMA productions: The UFC and the late, great Pride FC. I’ve seen so many great fights over the years, it was very difficult to whittle them down 10, let alone in order, so I’ll just spit out my ten random picks, in no particular order at all.
1) Phil Baroni vs. Ikuhisa “The Punk Minowa” 1 in Pride FC, 2005
I swear this thing looked just like Rocky 1, except that Minowa is no Apollo Creed. After Round One, which included some takedowns by both fighters, both decided to just stand and duke it out. In Round Two, they stood in the pocket and traded bombs (most of which connected). They both forgot about leg kicks.
Baroni and Minowa were on a mission. Nearly every punch landed. The normally subdued Japanese crowd was going nuts! The last 30 seconds saw both fighters on spaghetti legs, but they were still trading bombs like Popeye and Bluto.
Finally, midway through Round Two, Baroni landed a weary left-right combo that put Minowa down for keeps.
2) Antonio “Minotauro” Nogueira vs. Mirko Cro cop Filipovic in Pride FC, 2003
It was a match made in Heaven—an undefeated stand-up striker versus a grappling submission specialist. In Round One, Big Nog had a lot of trouble with Cro Cop’s lightening fast sprawl. And Cro Cop found out early that his vicious left leg kicks weren’t stopping a determained Nog from moving forward.
When Nog started getting takedowns, he found Cro Cop’s submission defense surprisingly competent. Big Nog never stopped trying though, and he finally arm-barred Cro Cop early in the Round Two. (It was to be Cro Cop’s first loss).
3) Royce Gracie vs. Dan Severn in UFC IV, 1994
Yes, to the untrained eye, a snooze-fest...but riveting to anyone with ground-attack knowledge. Gracie was undefeated and winner of UFC I and II (He was unable to continue in the UFC III tournament after defeating Kimo Leopoldo).
A much decorated wrestler, Dan Severn, breezed through his first two opponents. Gracie was extended to over four-minutes by a crafty Kenpo specialist, Keith Hackney. Severn outweighed Gracie by 80-pounds.
Within a minute of the opening bell, Severn shot in and took Gracie down (not that Gracie minded). And for 16-minutes Severn lay in Gracie’s guard trying to choke, punch, head-butt, and elbow his tiny opponent, but landing nothing significant. At last Gracie pulled a sneaky triangle choke, and Severn finally tapped.
4) Royce Gracie vs. Kimo Leopoldo in UFC III, 1994
Gracie ducked the punch and they both clinched. Gracie pulled guard, and from then on it was non-stop movement. Gracie got the full mount, but Kimo reversed it. Kimo never stopped trying for the knock out, and Gracie was fighting for his life. Finally, Gracie arm-barred Kimo at the 4:40 mark.
5) Fedor Emelianenko vs. Kazuyuki “Iron Head” Fujita in Pride FC, 2003
This one was supposed to be a no-brainer. What Japanese pro wrestler deserves to be in the same ring with Fedor?
But, at the bell, Fujita stands and trades with Fedor! Then a Fajita left hook puts Fedor on Queer Street! Amazingly, a staggering Fedor didn’t go down and out. Instead, he kept his cool and clinched Fajita up until the cobwebs wore off. He then took down Fajita and tapped him with a clean rear naked choke four-minutes into the Round One.
After the fight, Fedor was still wobbly. Talk about a close call!
6) Takanori Gomi vs. Luiz Azeredo in Pride FC, 2005
Gomi “The Fireball Kid” and Azeredo traded punches from the opening bell like dueling airplane propellers. The action was non-stop, and I don’t recall the referee breaking them once. Then at about the six-minute mark of Round One, Gomi knocked Azeredo out cold with a combination.
As if the fight itself wasn’t exciting enough, after the referee waved Gomi off, he proved himself a classless punk by jumping on his unconscious opponent and he continued striking him while being pulled off by the ref and eventually by both corners.
A mini riot broke out in the ring. And Gomi was still trying desperately to strike Azeredo! Finally, they pulled Gomi out of the ring and calm was restored. Suspiciously, he was not disqualified.
7) Chuck Liddell vs. Alistair Overeem in Pride FC, 2003
How could this fight not be exciting? Not much to say here except that they both delivered. These two strikers were looking to end matters early. Alistair built a comfortable lead with his vicious knee-strikes. Things weren't looking good for Chuck, but he was striking back with bad intentions. Nobody took a break in this nail-biting barn-burner.
Midway through Round One, Chuck caught Overeem along the ropes with punches in bunches. The referee waved Chuck off as Alistair slumped to the canvas.
8) Fedor vs. Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic in Pride FC 2005
This long anticipated matchup was slightly tarnished in that, purportedly, Fedor came into the fight with a broken right hand. But both fighters brought their “A” game.
Fedor was handling Mirko pretty well in stand-up striking, but I couldn’t help but wonder when Cro Cop was going to unleash his cannon of a left high kick. The fans didn’t have to wait long. And when his left kick started landing, Fedor’s body and face began bruising up in a hurry. Yet Fedor displayed better striking. And Cro Cop had no answer to Fedor’s ground came except that he was able to weather Fedor's ground-and-pound storms.
By round 3, Fedor rarely threw his right hand, and I’ve got to wonder what if? Without that busted hand, would the fight have gone the distance? Fedor couldn’t stop a very game Cro Cop, but he did win the decision very convincingly.
9) Frank Shamrock vs. Tito Ortiz in UFC XXII, 1999
It’s the only fight I ever rooted for Frank to win because he’s not quite as classless as Tito. Great action-packed give-and-take fight here. I was getting a bit worried because Tito was slowly pulling away by out-grappling Frank. It seemed to me that Tito had built a comfortable lead going into the Round Four.
Then, in Round Four, Frank surprised Tito with a right hand, and the next thing I know, Frank is standing and punching Tito’s big melon while Tito is turtling up on his hands and knees and tapping! Imagine that? Tito tapping from strikes?
I was quite the happy camper after that one! How fitting was that win after Tito donned that disgusting T-shirt after he defeated Frank’s Lion’s Den stable-mate, Jerry Bohlander?
10) Don Frye vs. Yoshihiro Takayama in Pride FC, 2002
Okay. Look closely at the stare-down. Now tell me Yoshihiro didn’t look like Don Frye’s aunt. And a very ugly woman, I might add.
Nevertheless, he was a Japanese pro wrestler who Don Frye was supposed to dismantle. And he did just that. Only this was no ordinary MMA match. It was more like a hockey fight. And not just any hockey fight. This brawl reminded me of the old Islanders vs. Flyers games/fights when the Islanders were winning all those Stanley Cups.
These two went right hand crazy from the opening bell. They punched like like Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots! Takayama’s face soon looked like it greeted an 18-wheeler at 70 mph. And he was hideous to begin with!
After what seemed like an endless exchange, Frye took down Yoshihiro and landed a few more shots shots until the referee stopped it in the first round.
This is a fight that you should YouTube immediately.
These are definitely my Top 10 .... as of today ... as of *right now* today. These may change tomorrow; I'll let you know!
For the last 30-years or so my dreams usually involve having to decide whether to be brave and take a stand, or flee. Sometimes I come close to risking my neck, only to scram at the last second. Other times I'll stand my ground and battle it out. Occasionally, I have to murder a person or two. But I can explain, honest.
I have PTSD accompanied by ESR and unrelated organic major depression. That means If I stopped taking my psych meds, I would turn manic. The major depression thing was a gift from my mother. She was pure Highland Scottish. And and those people have been known to produce their share of fruitloops.
The screwball part of my brain was genetically predisposed. My grandmother was also a nutcase who passed it down the line. Who knows how far back it goes? And I'm not even part German. Those Germans, I don't know ... even their dogs are fucked up.
And my father? Just some Italian guy who was a low/mid level Cosa Nostra banana from Conn. He died of lead poisoning ... from a .22 to the back of his head. According to my data sources, he was just a mean fuck without any diagnosed mental illness. His mean genes didn't infiltrate my DNA.
Anyhow, the dreams. All but one killing was in self defense. In the sole premeditated murder, I choked the guy out until his soul zoomed to the heavens. All because he ratted me out. (That guy actually did rat me out in real life, but I only threatened to kill him). Apparently it worked because he never ratted me out again. The other killings had to happen because those people (often times soldiers) were looking to waste me first.
I average about two-murders a week. There have been months without a single death. Then all of a sudden, I'll mow down 15 or 20 men in a single dream.
Of course, not every altercation ends in death. In fact, most do not. Usually, a few people attack me and I have to punch, choke, or armbar my way out. See? Even in my dreams I try to stay away from fire arms.
We all have our crosses to bear, and I've got the dreams. I got off the hook easy though. I'm really a nice guy in real life. If you don't believe me, ask what I do for a living.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
A long time ago I worked for you at the ceramic store. And now you're dead. So I thought this might be a good time to pen an amusing little true story about boy-meets-girl...in 1973.
Of course not. It's just that due to unusual childhood circumstances, truths could not be revealed to me by traditional means, so I had to turn inward to seek it. Hence the classical music, international film dramas, and constant reading of encyclopedias and classic literature, rather than the standard forms of entertainment other kids my age preferred. All in search of the truth. So by virtue of happenstance, you could say I drew the inside post on premature knowledge.
This, then, is the accurate, sequential story about the long seasons of 1973 and beyond...
"He is not cute!" Yes, the whole setup was steeped in bizarre paradoxes.
So, "Good bye, kid," and she cried, but not too hard.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
It's not that I'm any stranger to long term relationships, but it always wound up that either they, myself, or both of us ultimately fought like cats and dogs once the luster dulled. I like a strong woman, but the problem is that I'm a strong man...okay, stubborn.
My wife is a good woman. Even-tempered, supportive, passionate, intelligent, and she's even a great cook! Plus there's real chemistry between us. So, in a nutshell, it all boiled down to simple arithmetic: what were the odds of finding a woman with all those qualities who would actually fall in love with me? Oh...maybe 1 in I don't know how many thousands. With those odds, fear of legal binding commitment was outweighed by the sheer luck (or destiny?) of having that woman share my life for the rest of my life - and beyond.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Anyhow, enough of that.
So...who remembers having an unexpected pleasant visit with one of your elderly neighbors when you were a kid? Perhaps a visit that left a positive impact on you, maybe even for life? I'll bet you can recall somebody eccentric who lived on your street. You know, maybe an important or even a revered person.
I vividly remember a childhood conversation with such a neighbor, and I'd like to share my experience with you.
LESSONS FROM AUNT MARGARET
by Joseph Lupoli
My eyes were tired. I had been reading for about four hours. First it was The Happy Hollister's and National Geographic, then I had just finished reading the “H” volume of my new pictorial encyclopedia set. “I” was next. The aroma of something being fried wafted into my little study from the kitchen—liver and onions? My mother was preparing supper to have ready for when my father came home from work. And then, over the noise of rattling pots and pans, she announced the dreaded words:
“Frankie, I think you should visit Aunt Margaret.”
I rolled my eyes and rested my head on my hands while searching for a clever and convincing excuse.
But the best I could offer was a meager, “Aww, c'mon. Do I really have to, Ma?”
She stood there, hands firmly on hips. “You can’t sit in the house all the time. I want you to visit the neighbors…it’s nice and sunny out.”
There was no getting out of it this time. My mother had been asking me to visit Aunt Margaret for two weeks now. I thought it was enough that my parents presented me to all their relatives, friends, and everybody they ever knew, on a whirlwind tour starting from the day they adopted me two months ago. But apparently they weren’t done. Now I was expected to walk around the neighborhood and knock on strangers’ doors and say, “Hi, I’m Frankie, and I’ve come to visit you.” When would it end? Or will this ‘let-us-show-off-our-new-son' business go on indefinitely?
“Come on, Frankie," she said, her tone now a bit softer. "Put on your coat and walk across the street. She’s old and hardly ever gets visitors.”
Great. Just great. "Okay, okay,” I mumbled with annoyed resignation.
My mother watched from inside the door as I slowly meandered down the driveway toward our wooden gate. I remembered that my father told me Aunt Margaret was a retired grammar school principal and she won all sorts of awards. And that she had upwards of forty cats. I heard him and Ma talking about her being jilted at the altar—according to him, the groom never showed up and she never dated again. She became a spinster. It was all said sympathetically.
I thought about how terrible it must have been for her to live with a heart that broken. I had to laugh to myself though—my school grades were sure broken, but I still had to go to school. And who knew what my loud-mouth father told Aunt Margaret about me. He probably spilled his guts about everything. I hoped I wasn’t paying a visit just to be lectured to. After all, Aunt Margaret wasn't really my aunt; she was just a neighbor.
As I reached our gate-latch I stopped and looked directly across the street at her home. It was a large brown clapboard house with a windowed, closed-in porch surrounded and completely shaded by large pine trees and maples in her little front yard. Those five unruly Hartwick kids who lived next door to Aunt Margaret were playing in the street. They were very loud, but incomprehensible—just a lot of screaming and stuff.
I stood behind my fence and peered out at the street just like we orphans did from the huge back yard at the Children’s Home in the city. My new yard was small and bordered by a white picket fence; not like those tall black iron gates at the orphanage. This neighborhood was not at all like the city. It was just a quiet dead-end street with houses and trees and fences—not much else. Plus, I was an only child; I even had my own room. So why would I care to venture out beyond our little fence? I never felt the inclination to wander outside those big gates at the orphan…
“Frankie! Go on.”
My mother opened the screen door to coax me. Then I heard it slam shut.
“All right, all right, I’m going!”
So I warily maneuvered my way past the staring Hartwick kids to Aunt Margaret’s chain-linked gate and, once through, I saw the two brick steps that led to her maroon front door. Those steps reminded me of the morning I noticed her sitting on them. She was in a nightgown and house robe, and on her lap sat a squirrel eating nuts from her hand. There was another squirrel at her feet waiting patiently. I found it amazing that a wild squirrel would trust a person enough to sit on their lap.
The doorbell made a deep rich series of pleasant lyrical sounds. A couple of minutes went by as I waited. Great! She’s sleeping! I can tell my mother nobody answered and I‘ll get a reprieve. But just as I turned to leave, the doorknob turned. My heart sank. What was I supposed to say to her? And how long was I supposed to stay?
As soon as the door opened, a new scent rushed to my nose. The smell was not unpleasant and it calmed me somewhat. Then Aunt Margaret appeared from in the doorway. Her soft grey eyes greeted me first, welcoming and non-judgmental. Hi, Frankie, please come in. It’s so nice to see you. Then she smiled and spoke:
“Hi, Frankie, please come in…”
“Hi, Aunt Margaret, I umm…I’ve come to visit you.”
“Well, I’m glad you did,” she said with honest enthusiasm.
She gracefully extended her hand toward a light tan couch. “Please sit down. I’ll hang up your coat.”
So I sat on the couch and Aunt Margaret took a seat in a large padded chair with a colorful shawl draped on it. We were just a couple of feet apart. The couch was very comfortable.
That sure was simple.
Aunt Margaret wore a similar gown and robe as when I saw her that earlier morning. She was a smallish and frail woman, but not underweight. Everything about her appeared soft—her voice, her small nose, her long white hair; even the few wrinkles on her round light colored face were soft. Her face exuded a sort of gentle understanding.
And it looked to me as though her eyes have felt pain, a kind of pain I couldn’t identify with and may never experience. Aunt Margaret’s entire stature radiated life and humility and compassion. I thought lousy students like me were supposed to feel nervous around school principle's—even if they were retired. It then occurred to me that a sermon about my poor grades was probably the last thing on her mind.
“Your eight years old, Frankie?”
“Yes,” I answered as a calico cat brushed up against my pant-leg.
“That’s Pinky…Pinky, say hello to Frankie.”
I reached down and petted Pinky. She was a friendly cat.
“How many cats do you have, Aunt Margaret?”
“I have forty-two little darlings. Do you like cats, Frankie?”
“Yes, cats are great. I don’t like dogs though.”
“Well, a dog bit me once,” I minimized without going into detail.
The last thing I wanted was Aunt Margaret digging into uncharted territory—such as why I was sent the orphanage in the first place.
And so Aunt Margaret and I talked about cats for a while. She told me how she took in stray cats and how she was able to hand-feed squirrels. As we bantered, I began to look around and noticed an endless array of crystal and porcelain figurines neatly arranged and displayed in various locations about the room. There was also a large grandfather clock and many pictures and paintings on her walls. Everything was placed just so and there wasn’t a speck of dirt or dust in sight.
“Can I get you something to drink, Frankie?”
My earlier nerves made me thirsty.
“Okay, may I have a glass of water?”
“Yes, of course. I’m going to have some tea. I’ll be right back.”
Aunt Margaret left then returned with three cats trotting closely behind her. When Aunt Margaret sat down, one of the cats, a black and white kitten, jumped on her lap and immediately curled up and closed its eyes. The other two lay sprawled near her feet. Pinky leapt on the couch next to me and put her head on my lap and began purring. This was tuning into quite a cozy visit. Aunt Margaret told me their names as I petted them.
“How do you like your new school here, Frankie?”
Uh oh—maybe not that cozy. Here was the set-up I had suspected. But maybe I’d be able to steer her away from school talk by being direct right off-the-bat.
“I don’t like school because it’s boring and I can’t do math…but I like to read,” I answered while defiantly looking her square in the eye, almost daring her to scold me.
Aunt Margaret surprised me by laughing. She leaned close to my ear.
“Boys aren’t supposed to like school,” she whispered. “And I can tell you read a lot because your pronunciation is perfect. It’s not the end of the world if you can’t learn mathematics. I was terrible in math too, you know.”
At that, we both laughed. My laugh was from relief.
Even though I found it hard to believe that an award-winning teacher could be weak in any subject, I was just grateful that Aunt Margaret mentioned nothing more of school. She was a perceptive lady and I was a very thankful kid.
Then she reached and took a thick beige photo album from a self and handed it to me. In it were childhood pictures of her, her only sister, and many animals, both wild and domestic. The second half of the album contained newspaper articles and pictures of her as a teacher and then as a principal, some with smiling students and faculty members surrounding her. Aunt Margaret seemed to find joy pointing at each picture while telling me the names of all the people and what they were like. Her memory was astonishing. Some of the pictures went back to the 1930’s. She described every photo in vivid detail and her enthusiasm appeared to heighten when I asked her questions. I truly was interested in all those pictures and articles. I liked learning about what life was like in the old days.
Aunt Margaret and I chatted and laughed as though we’d known each other for a long time. It was that easy. While petting Pinky, I noticed a little black box on a small round table next to her. Since that box sat at arms length from Aunt Margaret’s chair, I surmised that its contents must be very important. But despite my curiosity, I made no mention of it.
At some point, I sensed she was tiring. As I was about to thank her and bid my good bye, the enormous grandfather clock suddenly announced another hourly chime.
Amazingly, I had been there for four hours!
“Umm…thanks for letting me visit you, Aunt Margaret,” I clumsily told her as I stood up. Pinky wasn’t prepared for my departure and she hooked a claw in my pants pocket to protest my taking away her headrest. I gently unhooked her little paw.
“Frankie, I’m so glad you came to see me. You’re a very unusual young man; you’re fun! And you should steer clear of Those Hartwick and Mulligan boys’", Aunt Margaret exclaimed, with a bit of fury in her voice. "They’re so loud and mean.” She shook her tiny fist in the air. “If I ever catch them throwing rocks at my squirrels again…!”
“Oh I’m sorry for getting get so worked up, Frankie. I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“That’s okay, Aunt Margaret; I understand.”
And I did.
“Frankie, please feel free to visit me as often as you like, even when you’re sad and worried.”
Hmm. So my folks did tip off Aunt Margaret that I am a "disturbed child." And she remembered. There was no getting away with much around her—not that I cared to. Aunt Margaret did seem want my company with no ulterior motive. Maybe she just liked me? I wasn’t going to disappoint her.
“Yes, Aunt Margaret; I’ll visit you a lot.”
With that, her eyes tilted joyfully again. She believed me.
And I did visit her often. My school grades grew even worse, but Aunt Margaret never bugged me about it—as though she knew the real reason why, even if I didn’t. As the years rolled on, I fell in and out of friendship with the Hartwick and Mulligan kids—and I made sure they never went near her squirrels, even if it meant fighting them.
Then one day, Aunt Margaret died. I was fourteen and it was my first funeral. She looked happy; like she was just napping. I was surprised so few people were there—only a handful. How could that be, I wondered. Wasn’t she renowned as a great teacher and motivator? And even the few mourners there seemed indifferent, as though inconvenienced into a disagreeable courtesy call. They weren’t really mourning Aunt Margaret. I was very put off by the whole facade and later, while alone in bed, I wondered if a normal person would morn and cry. It was easier for me to justify that if there was a Heaven—and there had better be, then Aunt Margaret’s soul probably zoomed right up there the moment it left her body.
The next day, my father told me that Aunt Margaret’s little black box contained nitro-glycerin tablets. She had a severe heart condition—she suffered numerous small heart attacks for many years. I guess God needed her up there to lend the insightful understanding of her listening ear to those in need.
Around the following year, some big-shot politicians named Aunt Margaret’s old school after her:
A few decades too late, I thought. Her former pupils and faculty coworkers had long forgotten about her living alone in her brown clapboard house. Isn’t it sad how certain people aren’t recognized as great until they leave?
Still, those of us who have suffered losses devastating enough to lead us into head-first tailspins of self-loathing and worse; we know the score. The lucky one's among us who do recover from such spirals, know to hold tight a piece of our heart to a glorious person once known; we see her forever alive and wishing with her last breath to turn an old photo album back into the people she loved so dearly. Ultimately, Aunt Margaret's lesson to me was that there is no futility in mortality. And I realized that sometimes the worlds best medicine for a troubled child can be rendered by the simple, serene wisdom of an elderly person with enough understanding to let life happen at its own pace.
Monday, April 14, 2008
Philip, who's autistic, joined us for a week of camp (the day after Summer camp ended). That one week is reserved for children with severe autism. The program is called "Capers".
(I have no idea why it's called that). Does anyone have an autistic loved one? They're a handful, and any parent who raises one has my admiration. Some autistic children have a tendency to try and flee. They can also be extremely loud. Just to have the kids for a week leaves me dead tired.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Without a sample, do they really think I'm going to take them seriously? What are your thoughts on that? I'd like to know.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Sleep disturbance. So it's 2:10 AM and I forgot where the shut-off button is in my brain.
Summer Camp: It's the hardest job I ever worked, and I've had some tough jobs. What makes it even harder is the New Jersey humidity. The summer turns the air quality into a barely breathable pasty goo. It's a real energy thief. But the physical nature of this occupation really keeps me in shape.
Two things make this job different than your average gig. For one thing, the salary sucks in ratio to the responsibility. The other thing is this is the first job I ever worked that's actually rewarding. I mean, where can you go and hear hoards of special needs kids yell, "Joe, Joe, Joe!" when you arrive at the canopied picnic tables in the morning? The only thing those kids want is your personality. And unlike many mainstream people, hate or meanness never dwells within them.
Their minds have no concept of deception, back-biting, or cruelty. Fortunately I have an outgoing personality, and I don't mind sharing it with the kids. I'm not sure who has more fun, them or me. Also, I get to talk to their parents or caretakers and gather important information about each kid. A shy or stoic person who's unable break out of it wouldn't be happy in this career.
Being in the 'trenches' in this job means singing, dancing, organizing games, birthday parties, field-trips, being in camp shows, wearing wigs and hilarious outfits on theme days, and so on. Often times I can't believe they actually pay me to go there to play and to be my goofy self. The best part is I get to work there all year around! This is my fifth year there and I have no plans to leave anytime soon. To me, it's not a job, it's a way of life. And those kids want my laughter and enthusiasm.
See? There is a spot for a born ham after all.
My career is really strange, but in a good way. There's a few buildings situated in a huge park. The park has a two pools, a spray ground, a play ground, tennis and basketball courts, a baseball field, a football field, three field hockey and soccer fields, a roller-hockey rink, and a really long walking path. In the Summer, all the other counselors and I have to report to the Therapeutic building at 8:00 AM. At about 8:30 our developmentally disabled kids start trickling in. I call them 'kids' even though some are in their 30's and 40's.
We have five groups. The groups are divided according to age levels. For instance, group one has the youngest kids. Group five is for the adults. That's my group. A client from my group is in the picture with me. Robert. Robert has Down syndrome. In fact, about 70% of of our Therapeutic Summer camp program kids have Down. Their functioning abilities vary a great deal. The other 30% have other developmental disorders such as neurological impairments, general retardation, brain damage caused by accidents, and so on.
When Summer Camp closes, all of the Summer camp counselors leave and go back to college. Only Mary (my group leader) and I stay for the Fall, Winter, and Spring programs. Mary and I are the only counselors there who are in our 50's. Four other non-Summer camp counselors also work those programs.
I have to leave now because it's Saturday and I need to get a haircut. And after that, I have to watch Ultimate Fighting from my enormous private DVD stock. I know, it's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. In my next post, I'd like tell about joys of my occupation.
So long for now, folks.
And have a wonderful day!
Thursday, April 10, 2008
I’m sitting here at even though I didn’t have to wake up until 6. Normally, I’m an early to bed, early to rise type guy, but lately I’ve been going to sleep later in the evening than usual. The Pride Fighting Championships that I own or order from Netflix are to blame. Call me an addict, but I can’t get enough of mixed martial arts (MMA). Tonight, I’m going to sleep early, just like I promised myself last night and the night before that. Wait—something is wrong with this picture *yawn...*
So how many of you did some detention time in junior or senior high school? Do you remember what you saw and how you felt? Well, there’s no way of knowing for sure, but I may hold a record for total detention hours from the 4th grade through the 9th grade. I wasn’t a bad kid—never loud or disruptive in class. But there was one thing I didn’t do which always landed me in detention—school work. To me, school was the most boring institution on earth. The law states that school attendance is mandatory, but I don’t recall any State or Federal laws saying that I must pay attention while in class or to do homework.
Actually, detention wasn’t so bad. It lasted only an hour, though a major offense could land you two-hours. And although we inmates were supposed to be studying during that hour, I always hid the book I happened to be reading inside of a larger textbook. Detention whizzed by as I lost myself in a good story. But a few times I forgot to bring a book and I had to draw pictures instead. It was during those times that I was keenly aware of my surroundings for that one long hour.
The following would be a typical detention day - minus my book. If you were a detention regular as I was, let's take a trip down memory lane and let me know if you can identify with any of this.
By Joseph Lupoli
The crew of apathetic teachers here expect me, a 14-year-old kid, to sit at home and voluntarily do homework. That’s quite a laugh. You’d think they would have gotten the message by now. I have despised school since my first day of Kindergarten. I’ve never really studied before, I don't plan to start now, and I have refused to do homework since the third grade.
Being in detention is not my favorite pastime, but the mere thought of bringing schoolwork home is far more repulsive. It’s like having a job and being forced to work overtime for free. All things considered, the price tag of not doing homework is affordable.
It’s a light day in this hell-hole of a study hall.
The usual thugs are shifting around restlessly in the back-row seats. There’s Jimmy, the class bully, a long-timer. Jimmy strikes me as a sociopath in training. Next to Jimmy sits Victor, "The Ripper." Victor is Jimmy’s co-extortionist and loan-shark. Oh, and there’s "Michael the Mauler"—also an aspiring sociopath. He's a future lifer, plus 90-years. Michael is doing hard time in detention probably for loansharking or refusing to rat on a fellow hood under investigation. He was once voted ‘Most likely to join the Mafia.’ Michael has sideburns and a five o‘clock shadow which make him look about 20-years-old. For added emphasis, he smokes non-filtered Camels. All of this I find most disturbing. Michael the Mauler once threw a kid off the school roof for not paying his ‘protection’ tax on time. They tried to extort from me, but not only won’t I do schoolwork, I don't respond much to demands either. Interestingly, when I refused to pay them off, they just shrugged and shuffled away. I guess they were too lazy that day to kill me.
Now, normally, this would be a routine day in my life.
Only today is no ordinary day. For the first time ever, the brilliant and beautiful Amy is here in lock-up. Yes, Amy. Amy is a sacred entity complete with a blue misty hue and everything. Just her mere presence purifies the air within a hundred yard radius of her. To me, she is light-years beyond human, and I fear her far more than all the school bullies put together. So why on earth is Miss Britannica/Americana in detention? What could she have conceivably done? Being the loner I am, the answer will never be revealed to me. I’ve never heard of her getting any grade lower than an B+, and she actually cried over it! Amy never missed school that I know of, and she's made the honor roll probably from the moment they cut the umbilical chord and gently slapped breath into her. I love Amy and I dream about her in color. But she has every reason to hate my guts—to her, I'm probably just lowly scum lumped together with all the other under-achieving trolls. The only difference being, I feel more comfortable operating alone. I don't want to belong. That clique bullshit is for sissies.
I'm positive that most of the smart and pretty girls find my entire being revolting. How could they think otherwise? I spend more time in the Principals office and in detention than I do in the classroom. (general population) It’s really too bad that I’m so socially inadequate, few girls even glance my way, let alone talk to me.
Amy made sure she took a seat in the front row to the far right, near the door. I’m also in the front row, but to the far left. Though tempted, I dare not sneak a glance directly at her for fear she might happen to look my way at the same time. What if our eyes accidentally locked? Fuck, what a harrowing thought! What’s to say I wouldn’t have a heart attack on the spot, or experience some sort of embarrassing epileptic seizure? So, I begin to sketch an elaborate schooner with a pencil and a ruler on a sheet of writing paper. That should take up the whole hour.
Meanwhile, Jimmy is busy cutting dirty words into the top of his desk with an unnecessarily large hunting knife. I've seen his pearls of literary wonder engraved on other desks. I’m slouched down so low in my chair that I’m practically laying on the floor. Victor and Michael are engaged in a spirited spitball fight. They never bully me because I’m the one who taught them how to make the perfect spitball, very round and with the right weight-to-size-ratio. And I showed them how to assemble and utilize two spliced and taped McDonald’s straws as the barrel to achieve maximum distance, velocity, and accuracy. Prior to that, they used hollowed pens as their weapons. Their weapons often jammed because the barrel was too narrow and the spitballs were not round enough. Spitball and projectile manufacturing combined with test practice and adjustments are really a fine art and it should be included in the school curriculum in place of say, metal shop.
Of course, there’s Miss Camp, our math teacher, at her desk grading papers or something. I feel sorry for her. So few of us legitimately pass her class, yet the system pushes us ahead anyway. That’s urban life for you. Poor Miss Camp -- burned out like the rest.
My mind wanders aimlessly. I feel my forearms and biceps. Today my muscles are hard and well defined. It's scary. Yesterday I was a skinny toothpick. My bones have been annoying the hell out of me for over a year; A frequent dull ache. I’m growing too fast.
It sucks in this prison, but I imagine they're all the same. I wonder why I’m always so bored in school. Obviously, it's not because I'm too smart. I just compromise doing the right thing, then wind up in miserable detention. Will I ever pull it together? No time soon. I'll start learning after I hit 16, when they can expel me. By then, the stakes between learning and not learning will become much higher. Who knows? A decade or two from now, maybe I’ll wind up back in school on my own free will.
Isn’t it comical that because of my stubbornness, anything I’m forced to do usually remains undone, yet that same task might be fun if only I had the power of choice?
The hell with them all—I’ll do it my way; take the long way around, the hard way, the uphill way. Sure it’s stupid and getting there is a long shot, but if I make it, I’ll wind up stronger than the rest because I’ll have paid more than then them.
If suffrage doesn't bury me first, it will temper me, and ultimately I'll have developed too much self-confidence to even remember what a hue looks like.
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
Hi, fellow readers and writers!
I've written a few things over the years, most of which disappeared when an ex-girlfriend crashed my computer. Whether or not I have any literary talent - I have no idea, but either way, I don't plan on quitting my day gig anytime soon. Becoming rich and famous doesn't really interest me. Just being read is enough keep me happy.
Recently, I was encouraged to start this blog and share my stories and to network with others.
The smaller stories I create are born when I look at photographs or paintings. A while back, I came across an old U.S. Civil War photograph of a young teenage boy in uniform waiting to have his picture taken. His facial expression and his body language told me all sorts of things, so I decided to pen my impression of what might have been going through the boys' mind as he stares into the camera.
Now I sit forever in this hot, humid room waiting for a light flash. For hours, it seems, I wait, still and numb. At only 15, I am prepared to die for The Mighty Cause.
My sentence is already decided by the Confederate Army.
I will die.
Surely, I would have fled had they not conditioned me into trading my life to take two so that freedom for the Great South may live forever.
Everyone sings and boasts loudly, but at night I hear anxious whispers. The
I wonder what would happen if I just stood still on the battlefield while everyone else thrashed about, loading and firing and stumbling and cursing? All the muskets and cannons would miss me. But no, my own side will shoot me for that.
There’s a funny yet chilling feeling in my gut as I recall that only a couple of weeks ago, I was fishing along the banks of the beloved Mississippi and skipping stones along its nearby estuaries without a care in the world. Then two important looking officers on horseback came riding tall in shiny boots and gold buttons. They told me to “Sign this paper, son, and make your mother proud!”
Pretending to know how to read and write, I looked at the tiny words on the paper and then I marked an ‘x’ after the ‘X’.
The men squared up and one boomed, “Were looking for a war hero just like you, young soldier. Follow us!"
Hurry up and take the damned picture, please! This too-tight, wool uniform itches something awful. Why didn’t I pay attention in Sunday school and later in church? Is my soul clean and good? Is it pure? I think now is a good time for a solemn prayer: God, please forgive me for stealing that ladies’ underwear catalogue from Rodger’s and Drysdale’s. And please forgive me for anything else I did wrong, too.
I wonder if the other soldiers in my outfit are as scared as I am. Our grim, dirty, hungry expressions all look the same, despite our age differences. I feel drained and swindled. God forbid if all these people in here should realize how terrified I really am. My never-ending fatigue is all that keeps me from trembling or from even allowing a big tear welling in my eye to fall noticeably down my cheek. Why do we do this? Why don’t I know anything?
At last, the light flash is seen and heard, and that little puff of smoke seeps upward. I wipe my eye.
Frozen within myself, I now wait for somebody to tell me what next to do.