The 2019 Castagno Rant

I thought I would have a go at this “RANT” thing again, this the 25th or 26th one – hard to say, the early archives are incomplete,and does it really matter anyway? You would think after that many years I would run out of things to rant about, and in some respects you would be right. 

 

The early rants were filled with tales of children and the joys of parenting – followed by those perilous teenage years – I go back and read those just to remind myself how lucky I am to be here.  Times have mellowed though: grandkids, Starbucks, politics, texting, and general stupidity seemed to have taken center stage – some even accuse me of getting soft and losing my acerbic sarcasm – I invite them to come over and help me plant roses – no takers yet, strangely enough.

 

But now what? Another regurgitation of the year’s events, grandbaby drool stories, the horror of modern-day travel, drive-thru frustrations, why morons continue to text and drivewould that bring a smile to your face and have you nodding in sympathetic understanding? Ahh the comfort of tried and true rant material… 

 

Or would you rather hear how a text notified me at 35K feet that my older sister had suddenly passed – you know “passed” cause it’s so much nicer than died – maybe some details on her decades fighting opioid addiction until her body simply succumbed in a bathroom alone. Would it help to understand how it felt standing in her empty kitchen spooning her ashes from one big box to a number of smaller ones; the memories cascading like so many fine particles? No, I’m guessing not…  

 

So, by now a few of you are like… “holy shit he’s completely unhinged this year…” Well no actually but sooner or later we come to the realization that the accumulation of life experience forces a certain clarity. The sharp pinprick of this present reality if you will… The young have the pleasure of rushing headlong into that blurry and distant place those of us that have some years already inhabit, but once you’re here – if you haven’t started, it’s time to pay attention. 

 

It struck me on a night drive – Tammy and I take a drive every evening, grab a coffee, cruise around the lake, and catch-up on the day; something we’ve been doing for years – anyway, I realized I had started measuring things by how much time I might have left. Freaked me out a little I have to say – I have always kept a “list” of things I wanted to accomplish in life and ticked a few off here and there… we all have one and sure it matures with time and experience, but I had never really considered there might be an expiration date on some of it; sobering to say the least. I am pretty sure we all have these moments: the loss of a loved one or a friend, catastrophic events like 9/11 or a school shooting – all are milestone reminders… it’s the paying attention that’s important however. 

 

I am okay with the running out of time part  I am not okay with running out of experiences. It’s not as simple or cliché as living without regrets or the common refrain of “leave it all out there…” I want to make sure I love deeply enough; touch not only the hearts of my children, but their minds and spirits as well. Help strangers where I can, stand for what is right without regard for personal cost, and embody what it means to be a true friend. I want to breathe in clear cold mountain air, and feel the warm sun on my head as waves break against the shore… and I want to share all of this with as many as I can.  I used to believe life was about fulfilling some list of material accomplishments: job, money, stuff… but the longer I live the more I understand life is about the living. 

 

So, what does all that mean, you might be asking… and uhh not really a rant dude… I hear you, and don’t worry I still get irritated by the ass in the Prius that doesn’t know how to order at Starbucks – by the way have you tried the Peppermint Brownie cake pop? Oh my God! Or the fool that thinks it’s okay to pick out each individual donut in their two-dozen order at the Dunkin’ drive-thru. What about service animals that are not really service animals on planes, do I really need to go into this? Millennials with beards… not a good look young lady… How about not vaccinating all the little bio-terrorists running around, or making medicine you can’t live without unaffordable for most folks. You get the point, there is still plenty to rant about, plenty to make you shake your head and say $%@#$%@# (you know what that means right?). 

 

Admittedly, I still do most of those, but I have had some experiences this year, some realizations, and come to some conclusions that lead me to believe maybe all that really isn’t as important as I thought; and I may even be questioning the overall level of my response to these situations cause is that really how I want to use my time, my experiences… probably not. 

 

Unbelievable, simply unbelievable… dude just ordered a soy decaf peppermint mocha latte with two shots of espresso, extra whip and chocolate drizzle… I don’t care if he is driving an F250 that’s a bullshit order – get the F’ out of my drivethru moron!

 

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays… and oh by the way – the middle part is the important part… 

 

Joe

 

That One Day…

The babies were finally sleeping having drifted off somewhere near the border, they had all cried together – but the little ones had succumbed to the steady thrum of highway driving and Kate’s tears had finally dried. She could still feel the clench of her heart, the heat behind her eyes and the salty residue on her lips – she tried to stifle the occasional snuffle so as not to wake Jack Jr and his sister Sally. 

She turns the Christian station, she wasn’t feeling very Christian though; she had been trying to be a good wife, following the rules and doing all the things a church wife was expected to do, but at some point, you had to wonder who had really made all these rules? They didn’t seem to serve Jesus’ purposes, but husbands like her Jack sure seemed to be enjoying things. She bites her lip holding her tears at bay – and no doubt a big “I told you so…” was coming from her father; but she didn’t have anywhere else to turn.

The memories cascade and there’s no holding back the tears, everything had seemed so perfect a loving Christian man, the wedding of her dreams, the perfect little home… when she had found out she was pregnant she had cried for three days. She didn’t have the heart to tell him she wasn’t ready; Jack had been so excited about being a dad. Then two years later the little boy he had really wanted. All of a sudden, she was trying to be a good wife, raise two babies on her own and hold down a full-time job; it wasn’t fair and it was too much. She had prayed, cried, called her mother twice a day and even tried talking to Jack; but here she was driving a hastily packed car down the interstate forcing herself to stay strong and not turn around. 

Of course, it hadn’t been just one thing, it never was, she had spent hours Sunday cleaning the house and preparing meals for Jack to take for lunch that week, by evening she had been exhausted hoping for a little attention or at least a hand giving the kids a bath and getting them in the bed. Why that night should be any different than most every other weekend she couldn’t really say, wishful thinking maybe. 

It had been the FaceBook post that had been the last straw, “out to lunch with my homies” had been the caption – why had she bothered? Opening the fridge, she pulls out a yogurt for the kids and sees the carefully prepared lunch – her post it note with “Love you honey” still attached. It had taken forty minutes to pack a suitcase and the kids into the SUV – she had left his lunch on the counter, maybe he would figure it out. 

It was four hours and a little more than two hundred miles before her phone finally rings. She doesn’t want to answer it, doesn’t want to talk to him – what’s left to say after all? On the seventh ring she can’t take it any longer and pushes the button. “Hey honey go ahead and eat dinner I’m working late okay?” She doesn’t know what to say, no how was your day, or how are the kids, or even a simple love you baby. None of that comes out though all she says is OK as she hangs up and the tears start again…

Authors note: 

This isn’t a condemnation of Christianity or Christian men, but it is a commentary on marginalizing people – especially the people that love you and make a real effort every day on your behalf – whether you acknowledge it or not. It is a statement on abuse – you don’t have to hit someone to harm them… and maybe the most important question: when is enough, enough? The preservation of one’s self-worth requires taking action on your own behalf – even if it means packing the babies up and heading down the interstate – physically or metaphorically… 

So, don’t be an asshole and hurt the ones that love you the most… 

For My Big Sis…

It’s Thursday evening and I am reflecting on the project I just finished in Phoenix, my flight is going to be late getting into Dallas… which means another night away from home. Modern technology allows my phone to be connected even at 30,000 feet – I’m watching the sun set through the window of 6A when I receive the message that my older sister has died…

There’s no positive way to get news like this, no way that makes it easier to absorb, so I watch the sun set and whisper goodbye – I foolishly hope she was at peace, as if somehow that makes it better, changes something… 

When we lose people the tradition is to polish their lives up, make them brighter – better than they probably were – I won’t do that with my sister. Her life is who she was and I loved her no matter the season. 

Julianna was seven years older than me, for as far back as I can remember she was “Lani” a leftover from the days before I could pronounce her name. She was my big sister – introduced me to rock and roll, David Bowie, Van Morrison, The Rolling Stones, and the best of the seventies. She taught me about girls and nursed me through my first teenage heartbreak. When I moved to Virginia after our mother died she helped me get settled in a new home and city. It was her couch I slept on when my young marriage was falling apart and she encouraged me to work it out. Life took us in different directions and our relationship was reduced to holiday and birthday phone calls, promises to get together and reminiscing about the “old days”, but she never stopped being my big sister. 

They say not to speak ill of the dead… whatever that means, life is messy, complicated and … her journey was long, but I maintain worth the trip in the end. She explored life – the good, bad and the ugly if that’s not too cliché – a national level equestrian rider, a debutante, she eloped with a Naval officer at eighteen, lived free and hard all over the world, divorced and then started a new life. She loved the simple elegance of a vase of flowers, a properly set table, and the energy of a live concert. She was a mother of an autistic son and champion of autistic children’s rights, a business woman, artist, drug addict, but more than anything Lani was my big sister… 

Goodbye sis, I love you and I miss you… turns out none of the mess mattered in the end… 

Remember to hug the ones easy to love a bit closer and the ones hard to love even closer than that… You see when it’s done all you’ll have is the memories and as sweet as they may be it’s a poor substitute for time spent together…

Joe

Thoughts on Irma – The Aftermath

*This is a five part piece – I encourage you to start with “Thoughts on Irma #1” and read forward… JC 

It’s been three days since Irma turned North and hit our little town dead center, about half of us have our power restored, a few stores and restaurants are opening back up, but normal still seems a fair bit off. There are long lines at the few gas stations that have fuel and those that fled early are unable to return for fear of running out before making it home. On every street the steady whir of chainsaws fills the air from dawn till dusk and the scent of fresh cut wood is inescapable. The piles of limbs and brush line the avenues and side streets, growing in stature as the once mighty oaks fall to the blade, some as much five or six feet across having seen hundreds of years – now lie dead in the unblinking sun. Leaves cover the ground and streets like fall in New England – an unexpected blanket of green.

As evening approaches folks start to return to their homes, grills are fired up, candles lit, and the rhythmic chatter of a generator punctuates the still air. It’s hot and humid, the air lies heavy and still – not even a hint of breeze as if the wind had exhausted itself earlier and now is slumbering somewhere far from here. It’s not quiet but the sounds are all different, no TVs, no music, even the traffic has disappeared – they have been replaced with the hoot of a hunting owl, laughter from a few doors down, the tireless chirp of the lake frogs, and the stray bark of a lonely hound.  News is exchanged on the sidewalk and the interaction of neighbors harkens back to an earlier and simpler time.

Life is already moving on, the inescapable pace of today’s society can’t and won’t wait for our emotions, anxiety, understanding to catch up. It’s going to take time to fully process this experience, we talk about it – sharing the memory, the feelings, coming to grips with this brush against our mostly ignored mortality.  Today we hung the pictures back up and moved the porch furniture back into position – symbols of normalcy. The electric is back on – something we celebrate with embarrassed restraint as there are so many still waiting. Tomorrow will bring a trip to the grocery store to replace the provisions that have spoiled in the unforgiving heat and life’s mundane routines will begin reasserting themselves.

I imagine it will take weeks to fully restore all power, services, and cleanse the landscape of wreckage and in that time we will exchange our stories of that night and come to grip with our personal lists of would have, should have, could have – but the reality is our psyche will only allow a tepid remembrance lest we live on trapped by the understanding of our insignificance.

Thoughts on IRMA #4

Dawn is finally breaking – grey streaks begin to penetrate the darkness. The wind is still present, but reminds me of the summer thunderstorms of my childhood, not the incessant fury of last night. I am sure analogies will abound today – our 24 hour news media trying to convey the experience and those mavens of disaster over at The Weather Channel with their hundreds of campaigns under their belts explaining to us just how it was. I understand, but the reality is so much different than their LL Bean protected forays into the “heart of the storm”.

It would take pages and pages to capture what last night was like – I honestly can’t imagine what a CAT 3, 4, or 5 might be like. The wind and rain had picked up its intensity around midnight, I hadn’t contemplated it being able to get much worse than it was – I lacked context, but that’s no longer the case. We lost power around 1AM about the time the eye wall was approaching our town, our neighborhood, our house.  You see on the TV it’s just a dot on a map, but the reality is it’s the four walls and the person next to you – and the fury and ferocity isn’t directed anywhere else – its personal.

The battering gusts of wind had been coming in waves for what seemed like hours, each subsequent rotation with increasing intensity – until it all blended together into a singular focused battering ram, which is when the power went out creating all consuming inky black. I understand with much greater clarity now the destructive power of wind like this – it’s an unstoppable force – there is a constancy that is maddening in its consistency. I think that may be the most difficult part to deal with emotionally – the simple fact that at the height of things there simply is no break, no where you can escape to, no way to stop it – and it is everywhere for hours…

We lay in bed in the dark holding hands, I’m not ashamed to say it was terrifying – if the power of nature doesn’t intimidate you – well you simply haven’t been paying attention and the arrogance of humanity has penetrated your being. The winds song is the background beat, the bass track if you will it sets the tone for everything else. Now layer in the creaks and groans of the house – you truly have to experience it to understand, but it seems like it is going to come apart around you – the percussion of blowing transformers, falling trees and debris clattering off the windows round out this symphony of destruction that has no intermission. We exchange fitful attempts at sleep finally settling into a semi-conscious state that seems almost dreamlike.

I must have drifted off at some point, because the winds had died down and the windows were no longer rattling, greeted by the soft grey of the coming dawn I began to fill the coolers with whatever food could be salvaged from the fridge and freezer hoping the ice would hold us long enough for the power to come back. Its already getting warm and the day promises no escape from the heat and the unblinking sun that is Florida in the summer. I’m already missing my morning coffee and the prospect for a cold glass of ice tea is pretty bleak. Soon the calls and text messages will come in earnest from those scattered all over the country waiting to hear that all are safe, the check-in with local family, friends and neighbors will follow shortly after. It may take days or even weeks for some to return to normal – air conditioning, carefully manicured yards, the erasure of impending anxiety – but the experience can’t be expunged – the greater understanding of how truly insignificant and powerless we are as mother nature decides our fate with no concern for our opinion or preparation…

Thoughts on IRMA #3

The weather started deteriorating around noon today as we watched Irma come across the keys and head north toward us. The benefits or modern technology, weather radar, social media and the wall to wall news coverage is obvious – prepare, prepare, prepare – but on the other hand nothing ratchets up the anxiety like watching the slow march of an inevitable disaster. No question being informed and prepared is the better option, but it takes an emotional toll. The calls, texts and messages from friends and family continue to pour in, they are watching the same coverage we are – geography goes out the window at times like this, Florida is a big state – but we live in Florida and that’s enough.

A couple of interesting observations today though: it’s a strange experience taking down your pictures, wrapping them in plastic and boxing them up. Backing up your computers, debating what to pack and store in the center of the house and what to leave in place. It’s like moving but being told you can only take what can fit in three or four boxes and oh we are leaving in six hours so hurry up. Then there is the network of folks that develops around you in these situations, the folks you know, long time friends, and neighbors – all of us sharing in an experience none of us would have willingly chosen to be part of, but the “check-ins” and messages of support go a long way toward dispelling that feeling of isolation being locked up in your house creates.

I took a walk around the house late this afternoon between rain bands, checking and rechecking – wishing I had tightened that gutter up, probably should have trimmed that tree back – an inner monologue of should have dones, too late now to do anything about, it will be what it will be. A final check with the kids, “are you sure you don’t want to come stay here?” They have their own homes, pictures, fears, and plans – I understand but still wish they were here so I could know for sure they were okay. My two boys on the West coast stay in constant communication, I’m sure worried and feeling helpless to do anything.  The family has decided on hourly updates via group text, it’s a poor substitute for having everyone together, but measurably better than not knowing.

Dark has fallen now, the wizards at the Weather Channel are discussing whether there is an eye or a center of rotation – neither choice changes the forecast of 100MPH winds in the next few hours. The wind and rain have picked up substantially and you can’t avoid the eerie whistle and staccato of the driving rain against the windows, the shadows cast by the streets lights undulate through the windows strange patterns cast by the wildly swaying trees. The band of storms is moving so quickly the thunder seems to roll across the horizon from right to left creating a strange symphonic effect. The thought of this elevating in intensity is disconcerting, but the experts say the worst of it should be here within the next few hours…

9/11

Written on 10/29/01 on a flight from Newark, NJ to Tampa FL

Although it has only been a little more than six weeks since September 11th time plays on my emotions, some days it seems as if it were yesterday and others as if many months have passed. Even so, the memories do not seem to fade. In many ways, the whole series of events did not seem real as it unfolded across my TV screen. I guess a part of me is still trying not to acknowledge the broad ramifications of that day.

I watch my children as they laugh and move past the news of the day. I wonder what unforeseen impact this will have on their young lives. My daughter, seven and still full of a precious innocence, struggles to grasp what it means that so many people lost their lives for no apparent reason. I sense their confusion when I struggle to hold back tears.

This weekend I brought the family with me to New Jersey. A trip that would normally be filled with anticipation and excitement was subdued and anxious. It wasn’t just that we were attending my cousin’s memorial, Gary was last seen on the 92nd floor of WTC Tower II, but I was struck by the lost innocence of America. Soldiers at security check points, a mixture of fear and suspicion in my fellow travelers, a sense of anxiety blanketed all of us.

As I sit next to my daughter on the flight home, I play back the past few days. The fierce determination of my Uncle Ray to be strong for his family, he is a rock to hold onto. A man who has worked hard for more than forty years earning his living every day as an integral part of the fabric of this country, now strangled by emotions that are impossible to understand and harder still to control. My cousins desperately trying to come to terms with the loss of a big brother and best friend. I see Gary’s friends and co-workers, some survivors themselves, as they slowly parade through the day. Somehow, I feel outside, watching a filmstrip that doesn’t end and can’t be stopped.

I remember Gary and I growing up together, weekends at our Grandmother’s, and his visits to our farm. We were like brothers, but now that seems like a lifetime ago. I watch my children play with his daughter Jessica and I wish I had made the effort to stay close, to have found a way to reconnect with him as adults. My uncle and I desperately try to catch up the years, but with only a few brief hours, it is difficult. I feel a gentle reassurance though that this family will find its way through and will gather again unto each other. We have lost so many in the past few years. My Mother, Father, Grandmother, and now Gary. As we hold each other close, I believe we all know that we can no longer afford the assumption of tomorrow. We have paid the price of our apathy and it is dearly heavy.

This morning I drove to the city with my family. I pointed out where their grandfather had grown up, and then Ellis Island where their Great Grandparents arrived from Italy. I looked upon a skyline that seemed strange without that unique character that is New York. I can remember as a child crossing the Verrazano Narrows Bridge into Brooklyn on the way to Coney Island with my father. I would stare in wonder at the Trade Center Towers as they stretched above the skyline, today nothing but a smoky haze. I searched for a way to describe how wrong it all seemed.

As I travel, home I realize that I had hoped to bring some closure with this trip. I understand now how impossible that is. I find myself settling for tacit acceptance that some losses just can’t and shouldn’t be erased. With this acceptance comes a clearer understanding of the responsibilities I have to both those I hold dearest and those who have become a part of my life.

Those of you who know me well understand the passion I approach life with. I now have a new found vibrancy and respect for those moments we all share and the experiences that are waiting for us. I look forward to catching up with my family and growing to know new friends. I take a moment to pause and savor the unique wonder that is life. I can’t fill the loss of my cousin or those who perished with him, but I, for one, will not squander the gift they have given me, the renewal of an apathetic spirit and the rekindling of a passion for life.

Author’s Note:

I am posting this a day early as we prepare for the assault of #IRMA – locally we are expecting 100MPH winds and loss of electricity for 3 or more days…

Thoughts on IRMA #1

I have lived in Florida for close to twenty years and this is the first hurricane that has significantly threatened my personal wellbeing and property. We have had some close calls especially during the 2004/5 seasons, but always managed to escape the worst of it.

We debated on the proper course of action on this one, stay or go, I’m sure like many of our friends and neighbors. We are not in an evac zone so no forced decision. This seemed easy mid-week, even as late as Thursday, but things change. The “track” evolves and shifts, there is no way to really know exactly where or how strong the storm will be; but there is no question the more the forecast matures the worse it is looking for those of us in Central Florida. So the debate begins again fraught with more anxiety and pressure than before – stay or go?

Looking in from the outside it seems simple, we always thought so – don’t be foolish GO! – things can be replaced. Seems logical and so simple, but now it’s difficult to find gas, the roads are packed – and there is a real possibility of being stranded somewhere that may not be safe either. What about family, kids, grandkids, employees – are these considerations? They have to be; can I really take to the highway, my wife safely by my side and know as I look in the rearview mirror that my son, his wife, and my two granddaughters are staying behind, or that my daughter and her new husband have decided to hunker down and hope?

So today we go through the surreal exercise of packing precious things in plastic, photographing belongings for insurance purposes, trying to stockpile food and water in anticipation of being without electricity for up to a week. Which means spending some time online trying to figure out whether the insulin my Type I wife needs everyday has to be refrigerated or will it last that long.  It’s a strange thing having to examine the pros and cons of a thing that literally may impact your life, not how you live or where you live but your very life. There is nothing unique about our situation most of the residents of this state are facing some level of uncertainty and dealing with similar issues and questions, but funny how it’s different when you experience it yourself.

Waited in a sandbag line this morning for a few hours, hundreds of folks from all walks of life with a single aim – find a way to protect themselves and their homes. I will save you the clichés of equality and coming together – the best of humanity etcetera. We have all spent the last two weeks seeing this in Houston and you can see it first hand in Florida. I watched the little old lady (white) in her very nice car being helped by the young African American – current resident of Polk County Jail pressed into service by the Sheriff’s department – it would make a nice meme. It was an interesting picture though, she was ever so thankful and he was helpful, polite and I think glad to be doing it.  It was good to see everyone working together, no fighting, no yelling, nothing but neighbor helping neighbor… so I’m not cynical, but don’t we sooner or later have to ask why it takes the specter of something catastrophic get us to stop acting like assholes to each other?

Anyway, time to get back to prepping and putting on the strong it’s going to be alright persona… my family all sees through the false bravado but it makes me feel better… More to follow as long as the lights are on and the interweb thing is working…

JC

Pink Shoes

PaPa’s poems for a granddaughter…

Oh those pink shoes
They look good on you

Dissed by Mom & Dad
PaPa thinks they’re rad

We wear them to swim
And play on the jungle gym

GiGi calls them crocs
Auntie K says they rock

Mom & Dad don’t realize
PaPa bought every size

Oh those pink shoes
They look good on you…

LiLibug

PaPa’s poems for a granddaughter…

Lilibug oh LiLibug
In puddles jumping

My heart you tug
I feel it thumping

A bed time book
PaPa will read

Breakfast we cook
Pancakes indeed

The sweetest hugs
And bye bye kisses

These are what
Your PaPa misses