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

 

Death by Addiction

Juls had a knack for making wherever she was elegant, fresh flowers, candles, handmade soaps – little touches that transformed common place to magical. I loved going to her home for a cup of coffee or simple meal she always found a way to elevate the experience.  It was never about showing off – money – pride – or some baseless motivation, it was a respite from the ordinary. The saddest part of my weekend was walking into her home and finding all the special things, the cups, plates, candles, soaps, an empty vase on the table… but the magic was missing – the energy that was my big sister. There was a haphazardness to it all, as if she had all the pieces but just couldn’t put them together – my sister died two weeks ago, but taking it in I realized she had been missing much longer. 

I spent the weekend sorting through the physical remnants of her life while trying to reconcile a myriad of feelings – anger, sadness, recrimination, and in flickering moments of honesty, relief. My sister didn’t die of an overdose, but the corrosive nature of addiction killed her just the same; you see not all addicts die with a needle in their arm or a carelessly spilled bottle of pills next to them. My sister died on the floor of her small bathroom… alone. I hope it was quick and painless, but I know that’s my selfish attempt to absolve the guilt dancing just out of reach… odds are it was neither.

I have heard all the platitudes – don’t be an enabler, addicts have to reach rock bottom, it’s a choice, helping is just codependency – I have parroted them oft enough myself and as true as these are… I have to live knowing that they are also a convenient excuse for apathy. I loved my sister, but I am faced with the reality that the physical manifestation of my love was clearly inadequate while it mattered. It was easier to insulate myself with these protestations than reach through her addiction and love her in a tangible way that may not have saved her, but would have given her some moments of happiness. I wasn’t able to change her addiction and at the end her death was just a reflection of her journey – but I should have made the effort anyway.  

There is a brutal finality to scooping ashes out of a simple box surrounded by those caring enough to be there… no what might be, could be, or should be – just a fine grey dust eddying into a series of smaller vessels – reminders of what once was. I have heard it said none of us escape alive, but whether that end is in a velvet lined box surrounded by friends and family or on the counter of a lonely kitchen consigned to a simple urn – the result is the same. There is value in the experience, in the loss, in the reflection, in the memories – not about addiction, death, or the physical remnants, but about love and the brief flicker of time we all share in this space…  

My sister was an accomplished artist among many other things, I found this in her bedroom – it speaks to me of transition… leaving life behind – the tree a metaphor for life if you will… it seems fitting in a melancholy whimsical way…

Wonderin’

I sit here wonderin if the worlds gone to hell
Got Tom Petty playin’ the stories we could tell

I cant find the words to splain the way I’m feeling
And I don’t know how to stop starin at the ceiling

So the tears fall and the memories keep flowin’
And there aint nothing for it but to keep goin’

Cause I sit here wonderin if the worlds gone to hell
While Tom Petty’s playin’ the stories we could tell

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 #2

Today is about final preparations and second thoughts. There is a palpable anxiety in the air now and folks are more openly questioning their decisions. Should we have purchased a generator, what about boarding up our windows, is it too late to head North. The unfortunate reality for most is that these decisions are no longer viable and items are simply not available and even if they were the time for this level of preparation is diminishing quickly. We are probably 24 hours out on serious weather, much too long to contemplate should have, would have, could have, but not nearly enough time to rationally shift your strategy. The challenge now is to stay occupied double and triple check everything without giving into the fear and anxiety that accomplishes nothing beyond paralysis. The calls from family come in earnest now, the posts and messages from friends rain down on FB: “keep us posted, come visit, you stayed?, we’re praying for you… have you heard of Zello?”

We have secured our house as best we can, unfortunately we are in that group that didn’t board up windows when we probably could have and should have. The storm track continues to show minor fluctuations but barring some large shift we are looking at 100+ MPH winds early Monday morning. Fortunately for us we do not live on the coast and will not have to face the storm surge that seems to continue growing. I spent some time on my back porch this afternoon, its stripped of everything that could possibly move, I watched the trees swaying from the early gusts – forewarning of what’s still to come – it’s a beautiful day. In the background, a cacophony of meteorologists drone on barely repressing the glee in their voices. It’s not so much that they are happy about things, but adrenaline is clearly driving them at this point.

It’s a surreal experience watching this beast on TV, the sun shining outside, kids playing in the neighborhood, the mundane debate on what to have for dinner – pork chops won. At some point you have to turn it off and take a break it’s too exhausting. FB is no better, the updates from local friends and co-workers read like a litany of final farewells while those you know in the rest of the states continue to post pictures of vacations, kids, college football and everyday life – the contrast is stark – further accentuated by the feeling of impending doom that is filling every corner. Look around, every room is filled with something precious a memory, family heirlooms, your favorite chair – what if it all goes away overnight? No don’t give in to that…

My granddaughter shoves another Oreo in her mouth smiling, “PaPa Joe walk me” she grabs my hand and leads me to the couch – “Bubble Guppies PaPa” it’s a welcome break from the reds and yellows of the radar graphs. We share some cookies and she dances to her favorite songs, it’s a sweet moment – a reminder that life isn’t about things – even precious things, but about those moments we share with the ones we love. She is two and has no inkling about what the next few days hold and that’s perfect; would we all were a bit more innocent and carefree in the face of those things we can’t change.  Chin kisses and PaPa hugs for those are the things I love; she heads home with my son and his wife, only blocks away, but still somehow too far.

It’s late now the wind has picked up a bit, but it’s still a beautiful evening as my wife and I take a “night drive” around town. Most everything is closed up tight, not the Waffle House of course, but most everything else. We cruise around the lake that our neighborhood surrounds, a brief stop in the middle of the street to exchange greetings with a lone police officer making his rounds, when did they start hiring so young I wonder to myself. He bids us a goodnight as we drive in opposite directions neither of us with a firm destination, waiting, waiting, waiting…

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

The Wilderness

…it exists at the junction of betrayal, heartache, and hope.

The days seem to blend together in an endless stream of sameness as I journey further into the wilderness. There really is no beginning or end just a senseless jumble of destruction. The once mighty forest lays in ruin about me charred as if some hell spawn has unleashed the very fire of the netherworld upon it. I remember the mighty oaks, majestic maples; the stately firs that seemed to tickle the top of the world. If I close my eyes I can feel the dappled sunlight on my cheeks, I can hear the creek in the distance as it carelessly chooses its path down the hillside. It’s only an illusion there hasn’t been any life or joy in these parts recently, the sun no longer warms the earth beneath my feet and an endless twilight reigns in the heavens. Read more ›