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

 

The 2017 RANT

So, my friends, we have been traveling down memory lane, “RANT” style for about twenty years now – so I decided to use a new font this year to freshen things up a bit… $#%@ you that’s a joke, but seriously it’s a new font.

I wrestle with the same problem every year – how do you recount all happenings and accomplishments without coming off smug and all “look at me, look at me.” I know it always seems to work out with some combination of sarcastic observation about the strange world we live in and what passes for normal combined with a rundown of the family hi-lite reel.

I always go back and read the last three or four years’ worth of Rants before getting started – funny it always kicks up my allergies. This year I decided to start way back in the ‘90s and read forward – oh sweet baby Jesus was that a mistake! It reminded me why I started this mess in the first place – we were a young family, four kids, working our asses off, moving from rental to rental trying to stay ahead of the bill collectors and still buy groceries. Knowing everyday any little ripple could throw it all off the rails, “sorry kids no Happy Meal today, Dad has to pay the electric bill.” You work eighteen hour days, kiss your kids as they lay sleeping, love your wife when she lets you, catch a few hours and back at it – and I’m sure through it all my wife worked harder than I did.

Christmas time would roll around and we would scrape a few dollars together for gifts – those kids never missed Christmas and we did everything in our power to insulate them from the everyday hardships – it was our burden not theirs – we weren’t heroes just parents. Inevitably we would get that holiday letter from our slightly older and much better off friends trumpeting all their blessing and big deeds for the year – how do you not feel like your failing reading that? Most people tape it to the fridge and celebrate their friends good fortune – F’ that I decided to write a RANT instead and so here we are!

Those first Rants probably weren’t very good, and in fact I’m slightly embarrassed by how angry some of it sounds, but it was real and that’s what mattered… They are more circumspect and polished now – I guess I’ve grown up a bit and truth be told passed through that “slightly older better off” phase myself, now I’m just old, grumpy, and probably too acerbic – so almost full circle, but with better writing!

Normally I just plow through the kids one by one extolling their virtues, poking fun at them, and generally irritating them in a fairly good-natured way. But honestly, I just can’t bring myself to do it this year so I’m just going to go with some hi-lites and observations instead.

Two major events this year really have to take the headline though:

  • Granddaughter #2 – Joined the family in July of this year – cute kid, bright blue eyes, big head, drools incessantly! I think big sis is still deciding if she wants to hug her or hit her… Great name on this one and super sweet.
  • So, this second one is a bit more traumatic – my daughter called me about four months ago clearly upset – not something you ever want to have happen. I have to remind you she just had her first anniversary this December so this whole marriage thing is pretty fresh – anyway she breathlessly tells me that Jon has come home and announced that he is “VEGAN” – I have to admit that my first reaction was “well okay, it could have been worse…” but I refrained and counseled her that just because he had lost his mind didn’t mean that she couldn’t continue to eat steak, meatballs, chicken tenders, and all manners of meat. She is doing better – Jon looks a bit withered but that’s just me.

Of course, there’s more to talk about than drool and vegetables, there’s politics, Starbucks, texting & driving, stupid angry people, air travel, and all the rest of the crazy that makes up every day. I’m going to pare it down for you though cause most of it just makes me insane – so hang on this is the sarcastic acerbic section in case you were missing it.

  • Politics – simply put all of it makes me nauseous on both sides and I’m sure however you feel you’re already arguing about it enough and FYI none of the people in DC are listening to you. They don’t care about you, the environment, your kid’s education, healthcare or pretty much anything beyond their own power and comfort – yeah, I know cynical but have you listened to any of these people?
  • Admittedly Starbucks is a pretty consistent theme for me – I have a problem, I know I have a problem, fact is I don’t even order anymore I just drive up to the window and my stuff is ready. However, I just have to say the stupid angry people that can’t place a simple coffee order should stay the hell out of my drive thru.
  • Texting and driving is another favorite of mine but I’m not going to talk about it anymore – what’s the point everyone is doing it – doesn’t matter that it’s like playing dodgeball with cars at 80MPH – have a good time – just don’t hit me.
  • Air Travel – hmmm what’s left to say that hasn’t already been exhausted. It would be nice if they actually tried to wipe the biohazardous material from the last passenger off the seat and tray before shoehorning the rest of us in there – but what the hell I’ve grown used to being sick six months out of the year – popping antibiotics like #$%@#$ Tic Tacs and drinking cough syrup like it’s water.
  • Stupid angry people – where do you even start with this one – they are among us! Let me just say this is Florida and most of us serene older guys are way over armed and we practice – you young angry stupid guys need to chill out and stay out of my yard… Please. All kidding aside there seems to be some kind of mental lapse taking place in a whole generation of very angry young people because they clearly don’t understand how good they have it and seem to have an incredible amount of free time to protest just about everything from every angle.

Okay what’s that leave – right normal crazy and all the regular stuff – that’s cool plenty to talk about. The wife and I have settled fully into the whole grandparent thing. She even traded my truck for a minivan so she has transitioned to full GIGI mode and loves those little ones. I have to be a bit more circumspect about it, wouldn’t want anyone thinking I had gone soft or anything. However, I do spend a lot of time with the granddaughter on the front porch eating popsicles (sugar free) and watching the world go by – its good stuff, believe me and as a bonus I’ve recently started letting the new one drool on me. I also might have indulged in a number of Christmas inflatables on the front lawn this year – what the girls love Minions, blue hippos and pink pigs!

The other unfortunate situation this year has been the evolution of this group of Cruffin loving misfits that camp out every Saturday morning at God awful early to sample the incomparable creations of Jennifer and the girls at Born & Bread Bakery. Why unfortunate you ask, other than the before dawn wake-up call – despite my best and repetitive efforts these folks are becoming friends, I know a chink in the old armor.

Can you believe we are at fifteen hundred words already and you’re still reading this? I know crazy, right? I haven’t talked about all the kids, their jobs, trials and tribulations, relationships, exploits, blah, blah, blah… but this isn’t going to be that kind of RANT sorry. Everyone is doing life, there is some really cool stuff going on in their lives, and there are some struggles – these are really wonderful people and I love them a lot. You should get to know them if you don’t already, maybe see what they are up to – my guess is they have some cool things to talk about and some pretty interesting thoughts and opinions they would love to share… well except Jon he just talks about vegetables and the melting properties of non-dairy cheese.

So, my friends I hope this year has treated you well, and if it hasn’t let’s endeavor to make the next one better together.

———

Final thoughts for your consideration:

This year I published my second and third novels – if you have read them you have my very sincere appreciation – if you haven’t why not?

My first book “Jake” and its sequel “Peakeville” are intended to create a dialogue on systemic racism and oppression. It’s impossible to ignore the egregious every day demonstrations of intolerance around us – we can do better and if you aren’t experiencing it don’t pretend like it’s not real – be vigilant – there is so much more to say on this, but at the very least just stop acting like it’s not everywhere and folks should somehow miraculously just get over it. It’s not okay to devalue people simply because they are different than you.

My other novel is “Traffic” and is more in the style of an international thriller – but I based this book on the very real problem of human trafficking. If you are on Facebook or any other social media platform you know a week doesn’t go by without us seeing a flyer for the disappearance of a young person – predominantly teenage girls. What you rarely see is any resolution or happy ending to these disappearances. The statistics are truly staggering:

  • The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking globally.
    • 68% of them are trapped in forced labor.
    • 26% of them are children.
    • 55% are women and girls.
  • The International Labor Organization estimates that forced labor and human trafficking is a $150 billion industry worldwide.
  • In 2016, an estimated 1 out of 6 endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were likely child sex trafficking victims.
    • Of those, 86% were in the care of social services or foster care when they ran.

There is no official estimate of the total number of human trafficking victims in the U.S. The Polaris Project estimates that the total number of victims nationally reaches into the hundreds of thousands when estimates of both adults and minors and sex trafficking and labor trafficking are aggregated. More information is available at www.polarisproject.org

Stay tuned the follow-up to “Traffic” should be out sometime next spring and I am contemplating doing a third “Jake” book – those take a lot of energy so we shall see.

As always, my very best and remember the journey is long but worth the trip.

Joe

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…

Cinnamon Girl

Nobody was quite sure where she had come from, one of those easily overlooked Midwest states, something with an I – Iowa, Indiana, something like that; a place you were from not somewhere you were going to. I’m sure she had a name, something expected, safe, well Midwestern – but we all just called her Cinnamon Girl.

It’s probably worth noting that she wasn’t the sweet cinnamon sugar mix you load up your French toast with, no more like a spicy bite of chili that makes you ask, “whoa is there cinnamon in that?” Read more ›