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…

Remembering 9/11

I have been meaning to write a follow up piece on 9/11 for many years, but I honestly somehow never seem to be able to properly capture how I feel about it, but I am going to give it another try this year.

It was October 2001 and I was flying back to Tampa after attending the memorial for my cousin Gary when I first tried to write down how I felt about 9/11, he had last been seen on the 92nd floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. I watched that tower come down on television not knowing he was working there, but knowing I had family and friends in the city. If you grew up in NY or NJ the Trade Center was the very symbol of the City, it towered over everything, casting a shadow into the very consciousness of those who lived there.  I had been in those towers as a boy with my Father, and had attended a number of business meetings there as an adult; to see them in ruins I honestly was unable to wrap my mind around it. That was a difficult time, my kids were young and didn’t really understand the magnitude of what had happened, my Uncle Ray and his family were deep in their grieving, and the smoke was still rising over the NYC skyline as I flew home that chilly October afternoon.  We had begun to rally together as a country, but there was a palpable underlying anxiety as well, soldiers patrolling airports, the constant crush of media coverage and the feeling that things were never going to be the same.

We have all come to know more about the events of that fateful day than any of us probably care to, the fingers have been pointed, the conspiracies debated, wars continue to be fought over it, governments overthrown, and even some Old Testament justice delivered by Seal Team Six, and in spite of it all I still miss my cousin.

So sixteen years later I still wonder why, was anything really accomplished on either side, how many must we kill of theirs, how many need to be beheaded by this latest incarnation of radicalism and in the end will any of it really matter? I think we all know the answer as this supposed war of faith has been raging for centuries with no abatement in sight and no real answers either.

For me the very saddest part of this is that we all believe what we believe but somehow that isn’t enough for any of us, we feel obligated to propagate our belief system as the superior form of faith, philosophy, or even denomination and these beliefs of ours in their most radical form require the conversion or extinction of those that don’t believe as we do. How it’s possible to reconcile this with any positive interpretation of spirituality escapes me.

Many of my friends and family have visited the 9/11 Memorial, they say it’s a special place, a solemn place, that the spirits walk there and I am sure it’s true, but I have not visited. I want to, I have even made my travel reservations, but something holds me back and although I am sure I will eventually make it there and I will close my eyes and speak with my cousin we will share a laugh and the memories of long ago, but not yet, no the sadness is still too deep, too real, and the loss has not faded to a point where I can face it yet. So, till then I look at the pictures, listen to the stories of those who make the pilgrimage, and I miss my cousin.

Author’s Note:

I am posting this a day early as we are expecting to high winds and loss of power as #IRMA enters the Tampa Bay area later today and tonight.

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…

An Excerpt – Peakeville – Laurie

…Laurie had taken the second afternoon to visit Jamie’s grave alone, it was bitter cold as the wind whipped off Lake Michigan, but she had a lot tell him. Bundled up in her father-in-law’s parka and wrapped in a blanket she sat by his granite marker, the crossed fire axes a reminder of the selfless man he had been. With her tears freezing to her cheeks, she told him about Peakeville, about their son and how big he was getting. She cried again when she told him how much she missed him, the way he wrapped his arms around her from behind bending to kiss the top of her head, that last dinner they had shared – burgers and cold beers on their tiny back porch. She didn’t blame him anymore for not coming home the next morning – she had come to terms with it. She talked about the future, making a new start, she promised to teach their son what a hero his father had been, but mostly she had come to say goodbye…

Authors Note:  This an excerpt from a chapter in my soon to be published novel… comments and thoughts welcome.

The Process…

I have been writing for a long time, I started with poetry and short stories in high school and have written for local magazines and newspapers, but mostly just for myself. I always considered it a hobby a way to infuse some artistic expression into what was and still is a very structured industry that I work in. My “day job” if you will, is providing executive management consulting to healthcare companies; everything from technology integration to revenue cycle management. I’ve spent thirty years in the industry and now have the luxury, really the privilege of working for myself. As much as I love what I do it wasn’t enough, two years ago I decided to get serious about my writing; I published my first novel last spring and my second this summer. It’s been a learning experience and like with most things I feel the more I invest in it the better I am becoming at it, imagine that right. Read more ›

“The Sally Anne”

The white paint had faded to a dingy gray and was flaking off in large patches, most of the siding should have been replaced years ago, while silently flickering in the grimy window a faded neon “open” sign sputters and blinks out its forlorn message. A collage of stickers from various fishing reel and boating manufacturers peeling along the edges and washed out from long exposure to the Gulf coast sun are plastered across the front door, affixed to the top is a small brass bell intended to announce the arrival of any timid soul brave enough to venture into the shadowy interior; it hadn’t worked in years not that there had been any traffic to announce. Had you bothered to glance up you would see the slightly askew hand painted sign inviting you to enter “Big Dan’s Charters & Day Tours” the bright red letters having faded in sync with everything else and even the gaily colored baby blue boats with their painted on smiles seem melancholy. Read more ›

Memories of Mom…

A few years ago, I reached the age where I had accumulated more years without my Mother than with her. I lost her when I was a mere 24 not yet old enough to realize how much I was going to need her, nor how much I would end up missing her. At that young age she was still “mom”, you know the “mom” we love but still chafe under as young adults. It isn’t that I took my Mother for granted, I didn’t she taught us that lesson well enough, but I had no idea how much I would miss her and how many times I would need her counsel, her teaching, her understanding, and maybe more than anything those irreplaceable tender moments of a mother’s comfort. Read more ›

Dreams of my Father…

…Last night my father and I went traipsing through a dream… We made up for lost time and unspoken wishes, I showed him the landscapes of other dreams and just for a moment we captured the relationship that never was and never will be…