It has been some time since you all have heard from the Monday Morning Punter; and some of you have expressed some concern that you’ve been left off the mailing list; and I’m sure some of you have expressed some relief at that prospect (if this is the case, you need only to reply to my emails with a curt “UNSUBSCRIBE,” and you will no longer receive any punts in your inbox.) But never fear, or be very afraid, because the Monday Morning Punter is back and ready to take some snaps after something of a summer vacation.
Putting the blog on hiatus over these last five or six weeks was not so much a conscious decision as it was just a product of the meandering circumstances of my life and mind. If you know me, then you know that I like to fly by the seat of my MC Hammer style parachute pants, and let the wind take me where it will. Well, the winds have had me driving about the Tri-State area attending bachelor parties, weddings, and BBQs; they’ve blown in some houseguests to host; and they’ve steered me clear of most of the bullshit political commentary that passes for intelligent discourse. Also, the winds have shifted, and are coming from the North, bringing with them fantastic weather and the coming football season – more on this later. And what little writing I have done has focused mostly on my fiction.
As we approach Labor Day weekend, and the unofficial end to summer, I’m ready to again share my thoughts on the ins, outs, and what-have-yous of life on this little blue-green ball of rock we call Earth. But first, I’d like to share what I’ve been up to as of late, as well as my thoughts on what has transpired in the world since we’ve last talked.
What I Did On My Summer Vacation
The first noteworthy event of the summer since my last post was seeing the Dalai Lama speak at Lehigh University. I mentioned this back in July, but was unable to really articulate the experience in a cohesive essay; so I will try my best to sum it up in a few sentences. The title of his speech was “Generating a Good Heart,” and most of what he talked about revolved around how to achieve this goal. His Holiness spoke at length about the immense importance of compassion and its power to help cure many of the problems we face as human beings in this world. One phrase he used a lot, and resonated greatly with me, was “internal disarmament.” By that he means that everything should start within each of us, by removing the walls within that impede our great capacity for compassion. When this “internal disarmament” is achieved then it is much easier for us to see clearly the shared and common experiences of human life. This will then result in a greater awareness of how each of our actions affects the world around us. And finally, the Dalai Lama stressed that this ideal need not be housed in a specific religious dogma. While God is “infinite love,” compassion, says the Dalai Lama, is a secular issue. Seeing the Dalai Lama speak in person was remarkable, in that the man exudes peace and love; and his message and teachings reach to the crux of the human experience: peace in the world starts with peace from within each individual. In the immortal words of groundskeeper Carl Spackler from Caddyshack, played brilliantly by Bill Murray: “Big hitter, the Lama.”
In late July I had the opportunity to celebrate the pending nuptials of our dear friend Larry, at one of New York City’s legendary steakhouses, Sparks, on the east side of Midtown Manhattan. I have always wanted to go there, more out of a macabre fascination with Mafia lore than a desire for a great steak. You may or may not know that it was outside of Sparks in mid-December 1985 that the boss of the Gambino crime family, “Big Paul” Castellano, was gunned down along with his driver Thomas Bilotti by four hitmen contracted by John Gotti. This completed the “Dapper Don’s” bloody coup as he ascended to the top of the Gambino family after spending most of his Mafia career moving up the ranks from petty hijacker and muscle to a short stint as Capo before taking out Big Paul and taking over. Sparks was Big Paul’s favorite place to eat, which is why he was lured there to face his ultimate demise. And he never even got to eat his last meal. So I figured, hell, if it is good enough for Big Paul (a nickname based, in some part, on his love of good food) then it is good enough for our crew. And boy was it ever. Since we were rolling about twenty deep, we had a private room reserved, complete with it’s own bar and tender (or maybe it wasn’t actually reserved, but Sparks felt the need to keep us separated from the other patrons.) What a cool experience it was; Larry’s college and high school friends all together telling stories and breaking balls, in a wood paneled room over some of the best steaks you’ll ever eat. Thanks again to Larry’s brother Dave, who put on a first rate celebration.
Another highlight of my summer came a few weeks ago when I made another trip north to my Alma Mata, Lehigh University, where the Philadelphia Eagles hold their annual training camp. Eagles fans are hardcore. I arrived at the beautiful Goodman Campus, where all of the sports facilities are located, at around 8:30 in the morning, and found the bleachers already full, and standing room only for the roughly ten thousand fans in attendance. Mind you, this was a Tuesday morning. It was really something else, seeing these remarkably massive and exceptionally fast athletes up close. (It took all of my self control to not run out onto the field during special teams practice, and start punting footballs to Brian Westbrook. Of course, if I did this I probably would have been tackled so hard that my spleen would have ended up in my feet.) After that final morning practice of training camp came to an end, and fans filed out towards the autograph tent, I waited around to meet the man I came to see. For the last few years I have been able to realize one of my life’s aspirations: that is to be a regular caller on a sports radio show. SIRIUS satellite radio has a channel, 124, devoted entirely to NFL football talk, and I listen to it religiously. One show in particular, my favorite, is called “The Blitz” and it is hosted by the incomparable Adam Schein. I’ve been calling in to “The Blitz” on an almost weekly basis to share my thoughts on my favorite team, the Chicago Bears, as well as the rest of the NFL. And in that time I’ve developed a rapport with Adam and the others hosts and have achieved the vaunted “good friend” status. So it was quite a thrill to watch Adam and co-host, and former NFL lineman, Ross Tucker, broadcast “The Blitz” live from Eagles camp. And when they had a break, I introduced myself to the guys, using my caller handle “JC from Philly.” Adam seemed genuinely excited to meet one of his, as he said, favorite callers, face-to-face; and he graciously spent about 15 minutes or so, chatting with me about the NFL and our lives in general. He was an incredibly warm and enthusiastic guy, which is why he is such a great host. Thanks again for taking the time to talk with me Adam; it was truly an awesome experience.
Finally, my summer came to its unofficial conclusion last week with a family vacation at Narragansett beach in Rhode Island. My wife’s family and mine shared a large house across the street from the beautiful beach in what promises to be an annual event. Fortunately, the house had ample room for brothers, sisters, significant others, as well as visiting friends, uncles, aunts, and cousins. We all got along famously, and had a wonderful time. Fancy hotels are nice and all, with the fresh sheets and pillow mints, but give me a house full of family and sand any day of the week and twice on Sunday. You just can’t beat home cooked meals and home cooked entertainment. I am so blessed to now have two families that I love and whose company I truly enjoy. Great thanks to our parents for making this possible. We can’t wait for next year.
So that’s all the news from my summer that’s fit to print. I hope y’all had a great end to your summer as well, and I hope you have a fantastic Labor Day weekend. While it is sad to see another summer pass on by, we have cooler nights to look forward to, the return of our favorite programs on television, and of course…football season!
Today, August 29th, marks the 3rd Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s arrival on the shores of Louisiana, as yet another major storm, Gustav, bears down on the region. Last year I wrote a piece on Katrina and New Orleans that still applies today. Please give it a read if you get a chance.
And stay tuned next week for my recap of the news and events of the last half of Summer 2008.