Monday, July 30, 2007

What's in a name?

We all know that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But how would the rose feel being called something else?

Let me explain what I mean by this and the origins of this question.

This weekend, as has happened a few times this summer, my sister, brother-in-law, and two nieces came to the Cape. Noa is 2-and-a-half years old, and since it will take her until she’s 16 to be able to say “Uncle Alexander,” since she’s been calling me anything (which is a hair over a year, I guess…when the other one was born and I was in CA to visit), she’s called me “Aladi.” (my brother Brett is “Uncle Ba”, and my parents are “Ni-ma” and “di-pa”.)

Maya is now 14 months old, and this weekend was the first time she’s called me a name. And, of course, it was “Aladi.” (For her, my parents are “mi-ma” and “bi-pa”…either she heard it wrong the first time or she has a speech impediment, but either way…) My parents have had names for months. My brother, I’m honestly not sure about, but me, I’ve never had a name. She’s tried, but she’s failed. (I mean, it’s hard to say any possible name for me…my parents should have thought of this when naming me, but didn’t.)

She knows me, obviously, and for a couple months, when asked “where’s Aladi?” has been able to point me out, but she’s never called me anything until now. And it felt really good. All day today, she was looking at me, “Aladi!” I took her swimming because when my sister asked who she wanted to go swimming with, she just kind of looked around and looked towards me. “Bi-pa?” ::nods no.:: “Mommy?” ::nods no.:: “Aladi?” “Aladi!”

I love this kid, and did before she called me by name, but it wasn’t the same. I felt great seeing her look at me and having her crawl to me and any time she put her arms out to be held by me, but to be across the room and hear her say “Aladi” is a feeling that melts me.

So in this case, I consider myself the rose. And by any other name – or with no name – I was the same person. I “smelled as sweet,” if you will, but I feel much sweeter being called a rose.

My first girlfriend used to insert my name into conversation when talking. She said that she’d read or heard somewhere that people like hearing their name and it makes them feel good and she wanted to do whatever it took to make me feel as good as humanly possible. I never really noticed a conscious difference because I was too busy looking at how she looked at me to realize the name, but looking back, I see how her face would change when she said my name and how all the love she had for me came out in the simple utterance of “Alexander.”

With my latest girlfriend, I made sure to use her name. I think it was mostly subconscious, because she hated it – which makes me sad, but that’s a story for another blog entry (when I have permission from her to talk about her, because I will never divulge anything too personal without permission…and since she isn’t talking to me, I bet that time will come never…but I digress). I think I did it because I loved the way it felt to say her name. I loved how it felt to say a name that made me that happy and made me feel that much love, which I had not felt in such a long time.

I guess names still matters. And I like mine. And I like having it. And I like when it’s used and when I’m addressed by it, by anyone, regardless of age.

It seems to me that in the end, you never really notice how good a name makes you feel until you realize how long you’ve gone without one.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Isadore Gold, 78; Gambler, Fast Talker with No Regrets

In my last blog entry, I mentioned the only honest obituary I’ve ever read was that of Isadore Gold. Tomorrow is the tournament, and I will perhaps analyze it over the weekend. But until then, I’m too busy to find something insightful to say, so I’m going to pass along that obituary.




Tom Long, Globe Staff. Boston Globe. Boston, Mass.: Nov 16, 2002. pg. F.13

Isadore Gold, 78, was a gambler. He bet on baseball games, football games, card games, and jai alai. He even tried to place a bet on which day he would die. He would have won if he had bet on Wednesday in Falmouth Hospital.

Mr. Gold, sometimes known as "Bosco" or "Goldie," was a regular at Rockingham Park in Salem, N.H., and Suffolk Downs in east Boston. He was the elderly gentleman wearing the black scally cap, cheering the horses down the home stretch with a cigarette in one hand and a rolled-up racing program in the other. In his cap and black cashmere coat, he looked like a character out of "The Sopranos".

Weekends, he sat happily in front of the television set in his Buzzards Bay home, remote control in one hand and a cigarette in the other, clicking from station to station, keeping track of the games he had bet on.

He gambled relentlessly but was "seldom visited by Lady Luck," according to his daughter, Cheri Lindsey, the proprietor of Lindsey's Restaurant in Wareham. She said he recently tried to bet her which day he would die, but she declined the bet.

Mr. Gold always got lucky when he sat down to play cards. "That's because he always cheated," said his daughter.

His longtime friends Dennis Frawley and Hank Tartaglia concurred. Tartaglia remembered a card game upstairs over the Ward One Club in Brockton, which Mr. Gold once owned: "I started playing and realized Izzy was cheating so I dropped out.

While I was walking downstairs I saw an off-duty police officer go up."

Several hours later, Tartaglia encountered the policeman again. The officer said he'd lost a bundle, so Tartaglia pointed out that Mr. Gold had been cheating. The police officer went back upstairs.

"He didn't arrest him," said Tartaglia, "but he had to give the money back."

Mr. Gold was born in Brockton. He was a childhood friend of boxing legend Rocky Marciano and traveled widely with the heavyweight champ.

For a time he was even employed by the boxer. His daughter wasn't quite sure what he did but said it probably involved "collections." "He was a funny guy, and he was fun to be around," said Tartaglia. "When Marciano was training, they'd bring Izzy in to keep him a little loose so he wouldn't kill someone."

A Navy veteran, Mr. Gold was an accomplished artist who, for a time, worked on movie sets in Hollywood. Later, he was a carpenter and painted murals in Brockton-area restaurants and nightclubs.

"He'd take the deposit for a job, go to the track, and wouldn't return to work until he'd blown all the money," said his daughter.

Sometimes that was more than a month later.

Mr. Gold recently went to the jai alai arena in Newport, R.I., to place a few bets with a friend. The duo lost all their money and couldn't afford gas money or a hotel for the night. Undaunted, Mr. Gold disconnected a wire on his car, called AAA, and rode in the tow truck as his car was towed to his home in Buzzards Bay.

"He was just an old con man," said his daughter, "but he was just cool enough to stay out of jail."

Consider the story of his "magic whistle." Many years ago, Mr. Gold took a rookie bettor to the track and brought along a whistle. He looked on the racing program and found a horse that was a "closer," known to race to the lead down the home stretch. He told his associate the whistle was magic and blew it just as the horse made its winning charge. He repeated the process a few more times before selling the man the whistle for $5,000. When the man realized he'd been taken, he went to the police.

"Izzy had to do a lot of fast talking," said Frawley, "but after paying the $5,000 back he was let off the hook."

"He wasn't the kind of dad who sat around the fireplace," said his daughter.

Before he started wearing his scally cap, Mr. Gold wore a toupee. Never an early riser, Frawley remembered meeting him for breakfast at noon one day. As Mr. Gold leaned over the table, his toupee fell into his soup. "He didn't blink an eye," said Frawley. "He just scooped it up and put it back on."

Even after he was diagnosed with lung cancer, Mr. Gold refused to give up cigarettes. When told he could no longer smoke because he was breathing with the aid of bottled oxygen, he had the oxygen removed. When his daughter took him to task, he sang his rendition of "My Way."

"I traveled. I had every broad I ever wanted and I went to the track whenever I wanted to," he said to her. "I have no regrets."

Along with his daughter, he leaves a son, William, of Wareham; two sisters, Ann Gevetoff of California and Martha Yakus of Quincy; a brother, Ben, of Worcester; and two grandchildren.

A service will be held at 1 p.m. tomorrow in Stott, Chapman, Cole & Gleason funeral home in Wareham.

His daughter said she intends to deck her father out in a new scally cap, then place a TV remote in one hand and a racing program in the other for the viewing, which will begin three hours before the ceremony. His remains will be cremated and she hopes to scatter his ashes at Rockingham Park.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Nat Duncan Memorial Archery Tournament

This Thursday is the 6th annual Nat Duncan Memorial Archery Tournament. Hard to believe this thing’s been going on for that long. I’ve had a few good ears shooting in it! A few top-10 finishes, a couple top-5, and now, two years of running it without shooting.

We come together – Junior Counselors, former Junior Counselors, administration, and portions of Nat’s family, remembering Nat at his happiest: at camp.

Nat was a camper and spent two years in the Junior Counselor program at camp. In late 2000/early 2001, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and all he wanted was to spend one more summer at camp. He died September 16, 2001.

The tournament is always an interesting day for me because I always feel guilty in some ways because, well, I never really liked Nat until his last summer. I can honestly say that I never actually was mean to him, though, unlike most. And also unlike most, I’ve never denied my feelings. I’ve always been up-front and open about how I used to feel about him.

But more importantly than anything, I’ve learned a lot from Nat’s memory. And while I have always said that I’ve learned a lot from Nat, lately, I’ve learned more from how people remember Nat and how people react to Nat’s memory.

He is memorialized as someone who embodied everything camp stood for and the greatness that youth can be.

It’s gotten me thinking a lot about how I’ll be remembered. Not in the sense of how I’ll be remembered when I ultimately check out, because I plan on having a good 60-80 years left in me. But how will I be remembered when, say, I’m not at camp anymore. Or how do ex-girlfriends or ex-friends think about me?

The funny thing about memories, is they always belong to someone else. You really cannot share a memory. It is yours. You always remember things your way, and someone else remembers things his way, and the truth is probably somewhere else altogether.

On the one hand, it’s really nice to know that people remember, but on the other, it’s depressing to think that you can do so much and it’s completely out of your hands, and unless someone I dated becomes famous and writes a memoir, I may never know what people truly think of me, because nobody’s ever honest to your face. (And sometimes, even afterwards. Like with Nat, the first tournament, we made a scrapbook to give to his parents with little notes that everyone wrote. Most people wrote about how Nat changed them and how much they loved Nat. I wrote the truth: that I had moments of wanting nothing to do with him, but in his last summer, he changed me. I don’t regret how I felt about him once, but I know that things change and people change and I changed. And that made it worth it.)

On a related note: The most honest obituary I’ve ever read was for a man named Izzy Gold. It was in the Boston Globe in 2003. I intend to find it and post it the next time I have nothing to say.

And back to what I was saying – I kind of hope that someone I know does write a memoir and I’m in it – for good or bad – because I’m convinced that I’d rather know the truth than have this complete avoidance that exists right now. (Although, perhaps if I know the truth, I’d think differently.)

Until then, I guess I’ll have to be okay knowing that there are people out there who like me and people out there who don’t. And I’ll have to be okay with that. And for now, I am.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The only permanent relationship

I’ve always been the rock. I’ve been the one people go to for advice when their life takes a turn towards confusion. As a result, when I need advice, some of the people who have heard my Confucian wisdom the longest just shoot it back to me verbatim.

In the end, there is one piece of advice that is the ultimate be-all, end-all, golden, A-number-1 rule that I tell people to live by: In the end, there’s only one relationship you’re guaranteed to have for life: the one between you and yourself.

This advice applies to everything. Basically, while other people are important, in the end, you have to be able to respect yourself and be able to look at yourself in the mirror every day. You need to do what you need to do to get through the day.

The thing is, I’ve never been very good at following my own advice. Much to my own determent, I’ve spent my life forgetting to take time for me and make sure I can look at myself in the mirror. I’ve been everybody’s rock and pushed my own emotions aside.

I’ve gotten better at that, but the way this advice first came to be – while it has become a proverbial cure-all – had to do with relationship issues friends had. I tried to get people to realize that a relationship won’t do anything for you personally unless you have your own stuff in order. You cannot live with someone else until you can live with yourself. It’s basically a variation on the ‘you cannot love someone else until you love yourself’, but I don’t believe that – I think you can love someone else without loving yourself and you can love someone else more than you can love yourself. In fact, I’m sure I’ve done both of those things. But I digress.

So why is it that I have so much trouble accepting this in my own fate? I’ve been lying to myself an awful lot lately, telling myself that I am okay with myself when, while I am okay with myself, I’m not as okay with myself as I need to be. I’ve been telling myself that I’m great as long as I have my little 2-inch stuffed dog ready to be in my pocket for when I need him. And I am great with my unnamed dog, but I shouldn’t need him. I should be great without him. (NB: Man is he worn out and in bad condition for a dog I’ve only had since the beginning of may. He used to have what I could describe as a cowlick, but he’s been pet so much, he only has a dark spot where the fur is almost worn out from my thumb.)

I look at the relationships I’ve had in the past that I thought would be or could be permanent, and I see how they faded. Truth is, some of them I convinced myself would pick up right where they left off, but things happen to make that not possible at times. Sometimes as much as I’ve wanted to keep someone in my life, they’ve had other ideas, and I cannot change that. Sometimes I’ve thought that a break is a good thing and when geography would allow for us to reconnect, we would – but other people get in the way. New relationships forge that keep me locked out.

And I have to deal with that. Because I’m living proof that the only thing that is guaranteed to last is exactly what I’ve always feared: my relationship with myself.

I’m a good guy, though. I guess if I have to be stuck with someone, I could do a hell of a lot worse.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Who invented goggles?

A year ago, I was teaching swimming to 6, 7, and 8 year olds. This is the last time I taught swimming, and probably my most memorable. Not for the teaching. In fact, it was probably the worst I’ve ever been as a teacher in 5 or 6 years of teaching swim. It was memorable because of how much fun I had.

My favorite moment? When a little girl looked at me and asked, “Alexander, who invented goggles?”

Without hesitation, I looked and said, “I’m pretty sure it wa Sir Francis Goggle.” She looked and said, “That’s a funny name. “Well, of course it is! Where do you think the word ‘goggles’ comes from? It was named for the man who invented them! He was from Belgium. It was in the 1840s or 50s – I can’t remember exactly.” (Side-note: Wikipedia does not tell me the real story of goggles, so I do not know how off ‘Sir Francis Goggle’ is. I assume completely.)

Y’see – that’s the key to a quality bluff: Not giving every piece of information. It’s more believable when there’s something you don’t remember. Someone will always say, “how do you know that?” But when there’s something you don’t know, nobody will ask how you know it!

I’m half joking, of course. And far away from my point of this blog entry. I’m not out blogging to teach people proper bluffing technique – although I’m sure I could. (And I’m also not sure what my point of this entry is/will be.)

Come to think of it, it’s just an anecdote.

I’m getting bad at this ‘blog’ thing. I think I need something to happen to me so I can have something to say again…

Monday, July 9, 2007

Old Friends

They say you can always go home. Well, I’ve always thought that the mysterious ‘they’ is right, but that ‘home’ isn’t what they say it is. To me, home is where the teddy bear is. It isn’t a geographical place. It isn’t a historical place. It’s a state of mind where, with me, my teddy bear lays.

But even if home moves and you cannot go back home, you can always go back to old friends.

There’s something about growing apart from people that has the tendency to, well, never really matter. I’ve gone months – and sometimes years – without talking to people, and yet when we end up back in the same place, we pick up right where we left off. Whether it’s finishing each other’s sentences, or knowing exactly what to say to make the other person laugh…or picking up a heated bowling rivalry exactly where it left off – things can be the same as they always were.

The key is to realize that people don’t change at the core, but they do grow. Everyone gains experience. Everyone changes. But at the core, people are the same.

It’s kind of like a glass: The liquid inside changes, but the container is always the same. (Only it’s in reverse: The core of a person is always the same, but the outside changes.)

It’s comforting to know that some things never do change, though. I don’t know if I could spend 12 months a year living in the past, but for a few weeks, it’s nice.

I think this is also why people never get over someone they love. If you truly love someone, your cores are attracted. So when the outside changes, the cores will still love each other and be in love with each other. Perhaps this is why people tend to cut people out of their life after a breakup; they don’t want to deal with the complicated emotion of core attraction.

But that’s why I don’t regret past relationships. Romantic and platonic alike, relationships all have something positive to take out of them. In fact, I’d say I’ve learned more from failed relationships than I have from successful ones. (I’ve enjoyed the successful ones more, but I’ve not had to learn from them.)

We have to learn from failure, otherwise we will always regret the failure and be stuck in one place.

And maybe one of these days, I’ll get back to blog entries that don’t jump around and are more worth reading. It’s a good thing I only have a few readers right now, and they all will read no matter how bad they get. Thanks, guys!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Staying young

For my birthday, I was given a book of quotations by and about Muppets and their performers. (Thanks, Monica!) I typed up a few of my favorites from the book, and when I need inspiration, I open up the MSWord file and read.

Starting camp and dealing with kids and watching how the react to learning something new every day have brought one of the quotations to mind.

“The most sophisticated people I know – inside they’re all children. We never really lose a certain sense we had when we were kids.” -Jim Henson

This seems true of all of the people I love and respect the most in my life. Of course, the most pertinent is Otis, the camp director in his mid-to-late 60s. (Not sure of his exact age.) Today, after a fun game of Capture the Flag (where my campers learned an important lesson: never stand next to me when I have a whistle…) with the 11-13 year olds, I said to Otis, ‘I think I have more fun than the kids sometimes.’

Otis looked at me and agreed, not only that I have more fun than the kids, but at times, he does, too. And all of the successful camp counselors do.

Yes, this isn’t the biggest or most eclectic sample of people. These are people who work with children who make sure to keep their childhood alive, bit childhood comes out in other ways, too, with people who don’t have the same sense of concrete childhood that they need to have while around children.

I’ve spoken about childhood before – about how I wish to be eight-and-a-half when I grow up. And those people I respect the most, they all are. They all keep their minds open to allow themselves to get excited by the little things and allow themselves to be moved by the new.

Or if they cannot do it themselves, they get excited by watching others get turned on by the new. I think of a rabbi I studied with throughout high school. He did not show our group new parables or passages. In fact, with one exception, I’m sure he had been teaching everything he showed us for at least 10 years. But seeing our reactions to it and watching us get excited brought out his inner-child.

I watch grown men get excited by baseball. I see teachers get excited by new recordings and readings of their music – and mine (and other students’).

So why is it that I see so many young people try and pretend they have no child left in them? Why do people want to hide their inner-child and pretend it doesn’t exist? I’m not going to say ‘enjoy your childhood; it only lasts so long’, because I believe that childhood should never end!

I’ve never been accused of being my age. In fact, I sometimes have to show my license to prove how young I am. But I will never deny my inner-child – my teddy bear, my Muppets, my toy cars – to myself or the world.

My first girlfriend called me ‘the only person I know who is 6, 16, and 86 all at once.’ I’m proud of that. I hope the only thing that happens to my age is that my middle age gets older and the others, well, I always want to be 6 and 86. And I want to be around people with those qualities. I like surrounding myself with people who, say, get excited by capture the flag, like comic books (even though I don’t, the sense of childhood comic books take comes from people I tend to enjoy being around), still read Winnie the Pooh, or just plain get excited by new things.

I’m pretty lucky to have people like that. And I’m even luckier to have people who feed into my second childhood by buying me stuffed animals or playing games with me or giving me great books of quotations of all things Muppet.

Man – I love being a kid again. You should try it; it’s awesome.

Monday, July 2, 2007

What are you afraid of?

It’s the weekend of 4th of July, which means only one thing: fireworks.

I hate fireworks. They scare me. Every time I hear the bang, I jump a little. I also hate thunder and lightning, and I blame them both on the fact that when I was very little, my parents took me to a fireworks display and I was hit on the head with a shell. I think ever since, a flash and a bang in succession mean fear. It’s basic primal fight-or-flight. We all have it. I just happen to chose ‘flight’ when it comes to loud bangs and flashes.

While this may be my most pathetic fear, it certainly isn’t my only fear, and it’s far from my biggest fear.

My biggest fear? (Aside from being hit by a car without ID on me so nobody can identify me and I’m stuck unconscious in a hospital bed with no friends or family because nobody knows who I am, which is why I always have my wallet on me even if I’m just walking 25-feet outside with exact-change for whatever beverage I want at that moment…) Being forgotten.

Yup – while some fear death, some fear public speaking, some fear spiders…my ex-girlfriend fears teddy bears (yeah – I can see why that one didn’t work out…), I shudder at the thought of being forgotten.

I guess you could say that’s why I do what I do. I like to make a difference. I like to touch people. I like to think that someone, somewhere, remembers me – and hopefully the good things of me. I want to be remembered for my ability to listen and the fact that I’m always there for people. I’d like people to remember me for the fact that, regardless of things that may have happened between us personally, I will drop anything when someone’s in need.

I’m told I’m hard to forget. I’m told I’m a large personality. I’ve been told, ‘To know you is to love you…most of the time.’ But that’s not enough for me. I need to be active in being remembered.

That’s why I’ve spent the last few summers of my life teaching at camp, whether swim or archery, or my favorite, teaching how to teach to high school aged kids. That’s why I was an orientation leader, making myself known to first year students. That’s why I was an RA, making myself available to anyone at any time.

I’ve managed to do what I can about that fear, putting myself in a position that people will remember.

Now that I’ve fixed that fear, how do I fix my fear of thunder and lightning? When my campers are scared of huge storms, it amuses me that I put on this face of confidence and toughness, even though inside, all I want is my teddy bear.

One fear down, many to go!