Before I begin, I feel the need to warn you, this post contains language and mental imagery that some folks would find offensive. If you are one of those easily offended people, please stop reading now, because frankly Greg would not have much use for you, nor you for him.
I walked in to the basement hall at All Saints Parish several years ago, to go to my son’s first Cub Scout meeting in a new pack. As I sat at one of the round tables, looking around and talking to the one or two people I knew there, There was a woman wearing a kerchief at the next table, wrangling three kids and obviously not having a good time of it.
“For god’s sake, Hayden, if you do not sit down and behave I am seriously going to lose it!”
I did not get to introduce myself that night, and did not know it then, but that was my introduction to Renee Costa. It also marked the first and only time I ever saw her that upset. I would later find out she had been having a bad day, running around all over the place, and her then seven-year-old son had been doing what any seven-year-old boy would have done in that situation, acted like a kid in a way that was akin to poking her with a sharp stick. I so clearly remember that day, because it was the beginning of my involvement with Pack 27, which marked my return to Scouting to be a part of it after many years away. I also clearly remember Renee’s presence because of her kerchief which marked her as a cancer patient, and I was wondering how she could herd three kids around in her state.
Over the next few weeks, I got to know Renee at the den meetings, as her son Aaron was in the same one my son Vic was in. While the kids were doing their Cub Scout things, we parents sat off to the side and chatted, mostly small talk, and on those rare occasions that Renee could stay for the whole meeting instead of rushing around doing a trillion things, we got talking about all sorts of things, ranging from the kids to family to things going on in the world. The first thing that struck me was how incredibly strong she was. Here she was, going through chemo, running all over the place with four kids, and while occasionally showing signs of frustration and weariness, never once an ounce of bitterness, and save that one time, any real anger.
Over the years we became friends. I was Aaron’s Cub Scout leader, and it was one weekend in particular that I fell utterly in love with Renee’s indomitable spirit. We were taking the eight boys on a big overnight weekend with tons of other scouts up at Camp Wah-Tuc-Ah, about 90 minutes north in New Hampshire. This was their first big real overnight camping experience, and they were all excited, while the parents, some of them new to any sort of in-the-woods camping, were…less than excited. As the trip approached, Renee had gone into the hospital and had to have some surgery. We leaders were a little worried, because the boys could only attend if they had a parent or guardian with them, and we knew Aaron really wanted to go.
We should not have worried.
That Friday afternoon arrived, and sure enough, Renee had made sure she was discharged from the hospital in time to be able to get her things together, and she was there at the campsite setting up the tent along with Aaron. She was not going to be denied this weekend with her son, doing something they had both been looking forward to. And don’t misunderstand, this was not a state park campground with facilities and rec rooms and cabins/RVs, this was out at the far end of a Boy Scout camp in the off-season, with the only “convenience” being a sink and toilet in a shared latrine. In fact, the campsite was quite literally a mile and a quarter into the campground, over a dirt road. Yet there she was, obviously exhausted, but fueled by the love for being there and sharing this trip with her son. I had a four-wheel-drive truck that weekend, and I got the rules suspended for us to have the truck kept near the site. Just in case. It was a bit of a hassle, in fact, one of the times I pulled out what my friends and I called a “scoutmaster glare” (my Irish family might call it the Clare Stare) at this one well-intentioned rule-enforcing young man who tried to tell me I couldn’t keep the truck there. Renee was mad at me, she didn’t want a big deal made, but I was damned if I was going to not have a vehicle there in case of emergency. I told her it was because of one of the other boys’ severe food allergies, too, but she saw right through my lie, and was doubly-determined to make the best of the weekend. And she did. She hiked around and participated as much as she could, although it exhausted her at times, she never once complained and often spoke of it being one of the best weekends of her life, even years later.
Over the past several years our families have become very close. Halloweens and New year’s Eves became a co-celebrated affair, with the kids out trick-or-treating while Sean and I manned the candy distribution station at the house (as well as the beer disposal station) and on New Year’s, well, the same thing except for the candy and trick-or-treating. She had her good days, and her bad days, but always had the most unflagging determination and spirit, and her only regret or bit of bitterness was strictly that being sick took away from her time with her kids. She worked so hard for her children and her family. New babies in the family,cousins, friends, neighbors, all were such a joy to her, and even when she could barely walk to the car sometimes, she made sure she got to see them and share her love with them.
One thing stands out so clearly to me as well. On New England Cable News, in the mornings, the traffic reporter, Scott Montminy, would sometimes take emails from viewers and read them on-air. My son Victor was a huge fan of this, and wrote in one time with jokes for Scott. Not only did he read them on the air, he attributed them to Vic by name, and even plugged Victor’s website. A couple of years later, we mentioned this to Renee, and she remembered that happening, and talked about how she was a fan of his as well. Then when Facebook started taking off, they both found out that Scott Montminy had a Facebook page, and both befriended him. She would often comment on his posts, and they became virtual friends as well. To my knowledge, Scott never actually got to meet Renee personally, but still counted her as a friend, such was her ability to make friends and bring joy into people’s lives.
Then over the past few months, the long battle began to finally take its toll on her body. But even as her physical form began to fail her, her spirit only grew. She still couldn’t wait to show me her clematis. Or talk about my plumber’s crack. This past Fourth Of July, she made sure she rested up and made it a goal to be ok enough to celebrate the day with her friends and family at the annual cookout, and kept enough energy to yell and Sean and I for various acts that risked life and limb, or so she said.
Since moving to Haverhill, almost 15 years ago, we have made many friends, but scant few as wonderful as Renee, Sean, and the kids. Such obvious sources of joy, love, and life, it was one of my life’s greatest honors to call her friend. When the mayor nominated her for an award presented by the governor, I got to be one of the ones informing her at the pack’s Blue & Gold Dinner, and one of my favorite pictures is standing there with her and the mayor, with her being somewhat overwhelmed and eminently humble attitude of “Why the heck would you nominate me?” She would go on to win the award, and be presented it at the State House.
This morning, Renee was finally granted rest from her long battle. She passed at her home, surrounded by her family, at peace with the world. Although she was very sad she was not going to be able to see her children grow up, she knew that she had done her job, and raised four wonderful children who now grieve, but will always carry the lessons, the strength, and the love their mother granted and showed them throughout their lives. As will all of us. So many people have been touched by Renee and Sean, as was evidenced by how many people are now reaching out, will be attending her services next week, and how many have made a special point to make whatever trip was necessary to go to her house, sit next to her and talk to her one last time. To say goodbye, to laugh with her one last time.
I did that last weekend. I went over and sat in the living room, talked about smartphones, watched some show on cable about people trying to decide what island to buy, and laughing over ridiculous things. When it came time for me to go, she couldn’t really get up to say goodbye, but pulled me in for a big hug and a kiss on the cheek, and told me that she loved me, and was so glad to be my friend. I said goodbye to her, to Sean, and went out to the car, and started to drive home. About halfway there, I pulled over and just watched the river for about five minutes, not really watching the river, but just trying to absorb and process what was going on.
Renee Pelletier Costa has left us this morning. She has run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. Bell choir, of course. But those of us who knew her, and got to know her will always carry a part of her, whether it be her smile, her love, or her clematis. I feel very secure in joking at a time like this, because she would want this, she would want us to not cry, but smile and laugh and remember the good times. Of course I write this with tears in my eyes, but at the same time a feeling of gratitude that I was able to be her friend, a part of her life and have her and her family in mine. I will miss her terribly, as will so many others. I will always live in awe of her strength, her spirit, her sense of humor, and her unbridled love for her family, friends, and anyone who wanted it.
Good-bye, Renee. We will miss you, but will always have a piece of you in our hearts until we join you once again. And Sean and I will still be lighting off fireworks.
Recently I have been playing around with photo taking, editing, and manipulation software on iOS. I have an iPad 3, and an iPhone 5, both of which have nice cameras as well as phenomenal processing for graphics, like most Apple products, and I miss photography and videography, so this fills some of the bill for me. If you go into the App Store, you can find a ton of various apps for all sorts of photography, editing and sharing of the images, and a lot more than the shitty Instagram filters.
So instead of trying to read up on them, or take other people's word for them, I have decided to try a bunch of them out and assess for myself. Over the next several posts I am going to go through them and try out several of the photo apps, the editing apps, and the sharing apps, and try to find the right combo for me. I have some favorites, but I am going to try a bunch of them and give them a fair shot.
Oh and I'm also trying out an auto-posting thing that posts on FB and Twitter when a post goes up here. If it sucks, let me know.
This election season has been a very long one. There is no arguing that. For those of us working in the campaign business, it’s been a lifetime and a half. On Tuesday, though, it all comes to a climax when the American people (or at least a portion of them) will go out and vote for many offices, ballot questions and referendums, upholding a 200+ year old tradition of democratic process in this country. It’s been a long process, for sure, one that in many ways is far too long, and so much effort is being put into making it even longer, with the way primaries are being pushed earlier and earlier. People are tired of it, tired of the ads, tired of the posturing on the news, tired of the name-calling, tired of the process as a whole, and are burnt out.
So in an earlier post I mentioned how I was working to lose some weight. Just wanted to say that on August 12th or so, I weighed myself and was a hearty 331. Which I was happy about since I was over 350 last November or so. So on the 19th of August I decided to make an effort to change my diet, etc, as chronicled in my earlier post.
Today I am 308 even. And working on exercising more now that I am less of a hazard to any sort of workout gear I dared go near. Including swimming pools.
Just wanted to put that out there though that simple changes in diet and practices can make a huge difference. No fads, no supplements, no Tommy Lasorda diet shakes, just simple changes in habits and approaches to lifestyles.
September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day, and I have been seeing a lot of blog posts around the internet about it, seeing people talk about friends that have passed, and making people aware at how insidious and prevalent mental disorders are, and the suicides that result that are either surprises, or swept under the rug, stigmatized and forgotten. That’s the part that bothers me the most, the stigma that makes those left behind embarrassed to admit what happened. There’s more than a little guilt involved, I know, but the fact that people feel embarrassed about it in a way that makes them not admit that someone fell victim to a mental illness is in itself tragic. My grandfather passed away almost 13 years ago from cancer. My cousin died recently due to a mysterious reaction to jumping into really cold ocean water. Neither of those circumstances paint my family in any sort of negative light, why should the result of mental illness?
It’s also that stigma that prevents some people from admitting that someone might need some help, or is at risk. One statistic I saw says that one-in-five can have mental illnesses that can potentially lead to suicidal risk. So out of the people sitting on my side of the office, two or three people could be at risk. One of my friends has lost two people within the past year or so to suicide. Most times people don’t see it coming, in my experience most people become very adept in concealing the demons inside, as was made evident by another friend who lost someone that seemed outwardly very happy, gregarious, and doing a-ok.
In fact, one leading warning sign is often misunderstood. When someone is particularly depressed, and them seems to suddenly snap out of it, that can in itself be a warning sign, because that can be caused by someone having decided that they will end it all, and that can bring a sense of calm and finality.
So please take a little time and read about the warning signs, and maybe you can help prevent it from happening to someone you care about. You never really know…
Last night a bunch of us sat around the table with snacks, laptops and a couple of beers and watched the final night of the Republican National Convention. I got my Twitter on, poking fun at various things, getting into arguments with strangers who liked to just call me names, and several times just getting angry. Angry at the things being said, the way they were said, and the outright lies that had been already called out and disproven in the media but repeated ad nauseum during the speeches.
But I was also saddened by the speech given by Clint Eastwood.
When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time at my grandparents' house, often watching sports or movies with my grandfather. He loved adventure movies, westerns in particular. One winter afternoon I remember very clearly, my aunt had recorded a bunch of movies off of HBO and since the weather sucked, we popped in the tape and watched a John Wayne movie, The Dirty Dozen, and The Outlaw Josey Wales. That stuck with me, because it became one of my all-time favorite movies. But we would watch A Fistful Of Dollars, The Good The Bad And The Ugly, and a lot of other westerns, as well as the Dirty Harry movies (when my grandmother wasn't around and I was a bit older).
I have always been a Clint Eastwood fan, the movies he was in, the movies he directed, even liked his being interviewed. I would not often agree with him, but always got a feeling of direct honesty and no bullshit attitude from him that I respected. Then last night happened. Watching him talk to an empty chair in what could have been a powerful bit of satire but ended up being a rambling semi-coherent series of odd ad hominem statements and vaguely depressing attempts to frame the president as a swearing moron, I wanted to be sarcastic and mocking, but instead just got sad.
It made me very sad to see Josey Wales appear to ramble, and act like this confused old man who fortunately had a crowd-pleasing catch-phrase to end with. I couldn't really make fun, but I did at least like the Twitter account that popped up, Invisible Obama.
What really made me both sad and angry, though, was not the repeated lies told by the various speakers trying to portray the President as a malevolent dictator, not the racist/birther comments in Romney's speech, but rather the attempt to humanize Romney by having people come out and tell stories of their suffering, dying children wracked with disease and how the Romneys visited them and helped them. I will assume the stories are true, and credit the Romneys for showing basic human compassion that their politics and party refuse to show, but the act of politicizing and using the stories of suffering, dying sons of these parents for emotional leverage and political gain royally pissed me off.
In 1998, I spent two weeks after my first son was born at 26 weeks gestational wondering which side of the 50/50 survival chance he would end up on, while my wife spent those thirteen days also in the hospital with a very serious infection that at one point nearly became life-threatening. I remember sitting on the floor of the room in our apartment that was to become the baby's room, alone in the dark, completely losing my shit and crying for an hour. It may have been one of the darkest times of my life, with a couple possible exceptions.
So I felt for those people. I might not have shared their pain, but I could identify with the mother sitting in the ICU next to her son, and to see them being exploited by the GOP for political gain made me furious. It wasn't just one story, that's all they had was dying children stories to show how the Romneys really care about people or some such. I felt like it was someone using my painful memories to persuade me that the elitist, out-of-touch child of privilege was just like me, and that is one sure-fire way to get me angry.
Pile that on top of the repeated effort to dehumanized the President, blatantly lie about him, and blame him for the direct results of the actions of the very people doing the talking (I am looking at you Paul Ryan) and its no wonder that looking at my Twitter feed last night you can see how it want from light-hearted poking fun to a bit angrier and caustic as the night went on.
Meanwhile an old man whose accomplishments and body of work I still respect, yelled at a chair and claimed it told him to tell Romney to go fuck himself while people cheered.
There's a saying the best diet aid is a full-length mirror. Well it's true. A couple of weeks ago I did some traveling, visiting my company's offices in DC and New York City. Both times I stayed in the company apartments, both of which have full-length mirrors. The one in NY was set up so as I got out of the shower and went to get dressed, I got to see myself in all my glory. Well maybe less glory and more horror.
During the weekend between trips I actually stepped on a scale and found out I had lost around twenty pounds over the past ten months or so, when I got weighed at a doctor's appointment. Without actually doing anything except watching what I ate and walking around a lot more.
So after talking to some people, and seeing how well it worked for my brother when he did it, I decided to start South Beach. I started on the evening of Aug 19th, and am in my second week of phase one, which is two weeks of zero carbs. This means no bread, no potatoes, no fruit, no starch, and no alcohol. Yes I know, it's the end of the summer, election season is heating up, and I can't drink. One of my employees found that hysterically funny.
Aaanyhow, for a while I was going without coffee too, but that's subsided now that I have learned to barely tolerate Splenda and almond milk in it. My original food list source had said even 1% was not allowed, so started the almond milk route, and I should at least finish the bottle. I've been tracking what I eat, eating more pistachios than I think I ever have, and suffering through going to my friends' gig at the Hard Rock Cafe and not drinking. But on the upside, I have apparently noticeably lost some weight, gone down at least one belt hole, maybe two. I have also developed an unholy addiction to Sprite Zero.
I do miss my bagels in the morning though…
Don't worry, I am not going to post my meals on FB or spam updates, but I am definitely feeling better, and wanted to give it a mention here. oh, there actually is one side-effect that seemed a little weird, I have had these occasional mood swings from goofy happy to feeling very pessimistic and not depressed, but maybe more just a grey mood.
Overall though, I think it's going well, although I haven't weighed myself yet. That I am sure will bum me out, but as long as its progress, and I try to get the next 50 or so pounds off, I'm ok with that.
(This one is long, you may want to go make a sandwich or something before settling in to this)
In June of 1987, I received the highest rank in Boy Scouts, the Eagle. I worked very hard to get there, and it has always been one of the proudest moments of my life. Much of the person I am today is due to the experiences I had in Scouting, and my oldest and truest friend was a guy I met in Scouts. I went from a shy, nerdy kid to a more confident leader, one who became more aware of the world around him, and more sensitive to those who are less fortunate than I am. Between Scouting and my experiences in high school, I learned to live more as “a man for others”, the motto of my high school.
Lately, however, I have been bitterly disappointed in the direction Scouting has taken. Their reactionary stance against gays, lesbians, and atheists has caused me to question the benefits of the organization, and my son's involvement in it. I find the discriminatory stance that the national BSA organization has taken to be repugnant, and against everything I learned in Scouting. As a parent and an adult leader in Scouting, I teach the exact opposite, that to be a good citizen and decent man, a young boy needs to learn that each of us as individuals have strengths and values no matter who or what they are, and that it is the differences between us and tolerance of them that makes us a better society.
Recently there has been a movement amongst Eagle Scouts to return their Eagle badges, in protest of the policies adopted by the National organization. There is a Tumblr, in fact, featuring Eagles returning their badges in protest. I wholeheartedly support this movement, and the stand that these men are taking. It's a very brave, and meaningful act that I am not sure that non-Eagles truly appreciate. It's also a step I will not take. Not because I do not support the protest, but BECAUSE I do support it, because I want to make my protest and my statement as an Eagle Scout, and as a youth leader.
My friends and I worked very hard on our Eagles, and became thoughtful, careful leaders and participating in the community as tolerant, upstanding, patriotic men. Eagle is not an easy rank to achieve, it's a lot of hard work, you have to lead a community service project, and be recommended by others and accepted by a committee who believes you live up to the ideals of the Scout Law and Oath. Only about 2% of young men who join Scouting will ever earn the rank. It has actually gotten me in the door to jobs I might not have gotten, such is the meaningfulness of the rank.
Sitting a terminal at Logan Airport, I am reminded of something my grandfather told me about the time he worked at the airport after WWII. He told me that not only do you see a wide range of people, but just about every type of emotion and life on display. Today is no exception.
At the bar while I had breakfast, I talked with a salesman heading home to New Orleans, glad to be heading home after a good trip selling parts for water pumps. He was also a bit drunk after his third Jack & coke at 9:30 AM.
Across from me right now is a family of five, all five of them on an electronic device of some sort, and none of them look very happy to be there, or even to be together. Especially the young teenage girl, who is slugging back a large Starbucks coffee like it was the cure to a poison she just took.
There are two gay men speaking what sounds like French, arguing about something, and across the aisle are a teenage couple who are trying hard to not laugh at them, as they are very nearly caricatures in their mannerisms.
A gunnery sergeant in casual fatigues is checking in at the desk, heading to DC to get ready to deploy for his third tour in Afganistan. I want to take him back to the bar and buy him a couple of beers. He is in his 50s at least, and it's the least I can do for a gunny.
There is a collection of businessmen and women, tired-looking people dragging little kids who look either excited or terrified to the terminal, in for a very long day.
I need to board soon, but really, who needs the electronics and TVs? Good sunglasses that prevent people from noticing you stare, and a decent imagination to make up the back stories for all these people, and it's hours of entertainment…