Archive for November, 2011

Go Vineyarders

So this past weekend was very special for the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Athletics Program. Yes, for the first time since 2004 both the Boys and Girls Cross Country Teams ran in the Massachusetts (MIAA) All-State Cross Country Championships  at Franklin Park, just outside of Boston. Oh, you thought I was referring to the football game? No, that sporting event did not interest me. After all, I attended and graduated from one of the high schools were the rivalry dates back to 1875. The earliest known game between the two schools was played on May 12, 1875. I never attended a football game in high school, however.

My view of athletics is one that establishes a love for the activities in the individual that will remain with them throughout the individual’s lifetime, promoting a healthy lifestyle that endures. I watched a movie about the American distance runner Steve Prefontaine, where the actor portrayed the runner speaking to a group of kids. He asked them if they liked football. They yelled “yes” and he replied that football wouldn’t be much without running, right? He did the same for several other sports, getting the same response from the kids. My point is, running might seem pretty mundane, but we tend to take it for granted as a sport, for the most part. But I am biased, as I am a runner and I coach runners.

Here on Martha’s Vineyard, I know runners that have run more than 100 marathons, compete in the Boston Marathon year after year, and run road races well into their 60’s. People clamor from all over the country to run in the Chilmark Road Race every year. Every summer residents and visitors alike take to the roads, paths, and trails of the Vineyard to resume running programs lost since the previous season. Running spans the confines of generations like few other sports do. I have been running for more than 25 years, including marathons.

Yet, the weekend the Boys and Girls Cross Country Teams both qualified for the Massachusetts State Finals, a few lines appeared in the local papers; nothing more. The fact that there where kids that stepped up when their team members faltered, enabling the entire team to advance to the next level of competition, well their names and times were not listed or noted. The next Saturday, when the Steamship Authority lot in Vineyard Haven was overrun with people clamoring to board the boat toNantucketfor the football game, the Cross Country Team quietly boarded the boat bound for Wood’s Hole.

The island’s radio station broadcast the football game live. Island businesses had signs posted in their windows cheering on the football players. When the Football Team returned to Vineyard Haven, victorious, they were greeted with a hero’s welcome, or so I was told. Pictures and video of the players and the game were all over the internet. Oh, and the runners on the Cross Country Team made it back to the island, too; just in case anyone was wondering.

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The Brooklyn Chronicles, Part 5 (A Weekend in Connecticut)

(Originally posted 10/30/2007)

While I may be writing this series chronicling my transitional move and daily strife, I mean life, inBrooklyn, there must also be the contrast of my time away from the city, as that time has become that much sweeter. Although I had to again endure many hours on trains, both MTA and Amtrak, I knew that a much anticipated respite awaited me inConnecticut. Nearly two full days without having to deal with clients, scheduling, or business in general was something I had not had since sometime in May, over six months ago. Still, I had plenty to do and I could at least spend some of that time with my parents, who I had also not seen since May.

Fall has always been my favorite season. The fall foliage and the crisp air stirs memories of returning to classes at school, the end of the hot summer days and, because I grew up in a farming community, harvest-time from the local orchards and farms. Just driving around the towns that have always been so familiar to me was comforting, but to see all of the fall colors framing the countryside was exhilarating. To try and explain what it means for me to buy apple cider from Clyde’s or apples from Holmberg’s would be like explaining buying bagels in Brooklyn to a New Yorker. Each person has a special ritual or memory that they revive when they have the opportunity. The fall harvest of apples in Connecticut is mine.

The train into New London would meet my parents’ ferry from Fisher’sIsland, but I had a good half hour to stare at a glorious full moon on a rather mild evening for late October. I enjoyed the quiet time and took solace in the absence of sirens, which seem to be ever present in the city. When the ferry finally did arrive, it was well past 8 PM and it was a short drive home. The odd fact that both my parents and I spend the majority of our time on islands is simple irony. We might be a family of people seeking solitude perhaps, but we are a family none the less.

Of the many tasks on my to-do list over the two days, the one shopping for furniture was the most bittersweet. It was not that I had to spend the money that I do not have that was irksome, but rather the reason I was buying it. I had lost everything in a house fire and either had to replace everything by the second anniversary or lose the depreciation money from the insurance company. While I may be furnishing my home with some wonderful things, I would much rather have back what I had lost. Even after I had selected so many pieces, the task of measuring the spaces in my home would prevent me from completing any part of this tedious task.

Unbeknownst to me, my mother would be attending a graveside memorial service for someone I had known. In a town as small as ours, it is not whether you know someone, but instead how well you knew them. In this case, we knew the family better than the person. A short service on a yet another glorious fall day made the service easier in every way. A fall funeral somehow seems more appropriate than those at other times. Perhaps that is just my opinion.

Over the years, my family has gone through times where we would eat meals together on a regular basis, but in more recent years it happens mainly on holidays. On this rare occasion, there were more of us there than not. We could eat our fill, give each other a hard time then finish by recounting our most recent travails. I had the experiences on the subway system to tell, including the gestures and expressions that had accompanied the subjects of the tale. Finally, we would plan our week ahead and see where our paths and plans would cross or mingle. An evening that could hardly be surpassed by one riding the 4/5 Train back to Brooklyn during the rush hour.

The next day began with a trip to one of the local banks to closeout yet another of my dwindling accounts. Long dormant and rather paltry in size, it still took longer than it should have to close it out. No matter, as the money was already spent, as all of the money I will be making for many years to come has already been appropriated for accounts I owe. If only those people that owe me money would settle-up, I would not be in such financial despair.

Speaking of settling-up, it was time to pay the mechanic for the work done on the infamous Honda. Totaling over $1100.00, the work solved the problems that had weighed heavily on my mind during the long drive fromConnecticutto theCape. While it did not make the car any more presentable, the repairs would get me where I needed to go. As I drove away from the shop, all I could do was to try and convince myself that the car would now last much longer than I would have a use for it. Either that or that it would last until I could afford to buy another car, one with air conditioning.

I decided to drive over to my house, the one I rent to tenants. The tenants fall into the category of those individuals owing me money. Rather than seeing if they were home, I simply spent a few minutes walking around the house, taking note of the trim that I would need to paint in the spring. I had lived in the house for several years, working on it and rehabilitating the long-neglected home until I had decided to return to college for yet another degree. The income from the house paid for more than just books. Now it was barely holding its own. Although there may be different tenants and it may be different times, it is still the same house.

Ending the day by driving to the train station is not really any sort of comfort. I remember a similar ritual during my college days, when I would drive home on weekends. That drive was more enjoyable, as I looked forward to my time in college classes. The current travel has become more travail, as I hardly know what the next day will bring. As I waited for the train at the station in Old Saybrook, I thought back over the past few days and took solace in the fact that I do have my family to back me up in my current situation, as best they can, however they are able. That knowledge gives me hope that I will make it through the next few months with my sanity intact.

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The Brooklyn Chronicles, Part 12 (Things I Overheard While Talking To Myself)

(This blog was originally posted 02/17/2008)

So, as January became February, there emerged a trend among my clients that was more than slightly troubling. They were leaving New York City for Florida, London, and other locales, leaving me destitute. While there had been plenty of “interest” among a small group of new referrals, very little work had materialized from it. While the commute was still quite time consuming, my mind was plenty busy with the alternatives and options available to me at this point. In addition to that focus, there was a great deal of “mental static” distracting me. Some of it was actually constructive and useful.

Of all the commuting that I have done, it seems that it inevitably grows in distance with the amount of money waiting at the other end. I guess if that were not the case, I would be unwilling to travel that distance? It also has become apparent that no matter how far the commute ends up being, I am able to develop a mindset that facilitates the time to become tolerable, for the most part. This is not to say that I would much prefer not to commute at all, but we all do what we need to do to make a buck and make ends meet.

Amongst the thoughts that rattled around in my head, there were thoughts of how much longer I would be willing to travel ever greater distances without feeling as though I were spinning my wheels. I saw it either as a time-frame in either years or fiscal necessity. But the formula contained too many variables in either case to come to a definitive answer. The fact remained that without some change in the economy that would enable my practice on the vineyard to return to its’ former profitable glory, I was destined to travel in the off season to make-up the diminished revenue.

Throughout the many passing years I have kept myself busy enough professionally to overlook any sort of social life. Not that I would prefer to be bar hopping or clubbing even if I did not have such a financial need to work, as I have always been more of the solitary type. Still, the small social void had been filled with my canine companion that I lost in the house fire. The fact that I am travelling so much and cannot raise another dog while travelling is offset by my reluctance to commit to having another companion. My joke is that it will be either a girlfriend or another dog and that a dog is not only easier to train, but has a much lower maintenance level. Well, it’s funny to me.

The so far mild winter has given the illusion that we will be getting off easy here in the Northeast. I don’t buy it, quite frankly. While I would prefer it, I will not believe it until June, when spring comes to the island. Yes, it is usually in the mid to lower 50’s throughout May, so June is the benchmark for decent weather. After my last bill for propane topped out at nearly $900, I could do without any more cold weather. As for the warmer weather, when it does arrive, it brings the promise of another tourist-filled season, when I can try to pay-down my acquired debt.

Well, I guess it all comes down to money at this point. Filling my thoughts, day and night, my financial woes are those of so many individuals these days. No matter how many ways I figure it, I have many more miles to go before I see the light at the end of the tunnel, to mix metaphors.

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Noise and Static

I don’t watch television. I watched too much TV growing up. I recall watching it for so many hours that I felt sick afterwards. TV seemed to rob me of a mental process that I enjoyed; thinking. I stopped watching television after my job doing casino surveillance, where I would watch real people do things more moronic and unbelievable than anything I had ever seen on any TV show. I was paid to watch them do it, too. Now I occasionally watch a movie on DVD, but never television. I listen to the radio, or more often my own thoughts; funny how it took me so long to understand the importance of thinking.

Growing up, I was prone to be found sitting in a mostly empty room doing nothing, (when I wasn’t watching television). I would be staring at some object or out a window, finding shapes and patterns that no one else saw. Eventually, I stopped trying to show or explain what I saw to other people. It was too complicated for me to even try most times anyway. As time passed, I began drawing my own interpretations of what I saw, wherever or whenever I felt the inclination. People called it artistic talent when I entered school. For me, it was how I was expressing my thoughts.

Throughout primary school I was always assigned the lead in class plays: Scrooge, the Prince, etc. I enjoyed playing characters, personalities that were not my own. I was referred to as the class artist, creating cartoons of people around me, as I saw them. I won awards in art shows, but never really thought about it much. After all, I was just expressing myself through various types of media; it just happened naturally.

In high school I lost my way. I left one of the most prestigious art programs in the country for no reason at all. My art was reduced to doodles and I just allowed it to wither, nearly die. I told myself that there was no future for me in art, ignoring all that I had known growing up. I shunned it all due to my adolescent ignorance, instead denying myself the opportunity to nurture something that came so easily. Everyone but me saw the waste of talent, but youth knows all; just ask them.

Only after years of college, when I was filling a few elective courses, did I begin to find what I had thought I had lost. A Studio Design class, as well as a Figure Drawing class, allowed me to hear the interpretations of what my mind once spoke so clearly to me. The instructors only shook their heads when a criminal justice major was creating work that most of the art majors could not. I just smiled and said it was just something I used to do, but I was “over” it now. Still, I began keeping sketch journals again; if only for myself.

Over the years, I have found the noise in my head fade to static, suddenly return to certain clarity, allowing me to once again focus my creative talents into works that interpret my thoughts through media that others can see. My sketch journals grew in number, only to be lost in a house fire some time ago. Those spared remind me of things I had once misunderstood; the noise, the static, my purpose.

After all this time I still wonder what might have been if I had only listened; to my teachers, to my parents, to the noise that stirred my spirit. Yet, I find there is still a chance to kindle the spark that still glows within me to interpret what I see, what I hear; the noise and static. Remember, there is always time enough to change, to complete, to nurture what is left, as long as we have breath.

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It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

Of the changes one must adapt to while living on an island like Martha’s Vineyard, the isolation ranks right up there at the top. While I do enjoy the isolation for the most part, it is the accessibility that tends to irk me every so often. Once you decide to go off island, it is a commitment that sometimes lasts longer than you initially planned on. Such was the case recently, when a classic Nor’easter descended on the East Coast.

This past Saturday was the Eastern Athletic Conference League meet for Cross County at Borderland Park in Massachusetts. As one of the coaches, I usually accompany the thirty team members to their off island meets, and this was no exception. While the forecast had predicted nasty weather for later in the day, it was pretty calm in the morning and it remained so until the early afternoon. By the end of the first race, the rain had begun to fall. By the end of the final race, it was getting pretty windy to boot.

The bus started back to the ferry under a steady rain and increasing winds. As every islander knows, it’s the wind that will stop the ferries from running. With this in mind, I kept checking the Steamship Authority website and my twitter feed for updates on the status of the boats. At just after 3:30 there were grumblings of trouble. Possible cancellations of boats due to the weather echoed from a few sources. Just before 4 PM there was word the 5 PM boat had been cancelled. That was the boat we had been shooting for.

As the bus pulled into the lot just after 4 o’clock, the lot attendants in the shack said the 5 o’clock boat was on time. Further confirmation inside the ticket office proved that information to be bogus; the 5 o’clock had definitely been cancelled. Now as soon as I heard of the cancellation, we had started to explore the options open to us, should the remaining boats also be canceled. The high school athletics director had been calling around to the motels and hotels in Falmouth, but there were limited accommodations available. Seems the Cape Cod Marathon was scheduled for the next morning. Go figure.

Shortly after 4:30, it was decided that the remaining boat crossings for the day would be cancelled. So there we were, with thirty soggy, hungry teenagers, looking for lodging for the night. Long story short, we get seven rooms at a local inn; three for the boys, three for the girls, one for the two coaches. Dinner consisted of thirteen pizzas. Luckily the kids were too tired to get into any mischief and the night went without incident. Well, almost.

Being an insomniac provides one with opportunities missed by most, like seeing rain turn to snow at 2:30 AM, then back to rain at 3:30. By the time 5 AM rolled around, it was time to start calling the Steamship office and getting updates from the internet about conditions and forecasts. Since the “ghetto” inn gave us a bum television, our BlackBerry devices were working overtime the entire time. While the kids slept we called several office numbers, tweeted a few contacts on island, and hoped for the best.

It was not until a few minutes before 8 AM that we confirmed the first boats would leave the docks at 8:15. Rushing to catch the 9:30 AM boat, we rousted the kids, arranged for the bus to pick us up, and packed up our still wet gear. The boat was packed with those who had suffered the same fate as us and they looked just as weary.

The boat ride back was rather calm, the skies had cleared, and we were all going home. The minor inconvenience is always diminished by the beauty of the island as you round the chop and enter the harbor. Yes, some might simply call it Martha’s Vineyard, but it is the island I definitely call my home.

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