Nine days after I wrote part II of the Duster Chronicles, posted below, on my birthday then, like today, I might add, I wrote this. While it's s not completely about the Duster, it was inspired by some of the memories and feelings that bringing it home had inspired. I don’t own the lyrics to the song, obviously, so I’ve had to edit this a touch for what became THE BEST OF ALOHA KUGS: VOLUME I, which is aviailable here!
As you may have heard, I bought a car recently. Not just a car…an adventure. This isn’t about the car but it was inspired by it circuitously, plus, it’s my birthday, so, like every other day, I get to write about whatever I want. That includes the things in my chronically overlong title. So, let’s talk about them. As some of my stories go, it begins long ago…
It was the first week of September, 1990. I’m certain there was something of note going on in the world but I had just turned 17, had my license, had a car, and my world was falling apart. My father was dying of cancer. He would die in October of that year. I was starting my senior year of high school and handling it, along with a number of other emotional and personal challenges, with varying degrees of success.
What does this have to do with Don Henley? Well, not a ton, actually. He’s the guy that co-wrote and sang a really great song, “Heart of the Matter.” That in and of itself is not noteworthy here, though it’s a great song and all you Eagles haters should just settle down and hang in there. A good song is a good song.
This is all about timing.
Dad was in the hospital and Mom was with him most days. My sister had just graduated college and was out in the world creating her own personal brand of awesome so, I had a lot of time to myself. I was at the hospital a lot too but school had just started and it was decided, between my parents and I, that I should try to have as normal a senior year as possible. So, I tried. It was amazing how quickly going to Princeton Hospital became a daily occurrence.
Among other things that should be mentioned as this backstory gets longer, is that I had just had a rather long-term relationship end, honestly as nicely as was possible, so that was on my mind too in the first week of September, 1990. It had just been my birthday. I got as a gift for my 17th birthday a car stereo of my choosing to be installed in the Nissan, not the old Duster, as for the time being, I was going to using that car more often than not. So, I went and picked one out and it got installed and it was as a wise man once said, “Most excellent.” AM radio AND FM, plus a sweet cassette deck with AMS, digital display, and METAL to non-metal cassette distinction options. Later on, I even got an adapter to plug my giant portable CD player into it…but enough about how old I am. (42 is as special number!) It was really cool and I had an extensive cassette collection (still do) and I was really happy with it.
When I picked up the car after the installation, I started it up and the radio was all static as none of the stations had been set yet so, I set about fixing that before I pulled out of the parking lot. I started with everyone’s favorite station in those days in Mercer County, NJ, 97.5 WPST, right out of Princeton. The moment I tuned it in I heard the opening chords of Don Henley’s “Heart of the Matter” and I just sat there listening to it. It wasn’t a new song, really. The album it was on was over a year old, so I know I’d heard it before. Just never in that time and that place.
Have you ever had that moment where someone said exactly the right thing at exactly the right moment? Or you just happened to be in the right place at the right time for something significant to happen to you?
This was that in every possible way. The first song on the stereo that would be the last gift I would receive from both of my parents plays this song at that moment, when pretty much every lyric in the song speaks to something that had significance to what I was not only experiencing, but also the things I was avoiding. I was avoiding the idea that I might have to learn to live without my father. I was avoiding the idea that everything was changing and that life would have to go on. I was definitely holding on to a lot of anger, despite the fact that I knew it would consume me. I did that for a lot of years afterwards, too.
I know the song is, on the surface a song about learning that a former girlfriend had found someone else, and there was that too going on in my life, but in that moment, the song felt like some kind of dispatch, what some call a “God moment,” where it seems like you’re being sent a message. I sat there and listened to the whole song in the parking lot of that car place out on Route 1 between the Market Fair and the Mercer Mall. When it was over, I turned off the radio and drove off into Princeton, towards the hospital to see my dad, but I stopped and parked somewhere first. I don’t remember where. It may have been our church, it may have been my old school, it may have been right on Nassau Street, I honestly don’t recall. I parked the car and for the first time since all the changes had happened; since my dad was diagnosed; since my relationship ended; since my world changed; since I’d been on emotional cruise control for months; For the first time since all of that, I really thought about what it all meant. I thought about what my life was going to look like without my father. I considered how someone I loved had moved on and that I would need to as well. I thought about what forgiveness means. There’s a lot going on in the lyrics of that song and so I thought about it all. I let is all in. Rather quickly, I then let it all out, completely and totally. I lost it both tremendously and cathartically.
It was a good thing. Cleansing to be sure. It was the first time I’d kind of let myself feel any of it to that point. I don’t think I’d been as honest and direct with my friends about what was going on and I think I tried to remedy that in the coming weeks. I remember feeling much more at peace, if such a thing were possible after that. I drove on to see dad and had a good visit with him and mom was there too and we talked with his doctor. Later, mom and I had a real talk about what was going on and how serious it was and what it meant to the family and what we needed to do over zeppolis at the Pizza place at the old Princeton Shopping Center. It was a good conversation and I remember driving home with my new stereo. I had switched to the Jazz show on 103.3 WPRB as I didn’t want music with words right then. I wanted to process what I’d just come to understand: my father was dying and it wouldn’t be long. I was going to have to find a way to live with that and become a real person on my own. I was going to have to talk to my friends about it and I did to some. I wish I’d done more. They were there for me after it happened in droves and to this day I love them all for it. I wish I’d shared more as it was happening. Some of my closest friends didn’t know my dad was that sick. It was a lesson learned. I barely shut up about anything these days. You all have Don Henley to thank for that I suppose…
So, that stereo I got for my 17th birthday went from the Nissan, aka “Challenger,” into the Tracer, aka “Bullseye,” before I had it removed when I bought the first Outback. I kept it in a box. It’s gone through several moves within Jersey to Oahu to Virginia. It stayed boxed up in our laundry room here and then into a box in the old shed that leaked and into the new pretty shed that’s awesome, until I gave it to my new mechanic pals who installed it in the Duster. I was worried it wouldn’t play, but it works just like it did back in the day. This morning, I took the kids for their first ride in the Duster. We connected my old cassette adapter to my iPod and we were soon rocking out to Bruce and Jimi, until it shuffled right onto “Heart of the Matter” as we drove down the Springfield-Franconia Parkway.
It was cool and a little breezy this morning and since the AC hasn’t been re-installed in the Duster, we had the windows open and the air was cool and a little damp. It reminded me of a morning back in early October of 1990 a little actually, when I knew before I was told that my father had died. Hearing that song with the kids, in the car I’ve been dreaming about since before dad got sick, with all of the significance that car turned out to have for me was really a nifty moment. I had a few memories that popped:
I remembered sitting in that parking lot listening to that song and how it had helped me come to grips with the relationships that were ending in my life and the fact that I was going to have to figure out how to live my life in a very new way.
I remembered standing on the high altar at church with my friend Dee who arrived early to Dad’s funeral and gave me a hug and held my hand for a long time. She didn’t let go until I was ready.
I remembered talking to my friend Anne before the service about how I could possibly write a meaningful eulogy and how she helped me through it.
I remembered hugging my Godparents in the room for families, so grateful they were there. I saw them recently so I wasn’t surprised to have them in mind.
I remembered how my sister’s friends had driven all day to come to the service and then had to go right back to take the GRE’s the next day.
I remembered the young woman who held my hand through the very awkward reception afterwards, even though we weren’t a couple anymore. She didn’t let go until I was ready either.
I remembered other things too, but to be honest, I only swam in that for a moment. They were all nice memories that I treasure and have written about before both here and elsewhere.
But then I took a breath and exhaled and draped my arm across the front bench and put my palm out towards the Bear and she grabbed my hand from the backseat and held it and then I thought about how cool it was that I was driving my new old car with my kids listening to that song. I felt again, like something had changed. I felt calmer and a lot more at peace. I liked the moment I was in with the kids and I like very much the way it feels now in my memory. At peace sounds and feels like a pretty good place to be.
I told the Boyo, who enjoys specific facts about songs, “Hey-you hear this song? This was the first song this stereo played back in 1990 when I had it installed in Grammy’s old Sentra.”
And he said, “That’s cool.”
And it was. The next song that popped up on shuffle was Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” to which Boyo said, “YES!”
It’ll be 25 years since that all happened soon and, while I wish I could say everything went smoothly after September 1990, that would be untrue and generally uninteresting. There were a lot of years I still carried anger and it definitely ate at me from inside. But I learned to live.
Now, as a delightful postscript, the first week of September 1992 was a real winner. There was this really pretty blonde that kissed me in the stairwell of her dorm on the night before classes started. That worked out pretty well for me. Impeccable timing once again…
If you’d told me while listening to “Heart of the Matter” in 1990 that I was only two years away from the love of my life well, I don’t know what I would have done with that. Probably would have written an awful song or an even worse poem. Be grateful you only have to read me in this form.
Today I am unequivocally exactly where I want to be. My family is healthy and happy, despite of and because of some of the challenges we face. I read to my children every night and it is a source of enormous joy for me. They are funny and fun and brilliant and artistic and thoughtful and amazing in ways I can’t ever imagine having been as a child. My wife is the greatest ever. I am who I am because of my relationship with them and the rest of you fine people. And I know that Don’s song, which he said took “42 years to write and about 4 minutes to sing,” suggests among other things that all things change. I think that’s generally true, but sometimes it’s not. I still love my parents although they are both gone now. I love my wife and my children and my sisters and all of our family; even the ones who like Michigan. That doesn’t change but I think we do. All of us. Well, I won’t speak for you, but I think I have changed at least a little.
The song also suggests that as we age, we are often forced to learn some of the same lessons over and over, but in new ways. I used to feel that line very differently than I do now. I used to take it as “I screwed up and am re-learning stuff I should know.” I took it that way because that was absolutely my experience. I screwed up a lot and had to re-learn it a lot until I didn’t. I like the idea now though, as I feel like it’s possible to look back on old lessons learned and learn them again in a new way. Like reading an old favorite book; one always catches something new on a re-read.
Or maybe I just like the song. Could be that. Could be that Don was writing the song at 42, like I just turned while writing this. Whatever it is, the song, the stereo, the car, the first week of September, whatever it is, in the end, I think that the song, and my past, and my present and future for that matter, has never made more sense to me than it does just now.
I wrote this one week after the post below. In celebrating book #3 in the Avery & Angela Series being handed off to the Beta team, and the fourth anniversary of my purchasing a 1970 Plymouth Duster, I thought it would be fun to revisit the columns that I wrote in the days before and after I brought the Duster home. The following is an excerpt from my first release, The Best Of Aloha Kugs, Volume I, available at Amazon and on Kindle Unlimited... or by clicking HERE!
I bought the Duster. I’ve kinda made a thing about it over Facebook and in real life too, so it’s possible that this is not new information for you. That said, as with all good and interesting things in life, there’s a story to tell.
I flew up to Hartford, CT on Monday where my dear sister met me and we ventured deep into the wilds of Worcester County, Massachusetts. It was an area of New England that I’ve never been to and was very picturesque. It reminded me of parts of Salem County in South Jersey and other parts of that area on the way to shore. The people I worked with when I was at PGHS used to call it “God’s Country” and I can see what they meant: beautiful and quiet and peaceful and full of promise. It was nice.
We drove to the seller’s house and got the grand tour of the property and met his three-legged dog. He showed us the garage where his cars are and had some other amazing cars too, including a mid-fifties De Soto that seems to be his passion. All the other cars were awesome, but my eyes were looking for the unassuming hunter green number I’d seen in the pictures. When I saw it, in person for the first time, I was equal parts excited and nervous as, while it was pretty serious when I booked a plane ticket and equally serious when I went to the bank to obtain a cashiers check, standing in front of the actual car was pretty much “go time” as Mandelbaum might have said. It was time to make a choice. Of course, it’s never that simple.
I had consulted friends and family and experts far and wide. I had the support of all of these people. I was standing in front of a really gorgeous classic car in amazing condition and while I could feel the excitement in my gut, I found myself, for a moment, falling back into a pattern I don’t like. In the course of several minutes I vacillated between “This is a great car” and “Kugs, are you out of your mind?” and “Look dude, it’s hunter green which is like your favorite color and not that far off of the Eagles color” and “Is this a responsible thing to do?” and “Why not model making a fun choice for your kids in a way that is meaningful” and then “Where are the seatbelts? Will anyone be able to help me with doing the work it needs? Why doesn’t the AC or Radio work?” and then, I thought, “It’s really a nicer looking car than the one I had back in the day…”
I went back and forth like this in my head for a minute, but then, I had a moment of clear and cogent anxiety where I wondered, and not for the first time, “What if buying this car is a life-alteringly bad choice and I still make it and I choose to invest time and money in it and the car blows up on the way home and I die and everyone wonders ‘what the hell you were thinking?’”
And in that moment, being a person who has experience with occasional outrageously silly yet powerful anxiety, I knew that I was seeking a reason to walk away instead of really looking at the situation, measuring the facts and making a rational decision. I was building to a panic to give myself an excuse to run away. It’s something I did a lot of after Dad got sick and later died. Anytime someone got close to me, either as a friend or as more than that, I got overwhelmed and ran away or pushed them away. I was unkind to a lot of very kind people in those days, until the wife essentially smacked me upside the metaphorical (and actual) head and said “enough” and helped me heal from that stuff. I’ve talked about those days here before, but I found it interesting that that same sort of impulse crept up in me with this situation. It hadn’t when we bought the Beach House and it hadn’t in other difficult times since. So, why did it happen here and how did I deal with it?
The “why” is not that difficult to understand now that I have had a few days to think about it. Despite my penchant for taking the family out or making a special meal at home or embracing the awesome power of YES in Wildwood with the kids, I generally don’t spend money in a big way, ever. So, I’m not used to doing it when it’s not related to real estate and my wife’s not telling me where to sign. It was a lot of money to part with. I wondered if I was being selfish, frivolous, insane, mid-life-crisis-laden…all of that.
More than that, I think there was some aspect of standing in front of that car that brought me back in time to 1990. To that time before Dad was sick and when all I had to worry about was my girlfriend, my friends, my grades, and that I couldn’t wait to turn seventeen and get my license and drive my Duster all over Mercer County, maybe even take it down the shore when my folks thought we were just going to the movies because they didn’t want us driving that dark crazy road to Seaside. Those spring months before Dad was diagnosed were so full of promise, that’s really the only word. I was sixteen and junior year had had its moments that I won’t get into here but, as spring rolled around, Dad and I had started to really understand one another and have some things in common. We’d gone to the driving range and planned to golf together. He’d helped me develop a workout program and we did some things together at a local gym. The big thing was that we made a plan to build a deck off the back porch over the summer. We’d done some sketches of how it would look. He was going to put part of his summer painting money with Mr. D, and I was going to chip in some of my summer job money too. I didn’t know how to build anything that wasn’t a theater set, so I was looking forward to learning and doing something “Manish” with my dad. As the spring moved on, I had a steady girlfriend of over a year who was away at school, I had good friends, I was doing well in some of my classes, I was in a really cool musical that was winning awards, I went to Prom with a good friend, I went to my sisters college graduation and most of the family (21 people) came and no one fought at all, not even a little! Everyone got along-that was pretty awesome. I remember driving home from that graduation feeling really positive about our family. I mean, everyone, all the Uncles and cousins and Gram had come and everyone had seemed to have a good time. Mom and Dad even let me drive a little on the trip since I had my permit. Everything seemed so positive coming out of that weekend and I remember getting home and seeing my original Duster in the driveway and feeling like it was only a matter of months until I’d get my license and we’d be free. Pretty sure I washed and waxed ‘ol Monstro that weekend after we got home.
What I didn’t know was that Dad hadn’t been feeling well for some weeks. He faked it well but finally Mom dragged him into the old MET place up on 130, our version of the “Minute Clinic” I suppose. Soon after that, pretty much everything changed. My life went from trying to get off of work to see my friend off to the Prom or to hang out with my girlfriend all the time or performing at theater competitions, to then navigating the parking garage at Princeton Hospital and having my smart friends explain to me what the hell platelets were.
I reviewed my old journals for this section and it is glaringly clear when the change occurs. It goes from an entry on the Surflight Theater Festival “It was such a beautiful day-we went to the beach-I love the beach! There is always a special place in my life for the beach. I practically grew up there. I think I will always need that in my life” to “Ohhhh-well, I knew it seemed funny when my dad was so tired…” in the course of days. Most of the entries after that deal with hospital visits. There was some mention of All State Chorus and a breakup and friends and stuff. There are several entries I’m embarrassed by but I was a kid going through a difficult time. I forgive myself. Some relationships ended and others were strained and it was a difficult time, as we’ve discussed. It was a shite time.
So why was I brought back towards this mindset and these memories as I looked at the Duster? Probably because I have always been a person that attaches meaning to things. Also, to people, places, events. My friends used to call me “overly sentimental” but I don’t think it’s that, exactly. I think it’s more that my mind connects things when emotions are involved and for better or worse, when things happen, I have not only the feelings and the memories, but also things to connect them to, people and writings and music and the like. Connections.
Earlier this week when I stood in front of the Duster, there was clearly a moment where I flashed back in time and it was not the sixteen-year-old kid looking at an exciting future. It was the seventeen-year-old kid who was watching his world fall apart inhabiting my headspace. Neither of them was particularly welcome, but less so that seventeen-year-old dope.
I was grateful in that moment that my sister was there as the cars’ owner seemed quite content to chat with her while I asked for a minute to “make a call.” (What did we do before smartphones?) I took out my phone and just walked out towards the tree line. It was a very pretty area and I only needed to go fifty yards or so to be out of earshot, which was where I wanted to be.
As I look back on it now, I know that I was scared. I was afraid to buy the car because I wasn’t sure it would be able to drive me home. I wasn’t sure it was in as good condition as it seemed. I worried that I’d have an accident. I worried that it was too much work or that it was selfish of me or that it was narcissistic to even want something like this. I was approaching panic attack levels of stress. I messaged with Uncle C and my wife and talked with a Classic Car repair place down here in Virginia and everyone had great answers for all of my concerns. Everyone said “it’s ok. Go for it!”
But I was still anxious. My sister made a great point saying “Don’t think about the money. That’s not the issue. Is this the car that’s going to fulfill that dream you have?” It was a great question. I wasn’t sure. Then I took it for a drive.
I drove down the street in Oakham, past their library and an old cemetery and some nice houses on a long road before turning back and returning the same way. I liked the way the car felt and sounded. The radio didn’t work and I didn’t put something on my phone as I just wanted to drive. It was quiet. The lack of power steering and brakes made me have to work harder and pay attention differently than when I drive the Odyssey. I liked the quiet and it reminded me of the first time I had driven my old Duster at sixteen, around the school parking lot, the deep and sonorous sound of the engine and the feeling of magnificent control that the lack of power steering provided. I felt like the captain of a ship.
By the time I parked the car back at the sellers’ house, I knew I was going to take it home. I had some negotiations to make but I felt like some sort of change had already occurred on that short test drive. We made a deal and I drove it away for the short ride back to Connecticut.
The next day I woke up early to drive it to Virginia. With no working radio and wanting to preserve my phone battery, I drove in silence quite a bit. With no AC and the windows open, I had plenty of noise but found a great deal of pleasure in the silence, the natural auditory haze of the road. It gave me ample time to think and reflect and pray and I did those things on the journey at times, but sometimes I didn’t. It was in those moments that I felt something like an exhale happen within me. Something like a release; like letting something go and it all being ok. I don’t know that I’m certain exactly what that is just yet but I know that it would not have happened without going through this process and being forced out of my comfort zone once again. None of this happens without the advice of friends all over the world, nor does it happen without the kindness of friends of friends who were willing to help just because the friend of a friend asked. It never happens if one is stuck in the past. It doesn’t happen without the support and enthusiasm of one’s household, to be certain, but it most assuredly doesn’t happen if I didn’t really want it to and finally got out of my own way to do so.
Whatever becomes of this Duster, (still working on a name) it was a choice to be made and I made it. Those moments of silence on the road bringing her home were transcendent in a way. I won’t go so far as Thoreau about it but I felt very early on in my 360-mile drive home that something had changed. I was peaceful. I felt like things were going to be alright and that I needed to continue to have faith and work hard. It made me feel like I had moved on from something to something even better and that everything was going to be fine.
Whether that’s the case, of course, remains to be seen. I like how I feel owning this car now though and I think I’ve grown into not only the man I am now, for better and worse, but have grown into the guy that owns this car. I hope it’s a good car and that I’m a good man. I feel like bringing this car into my life is giving me the opportunity to bring some level of closure to the past. I like thinking of it that way, though I’m tempted to wonder, “What would have become of me had my dad not gotten sick and my life were different and I never got stuck on a 1970’s Duster?”
I don’t know the answer to that any more than the other “What if” scenarios I used to torture myself with all the time as a kid and young adult and adult and maybe last week. I don’t know anything about that but I do know that I love this new car. I know that I love and appreciate my family. I know that I’ve been very blessed in my life. I know that my past has often held more weight over my present and future than I would like at times but I also know that that fact may have just changed for me. There’s a calmness here that works for me and I hope it’s not fleeting.
I know that something changed on the ride home. I hope that whatever it is helps me be a better father, a better husband, a better brother, a better son, and better friend, and better man, a better person. I hope that very much. Maybe even a better writer? We can all hope.
Can a dream fulfilled do all that? Can a car? I don’t know honestly but in the end, I think the image of the kids running out to see the Duster and sit in it and taking pictures of themselves and the image of picking up the wife at the bus stop and driving her home the other night are amazing starts.
I was told to step out on faith during this process. I did. The promise that my original car held is very much part of the past. I’m ok with that. Letting go of that might have been a vital part of all this as now, I find myself looking more to the future and at our present.
Perhaps that’s the most important change. Perhaps it is time to look forward instead of backwards. What could be better for that process than a 1970’s Duster?
Four years ago this week, I was just a boy, standing in front of a 1970 Plymouth Duster, asking it to love me...Sorry, Notting Hill fans, I couldn't resist.
That said, I thought it would be fun to revisit the columns that I wrote in the days before and after I (spoiler alert) brought the Duster home. The following is an excerpt from my first release, The Best Of Aloha Kugs, Volume I, available at Amazon and on Kindle Unlimited... or by clicking HERE!
Why do they call it a bucket list anyway? I mean, who puts things of value in a bucket? Or do they go in the bucket after you’ve done them? I’m confused, though I’m sure there’s a logical explanation but I don’t feel like googling it just now. I’m too excited and nervous.
So, here’s the backstory:
My older sister had a 1974 blue Plymouth Duster that she drove through high school and beyond. We called it “Monstro” after the giant whale in Pinocchio. We were clever. I loved that car. When she was ready to move on from it I bought it from her for $500, a tidy sum to me then as well as now. I was sixteen and not even legal to drive yet, but, I owned a car. Along with that came the promise of freedom and excitement and I was just in love with that thing and all it represented. I still have the handwritten receipt that we wrote on an index card somewhere in a box. I washed it and waxed it and treated it magnificently. I saw such promise in it. It wasn’t the BMW’s or Suzuki Sidekicks that some of my classmates were driving and it certainly wasn’t the convertible ’68 Mustang or Vintage Oldsmobiles that a few of my friends drove. Those were awesome and I felt like my Duster fell somewhere in between all that. It was cool, but not head-turningly so. I liked it. It had character. The car needed a few repairs and I was saving up for them in the months leading up to my seventeenth birthday.
It was during this time that my father developed the cancer that would take his life. Needless to say, the car and its needed repairs and pretty much everything else in my life got put on hold. When my birthday came, my ex-girlfriend drove me to take my road test in my mom’s old Nissan Sentra. That one was nicknamed “Challenger” for a variety of reasons. I received a new car stereo as a birthday gift from my parents and it was decided that I would have it installed in the Sentra, “For now. We can always put it in the Duster later.” It was a difficult time and a lot of it blurs together now but the Nissan became my daily use car and my hope was to get Monstro up and running in time for the Senior Prom, at least in my mind.
After Dad died a lot of things changed and a lot of priorities shifted and I’ve talked about that in previous musings here, so I won’t belabor it, but in general, life became very much about somehow muddling through the rest of high school and getting myself into a college. The Duster didn’t make it to Senior Prom (my lovely date was probably OK with that) and my new plan had been to work towards saving up for repairs over the summer so that it would be ready to cruise down the shore the following summer, after my freshman year of college.
When I left for college, I remember patting the Dusters’ hood and thinking that it was getting to be time for us to fulfill the promise I had felt when I’d been allowed to test drive it in the elementary school parking lot at sixteen. I had to pretend I’d never driven a car before but I think I pulled it off. When I settled into my dorm room I remember hanging a few pictures of friends of mine, mostly in formal wear in front of the car. It had become kind of a thing for us before Proms and semi-formals, I’d usually do a picture with my date or friends in front of it. And then I went about having a freshman year. I didn’t think much about the Duster until I came home for Thanksgiving Break and noticed its absence from our driveway.
“Um, Mom, where’s my car?”
“Oh, I sold that to one of Mac’s friends. He needed a car to drive to Texas. The Sentra can be your car now. It’s newer anyway and your stereo is already in it.”
She’d taken $200 for it. It had been a hard year for all of us with Dad passing and the challenges that brought. As I recall, I don’t think I said anything to her about it at all. I just said, “OK, mom.” I never really told her how it made me feel to have that dream, that promise, so suddenly and irrevocably interrupted. In the years before she passed we would kind of joke about it, yet there was a small part of me that was deeply and profoundly disappointed. It seems a silly or possibly even selfish thing for me to have felt, especially considering the year our family had had. But the memory of that promise lingered.
Life moved on and “Challenger” gave way to a 1991 Mercury Tracer that we nicknamed “Bullseye” because people kept hitting it with their cars. Then there were the Outback years, which ended when we sold my Green Outback before moving to Hawaii. Our family has been a one car, Honda Odyssey family ever since.
Over the years, I would peruse the old “Auto Trader” magazines and once the Internet became a thing I would check online for a ‘74 Duster now and then. Craigslist and eBay would occasionally present a temptation and then real life would pull me back in from those fantasies. In my heart I always hoped I would get the chance to have one again, but as the kids got older and our priorities shifted, fantasy was just about where I had to leave such thoughts.
While I loved the car, I’m not a mechanic or even all that knowledgeable about classic cars, so I always felt intimidated by the prospect of even pursing one for real. That said, every now and then I would see one on the road and it would all come back to me: that dream of freedom and driving down the shore with the windows open and just the promise of fun. It was all about fun and being open to it that would make me start to search all over again. If you’ve known me for any length of time, it’s likely you’ve heard me talk about this a little or maybe I’ve talked your ear off. While I would look occasionally, it never really went anywhere. There was a romance to the idea that was intoxicating but I was always able to come back down to Earth.
That is until last week. The wife’s Uncle, who is a big-time car guy and among my favorite people, has been keeping an eye out in his world for a Duster that would work for our family. I told him last summer at a family wedding that all I really wanted was “A Duster that’s in good shape that we can actually use as a second car for the family.” I don’t need to be a Car Show guy or garage the thing and never use it. We’ve managed as a one car family for almost eight years now, though we get a rental a few times a year when we simply can’t get things done with the one vehicle or public transport. As the kids’ lives and activities get more involved, it’s become increasingly difficult to manage.
So, Uncle calls me while we are on the concession line before we saw the “Shaun the Sheep” movie. He says that he’s found a possible car for me up in New England. Says he’s talked to the guy and likes what he’s heard so far. He gives me his number and says good luck and to keep him posted.
So, I call the seller and I like what I heard too. It’s very low on original miles and it’s been garaged pretty much for ever. He sends photos and Uncle and I and anyone else whose opinion I could get pore over them. Long story short, it looks promising.
But beyond that, something started to happen as I learned more about the car and the people involved. The previous owner had bought it from the original owners’ family back in the late 1990’s. He had a Duster in college and wanted to revisit that experience as an adult. That certainly resonated with me.
I liked what I was seeing and liked what I was hearing but, I figured there’s no way I should really think about this right? This isn’t the sort of thing people actually do, is it? I started to get a little intimidated by the process and started looking for someone in my life to talk me out of this and off the ledge. I asked my wife, my cousin, my sister, my friends, my in-laws, my financial advisor, total strangers, the kids, our fish, God and anyone else that was in ear shot. “What do you think?” I asked. Outside of a few logistical and safety related inquiries, in general almost to a person the response I got was “Go for it!” My finance guy even asked for pictures and recounted stories of one of his pals back in high school who drove a Duster.
So, no one was going to take this cup away from me. I was either going to have to drink it or pass on it all on my own. And it still kind of scares the daylights out of me. But I was reminded of something my pal said to me when we were debating whether or not to make the move to Hawaii back in ’07. I was having real anxiety about leaving Jersey. He said to me, “Dude, this would be a huge move out of your comfort zone, and you seriously need to be moved out of that-take a chance.” And we did, anxiety and all, and it turned out to be a very good thing for our family. So, I’m reminded of that in this process as every potential roadblock to this coming together has miraculously worked out. I wanted an “impartial car-guy” to look it over for me but didn’t know anyone up there…and a friend found one. I didn’t think I’d be able to get the paperwork to drive it home and wasn’t going to ship it…and a friend found a way for me to take care of that. I figured I was being selfish and didn’t deserve to even think about doing something like this and while I still don’t think I deserve it, I was told by the wife that, as long as she gets to drive it too, it’s something the family needs anyway.
So, I’m going up to see it in person next week. I don’t know for sure if I’ll be driving it home or flying home alone, but I only booked a one-way flight. So, I know what I’m hoping for but plan to be smart about it. I’m nervous and anxious but only a little more than usual. Realizing that is actually quite a bit of growth for someone who has struggled with anxiety in the past. When I really look at the things I’m anxious about as this process pulls me further from my comfort zone, I find that it’s probably a good thing to be a little scared. Buying anything from 1970 is likely a risk these days. But I find my anxiety is tempered somewhat by my excitement. I won’t know until I put my hands on it and sit behind the wheel whether or not I’m going to buy it, but I can’t wait to find out.
Life is short. The years I owned my old Duster, where our time together was over before I got to really enjoy it, were turbulent and challenging. This won’t be that car any more than I will be that seventeen-year-old kid and I’m glad for that. It’s been over twenty years but I feel like I’m ready. If this one doesn’t pan out I’ll be disappointed but, as a wise man told me recently, “There’s always another car.”
I’ve been chasing this car for years and I feel like I’m pulling into the parking lot where it’s waiting for me. The kids think it’s cool. The wife thinks it’s cool. Outside of that, I’m not sure what else I need. I’m not sure I did a particularly good job of explaining what this possibility means to me but I’m not sure I can articulate it. I just know I’ve felt like I had a place in my heart and life for an old car. An old Duster. I’ve always felt like it might bring full circle that feeling that anything is possible that I remember feeling before my dad got sick.
Or maybe I just want to look like a badass in the pickup line at school…I dunno, but I hope to find out. Stay tuned.
I worked in education for many years before life took me where it has taken me. Early in my career I worked at a boarding school in the Hudson Valley, NY. I spent four years there and met some truly amazing people. Pat was one of them.
I wrote this several years after he was killed.
I still think of him nearly every day.
Memorial Day: Remembering Pat
I’ve never written about this before. To be honest, I think about it almost every day, though it’s never something I’ve written about. Being Memorial Day, I think that it’s time.
October 12, 2000. The United States Navy Destroyer USS Cole was attacked by suicide bombers while in port at the Port of Aden, in Yemen. It was a Thursday.
When I first heard that the attack had happened on the news, I was of course sad to hear about it. But something bothered me, on the very edges of my mind that I had no explanation for until the wife and I got home from a night out.
I had left SKS, a boarding school in New York and was now teaching at PJRHS, a day school in North Jersey and going to Graduate School at Seton Hall, so I had fallen out of the loop a bit, but I remember the last time I had talked to Pat. He had visited SKS in his uniform and to me, didn’t look much different, except for the uniform. I already thought he was a pretty solid young man by that point. I had been the Dean of Students for his graduating class and remember really taking pride in that.
There are days that I wish I had stayed on in that role. But I didn’t. I remember shaking his hand as he prepared to leave, telling him to take care and to keep in touch.
The wife and I came home on that Friday evening from dinner at the Dublin Pub in Morristown, NJ and a movie that I don’t recall, to find a message on our machine from Billy, my good friend at SKS. I remember it like it happened this evening…
I was just walking into the room scratching the ears of our dog, Gracie, as the wife hit the message button after having seen the blinking light.
“Kugs…I don’t know if you’ve heard, but, that ship that got hit out there, well, I don’t know how to say this, but Pat was on it. It looks like they can’t find him…call me.”
I remember leaning forward and just catching the edge of our bed and managing to find a way to be seated. Gracie came up and laid her head on my lap and I scratched her head. I remember saying “I just knew…” and then I cried a lot.
Pat was the kind of student that makes me miss teaching. He was not a spectacular student, but a good one, truth be told. He worked very hard and he gave me some of the best teaching moments I’ve ever had.
He was also the kind of athlete that makes me miss coaching. He was not an amazing athlete but he worked really hard there as well. He loved lacrosse and did things on the field that were amazing. He was a coach’s kind of player. I remember hearing the head coach remark once, “Man, Kugs…give me a team full of kids like Pat. That would be a fun team.”
Pat became a student of the game, throwing himself into Lacrosse. I remember well the times that he simply willed our team on to victory or times when simply had a better idea than everyone else. There were also times that he simply threw himself in front of the ball as it was shot towards the goaltender. I remember he asked me early in one season to track that sort of thing for him, as I kept the game stats. I did, though I remember telling him he could easily track it himself with the bruises on his legs but he grooved on making the play, so I tracked his blocked shots for him. I was glad to, since Pat had asked.
Pat made some mistakes early in his time with us, including an incident where my car was shaving-creamed and the air was let out of all the tires. I was much younger and less mature then and I was pissed off at what had been done to my car. I was living in the dorm then, which lends itself to hard feelings and small worlds in which to express them.
I was seriously pissed off. No one else from the offending group stepped up, except Pat. He was sorry, and he made that clear. So, as a result, I was able to write the whole thing off as a goof, because of Pat. He looked me in the eye and as no real damage had been done, we all moved on.
There were other times during his time at school where I saw him stand up in a manner that was way beyond his years, but they are not stories for this space. Those are stories that belong to those who lived them.
But there are some that I can share: I was trying to teach Hamlet to a group of seniors that had little interest and less motivation to study Shakespeare. Pat was in the class as we were trying to read aloud the “Folger Library’s” excellent translation.
It was not going well. At all.
After a tremendously unsuccessful class, Pat happened to stay behind a moment, I believed because the young lady he was dating was in my next class, but as I was the assistant Lacrosse coach, and he was our Coaches Captain, he seemed quite comfortable telling me:
“Kugs…this reading aloud thing is not gonna work for everybody.”
He was right. I was trying to teach a play in a dead and overly artistic language to students who came from such disparate academic backgrounds and in some cases, countries, that everyone was amazingly uncomfortable. The last few days where I’d tried to have them read the play aloud had been a colossal waste of time.
I asked him, as I too had felt it hadn’t been working, “Well, you got any ideas?”
And he did. He always seemed to.
He thought that the class would be able to get it if they were able to follow along in their Folger editions as they watched it onscreen. I remember his saying: “If everyone can see what’s happening, I think they’d get it.” And he was right. I never taught Shakespeare the same way again.
Pat forced me to think differently as a teacher and I did for the rest of my career. Remembering the way his class changed after I took his advice makes me miss teaching, as it was among the most satisfying experiences I ever had as a teacher. That was a fun group, especially once we were all on the same page, thanks to Pat.
I think my favorite memory of him might be the words he spoke at halftime of the championship match of his senior year, which was held at the Harvey School. The team was not playing well and was starting to get down on itself, as it was losing somewhat dramatically for the first time all season.
It was a crisp and clear day and I can still see Pat in my mind, leaning on his longstick, as the Coach asked him if he had anything to add. I remember it much like this, as he said “Guys, I’m going to be on a ship somewhere in a year, and I don’t think they’ll let me bring my stick, so this is like my last game ever, and I’d rather remember going out there with my friends and having fun playing lacrosse and leaving it all out there on the field.”
And they did. I think we lost that game, but I know I remember the second half being genuinely satisfying. And I remember Pat smiling at least a little on the way home on the bus.
There was another time when a group of students had pulled some kind of prank on me, which again was not uncommon in those days. I reacted badly, which I’m embarrassed now to say was also not that uncommon in those days. I was younger then. Anyway, I decided who was at fault and pretty much lashed out at the group. They lashed back and it was an uncomfortable few days as these were young men in my classes, in my dorm, and some were on my team. It was Pat that sought me out, and told me, “Kugs-I’m not going to tell you who pulled that on you, but I will tell you that it wasn’t the guys you flipped out on.”
And I believed him, because it was Pat. I found those guys and apologized. They were less than enthusiastic about my efforts and actually got kind of snarfy about my even approaching them. It was Pat, again, who said, “Let it go guys-he stepped up and said he was wrong. Let it go.”
And we all kind of let it go. Because of Pat.
Yes, I may have been the adult here, but those lines get very blurred in a boarding school environment like SKS. I was young and impulsive and so were most of the kids I dealt with. It made for some interesting times and interesting relationships.
When Pat was killed, I remember feeling that my life as a teacher had just grown less magical. I’d never lost a student before, much less one that I thought as highly of as Pat Roy. I remember showing up at PJRHS that next Monday having missed a morning department meeting. My boss at the time found me just before classes started and voiced her displeasure at my absence. I had only been there a few months and didn’t really know anyone that well. I remember standing in the hall just outside my classroom thinking that there was no way I was going to get through the day and I told her so. I said, “I just lost one of the best I ever taught…”
They held a memorial service for Pat sometime in the next few weeks and I went up and spent the weekend on campus. It was a very strange weekend as I was definitely an outsider returning. The staff had changed and the kids had changed too. The weekend went by in a bit of a blur. I remember standing on the field where they planted a tree for him. This was the field that Pat had roamed as a defenseman and even run balls for me when I coached the soccer team. It was a beautiful day and a lot of the old crew returned to campus to honor him. Pat’s family was there and I recall being genuinely moved by their grace and humility.
I took a picture that day of the tree they planted, which looked out on the field and the Hudson Valley. I kept it in my classroom and then my office. When I left education, I brought it home, where it sits on my desk today.
Now and then, I would look at that picture, seeing that little yellow tree and it would be just the right message at just the right time. Perhaps I was dealing with a really tough discipline problem and seeing Pat’s tree would remind me to be fair and hear the whole story.
I remember other times when the students were driving me out of my mind and looking at that tree would remind me that whatever my current crop of students were doing, it would pale in comparison to some of the stuff Pat and his pals pulled and that would make me laugh every time.
And other times, I would see it and it would make me sad for the loss of a beautiful young life, so full of promise and talent and humor, to such a senseless act of violence. No parent should have to bury their child. And I am sad to think of his family, his younger brother in particular, that lost far more than I did, having to move on without him. I still have an image of Pat coming into my office at the end of his senior year with his little brother on his shoulders, saying, “Kugs-this is my little brother,” and flashing a proud smile. It was just about the happiest I’d ever seen him. And it makes my heart hurt.
And then, I think of Pat and something he said to me as I, in one of my heavier stages, was running laps with the team. I’m sure I looked winded and I can still hear him laugh, and call out, “Suck it up, Kugs!”
And that makes me smile, even now, all these years later.
This essay, along with many others is available in The Best of Aloha Kugs: Volume I, available HERE!
Being part of the writer’s community has given me the opportunity to get to know a lot of interesting people.
Reconnecting with people from all aspects of my life via the magic of social media has given me the same opportunity. This month’s interview features my friend Kelly Rebmann. Kelly and I went to The College of Wooster together years and years ago and have reconnected over the years on Facebook. Her job takes her all over the world and her posts about her work, travels, adventures and life in general are typically among my favorite reads every week. In addition to her work and posts, Kelly is a really good writer with a unique voice, who I’m hoping we can coax into writing more…Please help encourage her with copious comments on this blog!
So, Kelly! What have you been up to since our days at Wooster?
Well, it's been an interesting journey from there to now. I intended to take some time off and travel after college, but I got nervous. It felt like I was supposed to start a career right away, so I got a job in Medical Publishing in Philadelphia.
It hardly paid the bills. I lost something like thirty pounds because I really couldn't afford groceries after rent, car, school, and other bills (poverty is such a great diet plan!). I was waitressing at night to make ends meet and wouldn't turn the heat on until temperatures reached freezing. It was good incentive to find a better job, and eventually, I found Sanofi Pasteur-a vaccine manufacturer. I've worked for them since 1997 minus a two-year stint from 2010-12 in New York City with a different pharmaceutical company to launch a drug for COPD.
A bit of irony is that now I travel all over the world with my current job with Pasteur.
What drew you to working for Pasteur? How did they get on your radar?
I was connected through a head hunter. I was working for a medical publishing company during the day and a lot of night shifts at a local T.G.I. Fridays. My car was belching out black smoke and I was trying to get enough money to fix the head gasket before it warped my whole engine. I was really tired of literally rolling the pennies to get enough cash together to get the subway to work. Everyone should go through hard times because it really does make you hungry for something better.
A friend of mine had scored a field sales job and was doing well, and I thought, “I am SO SURE I can sell things! And that sounds like a good gig with healthcare and no night work.” Let me be clear, there are eighteen sh*t tons of night work in Pharma Sales and selling things is hard. I was dead wrong on those fronts. So, I interviewed in the Poconos and got the job, and that’s where a very excellent career began! I never expected to be with them 20+ years later, but now it’s essentially a family in many ways, less a job.
I really enjoy your posts from all your travels, but I don't really understand what you do.
I am the Head of Vaccine Medical Capabilities for Sanofi Pasteur, which is a fancy way of saying that I am in charge of identifying and developing the non-science skill sets of our Global Medical Team, which is roughly 360 people all over the world.
I identify what we should be good at, namely things like Presentation and Communication Skills, Emotional Intelligence, Strategic Thinking, and Leadership. I figure out how good we need to be and if we are good at those things now. Then I develop and execute training to make us good. This is a brand-new role in the organization, so my partner and I have been doing things from scratch, which is exciting but messy and busy. It means I'm sometimes building a class while I'm flying across the world to teach that same class. There's too much to do, not enough resources, and never enough time. It's a helluva good time!
It sounds like it! Do you have to adjust the approach you take to teaching based on the country?
In short, yes. In general, I have to speak much more s l o w l y than I typically do, and I cannot speak in metaphors. As it turns out, I speak in almost ALL metaphors. They make no sense to a global audience, so you have to rehaul how you communicate completely. Stripping down the way you talk and focusing on speaking the most absolutely simple English while you are trying to teach complex content is… challenging. But English is not their Mother Tongue, so they need… see? Mother Tongue. Makes no sense to a Chinese audience.
Everyone I work with speaks English but the levels vary. So, in Japan, I have a translator. I speak and he/she is simul-translating via headphones for the team. The Portuguese will allow me to teach without a translator, but on complex concepts, I have someone retell content in native language. I can understand all accents, but I struggle with the South Koreans and the Japanese. However, the Japanese call me Kerry-san, so I will do anything for them. I adore them.
I have become so much more culturally aware and patient with my current global role. Many cultures have zero concept of what my sister refers to as the “hula hoop” of personal space. Indians will literally put their body on top of your body whilst waiting in a line. This is not comfortable, but you learn to just see things as different and not bad. However, I really wish deodorant was more prevalent. My nose is armpit level to most people. It will nearly kill me in a public transportation situation.
Is this the sort of thing you thought you'd do when you graduated? What was your path like from there to here?
God, no. I thought I would be married, have two kids, a fence, and a dog. Maybe be, I don't know, a writer of some sort. I sort of skidded through college. I was a Biology Major who should have been an English Major, and I had no idea what I could do when I left Wooster.
Falling into a Pharmaceutical Sales job with Sanofi Pasteur was a gift that led to a thousand other gifts: great skills development, the chance to move all over the US, making great friends that are now like family, and a job that turned into a career.
I started in Sales and it turned out that charm, hard work, and being a bit pushy is a good combination for that job. Then, I graduated into Training and Management and then Marketing. A few years ago, I made a left turn and took a global role that started this heavy travel I've got going on now. It's been fascinating.
What is your favorite thing about your career right now?
The travel. I'm from a one-horse town in Pennsylvania. I never dreamed that there would be a day that I would walk to work along the Champs Elysees in Paris or eat chicken feet with Malaysian coworkers in Kuala Lumpur. Or even learning to cha-cha in Colombia at a business dinner because we all had a little too much red wine after a long day of training. I couldn't have dreamed it.
I have learned so much about the world and how to swim in it successfully from this job. It is a gift. A tiring gift sometimes, because it is hard to be away from home and run a household, be the breadwinner, be a good daughter, friend, and neighbor, but it is an incredible gift.
What is your least favorite thing about your career right now?
I am never enough. It is never enough. No matter how many hours I work, how good I am at prioritizing the work, no matter how good I am, I simply cannot provide everything that is needed and I cannot meet everyone's needs. No project is done well enough, people's needs aren't fully met, things are ignored because even though they are important, they are simply a lower priority. It is truly exhausting to feel like you are giving it 110% and you are never enough. It wears on you in a way that is hard to explain to people who are more casual about their jobs or have different kinds of jobs.
You travel a lot. To date, what are your favorite and least favorite places you've been?
Least favorite is easy: Frankfurt. It is dreck. Dull, gray, boring economic center with no meaningful historic things to see. Lots of drug addicts lying around. I was sure I was going to be murdered on my walk from the train station to my hotel. I left and went to Wiesbaden. Ask me about the co-ed Roman bath house.
My favorite is so hard because every city has its own spirit. I'm a total Europhile, so I have to admit I thought I would hate Asia and I love it.
One of my favorite places was India. It is heartbreaking in a way I can't explain. The poverty is so vast and so bad in Mumbai--it is truly indescribable. People literally living on top of garbage. Mothers with naked babies living on top of garbage, everywhere. I have never been so shocked and sad in my life, but then, there is so much beauty too.
You can throw a rock and hit five pop-up temples. A few pieces of wood cobbled together with a statue on top and passers-by have placed red soda pop bottles all over it in offering. Then, cows walking down the street and random people just take care of them because they are sacred. And the food is amazing! The people are gracious and they bow to say hello. It's all so gorgeous and amazing.
OK-tell me about the co-ed Roman bath house?
I was visiting Frankfurt on my way to vacation in Prague. A friend of mine writes a travel blog and told me about a spa that was built on the actual site of a Roman sweat bath. You follow the same rituals as ancient Romans, raising your body temperature slowly then plunging into a cold pool. I was intrigued and then she told me it was fully naked and fully co-ed. I’m from Pennsylvania. We barely get naked for the shower; we are prude-y. But I thought, “I am a world traveler now. And I don’t know a soul there, so what the heck. Try something new!”
It happened that I got hair extensions just before the trip, so I had this extraordinarily long blonde hair. Like a Viking. No kidding. I looked like Lagertha the Shieldmaiden. So, I show up at the spa, take off all my clothes in the girl’s locker Room, put this giant white-girl weave in a braid, steel my shoulders, and stride into the spa like Lady GD Godiva. I was petrified but determined.
The spa, as you might imagine, was 90% men. Shocking. An interesting fact, 80% of the men were Asian. I’m not making any further comment about it. Just an observation. A few observations:
• Most of the men can describe every birthmark on my body
• I can describe every ceiling tile in every room
• However, I will say that circumcision is not common worldwide, it appears.
I walked around like I owned the joint, just determined to enjoy an ancient experience. I was, however, carrying around a piece of paper with instructions that turned into a wet, soggy clump by the time I was done.
I got the giggles only once. When I was in the dry spa and a 120-year old German man came in and crawled up beside me on the upper bench. Whilst he was giving that a go, he put his bottom DIRECTLY in my face. His backside was literally 3 inches from my nose. I just simply burst out laughing. The spa lady had poured water on the rocks and was whipping a towel around her head like a hellion and this man’s little scrawny bum was in my face. It was just so surreal and so beyond I just lost my mind. I had to leave.
All said, it was a great experience. I did, indeed, feel like Lady Godiva, Lagertha- Bigger and Bolder than before. So, cheers to shocking experiences!
Cheers to that! Besides that, what's the strangest thing you've experienced overseas?
God, I could tell ten stories here, but here’s one!
After 10 days in India, I was exhausted and tired so I booked a spa treatment. I had a flight later that night and a few hours to kill so I thought it was a perfect end to a long week. I didn’t know the local conventions for massages in other countries though. Do I get naked? Do I not get naked? Sometimes there is no English-speaking person to guide you through it, so you wing it and hope for the best.
This time, I had an ancient Hindi woman as my therapist and she spoke no English at all. She gestured for me to take off my clothes and left the room, so I stripped bare, laid down, and pulled the sheet over me. She came in, took the sheet off me, and motioned for me to sit up. Now, I'm fully naked, sitting up on the table, and, um, confused. She turns away from me and is doing something that I can't see. It's dim in the room and her hands are busy with something, but I can't imagine what’s coming. “Is that Oil?” I wonder to myself.
She turns back towards me with her hands cupped in front of her and comes closer. She separates her hands and something is in them, but I can't see what it is. She raises her hands over my head and then turns her hands over and slaps me on top of my head with both hands. And I mean SLAPS me. Then she starts rubbing her hands back and forth in my hair like a madwoman. At this point, I know that it was oil and herbs in her hands. I don't know what herbs but they are VERY strong smelling. After a minute of vigorous head massaging that left me looking like a drunk Yeti, she indicates that I should lie down. The rest of the massage was lovely but I smelled like all of India. I took THREE showers before that flight, but when I sat down in Business Class for the sixteen-hour flight home, the Japanese gentleman next to me scowled and took out a fan and started waving it at his face. I was mortified. Indian herbs are powerful!
What was the purpose of the herb-smacking?
I have no earthly idea. Health?
What do you hope to be doing in ten years?
Selling tomatoes on the side of some country road. I will be half dead and ready to retire at 55 and if I stop buying shoes, I think I might could do it.
What question do you wish I'd asked you today?
What's the worst thing I ate on my travels? It's a toss-up between chicken feet, snake soup, or jellyfish, but jellyfish is the winner. Terrible, slimy, cold, nasty.
Where and why did you eat Jellyfish?
It’s absolutely disgusting. I’ll tell you more later
And finally, what are you three favorite words?
Zephyr, Wexford, Love
Those are great words and are a perfect ending to our talk! Thanks so much for sharing some of your adventures on “Kugs says Aloha!”
To say I've learned a lot in the last year in business would be a ridiculous understatement.
A year ago, I was at the very beginning of my publishing journey. A big part of that first month in business was putting together my first release, THE BEST OF ALOHA KUGS, Volume 1. It's a collection of memoir-style blogs and observations, many of which I wrote during my years living in Hawaii.
As I said, I've learned a lot in the year since, but this little book and the stories it contains holds a very dear place in my heart.
In celebration, I"d like you to have it for free. Click here for the next two days and it shall be yours! Please feel free to check out my other books as well!
Aloha, Mahalo, and Happy Reading! Big things are coming soon! (Like Book #3 in the Avery & Angela series!)
Feel free to share, comment, review, etc. Without you, there is no us!
Welcome to the inaugural edition of a new feature here on the site, “What Rob Read!”
It’s really simple: These are some of the books I’ve read and enjoyed lately that I think you should check out, in no particular order. I’ll include links to the books and to the author’s pages so you’ll have everything you need to check them out.
The links below are affiliate links that might earn me a tiny commission but won’t cost you a thing, so click away!
Lately, I’ve been trying to read more in the genre I’m writing in with my Avery & Angela series, so I’m looking at a lot more YA/NA novels including Robyn Schneider’s The Beginning of Everything and The Infinite Pieces of Us by Rebekah Crane.
The Infinite Pieces of Us introduces us to Esther Ainsworth, a math-loving high schooler who's family recently relocated from suburban Ohio to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico in an effort to escape a rather significant secret from Esther's recent past. It's a story about trying to move forward when your heart won't let you forget and the cast of characters Esther meets in her new home are a blast. Isolated from her past and passive-aggressively being shunned by her sister and parents, Esther's new pals help her find a way forward with often hilarious escapades and heart-breaking sensitivity. I liked Esther's voice and reccommend you check out this and Rebekah's other works here!
I really enjoyed The Beginning of Everything, in large part because it has a male protagonist, which I obviously enjoy, writing a series in Avery’s voice. It’s less common in YA than I think it should be, and I really got into Ezra's story immediately. It's an interesting premise: Super-popular boy falls out of favor socially and seeks connection a new group of friends, including the mysterious new girl, Cassidy. There are some surprising twists that move this book joyfully far away feeling predictable and you're going to love his dog. Honestly, I'd really enjoy seeing her revisit Ezra's story in a future book. You can learn more about The Beginning of Everything and Robyn's other books HERE!
I am writing in Young/New Adult at the moment, but that's not all that I read. I enjoy multiple genres, including Sci Fi, and one of my favorites is the great John Scalzi. I've read pretty much everything he's written and clamor for more. His world-building is fantastic and unique to each book. Also, frankly, he's funny. There's a humor and an irreverence to his characters that I just find so enjoyable in a genre that sometimes can be dour. Recently I've read book #2 in his "Interdependency" series, The Consuming Fire which is a nice follow-up to The Collapsing Empire. The books focus on the future of the human race, spread out in space and connected through the "Flow," an interdimensional travel conduit that is beginning to disappear, isolating whole planets from the remainder of the Interdependency. It's an apt social commentary as well in a world where we are increasingly connected, yet constantly being bombarded with calls to isolate ourselves. The story is nuanced and I hesitate to give much away, but if you've never read Scalzi, you should, and this is a good gateway into his work. I plan to discuss his "Lock In" series in a future edition as I find that to be similarly prescient. You can learn more about John and his books, including his "Old Man's War" series HERE!
Thanks for reading and for supporting this site and my books. Please check out the novels above and comment below with what you think AND what you are reading yourself! I'm always open to recommendations! Maybe your recommendation will make the next installment! Until then, HAPPY READING!
I’m very excited to present the debut of a new feature here on the blog that I’m calling Kugs says Aloha...based on my other series of books. I’m equally excited that my first interview features my friend R.V. Bowman, author of the Pirate Princess Chronicles! I was privileged to serve as an advance reader for book #1 in the series, Hook’s Daughter: The Untold Tale of the Pirate Princess, which I highly recommend you check out right after reading our interview!
R.V., my friend, welcome to the inaugural edition of Kugs says Aloha!
Thanks so much for having me!
Let’s dive right in. Why do you write?
I write for two reasons. First, because there are all these characters in my brain that are clamoring to have their stories told. Second, because I am a reader. Books/stories have been hugely important in my life. There have been characters that were huge influences on my life. The idea of doing that for someone else, for creating a place, people and events that readers love is like magic to me and it is deeply fulfilling. To hear my middle-grade students arguing with each other as to who gets to read my book first, I just don't even have words for that.
That’s very cool. I’m always amazed at how many writers are or have been teachers, myself included. When did you first realize that you were a writer?
I was a storyteller first. When I was in elementary school, we used to go out to recess whether it was -10 or 100 outside. When it was super cold, the girls would huddle by the wall. I would sit in the middle and spin stories. As long as I kept everyone entertained, I got to stay in the middle which was the warmest spot. By sixth grade, I had decided I was a writer. I've written in one form or another most of my life.
Where did you grow up that it was -10 at recess?
I grew up in Michigan around the Detroit area. And we always went out to recess no matter how cold or how much snow! I'm actually a lover of all things winter.
What is the first story you remember writing?
I wrote this truly horrendous adventure story about a girl shipwrecked on an island who was befriended by these panthers. One was all white and one was all black. They often bristled like pinecones.
That sounds way better than my first book, an eight-page complete history of dinosaurs. What have you published to date?
As you know, I published my first novel on Oct. 31, 2018. It's the first in a middle-grade fantasy adventure trilogy called Hook's Daughter: The Untold Tale of a Pirate Princess.
I really enjoyed it, as did my teenage daughter. What are you working on right now?
Book 2 in the trilogy - Pan's Secrets: Rommy's Quest for Answers. I'm hoping to have it out by the end of March/early April.
I’m looking forward to it! Do you remember one line or paragraph that you wrote and thought immediately, "Wow-that's really good?”
I wrote the first scene of Hook's Daughter: The Untold Tale of a Pirate Princess. It's a fencing competition. I went back to read it and kind of forgot it was my own writing and was pulled into the story.
I’ve experienced the same thing. I’m actually reading my first novel to my children now and periodically I come across a line that I don’t remember writing and being impressed with it. It sometimes makes me a little anxious about the writing I’m doing now. Have you experienced that?
I don't know that it makes me anxious. To me, it kind of feels like magic because there is something that happens when I am writing. I mean, I do the work and the plotting and the research, but then I kind of "fall into the hole" of the story. When I go back to read it, I'm often kind of amazed that those words came out of my head. I can never get over that I get to bring people and places to life that didn't even really exist before. It's kind of the same feeling I got when I had my kids. I'd look at them as newborns and just be completely blown away that I grew this whole being and here they were - somebody brand new.
What do you know now that you wished you knew five years ago?
I wish I knew that in order to write a book, I needed to say no to other things. I spent a lot of years not focusing and just spinning my wheels. I wish I knew I didn't need anyone's permission to focus on one creative project.
You can have dinner with three other writers, living or deceased. Who's coming for dinner? Why these particular writers? What do you hope to learn or experience with them?
Just three? It's hard to narrow them down but I think I'd invite J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, and Joanna Penn. Tolkien was a genius and just listening to him (or going for a walk since he was a big walker - C.S. Lewis was too) would be beyond amazing. I think I'd want to know about how he created his worlds and how he tied all of his plots back together in the end. J.K. Rowling created some of the best known/loved characters/worlds in modern history. She also writes to my age group. I'd love to know so many things from her like how she built the Harry Potter world, how she deals with such a large amount of success and still connects with her readers. Joanna Penn is my modern writing hero because she looks at writing as a business and thinks long term. I'd love to just pick her brain for my specific platform. Also, she just seems super nice and like someone I'd enjoy chatting with.
Those are great choices. I’d like to be at that dinner. I’ve had the chance to meet Joanna Penn and you’re right, she is super nice. She told me once, “When I solve a problem for my own author business, I tend to write a book on it!” In that vein, what advice would you offer writers who are just starting their journey?
If you want to write books, you are going to have to say no to some things. Writing requires not just time, but emotional and physical energy. Also, just start. Don't take another course or read another book on writing or watch another YouTube video. Just start.
Exactly. Just get started! If I ever get a tattoo, it will probably be “Just keep writing” on the top of my hands. How can I support you as a writer?
Share ways writers are successful. I love Joanna Penn because she makes being a full-time writer seem so possible. I am super jealous that you got to hang out with her. She's always so optimistic and was really the person who made me think I could actually BE a writer.
She is tremendous. As we finish up, I ask every writer this, what are your three favorite words?
Splendidly; lalapalooza; serendipitous (at the moment - these are subject to change)
Well, this interview went splendidly! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me!
Thanks again To R.V. Bowman for talking with me! You can check out book #1 in her series on Kindle Unlimited and get the eBook for .99 cents March 5-8. Book #2 in the series, Pan's Secrets: Rommy's Quest for Answers is dropping on May 1st!
Please check out her homepage HERE!
Exactly one year ago, I made a choice.
After years of hoping someone else would swoop in and take charge of my dreams, I decided to move forward on my own with my writing. I decided to stop messing around. I didn’t want to be part of a writers ‘fantasy camp’ mentality any longer, so I started my own company.
After googling “How to write a business plan,” I wrote out the following goals:
Short term goals:
1) Publish my novel, The Last Good Day. Put it in front of an audience.
2) Learn the industry further and develop a company that is able to, through my work as I’ll be the only employee, get a book out and in front of its audience.
3) Execute a marketing plan that makes sense in terms of the money I can spend and the audience I want to reach.
4) Learn how to discipline myself with the needs of the business and those of being a writer-write like a professional and run a business like a grown up.
5) Do not let any of this get in the way of my role as a parent/husband/friend/family member
6) Make $1 profit.
7) Generate interest in the next story.
Long term goals:
1) If I’m good at this, I will create a space that I can not only put out my own works, but I can support the work of other writers both within and without the bounds of my own family.
2) Make back the money I am going to invest.
3) Be a model for my children on how one can grow over time and learn how to do the things we want to do in our own way.
4) Believe in myself.
5) Have an article about me in Wooster Magazine.
6) Be interviewed on Fresh Air by Terry Gross.
7) Appear as a speaker at the WDC and be in a position to tell all of the people like me that it’s possible.
8) Be that guy that knows how to do this.
To publish good books. To tell good stories.
To give ear to voices that one might otherwise miss, in the great
disquiet of our modern world.
I’ve accomplished some of those, not all, but overall, it has been a remarkable year. I’ve accomplished a lot and I hope to do more. I hope that I learn to work smarter as well as harder.
2018 saw four books hit the market with my name on them. I even sold some. People asked me to sign them. I was invited into classrooms to talk about writing and publishing. My books were featured in my alma mater’s bookstore. I’ve made some new friends in the business and have learned a lot from them. I have so much more to learn.
That said, if 2019 is anything like 2018 was for me as a writer, it’s going to be a pretty fun year.
Beyond the books, it’s been a pretty remarkable year for my family and we find ourselves looking forward to an exciting year as a family with some fun travel planned, despite the impact of the current government shutdown. More on that in future posts.
I still don’t know how it will all play out long-term, but it’s what I did and I’m glad I did it.
We are playing a long game here. Thank you so much for reading and for your support. It makes more of a difference than you know. Full promotion on book #2 in the Avery & Angela Series begins soon, so please check it out now before prices change HERE!
Welcome, Welcome! As we get ready for book two in the series, here's a little primer to bring you up to speed!
Avery & Angela's story begins in my novel The Last Good Day. If you're new to all this, NEVER FEAR! I'm here for you.
What's it all about?
Two best friends. One last day. One huge secret that changes everything.
Avery Young is having a moment.
How he handles it will determine his future.
A talented musician, Avery is leaving home in New Jersey to study at the Boston Conservatory of Music. Before he boards the 8 AM Northeast Connector out of Princeton Junction, he has one last day at the Jersey Shore with his best friend of four years, Angela, who's been unusually distant all summer.
When Angela finally reveals the reasons behind that distance, it changes everything,
When the moment comes, as they stand along the shore, Avery is forced to reconsider who he is, who he wants to be, and more immediately, what is he going to do now? His plans for the future, which include musical stardom and a life of constant creativity with his best friend by his side, have gone completely up in flames.
How can he pursue his dreams when it could mean losing Angela, the only stable thing in his life, forever?
Here are links to everything you need in order to get read for the second book in the series, On the Road to Here.
The novel itself is available in paperback and eBook formats HERE.
You can try a free sample of the first four chapters of The Last Good Day for free HERE!
You can download "The Day Before," which is a prequel chapter to book one by clicking HERE!
Avery, my lead character is a young musician who performs original music in the novel. Two of those songs are available for free HERE. Just click on the cover photo links on the page. If you're curious, one song from the album "Third Wave" is featured in book two. Bonus points if you can guess which one-please leave it in the comments here to play along!
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