Thank you, Facebook, for reminding me that my career is dead and I’m living in Belize

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On the best days, you can walk along the coast of Ambergris Caye and marvel at the composition of sand, palm trees, blue sky and the shimmering blue-green sea and think, "How blessed I am."
On the best days, you can walk along the coast of Ambergris Caye and marvel at the composition of sand, palm trees, blue sky and the shimmering blue-green sea and think, “How blessed I am.”

This morning I was reminded that four years ago today, I walked away from the best job I’d ever had, after nearly 30 years with the same newspaper.  Thank you, Facebook “On This Day” feature.

And recently, Facebook reminded me that we moved to Belize exactly two years ago.

Like a cat coughing up fur balls, Facebook now churns up fuzzy memories.

Daily.  Read the rest of this entry »

This is Belize: Chew on this ‘Shark Tank’

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Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle . . .
Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle . . .

For a fleeting moment as I drove east on Caribena Street in San Pedro, Belize, I had a blinding flashback to an old lost friend, Monkey Bob.

Some of you may remember our earliest travel companion in Belize. He went where we went and never complained. Until he mysteriously disappeared without so much as a “See ya!”

Looking at this sad excuse for a primate, I could almost see an older, disheveled , more-alcoholic Monkey Bob behind those blood-shot eyes.

But no. It was not our Bob.

Read the rest of this entry »

Sometimes, ‘Belize’ isn’t the answer to all of life’s questions

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Rain is as much a part of life in Belize as sunshine, and just as critical for survival. Some folks might not like that.
Rain is as much a part of life in Belize as sunshine, and just as critical for survival. Some folks might not be able to cope with weeks and weeks of gray sky and drizzle.

If the answer to all of life’s difficult questions is “Belize,” then why don’t some expats succeed here, while others do?

It is not unusual to say goodbye to someone on whom we were about to bestow with Belize-friend-for-life status. More and more, it becomes clear that if you want to be here for the long-haul you have to behave more like a Rolling Stone than a Beatle. Read the rest of this entry »

25 completely random things about me

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Back before you could decide what sort of animal you look like; before you could decide what character from ‘Star Wars’ you are most like; before you could take a short test to determine if you are brilliant or simply smart, Facebook offered a more primitive time sinkhole for you to fall into.

It was called “lists.”

As in: Once you have been “tagged” by a friend, list in 15 minutes the 20 books that changed your life; list 20 concerts you have attended; list your top 25 songs.

And my “favorite”:  list 25 completely random things about yourself.  I still don’t know what “completely random” really means. But I plunged ahead with a list, on January 31, 2009.

Here are the “rules” from back in 2009:
Once you’ve been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about you.

To do this, go to “notes” under tabs on your profile page, paste these instructions in the body of the note, type your 25 random things, tag 25 people (in the right hand corner of the app) then click publish.

This smacks more of a marketing ploy to get people to use Facebook Notes — I did for a while, then forgot about them — and grow traffic by tagging (targeting) others to participate.

Imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon Notes the other day. It was like unlocking a time machine. There is stuff in there that I barely recall writing, even if we are talking about only 6-7 years ago.

Memory. memory, where have you gone?

I was intrigued to look back at this “random” list and see how relevant it is today, as so much has changed — including getting married to Rose Alcantara, moving to Northern California, losing both my parents and then moving to Belize.

I’ve decided to republish the list — either because I’m an egomaniac or a masochist. You can decide. I’ve annotated and updated some of the answers because, well, because I can’t help myself. I am compelled to keep writing. New material is in bold type.

25 completely random things about me

January 31, 2009

1. Growing up was like being in a witness protection program. I moved around a lot: New York (Hornell, Orchard Park 2X, Hamburg); Tennessee (Columbia, Knoxville); Pennsylvania (Brookville, Girard, Tarentum); Ohio (Cleveland); Washington DC; Virginia; Massachusetts (Chatham, West Harwich, Lawrence;; Rhode Island (Barrington, Newport, East Greenwich, North Kingston, Charlestown); Connecticut (New London); and then numerous communities in San Diego County.

After marrying Rose, I moved to her home, Fairfield, in Northern California, until we decided on San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize. 

2. I entered a Catholic seminary while still in high school, and quickly came to hate it. Year two was my reign of terror. I was told to change my ways or not return. I never went back, but it has never let go of me, either. (A few years ago, my mother asked me if “anything” ever happened to me there. It took a lot of courage to ask. I love her for that.)

By “reign of terror” I mean that I simply broke as many rules as I could. Not very mature, I know. But it was a panicky situation. 

3. I was “arrested” three times — each was on a Friday night, in front of the Hilton Diner on Main Street in Brookville, Pa. — by the same cop. Only the possession-of-alcohol-as-a-minor was a real arrest. The inciting-to-riot and possession-of-marijuana amounted to nothing. (Many many years later, my son was questioned at a store across the street from where the Hilton Diner used to be. It was the same cop. I even think it was a Friday.)

I’m returning to this town for a family reunion next month. What is the expiration date on karma?

4. I have seven brothers and a sister. We all get along well and keep in touch.

This one is still, remarkably true, and maybe more so now than ever. I don’t think there has ever been a serious argument, an indefensible ego trip, a selfish or vicious maneuver — none of the things that tear siblings apart. Don’t get me wrong, we’re all over the political, geographical and social map. I attribute this to my parents, Bob and Pat. They spread their love evenly and fairly. Nobody competed for it. I’m very much looking forward to seeing everyone next month.

5. I have three grown sons — Brendan, Ryan and Christopher and a daughter-in-law Cami — whom I love with all my heart. (They each asked me to be their friend on Facebook …how cool is that?) Sometimes they will call just to say hi and shoot the breeze and I love them for that.

I have another daughter-in-law, Katie, and two step-children, Jon and Caira. Same statement pretty much applies. I am blessed with more family love than I deserve.

6. I once spent time backstage at a theater in Los Angeles with Bo Diddley discussing Florida barbecue until his daughter (and bass player) came in and started laughing. Bo was apparently the worst barbecuer in Florida. He burned everything. Still you don’t have to be good at something to love it. Do you?

I also sat next to Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor during a Bruce Springsteen concert — but anyone who knows me has heard these stories several times over.

7. I’ve run three marathons, about 30 half-marathons and countless miles between each and I’ve worn the same pair of baggy blue nylon shorts for all of them. They are indestructible — and frequently washed.

The running shorts, alas, are gone. So is the running. I’d like to take it up again, even with a stent in my heart. Meanwhile, I walk and bicycle whenever I can.

8. I almost drowned off Ponto Beach (in San Diego County) in a winter storm when I lost my kayak and life preserver in the 1,050-foot-high waves …. (I do have a vivid imagination). I had my greatest experience in a kayak — it involved whales, seals, dolphins, pelicans, many fish, surfing a perfect wave and a glorious sunset — exactly a month earlier off the same beach.

In Belize, I have kayaked out to the barrier reef and gone snorkeling. If I had my own kayak I would be doing this several times a week. The reef never fails to amaze me.

9. I have an unfiltered brain and sometimes say (or write) really mean things that I later regret and carry around as guilt for years. I could have been a hell of a gossip columnist.

These days this is mostly contained to Facebook, but I’m getting better. I’d like to wean myself off Facebook. The Facebook algorithms have figured out what pisses me off and feed me a steady diet of bile-inducing news.  I still would make one hell of a gossip columnist.

10. The first time I saw a rugby game, it was love at first sight. It caused me to drop out of college and when I lived in Washington, DC, my team won the Class B Middle Atlantic states championship and the first Cherry Blossom Festival Seven-side Tournament in the same year — for me, that’s as good as a Super Bowl.

I still love rugby, as a fan, and am excited that teams are forming all over Belize, including here in San Pedro. There is no reason in the world why we couldn’t have a decent seven-side in the next World Olympics.

11. I attended the Boston Symphony with friends after getting righteously stoned in the middle of a blinding snowstorm. Conductor Seiji Ozawa turned into a lizard. He grew scales and claws and a long forked tongue. (And I didn’t imagine that…)

Nothing to add.

12. I wrote a paper examining the influence of Hieronymus Bosch on Pieter Brueghel the Elder and was pretty sure that I’d found evidence that the elusive Bosch included self-portraits in some of his works. (I also discovered a detached foot in Breughel’s “Peasant Wedding.”) The paper was for a college course my future wife was taking, while I worked in a mill. It gave me the confidence to go back to college.

13. My life hit bottom in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where I worked second shift loading rolls of fake fur into tractor trailers and box cars for Malden Mills. I was surrounded by bright people trapped in jobs, debt and marriages they could not escape. I saw my future and it scared me.

14. When I finally went back to college (University of Rhode Island) I started over from scratch but graduated in three years while working full-time waiting on tables. On my last day, I went to a deserted beach and sat down and bawled like a baby.

15. My first newspaper job came about because I was trying to help organize a union in a restaurant and happened to be in the right place at the right time. Two months after graduating college, I was named editor of the newspaper. It was the best job I’ve ever had.

The union never got started but I later tried to organize a union at our little paper and eventually had to leave when that failed. I believe in unions and feel the working/middle classes have been royally screwed because of their demise.

16. I want to climb Mount Whitney and I want to do it this year. I want all three of my sons to climb it with me. I feel that if you can climb to the top of the tallest mountain in the 48 lower states, nothing is impossible.

Never did this, but I am proud to say that my sons have all climbed their own Mount Whitneys and are living lives that fill me with pride and admiration.

17. I spent a night alone in the attic-ballroom of an old sea captain’s mansion in Gloucester, Mass. because the women who rented the house insisted it was haunted.

I won’t say yes and I won’t say no about this one. I re-read my notes on this just before moving to Belize. Interesting.

18. Richard Brautigan’s slight little novel “In the Watermelon Sugar” saved my life. I wish I could have told him as much and that that would have encouraged him to not take his own life.

19. I was an extra in the classic and much beloved comic-horror movie “Shrunken Heads” (1994). That’s me, one of the cult followers of the preacher (Richard Elfman), screaming as our bus plunges over a cliff. The 2 seconds of exposure took 16 hours out of my life. (I’m kidding about the “classic and much-beloved” part.)

20. Lock me up with cranberry juice, bananas and Chips Ahoy cookies and you will find a contented prisoner for life.

21. My family bought 22 acres of forest in Pennsylvania when I was a teenager. It had two tattered old houses, a polluted river on one border and a pristine mountain stream on another. It cost about $9,500. Today there are five houses and the river is pristine. It is the place to which all my family returns over and over to renew relationships and reaffirm our love for each other.

This is the place to which I will travel for our reunion. It was 50 years ago next month that my folks bought Pine Run. They are buried not far from here and I look forward to visiting with them.

22. My father, even at 88 years old, and I can not sit in a room for more than 10 minutes before we are pushing each others’ political buttons. He’s a Rush Limbaugh conservative. I still love him and hope to rescue him from the devil before he dies.

I never succeeded and, thanks to FOX, he became a deeply irrational Conservative, the very kind they enjoy creating. The last time politics came up, I said some hateful and hurtful things and even though apologies were made I will carry this regret with me until I die. I hate you FOX and this too will never change.

23. I once crashed a motorcycle en route to Watkins Glen race track in New York. The bike was all twisted up and I had barely a scratch. The first thing I did was find my camera and backpack and take photos. Then I hitched a ride to the race track to hang out with old friends for the weekend.

24. I was once rescued from a gang mugging by the combined Notre Dame and John Carroll rugby clubs in a really tough section of Cleveland. It was like the cavalry charge as they came to our rescue, pouring out of the Polish Club hall, waving metal beer pitchers and bellowing like animals.

25. Rose Alcantara came into my life just before Thanksgiving 2008 and I can not recall what life was like before. I love her so. Amazingly she loves me, too.

This has not changed.