A Little Less Magic

There was a little less magic this year. A little less awe. A little less work. A little less fun. The number of ‘believers’ in our home has dwindled down to none. It was a heartbreaking day last year, a few days after Christmas, when my middle-child, the last of the believers, learned the truth. There were a lot of tears and some resentment and anger at having been lied to. Resentment she still hasn’t completely let go.

She was eleven going on twelve and so it was time, and still it was difficult. As a result, Cutie and the other elves took their places on the shelves, but this year, they did not move and there were no little notes written by mischievous magical hands in the dark of night. Everyone had outgrown such things.

Caught up in all the usual little chores and plans and parties that surround the holidays, many of which have taken on a more obligatory feel than one of sentiment and cheer, as well as the rest of daily adult life – work, school, bills, dinner, the dog – I hadn’t really noticed that something was missing until late last night, Christmas Eve. That’s when I stopped long enough to feel it. There was food and wine and presents and a tree and ornaments and stockings and even those little plastic old-fashioned elves, but no sneaking and fooling and – well, no magic.

And, barring some unforeseen craziness, there never again will be, at least not for me as a father. The day will come, I hope, when I will see that magic light up the eyes of my grandchildren, but if all goes according to plan, that day is a long way off. I can still witness it in the eyes of my nieces and the younger children of my cousins and my friends, but it’s not the same. Yes, for them Santa lives; the difference is I’m not him. And that is all the difference in the world. I never really will be Santa again. I will not be the magic-maker anymore. It was a good 15-year run through three kids, but it’s over and that hurts.

I know, I know, that’s not what Christmas is about. It’s supposed to be about Jesus Christ being born to save us from our inherently sinful existence. To bring peace to Earth and goodwill to men. Well, I’ve been in a Wal-Mart parking lot in December, I’ve been to Costco on a Saturday, I’ve been in line at Macy’s on Black Friday and I am convinced there will never be peace on earth and goodwill is in short supply. Of course, that’s the fault of Santa and all the commercialization too, isn’t it? Sort of.

It’s become for some, all about the deals, the presents, the ‘it’ thing to get. It’s as if the whole country no longer has any ‘believers’ left, in Santa, in God, in basic decency toward the people around you, in not pushing your way through, in not short-cutting, stealing, and ignoring. The magic that the holiday is supposed to have, has taken a backseat to getting good stuff at a great price at any cost. I’ll be honest, I stopped going to church when the behavior in the parking lot there too closely mimicked the behavior in the parking lot at the Wal-Mart. If you walk out of Mass only to get in your car and cut people off and nearly run people down in your rush to not have to wait any longer than necessary, then you should’ve just stayed home. They went in the building, but they missed the point. They got up early and dressed nicely and then paid zero attention.

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So innocent eyes filled with wonderment at the sight of, or even the mere idea of, a fat, jolly, mysterious, and generous benefactor who will magically break into your home with your parents’ permission to leave you toys and presents he knows you desire, was, at least for me, the second to last vestige of joy left in the Holiday Season. And now, at least for me, it is gone. The kids have outgrown the fairy tale and I must retire that little piece of magic I could perform if but once a year.

What remains is a thread of tradition, memories, and familial legacy. It is the one time a year when, as during Scrooge’s haunted night, past, present, and future all come together. One day my children will take on the role of magical elf as my wife and I have done and our parents did for us and theirs did for them. They will put on a pot of coffee, make blueberry pancakes, and list off the ages of each child as he or she approaches the tree on some sort of recording device for posterity. They will be sure the fat man leaves behind some cookie crumbs as evidence he was there. They will adorn their tree with gifts for their own little ones and we will gather, as we do now, to celebrate at least that goodwill towards the ones we love the most.

Family. That’s the remaining magic. That’s the one thing that will change and morph over time as we lose one generation and gain the next, but that thread, if you keep it in maintenance, will endure, and the result is the magic of timelessness. My grandmother’s elf, which I inherited upon her death, will not move for my daughter anymore, at least not in the way it did when she believed, but maybe he or another like him will create that same kind of magic for another little one someday. In that way, I guess my role as magic-maker will never die. Still, it would be nice to leave behind some awe-inspiring cookie crumbs just one more time.

 

 

 

 

 

The Truth About Dad

What Dads try to hide from their children: We really aren’t much smarter than you are. We’ve been around longer and so there are some things we know that you don’t, but we’re still trying to figure this whole thing out ourselves. Still making mistakes, big and small, still learning lessons everyday.

We head out on that unknown path a few paces ahead of you. We face the pitfalls and become slightly familiar with the terrain so we can try to guide you through it. But we aren’t all that far ahead of you. We are also learning as we go, trying hard to be a good guide, but also stumbling and tripping along our own journey. With luck and love, we will all make it to the end of a long journey, me hopefully far ahead of you, you passing the good information I can give back to those following you, without too much pain and sorrow, with many happy adventures, and a whole lot of laughs. My main job is to not lead you into the abyss, to steer you away from the vipers and give you the tools you need to defeat the predators and navigate around the traps. In order to do this though, sometimes I have to double back off the wrong path to find the right one. Bear with me. I’m trying to get us there, but remember, I’m still figuring this out as I go.

One more thing, enjoy the journey, it is shorter than you think.

TOP 10 REASONS IT DOESN’T FEEL LIKE CHRISTMAS

Okay, so it’s time to blog about Christmas I suppose. I don’t really feel like it. It doesn’t feel like Christmas. I think that’s the problem. Here’s why:

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1) I’ve spent the last six weeks going out of my way to avoid Christmas carols on the radio, the television, in the stores. It’s impossible. You have to try though because if you don’t you will go insane before December even begins. I used to like Burl Ives’ song Holly Jolly Christmas, but that was before the radio put it on heavy rotation between Halloween and Christmas Day as if it were the National Anthem and every fifteen minutes a ballgame was starting.

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My Christmas ‘party’ was here.

2) Last night was my work Holiday Party. My wife looked stunning in her dress. The in-laws were prepared to take the kids overnight. All that was left was for me to get dressed. Then the eight year old came home from school in tears and with an earache and a 101.9-degree temperature. Instead of the party, we spent the night at the Immediate care center, then in line at Walgreens getting coughed on by strangers. Instead of a pasta bar, fresh salmon, and free beer, I dined on some bland bowl of something from Chipotle, or as I like to call it, the place with $7 flavored rice.

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3) I live in Chicago and it’s going to be 40 degrees tomorrow. They’re calling for rain on Christmas Eve, which should turn to snow. In other words, slush is going to fall from the sky. I’m dreaming of a slushy, sock soaking Christmas, just like the ones I used to know. The really pretty snow, the kind we associate with Christmas even though we rarely have it which is why Bing Crosby had to dream of it will come. We will get snow. We will get that pretty, heavy blanket of white, but you can bet it is going to fall after Christmas, just in time to bury the decorations my wife will want me to take down, now.

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This is what kids who don’t believe in Santa Clause get for Christmas.

4) The kids are getting older. My eldest is in high school and what he wants is either high-tech, too expensive, or it’s clothing. The other two are at the point where the clothes and the toys are about even and Santa is something they either aren’t quite convinced of, or haven’t the heart to tell mom and dad that they don’t believe anymore. Once that magic is gone, the whole thing becomes something else entirely.

5) I won’t be spending all-night, and I mean all-night, putting together little flimsy plastic toys with instructions that would make the people at Ikea scratch their heads in their complexity. ‘This was supposed to be Barbie’s Dream house, why does it look like a Pepto-Bismol factory post-apocalypse?

6) Of course it doesn’t help that right now my house is a cluttered mess and the whole place smells like chili.

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7)   It ain’t like it used to be. I don’t have to go into detail on that. If you grew up in the 1940’s, it ain’t like it was in the ‘40’s. If you were a child of the 80’s, it ain’t like it was back in the day. If your formative years were the 1990’s, it’s not like that anymore is it? Our place of reference might be different, but when I say ‘It ain’t like it used to be’, we all get it. We grew up and so did the world. What a shame, huh?

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8) Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Charlie Brown are On-Demand. It used to be that those shows were Specials, events to be watched all together at the same time, and only one time each year because once it was over, it was gone. If you missed it, you were shit-out-of-luck. Now you can watch them all day any day as many times as you’d like whenever, wherever, nothing special, no event, just another damn show to choose from of the thousands on that digital jukebox of television and movies. Play it again, Sam. No need for a quarter, just hit ‘enter’ on the remote.

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9) I’m lucky. Sounds strange but, it’s a reason. So much of secular Christmas is wishing and getting. Well, there isn’t much I’m wishing to get. I mean, at least not material things. My wife and I make a decent enough living that if there is something we really and truly want, we buy it. So, there is no excitement for that gift I’ve been dying to get. Nor is there much excitement for the gift I can’t wait to give, because there is nothing special on her list either. ‘Let’s get through it without getting the flu’ seems to be at the top of the wish-list this year. Can’t circle that in the Sears catalog.

10)   I’m getting older. Shit, I’ve been through this rigamarole now forty-two times. This will be the forty-third. I have to admit, it’s losing some of its charm. I mean, I get it, Bing sings, we go to Mass, the presents get opened, I eat too much, I feel like shit, and tomorrow is depressing because it’s been weeks of anticipation, a flurry of momentary excitement, and then it’s over until next Halloween when Burl Ives starts singing A Holly Jolly Christmas.

27777393 Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy Halloween too I suppose, it’s all running together now.

http://www.inthesanctityofrevenge.com

HELLO FRIEND: BILL COSBY, GRANDMA’S PIRATED TAPE, & SHOELESS JOE JACKSON

“The grandparents come over… ‘now just come here and kiss your grandmommy, muh muh muh muh muh, grandmommy love you to death.’ And my children think that my mother is the most wonderful person on the face of this earth and I keep telling my children, ‘that’s not the same woman I grew up with. You’re looking at an old person who’s trying to get into heaven now.’

Those are not my words, however, I didn’t transcribe those words either. I didn’t look them up, read them, or research them. No, those words are emblazoned in my mind. My Grandma Julie came over to visit one night with Grandpa and LB, and she handed me a cassette tape (this is the early 1980’s). “You like that Bill Cosby don’t you? My friend has one of his records and I made a tape for you,” she said and she handed me a cassette tape, the kind you might use to make a mix tape off the radio. That little tape was one of the greatest presents I ever received. I took that tape up to my room, popped it into my tape recorder, (you know the little silver and black plastic things that people would dictate into) and I would listen and I would laugh and I would laugh and I would laugh. I laughed hardest when he made fun of his father. I don’t know what it is with fathers and sons, but my own son loves to laugh at me and at that time, I loved to laugh at my dad. Must have something to do with the coming of age, in any event, I laughed and laughed until I stopped laughing and began to mimic. After I could mimic, I began reciting parts of it. “I’m sick of this and I’m sick of you. So sick I don’t know what to do with myself. I am just sick and tired. ‘And tired’ always followed ‘sick’. Worst beating I ever got in my life my mother said, ‘I am just sick…’ I said, ‘… and tired’. I don’t remember anything that happened that day.”

The record Grandma Julie had pirated was Bill Cosby Himself. (I later purchased the record album, which I believe absolves Grandma of her innocent piracy) Now at that time, Mr. Cosby was already famous. He’d co-stared in I-Spy, had his own sitcom ‘The Bill Cosby Show’ in which he played a gym teacher, had been on the Electric Company (which is where I first saw him), had a short segment on PBS called Picture Pages, and of course was the host and creator of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, one of my favorite cartoons growing up. He’d already had hit comedy albums, was a stand-up major headliner, and a legitimate star, but it was this album Grandma had taped for me that would propel Bill Cosby into the realm of superstardom. This was the album that inspired the Cosby Show, the 1984 television show that is credited with single handedly resurrecting the nearly dead television format of the situation comedy. This was the one. And I had it all memorized (well, all but two bits, Chocolate Cake For Breakfast and the Dentist because Grandma Julie didn’t record those). Not only did I have the words memorized, but the delivery, the cadence, the pauses, the inflections. It was comedy school 101 taught by a master craftsman, one of the best to ever stand on stage and tell a joke.

Well, that isn’t exactly accurate, is it? Because Bill Cosby doesn’t stand on stage and tell jokes, he sits. And he doesn’t tell jokes, he tells stories. It just so happens that his stories are hilarious. Perfectly worded, perfectly timed, and perfectly delivered. I learned a lot about comic delivery and story telling from listening to that tape. But that isn’t what makes Mr. Cosby so funny. His true talent lies elsewhere.

When my grandmother gave me that tape, there were other popular comedians around with best-selling albums. It was 1982 and I was nine, going on ten. George Carlin had just released ‘A Place For My Stuff’ two years before. Eddie Murphy released his self-titled album and the next year would release ‘Delirious’. There was Richard Pryor, Cheech and Chong, and others. But, not only would my parents never let me listen to those… I’m not sure I would even think they were funny. (Some kids got a kick out of hearing the swears, but if I wanted to hear those all I had to do was hit my sister, wait for her to cry and I’d get my fair share of those words for free and in person from my dad.) The jokes on those records would’ve been way over my head. But not Bill Cosby. And that’s where his true talent lies. He can relate to, and remember what it was like to be, every age. His best stuff is from the perspective of a child. His own childhood is vivid. Not in the sense that he remembers every event, but rather in the more rare ability to remember what it was like, how he felt, how he thought. Those are the things that escape most of us. We can all tell you the story of the time when I was eight years old and such-and-such happened. But, not many of us can reach back and tap into the mindset of your eight-year-old self. Bill Cosby can. And when he does, he reminds us of our own eight year old selves, because though it’s difficult to bring ourselves to that mindset, that way of thinking and feeling of that little ‘me’ of so long ago, it is right there on the tip of the consciousness and we go willingly and easily along when Mr. Cosby takes us there, and that is where the fun is, and where the funny is. That is his true talent. He takes us back to that perspective, of how we viewed our parents, our siblings, the world and ourselves. For a split second we are eight again, or ten, or eleven, or twelve. And then, in the next breath, he brings us back. Back to now, to the other side where we have to deal with those ‘brain damaged’ people we call children. Where we have to try to reason with those eight year old minds. He articulates our frustrations, our failures, our inabilities to be the ‘perfect parent’ by pointing out that none of us are, that we all share that shortcoming that is to successfully communicate with, understand, and guide these small, still developing people with this strange view of the world.

He can at once make us laugh at our own parents from the perspective of a child looking up at authority, and as an adult looking at aging, softening at the edges, grandparents “that is not the same woman I grew up with”. And we can identify and laugh with both because he takes us there so effectively.

I don’t know when I first saw Mr. Cosby on TV. I think it was on the Electric Company. By the time I was watching Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids in the late ‘70’s, I recognized him. I knew him. “This is Bill Cosby comin’ atcha with music and fun, and if you’re not careful you might learn somethin’ before it’s done, okay? Hey Hey Hey!” I’d see him on Picture Pages, Jell-O commercials, Coca-Cola commercials. He was everywhere. It’s worth pointing out too that the civil rights movement hit its peak in 1968. Real Jim Crow style segregation was still very real in many parts of the country. By 1971, Bill Cosby and Morgan Freeman were on PBS teaching all us kids phonics and math. He is a large part of the progress America has made in race relations. He is the first African American to be on mainstream television in his own show without it being about ‘a black guy’, but rather a guy who happened to be black. He co-starred, with equal billing, with Robert Culp in I-Spy in 1965. Only twelve years earlier, American TV sets were tuned to Amos and Andy. Mr. Cosby is criticized by some for not being ‘black enough’. As a white man, I can tell you that he’s black enough for racists to dislike him just the same as they would any black man, maybe even more so. What he did, is he changed the way white-middle-class-suburban people viewed African Americans and their culture.

For once, a black man wasn’t emptying the garbage, or working as a butler, or a barber… he was a doctor. He lived in a nice house, not in the projects like on Good Times, and not in some “Movin’-on-up, one-in-a-million-shot-success-fish-out-of-water-highrises” like the Jeffersons, but in a realistic, honest way, he was upper middle-class, and he was black. And he was the first to be that on television, and while white suburban families across the country sat every week in droves watching this successful black couple make them laugh on TV, Mr. Cosby made a point to integrate African and African American culture and history into the show. Yet the very existence and scope of the popularity of the show is due to the fact that, despite racial, sociological, cultural, and economic differences, there is a thread of commonalities throughout American culture that transcends those differences; shared thoughts, feelings, and experiences that come not from being black or white but from being American and in a family. There’s a lot to be said for having achieved that at the time he did, and in the manner in which he did.

So, needless to say, I am, and have for a long time, been a fan of Mr. Cosby. I respect him. I studied him. I can identify with him even though he grew up with black skin in the projects of Philadelphia thirty years before I was born and I grew up with white skin in working-class neighborhoods of Chicago, I can identify with him, as can millions of people of all races and classes across America.

So this weekend, thirty-two years after I’d first gotten that tape from my Grandma, I finally got to see the man in person. He was performing at the Rosemont Theater. My wife and I sat about five rows back from the stage, but off to the side. Good seats, had they been center, they would’ve been extraordinary seats. On stage was a chair and table. Across the chair was draped a cloth of some kind that had embroidered into it the words “HELLO FRIEND” in a rainbow of colors. On the table sat a bottle of water, a glass, and a box of Kleenex. Behind the table, a little garbage can like you’d find under a desk in an office.

It says: Hello Friend

It says: HELLO FRIEND

The house lights were still up and the audience still conversing and moving about, when, unannounced, this larger than life figure with a familiar walk, strode across the stage to the seat and said ‘hello.’ With that, the show began. Unlike every other show I’ve ever seen, the house lights stayed lit. Mr. Cosby began talking and soon asked the ‘soundman’ to turn down the level so his voice wasn’t bouncing around the room so much but rather it “sound more like a living room”. And that is exactly what the next two hours felt like. Like an old friend, an old man you’d known forever, stopped by the house for a glass of water and a long chat. And it was funny. Admittedly, it started out slow, but most visits usually do. Conversations don’t usually start with a bang, we ease into them. That’s what he did. He eased into it and before you knew it, you were engrossed in the conversation, one-way though it was, and laughing. My wife chuckled. She elbowed me a couple of times as if to say “you do that” or “sounds like my parents, doesn’t it?” But me… I was laughing. I laughed so hard a few times that it caused me to go into a coughing fit. I started sweating, I had tears running down my cheeks. By the time the two-hour show was over, I was wet. Which brings us, unfortunately, to the news reports of earlier that day. (Hell of a segue, huh?)

I’d waited, like I said, for 32 years to see my favorite comedian perform his craft in person. (I’d seen Carlin and Seinfeld years before. Carlin is like my devil on the shoulder favorite, while Cosby is like the angel on my shoulder favorite. Seinfeld’s funny, but I saw him for my wife. Great show though). So, here I am, the day I’m finally going to see Bill Cosby in person! And he’s all over the news. And it isn’t good news.

There are reports surfacing, that he drugged and raped a woman. Then reports that others, several others, have reported similar instances of having been drugged then raped by Mr. Cosby. I’ve been in the television industry myself for close to twenty years now. I’m not naïve enough to believe that the people we see on TV are the same in real life as they portray themselves to be. In interviews, on the Tonight Show, in magazines, it is a carefully orchestrated strategy at work. This is, after all, a business and their product is themselves. And so they market themselves in such a way, at least the smart ones do, that people will like them and buy their albums, watch their sitcom, go to their concerts, see their plays, etc. I’ve also been in this business long enough to know to never trust anything I see on TV. That’s the other side of the business. Grab as many eyeballs (or clicks) as possible. You have video of a fire, run it! You have footage of Japanese politicians beating the crap out of each other, it’s news! Lindsay Lohan goes to rehab or Paris Hilton gets arrested, lead with it! If it’s not salacious enough, find a salacious angle to it and present it that way! (Fox News is brilliant at that, but they’re all guilty of it to some extent) America’s favorite TV dad is accused of rape; goddamn right that’s news. Front friggin’ page. Tweet it, Instagram it, Facebook it, just tell them about it and let them know to turn to us for more info, they’re starving for it!! It doesn’t have to be true or proven; the mere allegations are newsworthy in and of themselves! Find me more women who’ll say the same thing and do it before we go on the air at six!

So what’s a fan to think? There are women who will have sex with a TV star, simply because he’s a TV star, so I find it difficult to believe someone who is the top TV star at the time this was supposed to have happened, would have to resort to drugging and raping a woman just to get laid. All he’d really have to do is walk into the right club and say “Hi”. I also know that doesn’t mean a thing.

I know there are people who will do some low-down dirty-rotten things to extort money from someone, and that includes falsely accusing him of rape. I also know it is strange that so many women have such similar stories.  It’s also strange, though, that no one did anything about it at the time.  He was very famous and very wealthy.  The woman who claims she sought representation from an attorney who laughed her out of his office can’t be trusted because if there were any way to even possibly sue him for rape, any lawyer would’ve jumped at it just for a piece of the settlement money, and yet, she was ‘laughed out of the office’.  Even a slimy lawyer couldn’t see enough to make a case out of it.  But that’s one.  Rape is too serious an allegation to dismiss it easily.  It’s also too serious an allegation to convict the accused without due process based on stories on the news.

I hope those women are lying. I hope he didn’t rape them, for their sake and his. He’s done some great things in his life, and as I stated in a previous post, it is difficult to not like someone who makes you laugh, and he has made me laugh since I was a little, little boy. My thoughts on this can be summed up with the words of another little boy to his idol nearly a century ago when Shoeless Joe Jackson was confronted with the words “Say it ain’t so.”

Please Mr. Cosby, say it ain’t so.  In the meantime, I’m getting together with some old friends for a furious game of ‘Buck-Buck’ and try to remember the mindset of that nine year old boy with a cassette tape that made him laugh so much.

Bill Cosby in concert at the Rosemont Theater, November 15, 2014

Bill Cosby in concert at the Rosemont Theater, November 15, 2014

I don't get dressed up for just anybody.  I was even going to wear a tie, but my neck outgrew the shirt.

I don’t get dressed up for just anybody. I was even going to wear a tie, but my neck outgrew the shirt.

From a new Dad…

The most important adjustment young dads have to make is switching from a self-centric world to one in which every decision he makes from now on has to revolve around this little wide-eyed, helpless child who’s depending on Dad.  Us guys can be pretty selfish in our youth, and unlike our female counterparts, parenthood often catches us off-guard.  By that, I don’t mean the planning of it, but rather the responsibilities of it. Despite all our boundless love for this new little person, that adjustment can sometimes be a rough one and it can sometimes take a while.  For me, ‘a while’ meant years.  I took care of my responsibilities, I loved my boy immediately, but figuring out how to balance his needs with my own took some doing.  It becomes a balancing act between the best interest of this little bundle of love and the still-stirring dreams and aspirations of a young man in his twenties.

Now in my forties, I have a much better perspective and handle on this whole dad-business, but that was not the case at 29.  Getting older is daunting on that side of the hill.

One day, I took off to the shores of Geneva Lake to do some thinking in the sun and the water.  The following is the result of that.  It’s supposed to be a song, but I don’t know how to write music, and so I guess it’s a poem.

Long story short, I wrote this a long time ago for a little boy.  He’s not so little anymore, but the sentiments still apply.

 

CANDY BARS AND SHOOTING STARS

All those dreams of stardom

and movies of my own

Have given way to blocks and clay

rubber balls and ice cream cones

I guess I’ll have to face it

My priorities have changed.

The dreams are alive, they’ll never die

they just simply rearranged

 

Now it’s candy bars and shooting stars

Hide and go seek

The ice cream man, a summer’s tan

and running in bare feet

 

My life’s gone by at lightning speed

The years they just flew

I’m fast approaching thirty

and my best bud is barely two

With distance from the spotlight

I’ve got a better view

Cause through his eyes and nightly lullabies

I see a world that’s bright and new

 

It’s full of candy bars and shooting stars

Hide and go seek

The ice cream man, a summer’s tan

and running in bare feet

 

Now I may not make the big time

I put that book up on the shelf

There’s more in life to think about

than just my foolish self

But there’s no need to worry

This story is not grim

‘Cause he’s got dreams he’ll share with me

And I’ll share mine with him

 

— Brian Schnoor

Geneva Lake, Wi.

August 2002