taking back Thanksgiving

Fist…and I’m not just talking about wishing all the stores like Walmart, Target, Best Buy, etc. stayed closed so their employees could enjoy some time off spent with their families.

I’m talking about this trend to remind everybody how shitty Americans are because we forget/ignore/marginalize Native Americans on Thanksgiving (and, incidentally, Columbus Day, but perhaps that is fodder for a separate post).

Not forgetting your past isn’t the same as trying to assuage your own sense of cultural/social guilt over something you had no connection to, no involvement with, and yourself have only read about in books.  The popular term for this is “white guilt,” because apparently only white people ever do anything shitty to any other group of human beings.

Now, before you start throwing out terms like “racist,” let me assure you that I’m pretty sure I’m not racist.  As of right now at this exact moment, I can’t think of an entire group of people that I hate just because they are some specific nationality or ethnic group.  I certainly don’t hate or engage actively in the oppression of Native Americans in any way, shape or form, so at the very least, I think we can agree that I’m not racist towards them and have that read into the record.

There’s only two things I hate in this world: People who are intolerant of other people’s cultures and the Dutch. –Nigel Powers

It’s widely known that the colonists* that came to the Massachusetts Bay area in 1620 were ill-equipped for survival.  As “Puritans,” they had been kicked out of most of the good countries of Europe due to their religious beliefs – these people were Calvinists, and not mainstream ones at that.  It has to do with Elizabetha-era religion & politics, which again, is probably best left to another post.

* Note that I do not use the PC term “settlers,” specifically because “settlers” is what people who think they’re without fault call themselves; “colonists” are people invading an already-populated area and staking claims for themselves – it’s not necessarily a pejorative term, but it has become taboo enough that we don’t use it much any more.

“Puritan” in this sense does not mean the “opposite of impure.”  There was no questioning these peoples’ loyalty to their beliefs, and, with Calvinism being the more dominant form of Protestant theology in England, these specific Puritans that came from England were part of a wider group of ostracized European Calvinists that wanted a return to the early days of Calvinism, when things were simpler and clearer.  Let’s leave it at that, and accept the understanding that, especially in England, they were not a particularly popular group of people.

These Puritans, whom we refer to as the Pilgrims, reached what they called Cape Cod late in November 1620. (Legend has that they named it such after catching a bunch of cod during a fishing expedition; I tend to believe this because, after all, they WERE on a boat and why be on a boat unless you’re fishing?)  They were ill-suited and ill-prepared for a Massachusetts winter, but the local tribe of what Europeans called Indians & what we now call American Indians or Native Americans (which is a misnomer – their people are no more native to this continent than are white people – they just got here long before the white people did) helped them survive that first, typical Massachusetts winter.  It is perfectly rational and correct to say that without the Wampanoag Indians, the Pilgrims would have been nothing more than a brief object lesson in a book about failed colonization attempts.

OK, so, after the Pilgrims got themselves on a more sustainable footing, they celebrated survival by having a big dinner party (or so the legend goes) after their first big harvest in 1621 and inviting the Wampanoag to the table to share in the bounty.  I’m assuming they played football in the town square after dinner, because that tradition had to start somewhere.

As we all know, the leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, in subsequent years, proceeded to pit the Indian tribes of New England against each other and, indeed, killed many of the natives themselves.  In fact, I think we can all agree that what the European colonists and later United States population did to the American Indians should be classified as genocide.  Some of it was unintentional, such as the initial introduction of influenza and other virulent diseases that happened with the first contact events of the 15th century.  Much of it, however, was wholly and clearly purposeful, with Indian tribes being forced out of their ancestral homelands and massacred by the tens, of not hundreds of thousands.

However.

If that is where you stop thinking about the legends of Thanksgiving, then you are selling yourself – and the United States – short in many important ways.

Sidebar:  You may or may not know this, but the co-opting of one holiday or festival for some other purpose has a long, storied history in the western tradition. It was one of many tools used by the early Roman Catholic Church to entice barbarians (i.e. Celts & Germans) to convert to Catholicism.  For instance, it’s clear, historical fact that Jesus was not born on 25 December, yet that is the day Christians celebrate his birth.  The reason that happens now is because one of the early popes (Pope Gregory I, or Gregory the Great) was a big fan of turning pagan festivals into holy days for saints & martyrs. One of the many legends about the establishment of Christmas involves Gregory overlaying the celebration of Jesus’ birth with the pagan festivals begging for warmth to return to the earth, which center around the winter solstice.  The point of this is simple: Everybody knows Joseph & Mary, Jesus’ parents, were in Bethlehem because the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus, had ordered every Roman subject to return to the city of his birth to register for the census and pay his taxes.  Joseph was born in Bethlehem, so that’s where they went.  Jesus was actually born on 15 April, which as we all know is the day people pay their taxes, but it’s inconvenient to celebrate Christmas in mid-April, because everybody is stressed about paying their taxes and, after all, it’s spring and we’re kind of committed at this point to Christmas being a winter holiday… at least in the northern hemisphere. I don’t know what the hell Australians are doing, having Christmas in the middle of summer like that.

On 3 October 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued what is known as his “Thanksgiving Proclamation.”  (It was actually written by Secretary of State William Seward, the same guy responsible for us buying Alaska from Russia.) In this proclamation, Lincoln ordered that government institutions close so Americans could celebrate a “day of thanksgiving and praise” on the last Thursday in November.

With this in mind, then, and remembering that Lincoln’s highest priority was the restoration of the United States, Lincoln’s establishment of Thanksgiving as a holiday can clearly be seen as an expropriation of an American legend as a way to promote togetherness and healing in a nation that was being ravaged and torn apart by civil war.

I’m not saying you should forget the terrible things that white people did to the American Indians.  I am saying that maybe, in the Thanksgiving spirit of togetherness, peace and understanding, you could focus on something other than death & destruction when you celebrate what is a genuine, uniquely American holiday.

Happy Thanksgiving.

the plight of the adjunct professor

angryprofA few weeks ago (a couple of months – could it be that long?) the story of Margaret Vojtko came out. A longtime adjunct professor at Duquesne University, she died of a heart attack in what looked like abject poverty despite having committed the bulk of her life to teaching at the college level.

Naturally, people were outraged. Here’s an old lady working for a Catholic school, and they unceremoniously tossed her out on her ear to suffer from cancer, the frigid temperatures of a Pittsburgh winter, and of course, the fatal heart attack.

Slate (not always the most …unbiased… of sources) ran a follow-up article that makes Vojtko look more like a cranky old crazy woman than a sympathetic doddering professor, but that’s neither here nor there.  Here’s the article: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/education/2013/11/death_of_duquesne_adjunct_margaret_mary_vojtko_what_really_happened_to_her.html

It’s an interesting piece – weird to see actual investigative journalism going on – but I want to talk about a couple of things.

1.  Vojtko says that teaching isn’t a job and that it’s not about money. It’s a devotion, something that somebody does, not for the money, but because they simply have to.

I agree.

I’ve been an adjunct professor for more than a decade. While the money never hurts, I’m definitely not doing it for the money.  The schools I work for pay about $2,500 per class.  If I had to make my living on that, especially now that one of the schools has limited adjuncts to just 3 classes per semester, I’d be one hungry, broke-ass dude.  Figure 3 classes in the Spring, 3 in the Fall – that’s $15,000 a year, 20% of which goes to taxes.  Add in a class or two over the summer for maybe a total of $20k a year.

In the DC area, who the hell can live on $20k a year?  Somebody fresh out of college, maybe, living in a house with 3 other people. That’s not going to work for me – I have a family to take care of. Therefore, I have a day job – a full time position with a  company that has all the benefits you’d typically expect a full-time employer to have.

The schools offer me exactly no benefits except for being able to say I teach at those institutions.

2.  The author appears to make the following assertions:

2a.  “Hiring adjuncts instead of tenure-track faculty is unquestionably great for a university’s bottom line.”

Perhaps, but perhaps not. While it may appear from the outside that paying adjuncts peanuts & denying them benefits saves the college money, if the quality of the adjuncts gets too low, students will stop coming to those schools, which makes it in the university’s best interest to hire the best adjuncts possible – which costs money.  At any rate, I do agree that denying adjuncts access to standard benefits like health insurance does, indeed, save the colleges money, possibly a great deal of it.

2b.  “Professors who don’t have their own offices … cannot devote as much energy and time to their students as they would like.”

Patently untrue.  I devote exactly as much energy and time to my students as I would like. My students contact me via email (mostly) and phone (rarely). Even when I had access to an office AND held regular office hours, very few students ever came to see me. What did they do?  They emailed me.  As a result, after several years, I stopped holding regular office hours and now, if a student insists on meeting with me in person, we make an appointment that is convenient to both of us.

2c.  Adjuncts often find out what classes they’re teaching shortly before the semester starts, and that hampers their ability to adequately prepare for those classes.

Partially true.  While on occasion I have been contacted in the few weeks before a semester starts to take on a class, that is the exception. In general, I know my classes several months in advance simply because universities plan their semesters months in advance and don’t generally like to leave things to the last minute.

However, adjuncts are rarely tasked with teaching highly complicated classes that they’ve never taught before. I teach the same 5 classes semester after semester, over and over. My dean could call me the DAY a class starts and I could show up 6 hours later having done nothing more than updated some information on the syllabus and jump right into teaching the course.

The author’s assumption that adjuncts are not well prepared to teach their classes is inappropriate and belittling.

2d. “Hiring adjuncts anew every semester is inefficient, and managers’ lack of accountability for how their treat these employees leaves them vulnerable to discrimination suits.”

It is perhaps inefficient to issue contracts to adjuncts for each semester’s classes, but when it’s incorporated into the scheduling process as it seems to be at the two schools I teach at, it doesn’t seem to be any more or less efficient than any other hiring process.

In fact, I would posit that it is in some ways more efficient, as when a department no longer wants to employ an adjunct, they don’t have to go through any complicated process – they just stop calling them. Not very nice, sure, but that’s life. It’s very efficient and quite easy for the university.

As far as accountability, I know who my supervisors are and who they report to. While I have never felt the need to go over the head of any of my deans, I know how to do it. Every meeting or discussion I’ve ever had with senior management at either of my schools has been cordial and I left feeling as if I’d been taken seriously.  (Not to toot my own horn too much, but I even alerted a senior dean to an issue within his department and saw, over the course of a few weeks, several changes take place that resolved that issue.)  I have no doubts that my chain of command has all the accountability it needs.

2e. “We should expect universities to pay adjuncts a living wage, give them benefits and some job security, and provide them with the resources they need to do their jobs well.”

No, we shouldn’t.  What we should expect is clarity and honesty.  “This job provides no benefits” – understood from the get-go – enables you to make the choice of whether or not to accept the job.  “This job pays $2,500 per course” – clearly stated up front. You decide whether or not that amount of money is worth your time and effort.  I’m provided with all (more, even) the resources I need to do my job well and have NEVER asked one of my schools for something they weren’t able to deliver.

Look, being an adjunct is no better or worse than any other job.  It has good days and bad days.  What all these people up in arms about poor Margaret Vojtko aren’t doing is looking at the GOOD aspects of being an adjunct.

For example:

  • No pressure to publish.  “Publish or perish” is a huge thing with tenure-track & tenured professors, and it creates an unbelievable amount of stress.
  • No student advising.  While I care deeply for my students and do my best to help them when they come to me, I am not assigned a block of students that I have responsibility for. I’m not expected to guide anyone through their college experience and make sure they’re taking all the classes they’re supposed to take to graduate on time.
  • No committee assignments.  I hate meetings and even more than meetings, I hate bureaucracy.  I’m not required (or even asked, really) to be on any committees, am asked to attend very few meetings, and have no responsibilities in these arenas of college administration.
  • Ultimate flexibility.  If I don’t want to teach over the summer so I can go on a motorcycle trip, no problem.  When they say “what’s your availability for the summer?” I can answer “I’m not available” and rest assured that they’ll not only find somebody else to teach those classes, but – as long as I’ve been doing my job well anyway – will be happy to welcome me back for the following semester.

There’s more benefits to being an adjunct, but I’d guess anybody who feels roped or trapped into being an adjunct will dispute or deny them.  Yes, there are times that being an adjunct sucks, but there are times when it flat-out rocks, too.  I am lucky, I suppose, compared to other adjuncts, that I not only have a full time job with benefits, but that I teach because I want to.

Rather, because I have to.

See, like Margaret Vojtko, I have never believed that teaching is about the money. I am driven to do it, I am, at heart, a teacher.  I have been teaching in one capacity or another since 1988 and cannot envision a time in my life where I am not teaching.

I’m also learning, though, and one of the lessons I learned long ago is that making a living as an adjunct is tough. That more than anything is why I have a full time day job.

answers to your (awkward?) questions

In response to a Facebook meme going around – “here’s X number of things you didn’t know about me, ‘like’ this post & I’ll give you a number” – I decided to throw the floor open to my friends and answer any question they ask me.

Here, then, are the questions – and the answers.

Feel free to ask more questions & I’ll answer them.

What’s the craziest place you’ve ever slept?
As a former rock band dude, I’ve slept in some pretty low-down places, including vans, sketchy apartments, and seedy clubs, but I’d have to say the craziest place I ever slept was in the Shenandoah River. Technically I guess I was more passed out than sleeping, but you know – unconscious. With one foot in the river. I never did find that shoe.

What’s the worst job you ever had?
The worst job I ever had was as a maintenance worker at Occoquan Regional Park near Occoquan, VA. The upside was that I got to work with two of my very good friends, but the downsides were myriad. Not only was the park ranger a giant prick, but the actual work totally sucked. Cleaning public bathrooms two or three times a day and still having to mow acres of grass and weed-eater what felt like miles of road edge just sucked goat balls.

(You might be surprised to know that as disgusting as men are, the women’s bathrooms were always the worst.)

One day I asked the park ranger-in-charge if I could get off 2 hours early the next day (a Saturday) because my band had to travel 6 hours to get to a gig. He went into a long harangue about how I needed to grow up, get a haircut, blah blah blah and basically said I needed to choose between my $5-an-hour job and my band.

I quit that shitty job on the spot and walked out.

If I could be a superhero, which one would I be?
I would be Groo the Wanderer, who was kind of like if MAD Magazine had invented Conan the Barbarian.  I guess technically he’s not a superhero, but rather just a regular hero, so I’ll amend my answer to say – THE TICK!!  The Tick is definitely the most awesome superhero ever in the history of superheroes.

Why are manhole covers round?
I don’t know exactly, but my uneducated guess would be so that they don’t fall into the hole. Pretty much every other shape I can think of could be maneuvered so that it could fall or be pushed through the hole.

Many peoples first impression of you (on sight due to your handsome burliness) is “big, rock band, bouncer, mean kinda guy.” Were you ever a brawler or have you always been an intellectual teddy bear?
What many people may not know about me is that I have a real problem controlling my temper. I guess you might call it “rage issues” if you were analyzing the problem.

In my younger days, I was indeed a short-fuse brawler and got into a lot of fights. I broke one of my fingers once from punching a guy in the face and nearly got arrested once after bashing in a guy’s windshield with a baseball bat.

I struggle daily with controlling my temper, but I do OK thanks to zen/meditation, therapy and sheer willpower. Despite my urges to choke people or knock them down and then stand on their throats, it’s been nearly 15 years since I punched another human being.

What is the worst of Jeff Jones’ bad qualities?
Without a doubt, the worst of Jones’ bad qualities is his unwillingness to move back to Virginia and play music with me & my friends again.

this is my GS. there are many others like it, but this one is mine

IMG_0319This is my GS. There are many others like it, but this one is mine. My GS is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me, my GS is useless. Without my GS, I am useless. I must ride my GS true. I must ride straighter than my enemy, who is trying to kill me. I must avoid him before he runs over me. I will…

My GS and I know that what counts on the road is not the miles we ride, the noise of our exhausts, nor the dust we kick up. We know that it is avoiding the hits that count. We will avoid…

My GS is human, even as I, because it is my life. Thus, I will learn it as a brother. I will learn its weaknesses, its strengths, its parts, its accessories, its controls and its engine. I will keep my GS clean and ready, even as I am clean and ready. We will become part of each other. We will…

(Quite blatantly adapted from the USMC Rifleman’s Creed – with apologies to the Corps.)

I spent the day with my bike – a 2005 BMW R 1200 GS – and three of my friends. For the first part of my day, I worked on the bike. I…

  • changed the engine oil & oil filter (4 qts synthetic 15W50 & a Mann filter)
  • changed the final drive oil (Mobil1 75W140 – exactly 180 ml), which requires dropping the final drive to vertical & reconnecting it; one of my friends showed me a great way to more easily get the drive shaft re-engaged
  • changed the transmission oil (same 75W140 – most of the rest of the bottle)
  • made a huge mess when the hot engine oil splashed off the bottom of the catch pan
  • cleaned up said huge mess
  • cleaned spilled final drive oil off the rear brake disc

It doesn’t seem like much, but between doing the actual work, talking to people, lollygagging, drinking a soda, eating a donut, and all the other things you do when a bunch of folks are working on bikes, it took about 2 hours to get all this done.

What I meant to do but didn’t because I didn’t want to delay the rest of the day:

  • change the air filter (requires removing body panels & I just didn’t want to mess with that)
  • change the spark plugs
  • adjust the valve clearances
  • replace the rear brake pads (also I didn’t want to buy them where I was as I know I have to get the aftermarket pads I prefer elsewhere)

After the work was done, I verified nothing was leaking out of my bike, and I cleaned up my mess & loaded up my bike, I headed out to lunch at the Waffle House with my buddies. From there we went to a very nice (rustic) rural private gun club site and did some shooting.  Mostly handguns, but I got to shoot a lever-action rifle for the first time ever, and a shotgun as well.  I did not enjoy firing the shotgun and I’m sure my friends got a little chuckle at a) how inept I was with it and b) that it left me with a very sore right shoulder.

Motorcycle riders don’t have to talk to each other to have a good time. Yes, we did talk to each other throughout the day, from the morning through brunch & at the shooting range – but I knew we’d have been just as pleased with the day if we’d met up at the crack of dawn, ridden until lunch, wolfed down some food, and ridden again until the sun started to smear in the sky.

I greatly admire the friends I spent the day with. Each has strengths and weaknesses, but they always seem to make the most of their strengths and find ways to minimized their faults. I’ve never known any of them to speak or act grossly inappropriately – except, of course, when the time for shenanigans presented itself.

The four of us are from different backgrounds and have pursued different paths.  As you know, I am a professor and a news writer/editor.  My friends are a public servant (and veteran), a financial advisor and a computer programmer/software developer.  We’re all in that vaguely 40-to-50ish age group, married, and with kids or dogs (or both).  We’re from New Jersey (the good part), Virginia, New York City, and everywhere (I’m a military brat).  We practice different religions, have some widely varying political & social ideas, enjoy different types of entertainment, and are in most ways quite different from each other. Except for that we’re all four of us white guys, you couldn’t probably randomly pick a more diverse group.

However.

I realized as I started the ride home that all four of us ride the exact same motorcycle. Mine is a 2005, 2 of them have 2009 models, and the last is a 2011. The seemingly ubiquitous R 1200 GS is the bike in question, and in the two-wheeled world, it is quite literally a giant.

In 1980, BMW produced the first large-bore “dual sport” motorcycle – the R80G/S. G stood for “Gelände” – terrain/ground as in off-road – and S stood for “Straße” – street. Off-road/on-road.  Dual sport.

(Yes, I know the eszett (ß) is now rarely used in written German, but when I learned German, it was still quite common. They (the Germans) revised their written language a bit in 1996, which was long after I had left that fine nation. Because it is an iconic … er, icon for me, I will continue to use it both appropriately and inappropriately. Deal with it.)

BMW didn’t realize they were initiating an archetype in 1980, but that’s exactly what they did – they created the adventure motorcycle genre that is now simply littered with bikes. The R 1200 GS remains the premier example, the pinnacle of the genre, but there are excellent adventure bikes being put out by KTM, Triumph, Yamaha, Ducati, and other manufacturers.

Yet it’s the big GS that draws the four of us together. Some people call the GS the SUV of motorcycles – I call it an urban assault motorcycle. Mine has straight street tires on it, but one of us has knobbies on his, another usually does as well, and another goes with the stock 90/10 tires (meaning 90% of the time on road, 10% of the time off road – usually with blocky, but pavement-appropriate, tread). We each have aftermarket luggage on our bikes as well – aluminum panniers (side cases) that, despite their trendy nature, are incredibly sturdy and unimaginably practical.

As we rode through some just beautiful winding roads in Stafford County, even at one point having to get on the brakes to avoid clipping a deer running across the road, I thought a terrible thought.

A horrible, terrible, very bad, no good thought.

Maybe we’re no different from the Harley guys.

Perhaps that’s just a fleeting thought, though, I thought as I quickly tried to brush it aside. We – and by “we” here I mean BMW riders – tend to look down on cruiser (not just Harley) riders because of their stereotypical reticence to engage in the widespread and regular use of protective gear. When we see a cruiser rider out wearing jeans, vest, t-shirt & one of those “brain bucket” helmets, we kind of laugh at him and disparage his “uniform.”  When we see a sport bike rider out wearing shorts, t-shirt, sneakers & a brightly-patterned full-face helmet, we kind of laugh at him and disparage his “uniform.”

It made me wonder if the cruiser riders or sport bike riders look at us, laugh a bit and disparage our “uniform” – weatherproof jacket & riding pants, gloves, boots, and a flip-front helmet. (We’ll leave it out that I use a full-face helmet and was wearing chaps today.) It struck me that they laugh at us just as we laugh at them – and for the same reason.

“Look at those assholes, wearing their uniforms and riding their adventure bikes. Don’t they ever act like individuals?”

I mean … seriously … the four of us (even though one wasn’t riding his GS today) even own the same brand of helmet. How ridiculous is that? It’s no different than the Harley guys that wear the totally unprotective brain bucket helmets – “skid lids” I’ve heard them  called – except that, you know, our high-tech, German-made helmets are far more likely to save our lives and preserve our rugged good looks (or at least our jawlines) if our heads come into contact with something hard in case of a crash.

It’s really no different conceptually, though it is quite different functionally. My three-season jacket that is both waterproof and vented – and comes with a fancy quilted zip-in warm-your-body-right-up liner – is, from an identification-with-a-group standpoint, absolutely no different than a leather vest covered with patches that say things like “Sergeant-At-Arms” and “DILLIGAF” and “Loud Pipes Save Lives.”

Having that thought really got my attention, and not in a good way.

I suppose, however, if I’m going to buy into a motorcycling trend, I could do a lot worse than one that include bikes that can go anywhere and do just about anything as well as a “uniform” that involves probably excessive levels of protection from the terrible things that can happen to a rider in a crash or collision.

At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

día de los muertos

sugarskullThe death rituals of human societies are fascinating, and they’re all geared towards one thing: helping us remember those that came before us and touched our lives.

Día de los Muertos is the Mexican remembrance and it happens around the same time as Halloween. There are parades, people get dressed up, kind of like a Mexican version of Halloween, I guess, but a little (a lot?) more up front about death than the American tradition of wandering from house to house and promising mischief if you’re not bought off with a little something yummy.

I’d like to take this opportunity, then, to remember some of my friends and family that have passed ahead of me.

Rob Finch, my friend of many years, who smoked too much pot on occasion but was always there no matter what. My trusted guitar tech on many long (and loud) nights, he could always be counted on to lift spirits and drive fast.

Beth Jenkins, my cousin, and an English teacher to boot. Taken by ALS, she never gave up on anything – certainly not life.

Brian Williamson, a dear friend from my days at SHAPE, was killed by a drunk driver on his way home from work one night in the summer of 1991. We had seen each other the previous summer and had plans to get together again, but it never happened.

Tom Henry, who left us at just 44 years old after too many years of drinking and drug use. I knew him in his easier (mostly clean) days, and our 10 years together in bands are ones that I will never forget. Those of us who knew him will understand this quote:  “Do I have something on my face?”

Paul Mihalka, the most with-it motorcyclist I ever knew, taken by cancer after a long life filled with adventure.

My father, Tom Fleming, and his parents, Harley Joe & Patricia. My father was very much the kind of father HJ had been – distant, detached and hard just because he didn’t know what else to do. Grandma Pat was a peach, though, and just always a wonderful person to be around.

Mary Jenkins, my maternal grandmother, who insulted pretty much anybody every chance she got, including my wife-to-be on our wedding day. She was a hard woman to be around – racist and vicious – but I’ve always said you can learn life lessons from anybody.

Michael Hedges, who used to call me at 2 or 3 in the morning to talk about geography and history; he never really got a grip on the whole time difference thing between the east & west coast. For both of us being guitarists (he immensely more talented than I), it’s amazing that we never talked about music. Simultaneously the weirdest and most down-to-earth cat I knew, to have such an amazing musician taken from us in a car crash seems patently unfair.  I’ll never forget sitting backstage with him at the Birchmere – we got to talking about … something … and he forgot it was just intermission.

Jean Smith, whom I always had a crush on, and her son Jim, who was simply one of the most present people I ever had the pleasure to know. Taken from us together by a coward, their deaths remind me both of the joy of life and the unfairness of it all.

It saddens me that this list gets longer with time, but I can’t help but thing of the things my friends and family have taught me over the years.