Saturday, December 24, 2011


I want to talk about Mike Esposito, and what he means to me as I reflect on Christmases long past.

I want to talk about the days when I used to set up toy soldiers in my playroom. I used to be very meticulous about it.

I used to set up the pewter soldiers with the pewter soldiers. They were mostly generals you see, and they had to hold conferences away from the enlisted men who were plastic. That's how the army works.

The enlisted men were Made In China, and had to be sectioned off in divisions. They had to placed in straight lines if they were not in battle, or behind the proper barricades if they were in battle. These details made a difference.

The Civil War officers and generals had to confer with the leaders of the American Revolution in a section of the playroom apart from the British monarchy and royal guards placed inside the Playmobile castle. That's how international relations and the Prisoner Dilemma work. I took it seriously.

All of these matters were complicated further at Christmastime. All pewter soldiers and enlisted plastic ones had to set in orderly rows under the small Christmas tree designated for our pets that we set up in the playroom. Setting up soldiers in the middle of the floor for eleven months of the year took a few hours. Setting them up under the tree often took twice as long. You were working in tight quarters against the domino effect.

All of this fine and important work wasnruined by Michael Esposito on many an occasion.

I want to talk about how he knocked my soldiers down with paper blocks that were meant to be barricades left well alone.

I want to talk about how he didn't watch where he was stepping. If he lowered his foot on an unsuspecting plastic foot soldier outfitted for the Pacific theatre well... Why the f*** not, right?

I want to talk about how Mike Esposito thought everything in the playroom was just part of a large game that he could take part in whenever he pleased. Well, war is no game.

I want to talk about the day I remind Mike Esposito of all these memories by putting a foot into his teeth and burning his copy of Dave Barry's Big Trouble.

Merry Christmas.


Emily Ayer is a very patient, giving person.

She always makes enough peanut butter balls to go around. This means that no matter the occasion I usually get at least three. If I were around her more often I would probably gain too much weight.

The real test of her patience though was having Mike Esposito and I sit on opposite sides of her in World History. Mike and I could be obnoxious, to put it lightly.

And obnoxious we were. We could quote movies all day without an end to it in sight. We would distract everyone around us by dropping lines from Eric Clapton songs. It benefitted no one, and it thrilled us. It was obnoxious.

Still, there is nothing more obnoxious than picking someone up by the legs of their small, standard-issue metal school chair and holding them aloft. That's what we did to Emily, and it was obnoxious.

We did it as often as possible until one day Emily asked us to please just stop. She didn't swear when she asked. Emily never swore. This impressed me. I would have sworn everyday if I sat next to Mike and myself.

Mike and I were obnoxious at times, and Emily was not. She had been practicing poise and grace for a long time.

It is tragic that both types of people get to leave World History with the same letter grade.

Friday, December 23, 2011


Erin Kelly is a creative girl. A real "initiative-taker" as they say in the world of office euphemisms.

It's hard when many of your friends go away to college, and you are left behind in high school. Erin had plenty of friends her age, but how do you fill the time when so many faces you saw everyday were elsewhere?

Roofing. You go roofing.

To successfully "roof" one must jump onto some person's house and get both their feet on top of their roof. One earns points if they succeed. Friends track each other's points and see who has the most at the end of the summer.

When I first heard about this I thought at best it sounded like something Dick Van Dyke would have tried in Mary Poppins. I thought at worst it sounded like trespassing. If you have ever seen Mary Poppins you know that even the best case scenario presented above still pissed off a few characters in the movie regardless of how well Van Dyke could dance.

Erin would describe her roofing adventures to many on many drives to Buttonwoods ice cream shop that first summer I was back. She invited me to join. I was torn between wanting to try it myself and deep concern for her safety.

But Erin was a creative person. That's what happens to people who listened to Sgt. Pepper's as often as she did. They live on the highwire, and we were lucky to have them around.


Jason had always been full of good ideas.

When we visited one another as kids we were never bored. If we were we must have found something to cure us of it quickly.

I remember going to Jason's house in kindergarten and first grade and letting our imaginations run wild. We built magnificent forts out of fallen trees in the woods in the backyard. We hosted a radio show while seated at the huge electronic keyboard he had in his living room.

One day we went on a hunt for diamonds in his backyard. We found them alright. The diamonds were scattered under a giant evergreen. We collected as many as we could and showed his mom who must have laid into us for picking up so much broken glass with our fingers. That's winning!

Among all these adventures the best part was if we needed an intermission we just jumped on the tire swing or played MathBlaster.

We came up with grand plans at my house, too. We piled cardboard boxes in my backyard convinced we could make a spaceship that would leave orbit. If only we had had some sort of propellant that day...

Yes, we had many brilliant ideas that spawned more just like them. So it was particularly disappointing for me to hear how Jason and Chris had spent a good part of a Saturday in high school.

They washed the road.

Chris and Jason got a few buckets together along with some sponges and soap. They began to wash the road in front of Jason's driveway.

You can call it silly to pick up pieces of glass and call it diamonds. You can say it is a waste of time to build a fort in the woods when there is only two of you and you are not attacking one another. You cannot deny though that those experiences allow the imagination to expand.

It is hard to imagine how spending precious time washing the asphalt that will always become dirty again can lead one to greater heights. It may very well inspire someone to wash their driveway just for kicks, but that is probably as far as it will go.

It was certainly a public service. They were like Boy Scouts without a chaperone.

Imagine if Steve Jobs had backtracked and re-invented the cassette player instead of the iPod.

Imagine if your best friend left your radio show at the keyboard to wash the road. Well, how would you feel?


Chris Mazzone was the life of the party that night. That was typical. His date, however, was not.

His date was a girl from New London Chris was "seeing." They had been "seeing" one another for some time. The girl he brought over had shared some really important memories with him.

Memory No. 1: "National Treasure" starring Nicholas Cage, in theaters, ladies and gentlemen.

Memory No. 2: Chris bought her a very nice gift that Christmas. She, in turn, bought him a wrench. What made it great was it wasn't even a Craftsman specialty item or anything like that. It was not a gag gift either. It was a wrench, the kind that got people killed in a game of Clue.

Thus set the stage for what is now everyone's favorite Memory: The Big No. 3.

Chris brought the girl over for a game night at John's house. Chris brought the party with him. By that I mean he embodied the fun and the laughter we had all come to associate with our group's get-togethers.

His date did not. She seemed pretty ambivalent about the whole evening. She probably would not have chosen to come again had she been given a chance.

But Chris was feeling pretty good that evening. Chris was feeling so good he got pretty hungry. Chris got so hungry he decided to excuse himself to "go to the bathroom."

We were on one end of John's house in the "loft." The bathroom was down one floor and on the other end by the living room. The kitchen was in between, and gamers had to cross it twice.

That was all it took for Chris to decide tonight would be a good time to make himself at home. How does one make themselves at home? They make themselves a sandwich.

Chris returned to the loft with a sandwich. He had gone through the fridge and found the choice cold cuts and cheese he wanted. Perhaps he found a little mustard or mayo, too.

We know for a fact he found a paper plate somewhere where no one would look for it. John saw the "Happy Graduation" plate Chris presented his sandwich on and swore they had not been used in years.

How deep did Chris dig in someone else's kitchen? He must have looked in the highest cabinets located over the refrigerator where people of an average height could not have reached.

Chris was hungry. It's a good thing for him he was tall enough to get a very special plate and truly make himself at home.


Jackie Phillips had always been such a careful person.

Jackie was the type of person you would entrust with something dear to you. Jackie had an air about her that meant you could hand over your valuables to her- be they objects or secrets- the same way you could hand over your hard-earned dollar to a local credit union.

You could not imagine her busting up your car. There were plenty of friends you would never allow behind your steering wheel just because they had a wild streak. You could imagine them doing doughnuts in a Wal-Mart parking lot before colliding head-on with a truck.

Jackie was not one of those people. Jackie drove a Hyundai Elantra and used it to play a game called "Speed Limit" for goodness' sake. The title of the game says enough. You try to see how long you can stay right on or just under the speed limit. There must be a very small number of New Englanders that can control themselves enough to tolerate that game for more than five minutes. Jackie is part of that very small club.

But kids fidget all the time, and Jackie was a closet-kid in many respects. Weren't we all?

That day Jackie pressed the button that locked Mr. Ewer's files she did it for no reason at all. Maybe it was just a way to pepper the conversation we were having in journalism class that day. I think she was just plain bored, and when people in our generation got bored they fidgeted.

Jackie fidgeted with someone else's belongings and all Mr. Ewer's could muster was a very confused and exasperated expression. "Why would you ever do that?" he asked.

It was a great question. Maybe it was a nervous tick Jackie developed playing a sort of bonus round in "Speed Limit" entitled "Child Safety Lock."


The campus was lined with policeman. Thank goodness.

The University of Connecticut was surrounded by policemen wearing reflective neon yellow stripes. They were ready for chaos, and that's what the students on Spring Weekend provided them.

The campus was a disaster zone. Swarms of drunk people were coming out of the woods raising cain. The air was filled with swear words and clouds of pot. Broken bottles and beer cans carpeted the ground outside the senior housing complex.

Couches were being thrown out windows. Some were on fire. Some had been stolen.

Through it all Jenny Barnett was stoic as all hell. She could have cared less what the college crowd was up to. A college girl herself, Jenny had no time for bullshit.

Just earlier that day I had asked if I could do laundry in her building once I arrived for Spring Weekend. "Hell no," came the reply. No time for that. No time for bullshit.

I had never seen Jenny drink let alone be so nonchalant around those who did. Jenny was singing rap songs to herself as she led me by the hand through the crowd of outlandish partiers. She was simply commenting on how stupid everyone was being.

I had never known Jenny to drink (she could, in fact), and I never knew her to be so nonchalant about the extreme practices of her classmates. She led me by the hand from living room to living room, apartment to apartment like a guide dog: emotionless, unwavering, undeterred.

And then I lost Jenny for a time in the crowd. I caught up with her roommate all right, but I had no idea where she had run off too once we found ourselves outside one of the final stops of the night- some random person's kitchen.

Then I found her. Her pockets were weighed down by Bud Lights, and she held four more in her hands.

I had never known Jenny to steal.

It turns out she could in fact.


Eric and I toured Brown University, but knew we would not likely get in.

It was a cold day in Providence. It was raining so very hard. It was what people call "teeming."

It was cold, grey and miserably wet outside. However, Brown University is, of course, one of those campuses that still looks great on that day like that. It looks like the sort of place any high schooler would like to go to college.

I know I wanted to go there. It was in the heart of a hip section of Providence that seemed so rock-and-roll. The campus itself was filled with brick buildings so venerable and stoic. Who wouldn't want to go to college there?

Eric and I were lucky. Our parents brought us to Brown to get an experience. We were not pressured to attend an Ivy League school. We were invited to explore and make our own decisions.

I had toured Georgetown and George Washington. I had walked through Harvard Yard. I enjoyed every moment of these visits because I just admire what these places stood for without feeling an ounce of pressure to be among their alumni one day.

I think Eric felt the same way because we simply enjoyed the visit that early morning as the rain and wind relentlessly forced our huddled tour group to follow our guide under archways that shielded us.

It was under one such archway our guide, outfitted in a hooded blue raincoat, started to shout over the sound of the storm. He was telling us about life in the student dorms.

Then we heard it. We heard a scream. Eric and I looked over.

A girl was in a dead sprint out from under the archway into the pouring rain. She was screaming something so loud it must have woken up everyone in a nearby dorm room on campus sleeping off their hangovers.

"I DON'T WANT TO GO HERE!" she screamed.

Her parents took off in tow. The three continued on into the storm.

"It's a terror knowing what this world is about and watching some good friends scream, "Let me out!"/... This is ourselves... under pressure." -David Robert Jones and Farrok Bulsara.


The scene would have made passing drivers very uneasy.

It was late at night, a warm and foggy summer night, and for any drivers coming through the back roads of Connecticut it would have disgusted them and pushed them to really step on the accelerator.

Jeremy and I stood at the top of Jenny's driveway, shadowy figures to those on the road. They would have only seen that we were two college-aged kids up to no good. We would look just like the sort of thing that women who walk throughout the neighborhood each morning with their dogs would talk about with their friends and cite as evidence that our generation was on the wrong track. Then they would continue complaining about the growing deer population.

Jeremy and I were waiting for Jenny to come out of her house so we could all begin one of our summer "hang-out" sessions somewhere else. But Jenny never came. She was at work or.... something....

But Jeremy and I did not know that ahead of time, and while we waited patiently Jeremy decided it was time to unzip his fly and take a pee break. My dog does the same thing when the wait is too long without having to fumble with a zipper.

So imagine how it looks to a passer-by when two young men stand outside someone's house with the car in idle and one of them is peeing. It is like a scene out of The Goonies, or Say Anything, or- to stretch it- even The Sopranos.

The only other people I know who urinate on someone's property in plain sight have been out on the town for hours and didn't go to class in college all that often.

It's funny. Jeremy doesn't even drink.


John Thomas was a devoted follower before many of us.

John was a devoted follower of Limp Bizkit. He was a rap-metal acolyte, and everyone in our circles in middle school knew it.

John would scrawl the lyrics to Limp Bizkit songs like "Nookie" and "Re-Arranged" into our school desks with his pen. He even did it to the desks in the classrooms of teachers we liked.

He would take teachers' chalk and draws his fish-in-the-sand on the blackboards of our eighth-grade Spanish classroom. It was the three-trunked tree familiar to all fans like him. It represented all that Limp Bizkit stood for: big, puffy jackets; backwards baseball caps; sexually-explicit lyrics.

John would run to the DJ's table at middle school dances and furiously scrawl the name of as many Limp Bizkit songs as he thought he would realistically get played over the speakers, songs like "Faith" and "Break Stuff."

"It's just one of those days when you don't wanna wake up/ Everything is f***ed up/ Everybody sucks."

This was heavy-handed stuff for thirteen year-olds. It was rock 'n roll rebellion. After all, who could forget the mud-covered, shirtless crowds of devotees at Woodstock '99 where Limp Bizkit reigned a supreme live act. John would have been one of them. He would have moshed with the best of them. But since he could not be at Woodstock '99, John just moshed with the best of our classmates on the floor of the middle school cafetorium.

Factoid: "Cafeteria" + "Auditorium" = "Cafetorium."

And what was the price of John's discipleship? This is how it was relayed to me.

John and two of our mutual friends went into the woods. John picked up a log to recreate the scene from the music video of one of his favorite Limp Bizkit songs "My Way."

John proved he belonged in the video. He acted just like the star. He swung a log up and down like a caveman.

And then John hit himself square in the forehead with what must have been a piece of wood that weighed something in the double digits. And John almost fell backward.

That's the spirit of rap metal, and it's a tough way to grow up.


We stood around ready to say goodbye.

We were ready to say goodbye to Shea Quinn. The next time we would see him he would be Cadet Quinn, a swabbie deep into his first summer at the Coast Guard Academy.

We were outside on Eric Wester's lawn one evening in late June. We had just graduated. We still felt like high school seniors, and this was a very difficult moment for us.

Shea would be the first to leave, the first to enter the new phase of his life many of us were anticipating that summer. He would go on to the Academy, and we would not see as much of him as we were used to.

For the previous six years Shea was a constant presence in my life and many others. We would greet each other each day throughout middle school with a fist bump shouting each others' last names to see how loud and obnoxious we could make them sound in the hallways lined with lockers. We began this in cross-country and it continued through band class and well into high school.

We had sat side-by-side in English classes we worked hard to get good grades in. We sat in line with one another in a Spanish class we were likely to get very bad grades in (Que malo!). We had continued shouting matches on tennis courts to see how many f-bombs we could drop after hitting bad shots.

And now Shea was driving away from this gathering in his green Honda Accord. We had all gotten together to "hang" one last time before Shea headed off to the "swabbie summer" he would later talk about as a grim experience. Case in point: upon his first day he was given a haircut that he said made his Irish mug look like it belonged to a Serbian terrorist.

Katie was the first to wear her heart on her sleeve. She hugged Shea goodbye and started crying.

And then Shea made his way to the Honda which was parked right in front of my 1991 Oldsmobile Toronado Trofeo. Navy blue with a thin red stripe running the length of the exterior, Shea had always called it my "Batmobile." It had more dials and controls inside it than most American automobiles of the early 1990s, yet it still looked like a relic of the late 1970s or a model of some vehicle designed for the Soviet military.

Everyone, Shea included, commented on my poor driving habits. Everyone loved the stories of the mailboxes I had knocked down or the one-way entrances I took straight on in the wrong direction.

So it seemed fitting that my Toronado would be parked behind Shea's Honda in tribute to his departure.

As we waved goodbye and Shea got into the driver's seat of the Honda, he channeled Will Ferrell with one final signature shouting of "GOULET!" before slamming the sedan into reverse. Que increible!

He yelled just before slamming the sedan straight into the bumper of my Oldsmobile. The only thing more unbelievable than the incredible noise created upon impact was the fact that it did not dent the Batmobile at all. Not a scratch. The tank was intact.

That's how an Irishman left the party that day- with a bang.