Posts Tagged ‘Marley & Me’

The Storm That Silenced the Band

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

UNPLUGGED: From left, John, Neil, Bob, and Dan

Today’s topic is the bizarre Halloween blizzard of 2011, and how it shattered not only countless thousands of tree limbs across our region, but also the rock-n-roll fantasies of four middle-aged guys.

I am not quite sure where to start. I suppose with the fact that on Friday evening, October 28, it began snowing on our home in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley and by the time we awoke the next morning, the scene outside was a perfect winter landscape. If it weren’t for the fact that it was not yet Halloween, it would have really been quite lovely. The snow was heavy, the tree branches still loaded with leaves. Pretty soon limbs began to snap and branches to fall. At a little before 11 a.m. on Saturday, our lights flickered once, twice, three times, and then went out for good. As it turns out, we were among hundreds of thousands across the Northeast left powerless by the storm.

At this point, I need to back up and tell you about a pastime of mine I have not mentioned here before but is relevant to this tale. For most of the 1990s, I played bass in a newsroom rock band in South Florida, where I was working. The members came from the Miami Herald and Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. We were all reporters by day, wanna-be rockers by night. We called ourselves The DropHeds, a reference to an arcane headline term, and we were strictly amateur (and I the most amateur of all). But we had tons of fun, and actually got paying gigs at festivals and clubs around South Florida. Free beer to boot. Over the years, we bonded like brothers, and when I left South Florida in 1999, the goodbyes were not easy. I packed away my Rickenbacker bass, muttered, “Time to grow up,” and put it behind me.

Over the ensuing 12 years, my fellow DropHeds and I sent occasional emails suggesting a reunion, but nothing ever came of it. Until this fall. We set our band reunion for…yes, you surely have guessed it by now… Halloween weekend. The plan was to arrive Friday night, spend Saturday and Sunday dusting off our old set list, and some new songs as well, and then play for a small party of friends Sunday night. Beer and barbecue out in the barn, Halloween decorations, a bonfire…you get the picture. It was gonna be perfect. Guy bonding nirvana. Leading up to the big weekend, we all practiced our parts individually (Thanks, youtube!) to shake off some of the rust.

By plane and auto, the DropHeds arrived on Friday night: Dan (rhythm guitar/vocals) from Washington, D.C., Neil (lead guitar) from Delray Beach Fla., and Bob (drums) from Norfolk, Va. We plugged in our amps, tuned up, and rattled the house for four hours before calling it a night. The next morning, we were just getting ready to jump back into it, when — poof! — out went the lights. And the water. And the toilets and heat. Eternal optimists (or was it denial?), we were convinced the power would be back on in minutes. We waited, and waited some more. We waited for the next three days, sitting in front of the fire, catching up, laughing (to keep from crying) at our ridiculous bad timing. We flushed toilets with water hauled up from the stream, cooked by flashlight, and slept in wool hats and sweatshirts. What began as a band reunion morphed into a sort of bizzaro Outward Bound adventure.

Of course, there were many jokes about how, yes, there really is a god of rock-n-roll, and he simply could not sit back and allow us to once again plug in and blaspheme his sacred sound.  Must stop them at all costs! A Halloween blizzard and massive power outage! That should work! We never did get to play again (though we amused ourselves with acoustic jams and singalongs), and on Monday morning everyone said goodbye and went their own way. We were all trying to put the best face on what, quite frankly, was a really shitty turn of events. All of us agreed the silver lining of the Great Power Outage of 2011 was the unexpected opportunity to talk at length and really get reacquainted. Had we had juice, we would have been simply uttering monosyllabic grunts over high-decibel E chords. But yeah, say what we might about the power of quality conversation, the truth was we just wanted to play Wild Night.

The power finally came on again last Wednesday night after five days in the dark and cold. Who knew something so basic as running water could bring such delirious joy? I told the band we have to do it again sometime — hopefully before another 12 years sneak by — and next time you can bet I will have a generator backup. Possibly two or three.

An acoustic jam by camp lantern on Day 2 of the outage

Goodbye to a gentle girl

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011


Those of you who have followed my writings and blog posts since the release of Marley & Me already know about Gracie. For the past six and a half years, she has been our sweet girl. We brought her home in September 2004, nine months after losing Marley. Even though she, like Marley, was a Labrador retriever, it was hard to believe they were the same breed. They couldn’t have had more different personalities. While he was wild and untrainable, hopelessly incapable of containing his unbridled energy, she was calm, sedate, and shy. He was big and powerful; she was delicate and petite. He was a bull in a china closet; she could daintily tiptoe through the most crowded glasswares shop without disturbing a single teacup. We called her the anti-Marley.

Gracie was well-behaved to the point of being a little boring. I used to joke, “Gracie, you’re a great dog but don’t expect me to write a book about you. You never do anything!” And yet she had a fairly hefty resume. As my book climbed the bestseller lists, more and more reporters and talk-show hosts wanted to interview me, and they often wanted me to bring along my new pet. Gracie appeared with me on Good Morning America and the Today Show. She was featured on The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Milan, and her photo appeared in countless magazines and newspapers, including People, The New York Times, and USA Today, not to mention on the back cover of tens of thousands of copies of my children’s books. A television crew even came all the way from Brazil to film her and our other Lab, Woodson, at my side walking through the meadows surrounding our home in Pennsylvania.

For the Good Morning America appearance, the show’s producers sent a Cadillac Escalade limo to drive her (I was allowed to tag along) to New York City, where they put us up at the fancy Millennium hotel in Times Square. I was a little nervous sitting down across from Diane Sawyer, but Gracie was not stressed in the least. She sniffed Sawyer’s hand, then curled up at our feet, yawned, and closed her eyes as we went live across the country. Yes, the anti-Marley.

I’m writing today to tell you that we lost Gracie last week. It’s a long, painful story, but the short version is she died from a rare complication of Lyme disease. We began noticing she wasn’t quite right in the second half of December. Her appetite was a little off, and her usual energy (she could sprint like a leopard) was down. I thought she might have a bladder infection or some other minor malady. Our local vet did a blood test and discovered Lyme disease and put her on a course of antibiotics. But the next day she called back with much more dire news: another test had found high levels of protein in her urine, a sign her kidneys were malfunctioning.

We rushed her to the University of Pennsylvania veterinary hospital, one of the best in the country, where she remained for the better part of a week as she underwent batteries of tests, including a kidney biopsy. It seems her immune system in its attempt to attack the Lyme cells had caused irreversible harm to her kidneys. All the vets were in agreement; there was nothing they could do for her. We brought her home and kept her as comfortable as we could for as long as we could.

On this past Friday, she let us know it was time to let her go. She had stopped eating and drinking, even stopped licking snow, and had grown very weak, just a shadow of the glossy-coated vibrant dog of a few weeks earlier. A vet came to the house so Gracie could end her life in her own home surrounded by the family that loved her. She slipped away peacefully.

With the help of my kind neighbor Neil Wotring, I buried her on the edge of the meadow behind our barn, right beside Marley. Two dogs, so different yet both so great in their own way, and both so dearly cherished members of our family.

Farewell, sweet Gracie, our gentle girl. Your home is now in our hearts.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010


Summer is in its last glorious days, the kids are heading back to school, and with each day I note fall’s creeping arrival by the ever-earlier sunsets and crisper nights. It’s fair to say I mostly (gloriously) took the summer off. Here are a few highlights of the last couple months:

* Five nights in Montreal for the International Jazz Festival. Good food, good music, mercifully cool weather, and all those great French accents. What wasn’t to like? Added bonus for the 18-year-old: Legal to drink!
* Sailing. My childhood boat, The Mary Ann, which I write about in The Longest Trip Home, is back in the water for another season and I’ve managed to get out more often than in past (too busy) years.
* Gardening. The hot sunny weather, punctuated by just enough rain to keep things from frying, has resulted in a bumper year here in the Northeast. My 18×35-foot plot has been going crazy, yielding pounds and pounds of tomatoes and peppers and beets and beans and cantaloupe, and much more. Enough already!
* Summer reading. Much more heavy on fiction than my usual mix. “Hotel Iris” by Yoko Ogawa (definitely twisted); “This is Where I Leave You” by Jonathan Tropper (the most fun I’ve had with a book in ages); “Next” by James Hynes (a little overwrought but worthwhile); “City of Thieves” by David Benioff (totally engaging; a natural for film); “Leaving the World” by Douglas Kennedy (if you like downers, this one is for you); “Ship Fever” by Andrea Barrett (beautiful, beautiful). I tackled the opening chapters of “The Dome” by Stephen King before concluding that life is short and I just wasn’t engaged enough to hang on for 700 more pages. I’ve begun listening to “The Help” on audio, but need more driving time to finish. An excuse for a road trip?
* Writing. Mostly for myself, seeing where it leads me. To interesting places, as it turns out. And that’s okay.
* Writing II. I put the finishing touches on the final book in my children’s picture-book series. It will be called “Trick or Treat, Marley” and is due out for Halloween 2011. All I’ll say is that my collaborator, the very talented artist Richard Cowdrey, outdid himself on this one.
* My beloved Great Lakes. My daughter Colleen and I spent five nights on Lake Huron with our dear friends, Pete and Maureen Kelly and their daughters, Andrea and Kathryn. Why is it that cold Coronas with lime taste so much better when your toes are stuck in warm, white beach sand?
* Mom. At 94, Ruthie still has her sense of humor — and her love for ice cream sundaes. (That’s her in the photo with her granddaughter Colleen during our Michigan visit in mid August.)
* College sendoff. We dropped our oldest son at college and stood in the parking lot watching him disappear into the distance, knowing our little nuclear family had just changed in profound ways. I categorically deny being misty eyed. Passages.

And that about brings us up to speed. September, here we come.

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