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Sunday, August 27, 2006


The other day I was shopping with Book, Gracie and Marge-in-Law at a mall dollar store. (I'll cut these guys a HUGE break by not telling you which mall.)

We noticed quite a few items marked $1.50 and $2, all beneath the many signs which said "ALL ITEMS $1."

A proprietor, a nice enough fella, overheard our comments and told us that "due to the price of gas, not everything can cost a dollar any more."

Of course, we could have pressed the issue, but we have no doubt that someone eventually will. This IS New Joisey.

Still, it reminds you of the many scary ways the jaw-dropping jump in the price of a gallon of gasoline can affect things. And I don't know about you, but I feel the pinch of that extra-penny-per-dollar in N.J. sales tax, too. Call me Jack Benny.

Will there come a day when dollar stores go the way of the dodo bird? That would sure stink. Where else can I find a cheap box of my favorite movie candy, Tropical Dots? (Kathy always said that sounds like a skin disease.)

Which is what I was in the dollar store to buy before the four of us took in "Little Miss Sunshine," which was a cute movie that made us laugh a lot. It has a touching performance by Alan Arkin, a credible dramatic turn by Steve Carell ("The 40 Year Old Virgin," "The Office") and black comedy by the gallon. But I've digressed -- several times, in fact.

Friday, August 18, 2006


I ran into a filmmaker I know who said he had a gift for me.

"No gifts," I snapped. (It's a journalism thing; we're wary about accepting anything from a person we've written about or may write about, lest we give the impression that Swag Equals Ink.)

"No, you'll want this," he said, promising it would show up at the office.

Sure enough, a couple of days later, there was an envelope on my desk containing a DVD marked "For Mark." Once home, I popped it in and saw something I never knew existed. It was a couple of minutes of footage of Kathy taking a group photo of the cast of a movie that was shot locally. This happened a long time ago -- maybe 10 years -- but we had no idea we were being filmed. The sequence, which has no sound (the filmmaker added unobtrusive jazz background music), is the only footage I've ever seen that captures how Kathy did what she did, how she got so many special images.

Kathy is seen standing on a chair (she often did this, as she preferred a higher vantage point for faces). I'm at her side, as I always was, "spotting" her so that she felt secure balancing herself while looking through the lens. Kathy gently coaxes the cast into position with a very charming, easygoing manner. Once she sees what she wants, the flash goes off, followed by a few more ("insurance," she used to call it). The footage keeps rolling as pleasantries are exchanged and we pack up to leave. The footage, shot by professionals, is crystal clear and well lit. It was like seeing Kathy again after 11 months apart.

I called the filmmaker to thank him. "I was worried that it wouldn't be a good time," he said.

"Not at all," I said. "It's been a while now. I'm a big boy. I really loved seeing it."

His reticence echoed something my brother told me a few months ago. He said he knew that during our conversations, he hadn't mentioned Kathy in a long time, but he didn't want me to think he'd forgotten her. It's just that he didn't want to bring her up out of the blue, just in case it would suddenly make me sad. I assured him he could bring her up any time he wanted, because she is certainly on my mind every minute, no matter how masterfully I hide it from the world.

But I soon discovered I wasn't as Teflon as I assured the filmmaker I was.

I became extremely sad for almost a week, something I connected to seeing Kathy in that footage. It was as if all this time, I had been trying to forget her, and this footage erased all of that effort. Does that make sense?

But during those times of unbearable sadness, I reflect on an analogy my counselor gave me, one I share with anyone facing this kind of loss: Grief is like the ocean. Some days, there are huge, crashing waves. Some days, it's very calm. So when I get really sad, at least I know that the following day, or the day after that, the ocean may be calm.

Thursday, August 03, 2006



The two-word news flash is: We killed.

I can almost call it my favorite gig. Part of the reason was that I had a wireless microphone in a long ballroom with a roomy stage. Hot dog that I am, it gave me so much freedom to roam. I made frequent sojourns to the back of the room. I sang the second verse of "Hold Your Head Up" from atop a chair in the middle of a bunch of tables. Even at the end of the night, when the back of the room was emptying, I sat at a couple's table singing "Ice Cream Man."

The band was amazing -- really tight and ferocious. This was my first gig not playing guitar, which was very freeing. All the rehearsal paid off -- it really seemed like a revue. There was a flow. I'd rehearsed some comedy during the final practice, so the guys would know when they'd have a moment to fiddle with knobs, strings, cords, etc. The comedy was a bit dodgy, as is our wont, but without being over-the-top raunchy, in deference to the restaurant (although the later it got, the worse I got). Drummer Johnny and I worked out a signal whereby he would deliver a rim shot on demand. Here's a sample:

"Thank you, Moby Dick. It's great to be back in Lindenwold, home of the spotless, efficient Lindenwold Speedline Station (RIM SHOT). We are the Burners, five middle-aged guys whose big thrill of the year is our annual prostate exam (RIM SHOT). Every year, the five of us go together (RIM SHOT). My brother goes first, I go last, and oddly enough, our drummer John tries to cheat every year and get in line twice (RIM SHOT)."

While we were playing the Black Crowes song "Remedy," a stunning young lady -- she couldn't have been yet 25 -- began dancing with me, and non-verbally beckoned me to serenade her. I must admit, I couldn't have sung these lyrics to just any audience member ("If I come on like a dream/will you let me show you what I mean?/Will you let me come on inside?/Ooh, will you let it glide?"). She then joined me onstage. Two or three songs later, she was back onstage. The idea behind doing the gig was as a form of grief therapy -- with the knowledge and blessing of my counselor. While this girl was dancing with me, I was like, "Kathy who?"

One of my favorite moments of the evening came during "All the Young Dudes." There were a bunch of teenagers out front. They were really having a great time, dancing and laughing. They were busting my chops all night, mocking my stage moves. During "Dudes," a bunch of them opened their cell phones so that the phones' lights would come on, and then they swayed with their cell phones, a la the Stadium Ritual of the Swaying Cigarette Lighters -- remember, fellow '70s concertgoers?

After the gig, I met them and learned that some of them were musicians. I told them, "You (expletives) better not steal any of my stage moves."