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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Saying Goodbye to Tom Youtes

Written originally on Sunday, January 16th, 2011 at 7:31 a.m.

As I sit here, reflecting on the year which passed, 2010... I cannot help but think about a very old friend who passed away in 2010 without my knowledge. As life moves so fast— we barely blink before we inevitably stop to realize that perhaps we simply "lost touch" with a number of people... for a number of reasons some of which are simply the result of the evolution we all face from decade to decade. I was in my early 20s when my mother's trucking company was in full swing. I was still going to college when I took a job at The Beaver Valley Power Station Unit II Phase. It was a union job and I was inducted into The Teamsters Union with very little fan fare. To me, it was a card that stated I was qualified to drive a pick-up truck filled with those huge water coolers you see on the sidelines at football games filled with Gatorade.

You see, the plant was still being built and they hadn't installed a water system so it was our job to see that everyone had drinking water. I drove and the two guys who rode next to me carried the water from the truck to each location. It wasn't exactly quantum physics and we usually finished up our entire route before our lunch break. John Fattore and Tom Youtes became my partners in a quest to avoid boredom at all costs and find amusement at every turn. We read the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Bloom County was our favorite strip... and we ALL (every single person employed there), did the Crossword Puzzle of the day. Boring stuff right? Wrong.

You see, Tom, John and I were Masters at the art of finding a plethora of ways to keep ourselves partially sane and randomly amused. I brought in sketch pads and writing paper to "capture" the fascinating in what others might not have noticed. I also brought a small television set that plugged into the truck lighter outlet and every afternoon the three of us would watch Days of Our Lives and come up with our own scenarios which would have made Salem far more entertaining than it ever was. It was the early 80's and we were all finding our way into adulthood as we created as much anarchy and mischief as humanly possible. We found so many ways to escape the job site and party at the small taverns in the nearby town of Midland, PA. We were the misfits, the outlaws... the water crew that no one was ever able to locate or capture. We'd spike the water with lemonade and vodka during the holidays...

We played poker with the electricians and convinced the carpenters to build us whatever we needed in return for playing their numbers and taking their bets to the "bookies" who we would give cases of the whiskey (meant for the engineers and top plant executives) that we would find no matter where they hid it. We ran football pools and card games. We even had our own kitchen hidden away where we'd cook Italian pasta, sausage and drink home made wine. We never really saw it as work even though we were being paid rather well to show up.

We shared holidays together, got each other through tough times... When Tom's wife had a miscarriage and lost his daughter Sonya, he was devastated. John and I took up a collection to help with the funeral expenses. It was a time in our lives like no other. My college friends welcomed "The Water Crew" and we spent time going to both college and pro football games together. The Beaver Valley Power Station Unit II Phase was our playground and we rode the wave until I finished up college and moved on. But Tom and John and I still hung out together, going to college parties, football games, pro wrestling shows and partying with guys like hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper who we found at the bars near the old Pittsburgh Airport after the shows.

But as time went on, we saw less and less of each other. I ran into Tom in early 1992 and we went to his favorite bar, shared drinks and laughed about all of the shenanigans we were actually able to get away with on the job site. It was so good to see him. He was married again and he looked so happy. He also mentioned his dog, a black lab who went everywhere with Tom, had passed away and that he missed him terribly. We talked until the bar closed and as we left I hugged him very tightly and we both promised to get together again at some point. I had no idea that I would never see Tom again.

When I heard (via another dear friend) that Tom had died, I thought about all of the things I didn't say. But then I realized that even though I hadn't said everything I wanted to say to Tom... it was okay. People lose touch... and more than often it isn't because we don't care, it just happens. One of Tom's favorite films was "The Big Chill"; it's still one of mine. For those of you who haven't heard of it, the storyline is: "A group of seven former college friends gather for a weekend reunion at a posh South Carolina winter house after the funeral of one of their friends."  The storyline of The Big Chill is strong, and one that is easy to relate to as an adult. Who doesn't wonder if their lives have gone in different directions than we originally intended? Who doesn't see the irony in choices we have made throughout our lives? I know that I do.

I miss Tom. I will always miss Tom. But I also feel so very fortunate to have known him at a time in my life when we all felt immortal... Everything has an end, we all know that. Death is a natural end. It is something that we all know is going to happen, there is really no way around it. It is a part of the entire cycle.

Thomas R. "Youdiee" Youtes, Jr., 50, of Monaca, passed away Monday, September 6th, 2010, due to a recurring bout with cancer. Born on June 27th, 1960, in Aliquippa, he was a son of Thomas R. Sr. and Doris J. Youtes. Tom was a construction worker and a member of the Laborers Union Number 833. He was also a member of the American Legion Post Number 580. Tom was preceded in death by a seven-month-old daughter, Sonya Vonne Youtes. Surviving are his wife, Laurene Muzic Youtes; his parents, Tom and Doris; a son, Bryan Youtes in Florida; a daughter, Jestynne Youtes of Ellwood City; a stepdaughter, Johnna (Todd) Haller of New Brighton; a granddaughter, Taelor of Ellwood City, and two sisters; Suzanne (Bobby) Hunt of Monaca and Kristin (Jack) Hurley of Monaca.

An Ode to Frank "Chops" Lalama

Written on Friday, October 1st, 2010 at 2:06 p.m.

Yesterday I silently said good bye to a friend in a room filled with so many people that the air was struggling to fill my lungs. He passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. He had something I realized... and it dawned on me yesterday as I drove to the bar [Papa Duke's] he frequented so often. So I was reminiscing... and then it came. Like a hand from God. This one was easy... as it happened with me around dozens of times. Chops was FAMOUS for his loud howls, bird caws and backward breathing laughter. It was his status symbol and it was contagious. He lived life like no other. He had no list... no agenda, no motives. He gave so much to so many without expectation and not one single person who ever met him could escape his generosity. His heart was pure.

Chops and I were never the best of friends. Our conversations were usually sports-related. But there was never a time when I wasn't greeted with a hearty welcome and a confident smile. He was larger than life... and I observed him as I would anyone with such a voracious appetite for the things that make life worth living. Without knowing, he taught me to appreciate the simple things— the significance of a damn good field goal kicker, a frosty mug of Guinness, the mathematical logistics of the "point spread" in any sport. And when he celebrated his 40th birthday, I was the one who drove like an insane person to make sure that he had a birthday cake fit for a king. Mostly, Chops (unknowingly) taught me about friendship and selflessness and, above all else, unwavering loyalty. I wish we could have been closer... but things like work and time and family obligations tend to snuff out the candles of what should have been.

As you grow older, you'll find the only things you regret are the things you didn't do... because in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years. Frank "Chops" Lalama, 40, of Center Township, died on Thursday, September 30th, 2010, in Heritage Valley Hospital in Beaver, Pennsylvania.... but oh how he truly lived.

The NyQuil Zone

For the past several days I have been dealing with a very nasty cold. The congestion, sinus pressure, coughing and sore throat have been very difficult to deal with. Then again, according to my entire family and my dog— I have been very difficult to deal with. I blame it on all of the cold medication I have been taking, especially the NyQuil. While I was on a NyQuil induced mind-numbing, psychedelic experience, I began to wonder what else NyQuil might be used to create. Since I was essentially in some sort of cosmic lucid haze and had nothing better to do, I put on my really cool mad scientist outfit... or maybe it was just my old white bath robe with some Playtex rubber gloves and safety goggles and did some experimenting.

As a result of my experimentation, I have developed 5 unknown uses for NyQuil that I would like to share with all of you:

Nyquil works very well as a de-icer, for the very first time in a week there has been no ice or snow on my back porch. Much to my surprise and curiosity, NyQuil is actually rather flammable. It was a great help in getting that wet firewood turned into a raging inferno in no time. Of course, the volunteer fireman was not at all amused by my brilliant discovery. In fact he appeared to be not only stunned but irritated enough that I thought about sharing some Nyquil with him

Since I was home and had nothing really better to do, I thought I would take some time and do the laundry. Would you believe NyQuil was a fantastic stain remover? That pesky paint stain on my red Snuggie is now history! While in my garage wandering aimlessly and trying to think of other things to do with NyQuil— I happened to see some sort of strange black bug crawling around. Once I tried it... you guessed it— NyQuil is a very fast acting strange bug killer!

I also found out that if you mix the Red and Green NyQuil flavors together and drink the entire concoction— Neo from the Matrix movies will join you on your NyQuil-induced joyride into a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call The Twilight Zone. Rod Serling usually doesn't appear until after you've downed an entire shot of Patrón Reposado with limes.

@charliesheen— Winning On His Own Terms

Winning! That’s what Charlie Sheen is all about, and you can either love him or hate him for it— and that’s where his magic lies. Doesn’t hurt that he’s got tiger blood and Adonis DNA either. Despite what every media outlet, news­paper, and soccer mom is disgusted about— all they will allow themselves to see is the surface level, the literal inter­pre­ta­tion of his words and actions… causing them to make a right­eous judge­ment of a man with “addic­tions”, rather than the epic­ness of his wisdom and when he finally said, “ENOUGH! I AM MY OWN CURE!” It's amazing how liberating that can be.

Then there’s the other people who just find it all hilar­ious; and as funny as the things Charlie Sheen says are, there is serious enlight­en­ment and insight behind the “lulz”. He is blunt and offen­sive to the average American because he goes against their grain— their boring, average, dull, sleep of a life— and that’s not even mentioning the crazy porn stars, drugs, and partying. Sure he may have had alcohol/drug issues in his past, sure he might be an arro­gant bastard, and sure he might not even be from this terres­trial realm— but that’s no reason to condemn him for living HIS life on HIS OWN terms… it should actu­ally be the cause for his celebration.

Most people “float by” on phoney public relations… they tell us EXACTLY what we want to hear. And that works for most people. Those who refuse to “walk on the edge of life” for a moment and tell others how they REALLY feel. Let’s face it, most people barely get a “taste” of what matters, let alone the opportunity to throw caution to the wind and empty out the pit of seething anger we hold in because we convince ourselves that we NEED our jobs or that our families and friends would never understand the way we REALLY feel. So we “do the dance”… we turn in our dreams for the human hamster wheel and we fall into line… like the rest of the worker bees.

I mean, let’s just imagine it for a moment, shall we? We all have the same amount of money as Charlie Sheen. We’ve all been born into a thriving Hollywood pedigree and we’re being handed schwag by the tons, an entourage of people as willing to follow us as we plunge into the abyss of what we have never seen or tried… and then we are given credit cards with no limits… cash by the bundles. At some point in every person’s life there is that moment when he/she craves that “power”… the ability to say to your annoying brother-in-law, “F$#K OFF!” The opportunity to buy the restaurant [where the smart-ass waiter treated you like garbage]… and as opposed to just firing his rude-ass… you give him a week’s worth of his own behavior until he finally submits… and quits.

Charlie Sheen’s inter­views have ALL gone viral, along with his catch phrases and slew of new internet memes: because they’re winning, duh. Now initially, as I was watching them myself, I totally was like “this guy is crazy… but damn he’s funny”. Then a few minutes in, he started saying things that were really powerful, like— “can’t is the cancer of happen” —whoa… hang on a minute… that’s actually brilliant. So maybe there’s some­thing to learn hidden inside all of this madness and mayhem…

If you haven’t seen the inter­views, I HIGHLY recom­mend you watch them all, completely. Not only are they the ulti­mate dose of Charlie-Sheen-drug-brilliant-humor, there is a lot to learn from this Vatican Assassin. Can’t is the cancer of happen— Just like Yoda in Star Wars “do or do not, there is no try” and Nike’s slogan “just do it”, Charlie “gets” that a lack of action and fear is a sort of “cancer” to getting things done. Stop all of the the excuses, believe in your­self, and take action. RIGHT NOW.

Ignore the fools, trolls, and clowns— Haters will hate all day while they sip the Hater-aide. These people crit­i­cize your action and progress since they don’t have the balls to do it them­selves. Ignore them and take advice from those that care. “Sleep rhymes with sheep”— Funny isn’t it? Charlie knows most people are just spir­i­tu­ally and worldly asleep, like Neo was in The Matrix. Stop being an obedient sheep that behaves and does only what it’s told… blindly. Wake up and start living… ON YOUR OWN TERMS!

Step up and change it right now. Look your father in the eye and say. “You’re wrong, I’m different, I’m better. Watch me.” Become free from the opin­ions of others and your­self— STOP caring about what other people think about you. Say awesome things— let your humor and wisdom always shine through and light up the lives of those around you. Dare to be a total freakin’ rock­star from Mars! Always look for some­thing to learn in every situation. Be special— because you are! The media, school systems, corpo­ra­tions, and govern­ment want everyone to be average and elim­i­nate indi­vid­u­ality. This is absurd. Stand out, be your­self, and express your creativity. Stop being like the masses and just be YOU! And last but certainly not least… wherever you are, enjoy the view!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Leave it to Beaver Culture Myth

They have come to symbolize the stereotypical 1950’s– 1960s family and American life to the point where many people today believe these representations of family life were factual, if not somewhat idealistic, views of the 1960s. Shows such as The Donna Reed Show, Father Knows Best, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and Leave It To Beaver all espoused upon the ideal, middle class family…not quite perfect but whose faults were minor and non-threatening to the individual and society. These themes were carried on into the 1960s with shows like The Dick Van Dyke Show and even into the 1970’s with The Brady Bunch. Even though some aspects rang true, the reality was different for a majority of Americans. It’s interesting to wonder what effect these shows had upon those, especially females, who lives were not reflected, and never would be, in the mythical family life portrayed every week.

The setting was almost always the same; a neat and tidy small town, suburban setting, near enough to a city that supplied the father his white collar profession. Mother were seen as happy to stay at home, cleaning and cooking all day (often clad in dresses and pearls) with no career ambitions beyond volunteering for some local group. Father worked at a nondescript profession, the white collar ‘salt mines’ and never talked about work beyond a few vague replies to the “how was your day” comment from his wife. Children were well adjusted and well behaved, unlike the more realistic though ignored angst ridden young adults, though probably not to the extent that was seen in films such as Rebel Without A Cause or novels like The Catcher In The Rye.

But what did those true middle class Americans think of these images? They may have been humorous for many women, but the reality was often different. Women were in the workplace and in careers, though many were regulated to the traditional roles. They usually worked out of necessity and not for fun money for themselves. For instance, my father was a white collar worker in a research lab, yet my mother was always working. She had a full time job until she had children, and then worked part time on night and weekends while my father cooked, cleaned, and took care of four small children. This was the norm for nearly all families in the 1960’s neighborhood I grew up in, and seemed to be that way for nearly everyone.

Beyond the mass consumerism aimed at Americans, especially the new teen demographic, television emerged as an entertainment device with sometimes an unexpected impact. The growing power of the new entertainment segment would have a perceptual influence upon Americans. It also became a device that could manipulate though its entertainment. If your weren’t part of the Leave It To Beaver world, were you viewed as doing something wrong or not working hard enough? Or did people simply realize that it was a fictionalized take on life, done purely for entertainment reasons. It’s also odd, given this promoting of woman in television land as nothing more than secondary apolitical beings that some many women stepped to the front to take action on so many social and cultural issues. I wonder what people like Betty Friedan, Rosa Parks, Mamie Till, Diane Nash, or even Jackie Kennedy thought of the completely sterilized suburbia of television.

While television created the ideal middle class myth, it also had unexpected influences. The McCarthy Red Scare hearings revealed to Americans the transparency of Washington power politics and the fear mongering that it employed, often for personal advancement. The nightly news broadcasts of such events as the Childrens March in Selma, complete with fire hoses and attack dogs, brought the Civil Rights movement home to all Americans (Could anyone imagine Theodore Cleaver or Ricky Nelson being involved in such a protest…or any type of protest). The altering of presidential politics in the 1960 election with the Kennedy/Nixon debates, where substance began to take a backseat to style. The impact of the daily televised war footage in the later 1960’s split a nation into opposing sides, the anti-war verse the silent majority. If television was meant to be a conforming device, it failed in several areas.