November 6, 2008

bendoc Hearts have been heavy across Goodboys Nation these past two days at the news of the loss of one of the “Founding Fathers” of the Nation, Mike “Doc” Frechette (above right, with Ben “The Funny Guy” Andrusaitis), who passed away last week at the age of 60.

I first met The Doc (his nickname came from his being a Ph.D.) playing softball thirty years ago back in 1978 when a group of us acquainted with people from the old Lowell Star Market would play some of the University of Lowell – now UMass Lowell – faculty (he taught various Laboratory Sciences classes) and students down at the old South Campus fields. I guess we hit it off enough so that the next year, when I entered a softball team in the old Greater-Lowell Church League, he came along and stayed throughout my dozen years of managing the St. Anne’s softball team. The Doc was a Jerry Remy-esque banjo hitter who always hit for pretty good average and played all over the infield.

For the next 15+ years, The Doc and I were quite close – not best friends, but we hung out a lot together. He had divorced from his first wife in the late ’70s (something I don’t think he ever truly got over), and I saw him as a kind of pleasantly eccentric “renaissance man” with many interests that served to fill a lot of holes in his life. Besides being a popular college professor, he was a gourmet cook, could play songs on the piano by ear, did a lot of his own plumbing and carpentry, could sail a Sunfish with ease in a stiff wind, and loved to garden, golf, and cross-country ski. With his scientific mind, electronics interested him to no end: he was always picking up the latest electronic gadgets (the large satellite dish in his back yard being just one example), and was a computer geek from the Commodore 64 days; he would later use his computer to author a couple of college textbooks still in use today.

Given that he was seven years older and whole lot more worldly than I was, it was natural that in our relationship The Doc would always take the lead. He loved Mexican food, so I just had to be introduced to it – something I’ll always be grateful to him for. He needed someone to sail with, so he convinced me to buy a small sail boat of my own. He needed someone to go cross-country skiing with, so I bought cross-country skis. He wanted someone he could golf with, so I took up the game. The Doc loved to drive (he and his black Lab Cecil would travel all over northern New England just for the heck of it), and during the early-to-mid ’90s, we’d play golf on Fridays all over New Hampshire in the most out of the way places, then stop for Mexican food on the way back. Those were good days.

In 1991, The Doc was one of eight lads who, one August weekend, began the tradition of a golf weekend that ultimately led to “the Goodboys” and what we now call eighteen years later “Goodboys Nation”. The Doc was a two-time Goodboys champ; as a golfer he was always battling a fierce tendency to hook, and was renowned for his uncanny ability to either find balls he had driven into the woods with a perfect angle for getting out of trouble and the generous drops he would give himself (30-40 yards at times!) when his balls were truly lost.

No matter how many hobbies or interests Mike involved himself in, however, there were still a lot of hours in his life spent alone. And somewhere along the way – I think it was in the early ’90s, might have been earlier – the darkness began to close in. It was unnoticeable to me, but I began to hear from the friends we shared that those few beers or margaritas he would have socially with us was turning into something altogether different and sinister when he was immersed in the quiet loneliness of his house. I remember being shockied when his girlfriend at the time called me to say there had been “an episode”, and that he was drying out in a Manchester detox. I remember visiting him there one day and being shocked at what an alcoholic truly looked like; it wasn’t The Doc I had known.

After that episode, our relationship changed somewhat; while we remained good friends, there was a new sense of distance between us. The Doc seemed to come out of it a little older and a little more withdrawn, but with a harder edge. He dropped out of the Goodboys circle with the excuse that he needed to be sober, but I saw it as an excuse to withdraw further into himself. My new commitment to Christ and return to the Church widened that distance a bit more, and the close bond we had once shared began to loosen. By the time of my move to Kentucky in ’98, he was becoming a bit more erratic in his personal life choices, dating and ultimately marrying a girl far younger (and far more unstable) than he was; when their relationship fell apart shortly afterwards, he was truly crushed.

Upon my return to Massachusetts in 2002, I tried re-kindling our friendship, but as much as I had changed, Mike had changed even more. The darkness that surrounded him by then was truly noticeable – I could feel it from a distance – and I felt as if I was talking to a stranger masquerading a deep sadness, remorse, and loneliness. We only saw each other twice in the year and a half prior to my move to Arizona. The last time I spoke to him was on a Christmas morning two years ago when he called me clear out of the blue. I could tell he had been drinking, and our conversation was just brief pleasantries: there’s not a whole lot you can say to someone you no longer really know after the toll of so many years and so many demons.

So hearing of Mike’s death on Tuesday was not that surprising; I had known from our Goodboys friend Jay “Crusher” Spielberg that he had been in quite bad shape, to the point where he was being cared for by his elderly mother. What was surprising was hearing of it from one of his former students who had been a friend and classmate of my wife’s, and someone we hadn’t heard from in years. (Note: I should mention here that it was all due to The Doc that I met and married Tracey. We met at one of the Christmas break parties he’d throw for his students, and he was best man at our wedding.) Mike was always one of the most popular faculty members at UMass-Lowell, and his death came as a shock to her, just as I’m sure it did to all those who remembered him fondly from years past.

What I’ll remember most about The Doc are those Christmas Eve afternoons of the ’80s and early ’90s, where, having completed all the hectic last-minute shopping and rushing around, we would meet at his friend Jack’s house in Pelham for a glass or two of cheer – often, Jack’s homemade rhubarb wine. There, as the cold December afternoon faded to dusk, situated in comfy chairs amidst blinking Christmas lights and soft holiday music, we’d recap the year soon to be past, and I’d sit there and listen to them bitch about university politics or the latest town gossip. Inevitably, the conversation would turn to warmer and brighter days to come: of the seed catalogs that would soon be arriving by mail, Jack’s plans for planting his “lower forty”, and, of course, the promise of another softball season or golf year around the corner.

I thought about those times yesterday as I lit a candle in his memory. Alcoholism – brutal, hard-core alcoholism – is a ghastly disease, incredibly hard to break free of once it gets its demonic hands grasped around your throat. And I prayed that God would grant Mike the serenity and the peace in death he was never really able to find in his life.

Rest in peace, Doc.

Filed in: Goodboys by The Great White Shank at 23:35 | Comments (11)
November 4, 2008

Congrats to Senator Barack Obama, now President-Elect of the United States. Were his skin white and his name Bernie McGillicuddy, he’d never even get within a sniff of the White House. But he used his race to his advantage and played the race card well; now this country will get what it deserves. I fear what the Democrats will be able to do to this country with all three branches of government under their control.

But that’s the way it goes. Tomorrow the sun will come up, and another work day will begin. I’ll still have my faith, my job (at least for now), my family, my friends, my health, and my surf music. And I’m cool with that.

No doubt about it, the Republican brand is a HUGE loser tonight. My first thought is just how much the 2008 election serves as final verdict on how George W. Bush and the Republicans in Congress managed this country during their combined years in power. What a wreckage! 2008 will be seen as the year all the chickens came home to roost, and now it’ll be years – perhaps a decade or more – before Republicans are given another shot at the nation’s car keys.

Watch for a significant backlash against the President by Republicans and conservatives of all stripes. You can argue one way or another about Iraq, but you can’t dismiss his inability to control federal spending and allow The Great 2008 Wall Street Meltdown to happen on his watch. His legacy is in tatters.

And mark my words: it’s not over yet – it will only get worse for the GOP in 2010 as the Dems consolidate their power further.

Glad I re-filed my party affiliation as Independent this year. It helps take a bit of the sting away.

Another big loser tonight is Hillary Clinton, who saw her chances to be the first woman President of the U.S. go down in flames. Eight years from now, the Clinton years will be a distant memory, and a new generation of politicians will have come along. Hillary may well become the next Ted Kennedy-esque “Lion(ess) of the Senate”, but she’s done when it comes to Presidential politics.

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, while a winner to me and many conservatives, is also loser tonight. Whether fair or not (and in Palin’s case it is most certainly unfair, as if it were not for her, McCain would have lost in a veritable landslide), once a member of a losing ticket, it’s very hard to wipe off that stain.

I also think the mainstream dino-media is a loser tonight, for 2008 will be viewed as the year honest journalism died. The media conspired from the beginning to do whatever it could to put Obama in as President, deliberately abdicted its role in informing the American voting public about the real Barack Obama, and instead did everything they could to destroy Sarah Palin. They may well have achieved their goal in carrying Obama over the threshold and into the White House, but my prediction is that this will be a pyrrhic victory at best. And when it awakes from its love hangover slumber, methinks Mr. Obama is gonna find himself in for a very short honeymoon.

And, finally, the next loser comes tomorrow, when the stock market reacts to Obama’s victory and the promise of bigger givernment, more regulation, and increased taxes on the wealthy and investor classes. My guess is the Dow tanks 1000 points tomorrow on its way down to 7000 over the next few weeks. Watcha gonna do then, President Obama? Save us! Save us! From ourselves!

Sigh. I’m just glad the whole damned thing is over.

Filed in: Politics & World Events by The Great White Shank at 20:36 | Comments (5)
November 2, 2008

Perhaps it’s fitting on this All Soul’s Day to feel as if, at least work-wise, I’m in Purgatory.

(For all those non-Roman Catholics out there, Purgatory is that state of existence where souls who have departed this world are purified so that they can rest in God’s eternal kingdom in heavenly perfection.)

Now some people freak out over the whole concept of Purgatory, and it’s true that Purgatory got a bad name by the Church taking advantage of people back in those pre-Reformation times by selling indulgences for the purpose of people thinking they could “buy” their loved ones passage into Heaven. But when you think of it, it all makes sense – we’re all sinners, our souls polluted by our sinfulness. Heaven is the purity of God’s eternal existence. So whether it takes a second, a minute, a decade, or hundreds upon hundreds of years, there has to be a state, or rest area, or toll booth (oops, there go those indulgences again!), or some stage where our souls go from sin-stained to shiny-pure, because just as you can’t allow a New York Yankee to pollute a Boston Red Sox clubhouse, you can’t have sinful souls polluting God’s heavenly kingdom. It’s just that simple.

And that’s why it’s important to pray for the souls in Purgatory – after all, as Father Tim preached yesterday, the souls in Purgatory are one of the three primary components of The Church (the other two being the communion of saints in Heaven, and you and I here on earth). We pray for them as we pray for the saints to pray for us in our own faith journeys. Everything is eternal. We do not have souls, we are souls that have bodies. And all Creation, groaning under the weight of sin, awaits the day when everyone and everything will be gathered up into God’s eternal Presence; until then we live our lives in faith and hope of that day coming, praying for God’s mercy upon us and upon those who have departed this life. After all, what goes around, comes around.

The reason it seems as if my work state is something akin to Puragtory is that strange sense that comes from having worked for someone for years and all of a sudden, they’re gone. And his replacement can reassure you all they want, but you never really know where you stand. Perhaps the day comes you acquire a good and trusting working relationship. Perhaps not. But in either case, there’s that feeling out period that just takes time.

One reason why Purgatory is a state so dear to me is that I think we all spend our lives in kind of a purgatory. Very few spend their lives in a state of bliss; we’re all too well well aware of people who spend the majority of their lives in some form of misery. But, praise God, I think most people live their lives between good times and bad, sometimes great, some times awful, most times in between. Me, I prefer those in between times, not getting too high over anything or too low. But there are times where God demands patience, faithfulness, and perseverence when we get rocked out of our comfort zones.

And I’m thinking as much as we don’t like it when that happens, it’s probably a good thing. Keeps everyone on their toes and honest. Which can’t be a bad thing.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 23:51 | Comments (0)

One chapter ends, another begins. In the book of life nothing ever remains the same.

Two weeks ago my company shook up the upper management in the organization I work for. This week my boss was sacked unceremoniously, without any notice at all. One hour I was on a conference call with him, the next hour I hear he’s terminated. Just like that. And this is someone who was universally liked and respected, not just for his experience and his way of dealing straight with people (old school, you know?), but for his years of service with the company before it became the actual company it is now.

I’m sure he got a nice severance package, but that’s not the point. The point is, it just goes to show that when you work for a company that treats people like that, you have to realize that no one’s safe. Not you, not anyone. All too often in this day and age, the only thing that matters is the bottom line, and you have soulless decision-makers who could care less how their decisions impact employee morale or loyalty. You don’t like it? Find another job. That’s just the way it is, I’m afraid.

How this impacts my own situation remains to be seen. I’m probably safe for now, but who knows? For the time being I’ll just try to do the best job I can, to the best of my ability, and let the chips fall where they may. Perhaps dust off that resume. And that’s all you can do. I try to live my life in a spirit of gratitude for the bountiful blessings God has bestowed on Tracey and me. Uncertainty about one’s job, in the long run, is a pretty minor thing compared to those who deal everyday with concerns about their health, making ends meet, having a roof over their head, or food and water.

For now I’ll simply enjoy the simple pleasure of a cold beer, surf sounds, and gazing at pool water reflecting the lights of the Tiki bar. On a lovely night like this, it works.

Of course, the events of this week tosses a little cold water on our drive to pay the final two credit cards off. We’ve decided to put that on hold for the time being and use the next few months to beef up our savings – just in case.

Tonight I broke in the new pool. Two weeks ago Pool Guy came and emptied out the old water, gave the whole side and bottom surfaces a nice acid wash, refilled the pool, and dumped the starter chemicals in it. Voila!, two weeks later the water is crystal clear, the heat of the past two days raised the water temp to 70 degrees, and I had a lovely swim to the sounds of surf music tonight. A great way to clean the head after a rought week emotionally.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:23 | Comments (2)

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