Excuse Me While I Kiss The Sky

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I recently saw a photo of Jimi Hendrix, and it reminded me immediately of Jon. In fact, every time I hear a Hendrix song or see his iconic image, I think of Jon—and probably always will for the rest of my life.

A few years ago, I was facilitating an art/music enrichment program at a nonprofit that served adults with developmental disabilities. I arrived there in the latter part of my recovery after spending several years of confinement to a home hospital bed while combating a debilitating illness. And it was while still in the throes of the residuals of my illness, that I presented myself to my new clients, first assisted by a walker, and eventually, graduating to a cane. I was also initially toting a portable oxygen machine—and I don’t mind saying, that particular part of my arsenal was not the easiest contraption to accessorize, fashionista that I am!

Leopard Cane (2)In an effort to detract from the cumbersome machine that I had to lug around, and for some “fun flair”, I hand-painted my walker in a zebra stripe pattern and my cane was sporting a leopard print. Both were bedecked with glimmering Swarovski crystals and trimmed with a silk tassel. Thankfully, after a short period, I was able to lose the oxygen tank, then the walker…but still had to rely on some mild mobility assistance. And it was that cane that first caught Jon’s eye.

Jon was sitting at a table intently drawing a Moog Synthesizer, displaying great attention to detail and apparent knowledge of its mechanisms. He only paused when he happened to notice my leopard print cane. He remarked that he liked it. In fact, he proclaimed that he had several leopards of his own at home.

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This revelation peaked my interest, and I shared that I had some cats, although not of the leopard family–and that they were named Thelma and Louise. Jon shared that his leopards were named Holly, Alicia, and Jacob, and he also offered up that his leopards slept with him and spoke to him all the time. In fact, sometimes it was hard to sleep due to all the “chatter”. It was after some further conversation, and more than a few probing questions on my part, that I came to realize that the leopards were of the “stuffed toy” variety.

As time passed, Jon and I bonded over music. I am a singer/guitarist, and I learned that Jon played guitar too–as well as keyboards. And he was a warehouse of information regarding music–both in theory and culture. He was bonkers over Hendrix and also loved Stevie Ray and Buddy Guy. He explained that his father was a rock musician and taught him everything he knew, and that his mother was a movie star.

He continued with his familial revelations: His sister had died of a drug overdose and he was very upset about that, and when he was told of her passing, he just screamed and screamed. His parents were divorced and both had remarried, and that bothered him immensely. And he quickly added that he didn’t care much for their new partners—his voice growing in both intensity and volume—with a dash of anger for good measure. But, he guessed it was better than the alternative, for they hated each other with a passion. And suddenly switching gears—leaving me with TMI whiplash–he asked if I was rich and if I could buy him some sort of expensive music equipment. The particulars of what he wanted escapes me now, but this was a common occurrence. Jon would often draft these extensive “wish list” during our time together. Usually they included expensive music-related items. I learned quickly to deflect these queries. During this first game of “gimme”, I simply said I didn’t have that sort of cash laying around, but what I did have some breath mints, if he’d like one. He eagerly accepted and appeared satiated with the offering—at least for the time being. And so we began…

Jon's Christmas ListAs I receive extensive contact sheets on all my clients, I learned all the clinical information on this man. And he was a man—at least in the chronological sense. However, although he was 24 years of age, Jon’s speech patterns and the topics of conversation were those one would expect of someone much younger—perhaps a young boy of 10-12? As I read all the pertinent information on him and his numerous conditions, I learned about his various diagnoses, medications, and behavioral issues. Specifically, Jon had Autism, Schizophrenia and was Bipolar. And as if these challenges weren’t enough for this diminutive young man, he also was battling the ominous disease, Cystic Fibrosis. And I also read that Jon was prone to violent outbursts and needed to be “redirected” and “reinforced”. It was also stated that he was very creative and loved art and music and he could be “distracted” by introducing these topics or activities, should he begin to act out or become agitated.

As I grew to know Jon, I found there was so much more to him than his diagnoses, meds, or stats. He was brilliant musically and quite the prodigy. However, besides the perpetual “buying lists”, what was a common repetitive theme in our conversations was his feeling of abandonment. He especially yearned for his mother’s love and attention, for according to Jon—and from what I learned from others—his mother and he had a very dysfunctional relationship, one that was peppered with violence and rants…on both sides. I had heard accountings from both colleagues at the non-profit and the administrators of his group home, which attested to the volatility of this mother and son. In spite of this, every weekend, Jon eagerly waited for his mother to make an appearance and take him out of the group home for a respite, however brief. Sometimes when she accommodated, these reunions resulted in the police being called to her home and hauling Jon away in handcuffs,  usually due to him becoming enraged and unmanageable—which resulted in him throwing or breaking something in the process. On these occasions (and they were rather frequent) he would be placed in a mental health facility for a brief stint, where he was sedated, stabilized, and then returned to his group home. It was a cycle that repeated itself and although most unpleasant for Jon, he still intently waited to receive word if she would be coming to get him—and this was often introduced into our conversations. But many times, although promised, his mother either wouldn’t call or wouldn’t show up at all after making plans—which distressed Jon greatly.

So when I learned that the nonprofit had a Big Brother/Big Sister Program and that no one had signed on to step into this role for Jon (due to his violent outbursts), I said, “I want HIM!”

It was with great sensitivity that I approached him and introduced myself as his new “Big Sister”—knowing as I did of his REAL sister and how he grieved over the loss of her. He didn’t miss a beat when he said that having me as a token sibling was cool, but he really needed a Mom–or if I couldn’t do that, did I know any Guns ‘n’ Roses songs? And while I was at it, he also needed new Ernie Ball strings for his guitar—could I pick some up for him? Now THAT, I could do! And while I could muster up some Guns ‘n’ Roses in a pinch…it was the “mother” thing that caught me off guard. After all, I needed to maintain a professional distance and decorum.

Every week, my new “little bro” and I met at his group home. I never had a single problem with him, in spite of all the warnings of impending violence. In fact, we would go in his room and shut the door…and jam! I was surprised to see that he possessed some impressive musical equipment that he said his rocker father had bought for him. This included a small amp, some pedals, and his “ax” itself. And it was there that I first met his esteemed leopard family: Holly, Alicia, and Jacob.

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In my ramblings through life, I had met and jammed with many fabulous guitar players, but Jon played with a fervor and skill that was really quite remarkable, and it took me quite by surprise. I was glad he tolerated me and was patient with my endeavors–eight years in a hospital bed had robbed me of some of my “chops”. But, I could sing and hold my own as a rhythm guitarist, and that was good enough for Jon’s refined musical palate.

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In between songs, Jon paused to share secrets with his gallery of stuffed animals lined up on his bed, Holly, Alicia, and Jacob. He would frequently whisper into their ears, then tilt his head, intently listening for their responses. On occasion, he would interpret for me this sacred exchange–and eventually, I even found myself addressing the leopard menagerie.

He wondered once aloud to me, if I thought that when he died, if he would meet Hendrix. I told him that there was once a song that had the line “If there’s a rock ‘n roll heaven, you know they got a helluva band”. He thought that was some pretty lame shit, but wondered if there were jam sessions in heaven? For THAT was a pretty awesome concept!

One of my personal idols was Janis Joplin and I used to sing a lot of her stuff in my younger years before my illness and oxygen therapy had taken their toll. I suggested that in our afterlife, in whatever form that takes, that Jon and I approach both these icons and see if they were available for some gigs. He fell out over this, laid on his back and kicked his legs in the air with childlike abandon, had a “sidebar” with our leopard-audience to explain the joke to them–and launched into “Manic Depression”.

I rarely gave out my phone number to clients, but I did for a few. Of course, Jon was “family” now, just like the rest of the dysfunctional flock perching on my genetic tree. And there were many phone calls for a plethora of reasons. Usually it was mother-related (“I hate her!”), monetary (“Can you buy me…?”), or he just wanted to talk music in general. But sometimes, it was “dark” in nature.

Jon was raging against his personal demons, his mother, his lot in life, or the fact that he couldn’t break free of that group home. And later, it was the constant oxygen support he needed for the Cystic Fibrosis and all the trappings of the illness that confined him that caused him to sink into despair, often resulting in tumultuous tears–and a goodly amount of profanity.

But, more than anything, Jon wanted to know the feeling of being a member of a REAL band—for he never had the experience of being on a stage and hearing the roar of the crowd or seeing the wave of hands or the bobbing of heads—all the sensory pleasures, the vibrations and the electricity in the atmosphere; the ebb and flow of the emotional tide one rides into the nirvana of the spotlight. I felt sad, like I had missed the mark with Jon. I also had wanted to have him experience a recording studio…or perhaps arrange to bring him to a festival where he could shine. But his disease was not a forgiving one and TIME is not something that any of us are guaranteed. And perhaps I was in my own denial about the reality of Cystic Fibrosis? I never considered the loss of opportunity due to constraints on TIME. In Jon and my case…time was an enemy lurking in the shadows, dark and insidious…and it was not on our side.

I felt compelled to do a portrait of Hendrix for Jon. He was visibly moved when I presented my handiwork, and ran his hand over the smooth glass and said “I love this!” He then asked that I IMMEDIATELY hang Jimi’s likeness above his bed. Of course, I obliged his fervent request. As Jon explained, that way, he could see it and so could the leopards–Holly, Alicia, and Jacob. From Jon’s point of view…THEIRS was equally important.

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One day, I arrived at the group home for our usual jam session, and he was in some sort of “vest” contraption with oxygen tubing running to his nose. It was explained to me that he must wear this periodically. At different intervals it would compress, in order to force the fluids up out of his lungs. I didn’t show it, but it sort of freaked me out. I wondered how he could appear so nonchalant about this latest development. Yet, there he sat at the kitchen table, writing lyrics and chords for his remedial rhythm guitarist…me.

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There were many hospitalizations to follow and on these occasions, I would bring my acoustic to the hospital and he would play for the nurses, staff, and even doctors (when they made a rare appearance). I would watch their faces as they listened to this 24 year old man—who was snuggled up with a life-size leopard–“rip it” on my guitar, playing something by his beloved Jimi. I hoped, if only a moment, they saw what I saw–a human being that was so much more than the visual absurdity of the man, guitar, and leopard. And as he played, whether it be for the room attendant or the night nurse, Jon found his “light”, with the hospital serving as his amphitheater and a leopard as his devoted “roadie”.

On our last night together, Jon spoke of his mother. In the previous year, I had never met this elusive “star of stage and screen”. Jon yearned for her acceptance and love so deeply. For every inner child, no matter what chronological age they may attain, has only one mother in the biological sense. And Jon lamented repeatedly “I wish you were my mother!” All my sensibilities as a responsible mentor screamed to respect boundaries. Instead, I parked myself by his bed and kept vigil while he dozed with his leopard, Holly.

It took me by surprise when his “mother” very suddenly made the decision to move him to a nursing home across the state many miles away. And it was there shortly afterward that Jon died. I got a call from his group home advising me of this fact. I sat God-smacked.

I have all of Jon’s notes and song lists. I have photographs of our last jam session in his bedroom at his group home, and the bitter sweet memories of the “unplugged” hospital concerts he gave while cradling my acoustic and cuddling a leopard. But I don’t know what happened to the portrait of Jimi (which I’ve since recreated for this article) or his closest friends, Holly, Alicia, and Jacob. But I like to think that I DO know what happened to Jon…

“There’s a spotlight waiting
No matter who you are
‘Cause everybody’s got a song to sing
Everyone’s a star
(Everybody’s got to be a star)

If you believe in forever
Then life is just a one-night stand
If there’s a rock and roll heaven
Well you know they’ve got a helluva band.”

I still revisit the old photographs from time to time. And sometimes, I gaze upon the song lists that Jon painstakingly penned–and my eyes always settle on our last song together, “Sweet Child O’ Mine”…how I wish he was!

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“Pants For Peace”

These are troubled times. All one has to do is turn on the news, and this is quickly confirmed. As a former beauty queen, I am duly-appointed to seek World Peace as a lifelong pursuit. It ranks right up there with not wearing the same outfit twice in public and being careful to avoid taking completely naked photos. So it occurred to me—why not combine my passions and somehow, utilize fashion as a call for peace?

Enter Pajama Jeans. I was more than curious about this comfy couture. On numerous occasions, I heard the late night ads blaring in the background as I worked like a Jamaican with 20 jobs and no semblance of a life. And then, like some sort of subliminal stalker, the ads began to appear across my Facebook feed. I felt powerless against the suggestion and submitted to this tempting trouser. Yes, I have drank the Kool Aid—and it is good! I am, in fact, so enamored of the stretchy fake-ass denim fabric with the soft, womb-like brushed lining (one could bake bread in there due to the “toastiness”), that I have ordered a second pair in black. And just as soon as they arrive, I will take off the indigo pair and launder them.

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Before you judge, you would have to understand my lifestyle. I work around 80 hours a week and rarely leave the house during daylight hours. So much so, that bright sunlight hurts my eyes and my skin is void of pigment. I am basically, either a vampire or an albino mole.

When I do happen to venture out for some retail therapy and liquor, I would always find myself pillaging through racks of “loungewear”…keeping in mind that the selected garment must look like ACTUAL clothes…for those times I must greet the rude people that drop by the house unannounced or the UPS guy—who is without a doubt convinced I have knocked over the “softer side of Sears”.

Now, with the introduction of Pajama Jeans, my life as I know it is forever altered—and I don’t mind saying, for the better. It’s like being clothed in a layer of Prozac Pajamas—with a faux fly. Yep, I be happy!

So it occurred to me—what if the governments of the world enacted a program that dispensed Pajama Jeans to the masses? Could some simple slacks possibly be the savior of serenity? I can see it now…”Pants for Peace”. The Peace symbol would be rapidly replaced with a circle with spread-eagle pants inside. Celebrities would band together to jam in their jammies to the anthem “Give Pants a Chance” to promote the cause.

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And, as I’m in favor of a person’s right to choose and free will…it would be left up to the individual whether they sport the straightleg, skinny or bootcut variety. And as Pajama Jeans are available in a virtual rainbow of colors, there is something for every race or taste. Let not cut nor color divide us, however…

All pants matter…

 

“And By the Way…Fuck You Very Much!”

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I have learned much about myself in the last two years. Most of my lessons have been born of fire. Life has presented moments of triumph and adversity. Yet, for some odd reason, there has been a bumper crop of crazy infiltrating my wascally world. For I have been “on a roll” with the onslaught of unsavory peeps that have permeated my life as of late. Yet, with each special pond scum that smarmed their way into my life, there has been wisdom imparted and I have grown in both knowledge and character—and my voodoo doll collection has also surged in both numbers and activity. I have come in contact with lunatics, criminals, liars, posers, fakes, thieves, and hypocrites. And for some of them…those were their redeeming factors.

ImageI have learned about what sort of person I am, who I want to be, what I will tolerate, what is a deal-breaker, and generally, how to spot those that have insidious intentions. If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck–then fuck that duck and pour some orange sauce over it! But with all the quacking that has been going on, I am grateful. Being pissed off is a great catalyst for change. I thank each and every dickwad that lied to my face, screwed me over, used and abused my talent, owes me money, and made my life a living hell. At the end of the day, I have turned a douche bag into a silk purse…and I’m pretty smug about that fashion statement.

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I’m sure that someday, Hallmark will make the perfect greeting card line just for those special fucktards that tend to bob and weave throughout my life. And the greetings will go something like “Glad to hear you are in jail—so happy about your new BIG HOUSE!” Or maybe, another greeting will go “Rose are red, so is your fat face now that everyone knows what a loser you are.” And there’s the always appropriate “Thinking of you in this time of Fuck You.”

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Would I change the tantric turns my life has taken? Hell, no. Scar tissue is stronger and harder to penetrate. But on the flip side, I have become dear friends with some of the finest human beings and met some individuals that have greatly enriched my life and made me a better person. Life is funny that way. It’s like a game of cards–you pick from the pile and hope you can utilize what you draw. Everybody handles their “game” differently. Some will get lucky and their cards align right by pure chance—so they proceed to rub their opponent’s face in their loss and talk smack–only to lose every subsequent hand. Others bide their time and are quiet about their shit and master their “poker face”—and keep everyone guessing. And then, there are some that even let the other person think they’ve won—and lure their opponent into a false sense of security—then kick their ass.  Yes, anyone can get lucky every now and then, but at the end of the day, it is skill and strategy that stack the deck. (For some odd reason, I find myself humming the tune “The Gambler”.) Anyway…

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So to sum this little dissertation up…what have I learned? I’ve learned to allow room in my budget for voodoo dolls and plan on this as an “operating expense”. However, Uncle Sam does not hold the same view.

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I learned to keep my ducks in a row–and that they are much easier to manage when they are roasted with orange sauce drizzled liberally over their carcasses.

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That if my daytime gig should fail, I do have a rosy future in developing the Hallmark “You Are Dead to Me” Collection.

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And finally, that when I’m engaged in a rip-roaring card game…to never, never, never refer to the clubs as “little puppy toes”–for you lose all street cred.

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And regarding the slime that has oozed its way into my life as of late? I always say “The best revenge is living well”.  That—and those anonymous calls to the Attorney General, Crime Stoppers, and the IRS.

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Wait–I feel a greeting card coming on…

 “Have a sunshiny day, muthafucker!”

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“Dear God–Please Fuck Up the Lives of Everyone I Pray Against…Signed, Your Humble Servant”

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I just love when people say that they are religious–and then call upon the name of God to dispense vengeance on their “perceived” naysayers. Then they proceed to conduct themselves in a fashion that is spiteful, manipulative, and make feeble attempts to wreak havoc on people’s lives that they consider competition. Where does God enter into that equation? The God I know is one of love and brotherhood. Are they worshipping a different entity than I bow to?

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I also recently saw a post about how someone was praising the Lord and announcing how God guides their life and will make them a “winner”…and in the very next post, shared something absolutely pornographic and sick referring to their sexual prowess. I’m confused. So much for the body being a “temple”.

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Many of you don’t know that I used to be married to someone that had “Reverend” in his title. Yep, I was a minister’s wife. This person abandoned me when I became ill and engaged in some of the most perverse acts–yet was at church every Sunday all caught up in “the spirit”.

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I have given up on formal church. I believe “church” is wherever “two or more gather in His name”. I don’t need to go to a human to confess, but cut out the “middle man” and go directly to The Lord. I have found organized church to contain SOME of the most judgemental, small-minded, hypocritical peeps that elevate themselves to a position to look down on others. And don’t even get me started on the money and politics that often are mashed in with the equation. I don’t claim to know the mind of God, but I can’t help but wonder if this was HIS plan regarding worship?

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No, I don’t have the answers and won’t until I meet HIM. But I do know what my Bible says (I learned a couple of things as a minister’s wife). I prefer to adhere to a message of love and inclusion. Who the hell am I to ask a God of love to “deal” with people or as I lovingly refer to it “pray AGAINST them”? Pitiful and truly sacrilegious in every sense of the word. No, I stay in my lane in my WALK and know that there is a power greater than I that is in control…HE’S GOT THIS!!!!!

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When Jarred Came Marching Home–The Military and Autism–a Tale of Enlightenment

Many know me as a woman of resolve. In fact, I think it would be safe to say that some even know me as a force of nature. There are even some business owners that I’m quite confident, would close up shop early should they see me drive up. Yes, I guess you could say that in some circles, I am revered and some reviled–but if you ask me, I’d prefer to evoke SOME response. It’s like that, when you live your life (somewhat) in the public eye. I am happy to report, though, that I’ve never been a “person of interest” to law enforcement (yet) and my name does NOT appear on any “no fly” lists (that I’m aware of) and I certainly haven’t had a restraining order filed against me (worth mentioning).

I, however, make no guarantees that anybody is getting out alive—or at least un-maimed–should you mess with any of my kids. Especially, when that particular kid is my son, Jarred.

We are blessed to have a son with Autism in our family and Jarred continues to make us proud every day. Having a child with autism is not without its challenges, but I assure you, the rewards are abundant and well worth the occasional strife! But first, I’d like to give you some background on this remarkable young man that without fail–provides a unique view of the world from which we learn many of our life lessons.

Jarred joined “the fam” last October when he and his biological father decided to make a permanent move to Arizona from Georgia to provide better educational and medical resources for Jarred. And Jarred arrived laden with “emotional” baggage in addition to the physical ones he was toting. This was readily visible to me as this gangly, dark-eyed, pale, undernourished boy presented himself to me and announced he wasn’t staying and was only visiting–for Georgia was his home.

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His father J.B. and I had been in a long-distance relationship for a year and a half. Being a single father to a Special Needs child was difficult for J.B.—on top of picking up the pieces after Jarred’s mother suddenly up and left for some perceived “greener pastures”.

Our first hurdle was applying for medical resources from the state and Social Security benefits. Jarred had been deemed to have Autism since he started Kindergarten and I felt it was time to avail him of the social services he so rightfully deserves.

And then, there was the “mother” of all the hurdles to jump…Jarred must get an education…and he was having NONE of it! He had been removed from the Georgia school system due to their lack of resources for dealing with Jarred’s challenges and the ongoing bullying he had experienced. Consequently, he had not been to a formal school for several years.

So it was under his great protest that we took our son and presented him to his new High School. He was miserable as he sat in the Registration Office and upon leaving the school after he was enrolled, he had a complete “melt down” in the parking lot and ranted how horrible it was that we were forcing him to go to school—WHY WERE WE DOING THIS TO HIM?

I am pleased to report that it took exactly one day of formal High School for Jarred to thank his father for letting him go to school…whew!

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Jarred settled into his Special Education classes and quickly adapted to the routine. I don’t mean to make it sound like it was a walk in the park–hardly. But he thrived under the tutelage of caring teachers. However, Jarred’s main focus was on the students in the JROTC uniforms—and he was bent set that he would someday wear that uniform.

Let me share that Jarred is a huge fan of the United States Military. Heck, his Daddy served our country proudly as an Army Medic and had also been a member of JROTC back in High School (South Cobb High School). If you ask Jarred, he probably could tell you everything there is to know about WWII…facts that would astound a History Professor. Jarred has hopes for a military career someday and we encourage any/all of his dreams and assure him that with hard work and dedication, he will find his place in the world and flourish. We are a family that does not come from a place of “NO”.

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Jarred finished off his First Semester of High School and made amazing strides. We had been told that since he started the school year late, he would not get credit for the semester. Imagine our pride when the school called and said he would get full credit due to his dedication and effort? And included in his courses for the Second Semester would be his beloved JROTC!

I was a little apprehensive about the rigors of this course and how the others would react to Jarred and his obvious challenges. But Jarred thrived in his new responsibilities and lived for Wednesdays when he could wear his JROTC uniform to school. Every Tuesday night, father and son would polish the brass hardware for the uniform and shine the patent leather shoes so he would be sure to pass inspection and be a source of pride for his unit.

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Jarred had his eyes on a Lieutenant ranking. And here’s where his unique view on the world came in—apparently, it takes 50 merits to obtain this level. The way Jarred saw it–one can be awarded 20 merits for saving a life. It would only stand to reason that if he saved two and a half lives, he was there! My mother suggested that he hang around the pool in our retirement community and the opportunity may present itself.

Yes, all was going swimmingly for Jarred. I think it would be safe to say, that not only others in the JROTC embraced Jarred, but he charmed the school with his politeness and sweet nature. In fact, the faculty that regularly worked with Jarred would marvel his unique way of expressing very profound observances. These came to be known as “Jarredisms”. We settled into a routine and Jarred flourished and woke with excitement to go to his school each and every day…but especially on Wednesdays, when he could wear his uniform with pride. Jarred BELONGED.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how freakishly in love we are with Jarred’s High School (especially the Special Education Department of Skyline High School). As a former teacher myself, I don’t think I’ve met as dedicated and “plugged in” teachers as these. Jarred sneezes…I hear about it and they will share every nuance of that particular sneeze. For these hard-working professionals, his father and I are truly grateful!

And then one day we got “the call”…

Apparently, there had been an incident on campus involving our “soldier boy” and a representative of the United States military. One of Jarred’s teachers from his High School contacted me and shared that someone representing the local Armed Forces Recruitment Office had been visiting on campus with a “Flight Simulator”. Our military-enamored son’s “Spidey Senses” were on high alert and justlikethat, he presented himself to the soldier to immerse himself in the good ole Red, White, and Blue.

And this is where the “feel good” moment took a nose dive–Jarred inquired of the Recruitment Officer, “Can people with autism serve in the military?” The query was met with a swift response of “No”.

To say that this dream-dashing retort by the military representative was a kill-joy, would be an understatement. However, Jarred had not said a word to us regarding this experience. We wondered why?

Apparently, Jarred had reported this interchange with the soldier to one of his teachers and (I am not surprised), this teacher did some fact-checking. He found that admission to the military is on a case by case basis. I already knew this to be true, as I was aware of two individuals that either have or are currently serving our country with Austism (one is currently piloting Drones—the other is a veteran in the legal profession and a member of MENSA). Still, I “Googled” the question “Can people with autism serve in the military?” I was astounded by the answers I discovered! Most said “No”, however, none of these responses were from any actual decision-makers in the military…except for ONE.

My eyes fell upon a submission by a guy that simply called himself “Army Doc”. And here is what HE had to say on the subject…

“I can comment about the Army and can only assume that the other services will have similar standards. In the military everything goes by standards which are written guidelines. For the Army the written regulation is AR 40-501–the standards for medical fitness for the Army. Find the regulation on the internet and read it. Read Chapter 2-27. If you meet this standard whether you have autism or not then you can join. Hope this helps. Serving your country is admirable, the country needs more like you, don’t give up, there are waivers for everything.”

And in response to the many “naysayers” in one of the discussion threads regarding this particular subject, a soldier replied–

“To say that a person with autism cannot join the military is completely incorrect.  I’ve been in the army for 7 years and known many autistic soldiers. Autism is not a disqualifying factor if you can perform the job you sign up for. I challenge anyone to disprove that statement.”

And so I called the High School Principal’s office and spoke to his secretary. She was most appalled at the scenario as it had played out with Jarred. I requested a conference at the earliest convenience with the Principal and a representative of the armed forces’ unit that was on campus that particular day.

The office was quick to respond. An Assistant Principal called and soon had me on the phone with the school liaison with the military, who asked that we question Jarred and see what he remembered about the soldier who told him “no”. I said “Don’t be surprised if he remembers EVERYTHING…he has an amazing mind.”

And so, his father and I awaited Jarred’s return from school to ask what had happened—and why he didn’t tell us? Jarred arrived home after his Father picked him up from the bus–and it was time for a family conference.

When asked about “the incident”, Jarred looked down and said “I don’t want to talk about it.” He followed up with “I was very sad and I died a little inside.”

When pressed for details on the soldier who told him “no”, Jarred did not miss a beat…

He relayed all the information with great recall and detail. He not only knew the soldier’s ranking, he also knew the Airborne Division–and then correctly spelled his last name!

And so I called the military representative that I had spoken with and shared this information. He marvelled at Jarred’s memory! He sincerely apologized to me and stated that this soldier was new to the recruiting office and had simply spoke” out of turn”. But I was on a “mission from God” and I knew that how I handled this matter next could possibly turn an unfortunate experience for Jarred into a life lesson on positive resolution.

So when I was asked what I would like to do to make this up to Jarred, I did not hesitate to request a meeting at the Recruitment Office and give Jarred a “voice”. I asked if Jarred could meet with the soldier that said “no” and shake his hand? I went on to ask if we could get a photo of Jarred with some representatives of the military for Jarred’s bedroom wall. My thought process was to create a memory that would be a happy one for my son—and each and every time he looked at that photo, perhaps it would erase the pain he had felt when his dream of military service was dashed and replace it with a message of hope.

And so it was—Uncle Sam rolled out the Red Carpet for Jarred! He proudly wore his JROTC uniform to the Recruitment Office and faced the soldier and told him “It’s alright, I forgive you. Sometimes we all say the wrong things.” And our son extended his hand to him and the soldier shook it warmly—and I could see relief in both their eyes.

Jarred was presented with a certificate naming him an “Honorary Recruiter” for the United States Army and given a slew of military souvenir items (water bottle, T shirt, ball cap, etc.). And it was with a swell of pride that our son posed for a picture with his new “comrades”. I am quite confident that these soldiers have been impacted by our son and his sweet nature and honest face…along with the reverence he showed toward the soldiers and pride in just sharing their space.

As a side note, Jarred wasted no time living up to the assignment that was bestowed upon him. At his very next dental appointment, he gave a very persuasive argument to his attending dentist as to why military service was something to be considered!

Dental Visit

And it was at the end of his first year at the JROTC ceremony that Jarred received a National Recognition, presented to him for his “spirit”. His peers cheered loudly as Jarred stood and shook the representative of the military’s hand, a little sheepish and truth be told, quite terrified! Both his father and I fought back tears so as not to embarrass our son.

Jarred's National Award

I don’t know what lies ahead for our son. But I can assure you, that he will be a force of nature like his mom…albeit, a quieter one. But make no mistake–our world is a better place for my son’s unique view of it. And from where I am sitting, our government could take a lesson from the peaceful resolution that Jarred demonstrated. Sometimes, an extended hand of friendship and a kind word of understanding can change a negative perception—on both sides.

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Update: June, 2015-We had made the decision as a family to relocate to Georgia this summer. We had Jarred fly out ahead of time and stay with his Grandmother (with his father accompanying him) to circumvent the long ride for Jarred in the moving truck. After his Dad returned and we were in the throes of final packing, we received a call from Jarred’s Grandmother…Jarred had truly saved her life that morning with the Heimlich Maneuver! She had taken a large potassium pill and it lodged in her throat and found herself unable to breathe. She knew that calling 911 was not going to help as she couldn’t speak and they would never make it in time. Jarred was fast asleep, but lept into action as his Grandmother stumbled to his bedside in obvious distress. Jarred acted swiftly and with confidence…and saved the day!

“An Open Letter to Rick Springfield”

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Dear Ricky,

How the years have flown! Sigh. I think of you often and fondly. I am hoping you have found peace in your life–the sort of peace you richly deserve.

It still hurts to hear that song…you know…THAT song. I know it was a LONG time ago, but every time, it still takes me back to those youthful years. I assure you–I never knew how you felt. I’m not a mind reader, you know. Jessie is a distant memory now and you really need to find some closure. What was I supposed to do? Yeah, you were cute in a “white bread” sort of way–but Jessie had tatts and piercings and, well, looked hotter than you. Jessie had that whole “bad boy criminal” aura about him and you were always lurking around–looking all “needy” and shit with those creepy eyes. And besides, Jess played drums!!!!! I’m not trying to be hurtful here, but you have to understand–we were young and impressionable and–it’s sort of like comparing Donnie Osmond to John Bonham. 
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I guess in my own fucked-up sort of way, I’m apologizing for any pain I caused back when I was “Jessie’s Girl”. 

Wishing you the best in your career,
Kiki

And, weighing in with additional commentary (and his “middle finger up”—but he’s not bitter) is my “squeeze” J.B.–

Dear Rick and Jessie,

While you were arguing with each other for that short time you were with Kiki, I was busy in nursing school. Although you both had the looks to allow you to skate through life, I didn’t and had to continue to take classes. I studied boring things like Arctic Meteorology and Oceanography, Hydrograph Theory, Advanced Fire Weather Forecasting, Web Design, Digital Photography–boring shit that would allow me to get a job, as playing a musical instrument was impossible due to the bike crash that made it difficult to hold a pick or strum a guitar. I did learn how to spell, to formulate a sentence, to write an interesting paragraph or story. So while it may seem like you each had the advantage in life, I was writing beautiful, charming letters to Kiki. Nursing school taught me to be compassionate and caring and she digs that. Earth sciences taught me to be more observant to her needs and wants and that’s a turn-on for her. Photography and design taught me to be creative, and we spend lots of time trying new things–LOTS of new things. She dumped both of your asses and now wakes up in the mornings, rolls over and kisses me, then gets up and cooks my breakfast. Thanks guys for being such macho assholes!

 J.B.

 

“What Santa Left Under the Baby Boomer Tree” or “It’s Alright–You’ll Have Other Children”

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When I recall the “toys” of my youth, I am amazed I made it out alive—or not needing more time on a psychiatrist’s couch than I’d already been reclined to. Yes, some playthings of yesteryear left by St. Nick could have indeed been considered psyche’ damaging, maiming, or even, lethal–and, by today’s standards of choking laws, would need Heimlich Maneuver charts enclosed (in cute little cartoons…we don’t want to scare the kiddies).

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The first demon toy that lies impaled in the recesses of my memory was a little “get this party started” favorite by the name of “Lawn Darts”…also know as Jarts.

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“Hey little Johnnie…chuck this thing toward the marker and try not to hit your sister!”

The only possible worse scenario would be “Lawn Darts After Dark”…which would give way to “Naked Lawn Darts” (aka “The Sterilizer”).

I have learned that there are conventions of people that get together every year and bring their Lawn Darts for competitions. There are even underground sites that sell this banned contraband to continue to promote this American pastime of gore and death. However, they have carefully thought through the implications of making dangerous games available on the internet and have high standards and systems in place–lest this disfiguring toy makes it into the wrong hands…or foreheads…

As one of these Lawn Dart lovin’ sites (Jarts in Your Heart) states in their disclaimer—

“These Jarts are NOT toys. They should be kept out of reach from children. They should be treated as you would a bow and arrow. These have and will puncture a person. If you have the IQ of a monkey, please don’t buy lawn darts. I will not sell to anyone under 18. I do not have many sets left, so when they’re gone they’re gone. Jarts in Your Heart will not be held liable for any death or injury caused by these Jarts. By purchasing from Jarts in Your Heart, you agree to these terms. Again, I cannot stress this enough. If you’re an idiot, just don’t buy Jarts–stick to playing Horseshoes, Baggo or that ladder ball game.”

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Obviously, these Jart Peddlers have a clear conscious by making this disclaimer. Sort of like “Just say NO to drugs” and “Stay in School” and other notable statements that stop kids in their tracks from certain demise and ruin. Look at Whitney Houston’s utterance of “Crack is Whack” and how well THAT served her and the crack heads that would soon follow. I know I feel SOOOOOO much better now. Hey, JART-tards, just HOW are you checking I.D.s on the monkeys buying the Jarts? And, as a Public Relations goddess, I would suggest, in my professional opinion, to rethink the whole slogan of “Jarts in your heart”…sounds fatal to me and no fun at all.

May I also suggest that a bonus tetanus shot be included inside each package?

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Next, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Creepy Crawlers—the ones of the “Third Degree Burn” fame. Remember them? And that smell…the plasticky noxious odor of that unknown goop/toxin baking and hardening to form gelled psychedelic-colored insects (and future tumors). These were barter at my ole stompin’ grounds of St. Hugh School in Lyons, Illinois. You could tell if a boy LIKED you/liked you by the amount of Creepy Crawlers he hurled at you and ran away. Now I make that judgment call through jewelry (they ALL run away eventually…at least I now have the presence of mind to evoke pawn-able parting gifts).

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You can still purchase Creepy Crawlers, but many safety measures have been put in place. As one disappointed and bitter “baby boomer” mother writes—

The creepy crawler is no longer fun. The machine locks the hot plate inside until it is so cool that it’s barely warm to the touch making the fork thing unnecessary to remove it. This makes the whole waiting process of putting in the second plate entirely too long. We had to put the whole machine in the refrigerator to cool it quicker, but it still took 20 to 30 minutes to make one tray. Kids got bored and walked away. I’m 56 and remember the 1st generation creepy crawler. Yes I agree this is much safer, however, does it really have to be safer for a kid than making toast??? Do we really need the light bulb to be secured behind a door with 4 screws…do kids not have lamps in their rooms???”

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Obviously, no children have been singed in her home—but they have an unrealistic fear of light bulbs and give them safe berth.

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I have no reports if the old “Creepy Crawler” mating rituals are still in place in U.S. grade schools.

Super Elastic Bubble Plastic made toxic balloons to be enjoyed and possibly inhaled. You could get a real buzz and, after repeated use, craved more ballooning fun. More fun than sniffing mimeograph paper (remember THAT rush?).

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You see, you got this little straw (which would make a reappearance for me in the 70’s…but I digress) and this tube of carcinogen goo. You formed a little ball and stuck it to the end of the straw…and blew this uterine looking balloon.

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One poster on a nostalgic toy site writes—

“The fun began as you squirt out a pea-sized amount out of the leaded tube and fastened the pea to the end of the straw. You then blew into the straw to inflate the goo, pinched the bubble off the end of the straw sealing in the air and then stared at it, knocked it around for a few minutes and then slammed it between your hands resulting in a spectacular pop that sent remnants of plastic goo into the carpet. The goo was made up of polyvinyl acetate dissolved in acetone, with plastic fortifiers added. The acetone evaporated upon bubble inflation leaving behind a solid plastic film. Acetate has been known to cause cancer and can enter the skin…not a nice thing to give to kids but … what do they care, it was fun! The balloon/bubbles hardened over time and if you were lucky you could have a semi deflated scrotal-like sac of balloon that could last days. The longer they lasted the greater the popping noise when you eventually smashed it. The smell was something too. I’m pretty sure I was getting high off the stuff. The tube itself was the cause of many a cut finger. The screw top was plastic yet the actual threaded part of the tube was razor sharp. In addition the tube was soft metal that eventually was ripped open to get the last remnants of Bubbleplastic. That torn open tube was a danger as it was super-sharp metal.”

Hours of fun there, fer shizzle.

And now, saving the absolute BEST for last—I offer, for your consideration, the beat-down of my lifetime and precursor to marriage–Sea Monkeys.

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Oh, the humanity of it all!!!!

How many of us “baby boomers” waited anxiously for these little freakin’ miracles to arrive. And oh, what fun we would have when those darling little clowns were reconstituted! The comical antics the hours of enjoyment, and the hilarity that would ensue with my 500 new best friends were a reason for me to live and gave meaning and made sense of those strife-filled tender years.

And then the blessed day came and I was in awe of the whole “birthing” process…not scary like humans and MUCH less messy.

And it was after I realized that Sea Monkeys were akin to little vibrating spermatozoa, that I coined the phrase “WTF?”…but knowing nothing about copyright laws back then, I missed THAT little golden opportunity too (along with “have a nice day” and the big sardonic smiley face).

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It was the very first marketing lesson that I learned…long before the Pet Rock–there is a sucker born every minute…and they weren’t talking about the Sea Monkeys either.

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And so I tip my jaunty chapeau to you…Wham-O, Mattel, and the Sea Monkey Conspirators. You made me who I am today…a strong, resilient, and dysfunctional woman who knows how to “bob and duck” flying sharp objects, cannot blow up a balloon unless it’s dangling from a straw, and cries in the presence of brine shrimp. Impressive traits all, I agree.  But don’t write in, fellas–for I’m spoken for–by a man who played with rockets and b b guns in his youth and has led an equally fulfilling life—even with only nine fingers and a glass eye.