9/11 – remembering what we must never forget.

Tomorrow is the 19th anniversary of one of the worst days in our country’s history. It’s a day that should be a day of mourning, and it should also be a day when we all pause and reflect.

I remember so many things about that day, right down to the clothes I wore to work on the morning of September 11, 2001. I also vividly remember the afternoon of September 3, 2001 (Labor Day), as I was driving back to Pennsylvania from playing a wedding gig up at Lake Placid that weekend. I remember this because I got on the New Jersey Turnpike by the Meadowlands, and I remember seeing the World Trade Center on a perfectly sunny afternoon. I had no idea at the time that this would be the last time I’d see the towers in all their glory.

I had gotten to work at The Vanguard Group in Valley Forge at 8:15 the morning of 9/11. My co-worker Mike Cianciulli and I had been talking about the Monday Night Football game the night before (the Giants lost to the Broncos), and as we came back to our desks after grabbing breakfast in the cafeteria and continued to talk about the upcoming football season, somebody interrupted us to inform us that a plane hit one of the Twin Towers. We assumed it was a small plane and that it was a freak accident. That’s when our lives changed forever – it took forever to get online, and the first image I saw was the humongous hole in the tower with smoke and flames pouring out. It was beyond surreal, and I remember racing to a nearby conference room which had a TV. We turned on the news not more than a minute before the second tower was hit, and there was no question that our country was being attacked.

Never forget….EVER.

We watched in shock and horror – I remember the image of a lady waving what looked like a towel as she was helplessly sitting in a window of one of the towers a few floors above the fire raging below. We watched firemen and policemen answering the call of duty, not knowing that it would be their last and bravest act of heroism. We saw tremendous acts of bravery and sacrifice over the next three hours that morning that should never be forgotten, from New York’s Bravest and Finest, to the courageous people on Flight 93.

We all remember the days that followed – people frantically searching for loved ones, lost person posters covering every telephone pole and available wall space for blocks from Ground Zero…..in all of this darkness, we also saw a light of hope and resiliency – first it was the image of the firemen who lifted the American flag at Ground Zero….then it was the chants of “USA! USA!” heard by those volunteering at Ground Zero to find their fallen comrades. One image that I will ALWAYS remember was when Congress all stood together on the Capitol steps to sing “God Bless America.” These were very unchartered waters, but we all came together in support of each other, and with our common focus and hurt as Americans. Social media did not yet exist, and the Internet was still used for more good than evil. The phrase “United We Stand” had deep meaning, as we were all in this together.

Here we are, 19 years later…..in some ways, 9/11 all but seems a distant memory. Words of unity have been replaced by words of division and hate. I can’t help but wonder how different the reaction would be if a tragic event of this magnitude happened in 2020 – would this bring us all together again, or would fingers be pointed while buildings collapsed? The events of 9/11 did not discriminate – people of all colors, backgrounds, creeds and preferences died because of the acts of one incredibly evil group of people.

How is it that 19 years later, we’re seeing such evil and hatred amongst Americans, as evil groups of people are using both their words and their actions to cause harm to other people? How did we lose our focus and unity? The days that followed 9/11 were somber, but it was also one of the last times we put our differences aside and we were all AMERICANS. We were pissed off at Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda, and we all wanted to see our troops find him and KICK HIS ASS.

I have a challenge to all that read this blog post – for one day tomorrow, put aside your differences – take a break from railing against those who don’t agree with your beliefs. Take time to focus on commonalities instead of differences. Take a day to remember those who perished 19 years ago, just for being at work, or on an airplane, or while trying to save the lives of others. These people were AMERICANS.

Let 9/11/2020 be the first step towards truly making our country great again.

UNITED WE MUST STAND. 🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸

grin and bare it.

2020 has been a year where we’ve learned a lot about the people around us. From a political standpoint, we’ve become even mode divided, as we’ve discovered how different our beliefs are, and long-term friendships have ended. People have been almost proud to brag about their disdain for others. For the longest time, I was afraid to let people know something about me, crippled by the fear of what they’d think of me or say to me. I don’t feel that way anymore, as it’s something I will never be ashamed or embarrassed about going forward. Now in hindsight, I see how this has changed my life for the better for the past 25 years. I’m very proud to say that I’m a nudist.

I’ve received every type of reaction you can imagine about this, from complete acceptance to downright disdain, from laughter to people saying that this could ruin my professional career. In my 30’s, I only told my closest friends. In my 40’s, I began to feel more comfortable with people knowing, but not everyone knowing. I’m 51 years old now….and if anyone has a problem with this, guess what? It’s not my fucking problem. They need to deal with their own issues instead of judging mine.

I grew up with a very image-conscious father. Everything from my grades to my musical abilities was always harshly criticized. I was also teased constantly about my weight and my skinny calves (genetic – I can do calf exercises 24/7, and they won’t get bigger), and I had very low self esteem, which I kept well-hidden behind a facade of arrogance. Even through college and until I moved to Pennsylvania, I always felt ugly from the inside out, and it was because of years of feeling like I didn’t measure up to the people around me.

That changed during the summer of 1995…I had a friend who introduced me to the world of nudism, and I realized that it is a culture of acceptance. Nobody cares about anybody else’s perceived flaws. I’ve met people from all walks of life over the past 25 years, and this has truly helped me to not only become more open-minded and accepting of others, but also empathetic towards those who are very closed-minded, self-righteous, bigoted and judgmental of others.

My “Lucky 7”, helping me to change for the better.

There’s a perception that all nudists must look like Tom Brady and Gisele….not at all! People of all body types are nudists, and as of June 2020, there are 213,000 members (myself included) in the American Association of Nudist Recreation (www.aanr.com), and that’s just one of many nudist organizations. For those who may have an issue because of religious reasons, there are also Christian nudist organizations and campsites. I love that over the past 25 years, I’ve had the opportunity to go to AANR-affiliated clubs in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Florida, Arizona and California, plus Gunnison Beach in New Jersey and Haulover Beach in Miami. I’ve actually networked with musicians at the clubs, and gotten gigs as well!

To help put this in a very proper perspective – as a nudist, at the clubs I’ve met a number of wounded veterans missing limbs from combat, and one of my nudist friends recently had a double mastectomy. She loves to joke that she doesn’t have to say “Eyes up here!” to everyone anymore, but it’s because nobody treats her differently, and she can truly be herself. And so there’s no misconception, my wife is not a nudist, but she has been nothing but supportive of my nudism for the past 10 years, even getting my the annual AANR guide as a gift!

I’m sure that as some people read this, their perception of me may change….that’s fine. I have nothing to be embarrassed about or ashamed of. I’m glad that I’m happy and comfortable in my own skin.

Going forward, I’ll just continue to turn the other cheek. 😉☀️❤️☮️👍

how do we fix this once and for all?

I’ve been feeling a little bit of writer’s block the last couple of weeks. I haven’t had much to say, and I’ve been in a really good frame of mind.

Today I have a lot on my mind, as I have been feeling a flurry of emotions during the past 24 hours. The shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha Wisconsin hits very close to home, as Jenn and I are very good friends with his aunt and uncle here in Arlington. Knowing that he was shot eight times for being the guy trying to break up a fight and help cooler heads prevail makes me incredibly angry. Why did they shoot him eight times? One bullet in his back wasn’t enough? And there is no excuse for shooting him in front of his children. Now we hear that he may be permanently paralyzed.

This is the same bad dream all over again. The riots, the denial and the pursuit of justice. A family’s lives are changed forever, and the odds are that the cops responsible will not be properly reprimanded. As easy as it is to show anger towards all law enforcement, that is not the right answer. And now is the time to look at a bigger picture.

Ponch and Jon….
my generation’s example of the good cops.

First, we have to realize that this is a problem that HAS to be solved. There are those who feel like racism doesn’t exist, or are quick to justify what happened with the Blue Lives Matter/All Lives Matter statement. While we are all God’s children, certain colors of people are targeted differently than others. That’s just plain fact. There’s talk of defunding the police – wouldn’t it be better to have a better vetting process and additional diversity training? These are issues that must not be swept under the rug.

We need good cops…no question about it. There are fantastic cops nationwide who go above and beyond (in a GOOD way) to serve and protect. They do not deserve our scorn and disrespect for the job that they do and the outlook that they have.

I’ve found myself watching reruns of shows like CHiPs and Rizzoli and Isles….both shows try to represent cops in a positive way. Although it’s fictional, you see cops like Ponch and Jon trying to make a positive difference. This was the image that my generation had of police officers. Shows like Hill Street Blues, Cagney and Lacey and Barney Miller showed cops as caring individuals, and I want to believe the majority of law enforcement in America has the same outlook.

I will continue to pray for Jacob Blake’s recovery, and I will pray for justice for Breana Taylor. I not only hope for the correct resolution, but I sincerely hope that as a country, we find a way to no longer have these types of tragedies.

Peace.

the last one (but not the last one).

This is my last post as a 50-year old. This doesn’t mean I’m done with writing my blog….it just means that I’m a year older, and hopefully a year wiser.

As Saturday is my 51st Birthday, I’ve been thinking about the key birthdays that I’ve had, and what was so unique about them.

1976 – my 7th birthday…..my family went to my mom’s hometown of St. Joseph MO that August, and I remember having my birthday with my cousins, aunts and uncles. I specifically remember some great songs from that summer, like “Kiss and Say Goodbye” by the Manhattans, and “Another Rainy Day in New York City” by Chicago, as they were in heavy radio rotation during our trip in the car to the Midwest and back.

1980 – my 11th birthday….I got my first 10 speed bike….I remember my dad trying to assemble it the day before without me knowing, and me acting very surprised! We went up to Storytown Amusement Park (now Six Flags) near Lake George, and that I rode just about every ride that I could that day.

1982 – my 13th birthday…this is a day that will live in infamy, as this is the year that I got my first Jheri Curl (a California Curl to be exact) while we were visiting family in Sacramento…thus the messing up of car windows and pillowcases began! We spent my entire birthday in two gospel church services (it fell on a Sunday), and at the second service, this brotha sang a song called “I’ve Been Touched” for over an hour….seriously!! Although we went go-kart racing that night, all I remember is being in church ALL DAY LONG.

1985 – my 16th birthday….there was nothing sweet about my “Sweet 16”, as I spent the morning at the doctor’s office being diagnosed with mono. Over the course of the next two weeks, I dropped down to 119 pounds, as I also had tonsillitis…to this day, I have not had a grape ice pop, as that’s all I could eat for those two weeks. I remember that there were repeats of the sitcom “Angie” every morning, and I’d wake up to see Donna Pescow’s smile, and then go back to sleep for 8 – 10 hours.

Grape soda and Cheetos…
the birthday breakfast of champions.

1990 – my 21st birthday….I went out and won a karaoke contest, had my first “legal” beer….the previous week I went up to Buffalo to celebrate my birthday with my “sister” Maria and her family, and Maria and I went to the Giants/Bills preseason game in Orchard Park. Rodney Hampton had a 91-yard TD run for the G-Men, and my mother swore she could hear me going nuts on TV!! (Five months later, the Giants beat the Bills in Super Bowl XXV…..can you say “wide right?” Sorry…..couldn’t resist.)

2011 – my 42nd birthday….this was my first birthday celebration in Alexandria. To say that Jenn went above and beyond is an understatement! She got a bouncy house for my birthday party, and it was awesome! In addition to getting me some wonderful gifts (like she does every year), she got me my favorite snack – Cheetos and grape soda!

2013 – my 44th birthday….although I knew we were having a party, I didn’t know that Jenn made it a “tie dye surprise” party, and that all of our friends came rocking their tie dyed shirts. We played music from the original Woodstock (as I was born 8/15/69, the first day of the festival), and it was a blast to be surrounded by such great friends.

2019 – the Big 5-0…..a day to truly remember. We spent the day in NYC, where I met my doppelgänger Al Roker, as well as Savannah Guthrie from the Today Show, and we went to a Yankees game, where I had my name on the Jumbotron for my birthday! It was a day that I’ll never forget! An added bonus birthday gift from Jenn – seeing David Sanborn, Marcus Miller and Bob James in concert the following week, and getting an awesome picture of me, David and Marcus after the concert!

Although COVID has put a damper on all of our lives this year, I look forward to a quiet, stay-at-home birthday this year. If all Jenn and I do is hang out at the StoweAway, I know that the day will be fantastic, especially as we’ll be together, and because she made my favorite birthday cake (chocolate with vanilla frosting)!!

I’m thankful that I’ve had my 51 trips around the sun, and so truly thankful and blessed to have such incredible family and friends! I’ll continue to write the blog, especially as it challenges me creatively, and it’s been such a wonderful outlet while not having any gigs for the foreseeable future. I look forward to what’s in store for me as a 51-year-old, and my birthday wish far above everything else this year is happiness and good health to everyone, as both of these have been very challenging this year.

Until next “year”, thank you all for your love and support! ❤️🎂😊🎉⭐️

squares and circles.

I always had a couple of close friends growing up….whether it was my neighbor friend Bryan in elementary school, my friends and band mates in high school, or my friends Rob and Maria in college. Although I had (and still have) these wonderful people in my life, I never felt like I was part of a circle of friends.

I never thought of myself as a “square”, but I was (still am?) very quirky. Some people get my weirdness, and some don’t…and that’s ok. When I was 15, this used to consume me – we all wanted to be popular in school, whether we admitted it or not. What I viewed as a curse then I view as a blessing now.

With Professor Lawrence Doebler, and my friends for life Rob Collins, and Maria (Scaglione) Szczepanik, Ithaca College Graduation, May 1990

I have a VERY eclectic group of friends…believe me when I say they cover the ENTIRE spectrum. Not being a part of a “clique” allowed me to be open to communicating with many different types of people. We all had the jocks, the stoners, the preppies, the (band) geeks, and the brainiacs (or similar groups) in high school – this experience is still an important part of American youth culture. I kinda had a toe in here and there with the majority of these groups, where I still felt like an outsider looking in. Who knew that having the ability to look outward, and respect people from all backgrounds would be something so incredibly important in today’s current society and culture?

We’re living in strange times right now…I’m very thankful to have a lot of wonderful people in my life in good times and bad, but I’m even more thankful that they are so diverse. In no way do I think I have a split personality, but I like that I have different dimensions to my personality, and I truly don’t know if I’d be this way if I limited my friendships to certain types of people. For this I’m truly thankful.

I’m glad and proud to be a square instead of just being part of a circle. Band geeks, can I get an AMEN? 😊

8 things i’m thankful for. 8/4/2020

The joy of listening to CD’s I haven’t listened to in years.

The sound of rain on the roof.

My incredibly supportive wife, who loves me to the moon and back.

Rizzoli & Isles reruns on the Lifetime channel.

The journey continues.

Starbucks’ Guava Iced Tea.

The unexpected bursts of creative energy that take me by surprise, and give me incredible motivation.

David Sanborn’s track “The Peeper” off his Only Everything album…one of my new favorite tracks!

FAITH.

8 things i’m thankful for. (not including the new wheels)

The incredibly awesome gig with the Ryan Forrester Band on Saturday night. (Plus it was nice to be called “L Train” again.)

Being involved and engaged in positive, healthy conversation about diversity, where the main focus is to be respectful of each other.

The importance of not just listening, but taking the time to truly hear what is being said.

That when I do my morning walks, I never look back to see what’s behind me, and I just focus on what’s ahead.

The L Train is back on track!

Marching to my own beat – if I lived according to the status quo, I’d be miserable.

My incredibly eclectic group of friends….they truly run the gamut!

Lew Soloff’s trumpet solo on Blood, Sweat & Tears’ “Lucretia McEvil”…..it’s musicianship on a completely different level!

Peace.

water music.

It feels good to have a gig on the calendar. As much as I’ve been enjoying a break from the music grind, there’s still an excitement that gets me energized when I know there’s an opportunity to make great music with others.

This past weekend we had a “socially distanced” rehearsal for the Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet down at Lake Anna in Central Virginia. The leader of our group has a beautiful house right on the lake, and we had plenty of opportunities to relax as well as rehearse. I actually kayaked a few miles on the lake, but more importantly, Jenn and I took the time to relax (both on land and in a float on the water) and just take in the beauty around us.

Music truly soothes my soul…to sing with this amazingly talented group is very invigorating. Although I still struggle with the fact that my friend Andre is no longer with us on this earth, his presence was definitely felt throughout the weekend, as we took time to remember him this weekend, and the tremendous impact he had on all of us as a member of this group. I will always sing in his honor, and his legacy will never be forgotten.

Sunset at Lake Anna. (photo by Jenn Stowe)

There’s a certain feeling/sensation when 4-part harmony is sung with perfect blend and focus. I felt this way throughout our rehearsal on Saturday. We haven’t rehearsed as a full group since last summer, but we picked up right where we left off. Having the time to relax (and kayak) and focus prior to rehearsal helped to get me “in the zone” to rehearse, as I was able to clear my head of any distractions.

I know that our gig next month will be phenomenal – although we’ll have the challenges of COVID protocols, the four of us will be ready to do what we do best….plus it’s at Lake Anne (not to be confused with Lake Anna), so the concert will take place in a beautiful setting on a (hopefully) clear summer evening.

Perhaps I should bring the kayak?

8 things i’m thankful for.(while technically off the grid)

That I’m wonderful 88% of the time.

That even though I lack culinary skills, I now know how to “bake my own cake”: (1/4 cup kindness, 3/4 cup funny, 1/4 cup smart, 1/16 generosity, 2 cups creativity, 1/8 cup impatience and overly critical, 1/16 cup determination, 1/8 cup resilience); compliments and insults are just icing.

My “off the grid” location.

Rob Collins – my best friend from college who emailed me from his home in Vienna Austria today. I was nice to wake up and read that email to start my day.

Avalon. ‘Nuff said.

That through all of the COVID and racial issues, I still try really hard to practice the Golden Rule and see the good in others, however challenging that may be sometimes.

That the “critic voice” in my head is not nearly as powerful as the “balanced and centered” voice.

I’m really tired of checking these boxes about myself.

The incredible musicianship of Steve and Miles Brown. Thank you for taking me back 30 years with your incredible music.

Steve Brown – my professor,
my mentor and my friend.

That I hope one day (probably not in my lifetime), people can accept that we’re all equal. God (or the universe, or science, or whatever you believe) made us all different for a reason – to learn from and respect each other as equals.

And so it is. ✝️🔯☪️🕎☯️☮️💟

it’s just talk.

Thank you, Pat Metheny.

This has been an enlightening weekend while in Richmond. I’ve seen beauty in many different forms – through my surroundings, through conversation, and through graffiti in a way I did not expect.

A beautiful morning walk in a beautiful city.

On Saturday morning, I met my friend Candace at Starbucks for iced tea and conversation. We are what would be considered “polar opposites” in today’s society. Here’s what I loved – we talked for two hours, and it was about all the stuff we have in common, and when we did touch on political topics, it was respectful to the other person…in all honesty, we spent more time laughing, and “arguing” over the difference between New York and Upstate New York! It was truly an enjoyable morning!

Iced Tea, and productive dialogue…my kind of Saturday!

As Jenn’s daughter lives down here, we’ve had the chance to do some walking around some of the very scenic parts of the city. For as divided as things are right now between COVID and civil injustice, it’s been quite enjoyable to meet and talk with people as I’ve been walking around. People have been very friendly, and it almost makes me forget about how much unrest is still taking place.

This afternoon I visited the Robert E. Lee statue in Downtown Richmond. Although this is the only one not yet taken down, all of the Confederate statues in the area have been vandalized. I understand the anger and the resentment behind why they were vandalized, but I struggle with how they were vandalized in certain ways. There’s a mix of messages of hope and messages of anger. What I found incredibly inspiring was the graffiti painted on some of the concrete barriers around the monument, as these had words and sayings like Unity, Solidarity, and “We Have A Dream.” For all the ugliness we have seen with the controversy of these historical figures, it was nice that someone took the time to be very artistic and detailed with their words of hope.

What saddens me right now is the lack of healthy dialogue – social media continues to be the breeding ground for negativity, and everything on TV seems to be sound bytes of arguments and/or finger pointing. We communicate with our thumbs and fingers, and we hide behind our profile names. I now scroll past anything that starts with “I know this is gonna offend…”, because that’s only stirring the pot. Between now and Labor Day, if anyone wants to have dialogue (not arguing, or focusing on having the last word) with me, I’m very open to that. Yes, we’ll have our differences, but let’s talk not only about differences, but solutions and commonalities. These are the steps towards healing, and God knows there’s a LOT of healing that needs to take place.

Looking for hope in an area
where signs of anger were very present.

They say that pictures are worth a thousand words. I hope that the images in this post encourage positive, valuable dialogue. Who says talk is cheap?