I don’t set out aiming to be political on sports radio….we’re your distraction from some truly awful things. We’re the funny papers. But sometimes the issues of the greater world come to us.
Remove yourself from whether you believe Eric Garner’s killer should stand trial, or not. Seriously, take a minute and lose the partisan side, any racial side.
This country was founded on the strength of protests, standing up for fairness. This country was started with a revolution. Starting with the disenfranchised British settlers, minorities of all kinds have since had to stand up for fairness for the last several hundred years. Your lives would not be as free nor as rich as they are today, were it not for protests. And for civil disobedience.
Protesters should write their congressmen, their aldermen, they should post blogs, and more.
And, as long as they don’t turn it into mindless looting or criminal activity, they should march, and scream, and stop traffic to get the nation’s attention. Make a unified, country-wide stand if the energy to do so is there.
And, if an athlete wants to show his support for a cause, he should be applauded for it. Stand for something bigger than yourself. Noah has the commercial about gun control; “what do you stand for?”
Derrick has done and said some really bad, ill-advised things in recent months and years. Neglecting to mention championships as he talked about meetings and graduations was a mistake, then doubling down on it when given a chance to clarify was just awful. Then he tripled down and said he could care less. Bad PR, stupid statements, and selfish, sloppy thoughts.
So he’s done and said some stupid things. This wasn’t one of them.
WHAT ARE YOU MAD ABOUT, IF YOU’RE MAD?
Derrick in general these days? Dumb comments past? Separate things.
Derrick has always been active in talking about, raising money for, and helping in inner city neighborhoods. This is not some new, politically correct issue he doesn’t understand. This is not something he doesn’t understand….he knows it first hand. He has talked about inner city violence, blaming his culture, blaming the city’s structure, not just blaming cops. He’s donated a million dollars to an after school charity trying to keep kids off the streets and a life of crime. He did that 2 months ago.
So much has been discussed about how the goal of his life was to escape his neighborhood, and how he has never lost that connection to and with his struggle. That connection has been cited as a detriment for all sorts of things. And now some of the same people who have written about that connection being a problem are saying that he’s coming from a place of ignorance on it? Shameful.
He doesn’t need to explain what that represented. What wearing that shirt meant. It’s all around you. You watch the video? You see a frustrated man, living a hard life, who’s not going to take it anymore. He can’t face yet another arrest for a very minor crime—selling “loosies,” cigarettes without tax stamps. Mayor Bloomberg has made cops go after stuff like this relentlessly.
You see a dude dying, in an illegal chokehold, begging for his life and his breath? You see him lying there unattended for several minutes before the EMT’s arrived. He died because he could not breathe.
And you need to know what Derrick meant by the t-shirt? It might mean you just don’t want to hear it.
Merry Christmas, 2017, everyone. Engaged, here. Very happy. It helps me to write about big stuff, process it, and then I always end up figuring I might as well post it.
Love is best when shared.
Last Monday night, Rubin asked why I packed up and moved his monster truck and racetrack set.
“I didn’t Ru. Christine cleaned your room up…isn’t that nice?”
“Daddy, she isn’t allowed to touch my toys! You and mommy can touch my toys without asking, but only people from our houses are allowed to do it.”
“Rubin, what if Christine and I got married. Could she touch your toys then?”
“Mmmm…let me think about it.”
There were 10 seconds of thoughtful contemplating, with fingers on his chin, all of this while fully naked sitting on the potty.
“Daddy, yes…if you and Christine get married, she can touch my toys. But if you ever get unmarried like you did with mommy, then she can’t, okay?
“Okay Ru, that’s fair. I promise we won’t get unmarried.”
It’s not just about me anymore. Any life partner I might pick better be good as hell to that boy, and understand the priority list. His safety, happiness, health, and maturation atmosphere comes first. Before me. Before her. He is the cooperative King of this realm, learning how to live with supreme confidence while fitting into the world, hopefully learning utmost empathy for as many people as possible.
It’s going well so far, as he finishes up his 5th year. I genuinely like him. Passionate, he enjoys life. John Fournier, a musical and creative soul I admire, has watched as his daughter babysits Ru for a few different nights.
“That kid, man…he loves everything! Wanna build a puzzle? YES. Wanna watch a show? YES, LET’S DO IT.” John says that’s rare. Says that Ru is a little version of me in that way.
I know John meant it in the reverse, but the truth is that I am flattered by being compared to Rubin.
Christine is a jewel of a woman. Deeply kind, always striving to be the best version of herself, and working to remain as positive as possible each and every day. She believes in putting goodness into the world, and trusting that it comes back to you. She believes in God, she was raised a Catholic, and generally has faith in both a benevolent higher power, and the possibilities for humanity. We can be good. Love can triumph. It must. Her spirituality dovetails so perfectly with my hippie side. I didn’t see it coming.
Rubin is going to be blessed with an amazing stepmother. And we will both be blessed with Christine’s two college-age daughters in our lives. I will be an instant stepfather, with so much to learn. The relationships I could have with them are a huge opportunity; how good and strong a man can I be, while also respecting their individuality and growth?
I have thought and lived with her for 7 months. I have learned the value of her spirit in my life, how we genuinely make each other better. We have grown to communicate better than I thought imaginable; this is easily the best relationship I’ve ever been in. Not even close.
I was given a 6 month deadline when she moved in.
“At this age, we should know.”
I get it. But a man can’t truly own his destiny on deadline.
I successfully retook the power of the wedding proposal time frame at the 6 month mark. I needed this to feel like my choice, needed to make sure that by the moment I committed and did this, I was free of any possible regret, concern, or trepidation. Given my lifelong struggle with conflicted emotions, this was perhaps an unrealistic aspiration. But I got there.
I got there because I am in the best therapeutic health of my life. I am in touch with my aggression, and mobilize it whenever possible. I am careful to be quiet and look for my center, my own moral compass, and try to base decisions on what I truly want and need. I am conscious of a lifelong desire to appease others that has been beneficial in terms of getting along with people, but detrimental in terms of holding on to unspoken resentment. I let things out these days, more than ever before.
A wedding proposal is a rare opportunity for a man. It’s a chance to define his sense of romanticism, to express himself aesthetically, creatively, symbolically. I wanted our moment to be memorable, emotional, and unique.
Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years’ Eve, and her birthday all loomed as possible dates to work with. Also present, though, was her need for the clarity of our engagement as she lived through those holidays. The endless questions about her future and our timeline from friends and family have been stressful. I did want to alleviate those soon, and had visions of her enjoying said holidays with relief, pride, and a shiny ring.
So the plan was hatched, for a Wednesday night at 7 pm. I told her there was a show in a tent downtown in Grant Park, a seasonal show I’d heard great things about. We would have to be outside for about 10 minutes, so we needed to dress warmly. No googling! Was she game? Of course she was.
As she fell asleep on the couch at 6 pm, she looked at me hopefully and asked if we HAD to go out. Yes, baby we do. I promise it will be worth it. I made up some more bullshit about the show. This was a lot of lying, and I am NOT good at lying to this woman. That’s one of the best things about us.
Our ride came, we got in it and headed downtown.
“The city looks beautiful!,” she said. “I love that we’re here, I love that this is my home.”
“I know, baby. Remember when we rode bikes, on our 2nd date I think? We went to Buckingham Fountain, and you got emotional.”
“Yes…my dad used to take me there.”
She moved out of the city with husband and daughters for sensible suburban reasons, but now I offered her a life downtown; a surprising 2nd opportunity to live the way she’d always wanted to.
The driver dropped us off right in front of the fountain. It was 7:05 pm, about 35 degrees, clear and cold with absolutely no one in sight. We walked towards the patch of park where I pretended a seasonal tent circus show of some kind might be. I feigned confusion, and we turned around to walk back towards the fountain.
In the distance, a man walked towards us. As he got closer, Christine noticed he had an accordion on. “Oh great,” she says she thought, “he’s gonna want to play a song for us and ask for money. There’s no one out here…this guy isn’t making any cash tonight.”
It would indeed be a weird night to be the wandering accordion guy saying “can I play something for you and your beautiful companion?”
As he approached, he began to play the intro to “Knocks Me Off My Feet” by Stevie Wonder. Christine had never heard this song when we started dating, and she adores it. As he hit the groove, I started to sing.
“I see us in the park…strolling the summer days of imaginings in my head….”
I take out and open a ring box.
“Baby!!!!” She screams. She cries. She covers her face with one gloved hand. I keep singing.
The accordionist is my friend Scott Stevenson, a man I’ve known an intermittent band mate for 23 years. He has perfectly disguised and nailed his role in my romantic gesture, as I knew he would.
We do the whole tune, modulation and all, with Scott singing the backup “I love you, I love you, I l-o-o-ove you.” She cries the whole way through, even as I film the entire 2nd verse. We slightly botch the modulation, and Scott slightly butchers the bass riff mid-choruses, but the totality of it is perfect.
Side note; I am fortunate to have been a musician for so many reasons. But one of them is that the list of people I could have called to accompany this moment is vast. They include perhaps 4 or 5 musicians who I feel as if I know deeply, trust soulfully, and would be perfectly comfortable existing in this memory for ever and ever. We have been fortunate to connect with each other on earnest, delicate levels that allow for bonds like this. I love that Scott is part of this image for the rest of our lives.
She says yes, we are engaged. We have the following day off of work, by sneaky design, to bask in the glow of the moment. It is best to pause the chaos of daily life right here, to share the news with who and how we see fit, at our pace. To live in the happiest of moments, unencumbered for a day. Thursday was wonderful.
As I expect the rest of our lives to be.
1-10-16, On an airplane.
You make time for a solo visit to your sacred ground.
The Boston Public Garden is spiritually comforting to me. It always has been. But this time I realized why.
I think of the 10 or 15 long late nights with the best of college age friends spent there; tripping, exploring, and communing with nature as urban Thoreau’s. One night, as we circled the duck pond as closely as possible, we saw something in the water. It was a school of what seemed like thousands of tiny fish, traveling together slowly, unified in motion. We guessed they were babies, spawned en masse within hours of our arrival, and learning to make their way in the world as we stood above them.
True or not, that explanation held. Probably because we were doing the same.
This past August I did the kind of self-analysis I had not been ready for in previous years. Hard core exploration of why I was unhappy, how those feelings were manifesting in damaging behaviors, and what could be done about it. I learned so much, at age 45. It’s always possible to better one’s self. Always.
What I divined deeply were my values. Inner Peace, Connection, Passion, Curiosity, Fun, Aesthetic Beauty; these are the bedrocks for a healthy Matthew.
I later added a physical one I feel deeply now, but wish I had decades earlier: Maintaining a Healthy Vessel. My body deserves love, attention, and respect, so it can help facilitate a long stay on the terrestrial plane. My son deserves my most rapt attention to this value.
So here’s what I realized. The reason those nights felt magical then, and seem to grow more resonant every year, is that those nights were spent chasing those same values. I didn’t realize it, mostly. I just knew I was on to something, and that an intellectual and/or emotional moment of perfect understanding felt achievable. I hunted those moments, and still do…when a lifetime of learning coalesces into what feels like grand clarity. Only an optimist believes those moments are right around the corner, as I do every day.
Those nights, we merry men were connecting so deeply. We were passionately following our curiosity around the city. We had uproarious fun. The Garden, along with the Esplanade along the Charles river, provided so much natural beauty. The early American architecture brought so much aesthetic pleasure, especially when juxtaposed with modern life.
And I did feel some peace then. The peace of friendly love, the peace of knowing I was in the right place. I was with my people.
I feel more peace now. I have defined how I attain it.
I am at peace when I am self aware, accepting what my issues are, and trying to lessen their damage. That’s it. That’s doable. I will not lie to myself any more. I accept who I am, admire my goodness, and gently acknowledge my weakness.
So there I was, for an hour alone in the Boston Public Garden. A monk approached me, slipped a green beaded bracelet on to my wrist, asked me to sign his contribution book, and said “Peace to you.” I happily gave him ten dollars.
I was mindful. Quiet. Thoughtful. And so grateful. I am alive at 45, vibrantly active in pursuits I love, financially solid thanks to those pursuits, and the father of a beautiful boy. Yes, I aspire to more wealth, achievement, knowledge, insight, and pleasure. But right now, right here, I am a happy man.
Whatever forces brought me here were with me in the Garden. And they know of my thanks.
He was my first son.
There was a Lhasa Apso named Chrissy, a bat mitzvah gift to sister Adrienne who ended up mostly under my care all through high school. And I loved that little furball thing.
Bu this isn’t about her.
This is about Maceo Floyd Bringle Spiegel, an Anti-Cruelty Foundation rescue who is going to sleep for good tomorrow at the age of 14.
He is now a very sweet, good hearted, deeply pained, elderly beast. He enjoys, by my watchful estimate, about 10-15% of his life. That’s not enough. I’m choosing to let him go with his dignity mostly intact. He looked pathetic in diapers, and doesn’t deserve years of continued incontinence. His back half has lost massive amounts of muscle and strength in the last 2 years. He can barely stand, and falls on himself in the act of all sorts of things. He is often seemingly confused, and experiencing some level of discomfort. He can’t hear well at all, and is losing his sight. He does not enjoy the toddler’s evolving full run of the place, and scares us with growing aggression towards him.
We’ve tried innumerable medications and vitamins.
He just ate most of the good meat off a bone-in rib eye mixed in with his dog food and pain pills. In an hour or so, I’m gonna give him the bone itself. It’s a hell of a last meal, and he isn’t complaining.
At Anti-Cruelty on LaSalle, there were lots of dogs. He was scrawny and thin, ribs showing, with “Buster” written on his cage. We scratched his head through the bars; he turned and offered us his side. We scratched that; he offered his butt. He knew what he wanted. I like clear communication. Home he came.
Maceo Parker’s badass name deserved some destination. Wasn’t going to foist it on a child, so on to the little brown dog it went. But there were lots of other names. Little Mellow Caramel Fellow. Franklin Delano Doggevelt.
He was a feisty, hungry, teeth-gnashing animal. “That dog needs a sammich,” said my co-producer Matt Fishman. He came to lots of radio shows. I hosted sports talk on The Score and on Sporting News Radio with him at my feet. I DJ’ed overnights on WXRT with him under the console. Maceo once took a nervous enormous crap in studio C while I worked in another room. He scared interns, producers, and others on the next shift. I always thought he was more tame than he was, and treated him as such; willful, wishful delusion. I wanted a mild companion dog.
He would grow into that.
He was emotionally complex. He would let you pet him, and growl as you did. He’d show his teeth as he wagged his tail. Eventually, he’d back down…but you had to earn it.
He had no idea how to play with other dogs, or other people, until he was 6 or 7. He needed California for that. Maybe it was the weed. Or the sun. Or the gorgeous terrain and trails to explore. That dog loved the west.
He started to wag, and not to growl. We hiked. Man, did we hike. Laurel Canyon, Griffith Park, Pasadena hills, waterfalls, Malibu Canyon, and more. He appreciated the chance to frolic so much that it made me like it more. That’s how it’s supposed to work, right?
He smiled a lot. That mouth spread wide, cheeks somehow pointed up, giant tongue hanging. I know a grin when I see it.
Maceo drove east to the homestead from Chicago.
He saw the house where all Spiegels grew up in New Jersey, and played in the back yard with brother Bobby’s dog Oakley. Maceo played too aggressively and drew blood. Bobby was kind as I was embarrassed.
Maceo flew on a plane west, and started a new life.
He lounged and ran in the majestic Laurel Canyon dog park, where dozens of hounds ran freely at a time. Dog walkers would bring batches of 7 or 8 and let them mix in, roaming the multiple levels and hillside ridges.
He got infested with biting red ants in Albuquerque, and took a pathetic but effective bath in a Motel 6.
He once got skunked in Gilson Park. Took him home and gave him a tomato soup bath, as the legend said to do. Just smelled like skunk parmigiana. Took weeks to wear off.
That dog saw a lot of good video games being played. He helped players commiserate after plenty of unfortunate Tecmo football twists.
He almost learned to swim. He almost learned to play catch perfectly. He liked to try.
He just fully devoured the rib eye bone. It’s gone. No shards, no remnants. Gone. He’s a wild animal, that mankind has vaguely trained and allowed to roam the same rooms as us. It’s kind of a crazy plan.
There’s more bones left from our dinner steak. He’ll get them.
I’ll miss him throwing his weight against me as he demands/asks to be petted.
I’ll miss his horrendous breath.
I’ll miss helping him celebrate his dinner by rubbing his face and neck with a blanket as he burrows into it.
I’ll miss seeing the “mood ridge” on his back become more pronounced when he gets his dander up.
I’ll miss seeing him wag happily at the sight and smell of another pooch up close, finally having mellowed into the sweet man I always knew was in there.
I’ll miss my buddy, my compatriot.
I think he’s had a very good life.
I’m glad it was with me.
It was a long, high maintenance night. My sweet, pained old dog rewarded steak bone kindness with the worst bout of incessant diarrhea you can conceive of. Endless kneel downs with paper towels and floor cleaner, as he went back to his place to pant and feel guilty.
Rinse, and repeat.
One last reminder of his frailty.
When we went to the vet to do the deed, Dr. Ojala was incredibly kind. She respects these beasts…knows them better than most, and feeds off of the pet owners she knows share her love for them. She had been wonderful for Maceo and for us…extending his life in as much comfort as possible, for 2 years or more.
But it was time.
He panted on the way in…knowing that this was a place where things were done to him. In his feisty youth, he had to be muzzled; held aggressively by 3 or 4 people so he could be cared for properly.
Now, he somewhat begrudgingly accepts the hands of Dr. O. There are things perhaps still worth fighting against in his mind…but vets aren’t really one of them.
She explains the process. There will be two shots; one to put him into a deep sleep, and one to stop his breathing. He will not, science thinks, feel pain. No one knows for sure of course, but I’ll take it.
I lie with him on the ground…he on his place, brought from home. Tonya stands in support, lovingly. What a good dog mommy she was in his dotage.
We speak of his truly long and interesting life. His travels…his notoriously obvious conflicted emotions, the life we’ve spent together.
The first shot hits. He slowly falls asleep. And then, the snoring.
It is the deepest, heaviest, most invested sleep I have seen him enjoy, ever? Maybe some evening after a huge hike.
But not in years.
And the snoring is downright awesome. Rest, good boy, rest.
We laugh at the depth of his rest. And we let him go like this for a while. I envy the fullness of it, truth be told. Dr. O says “I don’t usually share this with people, but this was Michael Jackson’s drug of choice.”
Well, that explains the envy. This stuff removes 100% of his anxiety, and unwanted brain activity. Jacko knew what he wanted.
Then, after a few minutes, the second shot hits. His breathing slows…progressively. I am hugging him, weeping, thanking him for how much he improved my life.
I needed him. His unbridled joy, his directness of communication, his unfiltered being. He was my crony; my compatriot. He made couches, beds, and the outdoors less lonely.
Thank you, Maceo.
And he is gone.
His ashes are here with us, for the annual Passover Los Angeles trip. Yes, ashes; I cremated a Jewish dog.
But why bury him somewhere I’d seldom visit and feel guilty about not doing so enough? Why force travel?
I trust that the dead feel no pain, and tell myself that his transition into an urn’s contents was not traumatic.
His family will take him to the Laurel Canyon dog park tomorrow, where he spent many a day in the best mood you can picture a dog being in. Tail wagging, tongue hanging, huge grin as 60, or 80 other dogs and their owners roam the canyon.
He will be accompanied by his daddy, and young Rubin, who I pray will remember him. Maybe memory will be triggered by pictures on the wall.
I’m so glad we made it back here together, my pup. One of your favorite spots in the known universe.
I find a crest of a hill, just below the steep embankment he used to swiftly climb. It’s in the shade of a young, sturdy tree; a dog could lie here comfortably for years. I pour him into the grass.
I’ll smile forever at the thought of him.