Thursday, November 22, 2018

Frozen Pies

Thanksgiving morning, and this year, there was more than just a hint of frost on the pumpkin.
In fact, the pumpkin, not to mention all of the extended E Streeter nation, was flat-out frozen solid for the Thanks4giving 5K run at the Lowell Elks.
At race start, the thermometer recorded a balmy 11 degrees, and with the wind chill factored in, the race start came in at a scorching -5 real-feel temperature.
This did not bode well for the pies awaiting us at race's end.
At race start, the perennial sounds of Carlos' name being yelled by thousands of runners this year were replaced by the sounds of Kaylaaaaa reverberating off the walls of most of Pawtucketville. Welcome to E Streeter Group Runs, Kayla!
Inside the Elks, everyone was still smiling, because at that point, we were reasonably warm.
That would quickly pass.
Outside, Andrew had the right idea sporting his bank robber togs - the less skin exposed to the elements, the better.
After a frozen National Anthem, we were off, but nobody was willing to be the one to set the blistering pace on this cold morn.  Chloe was contemplating it, though.
Mike, always knowing where the camera is.  John, take notes.
Kayla seems barely distracted by the incessant shoutouts.
Turns out SHE was the one going to set the pace for this 3.1 mile trek!
The rest of the E Streeters could only watch as Kayla pulled further and further ahead of them.
Theresa Corcoran, motoring through the windiest and coldest stretch of the run
Congrats to Bri and Chris for running the whole race together, step-for-step!
Sadly, though, many of our phones/cameras fell victims to the Antarctic temps, dying halfway through the runs, and depriving many of us of those thrilling finish line shots.
But thanks to a collection of several award-winning photographers, we were able to cobble together some shots from the second half of the run, most of them celebrating with the glorious finish line medals that others may call Apple Pie.
Hoist them high, everyone!
Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday of the year, and not because of the feedbag we all strap on come dinner time.
It's a perfect time for all of us to be thankful that we're still all here, and healthy enough to be slogging through these runs.  It's not just the distance, it's the voyage that we celebrate to get here every year.
Sure, there's pie waiting for us at the race finish line, but Thanksgiving gives us all a chance to appreciate still being together after all these decades!  Some of these friendships track back 45 years!  (Looking at you, Mike!)
We may have lost a couple of seconds off our steps, but we're still here, making inappropriate jokes and helping one another power through the hardest stretches of the roads we travel.
And for me, one of the most inspiring and fulfilling pieces of these group runs is the indoctrination of second generation E Streeters into the fold, with our children, godchildren, nieces and nephews, joining us to celebrate the extended Fellowship of the Ring.  Seeing the continuing addition of new faces to the field every year solidifies the bonds and inspires us to continue putting one foot in front of one the other to log our miles.
Thanks to all the family, friends and co-workers who make it fun all year long.
Enjoy the day with your own family and friends!
Now, someone get me a chisel to break into this frozen apple pie!

Tuesday, November 13, 2018


Excelsior, a word, in Latin, meaning Upward and onward to greater glory!
Today, the word which has been burned into the lexicon of anyone who's ever been lucky enough to pick up a Marvel comic book over the last 57 years, carries a whole new weight.
Stan Lee, the creator of more iconic Marvel characters than one can shake an uru hammer at, has passed away, at the age of 95.
So Face Front, True Believers, this is one comic book fan's feeble attempt at encapsulating the difference that one writer and imagineer made in the lives of so many.
On Monday, Twitter was afire with the news of his passing, with Stan-related tweets dominating tweet feeds, and claiming top berth on the top trending twitter topics for much of the day. 
Stan "The Man" Lee, Jack "The King" Kirby and Steve Ditko created the pantheon of Marvel comic superheroes, most of which form the backbone today of the Marvel Universe movies - Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Doctor Strange, the Black Panther, and of course, this writer's personal favorite, the Avengers.
Regular readers of this blog know that me personally, growing up, reading comic books was my favorite pastime.  In fact, I literally learned HOW to read via comic books.
I would spend hours in our first-floor apartment on Gates Street poring over every issue, with the Fantastic Four, Amazing Spider-Man, Thor and Avengers topping that reading list.
As a result, I was probably the only four-year-old on my block who could use words like phantasmagorical, macabre, Nuff Said, and of course, Excelsior in a sentence.  And yea, verily, don't get me started on my mastery of the Norse language thanks to Stan and Jack's tales of Asgard.  I can name the Nine Realms, and the entire Norse pantheon of Gods thanks to Stan and Jack.
Stan's scripting would stoke the fire of imagination in my young, impressionable mind, always inspiring me to dream big, but stay grounded.
Stan's words filling the panel of the first appearance ever of Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy 15 have become permanently engraved as some of the most inspirational and humbling teachings that personify Lee's common-man approach to the world of super-heroes, in particular, that of his seminal creation, Spider-Man.
He was a man of many uniforms - as his Fantastic Four creation mailman Willie Lumpkin in 2005's FF flick
And even more important, as a World War II U.S. Army lineman in the Signal Corps, enlisting right after the 1941 attack on our nation at Pearl Harbor.  The U.S. Army official twitter account, in fact, joined the scores of fans tweeting out their appreciation to Stan on Monday. 
As a child, I didn't understand release dates, and distribution cycles and the like.  All I knew is that every week, someone in my family, usually my mother, would take me for a walk to any one in a series of local shops - Palmer News on Appleton Street, Mickey's Variety in Lincoln Square, Teddy's Variety in Cupples Square, or Chuck's Variety on School Street to pick up the latest titles.  Harvey's Bookland on Central Street was the place for back issues, of course.
What does it say that I can literally remember the day, the walks, the experiences that came with the purchase of some of the following issues? 
Am I a geek? Absolutely, and an unabashed one at that.
It was because of comic books I developed a passion for writing.
My son, Andrew, grew up, believing he could one day be the everyman hero, Spider-Man.  I still remember our first trip to New York City, when a young Andrew scoured the skyline, hoping for a glimpse of the webslinger overhead. I remember the first comic show my cousin Bobby took me to, he who bequeathed to the five-year-old me many of my first issues of Fantastic Four.
It was directly because of comic books I first met a whole cast of fellow Avengers throughout my life, including Mike Cassidy, a friend since 1973 and over subsequent decades, his entire family, the entire extended Vergados Clan, Larry Doherty and his extended mint collection of fellow comic-fans too numerous to mention, stand-up comic book Benari Poulten,  real-life Captain America Nick Laganas, and my little buddy, Yandel Hernandez, who has grown up idolizing the Marvel heroes.
During the course of the night, in fact, Yandel, now an 11--year-old fan of all things Marvel, had been reduced to tears with the news of Stan's passing.  I chatted with him on the phone for a bit about Stan's legacy, and how his work, and the characters he created, were going to live on for decades and decades to come.  Yandel knows Stan best from the score of cameos Stan has had in just about every big screen Marvel movie to date.
Yandel just wanted to talk comic books and Marvel movies with anyone who wanted to share his passion for wonderment and sheer, unbridled joy at the adventures that comic books, and in particular, their mastermind, Stan Lee, had brought into his life.  I know just how you feel, Yandel.
When it comes to comic books, and promoting the four-color titles that provided the backdrop to so many millions of comic readers and movie-goers lives, Stan Lee was THE MAN.

'Nuff Said.

Friday, November 9, 2018

1968: 50 Years Later, Life Goes On, Ob-la-di, ob-la-da

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it's evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don't you know that you can count me out
Don't you know it's gonna be 
All right, all right, all right

On November 22, 1968, John, Paul, George, and Ringo released a special record named simply, The Beatles, an epic two-disc collection that would eventually come to be known as the White Album, so dubbed for its plain, nondescript white covering.
The albums, a direct follow to the band's Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band blockbuster, would, over the next half century, be deemed by many as one of the greatest albums of all time.
The album is being re-released today, November 9, nearly 50 years later, featuring, in addition to the original material, 27 early acoustic demos and 50 session takes for the true Beatles aficionado, of which my brother Jimmy is certainly one. (Can't confirm whether or not he's working today or if he's driving the backroads of New England blaring the Beatles music orgy at ear-bleeding levels.)
But Jimmy isn't the only one who hails from the Mill City and worships at the rock-and-roll altar of the Fab Four.
Last night, more than 50 people filled seats at Lowell Telecommunications Corporation's common area on Market Street in Lowell to hear from a Fab Five - and even more - as they recounted their memories of 1968 - the Year that Shaped a Nation.  One of them even came armed with his original, 1968 purchase of said album.
The team of University of Massachusetts educators, both past and present, each weighed in with their recollections of 1968, not just from the perspective of the Fab Four's music, but encompassed the upheaval in world experiences, including the assassinations of prominent leaders, the sudden deaths of music icons, and a war on the other side of the world that claimed the lives of some of one presenter's closest friends.
All of it set to a backdrop of music indelibly emblazoned on our collective consciousness.
When a tattooed Goldie Hawn danced across TV sets in Laugh-In, some guy named Tiny Tim tiptoed through some tulips.
The Rolling Stones introduced the world to one of my personal favorite music heroes, a Street Fighting Man.
Ev'rywhere I hear the sound
Of marching charging feet, boy
'Cause summer's here and the time is right
For fighting in the street, boy

A nation turned its lonely eyes to an infamous Graduate.
And on the other side of the world, during the Tet Offensive in Saigon, a police chief fired a bullet through a Viet Cong's skull and the Vietnam discourse took an irrevocable turn.
Full-on confession time - I was but a lad of 4 for that annus mirabilis.  But it was indeed, for me, the year I discovered music - the Beatles, naturally - and also started both reading and collecting comic books.  So yeah, a landmark year in the Cook household as well.
I was joined at last night's event by my fellow Middlesex hippie, Donna Corbin.  We were also joined by a certain Blue Meanie, who wanted to stamp out all the joy in the room.  His efforts fell woefully short.

The majority of the White Album was recorded at the Abbey Road Studios (see any of my previous blog posts about the Cook family's springtime London adventures for more on that historic address).
The foursome had just returned from a Transcendental Meditation course in India and they were entering a transitional phase both in their own personal lives, and the band's musical identity as a whole.
During some of the recordings, some of the splitting seams in the group's fabric began to show, many of them revolving around the inclusion of John's new partner, Yoko, who became an audience for some of the recording sessions - a no-no among the Beatles' recording rules.
During the rest of the year producer George Martin would take a leave of absence, Ringo would even leave the band for a brief stint, and the musical voice of the band began its most dramatic evolution.
All of it was quite a bit Helter Skelter, don't you know.  But what you might NOT know, but now would, thanks to England transplant and 1968 presenter Dr. John Wooding, is that the Helter Skelter was actually a children's spiral slide in England.
When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide
Where I stop and I turn and I go for a ride
Till I get to the bottom and I see you again

Sadly, in America, the song was hijacked by a serial killer, who branded it with a much darker, negative tone with the Manson family murders.

The White Album is loaded with dozens of other memorable cuts, including one of George's most powerful and unforgettable ballads, bolstered by Eric Clapton.

I look at the world and I notice it's turning
While my guitar gently weeps
With every mistake we must surely be learning
Still my guitar gently weeps.

Lowell's Poet Laureate, Paul Marion did a nice job at the LTC event of not just channeling the Beatles zeitgeist, but painting a vivid picture of what things looked like here on the Lowell landscape in 1968, where double five-and-dime storefronts anchored a bustling downtown, and groups like the Doors and Kinks were making music at the Commodore Ballroom.

Me, I made sure to dress right for the occasion, donning my official Yellow Submarine Happy Socks.
Thank you to all the presenters, and to LTC for pulling the night together for local fans.  It was a great opportunity to put aside the background noise of 2018's life unfolding at breakneck speeds on social media sites of the world, and just hearken back to a different era.  Not a simpler one, not a less tumultuous one.  But one that stabbed a pin on the map of our generation's music and societal change, and truly, changed the course of history.

50 years later, and life goes on.

Obladi oblada life goes on brahhh
Lala how the life goes on
Obladi Oblada life goes on brahhh
Lala how the life goes on

Sunday, October 14, 2018

An Army On The March

And if the darkness is to keep us apart

And if the daylight feels like it's a long way off

And if your glass heart should crack
And for a second you turn back
Oh no, be strong
Walk on, walk on

What you got they can't steal it

No, they can't even feel it
Walk on, walk on

- U2
Couldn't let the fall season pass without acknowledging the efforts of an ever-growing army of walkers who took part in this year's Jimmy Fund Walk on the historic Boston Marathon course, and in particular, the herculean efforts of two of the generals in Annie's Army, Jackie and Heather.
For more than 15 years, members of our extended family have been taking part in the fall classic along the roads of Wellesley, Newton, Brookline and Boston, covering the back 13.1 miles of the Boston Marathon race course.  For several of those years, we had our Commander-in-Chief Annie leading the way, smiling and high-fiving all the supporters along the way, garnering cheers for her courageous battle against leukemia.  But we lost Annie to the disease on July 26, 2016, and while her footsteps can never be replaced for the event, her two biggest walking buds still carry on the journey in her memory.
Jack and Heather walk now to support Annie and all of the people (and families) who have battled against so many various forms of the disease.  It's unimaginable how many lives have been impacted by the disease.

This year, more than 8,000 walkers pounded the pavement to help raise more than $8.5 million to support the folks at Dana Farber in their efforts.  Thank you to each and every one of them.

But thank you especially to these two besties, who share a lot of laughs, blisters, and sometimes tears along the course.
Along the way, as you can see, they pause to give a pat of support to the Jimmy Fund warriors highlighted on the mile marker posters
It's perhaps ironic that our favorite stretch of the course is on the access road that runs parallel to a stretch of road that is the LEAST favorite stretch of road of almost anyone who's ever run in the actual Boston Marathon itself - Heartbreak Hill.
This year, several of us ran legs of varying distance on the course, with almost all of us connecting on the road between the Newton Fire Station and Boston College
Right before we started up the hill, we collected members of the Nicholson Clan and their friends, as the army's numbers swelled - welcome Andrew, Katie, Ben, Beatriz, Don, John, Cindy, Cheryl, and Zachary!
Heather really, really, really, LOVES Heartbreak Hill
Zachary, Cindy, Ben and Beatriz even logged some steps running up the legendary mountain
The last time Ben ran this hill on Marathon Monday in April, it was raining SIDEWAYS!  He wasn't smiling then, but his spirit was just as strong
Strike a pose, everyone! 
As always, Jack and Heather had to pause for their annual Annie pose before heading into Kenmore Square's Victory Mile!
One mile to go!
Boston Strong, and Annie Strong to boot!
The finish line! 
Ran into my fellow St. Joseph's High alum, Bill Mahoney, with his fighter/survivor walking partner Laurie!
And yes, because I know everyone frets through this every year, Andrew was able to score his cupful of clam chowder at walk's end.  The poor boy was nearly wasting away after his efforts on the course, but we made sure he got the sustenance he needed to get him to his next meal waiting in the wings.
Again, thanks to everyone who supports Jackie and Heather's fund-raising efforts every year.  It's our little contribution to the never-ending battle.
And it's one these two buds are more than honored to carry on in Annie's name!

And I know it aches
And your heart it breaks
And you can only take so much
Walk on
walk on