The #EpicFail that was NaNoWriMo

Back in early October I wrote a post here all about National Novel Writing Month, or as it’s better known, NaNoWriMo. How I was planning to write a 50,000 word first draft of a story that had been floating around in my head. About how I had never gone “all in” on being a writer. How I was getting too old to play games and that I was going to take my shot or quit all this “wanting to be a writer” shit.

I had an outline. I had a title. I had detailed character bios. I had a great idea where I wanted the story to go and even how it would connect to another story I was planning to work on.

The problem? I don’t have that first draft.

I made it 1,624 words into that first draft and bailed. I didn’t even make it a full week into November before I decided to give up and walk away. The real kicker was that I wasn’t even all that upset. It was almost like I was expecting it and seeing it come to fruition was far from surprising.

To get to the point, NaNoWriMo was a huge, colossal failure.

Until a week ago I hadn’t written anything. Not a single word. I didn’t see the point. Then after a lot of thought and soul searching, the proverbial light bulb went off. I realized I didn’t want to be a writer. I just want to be a guy who writes.

“What the fuck is this idiot talking about and why am I wasting my time reading this?” is probably what you’re thinking right now. Let me explain.

To be a writer, you need to write with the goal of being published, whether that means self-publishing or having your novel released by one of the big (or small) publishing houses. To be published and see your novel in bookstores everywhere, it means you have to find a literary agent to work with you on refining (editing) your book. Then you have to submit it to publishers who will invariably want more changes before signing you to a contract.

Even if you go the self-published route, you still need to constantly work on increasing your social media presence, hawk your books to anyone who will listen and become a one man (or woman) publishing house. It can take up an insane amount of time, especially if you are still working a full-time job as well as writing.

Me? I don’t have the time or desire for any of that shit.

I want to tell stories but on my terms and in my own way. And I don’t want to be constantly worried about sales or royalties or what the current trends are. I don’t want editors telling me what to change or what they don’t like. Interacting with the writers who took part in NaNoWriMo showed me that I just don’t want to be that guy.

So what is a person who just wants to write and tell stories to do?

Simple. Post it online for free and not worry about any of the rest.

I’ve been dabbling in web serials for a few years now and I really enjoy the freedom they provide. I get to write whatever I want and then post the work online. If you want to read it, great! If not, no harm, no foul and the only thing it cost me is the time to write it.

I’ve decided to go back to the web serial format and not worry about becoming a formal writer. I’ll always work a regular job and writing will likely never be more than a hobby, and that’s fine. I can take the stories that are taking up space in my head and get them out into the world. I don’t have to be concerned with making sure they are a certain length, if they meet particular criteria, or if they embrace current trends. It’s complete and total freedom.

The first story is already in the outline phase and I hope to start posting it online by early March. It will have a definite beginning, middle and end but other then that the sky is the limit. As it gets closer I’ll share more.

For the first time in what feels like forever, I’m excited to write again. Thanks to an epic failure and NaNoWriMo.

Writing, NaNoWriMo and Going All In

I’ve wanted to be a writer since my early twenties. I didn’t have a passion for writing (or anything else really) as a teenager so I was what you might call a “late bloomer” when it came to finding what I wanted to do. Since then I’ve talked about being a writer, thought endlessly about being a writer and written lots of words on various blogs about my desire to be a writer.

Yet, when it comes to actually writing a story, with a beginning, middle and an end, I have come up short in every way.

I’ve written for blogs and websites, sure. I’ve written countless words about comic books and pop culture, endless sentences about basketball and sports and enjoyed doing it. But that was never the kind of writing I wanted to do.

I want to tell stories about regular people. Not fantasy tales or science fiction epics. I want to tell stories about normal people and their lives. The mundane and boring mixed with brief moments of incredible passion and emotion. The honest way all of us go about living our lives until we all pay the death we owe.

Despite the fact that my head is filled to overflowing with ideas, have I ever written any stories like that?


Why not? Because I have never gone all in on trying to be a writer.

I’ve never sat down and planned out a story, created the characters and situations and then actually wrote a story from start to finish. I’ve never done the hard work and finished a first draft. I’ve always had some excuse. That I don’t have the time or I’m working on my web serial that no one reads or I’m depressed.

I’ve never gone all in.

I think it’s long overdue that maybe I should.

Because time grows short. If not now, when? As someone once told me “Either one day or day one, you decide.”

I need to take my shot.

Every November writers around the world take part in NaNoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month. The idea is to write a 50,000 word first draft in the 30 days of the month of November. It doesn’t need to be a finished novel, just the start of a first draft that you can continue to work on later.

For me, my goal is to finish a complete first draft by November 30, even if it’s more than 50,000 words. If I can’t do it, then I’m done trying to convince myself I can be a writer. There’s just no point. I’m not going to continue with the idea I’m going to be a writer “someday” if I won’t do the work and tell the stories I have in my head. I’m too old to keep doing that. At some point it just becomes sad and pathetic.

And for the three of you out there who might care, yes, this means that my web serial Blood Sprawl will be going on hiatus, probably until next year.

I need to do this. I need to see if I can get that first draft done. That I can maybe be a writer who actually writes something. That I can do the work I need to do and finish writing a book.

I’m going all in.

It Can Hit Out of Nowhere

As I’ve told numerous people over the years, Lisa and I had our first date on a Thursday. May 4, 1995 to be precise. Most couples that I know don’t make that big a deal out of the anniversary of their first date but for Lisa and I, it was always special. Mostly because over the course of 23 years, she never let me forget what she gave up to go on that first date with me.

Lisa loved to watch television and in 1995 there was no better night to curl up on a couch and watch than Thursdays. The night started with Friends, followed by Seinfeld and then was capped off with ER. She loved to watch ER. At first I’m pretty sure it had to do with George Clooney but eventually the stories and characters are what really captivated her and kept Lisa coming back week after week.

And much like Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, once Lisa committed to a show, that was it. She didn’t miss and episode under any circumstances. She would watch for years even if the show became borderline unwatchable. We watched a train wreck of a show called Providence for years before she finally agreed to give up on it.

So Lisa agreeing to miss ER so she could go out to dinner with me was huge. And since she had no clue how to work her VCR, taping the show wasn’t an option. This was decades before DVRs and On Demand, so when you missed a show you wanted to see, that was it until the network reran it over the summer.

This was toward the end of ER‘s first season and the episode she missed was titled “Love Among the Ruins.” During dinner she even mentioned a handful of times that she hoped we got back to her apartment early enough so she could catch the last few minutes.

Yeah, not exactly a confidence builder for our hero here.

That being said, I must have done something right because even though we did get back early and the show was on, Lisa didn’t really pay attention to anything that was going on. We ended up talking the rest of the night and she didn’t seem that interested in the show.

Of course, that didn’t stop her from reminding me every Thursday that she missed an episode of ER to go on a date with me. And remind me she did because the following week, I became a part of her Thursday night television watching ritual. We would throw pillows and blankets on the floor and watch TV all night, culminating in ER at ten o’clock.

We did that for the next 15 years until ER went off the air on April 2, 2009, two days before Lisa’s birthday. That final episode marked the end of an era not just for television but for us as well. The following month Lisa would have a heart attack and shortly thereafter, the symptoms of the Alzheimer’s Disease that would eventually kill her started to make themselves known.

That may be why I haven’t watched ER since that final episode all those years ago. Too many happy memories tied up in a show we both loved to watch.

Flash forward to last week. An obscene amount of my time is taken up each evening watching YouTube. Regular television is for the most part garbage so I entertain myself watching old music videos, clips form Marvel movies and human interest news stories. It helps me to relax and de-stress after a day of dealing with the crap that is my life.

While diving headfirst into a YouTube rabbit hole I discovered that they had begun uploading official clips of ER to the site. Everything from the opening titles to the very first scene to the very last scene. Some of these I hadn’t watched since they were on originally so out of curiosity I clicked a video, sat back and watched. It was a clip from the third season where Mark was brutally attached and was later found by Doug.

I was fine until the theme music began to play. All of a sudden I was overcome with emotion and before I knew it I was sobbing uncontrollably. I hadn’t cried like that thinking about Lisa in over a year. I really thought those days were behind me.

I was very wrong.

And it wasn’t just that one instance. I’ve now watched dozens of the clips and each and every time I get a lump in my throat as I think about Lisa. All those nights laying on her floor or later on our couch watching that show. Talking about what characters we liked, the ones we didn’t (Don’t get us started on Dr. Romano.) and what we thought was going to happen next week.

I honestly didn’t realize how big a part of our lives ER was until I watched those clips and really thought about it. It was something we both really looked forward to every week, no matter how bad things were. It was an hour we could forget about the world’s problems and get lost in the lives of the doctors of County General Hospital.

It was something that I think I subconsciously put away and didn’t want to think about. That is, until it was put in front of my face again. Now I’m tempted to watch the entire series from the beginning. Sure, there will be lots of tears but I’m sure that eventually they will be replaced by smiles and happy thoughts of Lisa.

Lord knows I could more of those right now.

Joe Satriani: The Best Musician You’ve Never Heard Of

I think it’s safe to say that everyone has that one musician or band that they absolutely adore but relish the fact no one else has ever heard of them. It’s like they are your own personal find and you love that you are the only one cool enough to enjoy and appreciate them.

For me, that musician is Joe Satriani.

Satriani is considered one of the greatest guitar virtuosos to ever pick up the instrument. He has mentored the likes of Steve Vai and Kirk Hammett and has been releasing instrumental guitar rock albums since 1986 when his debut album Not of This Earth arrived.

However, it was his second effort, 1987’s Surfing with the Alien, where most people stood up and took notice of what Satriani could do. The album includes 10 tracks of blistering guitar work that continues to amaze me and his legion of fans to this day. Every time I take the vinyl out of the sleeve and put it on the turntable I find something new that I never noticed before. It is considered a classic of the genre and a must own for anyone who takes their music seriously.

I first heard Surfing with the Alien shortly after it was released thanks to a friend of a friend who had the album. He insisted on playing it while we shot pool in my buddy’s basement and I was transfixed by what I heard. Where was the singing? You mean it’s all just instrumental guitar? That’s it? You can do that?

A few days later I bought the cassette and it didn’t leave my tape deck for two solid months.

I couldn’t believe what I was listening to. Songs like the title track, “Crushing Day” and “Lords of Karma” were just Satriani shredding nonstop while songs like “Always With Me, Always With You” and “Echo” showed a slowed down, more musical side to what he could do. And unlike many guitar albums, this wasn’t just someone showing off how fast they could play or what noises they could make with a guitar. This was actual music, the kind you could really listen to, enjoy and get something out of.

Despite the fact I consider myself a pretty hardcore Satriani fan, I’ve only had the opportunity to see him perform live once. It was during the Flying in a Blue Dream tour in 1990 when he played at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby. A friend and I waited outside all night to make sure we got great seats for the show. (This was back when you had to physically wait in line to buy concert tickets kids.) Live he was even better than on his albums, taking songs in surprising new directions and playing off his incredibly talented bassist Stu Hamm.

Overall Satriani has released 17 albums, including his latest, Shapeshifting, which dropped just last week. Over the course of his career he has experimented with almost every type of music you can think of. There is the aformentioned Flying in a Blue Dream where he tried his hand at singing. There is his self-titled 1995 album which is a straight up blues record. There is Engines of Creation from 2000 where he did EDM before it even had a name and 2018’s What Happens Next where he does a more striped down, simple style of guitar record.

Joe Satriani has always been the music I turn to when I need cheering up, when I want to celebrate something or I just need something to listen to while I’m doing the dishes. And it’s time for more people to discover just how talented he is. I can’t keep it to myself anymore. The secret needs to get out.

Do yourself a favor and pick up Surfing with the Alien or Shapeshifting or any of Satriani’s albums. You really can’t go wrong no matter which one you get. You won’t be sorry.

God I miss The Ramones

Yesterday marked 19 years since Joey Ramone, the lead singer of the legendary punk band The Ramones, passed away. He died at the much too young age of 49 after valiantly battling lymphoma for several years.

At the time the passing of Joey Ramone hit me pretty hard. I was (and still am) a huge fan of the band. When people ask my top five favorite bands, The Ramones is always near the top of the list. Even though they had broken up in 1996, there was always a faint hope of a reunion down the road and maybe a new album. But with Joey dead, that wasn’t going to happen. The Ramones were really, truly gone for good.

The day after Joey died I clearly remember playing Ramones CDs practically nonstop at work and my wife went out and bought me a bootleg live CD from a store in New Hope hoping it would cheer me up. That’s how bummed I was about the loss of one of my musical heroes.

The funny part is that if it wasn’t for Stephen King and a trip to the Jersey Shore, I never would have fallen in love with the band in the first place.

My indoctrination into the world of the Ramones came in the form of 1989’s Brain Drain, the band’s eleventh album. On that record is the track “Pet Sematary” which was featured in the film of the same name. Based on the bestselling novel, the track was included thanks to King having been a huge Ramones fan for a number of years. It was written by Dee Dee Ramone and became one of the band’s only radio hits.

I had gone to see the movie with some friends when it hit theaters and remember enjoying the song a lot, more than the actual movie if I’m being honest. One trip to Wall to Wall Sound and Video later and I was the proud owner of the cassette version of Brain Drain. I listened to it a couple times and promptly put it on the pile with all my other cassettes, forgotten.

Flash forward a few months and my family was heading down to Ocean City, New Jersey for a long weekend at the shore. While my mother and sister had each brought a friend with them to hang out, I was going solo. The person I had asked to go had backed out at the last minute so the weekend turned into a party of one.

Luckily I had my Sony Walkman with me (ask your parents if you have no clue what a Walkman is kids.) and I had grabbed a couple cassettes to take with me. One was a Bon Jovi album and the other was Brain Drain.

I must have listened to that cassette 20 times over the course of that weekend. Each of the 12 tracks became permanently burned into my memory. “Learn to Listen”, “Palisades Park” and “Don’t Bust My Chops” are all songs I can recite the lyrics to from heart. I fell in love with the band that weekend and what followed was a binge of Ramones music the likes of which few had seen. In the span of a little over a year I would own most their discography as well as a few bootleg live shows.

In 1992 the band released Mondo Bizarro, the follow-up to Brain Drain and I had it the day it arrived in stores. Two years later I would finally get to see my heroes live when they played the Tower Theater in Philadelphia. I went to the show with some guys from my job and it was everything I tought it would be and more. I still vividly recall when the band broke into “Pet Sematary” and how I completely lost it.

Once Joey was gone, it made me really appreciate the fact I got to see them live that much more. If the end had come for The Ramones and I had not had the chance to see them live, it would have been a regret I would have had to live with the rest of my life.

Last December I had the chance to see the band’s drummer Marky Ramone play Ardmore Music Hall with his group Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg. It was a great show and they played Ramones classics for almost two hours straight without taking a break. But it wasn’t quite the same as seeing the genuine article all those years ago.

It’s still hard to comprehend that next year it will be 20 years since the world lost Joey Ramone. It feels like just yesterday when I popped that cassette into my Walkman and really got to know a band like few others.

Rest in peace Joey. Gabba Gabba Hey.

If You’re Going (Back) To San Francisco

In the summer of 1993 I was in a pretty bad place emotionally. I was five years removed from graduating high school and was going nowhere fast. (Bonus points if you get the Streets of Fire reference) I was stuck in a dead end job, had dropped out of college and was living at home with no prospects and no real future. 

To make matters worse, I had discovered the Beat Generation and Jack Kerouac a few years earlier so my mind was filled with writing and traveling. A copy of On The Road went with me everywhere and I saw myself chronicling my life in words someday just like Kerouac.

I just had absolutely no idea how to make that happen.

After another fight with my mother (which was probably my fault) I was out of patience and out of options. So I called my friend John who had moved to Berkeley, California the previous year and desperately asked if he wanted a roommate.

To my shock, he said sure.

To this day I’m still not exactly sure what brought on the decision to move across the country. I don’t usually make big, life altering changes to my life like that on a whim. I plan and talk about it, but never actually do anything. It’s a personality trait of mine that I always despised and still do.

But a few weeks later John had sent me a plane ticket he had gotten from a friend and there I was. Standing in the San Francisco International Airport with little to no money, a few possessions and absolutely no clue what the future held.

I was terrified and exhilarated at the same time.

I lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in a crappy part of town with John and another friend of ours named Grant. I slept on an air mattress on the floor next to the kitchen while Grant slept on a futon in the living area and John got the bedroom. I spent my days writing in a coffee shop I discovered while walking around Berkeley and my nights reading, talking and hanging out.

Unfortunately my friendship with John almost came to an end as a result of us living together and numerous other factors that the two of us have only begun to unravel. But my relationship with Grant, who was only really more an acquaintance at that point, turned into a deep bond that the two of us cherish to this day.

Grant and I would take a day each week and head into San Francisco to explore the city and the people who lived there. We spent an entire day roaming Golden Gate Park, another was spent walking around the Haight-Ashbury District. One afternoon we walked across the Golden Gate Bridge, which to this day is still one of the greatest experiences of my life. And we discovered a restaurant with the best chocolate milkshakes we had ever had.

When I eventually ran out of money and realized the living conditions weren’t working, I went home. I took a notebook filled to overflowing with writing and some of the greatest memories of my life and spent three days on a Greyhound bus, heading toward Philadelphia.

I swore that my return East was only temporary however. My plan was to save money and head back to the West Coast as soon as I could. I had found a place where I felt like I belonged and where life made some kind of sense to me. I had to go back.

A little less than two years later though, I met Lisa, the woman who would become my wife. And everything changed.

I knew that my plans to return to California were out the window about three months into the relationship. I was quickly falling in love and Lisa had become the entire focus of my future.

That being said, a part of me never really came home from Berkeley. I consider it one of the benchmarks of my life, a period of time that profoundly changed me as a person. And a small part of me always wanted to return.

I wouldn’t give up a single moment of my life with Lisa for anything, even with her terrible illness and eventually losing her. The deep pain of the last few years that has almost ended me is a small price to pay for the two decades of laughs, love and affection we shared.

Lisa is gone. That part of my life is over and nothing will bring it back. But I’m starting to think it may be time to reunite with a part of myself I almost forgot about. A part of me that realized just how amazing life can be, when there are endless possibilities in front of you and nothing to stop you from becoming anything you want.

I think it might be time to consider a new chapter in an old book I thought I was long finished with.

The Other Things You Lose

When your person dies, whether it’s after being together five months or 55 years, it leaves a hole in your life that isn’t easily filled. And as I recently learned, it isn’t something that you “move on” from. You don’t “move on” from losing a piece of yourself. Instead you move forward with the memories and love of that person and it will affect every decision and every aspect of your life until you pass from this world to the next. 

The list of things I lost when my wife Lisa passed away almost two years ago is longer than I can explain to most people. I miss her smile, her laugh, the inflection in her voice when she said “Hi” every time I got home from work, the way she hugged me with everything she had, the softness of her cheek. Those things I expected.

What I wasn’t expecting were the things that I also lost that you wouldn’t think of. Silly things that would make zero sense to anyone else but mean everything to me. Things that made Lisa and I the couple we were and became important parts of what made us “us.”

Like the movie When Harry Met Sally. I know that I will probably never be able to watch the movie again. I’ve come across it while channel surfing a number of times but cruise right by it, knowing all too well that I can’t stop and watch it.

When Harry Met Sally was the first movie Lisa and I watched together. It was maybe our fourth of fifth date and we decided to stay in and watch a video on her VCR (ask your parents if you have no clue what a VCR is kids.) I suggested When Harry Met Sally, which I happened to own and she had somehow never seen. I brought it over and we laid some blankets on the floor, made some popcorn and had an amazing evening together.

Asking me to watch that movie again would be like asking me to experience joy but know that I can never have it ever again. It would tear my heart out and leave me a sobbing mess. Hell, I can barely watch Notting Hill or Wall-E without crying like a two-year old.

Or Red Lobster. Yes, the seafood restaurant Red Lobster. I know there is a very good chance I will never eat there again. Because of what it meant to us.

Lisa and I both loved seafood and when we had a craving for lobster or crab or shrimp that needed to be satisfied, we would get a little more dressed up than usual and head out to the Red Lobster in North Whales. It wasn’t around the corner so it wasn’t a trip we made that often, maybe two or three times a year. Usually for our respective birthdays and sometime around the holidays close to Christmas.

It became something of a tradition for us. We would go there, have a couple drinks and almost make ourselves sick eating way too much seafood. Both of us loved the cheddar bay biscuits (who doesn’t?) and would go through two baskets, sometimes more over the course of the meal. Then my loving wife would make small talk with our waiter and get to know them a bit because Lisa loved talking to people. That would lead to him or her slipping us a bag with a bunch more biscuits to take home with us.

That was Lisa in a nutshell.

I’ve been able to go to a lot of places where Lisa and I went together and have managed to get through it. But going to Red Lobster would just be too much, which I’ve accepted and learned to live with.

Or how about the fact I can’t eat grilled cheese sandwiches anymore? Or listen to Gary Puckett and the Union Gap? Or read John Grisham novels?

People have actually told me to get over it and “move on” or some version thereof. And I will pleasantly smile and nod while thinking to myself that they should go fuck themselves.

These are the silly types of things that you lose when you lose your person that no one warns you about. The things that tear you up almost as much as losing the person themselves. On the surface they may seem like nothing but in the history of who you are and who you were in that relationship, they are everything.

I miss Lisa just as much today as I did the day she died. And I know I’ll also miss those cheddar bay biscuits almost as much. And I’m okay with that.

Love Shack

Can an apartment play a huge role in the birth of a relationship?

If you were to ask me, the answer would be an emphatic yes.

When Lisa and I first started dating in the spring of 1995, she was living in a second floor, two room shoebox of a studio apartment in a complex in Hatboro. It was small, cramped and there was barely enough room for one person to live there comfortably. That being said, Lisa absolutely loved the place and it was easy to see why. While some people saw “cramped,” she saw “cozy.” While some saw “small,” she saw “affordable.”

Seeing as I was still living at home, naturally we spent a great deal of our time at Lisa’s place. And I will admit that after just a few evenings of hanging out I quickly understood why she liked living there.

The apartment had a certain charm that more modern places just don’t have. The buildings in the complex were old to begin with and management wasn’t exactly the best with keeping things up to date. The hot water ran out quickly, you could hear pretty much everything the neighbors downstairs were doing and since it was right by Neshaminy Creek, the parking lot flooded any time it rained. But the coziness and intimacy of the apartment outweighed those negatives, especially for a young couple falling in love.

Some of the best memories I have of our relationship are attached to that apartment. Lisa would run off to get us ice cream whenever the Good Humor truck would come through. We would lay blankets on the floor and listen to tapes on her small portable radio for hours and talk. We cooked meals together, watched television, rented movies and spent an incredible amount of time getting to know each other in a way that I don’t think would have been possible in another place.

When we said “I love you” to each other for the first time, we did in the living room of that apartment.

I remember our first Christmas there like it was yesterday. It was Christmas Eve and I drove over to stay the night with her and then we would go spend time with family the next day. Seeing as it was our first Christmas together, I completely overdid it with the presents and went upstairs with my arms overflowing with wrapped packages.

When Lisa answered the door, I walked into an apartment illuminated in candlelight. It took my breath away. The tree was lit up too and underneath were gifts aplenty. She had cooked us a wonderful dinner and we exchanged presents, listened to holiday music and enjoyed a beautiful evening together. It forever made Christmas Eve “our holiday” and a special night just for the two of us I looked forward to every year.

I also remember the weekend of the Blizzard of 1996. All the weather forecasts we calling for a monster storm and I had no intention of staying home for it. As I was driving over to Lisa’s place the snow was just starting to fall and by the time we woke up the next morning, it was a full on blizzard. Once the snow stopped we trekked by foot to a 7-11 for cigarettes, chips, drinks and other supplies, laughing the entire time. We played in the snow, dug out our cars and helped Lisa’s neighbors dig out theirs and had an all around blast.

It was one of the greatest weekends of my life.

Lisa and I lived in a number of different places over the course of our 23 years together, some better than others. I often joked with her that we should never have moved out of that place. She always thought I was kidding around but I was completely serious. No other apartment made me feel as happy and optimistic as that small studio we lived in during our first years together.

To me, it was home.

I have realized that some day soon I will have to move out of the apartment I’m living in now simply because there are more bad memories here than good. However, no matter where I go, I will always have amazing memories of 300 Horsham Road. The place where I fell in love for the first time with a wonderful woman I adored more than anything in the world.

Can an apartment play a huge role in the birth of a relationship?

You betcha.

A Basketball Lisa Story

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I am a total, completely unapologetic basketball junkie. If it involves running up and down a hardwood court and throwing a ball into a basket, I’ll watch it with gusto. NBA, NBA G-League, WNBA, NCAA, International, it doesn’t matter. There are few things I love more than watching and talking about basketball.

My wife Lisa, not so much.

To her credit, Lisa tolerated my basketball obsession the best she could. She knew if the Sixers were on that talking to me wasn’t recommended. When we couldn’t afford the decent cable and I had to listen to games on my phone, she understood why I wouldn’t answer her pressing questions about The Bachelor.

In other words, Lisa got it.

The only time of the year Lisa let her aggravation show just a bit was during March Madness. I would be set up with two televisions, a tablet and my phone watching four games at once during the first week of the tournament and she would ask “How long does this go on for?” with a hint of exasperation in her voice.

But again, Lisa understood and let me have my fun.

In 2012, my beloved Sixers shocked their fans by squeaking into the NBA Playoffs with a 35-31 record. With Philly going up against the top-seeded Chicago Bulls in the first round, no one was expecting the team to get very far. Despite that, to my surprise, tickets for the playoff games were pretty easy to get and I managed to score a pair of tickets for Game 3.

I had never been to a playoff game before in any of the four major sports, so to me this was a huge deal. I was ready to invite a friend of mine when it dawned on me; Lisa probably had never been to a playoff game either. Considering how patient Lisa was with me during basketball season, I figured I owed it to her to at least offer her the other ticket, not expecting Lisa to accept.

Shockingly, Lisa said yes.

The tickets were pretty good, in the lower level, behind and to the right of the basket. We got there early to avoid traffic and as we walked in they were handing out rally towels to all the fans, which I thought was incredibly cool. A free souvenir! As we made our way to our seats, I got my traditional crab fries and giant Coke while Lisa opted for nachos and a water. We sat down and got comfortable, waiting for the game to start.

Thanks to Derrick Rose getting hurt, the Sixers actually had a chance to win this series and went into Game 3 with the series tied 1-1. Then during the game, Joakim Noah also got hurt when he stepped on Andre Iguodala’s foot. The Sixers had a real chance to win this thing!

None of which Lisa cared about at all.

Lisa watched as I jumped up and down like an idiot, screaming at the top of my lungs. She laughed when I yelled that Iguodala sucked for missing an open shot and told me to relax when the score got too close and I was freaking out.

It was toward the end of the third quarter when I asked Lisa if she wanted anything. She looked at me and said no, she was fine. I asked if she was sure and Lisa said yes, she was good.

That was until a vendor came by our section, selling chocolate-dipped ice cream cones. Lisa took one look, her eyes glazed over and she looked at me, silently asking if she could have one. Ten dollars later, Lisa was blithely eating her ice cream cone while the Sixers took it to the Bulls.

A short time later I was again standing, screaming at the Sixers when I heard Lisa say “Hun?”

Not looking over I said “Yeah?”

“Can I have a napkin?”

“I don’t have any Lisa. As soon as they call a timeout I’ll run up and grab some, okay?”

“Oh. Okay.”

Less than a minute later the Sixers called a timeout and I turned to tell Lisa I was going to grab some napkins for her. Instead my jaw hit the ground and I was struggling to find words as I took in the sight before me.

Lisa had solved her problem in her own very unique way.

She was using her Sixers rally towel to wipe the chocolate off her face.

Let me repeat that.

My wife was using her Sixers playoff rally towel to wipe chocolate off her face.

My eyes almost bugged out of my head as I exclaimed “What are you doing?!?”

Lisa looked up at me innocently and said “I had chocolate all over me. I figured I had the towel so I used that.”

“You… you can’t use a rally towel to wipe your face! That’s a violation!”

“Oh relax. It’s just a towel.”

As I looked around, trying to determine if anyone had seen what Lisa did, I said “It’s not just a towel! It’s a Sixers rally towel! You just can’t do that.”

Again, Lisa gave me a look and said “It’ll be fine. I’ll wash it when we get home.”

“But… but…” I was at a loss as I looked at the now chocolate-covered Sixers rally towel and then at Lisa, who was finishing her ice cream like nothing had happened.

The Sixers would go on to win the game 79-74 and eventually the series. Good to her word, Lisa washed her rally towel and handed it to me, saying “See? Good as new.” It now hangs on my wall, one of the most important pieces of Sixers memorabilia I own.

Over the years I’ve been to a lot of Sixers games, both good and bad. I have a ton of memories that are forever linked to that team and the joy and heartbreak they’ve brought me. But nothing will ever top the sight of Lisa at a Sixers game, covered in chocolate, wiping her face with a playoff rally towel, not thinking twice about it.

It’s just another one of the many reasons I loved Lisa so damn much.

Pain in the Cereal Aisle

Since my wife Lisa passed away last December, I’ve had to get used to doing lots of things alone. For the most part, I think I’ve done okay. It hasn’t been easy and there are times when I think it may be too much, but I know this is my new normal and I have to get used to it.

I’ve gone to the movies, gone out to eat, gone to a bar to have a beer, gone walking in the park and even gone to a Phillies game all solo. And sure it hasn’t always been fun, but Lisa wouldn’t want to see me stay in the apartment all the time and wither away to nothing. That is what I try to tell myself when things get to be too tough.

But the thing that’s been the hardest to get used to? The one activity that makes me wince every time I know I have to do it?

Going to the grocery store.

I’ve often told people that, unlike most couples I know, Lisa and I almost always went food shopping together. It was incredibly rare if one of us went shopping and the other wasn’t trailing behind the cart as we went down the aisle.

When we lived in Warminster, we would go to the Wegmans in Warrington and sometimes get dinner before we did our shopping. Lisa would get Chinese food while I ordered a hoagie and we’d go upstairs and eat, talk and enjoy a night of not having to do dishes.

When we moved to Willow Grove we would shop at the Giant at least once a week. We’d pick up all the essentials as well as fried chicken or seafood salad or whatever else struck our fancy. When Lisa quit smoking we would always have to hit the candy aisle so Lisa could stock up on gum and, more often than not, Swedish Fish for her sweet tooth.

Later, when Lisa’s Alzheimer’s was getting worse, going to the store became a regular weekly activity for us. For Dementia patients it’s all about routine, so every Monday, whether we needed to or not, Lisa and I would go to the grocery store. We’d make sure to get a box of her favorite cereal that she ate every morning, her gum and anything else that we decided we needed. It was a way to get her out of the house and have her interact with people.

And interacting with people is something Lisa loved to do. Even before she got sick when we went to the store I knew not to be in any hurry. Lisa would talk to just about anyone. We’d make the rounds and she would be saying hi to all the employees she knew, chatting with other customers and God forbid there was a sample station running. I’d lose her for 20 minutes at the minimum as she got into a discussion with the person running it.

Now, eight months after she passed away, I still get a lump in my throat and a dull ache in my chest when I know I have to go to the store. The first time I went was two days after Lisa died and I had to pick up a few things. I lasted all of ten minuted before I had a massive panic attack and had to call my sister to talk me down and get me out of the store.

Everyone tells me that eventually I’ll get past this and that going to the store will be just like doing anything else, but I’m not sure I believe them. Whenever I walk down the aisle I still always look behind me to make sure Lisa is still there, even though I know she’s not going to be. When I walk down the cereal aisle I make sure to brush my hand on a box of her favorite cereal because I just can’t help myself. As soon as I get to the bakery I smile as I look at the giant containers of chocolate chip cookies I know she loved so much.

Memories can be a beautiful thing. They help us get past the rough times and make sure the person we love will always be with us. But sometimes, I just want to be able to buy a loaf of bread and not break down into tears.

Of course, part of me hopes that never happens. And that for the rest of my life Lisa will be with me every time I go to the grocery store, walking behind me, telling me she needs more gum.

I guess there are worse things in life than that.