Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Last Christmas

Nearly every parent dreads the time when Christmas is no longer magical for their children. For me it happened maybe 6-7 years ago. Thanks largely to the Internet that Al Gore created by the tween years there was a fairly high degree of skepticism about Santa. By age 13 or 14 it was assumed that they knew that Santa Claus was indeed much different than the man in the red suit they saw at the malls or the Santa I played for the Cub Scouts and for his classmates in elementary school using an incredible Santa suit my ex made for me (neither son knew it was me either- that’s how good the suit was). The suit still fits, but now I don’t need quite as much padding as I did then…

This is the last year I will have my kids as kids. While they will always be my kids I could never get over my mom and dad calling my brother and I "kids" well into our 30’s- but it’s different. Nick will be home one more year attending community college, maybe longer depending on where he finishes his last two years of college, and Matt can pretty much go anywhere he wants. His first choice college is in Tennessee but he is also being pragmatic and looking at a school in Tampa as well. With Bright Futures, the Florida Pre-Paid College Fund I’ve been paying into since they were both 6, and scholarships he will no doubt get, he will be like his brother actually getting paid to go to college instead of owing the equivalent of a small town’s annual income when he gets out. But where he goes is his choice, not mine. Both young men are just that- young men- and have good heads on their shoulders. They are super smart, practical, and handsome to boot. Basically they have the world by the balls.

Nick works at the Holy Grail for Mac-aholics as an Apple store employee and did very well his first quarter in college, unlike his father whose 0.923 his first quarter in college was reflective of a belief that college was about women and alcohol and not academics. Going to an all boys Catholic High school tends to do that to you though so…That said, I’ve forgiven myself after so many years….And Matt- my IB student with a 4.3 GPA and 33 on the ACT- he has the entire world pursuing him and rightfully so….I am incredible proud of both boys…

So it’s Christmas Day. I looked over at the clock 6 a.m., 7 a.m. Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse (or Elvis the Wonder Beagle either but all he does is sleep anyway so…). I miss the days when the kids would tip toe into our rooms at 5 a.m. and ask if we were up (we were now) and then proclaim that Santa had come while they were sleeping…of cursing the translator of instructions from Chinese to what they thought resembled Ing-rish at 3 a.m...of figuring out how something went together…of finding bigger and better hiding spots…of wrapping and wrapping and wrapping… and of course of last minute gifts that were impossible to find a day or two before Christmas- the ones you go to the ends of the Earth to find…like a streetlight….yes, a streetlight… Don’t ask, but I still have it in my closet…

This year I have to realize that my babies aren’t babies anymore but young men who are well on their well to becoming productive members of society, albeit capitalists for sure. Yes, giving them cash is so much easier and practical than finding exactly what they wanted ....but there was also a special joy in finding that one special gift they wanted…I smile every time I see the movie “A Christmas Story” where Ralphie gets his Red Ryder carbine-action, 200-shot, range model air rifle with the compass in the stock. Yes, Ralphie is finally happy but the pride his father had watching him open it resonates much more with me than anything else.

We had so many Christmases like that. After my ex and I divorced Christmas were still special but held at two houses not just one…and we always had dinner together as a family just like we will again tonight even though she has been remarried now for a few years. Thankfully her husband has welcomed me with open arms realizing it’s not about us- it never was about us- but about the kids…. and that we really do have some really great kids…

So tonight we’ll have dinner, maybe watch Billy Murray in “Scrooged” or the “Jeff Dunham Very Christmas Special” or maybe even “A Christmas Story” again and then I’ll hug them both goodnight. But this year’s hug will be more than just saying goodnight. Instead it’s saying goodbye to the end of an era that was as important for me as it was them.

Next year Matt hits 18 and technically my work is done….or so I’m told. Hopefully I’ll have the same relationship with Matt as an independent adult that I now enjoy with Nick- letting his make his own decisions for sure but still pinging the old man every now and then for his opinion. And once, maybe once, just for old times sake, I’ll be lucky enough to have them ask me for something truly unique and different- that one Christmas gift that is so hard to find- so I can search high and low, find it for them and rekindle the joy I had when my babies were still babies and Christmas was a magical time for all.

Merry Christmas to you and yours…His love never ends….

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Aunt Mary

Today was Aunt Mary’s birthday. She would have been…well….old….91 to be exact…but alas she went home to her Savior three and a half years ago. Now most of you are thinking what’s the big deal about an aunt who is dead whose birthday was today but my Aunt Mary was a special aunt. She hated the fact that her birthday was so close to Christmas. God help you if you wrapped her birthday gift in Christmas wrapping paper although truth be known Aunt Mary was much better at giving gifts than receiving them.

Aunt Mary never EVER forgot a birthday. She probably had 100 or more relatives in her little black book and each and every one of them always got a card from Aunt Mary on their birthday. Always. And the card always contained $1 in it. If you were 5 years old or 50 you got a crisp $1 bill. That was tradition. And that was what we all looked forward to. Her cards were never ever late either, using nothing but a tattered old date book to keep it all straight. No computer, just her date book.

The date book is long gone, thrown out along with too many irreplaceable family photos and so much more by a cousin who appreciated nothing other than the money that remained in the family bank account. Oh, what I wouldn’t pay to have the single page with my birthday on it as a reminder of an aunt who never forgot me. Once I got older I never forgot her either, always sending her flowers, candy, or something else always wrapped in birthday paper to let her know how much she meant to me. She would always call me up after then too - I was always Michael, never Mike- and thank me. Sadly, the woman who never forgot anyone was all too often forgotten by those closest to her, even her own daughter, yet how could you forget a woman like this?

I was asked to give the eulogy at Aunt Mary’s funeral. The funeral was held at St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church in Red Bank, New Jersey, the church where I served as an altar boy from age 7 to age 13. I had only been in that church twice since I left New Jersey back in 1973- once for my mother’s funeral in 1990 and then again for my father’s funeral in 2004. Both times I sat in the front pew. This time though I had to go up to the altar.

When I was younger the altar was a place of mystery. Sadly the church decided it needed to be “modernized” and in the process had changed so much of it that a lot of the mystery and magic was gone. Looking around the only things I remembered were the Stations of the Cross where I had walked to many times during high mass carrying the incense, but the stained glass windows might have been there. I looked up and my heart sank- the choir loft was gone. This was the very same loft where Aunt Mary’s voice would join the voices of the other woman in the choir singing “Oh Bombino” and other songs in Italian at midnight mass every Christmas Eve right after the feast we all had that never had meat because good Catholics never ate meat on Christmas Eve….

I walked up and looked around the church. Poor Uncle Lou was beyond distraught at losing his wife of nearly 50 years, at Aunt Katie who just lost her husband (Uncle Bill) the year before, and Uncle Joe and Aunt Marnie thinking to myself “This is all that is left.” Sadly Aunt Katie passed away a few short months after Aunt Mary did and Uncle Lou went home in 2009, leaving just Uncle Joe and Aunt Marnie- two out of 16 aunts and uncles my brother Frank and I had- remaining.

I gathered my thoughts and began the eulogy. It was good….very good….and I got three quarters of the way through it and then choked up when I got to the words “This year there will be no birthday card from Aunt Mary….” For 51 years I had faithfully gotten a card from Aunt Mary and this year….the reality hit me. It wasn’t about the card. It was about the woman. You would walk in her house and before you had your jacket off she was making you a cup of tea and breaking out homemade cookies. “Sit down, Michael. I’ll make you a cup of tea” she would say… God, I can close my eyes and hear her now…So I stood there, my heart in my throat, trying to talk yet saying nothing, tears flowing down my cheeks, thinking about Aunt Mary…and then I made history….I tried to talk and got one word out then had to stop….another word…then stopped…and then a single word that probably never has and probably never will be uttered from the altar of Saint Anthony’s again. “Shit”. There I am miked up with probably 60 people in attendance and the only word that comes out of my mouth at the time is “Shit.” I heard a few laughs and realized what had happened and caught myself, laughing a bit, saying “Sorry Aunt Mary, sorry Monsignor” before I continued with the balance of the eulogy. Had Monsignor been there I know he would have smacked me upside the head big time for that and required me to say 12 Hail Marys, 7 Our Fathers and 3 Glory Be’s for my offense, but then Monsignor probably already was rolling over in his grave having the Diocese allow girls on the altar who wore sneakers at Mass AND got paid to boot- $10 each. For all I know the choir got paid as well- all 6 of them. When we were growing up there were at least 30 choir members and no one ever got paid…at least not monetarily...and only boys were allowed on the altar. It was a privilege…it was special… was a different time and place.

The funeral ended and we all went back to Chiafulio's afterwards for the obligatory feast (although I knew the place as Red Bank Pizza growing up) and later that night I flew home….All went well until my birthday a month later and no card from Aunt Mary..and then the emotions came welling back….And again today, three and a half years later, on her birthday, as I wrapped Christmas presents I saw the birthday wrap too and remembered the woman who never forgot.

If anyone is in heaven it is my Aunt Mary so happy birthday Aunt Mary- take care of everyone until I get there. Know you never have been and never ever will be forgotten.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Lighter Side of RSNA

There is a side of RSNA that few see- the lighter side. The PACSMan Awards are a blast to write and post on and nearly all are done tongue-in-cheek with a lighthearted attempt at humor. Inevitably someone will think I am vindictive and have a vendetta against their company but that simply is not the case. This year as in years past they were the top read story from RSNA so someone must be enjoying it. If you missed it you missed out, but something tells me if you are reading this blog that you have no doubt already read them in some case many times trying to figure out who won what award. I'll never tell..

Many know of my relationship with Merge- a love/hate one if there ever was one. We should get married but one walk down that aisle is enough for anyone or at least for me. But I’m still friends with many who still work there, including Paul Merrild, Merge’s Senior Vice President of Marketing & Corporate Strategy. Paul introduced me to Justin Dearborn and Jeff Sturges, their President and CEO respectively (even though Dearborn was their CEO before he became President. Talk about Abbott and Costello’s "Who’s on First") but alas Mr Ferro remained as elusive as ever talking only with my good friend the Dalai. Maybe if I had accepted their offer of a glass of Kool Aid I would have gotten to see him, but I limited myself to just a lil candy from their voluminous candy rack (another Merrild trademark) and a cocktail or two at their party. Everyone was cordial to me as well and there was no animosity as well. Paul even allowed me to play on the video games and personally handed me the gun as seen below. You can feel the love can’t you?

Everywhere I went on the floor I knew I was safe from bitchy attitudes because there was chocolate in nearly every booth. ThinAir Data took this a step further and put a packet of Ken’s Salad Dressing in with their Hershey’s kisses as a joke.

But the joke was on them as several overseas members got all excited over the dressing to take back with them and brought many of their friends of their friends others back home which left the vendor scrambling to find more…Hey, whatever it takes to get customers into the booth. It provided a good belly laugh for sure.

I wish every vendor could be as clear and concise in their messaging as this vendor was.

Most marketing managers would be scratching their heads wondering what Revana Health was thinking by having absolutely nothing in their booth besides their corporate logo, but in the 5 minutes I was there at least 5 people came up and asked the same question- “What do you do?” (answer: provides medical imaging centers with a suite of software and services to increase business performance).
Would a booth with all sorts of signs and diagrams and hardware have had the same impact? No- not even close. Brilliant marketing on their part. The fact the two gals who manned it were very cordial and easy on the eyes also helped as well (laugh).

Being a Floridian for the past 30+ years I smiled when I saw the gator sitting on the DR vet table in Canon’s booth. I smiled even more broader still when I saw the kitty cat sitting there as well looking sound asleep. Now I am not exactly a fan of cats- they are much too aloof like many a woman I have dated in life- so the juxtaposition of the gator and kitty was just too good to pass up. I would make a few other comments but I am trying to be politically correct in my old age so those of you who know me can read between the lines.

Having fun is the name of the game and IDS (Integrated Document Solutions) found a great way to get people into their booth with Shan the Candyman (yes, that is the name he goes by). He is only 1 of 3 people in the country who do candy art and he brings it to a level I have never seen before. For this one gal he did a dinosaur eating a dinosaur but could do just about anything for anyone and did. As I left he was doing a football team logo and did a killer Luigi from Ninetendo’s Mario Brothers and a cute pink pony for the owners daughter. This guy has talent with a capital T…

I have talked about the El Grande diner many times but here is the only shot you will ever see from it. The rest is top secret. As the night drew on and margaritas flowed the PACSMan Awards you’ll never ever hear about came out (affectionately known by our group as FC’s). I know you are thinking why are they called the FC’s. We’ll save that explanation for another time and place (laugh). Just know though that it is incredibly hard to find a divey Mexican joint that makes decent margaritas once Salvadors closed finally but we found one.

The guys you see here (a few gals were invited but were no shows BTW) are mostly from and have known each other for years and in many cases decades. We all share a passion for imaging and a respect for each other. I can think of no better group of individuals to be with than these guys. From left to right are Eric, Dr Dalai, Brian, Wayne, Me, Jim, and Erik.

And last but not least, this Cher lookalike is the daughter-in-law of the guy who was behind the Timeo booth.

We chatted a bit about my Italian heritage and he was so much fun to talk to and proud- God was he ever proud “Atsa my daughter-in-law. You takea her picture and put it in the paper, yes?” So from one proud Italian to another here ya go my friend… Hei!! Pay attention. Do Not Hesitate!! Look at her will you…Now I don’t do Musculoskeletal Ultrasound- hell, I don’t even know what it is- but I’d but the book just because she’s in the photo.

You want to get your heart racing even more? Do a Google image search under Cannavo- yes, atsa my name. I used to be on page one, now I’m on like page 6 but do I care with someone as gorgeous as mio cugino Rosaria? Nope. Momma mia, check it out.

She hails from the same area in Sicily as my grandparents and while I’m not 100% sure if she is my cousin or not Ima gonna say atsa my cousin because all us it makes for good press (laugh). I always tell my sons to make sure you know who you are dating because she could be related to you but if she looks like that…who cares? I’ll just sit back and smile and say “Atsa my boy!!”