10 Things You’ll Remember: 10 Seconds Before You Die.


“Two boys gone. The land is mine, Roy.

They’ll never build on it.”

Johnny Cash was awkward at consoling his friend.

Johnny and Roy

I marveled how he lived. Perpetual discomfort in his own skin, especially when the topic turned to human hardships, death or separation from people he had embraced once or a thousand times. He was touched easier than most people.

His heart was meant to be touched.

There was an eternal itch he couldn’t scratch, a wound that never healed and occasionally those souls festered and formed into poetry, often set to music. But mostly, scribbles on wrinkled college-ruled. I possess a few of those scribbles.

He took in those he cared for. All the way in. No one who touched him was ever gone. They continued to tap him on the shoulder, sometimes a bit too much.

Death or disappearance didn’t matter.

Souls gone but never gone, faded to an image of a re-lived last goodbye or emerged as hard reverence.

A graceful testament to those he loved. Especially the tortured ones.

Mostly. The tortured or hurt ones. The frail who couldn’t go on and took matters into their own hands.

Like he was singing to God to let them in.

Pleading for their mercy.

Let. Them. In..


The Faron Young Memorial. The country legend. A suicide.

They slunk like shadows out of nowhere to follow him.

Around the edges dark of light.

At times, he was ahead of the demons. Then black days existed. He was captured.

Unfortunately,  like ill-timed the public always seemed to be around for those moments.

Johnny mugshot

He was heartbroken and haunted over deaths of youth. They were his losses. In a way, J.C. anxiously sought to absorb the pain because that’s what you did for people you love.

He never was able to release from the death of his brother Jack.

He shuffled the heels of his favorite house shoes.

Back and forth in the dirt like an anxious child with an agitated hitch in his step, or nervous tic. Forming nervous heel arcs in the dirt.

Solemn words delivered deep and straight and without compromise.

Cash was like that with promises.

Those he made to others were kept. Promises made to himself – not so much.

As we admired a big, slung-low orange sun disappear in slow motion beneath the glass-like water of Old Hickory Lake, the conversation shifted to Roy Orbison who lost two of his three children to a house fire.

The Cash and Orbison families were next door neighbors in 1967.

Perhaps it was the Tennessee high-octane that gave me the courage to pull the past into this moment, dig into the scars of heartbreaking tragedy.

The fire fascinated me. Fire always fascinates me.

JC’s overwhelming act of love fascinated me more. As I watched him ponder, perhaps relive that moment, I asked a question that popped into my head.

What do you think goes through your head 10 seconds before you die?

Dark shadow

I don’t know why 10 seconds. It was a question that popped into my head because it was supposed to, I guess.

10 just rolled off my tongue. Little did I know at the time how important the thought of 10 seconds was going to be. And asking the question. Over the following decade I was to lose everybody I cherished.

He spoke in deepest baritone. Vibrations circle and settle in my ears.

In the middle of the night I can hear that voice resonating under my head. Shaking my pillow.

I listen.

I always listened…

plane death

John Gilpin was testing out his camera when he accidentally caught a 14-year-old stowaway’s fall.

The last seconds of a life are staccato sparkles which ignite eyes to free your eyes.

To see.

A thousand firecrackers. Energy agitated, ready to flee, anxious for release.

It’s you pushing out to the next you, whatever, whomever that is.

It’s the wave before the crest.

The smell of a season.

The crisp of air that kisses sharp on the cheeks. Tiny blades of pain and comfort that are rarely never forgotten because it coupled with a first kiss.

The eternally burned anguish of the unrequited.

The glimpse from afar before the lids seal tight.

The sound of a distant cry.

A final goodbye never delivered.

Oh, I’m no expert on death.

Unfortunately, I’ve been in the wrong places at the wrong times. Or have I?

“What are you thinking?” has been my question.

I’ve asked my grandfather, my father, mother, a good friend and a music legend.

The last glimpse of a life from the inside out or inside the inside.

There are snap shots I’ll never forget. Nor do I want to.

But when I asked JC, when I asked him what he believed his last 10 seconds would be like, what would he say?

Quiet. Then.

5 responses:

“I’d see my demons move on. Defeated.”

“I’ll remember how proud I am of my kids and I’d tell them once a second. Ten times.”

“June and I would travel around the planets in a camper.”

“I’d hug Jack for as long as Jesus would allow me. And then some.”

“I want to compose great music to keep the heavens shining.”

Loved ones. I’ve lost many but I’ll stick with my top 3. Their “close to last” words stick with me. They surround me but never wall me in. They encourage embrace.

So, what would your  last 10 seconds on this planet be like?

What will you remember?

Write them. Feel them. One second. Slow it down. Turn it into 10 minutes, 10 hours, 10 days. Then know you have more time than 10 seconds.

Slow it down.

You’ve been given 10 seconds, 10 lifetimes, of second ten chances.

Are you holding something back?

Are you not telling people in your world how much you love them?

10 seconds goes a long way to shattering a lifetime of regret.

So, 10 seconds is a title. A thought. Headline candy. Nobody is talking anything coherent 10 blood-beats before life energy is released to the universe.

Dad: “Why didn’t we spend more time together?”

Mom: “Will I ever see you again?”

Me. So far: “I never stopped loving you. I never will.”

To live fully is to die a thousand times in one life.

The resurrections make you who you are.

And then there’s the shit that sucks.

Like things you meant to say to those you love before they go.

But you didn’t.

And now you must think those words and hope they carry to a place they may hear them and hold you.

This post is dedicated to radio personality, incredible husband and father, and special person who will be missed  by thousands for an eternity.

A good man. A really good man. A noble man.


Take courage when the road is long.

Don’t ever forget you are never alone.

I  want you to live forever. 

Underneath the sky so blue….

Your Personal Declaration of Independence – How to be Reborn on the 5th of July.

“The brick is on fire!” Donna screamed.

Pointing feverishly to the Armeggedon in front of me. She was long at my back. Way back from my back. Like to the doorway to the exit to the floor below.

Are you lighting the right passions? What is your focus?

And it was.But if (when) you stepped away, the bricks engulfed in flame was the least of my problems.A good part of the apartment building’s roof was engulfed. It was a super-hot Fourth of July, too. 1976.

The tenement building’s roof was my personal summer sticky playground and now my playground was in danger of melting.

At least if a Brooklyn FD unit was in my future, I was wearing pants this time around. The last time fire trucks showed up I had my bare bottom stuck to hot asphalt. This time? I was prepared! Pants locked. Secured.

It all happened so fast. This was supposed to be the best fourth ever too. Portable radio, new hibachi (tiny, best BBQ ever), and $200 worth of assorted fireworks (that was a fortune for me). A fortune for 1976. Hey, it was the bicentennial. A big deal. I wanted a big bang to celebrate (from Donna too who wore a July 4 themed tube top ready for removal).

For those of you too young to know what “Hibachi,” is.

The wind was unusual. Air was still. Then a gust. Still. A gust. Let’s say it was damn unusual. I placed the first (of what I thought would be many) of the colorful fireworks, cone shaped, on the ledge of the roof facing the street.I was going to orchestrate the most impressive pyrotechnics display these sweaty bastards ever saw. Happy 200th birthday, America!!

I lit the fuse and stepped back. Excited. Then it hit me. A formula for disaster was right before my eyes.

Wind Gust + Huge Paper Grocery Bag of Fireworks On Roof Floor + Ignited Fuse =

Brooklyn rooftops were both beautiful & dangerous.

I couldn’t have planned a  more perfect disaster. The wind knocked the cone directly into the bag. Then the real show began.Before it was over, there was a flaming pile of ash and a trail from the wind swirling remnants of fiery trash now starting fires all over the roof.Flaming fireworks were now raining down on the courtyard too.

I dreadfully imagined the emergency call to the FDNY this time:

“The roof of _____? Is it the kid who had his genitals stuck? He’s at it again?”

Hey, it wasn’t my fault!!!! I didn’t plan this!!

Or did I?

Fuck off!! I’m the victim here!!!!

Was I?

I needed to face smoldering facts. I was turning into a human I didn’t want to be. A person worse than a hoodlum. My soul was on fire.

My mother always blamed everyone else for her troubles, her fate, even though she was responsible for what lit her fuse and how she crashed and burned. Over and over again.

Turning into my mother was the worst thing I could imagine. In the flames I was still. I was hoping to burn. Donna? Long gone. On the phone with the fire department.

I was next. Ready to burn. Ready to be consumed by the hell fire of a victim’s mentality.

I imagined myself a scarred drone. A victimless victim. An ash hit my face. I left it alone. To wake me up.  I was not going to fall for the hypnotic bad flames around me. I was bigger than the fire now.If there was indeed going to be fires, I was going to make damn sure I was responsible for them. I was going to use them to fuel my path. Out of this neighborhood. No more rooftops. No more bare ass to asphalt. And I was going to make sure my fires were mostly for good things. Not for ruining property. My beloved roof. Scarred forever.

At 12 years old I declared my independence. Never looked back. Little did I know when my mother left town forever a year later with a guy she knew for a week, this move would serve me well.

On July 4 we celebrated. We took back America. The one we remember or at least, like to remember. The one of loyalty, love, faith, friendship. The old of glory. The flames of patriotism and of course, independence.

Then July 5 rolls around. And it’s over. We are slaves again. Slaves to debt, slaves to overwhelming bosses and the corporations they serve, slaves to politics, slaves to shit we don’t need. We lose ourselves in the bad flames. Next 4th of July we’ll restore our faith again. Not good enough. It’s time to light your fuse.

No. A year is too damn far away. Today, July 5. You will be reborn. Today is your personal independence day. How will you create and serve this noble purpose?

How would you begin your PDI? What will be your Personal Declaration of Independence?

Random Thoughts:

1). Burn (or blow up) Bridges. Set to flame those people who don’t ignite your passions, your creativity, your strengths, your will to live. You’ve already identified them you just haven’t had the guts to set the bridges on fire. Not literally. Put away the lighter fluid. Don’t even call these pricks. Just stop communication. Walk out. Get an attorney if you’re married. Nothing wrong with using the laws of the land to light the dynamite.

2). Be a Firestarter. Direct your fire slowly to those activities, the people, the materials that enhance your intelligence, bolster your wealth, lighten your mood and encourage you. Light the spark every day. At the end of the day, be thankful you were able to set good thoughts ablaze. Be thankful for the firestarters.

3). Who Holds the Fire Extinguisher Now? Or who is out to hose you? I’ve identified real false fire gods. They lurk in the coals of corporate America. You think they’re mentors. They are. Up until you stop chugging the Kool-Aid and speak out against an action that’s inappropriate to the customers or clients you serve.

Do that and you’re dead. Even if you speak out once. Dead. Covered in white foam. Your career fire is out. Just like that. What the hell happened?

Create a personal, small rebellion (which will turn out to be BIG) against corporate America. Corporate America is no longer your friend if you’re an employee. Although, you’re extra, extra special as a shareholder or a bondholder.

As a worker, you’re drudge at the bottom of a drudge bucket. Yes, there are exceptions but not as many as you think. Every corporate action that is taken and will be taken going forward will be to drain more life out of you and take time away from your family. All for the sake of fatter profit margins. All to appease Wall Street analysts. You work for Wall Street now. It doesn’t matter what your check says. Your corporate mentors will spoon feed you, pacify you until you speak up. It only takes one time.

After the financial crisis in 2008, behind the doors of mahogany boardrooms I’m thoroughly convinced that corporate decisions makers know they have you over a barrel. They’re willing to take advantage of the situation for as long as possible. They want the fire in your soul until there’s nothing left.

You’ll work longer hours for less pay. You’ll progressively be thrown lofty goals soaked in management hubris, which will be increasingly impossible to meet. And when you don’t meet or exceed these hurdles you’ll be written up or threatened with firing.

The future indicates you’ll need to deal with greater “innovation” from middle managers who consistently need to work off your sweat equity to enhance their miserable careers. You have now become a flesh cog in the corporate machine until the scales balance more in labor’s favor. It will happen someday. They’ll be more workers seeking to break free. For now? You’re screwed.

Don’t be a victim. What actions can you take today to further strengthen your personal declaration of independence. Knowing your enemy helps. Some dress well and talk sharp. Take what you can get. Be respectful. But never trust corporate mentors.

4). Positive Fires Rage through Humility. I’ve heard America likes overachievers. I don’t believe it. People will sincerely appreciate your help but don’t fall too in love with yourself. Remain humble and grateful in your life and in your delivery of guidance. Overachieve in your heart and be thankful when people recognize and commend your fires.

God will bless you and people will actually heed your words. Humble also means you have a fire to constantly gain knowledge. You can never know or learn enough.

I never went up to the roof again. I left everything. For all I know, the Hibachi  and the radio are still up there.

The person I was remains in the brick of an urban hearth. The person I  was died in flames on July 4, 1976.

On July 5th,  I was reborn.

How will it happen for you?

Although on occasion, I miss the dirty beauty seen from a Brooklyn roof.

Regrets that Rip You Apart. 8 Ways to Learn from a Machete Maniac.

“What are these crescent marks on your homework, Richard?”

What will leave a mark on you? On your work? On your soul?“The paper came like that. I have no idea,” I said (as non-chalant as possible).

Hell, I knew what those odd marks were. I wasn’t going to tell my teacher, that’s for sure. Smearing my #2 pencil math and causing me to lose precious points.

“Look he’s a good boy. He works so hard, then he sits here and does his homework,” she said.

“He’s going places.”

Not then. Certainly not at that age. I sat at the corner of a circular bar late in the afternoon. After school. With a Coke. Lots of ice and french fries to get me through.

I looked up. Susan was wearing much of nothing. I loved and still remember how the bottom of her perk-hard breasts curved higher and her nipples were always erect. She told me it was an affliction or genetic or something I can’t recall. Either way, I focused on them a lot so I know she knew what she was talking about.

She would peek down. Hair hanging close enough for me to smell the Prell. She’d grin and point to me like I was the man (boy). I noticed I was the only person she would point at. I was special.

A couple of nights a week she would let me sleep on the couch at her place. I thought she was old. Susan couldn’t have been older than 22 but to a 13 year-old, 22 is damn near ancient. She had been on her own for a long time that I knew. She appeared older because inside she was.

Her face was perfect and clean except for some light/dark circles under her eyes. Yet they were the most perfect brown eyes. Her dark hair was big-wave curly most of the time, longer than shoulder length. She barely wore make up (I remember because I cleaned her bathroom).

To earn my keep I completed various chores which included select personal grooming. Pedicures (bright-red polish I bought at Duane Reade’s for 59 cents), deep hair conditioning, run bath water, cook, vacuum (my favorite for some reason) and other responsibilities I’ll refrain from print.

Susan was a pseudo-mom, occasionally a big sister, frequently a guardian and all the time, as she strut her stuff on that bar for strange men, she was my overseer. A mentor in size 6 black heels. Always black.

I rarely saw her happy. When I told her about my good grades at school, she did smile. Genuine. Her eyes would brighten. She would hug me. It was at those times, she appeared much younger. I felt older than her when she smiled. It was that kind of innocent. In some way, I took her pain away.

“It’s important you stay in school, Richie.”

I hated Richie but it stuck for years. Even now I cringe if people call me that. Most important was what she taught me, how she truly cared for me, took on a roll a mother abandoned for a time. I could see in her eyes how much she loved me. If I was older I think she would have married me. I questioned why I should bother to stay in school, what was the point?

We could live together and go on like this forever and instead of laboring over homework and studies I could get a real job. I worked in the place she did. I cleaned tables, put aluminum foil  and mirrors up on dank walls, filled the cigarette machine and I was grateful for the money but for Susan I wanted to accomplish more.

She inspired me in a world that was several bottoms less than inspiring. Was it romantic love I felt? Not sure. I loved her but couldn’t forge the feelings correctly in my head. They only went so far. My life experiences then were too limited to put the pieces together properly.

I’m saddened (tortured) even today,  how I never asked her why she cared so much, why she bothered. What was her past like? I don’t recall any family discussed, any photos hanging on the walls of the studio apartment above the Salumeria (Italian deli). Who influenced her? I regret not asking. Not caring for her more. I took out a big knife with rusty edges. I…

                                           Wondered what happened to her?

I saved this photo months ago. Best resemblance to Susan I could find.

Bonds you extend to others, those they extend to you, are (I’m convinced)  laid out by a higher power. I have no clue what the power or energy is. Is it God? Not certain. Are these bonds darker and do they hold more DNA than blood? Yes. In that I AM certain.

Sometimes people you extend the bond to sever it. And not surgically. Some will use a machete and whack at it in such a terrifying manner and so quickly, you are not sure you could ever extend the bond again.

There’s too much of your own blood spilled. You need a transfusion from someone. Something. Who the fuck is listening?

But where? Who? I know. It happened to me recently. It’s happened to you. And I’m not clear on my ability to bond again for the first time in a long time.

                                 I raised the machete to Susan many years ago.

I was cut by beauty & intelligence. Never again. Never again?

And after several decades, the regret of what happened then and today resurfaces like a beast. A demon I thought was slayed, returns. Much stronger.A greater malevolence than I ever imagined was (is) still thrives within. And I regret every moment of what (who) unchained it. It was Susan. A Susan doppleganger.

Every moment of happiness, every dinner, every discussion, I regret.

But I say, in the blood is the lesson. Because that’s where lessons are born. Oaths are taken.

In blood. In the blood of interaction, in the blood of intimacy, in the blood of vulnerability, in the blood of stupidity, trust. In toe-nail polish.

Regrets can rip you apart. Yet in a way, you will eventually emerge from a cocoon more beautiful than ever before, a diamond with an additional imperfection which can only make you more valuable to yourself and others.

Random Thoughts:

1). Cocoon. You must heal. Assess what you will and won’t do again. Create your machete protection program but be careful. To live, you must be cut. You decide for how much and how long. Feel bad for yourself. Live with the demon a bit. It’s ok. I’m doing it. Demon has been stealing my socks for a couple of months.

2). Spend money. On anything that will make you stronger physically or emotionally. An exercise class, martial arts, a book on self-improvement. Indulge a bit. It takes time to heal from a machete attack.

3). Listen to.  Music. So many studies that show how music can help your mind, your healing. Find music that relates to your situation. Listen to music that allows happier memories to emerge. And stick.

4). Don’t listen to. People-who try to give you guidance right now. Fuck them. What do they know about what you’re going through?  Only you know. Be polite, but…

“Everybody’s talking at me. I don’t hear a word they’re saying, Only the echoes of my mind. People stopping staring, I can’t see their faces, Only the shadows of their eyes.”

Thank you Harry Nilsson and “Midnight Cowboy,” for the encouragement.

5). Learn to.  Ask people why they love you. Why they hate you. Why do they care so much about you? Be sincerely interested in others that higher powers throw in your path. Everyone has a story. Perhaps you’ll learn something to make you better in the long run. But DO IT AFTER YOUR COCOON PROCESS HAS CONCLUDED.

6). Pray. To yourself. To the healer inside you.

7). Downsize. Get rid of the baggage, toxic chemicals and material crap that makes you a slave. Free your mind from excess. For example, I stopped drinking and my regret demon hates it. It reminds me in the shower of how much it hates my abstinence.

8). Mind your mentors. They are all ages, all forms. Some are smarter, others not. You’ll love them, you’ll hate them. Susan was a mentor. Susan’s double was too.

Susan walked on my homework. I have no idea. Perhaps it was her stamp of approval. I never asked why she did.

The crescents were the bottom of her tiny heels.

When I was 16 I severed ties with her. I felt I was too good for her. She was a low-life stripper and I was going to be successful. She tried to find me. I told her I would meet her for coffee and I watched from across the street as she went into a luncheonette in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. She sat there for an hour and a half and waited for me.

Ten years ago she died from a drug overdose. Alone. I still had time to thank her, to ask, to tell her. To explain. To be there.

But I didn’t. And I wasn’t..

And so I must live with this regret.  Learn to cage it again. It’s a lot stronger/bigger this go round.  Who will unleash it next?

I pray it isn’t you. And you know who you are.