Happy Father’s Day to the Leader of the Band

“My life has been a poor attempt
To imitate the man.
I’m just a living legacy
To the leader of the band.”

Father’s Day 2017 was a difficult one for my brother and me. Lots of talk about it being a “different kinda summer”. The Leader of the Band had died in September, which meant that our concert-going triumvirate was reduced to a duo. We forged ahead that summer and recalled some of the most memorable concert nights with dad. These memories included:

The good: Tim McGraw dedicated “Live Like You Were Dying” to anyone battling cancer, and dad stood proudly as 50,000+ fans cheered.

The bad: On that same night, we lost my dad in a sea of 50,000+ sun-soaked fans who nearly trampled him in the Met Life parking lot.

And the ugly: Brett and I stayed for Vince Gill’s encore at the Allentown Fair, which meant that the funnel cake stand closed before dad could get one. “Hey assholes, you can’t whet my appetite like that and then screw me out of a funnel cake!”

No matter how good, bad, or ugly the night was, Brett and I always posted a wholesome photo that, to the casual observer, showed:

A) 2 sons still enjoyed hanging out with their 70+ year-old dad.

B) A 70+ year old dad was still cool enough to hang out with his sons.

C) My guns aren’t big enough for cut-sleeves.

D) All of the above is the correct answer.

Blake Shelton – BB&T Pavilion, August 2013

Yes, casual observers only saw the obvious sweetness in these photos. But Brett and I knew so much more. Today, I’m remembering the countless classics as if they happened just yesterday. What I remember the most about our concert nights together is how perfectly imperfect they really were. I could almost set my watch to the precise times that each of the following would occur:

  • Dad, feeling left out of a “young-guy” conversation: “This is why old people shouldn’t hang out with young people. Not one God-damn girl has checked me out all night! It doesn’t help that I have tits!”
  • Brett, feeling left out of a “smart-guy” conversation: “Hey Icabod, was I supposed to study for this conversation? Will there be a test tomorrow?”
  • Shane, feeling left out of a “tough-guy” conversation: “Dad, how old was I when you first realized I might be gay?”

We never felt more free to be ourselves than when we were together at a concert. Just three big personalities; one giant powder keg filled with our unique set list of emotions. We talked. We yelled. We sang. We fought. But mostly, we laughed…until we cried!

Kenny Chesney/Tim McGraw – MetLife Stadium, August 2012

Summer 2017 and beyond…
Sure enough, the concert tradition continued with Brett and I as a duo. Names like Bosephus, Zac Brown, Garth, and Skynyrd come to mind. In fact, it was during our time as a duo that we created our bucket list of acts to see in concert. After all, Elvis died just two weeks before a young Brett would have seen him in concert. That story inspired us to see all of our favorites in concert before they died. The results were mixed.

Tom Petty and Don Williams: They both died before their respective boxes could be checked off our list.

Gordon Lightfoot: He looked like he was dying on stage instead of singing. Once he started sucking on oxygen (I wish I was joking), we checked off the box and called it a night.

(Note: The story of Brett and I seriously considering the Air Supply concert in Morristown has been greatly exaggerated and is also completely true).

Despite dad’s absence, Brett and I always fell into our familiar/familial concert-going roles. He was still the tough guy in the black Elvis T-shirt, which accentuated his guns. I was still the straight-laced/straight-A kid in any shirt that accentuated my “#2 pencils”. (That’s how Brett described my guns).

For a few pre-pandemic summers, we were still dad’s duo, playing our parts to imperfect perfection. We talked. We yelled. We sang. We fought. But mostly, we laughed…until we cried!

Zac Brown Band – BB&T Pavilion, July 2018

Father’s Day 2021
Which brings me to Father’s Day 2021. For obvious reasons, this will be an especially difficult Father’s Day for me. After The Leader of the Band died in 2016, Brett and I became a duo. When Brett passed away in April, I became a solo act. Does that make me the Leader of the Band now?

Fortunately, a love of concerts runs deep in my family…so we have a full slate of post-pandemic concerts scheduled. They include Rock: Green Day, Kings of Leon; Country: Eric Church, Luke Combs; Pop: Harry Styles, The Biebs; and Comedy: Ricky Gervais and Bill Burr.

I’m so excited to have live concerts back this summer. I also feel fortunate that I can still share these experiences with the people I love. Still, it’s sad to realize that I’ll never experience another concert with my father and brother. No, I guess the band won’t get back together for several more decades. In the meantime, I’ll spend the rest of my concert-going life checking off all the boxes on our list. In their honor. With my #2 pencils, of course!

Lynyrd Skynyrd/Hank Williams Jr. – BB&T Pavilion, August 2017

I shared the following words of wisdom with my kids on the day Tom Petty died:

If you have a chance to see your heroes in concert, don’t wait! See them now!

I’ll also share these words of wisdom that just came to me as l was crying through the writing:

If you have a chance to see concerts with your heroes (like I did with my father and brother)…go with them every chance you get!

Remember: Life’s too short, and there are still so many buckets left to check off your list.

Happy Father’s Day in Heaven to the Leaders of the Band! Brett, I hope Elvis performs all your favorites. And Dad, I hope they’re still serving funnel cakes long after the encore.

George Strait – XL Center Hartford, February 2013
Bill Burr – Madison Square Garden, November 2018
Brooks & Dunn – Mohegan Sun, July 2011

Darkness and Light: A Superheroic Life, Starring Brett Smith

After my brother Brett’s passing on April 8, 2021, I heard a lot of stories about his heroic acts as both a Marine and a Police Officer.

There were stories about late-night, high-speed drives home from Camp Lejeune. Fellow Marine John Mendelson told me that whenever Brett would order fast food at a drive-thru, he’d always order as Elvis Presley. I’m not an Elvis impersonator, but I’ll bet it sounded something like this:  

“Hey mama, give me one of them hunka-hunka-burnin’ quarter pounders with cheese. Thank you. Thank you very much.”

There’s even one from a young officer in Dover who was inspired to emulate “this mystery cop from Motown who would jump out of trees and climb buildings like Superman to catch criminals.” One of the greatest compliments in this cop’s career was being called “Baby Brett” by a criminal.

So, I decided that my eulogy should read more like a superhero origin story. It’s all about Brett’s greatest superpower: his ability to turn darkness into light; to generate laughter in virtually any situation. To paraphrase one of his former colleagues, “I mean rolling on the floor, tears streaming down your face laughter.”

I’ll do my best to re-create some scenes from the Brett Smith cinematic universe.

Instant Laughter – Scene 1

In his late teens, Brett was picking up hundreds of dollars worth of Formica for our carpenter dad. Now to really appreciate this story, you have to fully picture Brett…circa 1985. He’s wearing his orange Houston Astro’s plastic baseball helmet turned backwards. His hair is dyed jet black to look like Elvis Presley. And Elvis’s “My Way” is blaring through his Sony Walkman headphones.

Suddenly, horns began to honk and Brett took a quick peek thru the rearview mirror. To his surprise, the truck bed was empty. To his horror, huge Formica sheets were now careening off cars and splintering across Route 46 like a debri-filled hurricane.

When Brett returned to the job site, still wearing the plastic helmet by the way, my father started to boil: “Hey Numb Nuts, where’s the Formica?” Without skipping a beat, Numb Nuts replied: “Dad, the question isn’t where IS the Formica. The question is where ISN’T the Formica!” After hearing the full details, my father, now out several hundred bucks, just laughed his ass off.  

Instant Laughter – Scene 2

When I was in college and Brett was home on leave from the Marines, I told him that I was embarrassed to make a certain purchase for the first time. I asked him if he could go with me to Thrift Drugs Pharmacy and, you know, buy the box with me.

After picking up the box and approaching the cashier together, Brett realized a fatal flaw in my plan. He whispered, “Shane, if we go up to buy these together…that old lady’s gonna think we’re using them together.

So Brett darted to the nearby magazine rack as I nervously approached the cashier. Staring at me with knowing eyes, the old lady asked: “Will that be all son?” But before I could answer, Brett shouted out from a distance: “YEP! JUST THE RUBBERS!” I laughed right in the old lady’s face.

Instant Laughter – Scene 3

Several years ago, as my father rested peacefully in his final days on Earth, Brett asked me, “Hey Shane, what does hospice mean?”

I said “Brett, remember when we visited our friend’s mother just before she died of cancer? That was hospice.”

Brett responded confidently: “Ohhhhh yeahhhhh, that’s right! His mother had prostate cancer too.”

I asked, “Brett, you do know that only men have prostates, right?” He said,  “Well, I know NOW!” Laughter in a hospital!

Darkness Into Light Prelude

I didn’t pick that last story just to help you understand why Brett’s former police partner, Jared, had to help Brett write his police reports. I shared it because it’s a perfect example of Brett’s superpower in action. No matter the situation, even in death, he could turn darkness into light. I also watched him do the same thing with his children and the little league players he coached.

I truly believe that Brett’s light shined so bright for so many others that it was all burned out when he needed some light for himself.

I can share countless stories from fellow Marines, police officers, and actors who bragged about how tough, courageous, loyal, and talented Brett was. But what makes Brett stories so uniquely Brett, is that they’re also peppered with little moments where he turned darkness into light when you least expected it.

Darkness Into Light – Scene 1
I remember the time when Brett noticed that the physical symptoms of my medical condition were similar to those of his friend on the force. Brett said he couldn’t help me because his medical expertise was limited to whether or not wearing baseball hats and plastic helmets caused his receding hairline. The next day, however, I received a phone call from Brett’s colleague. It turned out we didn’t just have similar symptoms. We had the exact same medical condition. Thanks to Brett, the medical detective, his colleague is now my friend and he’s been checking up on me ever since.

On the set of Beyonce’s “Dance for You” video shoot, 2011.

Darkness Into Light – Scene 2

There was another time when I was complaining to Brett about my clients. I told him I was tired of being so nice because it made me feel like a pushover. And let’s face it, Brett knew I was a bit of a pushover growing up. One time he asked Santa Claus for 2 pairs of boxing gloves for Christmas. But he didn’t tell Santa that he might use them to kick my ass every day.

There was also the time he hacked off the top half of our bunk beds and threw the remains out the window before mom and dad got home. When I asked him why he did it, he told me we needed more wall space for a big surprise. The big surprise was a 6-foot tacky velvet Elvis poster. And for many days forward, I slept on shag carpet and Elvis never left the building.

Getting back to my client story: I told Brett that I was tired of always being the nice guy. Sensing an opportunity to make amends for the butchered bunk beds, Brett told me that the world needed more nice guys. He then went on to compare us to the Curtis brothers from The Outsiders. He was Darry (the tough-guy older brother played by Patrick Swayze) and I was Darry’s sensitive younger brother, Ponyboy (played by C. Thomas Howell). Several hours after the call ended, still buried in work, I received a screen shot of the Robert Frost poem featured in The Outsiders. It was followed by Brett’s simple, 3-word text: “Stay gold Ponyboy.”

Darkness Into Light – Scene 3

Or like the Christmas when our beloved mother’s heart shattered because her favorite antique porcelain candy cane sled broke. This news shattered Brett as well because 1) He adored his mom and knew how much pride she took in her Christmas mantle; and 2) Christmas turned tough-guy Brett into Buddy the Elf. And like Buddy the Elf searching for his dad, Brett searched high and low to find the identical antique porcelain candy cane sled for mom. And it’s been on mom’s Christmas mantle ever since.

There were so many other little ways in which Brett could wield his superpowers. He’d make you laugh at his own expense, he’d show you his vulnerability just to make you feel less vulnerable, or he’d expose that big Buddy the Elf heart laying just beneath his rugged exterior.

Closing Scene

This past Easter Sunday, Brett and I took a long drive to nowhere in particular. He started to wax nostalgic about “better days” and how the past couple of years had been such a struggle. He wondered what it meant for his legacy. Could a couple of dark years really be enough to overshadow the 50 bright ones?

I don’t have to share my answer because you’ve all given him the same one in recent days. I truly believe that your visits, social media posts, phone calls, texts, tributes, and contributions have been heard loudly and proudly by Brett. Just as they’ve been so warmly received by Leigh, Noelle, Billy, Christian…and our entire family.

Even in death, my brother still possesses that same superpower I spoke of earlier. My sisters and I have experienced moments in the past few days where we found ourselves infused with our brother’s spirit, acting the part of Brett, while helping others laugh through the pain.  

While writing a story about Brett’s remarkable life and legacy, a local reporter asked me, “Do you remember the last thing your brother said to you during your Easter Sunday drive?” I told him that I honestly didn’t know. Actually, I’d like to believe that Brett sang his final words to me. In his most perfect Elvis voice, he sang:

And now the end is near,

And so I face the final curtain.

My friend, I’ll say it clear,

I’ll state my case of which I’m certain.

I’ve lived a life that’s full,

I’ve traveled each and every highway.

And more, much more than this,

I did it my way.

Road House Rules: The Lost Art of Being Nice

Like my father before me, I’m a fairly simple and uncomplicated man. I find more wisdom in films than books; more poetry in country music than anthologies. My favorite poet is Robert Frost, by way of The Outsiders’ Pony Boy Curtis.

It’s a poem about the fleeting beauty of innocence:

Nothing Gold Can Stay
Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day,
Nothing gold can stay.

And my father’s favorite poet was Patrick Swayze, by way of Road House’s Dalton.

“I want you to be nice.
Until it’s time to not be nice.”

In the greaser mode of the aforementioned Pony Boy, my father was born with a heart that was two sizes too [big]. While his slow-strut and southern-like drawl suggested a countrified upbringing, he was a northeastern greaser right down to his plain-white-T and “dungarees”. The least political man I ever knew, dad had a healthy respect for politics but a disdain for political rhetoric. “Never discuss politics and religion” were the words he preached; “be nice” were the words by which he lived.

Long before Patrick Swayze made it noble to not “put Baby in the corner” and cool to “be nice”, my father had already chosen “nice” as his preferred vice. That is why I listened intently when he prophesied that social media would be “the ruination of civilization.” For my dad, social media broke all the rules. Most notably, it was far too easy to not be nice when it came to the polarizing topics that he vowed never to discuss: religion and politics.

Before my father passed away at 76 years young at heart, he was reminded daily that Elton John had erred. In dad’s eyes, “nice” (not “sorry”) seemed to be the hardest word. And I’m sorry to say dad, it’s getting harder every day. Today, nice may very well be the least appreciated 4-letter word in the English language. It lacks the hard-consonant punch of F*CK; the satisfaction of a solid SH*T; or the sexually charged sting of C*CK or C*NT. Nice isn’t sexy, and it sure as shit ain’t easy.

But to dad, nice was effortless. I guess that’s why he couldn’t quite grasp why nice was so hard for so many others. At times, it infuriated him…

  • Dad’s reaction to the unfriendly woman at the checkout counter: “Ooooh…would it hurt that dipshit to say thank you???”
  • Dad to the recipient of his kind traffic gesture:
    “Ooooh….ain’t you gonna thank me, you tick-turd???”

Determined to be one of Frost’s few outliers, dad stayed as gold as the pack of Winston Lights that used to peek from his shirt pockets. He entered every room with a smile,  and he never exited a room that wasn’t filled with laughter. In short, he always led with nice. Nice was his brand. And in the words of his cowboy hero, it was a brand that stuck.

If dad’s cigarette vice ultimately played a role in his death, then nice was the vice that fueled his 76 years of happiness. There may even be some science to back-up this claim. According to Lara Honos-Webb, Ph.D., “When we help others and do kind acts, it causes our brain to release endorphins, the chemical that gives us feelings of fervor and high spirits — similar to a runner’s high.” Keep in mind, my dad wouldn’t know the difference between an endorphin and a Dolph Lundgren. So I doubt he clung to nice for its health benefits like a vegan pounces on tofu. Nice just made him feel really good. So good, in fact, that he’d routinely peek through a restaurant window just to see the waiter’s joyful reaction to his overly generous tip.

“Ooooh…he didn’t even smile! That waiter’s an ass-hole!”
[See, dad also knew when it was time to not be nice. ]  

Some can argue that dad’s perpetual happiness was fueled by caffeine, nicotine, and yellow Marshmallow Peeps. I disagree! Dad’s greatest buzz came from his vice for being nice. Curious to know what dad looked like when it was time to not be nice?

If you dared to cross my father or a member of his family, he’d go OG Buford Pusser on your ass. But I digress…

My point is that dad understood both parts of Dalton’s rule. I fear that we, as a society, have forgotten the first part: Being nice starts with listening to one another. And we jump straight to the second part: Not being nice is so easy from behind the safety glass of our mobile devices. What happened? Did the endorphin response to being nice get trumped by the quick fix of a cheap laugh (eg, mean tweets) or an even cheaper like (my political views rule, your’s drool)? Or, like the gold in Pony Boy’s favorite poem, has our nation lost its collective innocence due to the endless onslaught of very real and troubling news that I only wish we could “fake” away? Sorry dad, I have no answers.

Around the time of my 45th birthday, my normally optimistic tone changed to bitterness during a phone call with my brother. Overworked and feeling undervalued,  I complained to my brother about my job. I complained about my clients. I called them every 4-letter word in the book and vowed to stop working so hard for people who didn’t appreciate me. “Ooooh…would it hurt that dipshit to say thank you???” I felt like a pushover, and I sounded like my father. Why was it so hard for my clients to be nice? And why should I bother being nice anymore?

Shortly after the call, in a moment of perfect clarity, my brother sent me a text that I’ll never forget:

“Stay gold Pony Boy.”

That text, and the conversation that inspired it, made me think about my father. It reminded me of his brand; the only 4-letter word by which he chose to live, and the brand that still “sticks” to me and my siblings. And I decided to write this post when I recalled a speech that my dad gave while accepting an award to honor his many years as a little league baseball coach. Today, the closing line from his speech reads more like his epitaph:

“And when I walk down the street, I hope a former player of mine
will look and say ‘there goes Bill Smith–he was a really nice guy’.”

He really was. And may we all remind ourselves of my dad’s speech; the poetry of Robert Frost; the golden innocence of Pony Boy Curtis; and both parts of Dalton’s Road House rules.

Let’s try to make “nice” the brand that sticks.

Stay gold my friends!


“What About Prom, [Shane]?”

True to the masthead I write under, I learned everything I know about high school traditions from the movies of John Hughes. Which is to say, I spent more time watching movies about high school traditions than I spent participating in them. Today, these movies are more dated than a “Where’s the Beef?” T-shirt. As such, my oldest son Cal pays zero attention to the high school lessons I preach. Lessons he aptly named: The Gospel According to John Hughes.

The kid’s got a point. Up until my senior year, I never participated in any of the major high school traditions. I observed them. I never swigged the booze or bagged the babe, but I could tell you who swigged the babe and bagged the booze. I guess you could say I was a bit of a high school anomaly. I was an extroverted introvert who studied hard, had a few close friends, just said “no” to everything, and lived vicariously through the lives of Hughes’s high school heroes and heroines. For me, there were no parties (Sixteen Candles), no detentions (The Breakfast Club), no cutting class (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), and no school dances (Pretty in Pink). In fact, I had virtually no life after midnight (The Gremlins).

So by the time my senior prom arrived, the thought of scoring a date sounded downright prom-posterous. For starters, I wasn’t exactly on any girl’s A-list of eligible bachelors. In their rolodexes (remember those?), they filed my number somewhere between N and O. And with the exception of my two sisters, and maybe a few of their mannish friends, I hardly even talked to the opposite sex. In their minds, I was the opposite of sex.

“Good morning! Welcome to another day of higher education!”

In my defense, my oldest siblings didn’t exactly paint a pretty-in-pink picture of high school proms:

  • At her prom, my sister Cindy walked through an unopened glass door and wound up concussed.
  • My sister Sherry’s prom dates equaled the collective coolness of Ernie and Bert.
  • My brother Brett never made it to his senior prom; or senior year for that matter.

Even so, I knew that the senior prom wasn’t just another dance. This time, I couldn’t just say no. As prom night grew closer, my family started reminding me of this very point. Actually, they started to sound like Andie (Molly Ringwald) hammering Blane, her would-be prom date and major appliance: “What about prom, [SHANE]!?!?!” 

Sadly, up until 2 weeks before prom, this Ferris Bueller-sounding promposal was the best offer I got: “My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who said she might go with you.”  

“This is an incredibly romantic moment, and you’re ruining it for me!”

Inspired by Pretty In Pink’s Duckie, I finally summoned the courage to ask the sweetest girl at Morristown High School to the prom. As I recall, my shaky-legged promposal sounded an awful lot like Rocky Balboa proposing to Adrian:

“Hey yo, Selina. I was just wonderin’ if you
mind goin’ to the prom with me too much?” 

Nonetheless, Selina said YES! I wore a slightly ironic mismatched black-and-white tuxedo. We shared a limo with my 3 best friends. And I enjoyed a prom night that still inspires me to this day.

Flash forward 27 years…

As I worked late last night, and watched social media drive MHS prom photos into the local zeitgeist, I was at a loss for words. So overcome with pure pride and joy, I could only text the following to my wife: “I can’t stop smiling and crying!”

I share my slightly exaggerated story above because I know that every kid at the prom last night has his or her own story. And like bookends to each kid’s story, there are parents who’ve supported their child through it all. As parents, we see beneath the newly coiffed hair, the flawless tuxes/dresses, and the generous helpings of tan spray paint. We see the long, winding, sometimes bumpy road of adolescent life that brought our kids to this destination. And when it comes to high school, let’s face it, getting there isn’t always half the fun. But boy, don’t the memories of “getting there” make moments like last night so much sweeter?

I think of all the demands that parents, teachers, coaches, peers, and cellular devices place on kids. Heck, these demands are probably nothing compared to the demands our kids place on themselves. But for one night–and a long weekend down the shore that has every parent praying to whomever they pray to in times like these–there was only one demand being placed on our kids:

Just go out there and have the time of your life!

For me, prom is the American high school tradition. It’s truly a rite of passage and the one important ritual of American youth that I was proud to have participated in. Today I’m so proud and excited for all those self-tanned and smiling faces that I recognized on social media last night. As for what lays ahead for them this weekend, I’ll let Duckie sum it up for you:

“Oh you know, beer, scotch, juice box… whatever.”

Have a great weekend everybody! “I’m off like a dirty shirt.”

My Top 10 Songs of Summer

I’ve seen more summer concerts than I care to mention,
Vanilla Ice, Hammer, and other cries for attention.
And while it’s easy to say I got caught up in a fad,
The truth is, “summer songs” just make me go mad.

By summer songs, I’m not talking about the [insert “Summer” here] songs that play All Summer Long. The ones that reak of desperation from desperate artists [that means you Kid Rock, Kid Rap, or Kid Country]. And while some titular summer songs like Bananarama’s Cruel Summer, Don Henley’s Boys of Summer,  and Bryan Adams’ Summer of ’69 do fit my bill, I’m referring to that summer song that’s released in the spring…picks up steady airplay and humma-bility by Memorial Day…and still rings in your karaoke-ear come Labor Day. It’s that pervasive summer song that becomes as much a part of your summer as sunshine, sunburn, and a summons for public drunkenness.

Just listen to the classic songs of summer like The Police’s Every Breath You Take or even Carly Rae Jepsen’s ubiquitous Call Me Maybe (Not). Close your eyes and try not to associate those songs with at least one golden moment from the sun-soaked season of promise that produced it.

As the final summer of my early 40′s approaches…I’ll acknowledge that I haven’t had a real beach vacation in years…and that these days my summer tan is often a whiter shade of pale ale. Even so, the unofficial start to summer this weekend has bewitched me with that whiff of nostalgia and the lure of another summer’s promise.

So this Memorial Day weekend, I’ve decided to “adjust the base and let the Alpine blast…” with the songs that bring back memories of summers past…when love was often in the air…and “those su-uh-mmer niii-iiiiiiiights” seemed to last forever.

Borderline – Madonna (summer of 1984)
I spent the summer after 6th grade daydreaming about my first girlfriend, my first kiss, and how my one true love got away (I was 12). So naturally I was a sun-soaked sucker for Borderline’s poignant opening keyboard lick and infatuation-infused lyrics. It was the first of many summers marked by romantic frustration for me. But at least I had Madonna to “keep pushing my love” to dial six out of my ex-girlfriend’s seven numbers before hanging up the phone. I repeat, I was 12.

Pour Some Sugar On Me – Def Leppard (summer of 1988)
In 1988, “Hold On To The Nights” by the nappy-mulleted Richard Marx was all the summer rage. And while many teenagers were waxing hopeful about a summer fling…or figuring out that spinning the bottle was more fun after you drank the bottle…I was racking my brain trying to figure out the “love me like a bomb” lyrics of Def Leppard’s signature song. I still don’t get the lyrics…I’ve never found myself “living like a lover with a radar phone”…but l really don’t care. I credit Def Leppard for ushering in the sound of those late-80′s summers…where the best bands anywhere were the ones with the biggest hair!

Poison – Bell Biv DeVoe (summer of 1990)
I’ll never forget the summer before my Freshman year in college. So many friendships made, lessons learned, and even more memorable love songs: Mariah’s Vision of Love, Roxette’s It Must Have Been Love [Even Though Julia Roberts Was a Hooker], and Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2U [Because You’re a Bald Chick]. All great, memorable love songs…that bring me back to a summer that bridged the gap between high school boyhood and college manhood. Yet the greatest lesson I learned that summer was to “Never trust a big butt and a smile.”

Summertime – DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (summer of 1991)
In the summer of ’91, I became intoxicated by the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s “new definition of summer madness.” I summoned the courage to Dippity-Do my hair like Vanilla Ice…then I zeroed the sides of my head and annointed myself The Fresh Prince of Bad Hair. I popped in my Summertime cas-single…put my ’79 Camaro on cruise control…and laid back like Vanilla Ice Cube driving straight out of Compton (by way of Morris Plains). Somehow my new-found summer confidence (and identity crisis) lead me to the Rockaway Townsquare Playhouse where I auditioned for, and won, the role of Stanley in Neil Simons’ Brighton Beach Memoirs. It was my first-ever acting experience, and I owe it all to a “groove slightly transformed” by the artist formerly known as The Fresh Prince.

All I Wanna Do – Sheryl Crow (summer of 1994)
The most mindless summer song of all-time is the one song I didn’t want to get out of my head. At the start of my PR career in Manhattan, Cheryl Crow’s party anthem played on my Walk-Man (remember those?) and helped me endure the daily, dehumanizing, sardines-in-a-can grind of the NJ PATH train. If you had asked me back then, I’d have said ”all I wanna do is get the hell out of Manhattan, propose to my girlfriend, and live happily ever after in Morristown.” Thanks, in small part, to Sheryl Crow…that’s all I wound up doing by summer’s end.

Waterfalls –TLC (summer of 1995)
Sad stories from the ghetto, a buoyant hook, and images of water — so of course this is the song that most reminds me of my wedding day. The song and video were inescapable during the months leading up to my September wedding. Hell, it even turned up at my wedding (and we hired a Portuguese band). It also became the song of choice from the Indigo Girls-inspired folk chicks who serenaded honeymooners at our Key West resort. I’ll never forget Waterfalls, or the amazing honeymoon I spent with the love(s) of my life…Chilli, T-Boz, Lisa Left Eye Lopez, and the girl I married.

You’re Still the One – Shania Twain (summer of 1998)
Although it peaked at #1 on May 2nd, I’m willing to bend the rules here because You’re Still the One owned the airwaves throughout the summer of 1998…and it still owned my wife’s heart throughout her pregnancy with our son. On December 22nd of the following year, Helena gave birth to the youngest Shania Twain fan on Earth. I reckon our firstborn heard that Twain song in the womb more than I heard that Twain song (Hey, Soul Sister) in 2010. Twain and Train…get it?

I’m a Believer – Smash Mouth (summer of 2001)
“Somebody once told me”… that when I had children my taste in music would change. Thanks to my firstborn—and Shrek—I fell for this drek during the summer of 2001. Worst of all, it was only 2 short years after Smash Mouth’s other summer smash, All Star. I had banked on Smash Mouth following in the footsteps of other one hit summer wonders like EMF (“You’re unbelievable….Ohhhh!”) and The Proclaimers (“I would walk 500 miles…just to be the man who walked 500 miles” to turn off that fu**ing song!). But I’m still a believer in cherishing your child’s first movie-going experience. And for me, I’m a Believer is a small price to pay for watching Shrek scare the donkey out of my 2-year old son.

American Idiot – Green Day (summer of 2005)
Bending the rules again. During a long, hot car drive to and from a pre-Snooki Jersey Shore….my sons were introduced to modern rock…compliments of Green Day. What began as lispy, backseat whispers (“…here comes the part where he says f-u-c-k”) turned into the love of one song, then the entire CD, and ultimately a whole genre of music. So American Idiot is 2005′s “CD of summer.” And thanks to this American Idiot dad who allowed his young sons to listen to a CD with explicit lyrics….my boys still treat rock as more than just a passing fad. And it’s best enjoyed when they’re rocking out with dad.

Big Girls Don’t Cry– Fergie (summer of 2007)
Fatherhood was supposed to have matured me. And while the births of my two sons definitely helped turn me into a more responsible adult….the jury was still out on the maturity claim until my daughter was born. Fergie’s song played out like the soundtrack to my daughter’s 2-year-old summer. She was becoming a big girl, my boys were growing into their roles as big brothers, and daddy became a bigger (yet, more mature) moosh.

That’s it. My all-time summer top 10. Now “pop in [your] CD and let me run a rhyme…and put your car on cruise and lay back cuz it’s summertime.”

The First Cut is the Deepest

We’ve all heard the story by now. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team only to persevere and become a national champion at North Carolina, a 6-time world champion for the Chicago Bulls, and the undisputed king of crying memes.

In 1978, Michael Jordan was just another kid in the gym trying out
for the Emsley A. Laney High School varsity basketball team. There were 15
roster spots. Jordan—then a 15-year-old
sophomore who was only 5’10” and
could not yet dunk a basketball—did not get one.

This very true story has become every parent’s rallying cry when their child gets cut. In movie terms (and these are the only terms I understand) getting cut is like being shipped away to Shawshank Prison or to a solitary cell at Alexandre “Dumb-ass’s” Chateau d’if.

Let’s stick with the Shawshank Redemption theme. You might say that when it comes to being cut, it comes down to a simple choice, really:

“Get busy living. Or get busy [crying].”

As a little league “All-Star” coach, I had to cut kids as young as nine. Nine!?!? Sure, I handled the cutting process delicately and I challenged each player to work hard and prove me wrong next year. Like Jordan before him, one player did prove me wrong. By age 12, he finally earned the right to be called an All-Star. Sadly, other players phased out of baseball and phased into lacrosse, track, or Grand Theft Auto.

In cases where cuts lead to quitting, it’s easy to blame the coach. And as “the coach”, it was easy for me to stand on my soapbox and deflect criticism with
coach-speak replies that were more cliche-ridden than a Bon Jovi set list. Heck, I’d even extend my “You Give [Cuts] a Bad Name” anthem to friends and family members whose kids didn’t quite, well, cut it.

“Uh, [Shane], I do believe you are talking out of your ass.” 

It turns out that being a former coach with cutting privileges means you don’t know jack crap about what it’s like on the other end. When my son got cut this season, my natural response was to shape-shift into Mama Bear and shove porridge up Coach Goldilocks’s ass.

  • Your first thoughts are irrational ones: He has something against my son. It’s all political. He must know I like pineapple on my pizza.
  • Your second thoughts are equal parts constructive and destructive: Maybe I should call the coach…call the cops…send him a letter…lace it with anthrax.
  • As the blood finally recedes from your vein-bulging forehead: I’d better shred the letter…hang up the phone…put the pineapples back on my pizza…have an honest conversation with my son.

And that’s exactly what I did (the honest conversation part). And when you do that, you might find that your child won’t take “cut” for an answer. In fact, he just might look forward to proving his coach wrong.

“I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright.” 

As a former little league coach, I enjoy watching my former players ascend the ranks from middle school to high school ball. The coach in me can’t help but project their futures and grade them like stocks in my very own baseball portfolio. There are “5-toolers” and “bench-droolers”, “can’t misses” and “couldn’t hit water if they fell out of boats”. But like the 9-year-old who ultimately proved me wrong, there’s nothing that I enjoy more than a baseball redemption story. Especially when, in my humble opinion, the coach gets it wrong at first.

To me, a baseball redemption story is no less dramatic than Andy Dufresne crawling through a river of shit and coming out clean on the other side of Shawshank Prison. And like geology to Andy Dufresne, baseball redemption is a study in pressure and time. “Maybe that’s all it takes really…is pressure and time.” If you’re lucky enough, your time will come. And when your time comes, you hope to handle the pressure of that moment. Because, let’s face it, all good redemption stories come down to that one moment.

“I find I’m so excited that I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head.” 

This past week I watched two such players take full advantage of their respective times in the most pressure-filled moments of a high school baseball game. For one player, his moment was an indescribably beautiful, run-saving, full-extension, diving catch. For the other player, his moment covered three dominant, scoreless innings on the mound. What both players had in common was that they weren’t the coach’s first choice over the past couple of seasons. And it would have been understandable if either player had “vanished like a fart in the wind” after being cut and/or having to serve a commuted sentence on the varsity bench.

The redemption lesson here is that the players didn’t lose hope when their number wasn’t called at first. And, I’m pretty certain, their parents didn’t let them lose hope.

“Remember, [parents], hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

I hope that every player who was cut this year works hard to prove their coach wrong.

I hope that every coach welcomes the opportunity to be proven wrong next year.

I hope there are more baseball redemption stories to be told in the future.

I hope.


The ’80s: Stranger Things from a Simpler Time


You’re only young once. But if you’re lucky, you’ll be young-at-heart forever. 

My father possesses this rare gift. At the age of 76, he’s still the same dreamer with the Elvis Presley comb-over and a sweet tooth for Hollywood endings.

Lucky for me, all signs indicate that dad’s youthful heart defect hasn’t skipped a generational beat. I don’t just reminisce about those “I want my MTV” wonder years. I’m not merely a nostalgic who watches Freaks and Geeks and The Goldbergs (both great shows) or quotes John Bender like a “neo maxi zoom dweebie.” I go further than that.


  • I’ll disappear into the rabbit hole of YouTube’s memory lane for hours, only to return in Marty McFly’s DeLorean.
  • I’ve ordered 1980’s Sears Wish Books on eBay just to remember what I put on my Santa list.
  • I’ve Googled so many 1980’s TV commercials that I ask myself classic rhetorical questions like “Where’s The Beef?” and try in vein to answer them: “The HAMBURGLAR???”

I’m not your Magic Garden-variety nostalgic who simply remembers the ’80s, I inhale them. I let the ’80s seep so deeply into my pores that I need Clearasil to fix the zits.

Understandably, my significant other thinks I may have a problem. To my wife, being young at heart also means that I’m lost in time…I’ve never grown up…and I still haven’t found what U2’s looking for. I remind my significantly more mature other that I use the fond memories of yesterday as my pop-culture-infused energy source. In today’s youthful terms, they’re like power-ups that help keep me optimistic about the future. When I revisit pop-culture from the ’80s, I also remember time spent with my family, my neighborhood friends, a home that I couldn’t wait to come home to, and a president who made me feel safe…even during difficult times.

By difficult times, I mean like this one time in 1982:
I came home from school like every other day. I changed into my sweat pants, remembering to 
carefully cuff them just below the knees. I pulled my Wigwam tube socks just below my balls. I laced up my Jaclars and raced downstairs to find the end of the world as we know it (5 years before REM did).  


Seeing this TIME Magazine cover story was like experiencing my own private “The Day After”. The mental fallout was so severe that I’d Poltergeist myself into our Zenith at the mere mention of the words NUCLEAR WAR.   

Shortly after TIME Magazine foreshadowed why I’d one day pop Xanax like Tic Tacs, my father introduced us to a SONY Betamax. He also gave me my very own Video Express card. As an escape from nuclear hysteria, that card quickly pimped me into a rental whore. Late at night, when dad was watching the news downstairs, I’d play the movies extra loud upstairs. This way I’d drown out any news of the nuclear arms race and the inevitable extinction of Morris Plains, NJ. No joke, when I wasn’t navigating the aisles of Video Express, I was mapping out the quickest Jaclar route from Sussex Avenue School to my home on 14 Meslar Road. You know, in the event of global thermonuclear war.

But that was life in the ’80s. I think we all had active imaginations that fueled our childhood anxieties. We also knew our parents had a lot on their cholesterol-filled plates, so we couldn’t run to them every time something went bump in the night. I now realize, of course, that we were the last of a great generation of kids who solved their own problems. We were dreamers who looked up to the stars, not down at our cellphones. We were the first generation to have VCRs and video games; the first generation to be raised on Steven Spielberg and Stephen King; and the last generation whose parents didn’t have to worry if we strayed too far from the yard.


The 80’s were difficult times, sure, but they were simpler times. As kids, we were able to exempt ourselves from the problems of the adult world by simply disappearing until dinnertime. After dinnertime, I disappeared into the movies that captured the spirit of that time. Classic ’80s movies empowered us and gave legitimacy to our far-flung fantasies. The ones where ordinary, lower-middle-class kids could do extraordinary things.

’80s movies made us believe that:

6 kids, a treasure map, and a pirate ship loaded with booty can save the Goondocks.
(SPOILER ALERT: Their parents didn’t even have to schedule the play date).

With the help of a boy and his flying dirt bike, an alien voiced by Debra Winger can phone home without an Apple or Samsung device.


Boy who sweeps leg no match for karate kid who wax on and whacks off (sorry).

8 kids called the Wolverines can save their high school from a Russian invasion and Charlie Sheen.


When my young heart reminisces about the “good ol’ days”, I’m actually just tapping into the spirit of that simpler time. Take this election season for example. So disheartened by both major-party candidates, I desperately needed to refuel my pessimistic 2016 engine with 1.21 gigawatts of Reagan-era optimism. So on the advice of a friend, I turned my attention to a Demogorgon monster in an upside down world. No, this Demogorgon is not one of the monsters running for president. And the upside down world isn’t the DNC, the RNC, or Run-DMC. It’s the latest binge-worthy sensation from Netflix called Stranger Things. A show that my aforementioned friend described this way:

“It feels like a show written by Stephen King, directed by Steven Spielberg, and starring
cast of the Goonies. Oh, and Winona Ryder is still kinda hot “

No further selling was required. I finished the sometimes scary, always spectacular 8-episode series in 2 days. In bed suffering from a brutal ulcerative colitis flare, Stranger Things proved to be a better antidote than any ass enema. It had me shrieking in fear, blubbering with tears, and goose-bumping like a 12-year-old all over again. In addition to a tremendous cast of kids, it features familiar ’80s faces like Winona “Heathers” Ryder and Matthew “Vision Quest” Modine. The nods to the ’80s classics are endless. The chills feel like they’re courtesy of Stephen King and John Carpenter; the thrills are the work of Spielberg; and the three sides of the teenage love triangle are shaped by the John Hughes classics. But it’s almost an insult to call Stranger Things an homage to ’80s movies. It doesn’t just reference ’80s movies and look like an ’80s movie. It feels like an ’80s movie too. With each new episode, I was reminded how I felt the first time I watched all those kids-can-do classics. Lost innocence found…some 30 years later.


For me, the Duffer Brother’s “Stranger Things” felt like a time portal trip through the Poltergeist TV. After 8 tightly-packaged, swiftly-paced episodes, I triumphantly screamed: “They’re baaaack” in reference to the ’80s. And this child of the ’80s is waiting anxiously to learn if “Stranger Things” will be baaaack for a season 2.

Stranger Things is great entertainment. Escapism at its best. A reminder of a simpler time before far-flung fantasies gave way to far-too-real realities. Today, our worst fears aren’t dreamed up after reading a doomsday scenario in TIME Magazine. They’re not played-out on Dungeons & Dragons game boards in the tree houses and basements of suburbia. Today’s worst fears actually come to life. We watch them in real-time. They’re devoured on social media, recycled on the nightly news, and then spun ever-so-delicately to fit his and her own political point of view.

For a brief 8 episodes, however, Stranger Things offered a welcome respite to the hate-filled campaign coverage that proves we’re living in strange times with the risk of stranger (and scarier) things to come. (Where’s the Xanax?)

So far I’ve been steadfast in my belief that neither of our current major-party candidates is worthy of my vote.

So the next time someone asks me:
“But if you had to vote for one candidate…right here…right now…who would it be?”

My answer will be:
“I’ll endorse Stranger Things right here. And I’ll vote for a season 2. Right now!” 

Like my father, I proudly remain young at heart…and apolitical to the core.


Rocky Balboa’s Guide to Puppy Love

I was delighted to see Sylvester Stallone accept his well-deserved Golden Globe Award for Creed earlier this month. But he missed a golden opportunity to give a “Yo Adrian, I did it!” shout out to the heart and soul of the Rocky franchise. Even though she’s been absent from the last 2 films, and wasn’t verbally present in the first one, there’s no denying that Rocky I-VII could never have gone the distance without Yo Adrian’s love.


My shy, animal-loving daughter Melanie reminds me of Adrian. If you recall, Adrian was just a shy pet-store lady working at J & M Tropical Fish when she first met Rocky. It was Rocky’s love for his pet turtles–Cuff and Link–that brought him to the pet store. But it was his affection toward the store’s resident bullmastiff, Butkus, that really endeared Adrian to the future heavyweight champ and star of Stop or My Mom Will Shoot! I think Adrian fell in love with Rocky because she loved the way he loved Butkus.


Maybe Paul McCartney was on to something when he said “You can judge a man’s true character by the way he treats his fellow animals.” In the process, you just might fall in love like Adrian did.

Before I get back to why this all reminds me of my daughter Melanie, I need to first defend myself against an oft-repeated claim that’s dogged me for years. While it’s true I’m not a card-carrying “animal lover”, I’m certainly not an animal hater’s gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate. Yes, it’s true I didn’t own my first pet ’til I was 35. Also true, an errant bird did spring to life in the back seat of my Nissan Sentra. And I did bolt from the car, in the middle of an intersection, arms flailing about while screaming “Take that, you winged spawn of Satan!”

However, that doesn’t make me an animal hater. In fact, I have 3 very reasonable explanations for why it took me so long to own a pet. First, my mom never let us own a dog or cat growing up. Second, the pets we did own were more accident-prone than the lawyers in John Grisham’s The Firm. And third, I seriously thought there was a serial pet killer in my family. Like the time when…..

  • I watched in horror as my sister’s rabbit, Charky, got mauled to death by an escaped German shepherd. Sure it was the dog’s fault. But it was my father who built the rabbit coup, so I guess I always felt like it was an inside job.
  • Our tropical fish aquarium was deep-fried like a Long John Silver pub bucket. Mom claimed to have “accidentally” turned up the tank’s temperature while cleaning it. I contend that she “hit puree”.
  • My Daisy-Red-Rider-owning brother repeatedly fired bee bees at our neighbor’s donkey, Peanut. You’ve never heard a “HEEEE-HAAAAWWWW” until it comes from the mouth of a jackass who’s just been shot in his peanuts.
  • My sister’s parakeet, Tweety, died shortly after my parents purchased low-priced bird food at the Chester Flea Market. It turns out the box of bird food in question had expired 8 years before Tweety did.

Remarkably, my siblings were unscathed by memories of our “sometimes-dead-is-better” pet cemetery. In fact, they all welcomed their own pets as soon as they left home…

My sister Cindy:
Her love for animals knows no bounds. Like Ace Ventura: Pet Rescuer, she’s owned countless rabbits, a one-eyed pug named Pugsley, a Syberian Husky named Lakota, a turtle named Topanga, a parakeet named PJ, and Smokey: a cat with feline AIDS.

My sister Sherry:
She owned a black lab named Jake who wasn’t just the “family dog”, he was the “neighborhood dog.” When Jake passed, the whole neighborhood cried. Jake was quickly replaced by another dog named Kitty who, understandably, deals with identity issues. Ironically, I think she might also have a cat named Dog.

My brother Brett:
He owned a dog named Buford and it was Buford who taught me that dogs can catch ADHD from their owners. Technically, Buford was a boxer, but I say he was the reincarnation of Mike Myer’s “Phillip-the Hyper-Hypo Boy”. 


When Brett was in acting school, I used to walk Buford…which is to say Buford used to walk ME. Instead of a leash, I used one of those back-brace harnesses that deep-sea fishermen use to haul in blue marlin. And even after 2 hernias, I grew to enjoy Buford…and the day that Brett put Buford down, I cried.

Today I still cry when I go to Brett’s home because his American bulldog Memphis rapes me. Don’t get me wrong, Memphis is a wonderful family dog. He’s also a projectile slobberer. And not in a Turner and Hooch shoelace slobber way. It’s more like: if you enter Brett’s home wearing dark pants, you exit wearing Ross Gellar’s leather “paste pants.”


All kidding aside, I learned a lot about pet-loving from my siblings. I learned how they become a part of your family and how there’s a major void when they leave your family. But I didn’t truly know what “puppy love” was until I watched my daughter Melanie fall in love with our dog Scruffy.

“Once you have had a wonderful dog, a life without one is a life diminished.”
—Dean Koontz

As a pre-tonsillectomy gift to my oldest son, Scruffy joined our clan in August of 2007. Scruffy is a Cavachon, which is a mix between a King Charles Cavalier and a hamster.


While my son will always be our dog’s “owner” and protector, Scruffy is officially “Mel’s best friend”. It was love at first sight for Melanie, and our shy little girl is never happier or chattier than when she’s with Scruffy or telling a silly Scruffy story.


Which brings me back to why I brought up Adrian and Rocky in the first place.

Just as I believe Adrian fell in love with Rocky because of how much he loved Butkus, I fell in love with Scruffy because I loved the way Melanie loved Scruffy. Her love for Scruffy is that “first thing I want to see when I wake up/last thing before I go to bed” kind of love.

Melanie’s love for dogs extends beyond our home and even influences her social life. From an early age, it was clear that Melanie was down with OPP (Other People’s Pets). In fact, Melanie has a long list of BFFs who happen to be dogs. When she asks for playdates with friends, they’re actually playdates with dogs who happen to have human owners. “Mom, can I go to Marnee’s house to play?” translates into “Mom, can I have a playdate with Jessica’s dog?”


My love for the way Melanie loves dogs is the only reasonable explanation for why I said “Yes” when she asked if grandpa’s Portuguese hunting dog could come live with us. The dog’s name is Niko, and he’s the reincarnation of Brett’s Hyper-Hypo dog. He actually hunts and kills rabbit for sport, yet I watch him transform into a lap dog on Xanax every time Mel is near.


Charles Schultz once said that “Happiness is a warm puppy.” For me, happiness is the warm smile of a shy girl who loves her dogs.

I’m proud to say that after so many pet-less years, I can finally call myself a “dog lover.” And unlike Stallone at the Golden Globes, I’ll give a shout out where a shout out is due:

“Yo Melanie, I did it!”



The Great Pumpkin??? “It’s A Hate Crime, Charlie Brown!”

Nostalgia has a funny way of making us accept things today for what we believed them to be yesterday. And it seems like only yesterday that my siblings and I were wearing footie pajamas, sharing beanbags, and accepting It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown! as must-see-Halloween TV. It’s a holiday tradition that was born during the time of 13 channels; when prime time was for adults and cartoons were for Saturdays. In other words, when it came to prime time fare, we’d watch Don Knots Has Crotch Rot if it was animated.

My kids, on the other hand, are far more cynical. When it comes to the classics, they believe that some things are better left in the shag-carpeted rooms of dad’s childhood. Back in 2014, we gave It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown! a second try. While my 9 year-old daughter was the target audience, I wanted to believe that my teenage sons (we’ll call them Beavis and Butthead), would give the timeless classic a fresh look. My realistic goal: A review that didn’t include “Dad, this sucks more than anything that has ever sucked before”.

[30 minutes later]

Dad, why did you make us watch that?

Because “It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown!” is considered a Halloween–

–Hate crime?!?!

You know what, Butthead had a point. So I discussed it with my police officer brother, Brett, and I demanded he re-watch the special from a different point-of-view. Maybe then, I thought, he’d admit that the bona-fide classic was certifiably bonkers. But my far-too-nostalgic brother refused to concede. So, in frustration, I composed this blog post in terms even he could understand. Not as a nostalgic 40-something, but as a literal-minded, streetwise police officer investigating reports of alleged bullying in Peanuts Land. Using only the 1966 Charles Schulz classic as evidence, I conducted surveillance and filed the following police report with the Officer Brett G. Smith and the Peanuts PD:


Case Number:
ABC 10312014
Reporting Officer: Mr. Vernon
​​​​Date of Report: 31 October 2014

At approximately 4:00 PM:
I began to observe a series of events that, in their totality, suggested a neighborhood-wide pattern of physical and psychological abuse directed at block-headed bald kids. Alleged victim #1: Charlie Brown, a mildly-depressed ne’er do-well with a bumble-bee shirt and a bald head.

NOTE: Despite their similarities, Mr. Brown should not be confused with that whiny little bald prick Caillou. Mr. Brown is a sweet, sincere, sensitive boy with a touch of melancholy. Caillou is a colicky, self-centered little asshole with a spoonful of Veruca “I want it NOW daddy” Salt.

At approximately 4:15 PM:
I observed suspect #1, Lucy van Pelt, yanking away a football just as Mr. Brown was about to kick it. This little prank caused the victim considerable pain. I can only assume that, if not for his obscenely large cranium, Mr. Brown would be concussed at this time. Again, please don’t confuse Mr. Brown’s albino pumpkin head with that of fellow baldy Caillou. I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for why Mr. Brown has only 2 hairs on his noggin. As for Caillou, my theory is that he sucks and even his hair follicles recognize that fact.


At approximately 5:00 PM:
Ms. van Pelt continues her systematic beat down on that “blockhead” Charlie Brown. You know how the Grinch had a heart that was 2 sizes too small? My theory is that Ms. van Pelt has a heart that’s 2 sizes too smaller than that. Oh, and she’s a bitch. I observed Mr. Brown looking happier than Pigpen in shit after receiving an invitation to Violet Gray’s Halloween party. But no, Ms. van Pelt swoops in to give Mr. Brown a figurative kick to the peanuts. She informs him that he was invited by mistake. Good grief! Unfortunately, all of my attempts to sic Mr. Brown’s beagle, Snoop Dog, on that punk-ass bitch failed.


NOTE: Snoop Dog was last seen wearing a World War I aviator uniform and storming into 1940’s France. The f*ck is that sub-plot all about?

At approximately 7:00 PM:
I observed alleged victim #2, Linus van Pelt, rocking his comb-forward while freezing his 12 hairs off in a pumpkin patch. Apparently Mr. van Pelt was waiting for “the Great Pumpkin to rise out of his pumpkin patch and fly through the air with his bag of toys for all the children.” Ho-ho-hold on a second. Either this kid has hypothermia, or he’s crazier than a shit house rat. Crazier yet, he seems to have found a follower in Mr. Brown’s kid sister, Sally. [Psssss…hey Sally…runnnnnn!]


NOTE: My theory is that Lucy van Pelt fostered this clever Great Pumpkin charade as a form of psychological torture on her brother. Either that, or it’s an attempt to gain favor with Santa Claus. Thus ensuring that her brother endures the torment of watching her play with countless toys on Christmas while he can only start a pet rock collection with Mr. Brown.

At approximately 7:30 PM:
I observed Mr. Brown trick-or-treating with 5 ass holes in a ghost costume featuring 18 eye holes. I can see adding a third hole to breathe out of…or even a fourth hole to pee out of…but numb nuts cut out enough holes for a PGA tour event. Even so, this does not excuse adults from throwing rocks into Mr. Brown’s bag. I mean, honestly, who gives out rocks for Halloween? At this point, every adult in the neighborhood is suspect #2.


NOTE:  Every kid in the neighborhood–and I mean EVERY single kid–uses a bed sheet to dress up as a ghost. Ms. Van Pelt wears a witch mask on her face and a traffic cone on her head. I suspect that these bed-sheeted minions help to perpetrate Ms. van Pelt’s hate-filled agenda.

At approximately 8:00 PM:
I follow Mr. Brown to the home of Violet Gray for the party he was invited to by mistake. While there, Ms. van Pelt and Ms. Gray (suspect #3) use the back of Mr. Brown’s head for jack-o-lantern carving practice. I stuck around and waited for this whole Carrie-esque subplot where Ms. White and Mr. Brown exact revenge (not with pig’s blood) with the innards from the Great Pumpkin. That revenge sub-plot never materialized so I’m left to conclude that this is a simple case of mistaken identity. Maybe everyone in this town thinks Mr. Brown is Caillou–The Fresh Prince of No Hair.


NOTE: Upon further investigation, I confirmed that Ms.Gray used a Sharpie pen on the poor bastard’s melon. That shit ain’t washing off ’til Thanksgiving. And why is there no adult supervision at this party? When I reached Mr. and Mrs. Gray via telephone, they informed me that they were in “MWAH MWAH MWAH.” I think that’s in Hawaii.

At approximately 10:00 PM:
I observe Sally Brown storming off after demanding “restitution” from Linus for making her miss out on “tricks and treats.” I still can’t figure out why she didn’t storm off hours ago when he delivered this creepy-even-by-1966-standards quip: “I thought little girls always believed everything that was told to them. I thought little girls were innocent and trusting.” I thought I just barfed up a cruller.


NOTE: I obtained a statement from Schroeder, the local lounge pianist who’s all smug because he’s the only boy in town with a full head of hair. When asked why Sally would have agreed to stay in the pumpkin patch with Linus in the first place, he replied: “Bitches do be trippin’.”

At approximately 4:00 AM:
My worst fears never materialized. I observed Lucy heading out to the pumpkin patch and I assumed that we’d see a pumpkin patch death scene to rival the Shining’s hedge-maze standoff. But to my surprise, Ms. van Pelt fetched her “blockhead” brother from the pumpkin patch, walked him home, and tucked him into bed. I stuck around just to make sure she didn’t grab a sledgehammer and go to town on his legs like Annie Wilkes. She didn’t, so I called it a night.


NOTE: Before turning in, I made 2 phone calls:

1) I called Mr. and Mrs. van Pelt to inform them that they’re shitty parents. I also let them know that their son froze his baguettes off while sleeping in a pumpkin patch with only his blankie and his blind faith in produce to comfort him. They nonchalantly replied, “MWAH MWAH MWAH.”

2) I left a message for the local psychiatrist, hoping to schedule a much-needed psychological evaluation for both Charlie Brown and Linus van Pelt. To my utter amazement, I learned that there was only one psychiatrist in town. She works cheap, she has a monopoly on the whole town, and she’s the biggest bitch in cartoon history.


P.S. If my case load permits, I plan to return to Peanuts during their Thanksgiving and Christmas specials…to determine if any further surveillance or criminal charges are warranted.

Until then, Happy Halloween!

Except for you, Caillou!

To Wong Foo. Thanks for everything, Helena!

(NOTE: This post was originally published in 2015…for my 20th wedding anniversary)
Today, we celebrate 25 years. And still, we’ve never had a fight (that I won).

My original blog post concept was to cover the pop-culture landscape of September, 1995. That plan backfired when Wiki revealed the #1 song and film on my wedding day: Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise and Swayze’s To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar. I can’t work with that, but I’ll try.  

While Helena and I have Wang Chung’ed before, we’ve never Wong Foo’d. Unless “wong foo’d” is what happened the first time I called her home.

Allow me to explain…

September, 1991
I was a college sophomore, working two part-time jobs, commuting to Seton Hall twice daily, and I’d “been spending most my life living in a Gangsta’s [’79 Camaro].” Helena was a fellow working-class commuter, and a cute one at that. We exchanged phone numbers for “homework purposes” because I was a player. Then, I called her house 2 months later cuz that’s how players play. To quote Coolio again, “I’m the kinda G the little homies wanna be like.”

I left a message with Helena’s mother, Mrs. Moreira, whose native language is Portuguese:

“Can you please tell Helena that Shane called.

But my eight-word English message was truncated into a one-word (Chinese???) message:


Needless to say, Helena never returned my call that night. Shanco was wong foo’d. Thanks for everything, Mrs. Moreira!!!

September, 1995
Ultimately, Helena would receive one of my messages and we married at the barely-legal age of 22. Following the ceremony, we celebrated with a barely-fire-code-legal 265 guests at Newark’s Sports Club Portuguese. Then we honeymooned in Key West, where I spent the first 48 hours introducing the honeymoon suite’s shitter to a liqueur that most call Sambuca, but I called Some-pukin’.


True to the first reading at our wedding, “love is patient…love is kind”. Helena was both during our first 48 hours as wife and “Exorcist baby.” And Helena’s been the most patient and kind partner for the past 25 years.

September, 2020
Fast forward 25 years, 3 children, a Dawson, and ulcerative colitis later…and I’ll profess to being a better father than husband. I’ve made mistakes, I’ll make more, but I’ll Never Stop Learning.   

As blog-post pot luck would have it, the #1 Twitter hashtag on the eve of my anniversary was #MarriageAdviceIn3Words. “Never Stop Learning” works for me, as does “Marry Your Friend” and “Make Her Laugh.” But as you’ll soon learn, I’m in no position to give marital advice. Instead, I’ll simply share the 3-word marital tweets that made me laugh the loudest…

Run Forest! RUN!!!
Hide The Porn
Compliment Her Mustache
She’s Always Right
Keep On Humpin’
These Are Balls
Spitters Are Quitters
Lower Your Standards
Ask My Wife
Smile And Nod
Hire Ugly Nanny
Delete Browser History
Buy A Shovel

And here are the 3-word marital tweets that made me reminisce the longest…

Do The Dishes
I have the world’s greatest mother. Having said that, mom made my bed, cut my meat, washed and ironed my clothes, and then sent me out into a 1990’s world as a 1950’s greaser husband. Like the “Shanco” story above, it took me some time to “get the message” about how to be a good husband. As the legend goes:

We had our first real dinner guests about 2 months after moving into our apartment. Somewhere between dessert and Pictionary, this happened:

Friend 1:
Should I put the dishes in the dishwasher?

We have a dishwasher?

Friend 2:
Yes Shane, that’s a dishwasher!

Friend 1:
Helena, is that your husband?

But I’ve never stopped learning. I’m also proud to say I’ve never stopped doing the dishes. Even though, I think we still have a dishwasher for that.

Check Ancestry.com First
This tweet cracked me up. Even if there were an ancestry.com before I proposed, I wouldn’t have needed it. I knew I hit the future in-law jackpot when I first met the Moreiras. Despite the fact that I once knocked on their door with a Doo-Rag on my head (“I’m the kinda G the little homies wanna be like”), they welcomed me to their amazing family with open bracos.


  • Thanks to my in-laws, I’ve had an “experiencia religiosa”. This is my broken-Portuguese way of saying I helped slaughter a lamb for the feast of their patron saint. Okay, I just watched. Alright, I just passed out.
  • Thanks to the unforgettable Uncle I never had growing up, I drank “aguardente.” Aguardente is called “fire water” because it makes your pee flammable and it probably caused my ulcerative colitis.

My in-laws have introduced me to so much: culture, vino, their native Portugal, and the concept of long lunches that eventually turn into dinner. In short, the Moreiras are the exception to the in-law rule and I’m so proud to be the adopted son of a Portuguese-American family.  

Love Things Together
Some things we loved together from the start (Movies, 80’s Music, My Hair). Other things we learned to love together (Rom-Coms, Christiano Ronaldo, and The Hallmark Channel’s “Countdown to Christmas”, which begins in less than 50 days for those keeping score at home). A perfect example of learning to love things together: BASEBALL.

During baseball season, my beloved Mets dominate weeknight television in our family room. Helena joins us, but her knowledge of baseball vernacular begins and ends with the screenplay for the 1989 baseball classic, Major League. During games,  she speaks only in Major League terms and in the character’s voices:

After an anemic offensive output from the Mets:
“That’s all we got, one goddamn hit?”

After Pete Alonso boots a ball at first:
“Don’t give me this olé bullshit!”

After a Robinson Cano strikeout:
“Up yer butt Jobu!”

Major League is a major reason why my wife and I don’t only watch rom-coms together. It’s also a perfect example of how we’ve learned to Love Things Together.

No Comb Overs
Helena will always be my one-woman fashion police department. The first time she said yes, she told me it was “my hair” that attracted her to me. Today, my hair is allergic to me. Yet, she loves my hairs just the same. She just has one simple rule: “No Comb Overs.” Oh, she has other rules too…

Like many years ago, I discovered that working out actually grows muscles. Inflated by this realization, I decided that sleeves were overrated. (As shown below: by “muscles”, I simply mean that my biceps were no longer just skin on humerus).


Once again, Helena was there to show me the error of my humerus ways…

“Helena, what’s the dress code at this restaurant?”


And it works both ways. I’m also happy to offer Helena advice. Like the time she started a weight-loss program…

“Have you considered Couch To 5K Helena?”

“Have you considered Couch to Fuck You Shane?”

As You Wish
Helena and I also support each others wishes. Helena’s wishes often turn into impulse buys that are small and practical. She will buy the shit out of anything labeled “Pampered Chef” or “As Seen On TV”. Not to minimize these impulses, but let’s just say that Helena puts the WOW in ShamWow.

My impulse buys, on the other hand, are far less practical and far more Pennyfoolish. Nonetheless, Helena is always supportive. For example, she fully supported my mid-life diversion from mid-sized sedans to a Mini-sized Cooper. And she was always there to help stuff 4 little-leaguers and 3 bags of baseball equipment into Pennywise’s clown car.


“Hi Georgie!”

All joking aside, 25 years is a long time and there’s reason to celebrate. But I have no sage advice to give or secrets to reveal. Marriage isn’t guided by 3-word tweets. It’s nurtured by 2 people who fall in love, take a chance on each other, and are willing to stick by each other through thick and thin, mid-sized and Mini.

Happy Anniversary to my eternally beautiful, patient, and kind Portuguese princess, Helena. Or, as it translates into Chinese…

To Wong Foo. 

Thanks for everything, Helena!