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My First Assembly...

It all started on my first day of Kindergarten at Victor Mravlag School #21 in Elizabeth New Jersey.  Just being in class with the other kids was enjoyable enough when the teacher said, "Ok class, don't get too comfy in those chairs because we need to line up for our first Assembly."  Off we went, boy, girl, boy, girl to a huge room, actually, it was a gymnasium, which was set up with rows of chairs enough to fit all grades K-6.  Somewhere was my older brother Charles and my sister Helen, who I couldn't find as I sat in my assigned seat between two girls whose big puffy dresses were encroaching on my personal space, but I didn't have time to squirm out of the way before we were asked to stand for "Opening Exercises".  And even though I didn't know the pledge to the flag nor the patriotic songs I felt privileged to stand there and listen to the older children perform. I can remember the school principal Mr. Lions, addressed the auditorium with a speech about what the school would be doing for the fall play, the winter months, and then talked about 'Field Day' in the springtime. Ah, that was a treat and I always looked forward to the weekly assembly.

Mobs of screaming kids are not Assemblies...

For some reason, I really don't like big crowds of people pushing and shoving to get by me like it was their right to be where I was.  My mother liked to celebrate all holidays and made my birthday special.  Each year I would invite my entire class to come over to my house for my birthday party and mom would have a magician or pony rides set up for us.  At one of the parties I disappeared to my 2nd floor room and sat there from high above looking down at the front lawn loaded with children I had invited to my party.  It was fun to see everyone from this angle until the magician said, "Where is the birthday boy?", then, I froze. They eventually found me in my room a few minutes later.  When mom asked me why I had left my own party? "I thought you liked assemblies?", all I could say was "I don't like big crowds",which wasn't completely accurate, but when pressed for an answer it's all I could come up with adding, "Besides, this isn't an assembly!"

Neither are Sideshows...

My dad always had plans for the week and weekends.  One fine day he decided to take us off to the circus.  Actually, it was the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus at the (Old) Madison Square Garden in NYC, and all was great.  Just like an assembly at school, I got to sit there and enjoy the show and think ‘Wow! This is a really big assembly!’  And all was fine until my father made the mistake of asking the 'boys', me and my brothers Charlie and Tom, if we wanted to go down to 'the side show'. "Gee! Can We?" And there were jugglers, fat men, fat women but then it got weird. Ok, one woman had a beard, and some guy, running though the crowd on his hands with no legs! It started to freak me out. I was freaking! I'm losing it here! And 'no' this was not an assembly either, just a loud, raucous, unruly, crowd, that was making me ill and scared.  Years later my brother Charles confided in me that he had many sleepless nights thinking about that show. So, apparently, it wasn't just me.


It was some time in the late 60's, while America was the closest to anarchy since the civil war, when I got another dose of reality. Outside of our Junior High school was an ever growing crowd of 'hippies', intent on protesting the war and acting up.  Every day I needed to work my way though this mob scene to make it out to the road so I could just walk home.  All was fine until one day I was confronted by a young man who was upset that day after day I just chose to walk home rather than join the cause, and he started with "What's the matter Mannnnn?  Don't ya think we should be here? What makes you so high and mighty?  We're allowed to be here!  It's in the Constitution Mannnnn!  Don't you believe in the right to ASSEMBLE? Mannnnn?"  Oh brother, now I have to deal directly with this, ill kept, older fellow, and in retrospect, maybe he and his friends had a point, but at the time I replied, "Look, I am 12 years old MANNNN!  Give me a break, MANNNN!  Besides, this isn't an assembly, Mannnnn. It's an unruly mob bordering on a riot Mannnnn!", and then I walked home to play with my cat, Sheva, {Pronounced SHEEEE-VAHHH Mannnnn!}

The Paper Route...

Like my grandfather before me, in the eighth grade, I got a job.  And for him it was full time and for me it was the same.  At least I treated it that way.  I worked 7 days a week, beginning at 5am delivering the New York Times, Newark Star Ledger, and The Daily News.  After school, I delivered the Newark Evening News and the New York Post.  Now the mechanism for this is still legendary in the history of New Jersey because we did this in a two person team, driver and deliverer.  The driver would drive an old fashioned panel truck where they cut off the back doors and in their place welded a ¼ inch steel ‘step’ with a hand railing.  The driver would drive and shout out the orders of the day and the delivery boy, me, would pick up the appropriate paper and throw it on the lawn, winter, summer, rain or shine.  Nowadays, OSHA would have banned this practice of having a 12 year old kid working under such dangerous conditions but me, I was a Cowboy, and a stunt man, with a Marlboro cigarette hanging out of my mouth cruising at 30 MPH though the streets of South Orange, Maplewood, and Vailsburg.  We owned the road.  We didn’t stop for lights, gas, or anything.  ‘The News must be delivered, rain or shine’.  But the fun part was definitely on Sundays.  There were lots more guys to talk to and the Sunday papers were huge plus they paid me more and it was a great excuse to skip church.  The New York times alone was 3 inches thick and we had to collate and deliver 5000 of them.  My job was to start on Saturday afternoon collating the ‘combo’ section with whatever other sections were there at the time then come back in at 12 midnight and put together the remaining sections so at 5am as the guys were showing up we could just help them load their cars then I got to do whatever route was down, meaning, the guy who was supposed to deliver it was sick or had already quit.  Many people couldn’t do the collating part.  It was tedious, time consuming, heavy lifting and at times boring, but I occupied my time by letting my body do the work and my mind would just float away and concentrate on other things.  One of the skills I developed was being able to read the sections I was working on as I was going.  It took a bit of practice but all I had was time.  One of the sections I always read was Section 9 or ‘The Classifieds’.  Since the Times listed all the jobs alphabetically I always noticed the entire first page was covered with listings for ‘ASSEMBLERS’.  I never called on the jobs but one day I asked my father, “Dad, what is an ASSEMBLER”?  My father generally had a lengthy dissertation in response to the simplest questions but this time he looked me square in the eye and just said, “You Are.  At the paper place you ASSEMBLE the papers so, you’re an Assembler,”  to which I replied, ”Gee, all this time I thought I was a paper boy”, and walked away thinking, ‘I am an Assembler’.

The New York Ranger Games...

To say my Father was a hockey fan is a bit of an understatement.  He loved to get tickets to hockey games and take one or more of us with him.  It was on the way home from a game that I noticed in the program that the league was expanding from 6 to 12 teams and my father, who already knew everything said, "I Know". But for some reason he was excited and had this big grin on his face.  It was the look of a man who was thinking, 'And all those new teams will have to make their way to NYC to be defeated by the Rangers'.  Now to my father, this would have been reason enough to get some more tickets, but the second reason was that Madison Square Garden had built a brand new arena between 32nd, 33rd, 7th and 8th, and before we had time to say anything he blurted out, "And I just bought Seasons Tickets!"  We sat there in stunned silence each of us mentally calculating what this would cost for train trips and snacks for a 48 game season.  Besides, where does he get the time and who would he take? And then he said, "And each of you four kids will be expected to attend 12 games per season!"  ‘Per season’ meant that this could go on for years, and yes, those years had some of the best and rowdiest assemblies on record until...

The Stanley Cup Playoffs...

By the time I got to college the Hockey scene had become 'passé', meaning, I passed on most invitations to go, especially after my car got broken into and almost stolen in Newark where we parked.  Still, I was available for the really big games.  It was in the 1979 Stanley cup series where I finally got a real out of body experience at a game.  The Rangers had already beaten The LA Kings and the PA Flyers, and were coming home to The Garden after splitting 1 to 1 on the Island. Yes folks, this would be the classic match between the Islanders and the Rangers.  The only way to describe this scene is to imagine Captain Kirk on trial in the Klingon home world. Now generally the crowd would start acting up near the end of the Star Spangled Banner but this time with 20,000 screaming fans on their feet you couldn't even hear the singing. The only way to know it was over was when the players started skating away.  And as I watched it all from high above all, the only player I could see through the parted crowd was New York Islanders Goalie Chico Resch who was standing there, with his head bowed.  'Gee', I puzzled, ‘I wonder what he's thinking about tonight’s game?’  And yes, even with the noise and excitement, it was an orderly  assembly leading to another Ranger victory.

Assembling at work...

Being young and brilliant was only part of the reason for being hired by Ethicon,  the other part was not being afraid to try new things in tough situations.  And to that end I was faced with the age old problem of 'How do we recover the data from a tape that was written over a second time?'  Well, actually all the data was still there, I just needed to skip past the new 'End Of File' marker and then start reading, but how? "You'll need to write a program in Assembly Language to handle that," said a friend, "Come again?", said I. Suddenly I was intrigued to be working with this all powerful computer language that allowed me to break all the rules and trounce on other peoples storage. Ah yes, it's all coming back to me how proud I was to see the tape drive spin right past that horrible "EOF" marker and it kept going and going and going, right off the end of the reel. And with it came the red console buffer overrun messages that always light up the console to let the operators know that the system is under stress. But I never planned for nor imagined that this would suck down the entire Ethicon mainframe. And as the machine room started filling with Engineers, Managers and Directors it dawned on me that this was it. As I stood there, looking guilty, with the end of the tape in my hand trying to thread it back on the reel.  Caught not only with the 'Smoking Gun' mind you but in an area of the building that is considered 'Maximum Security'. And the thing about that day that still waters my eyes is simple. All those people were not there to punish me, they were all there to help me. And I have never forgotten that moment for that reason all these 30 years later.  What an Assembly that was!

Liz Early Years... 

It was my daughter Liz who invited me to the most assemblies over the years.  Whether it was a back to school parents night or a play in middle school, I could always count on an invitation to see her doing something cool.  But highest on the list were all those Christmas mornings where she would walk over to her dad with a great big box that read, "Some Assembly Required", and that was where dad came in. But, If I had to pick the best years I've spent with my daughter Liz it would have to be the middle school years when she was a Pop Warner cheer leader. I enjoyed watching the girls practice and learning stunts.  Then we would get to go to the games to see the boys play.  We had a really good team and I enjoyed just about every second of it, except, I never mastered the art of even commenting on one of the other girls while Liz was around. I mean, how do you get the conversation going?  "Gee Liz, that girl Katie is cute, can I find out more about her?"  The only way to survive is to keep your eyes on your own daughter, keep your mouth shut, and ignore just about everything else you see. It's OK to sell 50 cheesecakes for the team but it's not OK to compare girls on the team and even worse to admire the girls on another team. But with this as a backdrop our team got invited to a regional cheerleading competition and as the dad I get to go.  You know, I always had dreams about such an event but reality? Let's say reality, like pain, is a great teacher.  You can't even imagine what it's like to be inside a gymnasium with several hundred middle school girls, all in uniform, all with long ponytails, and all cheering at the same time.   It was surrealism at its best. But not to be dissuaded, me, like an idiot, walks to the center of the gymnasium to both enjoy this spectacle and try to get a photo of the whole scene.  Suddenly I was overcome, light headed and dizzy.  I felt nauseous. It was like they were hitting the 'Brown Note'. I panicked and ran out. Ah, outside it was a quiet, bright sunny crisp fall day. Wow, Girl Power unleashed! Just another in a long line of memorable assemblies with Liz. But then Liz added three more.  

Liz later Years...

In 2001 we watched our Daughter Liz graduate from Ridge High School in one of the most exciting graduations I have ever seen.  Years before at my own HS graduation it poured rain for 20 minutes before the ceremony so most of our parents drove home and missed it all, and so when the drizzle started and I watched some of the parents leaving, my guardian angel whispered to me, "Hold up...", and just then the clouds cleared, the music from 2001 a space odyssey began, and off in the corner of the field this huge long line of green and white clad children came walking our way.  And not to be outdone, four years later in 2005, at the big blue building at Richard Stockton College came that line again.  Different colors this time and now looking more like young adults, I filmed, Alice cried, and we thought it was over.  But Liz had other plans so you can imagine how we felt to be treated in 2009 to watch our daughter Liz graduate yet again with her master’s degree from Rutgers University.  There is no better feeling for a parent to watch the line leader, address your daughters line, and lead them to the stage. 


So is that it?  Well no not exactly since many of my recent Assemblies have been on Cruise Ships.  The cruise ship experience, like none other, is characterizing my current life.  And as much as I’d like to share those experiences here, I have decided to put them in another article which will be all about, Dancing!

Dedicated to and Inspired By...
Victor Mravlag School #21 in Elizabeth New Jersey
Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus
Madison Square Garden in New York City
The New York Rangers Hockey Team
The Village Newspaper Service – South Orange New Jersey
The Pop Warner Cheerleaders
Liz Hoens – My Daughter
Katie Burdett – ‘Doctor Katie’ {Friend of Liz}
Charles Hoens Sr. – My Grandfather
Charles Hoens Jr. – My Dad
Charles Hoens III – My Older Brother
Helen Hoens – My Sister {Who casually suggested I might enjoy Cruising}
Thomas Hoens – My Little Brother
Mary Hoens – Dear Old Mom

It seems like forever since I've had a decent story idea. Well actually I've had lots of ideas, some of which have been vetoed by my wife. Let's see, there are about 3 stories half written on my desktop, with ideas for about 6 others, but nothing lines up correctly. There's no hook, no spin, no wrap up, just ideas. Still, I like long valleys with lengthy dry spells. Ya see, part of the problem is I think every story needs to be an epic mini-novel like 'Lord of the Rings', or who's the kid from England who keeps making movies and money about flying on broomsticks... I dunno...

Just like my mentor and spiritual advisor, Dr. Wayne Dyer, I can't just 'sit' and wait for ideas to come along. As a part time philosopher I need to take long inspirational walks with my ipod blasting uplifting music in my ears from daughter's recommended listening collection, which has been carefully scrutinized and is arranged in folders and albums in a circle that wraps around on itself and just when Lincoln Brewster was singing,'Strength will rise as we wait upon...'

{Down through the leaves and branches, tumbling quietly and gently, I felt a cool breeze as it passed so close that I had to move back a few steps to see it clearly in the grass near my feet.}

Now, I had seen and felt things falling from trees before but generally they just hit me on the head so this was new, but as I walked forward and looked at the ground I noticed that it was a bird that was now struggling and disoriented having fallen from its nest. Apparently it couldn't fly and for a bird, this is a bad thing.

{Then began the pitiful sight of watching the little bird flap it's wings wildly in vain.}

"Who was first to person fly?", asked my 1st grade teacher.  I had no clue thinking, what does flying mean?  She went on, "It was the Wright Brothers and together they flew this plane at Kitty Hawk as seen in this picture."  Of course, I raised my hand and asked, "Where's Kitty Hawk?" To which she replied, "It is a place on the coast of North Carolina not too far from here." But not paying attention to the answer, I was drawn to the plane itself
thinking, it's not a plane at all, it's a box kite with a propeller, Wow, that's genius.  Bet ya I could do that, I really could! Some day I will go to North Carolina too and then you'll see, you'll all see me fly too!

{Struggling and confused the bird was now walking slowly away in the grass to a more open area in the sun.}

That night, in my dreamworld, I already ruled the ground but now I could rule the heavens.  I imagined myself in the open air box kite and soaring high above the ground in a feeling of weightlessness, then just drifting off...

Actually flight dynamics were always an interest of mine. Feeling a strong wind knock me over or raising my arms out against it and leaning forward hoping it would pick me up. 
My dad took us on a few trips when we were younger and once we got on the Garden State Parkway with the windows rolled down, I would put my hand out the window and have it act like a wing. Just a slight twist would make it fly up and down effortlessly. But all this ended when dad got a new 1962 Chevy with Air Conditioning, windows closed, and 4 track tapes to listen to instead but by then, my mind was always outside flying around. And this lasted for years and years until...

{But the little bird was now joined on the ground by a robin.}

It was in the fall of 1974 at Fairliegh Dickinson University that I jumped at the chance to fly in a real single engine plane with a pilot friend of mine from school. It was a short flight from West Caldwell to Teterboro Airport and back. Ok, I've flown for real. Well, he flew, and not to sound ungrateful the whole trip was rather anti-climactic at best. Then again at Seton Hall University there was the ROTC chopper flight which landed us in Stokes State forest with flares and purple smoke bombs going off around us in a surreal attempt to simulate a combat jump in Vietnam, yeah man, purple haze! So to indulge the Cadre, we played along and jumped out in our green chamo fatigues with M16s at the ready. I guess the first big old jet airliner came when Alice and I went to Bermuda on our honey moon. And when it was over she told me she really didn't actually 'care' for flying too much.

{The robin didn't move at all but just watched the little bird fret and flap and strut about in endless circles.}

Then, right on cue, came the tap on my shoulder, you know, the ones my guardian angel gives me when she wants my attention.  As I turned my focus back to the two birds and fixed my gaze firmly in their direction, they both just flew away! So there I was, music still blasting away, not knowing whether to laugh or cry or both and kind of hoping they would come back or at least have the courtesy to make a circle of the field and dip me a wing.  No, that's not how it ended. They were just gone leaving me to think,"Why you little steely-eyed missile man!  I never doubted you for a second!"

{Then off they went into the wild blue yonder and I was there with them, I really was!}

For me the trip to Kitty Hawk NC was more of a pilgrimage than a vacation.  We saw all the sights and walked the same beaches where the Wright Brothers worked and flew.  The culmination of the trip took us to the Wright Memorial Park.  The actual monument is situated high on a hill so you can't drive up to it.  You need to park your car and then walk up the hill.  As you get higher you feel like you're in the sky looking down on the surrounding beaches as if you are flying.  In the walk up the hill you share their journey, struggle, and desire to fly.  Once at the top, you can breathe, relax and enjoy the breathtaking view. My brother Tom once asked me for my lifetime list of things to do... Forget about this one Tom... We finally did it!

Dedicated to and Inspired by:

Wilbur and Orville Wright -- The Wright Brothers
The people of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
My Wife Alice -- Who climbed the Hill with me
Dr Wayne Dyer -- My spiritual Advisor
Lincoln Brewster -- Everlasting God!

Over the years I've always been impressed by my brother Toms ability to meet people, get rare invites, and at times appear to walk thru locked doors.  He always downplayed this god given talent, passing it off as being part of the 'normal' deal.  But he always had a real talent for obtaining passes to special sporting events.  I usually found out later that he had been to 'Game 7' or some other such contest until one day I decided to put him to the test...

After the New Jersey Devils ice hockey team won the Stanley Cup I asked Tom if he could get tickets to a Devils game knowing that it was just about impossible.  To my surprise Tom said, "I have seasons tickets to the Devils. I'll take you to any game you want." So I said,"Hummm... How about Devils versus the NY Rangers?"  To which Tom replied, "Meet me at my house next week, I'll drive." So true to form Tom got us in, treated for dinner, and we enjoyed a Devils versus Rangers game at the New Jersey Meadowlands Arena. As we were walking out the car I asked Tom how he did it and Tom just said, "New jersey is a small state so it's easy to know everyone here." and that got me thinking again...

The next day I called Tom to thank him for the enjoyable evening and we chatted... you know the normal brother to brother small talk but rest assured I had my real Zinger fully loaded and ready to go and just when the time was right I let it out and said, "Yeah the Devils are great but wouldn't it be cool to have seen the same game at Madison Square Garden in New York like when we were kids with Dad?  Those tickets are really impossible to get huh?" But Tom paused for a second and said, "Do you remember Dads partner 
Wayne?  I'll call him today.  He has tickets but they're up in the nosebleed section if that's OK?"  I hung up the phone thinking yeah right Tom, that's OK...

The next week Tom called back and said, "I have the tickets, meet me at my house and I'll drive."  So I showed up again and true to his word we drove into the city, parked and saw the Rangers play the Devils again, but this time it was at Madison Square Garden just like when we were kids.   So knowing that Brother Tom was true to his word and had beaten me at my own game I laughed and thought gee, maybe it's true that he knows everybody that
there is to know, until one day years later...

We met Tom and his family for a barbecue at our mothers house where Tom announced that his son Ryan had accepted a full ride scholarship to a PHD Doctoral program at the
University of Notre Dame.  And there I was again thinking, this time I've got him.  So I innocently said, "Gee, I would love to see a Notre Dame Football game but those tickets are really impossible to get, even for you, Tom?"  Tom looked pained and hurt, kind of like a chess player that stopped paying attention to the real game and gets his queen forked.  But Tom said, "Ryan can get a ticket for himself to the student section. That just leaves us, but I know a person who can help.  Meet me next week at my house at 2AM and pack an
overnight bag."  I just sat there thinking, Tom, how's this gonna work out?

So, I showed up at 2AM and Tom was already in his car so I jumped in and we headed to the Newark airport where Tom jumped out, threw the keys to some guy and we went into the terminal.  Everyone was just waving us by as we skipped security and headed out to the field to a waiting private jet.  On the plane, I fell fast asleep expecting to wake up in South Bend Indiana but instead I woke up and was lead from the plane to a waiting cab by people who were all speaking Italian.  The cab took us to a square where we got out and were in the middle of a huge crowd when Tom said, "Wait here for me.  This crowd is too big so they won't let you in."  And then Tom disappeared.  10 minutes later I heard the entire crowd yelling and screaming as the door on the balcony opened and out walked several people who were too far away for me to see or recognize.  But right next to me there was a little Nun standing with a pair of binoculars at the ready and I asked, "Who are those people up there?"  She immediately said "Well that's the Pope up there."  But I asked again, "Can you see anyone else?"  This time she raised her glasses, squinted, and a big smile came over her face when she exclaimed, "Oh!  You mean the man next to the Pope with the two tickets to next weeks Notre Dame game? Yeah that's Tom Hoens from Westfield New Jersey."  And she added a little wink that I remember to this day.

Against a misty blue sky the golden sun rose on a perfect autumn day in South Bend Indiana as Tom and I completed the last leg our pilgrimage to the University of Notre Dame to be greeted first by Toms son Ryan who handed me an onsite parking permit then presented me with "The Shirt".  Once properly attired he led us to the Knights of Columbus table for lunch and then we were off to the tailgate party to meet the Ricci family and the rest of their entourage.  The Ricci family escorted us through the campus where we witnessed several traditions, the Band playing on the steps, the trumpets in the Bell tower,
the Football Team Dressed in business suits walking from Mass to the stadium, and the band entering the stadium.  Then, there we were, Tom and I, alone at the east gate, with tickets in hand, where we slowly walked in together and enjoyed the best afternoon of football I've ever imagined.  Not a cloud in the sky to obscure the fly over of the jet plane nor the excitement of the capacity crowd and yes, Notre Dame won the game against a very worthy team from Perdue who had us biting our nails at one point but in the end.. Ahhh Sweet Victory! 

Tom, Thanks Again... This one's for You! 

"Hey dad, how did you meet mommy?" asked my daughter Liz, and although I had
answered this question many times in the past, this time, at least, for some reason, I needed to tell her the whole story. "I'll tell you the story but you better sit down because it's a long one", I replied.

From the time I was 3 years old I was interested in 'Alice in Wonderland' who had that Cheshire Cat. And although I was never much of a Honeymooners fan I always admired Jackie Gleason's wife Alice. But my Alice showed up suddenly one fateful day in the fall of 1970 at South Orange Junior High School.

That was a special year for us since we had just begun our 9th grade as freshmen in high school. The interesting thing was that we were now joined by a whole new crowd of kids that I had never seen before. It was unusual because they all had a certain 'look', you know, they were neat, clean, organized, polite, well dressed and they just seemed to stand out in the crowd. But to me, they all had that 'deer in the headlights' look like they had been sent here by mistake.

Back then, we all got dressed for gym class and as the boys walked to our field we always
passed the girls who were already running. It was on one of these trips that I turned to the boy next to me and asked, "Who is 'That Girl' over there, the one with the two pony tails?", to which he responded, "I think her name is Alice. She came in with the new kids from Catholic School." So, for the next 12 years her nickname was 'That Girl'. I can still remember opening up my 9th grade yearbook and looking for her only to find a note in the back that read, "Alice McGinley -- Camera Shy", and so it took another 3 years for me even to get a picture of her, and those 3 years we spent passing each other in the halls of...

Columbia High School for me was a joke. By now, I was heavily addicted to cigarettes and as if to indulge this behavior, they actually let us smoke in the bathrooms.  Still, I laughed my way through most classes, never brought a book home, and never did much homework, unless forced to. I was working fulltime delivering newspapers, working on cars, but it seemed every time I turned around there was 'That Girl' again, this time sporting a new hairdo that quite frankly was way too short for me. I mean we're talking Chenade O'Connor here. But she didn't care what I thought. Then in 1974 we graduated and my life basicly ended. You see, I wasn't prepared to be gone from Columbia High School. I never thought it would end. I hadn't made plans for college or even cared. I was in total denial about the whole thing and had spent so much time goofing off senior year and screwing around, but somehow my father had been watching because in the fall of 1974 I entered...

Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck NJ was really a commuter school where I picked
up a few tricks. Actually they were the first ones to teach me about computers and I developed the habit of just 'hanging' around in the Computer lab as if it were a Library or a study hall and always finding some pretty girl who was having trouble working with the computer to help out. And although they were always so happy and grateful that I got their program working they would stand up, take the printout, and walk out the door leaving me with an empty 'used' feeling. But then, around 11PM, I drove home, spending allot of time in denial and was just obsessed about the kids I left behind in CHS and so at least once a week I opened my CHS yearbook and began going through the list of pictures in alphabetical order, starting in the 'A's. Just like clockwork I always stopped in the 'M's to admire a girl that I had been in Chemistry class with. Ok, let's just say her name was 'Joan', and there on the opposite page next to her was 'That Girl' again looking straight back at me. Is she laughing at me this time? Why is she laughing at me? What is that smirk all about? Why all the giggling from her? I wasn't doing anything, just looking OK, just looking. But I never made it past the 'M's and generally found the book on the floor the following day when I woke up at 5AM for my paper route. This ritual continued at least once a week until one day...

My Father said, "John, you're never going to graduate with these grades. And what do these 'W's and 'I's mean???" "Actually dad, sir, I withdrew from a few classes and took incompletes in the others so I guess they'll become 'F's too huh?". I couldn't look my father in the eye. Even he knew how embarressed I was. "Maybe I should quit college and join the Army???", said I. And although he never was much of a 'dad' he was the best lawyer I ever had, saying, "Why not do both? At Seton Hall they have Army ROTC. Maybe you should transfer to SHU, join ROTC and get things back on track. Besides you're a home boy and it will be closer for you plus, I'll make sure they won't transfer any of your 'D's and 'F's. Let's see here, you do have the two A's two B's and two 'C's. Actually at SHU you'll start off as a 'B' student. Heck, they may even put you on the deans list. I'll do all the work, you just have to show up for class in September. And go meet Colonel Townsend in the ROTC office. He's a friend of mine. And get your hair cut. You'll need to start jogging and getting in shape. And put out that damn cigarette!!!" Yeah, that was my dad, and he went on, "Start knuckling down buddy boy, and cracking a few books. You can't go thru life taking only 'Astronomy' classes either. Spend more time on planet Earth! And forget about those Computers. It's just a fad. Start studying something that will get you a real job, like business, or The Law." So the Fall of 1975 found me at...

Seton Hall University, Ahhh, the 7 best years of my life where I once again discovered the computer lab only this time I hung around so long they gave me a job and paid me to help the other kids with their programs. Ah, the freedom of it all, and these kids all had a certain 'look' too. Yeah, that look I admired from the Catholic school kids back in SOJHS. As I passed the statue of Elizabeth Anne Seton it dawned on me. All these good looking kids are Catholic, except for me. Ooops. This time I'm the odd man out. Payback time for john. God must be a real comedian. But these kids were all so nice to me. It was like I had died and gone to heaven. They treated me with dignity and respect. This is where I belonged. And so off I went to the bookstore to buy my first set of books and suddenly it happened again. There's 'ThatGirl' working behind the cash register and she remembers me and is smiling at me! Once again, just when I had finally forgotten about CHS, it's all coming back.
And the hard part was that she always asked if I needed help or had found everything. "Did I need any notebooks?", she would ask. She was always so concerned and attentive to details. "Wow, These math books are heavy and you're studying about Computers! That seems interesting.", she said. But for 5 years in a row all I ever said to her was  "Yeah, Really.", since I was trying to avoid her and hoping that she didn't ask about CHS.

Patty Davey was a loyal devoted friend that I attended math and computer classes with for 4 years. Actually, our fathers knew each other from the legal profession and I always secretly suspected that my dad had sent her to keep tabs on me and make sure I made it to class. Although she never wanted an exclusive dating relationship she always invited me
to her group partys, study groups, and math club meetings. She was the first girl that taught me that it was possible to have a girl as a friend without having her as a 'girlfriend'. No matter what I said or did to her she always returned helpful hints, words of encouragment and positive thoughts to me. Many times I sat in the cafeteria dreading some class or another and she would find me and remind me not to be late, leaving me to feel that she really cared. Just knowing she'd be there was normally enough to motivate me to tag along after her to class. The only time we were at odds came when she reminded me several times to get my picture taken for the yearbook yet I had already decided that it wasn't going to happen. But, she was alot smarter than I was and when the photographer came to our class to take a picture of the math club I tried to escape but this time she grabbed me by the arm and insisted I join the group photo. As we were walking in I said,
"But I'm not a member of the math club", to which she responded, "Oh Yes, You Are Now!"
And so, the only reason my picture was in the '79 Galleon Yearbook at all was due to Patty. Plus, being with 'Friends of Patty' had some other distinct advantages, one of which
was I started getting invited to events, everywhere, by kids that hardly even knew me. And so it was as a member of Pattys entourage that I was invited to Colleens house in Short Hills that fateful new years eve for a party. As usual I showed up alone and sat by myself on the sofa in the den watching TV. Suddenly, the door swung open and here comes 'That Girl' again escorted by her boyfriend who casually dumped her on the couch next to me and proceded to walk himself into the main room to chat with the 'cool' kids. As I sat there I noticed that her hair had grown out a bit and she had on a cute two piece blue velour short skirt and top set with high heeled boots.  Actually, 'That Girl', Alice, looked good, and even she had a date. Yeah, the story of my life. All the good ones are already taken. So, I left the party early by myself, and just went home alone.

In 1979, by some miracle, I graduated. That same year, Elizabeth Anne Seton became canonized. Note the irony here? I hung around the campus for a year working in the administation before landing a position at the Ethicon Div of J&J on Rt 22 in Somerville NJ where for the first 3 years I concentrated on establishing a career in computers, until one night it happened again!

I don't even remember the name of the place. I was driving up from a day at the Jersey shore with no luck, no girls, no chance what so ever. That particular night, I just couldn't do my normal 5 hours at the Stuffed Shirt so I hit the new place on North Ridgewood Road in West Orange and just when my table for one was in sight, 'That Girl' reached out her hand and said "I've always wanted to meet you. Why don't you sit over here with us?" I always had trouble turning down the request of a woman, any woman, and she was with my old friend Regina. How could I sit alone with both of them right there next to me? Alice went on,
"After we eat we're staying for the Comedy Show! Do you want to stay with us for the comedy show?" Now, Regina looked dissappointed. To her I was a goofy kid from her 8th grade class who was now crashing her date with Alice and knew me well enough to already know she wanted no part of me now or ever. But Alice was insistant. Me, I loved comedy and was always looking for new material for my own amateur act, but what came over me? As I sat there eating I had an out of body experience and was looking at myself from above
the table. Something was working on me. Had she slipped something in my drink? Alice just kept talking and laughing. When did she have time to eat? She worked on me. When had they switched seats? I was laughing so hard... But the show ended and like a gentleman, I walked the girls out to the car. Alice was driving in that cute little '76 tan Olds Omega hatchback which happened to be parked right next to my '77 Corvette in the parking lot. As she closed the door on Regina, she came around the back of the car and whispered, "I'll drop Regina off. Meet me back at the Stuffed Shirt in South Orange." Nice offer! Great move! See you soon! She was promoted from 'That Girl' to 'My Girl' that very same night and it had only taken her 12 years. As a couple, we never looked back...

"But when did you know you wanted to get Married", asked Liz persistantly... "Well we were both looking to move out of our parents houses and when we finally found each other we just knew it was time then and there, the rest was just details. Plus, she did have the picture of her and Patty together which was a talisman I couldn't possibly ignore.", I answered. "What picture?", continued Liz. Avoiding the question I said, "Liz, sometimes all your angels will be in the same place and just 'GangUp' on you. They send you messages that are direct,unambiguous, and, compelling. Don't worry. When it's your turn, believe me, you'll know it."

Love Dad

With two fresh batteries and eleven loud Gongs, Alices big chime clock could now be heard throughout the house so that anyone who could count knew what time it was. With Alice
already fast asleep on the bed I just wasn't ready to lay down in the bedroom so I took my new Ghost Whisper DVD out to the living room and began to play the last episode. All the lights in the room were off as I stretched out on the couch and stared off into the brightly lit TV at the ghostly image of...

"Melinda Gorden," said the professor, "You're looking for the number 5. The joining of the 2 and the 3. Man and Woman... The whole thing, maybe life itself, is all about 5." So closing my eyes for a second, but leaving the TV on in the background to provide some sound and haunting moving shadowy images on the ceiling and walls, I set about pondering the Professors idea. For me 5 must be about ABCD&E -- Maybe I can make this work too? But as I drifted and imagined my daydream was interrupted by a crashing loud Gong! 11:30PM..

Well, 'A' can only stand for Alice who had followed me from Junior High School through Seton Hall University before tapping me on the shoulder one night and saying,"Meet me back at the Stuffed Shirt". Even with that, there was another far earlier girl named 'Alice in Wonderland'  who made her way into my dreams when I was 3 years old. Long before I knew anything, there I stood on my toes looking into the big TV screen at this pretty blonde haired girl in a big blue dress talking to animals, sniffing flowers and eating mushrooms while I stood there watching and trying to figure out how I could climb in to play with her. As these images came to mind I counted 12 more chimes on the big clock which I ignored and turned around on the Couch to ponder this new 'math' problem which was looking more like Fuzzy Sets and bad art than good science.

Well if 'A' is for Alice then 'B' is clearly for Barbara and always has been since I laid eyes on the first Barbie dolls of the early 60's, and although at last count the list contained over 50 Barbaras, which one was first? It was before High School or Junior High... Ah, there's my first Barbara sitting right next to me, as an image of my sixth grade class comes into view... She's so cute with that long curly hair and busily doing her school work as I sit there watching... She was only eleven years old... We were just children... I wish I could talk to her... I wonder if she can see me or even remembers I exist... But as I turn away to enjoy a view of the rest of the class I see my High school yearbook open on the table in front of me and there on the page right next to my picture is Barbara Joan... Her picture, left unsigned, took me back to the hallway outside my homeroom in Columbia High School where she walked right up to me and said,"It's me, Barbara Joan, I'm the picture next to yours in the yearbook... I'm next to you in BOTH yearbooks, silly. Let's get together and sign them." My brain froze into a Bose-Einstein condensate wafting around in quantum subspace... Where was I? What was I thinking? John! the cigarette can wait! Just scribble her number down someplace... This is your chance... You've got nobody else... Say something to her... Don't look at the Floor... Look at her Eyes...Wake up Dummy!!! Gong! 1AM...

I opened my left eye now fuzzy and filled with fluid as the ghostly image of Melinda Gorden looked back at me through the bright light of the TV set and I prayed that she would help me cross over to a better place and end this misery where I could let go of these feelings of failure that kept invading my sleep but even she wouldn't help me. No, this battle must be fought here... I must confront the Lord of Darkness on my own terms and in my own way.
The same Lord of Darkness who consistently in my moments of weakness just loved to remind me of all my failures and humilations...

As a self trained Lucid Dreamer it was easy to slip away to dream land where I enjoyed flying high above the world, but this time I needed to face him... There I was again, feeling like Luke Skywalker ready for my bombing run with Darth Vader closing behind me firing wildly when I heard, "Use the Force John..." and as I unhooked my targeting computer and grabbing the controls fully expecting to destroy the battle station once and for all... Gong! 1:30AM...

Flat on my back looking up at the slowly turning ceiling fan I wondered, who was the elusive 'C'... In my life 'c' was either the speed of light or a Programming Language of choice for Unix back end web geeks and a whole new generation of postmodern pipestress freeks.
How can I have a theory without a place for 'C'? Even though Dmitri Mendeleev would probably find it acceptable to leave a hole in the chart, I felt that there must be a better
answer and so I began to go through all of the names one by one when somehow the name Colleen came into view. Gee that might work out. How many 'Colleens' had there been? Well, there was the Colleen who invited me to her party in college where Alice and I sat on opposite sides of the same couch, not talking, but looking at the TV set worlds apart and never suspecting what our future together would be. But deeper and further back to High School there was another Colleen who had that cute lab partner... What was her name? Gong! Gong! 2AM...

Descending deeper and deeper into the dark of the night, there was clearly something wrong... everything is backwards... up is down and down is up... Flying ever faster to 7Gees, 8Gees 9Gees...There was someone in the room with me... who was it? Panic was setting in as the voice behind me ruthlessly uttered,"John, I am Your Father..." I tried to run... Then came those 3 Battling Baritone Voices from the last act of Don Giovanni... The madness erupted a pain in the pit of my stomach... Red lights on the console... I can't breathe... My controls were frozen, he was closing in behind me... he fired at my knee... I'm hit... I was stunned by the shooting pain in my right knee... Suddenly... An Angel appeared right in front of me. Is she Warning me or Protecting me???  The voice behind me said, "Don't look at her stay on target..." But She swept me away on one wing and pointed to the clock on the wall that said 3AM Gong! Gong! Gong! Game Over!!!

Bolting upright I fell off the couch crumbling into a puddle on the floor. By now Alice was standing beside me asking, "John,Are you ok?", and then laughed,"You look like you saw a ghost?", "Get up and come with me to the kitchen." Obediently, I got up off the floor and felt the shooting pain of gout swelling in my knee as I hobbled to the kitchen and stood staring out the window at a clear cloudless night... With the full Moon visible in the West, and Virgo rising in the East, all I could say to Alice was, "Oh Gee... Here come my Virgos..."

But My Alice, as usual, she just took pity on me and handed me a cup with a LemonLime AlkaSeltzer fizzing away, saying, "This should help calm your stomach. I'll turn off the TV for you. Lay back down and try to get some sleep." And without a hint of judgement or retribution she smiled and said "Good Night," leaving me in the kitchen all alone once again...

With beads of persipration still wet on my forehead and a lone salty tear slowly streaming down my cheek, my thoughts turned back to the angel thinking,"Debbie, What were you doing in there?" And even though in the real world, she's been relegated to be a faded black and white photograph in a dusty high school yearbook, once upon a time, she must have made quite an impression on my feeble young mind to be in there, active on the zone, watching over me, then wresting control, and saving me from another certain disaster at the hands of my Nemesis. Somehow, she's still with me all these years later...

Gathering up what was left of my shattered dignity, smugly,I chugged the AlkaSeltzer, tossed the cup in the sink but just sood there, dealing again with my shame. Ah... My Alice... Actually, she's not a character in this game anyway, she owns the game! She doesn't need "God Mode" or "Cheat Codes". She can just walk up to the console and yank the plug out of the wall sending me crying and whimpering off like a child. That's not just
ordinary power, that's called "Mommy Power" which is De facto and absolute... and it really isn't fair that she, and many of the rest of them have that level of power over me which is both seductive and totally irresistible. They can turn me into a Zombie at will leaving me powerless in both this world and apparently in my dream world too... Gong! 3:30AM...

That was the real rub huh, because there I stood, staring at the kitchen floor, feeling guilty,
when a bit of a smirk began to slowly curl up the side of my mouth. Hey let's face it, the rebel in me was feeling a little cool about this whole thing. So, feeling better, glad to be thinking about old friends and eagar to complete my new theory, I headed back to the couch for another round and started thinking about all things 'E'...

Well, OK, 'E' must stand for 'Elizabeth', I mean I lived in Elizabeth New Jersey for 10 years and I graduated from Seton Hall, the home of our Beloved patron Saint Elizabeth Anne Seton, then there's my daughter 'Liz' and, yeah, the 'Liz' who I dated Senior Year... But if we allow 'Liz' then why not make room for Bette? I can still remember her from my 7th grade class and writing in my notebook, "I think I've seen my First Angel!"

So is that it? The 5, ABCDE, and if so why not try to fit in their mothers named 'F' for Forgiveness and 'G' for Grace. To me 7 is a better number than 5, plus how could this
theory be any good without a place for 'Lois' and 'Jean' and the rest of the really special ones... Gong! Gong! Gong! Gong! 4:00AM...

Yeah right, nothing's worse than bad art except for crappier science and openended pointless fuzzy logic. Nobody, except me, will publish this theory. So I turned over and headed back again to the future...

Drifting away, there I was sitting in my booth at the Stuffed Shirt in South Orange for the evening. I turned to ask the waitress,"May I have another  VO on the Rocks please?", as I lit up another Marlboro Lite and turned my attention around to this woman named Alice. The same girl I knew from Junior High, and followed thru Columbia High. The same girl who worked in the Seton Hall bookstore that I got to see every semester when I came it to buy my books. And there she sat looking back at me with those blue eyes again... Yeah that's
right, the ones that own me. I knew I looked and sounded real cool but after my 4th drink I was having trouble remembering the punchline to, "A Rabbi, The Pope and Raquel Welch", but she just sat there smiling without saying a word. Her only flaw(if any) was the red lipstick she left on the rim of her first and only glass of Pinot Noir. She didn't need makeup... Gong! 4:30AM...

In my final prayer I asked,"Why God did you lead them all to me?" What had they done wrong to have to endure a life of dealing with John and his mood swings, bad breath, and crummy jokes, cheap booze and reeking of cigarette smoke, overactive imagination and penchant for great excess including gluttony and sloth amongst others not to mention a lust for pointless run-on sentences...

Maybe that was it, came the answer I was looking for... After all, life is a two way street. Maybe they need something from me. Maybe they need to endure me to move on to the next level. What if all these Blessed Angels need a 'nod' from John on planet earth to get their wings and be truly free? And this latest Revelation to John was subsequently punctuated by 5 Gongs... 5AM...

Oh boy this is getting old. I've been up all night and I can't get this out of my head so I'm putting on my Red Beret, chamo jungle fatigues and heading back to the zone to settle this once and for all.

First order of business was to deal once again with the king of darkness and so I strapped into my X-Wing fighter and went directly back to my bombing run, although this time, it was my turn. Knowing I could not complete this mission alone I needed to select an Angel to assist me. I immediately summoned up my Angel of fiercest allegiance, my loyal 'Wingman', my daughter 'Liz',to follow behind me watching my back. As we took off together, from behind me I heard her say,"Lord Hoens, You may begin your bombing run...".
This time, the darkness dared not approach me from behind as I easily fired my only two missles directly into the cooling vent of the station. As I turned away with the dark star at my back, I could now feel and see the bright light of a nuclear explosion rising on the eastern horizon painting the room with the first couragous lights of dawn...

Then, slowly I turned and headed down the Yellow brick road to the sounds of Women singing,

"You're out of the Woods,
You're out of the Dark,
You're out of the Night!
Step into the Sun,
Step into the Light.
Keep straight ahead for the most glorious place
on the face of the earth or in the sky!
Hold onto your breath,
Hold onto you Heart,
Hold onto your Hope.
March up to the Door and open it wide!!!"
{From the Wizard of Oz}

Marching triumphantly through the wide open doors I headed down the main aisle of an auditorium full of Women. Wow! They're all here in this one room, all of my Angels.
Walking boldly into the room I am greeted, not with thunderous throngs mind you but polite muffled applause as they lead me directly to the podium with the microphone. Now what would I say to them???

"Ladies, It is a pleasure for me to be here! I will be working with some of you directly today
and most of you will be free to fly away and work with others, but mind you all, this game has changed. You can forget all the old rules, and all those lame gags you've been pulling on me for the past 50 years are no longer acceptable. You're now going to need to take it to the next level. No more, 'I left my purse in the car,' and no more Payday Advances. No more Cute Eyes, Jedi Mindtricks, Don't bring it here because I am back and ready for it this time!"

Good Morning Ladies, And Welcome to Bootcamp for Angels!

Dedicated to and Inspired By the Following Angels:
Alice Hoens(McGinley) -- Head Wife and Lead Angel
Jean Marciano -- Best friend of Head Wife and Honorary Angel
Elizabeth Anne Hoens -- 'My Angel of Fiercest Allegiance!'
Barbara Schottenfeld 'My 6th Grade Angel'
Bette Einbinder 'My First Angel'
Debbie Demarco 'My High School Angel'
Barbara Joan Hopmayer -- 'My Lost Angel'
Lois Adams -- 'My Childhood Sweetheart'


The Alliance of Guardian Angels...

Camp Winnebago New Jersey -- Back in the Day!!!  Ahhh... The Summer trips to Boy Scout Camp Winnebago were the best days of my young life.  I was old enough to start feeling my
oats and young enough to still be a kid.  Yes, the bleeding mosquito bites were legendary and the daddy longleg spiders looked like alaskan king crabs which invaded our leantos and our dreams and it was on a hot summer day in 1969 that...

By this year, I had attained the rank of "First Class Scout" and along with that role came some responsibility.  On this particular day I was giving a "knife and ax" safety lesson to two young tenderfoots from the troop... Well actually, the lesson had ended and I was discussing the best way to get the point of the knife to stick in a tree if thrown when I heard the distinct voice of my scoutmaster call out "Hoens... come down to the dining hall... and bring those two scouts with you...", so I turned to my two friends and said "OK... You heard the man... Let's move!"

It was odd that we would be meeting in the dining hall so early in the afternoon and we debated what the big deal was going to be as we approached the hall and started to notice the scene; as scouts we were trained to be observant.  Now, I knew there were eagle scouts at the camp, but with the relaxed dress code they normally blended in with the rest of us but this time it seemed like they were all in uniform and standing at the entrances.

Once inside it became obvious that something was happening back in the real world because I hadn't seen a TV set in weeks and now there was one in each of the 4 corners of the building surrounded by groups of high ranking scouts who were taking turns adjusting the rabbit ears and goofing with the horizontal hold, vertical adjust, contrast and sound knobs.

"Great", I muttered to myself. They don't need any help from me so I blended into the growing group of scout masters in the back of the room and started fondling my pocket knife when a young Life Scout beckoned me forward and pointed to a seat in the center of the front row looking straight up at a huge black and white TV set that crackled and bathed me with a warm radioactive glowing purple flourescent hazy light.

Although it was a great seat it really didn't matter since I couldn't hear anything anyway,      but as I stared into the screen I heard the unmistakable words '1202 Alarm' followed by lots of static and then some elbows in my side as more boys were now on the bench jostling for positions.  My attention was now fixed on squishing over a few more inches to let another scout get a seat when I felt a weird tap on my shoulder like the ones I get from my Guardian Angel and as I glanced back at the TV set Walter Cronkite was looking directly at me through a rift that had opened between the boys who were now standing up in front of me.  Engulfed in tunnel vision all I heard was, "Your're GO on that(1202) Alarm...".  Even though I was now standing up I took a few moments to look around to the left and right to see If I could find the person who had tapped me on the shoulder and with my back to the TV, I  heard loud and clear "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed...", followed by thundering applause, smiles, and handshakes in the days way before 'Hi-fives' came into Vogue.

My Father was always asking me, "What do you want to do when you grow up?"...  And over the years I had the normal answers for him like "Fireman" and "Policeman".  One time
after he had taken me to a funeral I began asking about the funeral director.  I mean, look,
the guy gets a beautiful house and gets to work at home so maybe it was for me?  Well,
after the nightmares refused to go away I decided that funeral director was not that great of an idea but it kept my father off my back at least... for a few years.

And then there was the time when we were all down at the Masonic Home listening to my sister Helen singing and playing the guitar for the old folks.  As I sat there puzzled and asking myself, "When did she have time to learn the Guitar?", my thoughts again turned to the good looking man standing in the corner of the room.  Picturing myself in his role I asked my dad about it and suddenly he was sending me information and training manuals on how to get certified as a 'Nursing Home Administrator'... Oh Boy...

It was during my third cigarette in a row that caused me to look at the cool cover on the book of matches I was holding and I read, "Be a Hotel Manager!"  That was me!  And there was dad again letting me know how I could possibly attend the Cornell Hotel School, his alma mater but after he dilligently ordered the books and was proud that we had finally figured it all out, he made the mistake of looking at my SAT score and said,"Hotels might be out of reach for you John, so maybe you should stick to the newspaper route until you can get the grades up." Opps... Cut down... In my moment of glory... just when I had found the perfect career...

But, It was during my second year at Seton Hall when the subject came back up again but this time I was prepared and said "1202 Alarm... I want to be the 1202 Alarm Guy",  you know, I want to be the guy in the NASA control room who had all the answers about the big computer. I want to work on a Computer Helpdesk... And suddenly... It was out there. 

Peter Adler and Don Eyles were both MIT computer Wiz kids who had written much of the computer code that was designed to guide the lunar module safely to the surface of the moon.  The astronauts could not do it themselves until they were less than 300 feet from the surface.  When the 1201/1202 alarms sounded they were in the NASA Control room at the first computer help desk in history to make the gutsy call that kept the mission moving forward.

So while on my interview at Ethicon, when asked about what I wanted to do with my career, I responded, "I just want to help other people with their computer problems."  They asked, "Don't you want to be a manager"? To which I responded, "Let me tell you about the 1202 Alarm". And the rest as they say is history.

Oh, what's the use. I had avoided it for years but there I was confronting one of those fears from my childhood again.  Yeah, they were all there, the good old ghosts from my past, still there haunting me. Was it my imagination or was that a glance from him or a look from her or was it just Dejavu all over again?

'How about Phantom of the Opera', said my wife Alice?  Even though she had seen it before she wanted to share with me plus she had the coveted 'Discount Pass'  that I admire so much... and since she met me more than half way I was reluctantly stuck with 'OK... I'll order them'.

On Saturday, we drove in, nice and early, parked at the 42nd St Javits Center for $14 then walked to 44th street Majestic Theatre.  With time on our hands we shared a Starbucks frapachino before walking the rest of the way to the play house.

Now, over the years I had spent a fair amount of time in opera houses. Both my Father and Grandmother were big Opera fans (season ticket holders) who took me to the Old Met and later to the New Met in NYC as part of my education.  But the deal sealer for the move to South Orange was that our new house was right next door to Jerome and Lucia Hines (both professional opera singers). It seems like the Hines were always performing at Synphony Hall in Newark where we were often invited back stage to the dressing room area as part of the entourage.  My brother also developed a talent for Opera which brought me to several performances and yes, even I got into the act when as a member of the Persing Rifles Drill Team we were asked to perform as part of a firing squad in the opera Tosca.

My wife Alice, who knows me better than anyone else, seemed oblivous to all the baggage and emotions that were running through me...  She was busy dealing with a perfect 4th row seat and a 400 pound man to her right sitting in half of it.  But me, I was comfortable
for now with my seat on the isle so I ignored her pleas, and chortled silently to myself while my attention turned to the stage as the lights went down and the curtain went up revealing that same back stage I had been in years before...

As the music started and the scene unfolded we were backstage again at the old opera house. Suddenly one of the lights on the Chandelier exploded and sent me like a rocket
back to the 60's where my father and I were in the back of The Old Met looking over the scenery from one of the shows as he said aloud, 'Look at this, Don Gio...'.  I looked but never questioned my father about anything since he and I never had 'conversations', but
later I asked my Grandmother(Gram) what it meant and she said, 'Don Giovanni? WOW!  What a Show!  Well if you're seeing that one you better buckle you seatbelt Johnny!  With all that fire people might run out of the place screaming!!!', and then she added that cute smile and sly little wink that she was known for.  But this flashback evaporated as Alice drew my attention once again to her plight on her right...  Thanks Alice!  Somehow dealing with reality always snaps me out of whatever daydreams I am having. As the show went on I relaxed and began to enjoy the haunting operatic songs and minor chords from the voluminous pipe organ.
But then it happened. A cold chill ran down my spine as I watched horrified at the disfigured image of this man who stood there begging her to sing for him... Ahh... The Angel of Music...  And even deeper for me was the agony of finally having to reconcile this image with that of my own father begging me to sing for him just once more.  It was always one of those things that he wanted from me that I always held over his head.  At the time it gave me a feeling of power but he never let it go... and neither did I.

In the end... just like in real life, he was a man who saw talent and just wanted to help see it developed.  He turned out to be a good guy after all... The man, the Angel, who was her greatest benefactor, teacher and admirer was gone and all we have left is the mask shining brightly on the chair.  And for me how many times was I unable to see beyond the mask into the soul of a guardian angel who was just trying to help me.

I'll go to the Hills, when my heart is lonely, I know I will hear what I've heard before, My heart will be blessed with the sound of music and I'll sing once more... Dad, This one's for you...

"Are you a Patient???"  Am I a what... who... "ARE YOU A PATIENT???",screamed the man at me again from the window of a car that quite frankly I had deftly avoided on the first pass but who had persistently circled around once and was catching me on the flip side.  Now mind you my head was totally in the clouds of this glorious first day of springtime... A little too cold for me to stray too far from my house but nice enough for me to venture across the way and hang out on the walk by the golf course...  plus, armed with a back pocketful of CD's and my trusy headphones I was busily daydreaming about some fantasy or another... After all... I find cool brisk air and the sound of music blasting in my ears so relaxing that you might as well consider me gone from here... "WHAT ARE YOU DOING???"  yelled the overly concerned and somewhat angry driver who was bent on conversing with me so I pulled out my left ear phone and incredulously uttered, "What?".
"Are you a Patient or Not?", he yelled again.  "No...", said I, repressing the urge to yell, "Are you missing one?", but once he had my attention he kept screaming,
"Don't you know what you're doing? You're hanging out in front of a MENTAL Hospital!!!  It's a MENTAL Hospital up there!!!"

Suddenly I was smack down on planet earth... and scared... I was half expecting to be tackled,shackled and forced into a straight jacket right there and dragged kicking and screaming... but to where...  Besides... What was he talking about... I live across from the Golf course which is between me and the Lyons Va Hospital... Ooops... I think I got it now, and was just about to say "And Thanks for stopping", but as I looked up the Car was gone.

"What a Buz Buster that was.", I muttered to myself as I slowly turned to walk home, a bit tattered and battered, and still a tad scared as this overwhelming feeling of paranoia came over me like a cold hand which made me retreat to the relative safety of my house even as the rebel in me felt a little Cool about it.  No, I never served in the military outside of a few years of ROTC at SetonHall but that didn't count.  I was never exposed to any real action outside of a few field training exercises at Fort Dix where they let us fire the guns, fed us lunch, then drove us home all safe and sound in our green fatigues and combat boots...
while all of these memories came flooding back to me, once I shut off the CD all I could hear was a crushing lonely depressing silence...

Damage Control Report... Gee, had anyone seen me?  How was I going to explain this to my wife and daughter both of whom suspected all along that I was nuts.  Maybe me
showing up on a Federal Radar Screen was all they needed to have me put away for good.
Or maybe... Just Maybe this is Big Brothers way once again of reminding me to make another long overdue contribution to my favorite charity... The Disabled American Veterans.

Once around Arbor Circle is enough to warm her up before making the left onto Valley Road.  It's a straight run for a mile or so thru another light and then off to Liberty Corner and on to Far Hills.  This road varys from 35 to 45mph through Somerset County until you reach Far Hills and join with 202.  Strictly speaking you should make a right at Peapack but my need for speed leads me to cross 206 and head out toward Lamington.

As my speed increases steadily to 55 I take a moment to ponder the fact that I am sitting astride my V65 Magna with it's hearty 1100cc engine.  The only problem with this throaty
quad is that it goes from 35 to 65 in under 1 second so it takes maturity and control to hold her back at 50. I have wanted this bike since it was built in 1983 and now... Running through my mind are the horror stories of those who took this machine too lightly and refused to respect it's awesome power.  And no... I never bothered to tell my wife that it was in Guinness Book of World Records 3 years in a row as the fastest production bike made that anyone with 4 grand could go into a showroom and ride away... as this all ran through my head the first bend in the road appeared forcing me to concentrate and drop it down to 4th... As the Historic Lamington Church goes by we make a right and take Black River road north.  Although the posted speed is down to 35 my right handed excesses and wide open country road beg me to keep it over 40 as we careen down the road to Pottersville where we rejoin 512 West on a tour of Hunterdon county that is more reminiscent of a Space Shuttle launch than a mere ride in the country.

With the posted speed limit back up to 50 and no one in sight, a ribbon of road is unfurling before me like a waving flag of freedom which beckons me on past churchs and graveyards and farms which ambles down through Califon and then on to a Tee Stop with 513 and my first gas.

At the Exxon station she greedily wolfs down 4 gallons of premium gasoline but at 38 miles per gallon she'll go 150 miles or so between pit stops which is better that a Formula One racer and decent for a bike that performs as well as this one does.

With a full belly we tour down 513 to 648 and on through the countryside until we finally hit our destination at the mighty Musconetcong river which cuts a path through central New Jersey serving as a dividing line between Hunterdon and warren counties.  I call it 'The river of a hundred bridges', which I criss-cross back and forth all day until the air gets chilled and the sun begins to dip lower in the late autumn sky.

A glance at my watch warns me that I need head back towards home as I cross the last Steel grate bridge and begin heading east to retrace my steps back to 512 and on to home... The ride home is more like a high speed treat which becomes surreal as the sun dips down below the horizon and my headlight paints the narrowing road before me. As the darkness decends I feel closer to my bike 'Midnight Blue', than ever and she seems to take control as her spirit comes alive in the gloomy stillness while the sound of the wind in my ears seems to fade as we approach the last light before home. 

As the light turns to Green and I slip the clutch in first, bounce from second to third and Pause there to run it out one last time to feel that mid-range pull that this bike is known for.  It only takes a second for the tac to rev up to 6 grand before I shift to forth and see the lights of Arbor Circle on the right.  And as I make the turn into my driveway I say to myself, Goodbye 512... and GoodNight...

In my life the more things change the more they stay the same.  I've always been a mathematicaly inclined computer nerd.  Why math?  In math there are right and wrong answers with little room for 'fuzzy logic' and gray areas.  In the world of math the entire universe can be written down with one or two easy to remember formulas like e=mc2 and v=ir that look great on tee-shirts.  Actually, you didn't need to memorize anything, you just needed a few good formulas and some basic problem solving techniques.  So why Computers?  Well I was too lazy to do all those calculations myself so why not explain it to a machine and let it do the work?  Teaching a machine is easy... Teaching people is hard.
Why can't I 'Teach a man to Fish' without smelling like fish myself?  And that's why I'm having so much trouble now. People don't want me to do it for them, they want me to teach them.

Some of the closest people to me are under going major transitions in their lives.  For me it's often a struggle to watch them from the sidelines.  You want to help with insightful lectures about how to get through it and how to break it down to it's simplest terms which lead to deeper awareness of the transition and a deeper understanding of the nature of the universe and the meaning of life... Oh brother who am I kidding.  From the safety of my comfort zone I should be the last to offer advice to my family and friends.  I mean, They are going places and doing things that I've never attempted mostly because I was afraid to take the risk. But they still seek me out and seem to listen intently as if my opinions actually matter.

In the 70's there was an anti-drug commercial where a guy put an egg in an overheated frying pan... 'This is your brain on drugs... Any questions'.  That's my style... A simple to follow demonstration complete with cheezy props.  And just like John Lennon said, "Life is what happens while your making other plans."  I try to stress the journey over the goals.  But lately when I run out of ideas I just turn to whom ever and utter my line,"OK... Sooo... What's next???"

Most people don't know that there is a special famous person in my life.  Her name is Teresa Strasser .  I met her in TV land on a show called WhileYouWereOut and it began an interesting relationship which continues to this day.  Watching her on the show caused me to logon to her website and discover her writing.  Although I'm not a big reader there was something about her stories that compelled me to keep reading following her life through her trials and tribulations until one day I emailed her and said 'Hey Teresa... Where are the updates to the Website?'... and to this day she remains the only big TV star who ever Emailed me back with 'They're coming... Be patient'...  Now I never expected her to actually return my Email and for a timeI was naive enough to think that we had an actual relationship or something... but just that simple note from her made my day and provided me a needed dose of what I call Ethereal Inspiration... something that I only get once in a while and is truly a life altering experience.

Ya know... Ever since I was in school I would get into the annual September to May grind.  For me it was always exciting to be back in school, doing new things in a new grade meeting new friends... and it all lasted until the beginning of December at which point me and my exciting life started dragging.  Was it the tests or the homework or just the crappy New Jersey weather?  To this day I can't tell except to say that it still happens...

Out of the mouths of babes... Just as I was sitting around feeling sorry for myself again my daughter Liz wandered into the kitchen and brought it all to a head with, 'Hey Dad... So where are the Updates to the Website???'  And suddenly it all came home and made sense.  This time the shoe was on the other foot.  Suddenly in a flash I got the dose of Ethereal Inspiration that I only get from the women in my life I really care about.  All of a sudden I started laughing out loud as this flood of new ideas came pouring into my brain... It was like I was High or in Love or got a B12 shot or something and it just felt good.

Now it's January and we've begun a new year.  There's lots to look forward to and a whole bunch of new things to report on so buckle your seatbelts and get ready!!!  JMH

Dreams have long been a part of my life.  I can remember when I was little, around 5 years old, I began to have a problem with really bad dreams.  These were the kind of dreams that you got from one of those 'B' rated low budget Hollywood horror films of the day.  Do you  remember Frankenstein?  Well after one those movies I had to spend time trying to fall asleep in a cold dark room in Elizabeth NJ.  My parents made me turn off the light and go to sleep but time after time I would run in their room and want to jump in with my mother.  Well one night my father had enough and proceded to banish me back to my bedroom to deal with my dreams on my own.  Time after time my real creativity and moments of genius come when I am forced to deal with situations and this time, at least, I had an idea.  Each time I woke up from a bad dream I would sit there with the light on scheming about what I would do to the bad guys in the dream if I could.  I would even close my eyes and pretend to be back in the dream and then I would kick some real butt.  Suddenly, after a few weeks of this I gained a new power.  I couldn't stop the dreams, but I could learn to fight back.  Eventually I got so good that I stopped waking up at all.  I was able to control my dreams while they were happening -- In real time!  Unfortunately this power only lasted a short time because the bad dreams, actually all my dreams seemed to suddenly stop as quickly as they began... All except for one.

I don't know when it began again, but it must have been during Junior High school.  I call it my dream of 'Utter unpreparedness' or in other words, 'Im Screwed', and it goes like this.  I am sitting in the school cafeteria or someplace in October or November and as I am looking over my schedule of classes I see an obscure 2 credit class that I've been cutting or had totally forgotten about.  In a flash, a feeling of panic comes over me as I realize that I have never been to this class.  I am totally unprepared for this class and I will most likely be failing this class which is needed for graduation, etc.  There are two things that bother me about this particular dream.  First of all I can't control it.  Inside the dream I can't just laugh it off and plan to attend summer school.  I am riveted to the chair unable to move.  The second thing that bothers me about this dream is... I still have this dream each September and I've been out of school for over 25 years...

Each September as others are preparing to do battle on the gridiron or preparing for some other sporting event all I can think about is, when will my dream comeback... cause I miss it... I don't want to control it... It makes me feel alive and very much young again.  Now I can't go back to the Frankensten movie dreams with someone chasing me, but I can hold on to this one and I hope it never goes away... I need it... I like my Dreams.  They make me who I am and I really don't mind at all if I am Dreaming My life Away

'What a great writer you are John', said the admiring fan.  'You should do more writing, it's Sooo great!', cooed another.  Little do they know that I do most of my real writing in COBOL or SQL or Unix Scripting language.  Yeah, some of my writing is good which is why I started this Web page but for the past several weeks I've been spending so much time of the front page that I've got nothing left for the inner pages.  I like the main page don't you?  With my handy dandy digital camera in hand and my laptop on lap I just shoot pictures, upload them and write catchy captions.  Easy huh... Yeah... A little too easy... All fluff and no real substance and that's the rub.  I want to be a serious writer.  Is that so much to ask?  Armed with my 12,000 work Daily News vocabulary, a few ideas,and this laptop that's what I intended to do. The only problem is, I am Missing my Creativity... 

I love that term.  It means,'Now I have plenty of space but I don't have any more ideas'.  And that's an idea right there... Under Construction... The promise of big ideas and a teaser to the people around you that says "We're here and we're working".  Just one moment please while we re-arrange a few things in here...  Feel free to come in but don't step on any nails or sit down on any wet paint...  Sooo... Maybe I'll have some more to say tomorrow or the next day but for right now I'm OK with my first story -- 'Under Construction'. JMH