Sunday, February 28, 2010

Wow, did that go by fast

My daughter Caitlin turns 25 at 11:52PM tonight. Wow, did that go by fast.

She was actually due on Valentine's Day.
I was the Program Director of WFTQ in Worcester. 14Q. I did a short airshift as well, from 9-11AM. My opening break that day, coming out of the 9AM news, was over the beginning of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." Over the 7-second intro I said, "Well, here it is, February 14th, the baby's due date. And so far, nothing." I posted the vocal perfectly. Elton opens with, "When are you gonna come down...when are you going to land?" It was probably my best show open ever.

A week and a half later, on Sunday the 24th, there was still no baby. I drove my wife Kathy up and down a bumpy street in Worcester hoping to move things along. At the time I didn't know that when the doctors give you a due date they're throwing a dart and guessing.

Four days later.
Kathy was getting up to head in to work for a sales meeting at WAAF where she was an Account Executive. As she walked into the bathroom her water broke. You hear all those stories about the water breaking in the supermarket, but this was very convenient timing. So we grabbed the already-packed suitcase, jumped in the car and headed for Worcester Memorial Hospital.

We checked in around 9AM. Kathy was resting sort of comfortably and I was in a chair next to her reading "Nightmare in Pink" (as noted in my last blog entry).

On it went.
Eleven hours later, around 8PM, they sent me home to nap. I felt like I had just hit the pillow when the phone rang. It was a nurse at the hospital telling me that they're about to start pushing and I should come back right now. I got back about 8:30. The pushing went on for about an hour and a half. If you want to feel useless, try telling your wife who has been in labor for 14 hours that she should remember her breathing. Hut-hut-HOO. Shut up and tell them to give me another goddamn epidural. Just before midnight, Dr. Pokoly asked if we'd like a February baby or a March baby. Clearly February would be a few minutes earlier.

Eight minutes before midnight,
Dr. Pokoly, with his medium-strong German accent, said, "Vell, it looks like ve haf a girl here." Indeed we did. Wow. The nurse handed her to me and I carried her around the room pointing things out. This is a clock. It says 11:55. This here is a painting of Monet's Japanese bridge. This is a window. This is a magazine. Oh, here's your Mommy. I can't adequately describe the unbelievable feeling of holding your brand newborn daughter in your arms. It's a moment that's etched in my brain like no other.

One of the nurses said, "She looks a little grunty." You're calling my daughter grunty? I would have punched the nurse in the nose if my arms weren't full. We went to the recovery room and the nurse there said, "Oh, it's a girl! What are you going to name her?' I responded, "Caitlin." The nurse said, "Oh, yeah. That's the big name this year."

Quick aside about the name.
Before Kathy and I started talking about baby names I had actually never heard of the name Caitlin. Kathy got the name from a book she'd read about Dylan Thomas's wife. The deal was that if we had a girl, Kathy would name her. If we had a boy, I'd get the honor. Kathy's first name choice was actually Erin, but her sister Terry had stolen the name a few years earlier despite Kathy having hosied it. If I recall correctly, there was some mashed potato thrown at Thanksgiving dinner over the issue. So Caitlin it was.

As far as I can recall, Caitlin never had a class, played on a team, or had much of any group activity anywhere without at least one other Caitlin. Usually misspelled. Katelyn, or Kaitlin, or Katlyn or some combination of those. She was in a regional swim meet one time and there were six swimmers in her event, three of them from the Wellesley team. All were named Caitlin.

Despite that, you hardly ever see Caitlin stuff for sale in souvenir stores. The pens, key chains, mugs, sticky pads and such never have Caitlin. When she was about three I found a rack of cassettes where the guy sings a customized "Happy Birthday" with your kid's name and everything. I had to special order a Caitlin version.

On her second night home Caitlin slept through the night. Her first doctor's appointment was the next day, and the doctor asked how she was doing. We said, great, she slept through the night. He said, "Oh, no, don't let her do that. You have to wake her up." Say, what? I don't think so.

One more name aside.
We lived in Baltimore for three years when I was Program Director of Mix 106.5. We decided to get Social Security cards for the girls (Kara, daughter #2, was born in Baltimore). We needed a birth certificate with a raised seal from the city hall of their birthplace. Baltimore for Kara was easy, but the City of Worcester sent us the wrong birth certificate. Evidently there was another Caitlin Kelley born to a different Don and Kathy Kelley on the same date in Worcester. Kelley was probably misspelled.

Dream Girl.
Caitlin has been an absolute dream. As sweet and easy going as they come. None of the tension that you see with kids on situation comedies. No teenage anger or angst. I coached her in CYO basketball for four years, until the players' skills eclipsed my coaching skills. In softball, though, it was a different story. I coached her from T-ball in 1st grade all the way through high school Varsity where she played an excellent third base and was in the MIAA State Tournament for three straight years.

She went to Providence College and graduated with the highest GPA in her major. Got a job immediately after graduation at a non-profit in New York. Got an apartment in Manhattan with a friend she's known since nursery school.

When she got to New York Caitlin started playing in a co-ed dodge ball league and a guy on the team noticed that she has a much better arm than most of girls. He asked her if she'd like to fill in on his co-ed softball team the next night. They had enough boys but were short one girl. Sure, she'll play. They put Caitlin at second base, probably hoping that no one would hit the ball to her, but they did hit it to her. She actually turned two 6-4-3 double-plays (that's where the second baseman takes the throw from the shortstop, steps on second, does a pivot and makes the relay throw to first). That opened some eyes. Say, would you like to be a regular on the team? Yes, she would. That lead to her new job in the Viacom Building in Times Square doing Digital Analytics for Nickelodeon's numerous web sites.

It was also at dodge ball where she met her boyfriend, a great guy who is from New York but thankfully is not a Yankee fan. Last April he took her to the very first game at Citi Field in Queens, the new home of the Mets. That first game, an exhibition at the end of spring training, was between the Red Sox and Mets. Clearly this guy gets it.

So here we are, 25 years later.
Caitlin is now in The Demo (25-54, the age group that all marketers covet) so her opinion officially counts. Wow, that was fast. Caitlin, you are and always have been a true delight. Happy 25th.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

I picked up the phone and called Quirk

That was the last line of the last Spenser book. I just finished it last night. I'd been saving the last few chapters for a couple of weeks since Robert B. Parker died on January 18th.

The first Spenser book I read was in 1981. Looking for Rachel Wallace. My brother Peter recommended it to me. It was the third in the Spenser series. I liked it enough to go back and read the first two, The Godwulf Manuscript and God Save the Child. Moving forward, I read every one since then. And all the Jesse Stone ones, and the Sunny Randall ones. And a few that had none of the well-known characters, such as Wilderness, Love and Glory, and Poodle Springs, the unfinished Raymond Chandler book that Parker completed.

My daughter Caitlin was born in 1985. I had read about five Spenser books by then and was also working on the entire Travis McGee series by John D. McDonald. All the McDonald books had a color in the title: The Deep Blue Goodbye, A Tan and Sandy Silence, The Dreadful Lemon Sky, etc. The one I was reading in the hospital while I waited all day for Caitlin to be born was Nightmare in Pink. I knew it would be girl.

But back to Parker. Kathy and I decided that a kid should have a dog, so we got a full-grown Old English Sheepdog from a shelter in Holden, MA. Named him Spenser, spelled like the detective, which was spelled like the English poet.

Caitlin's first word was "Spenser." Okay, it was more like "Spa-spa," but she wasn't saying "Daddy." She was talking about the dog.

Every year since 1981 I've had a Spenser book to read on the beach. Usually at Smuggler's Beach on Cape Cod. I learned a number of things from Spenser books. In one, he's sitting in his office on Kneeland Street (this was the first of three offices he had). It's nighttime, the window is open, and he hears a car with a trick horn blowing "shave and a haircut...two bits." I had never known the name for dum-dum-da-DUM-dum...dum-DUM . Now I did. In another book he's up in the Catskills trying to rescue Susan and somebody says, "Yippie cayocayay!" It's the only time I've seen it written out. When I was a kid my father used to say, "Up and Adam" to get us boys up. At least that's what I thought he was saying. Many years later, while reading a Spenser book, I came across this line: "It was 5 o'clock and I was already up and at 'em, but the 'em I was up and at were still asleep." Up and at them. Now I get it.

The books weren't perfect. A reviewer once recommended that Parker give us "more Hawk, less Susan." I agree. He spent way too much time drooling over how wonderful Susan is. In the last ten years or so, after he and Susan got back together, she gets a PhD in Psychology at Harvard. From then on, Spenser mentions that Susan has a Harvard PhD several times in every book. Impressive, yes, but alright already. He referred to having sex as "bopping" too frequently. I found this annoying when multiple people in the same book would use the expression. He relied heavily on the same police contacts, as though the Boston Police Department consisted of only two guys that he knew, Quirk and Belson. He has Hawk doing the fake black dialect thing too much. He adopted a kid in an early book, Paul Giacomin. Paul comes up a few times in subsequent books, but it's pretty sparse. He spends too much time fawning over Pearl the Wonder Dog (they actually go through two Pearls). Pearl is fed food right from the table and gets to crawl into bed with them. A few plots were preposterous, like the one where he goes to Arizona to save a small town from outlaws by shooting them all.

But they're fun reads. Short chapters. Good beach reads, good airplane reads. Good characters. Hawk, Vinnie Morris, Tony Marcus, Junior and Ty Bop, Chollo, Henry Cimoli, State Police Homicide Commander Healy, Martin Quirk, Frank Belson. He ate at real restaurants and named them. Lockober's, The Bristol Lounge, Rocco, The Ritz Bar, Blue Ginger. He knew that a Browning was a good piece to hide in the small of your back but was also effective. He knew how to cook. He knew how to box. He ran along the Comm Ave mall. He enjoyed beer, like Amstel or Black and Tan. He liked Scotch, especially Dewar's. Also Maker's Mark. He liked Dunkin' Donuts coffee. And their cinammon donuts. He named real towns, unless something bad was happening there. He referred to my hometown of Wellesley as Pemberton. Lowell was Proctor. Portsmouth, NH was Port City. Lynnfield was Smithfield. Tufts University was Taft. BC might also have been Taft.
He's funny and self-effacing. "I decided to use my warm but convincing smile on her. I didn't work. That surprised me, because my warm but convincing smile almost always works."

He was a Red Sox fan. He has a 2004 World Series Champion cap. In one book Spenser is wearing a Utica Blue Sox cap as a disguise. Parker himself was old enough to remember the Boston Braves. On the back of several books he's wearing a Boston Braves cap while Pearl strains against the leash. (In case you don't know, the Braves are a National League team that played in Boston from 1871-1953, when they got sick of being outdrawn by the Red Sox and decided to blow town and head to Milwaukee. 13 years later they moved again, this time to Atlanta where they still play.)

So now I have no more Spenser books to read. There is one more Jesse Stone novel. He's the Police Chief of Paradise, Massachusetts, which is remarkably like Marblehead. I'll read it when it's released. But I'll miss Spenser.