Friday, January 30, 2009

Predictions For Super Bowl Weekend

My predictions for this weekend:

* The Cardinals will win the Super Bowl 24-20, stunning everyone.

* Kurt Warner will win the MVP, after throwing for about 275 yards with two TDs (the third Arizona TD will come from a Tim Hightower run; and they'll get a field goal to run it up to 24 points.)

* The first words out of Kurt Warner's mouth after the mic is put in front of it post-game will be ....First off, I want to thank the Lord Jesus Christ.'' He may mix it up and say ....First off, I want to thank God.'' But I'm betting he'll go with Jesus.

* Most of the Super Bowl commercials will be lame, with the notable exception of two brilliant shills, one of which will be from a huge company like Taco Bell, the other of which will be from a much lesser-known company, probably some computer software outfit.

* Bruce Springsteen will play these four songs during halftime: ....The Rising,'' ....Glory Days,'' ....Born in the U.S.A.'' and ....Born To Run.'' He'll end his show with a rousing version of ....Born in the U.S.A. which will include a crapload of fireworks, confetti, people in red, white and blue and a sing-along with the chorus.

* All of the commentators talking about the game prior to kickoff will say, ....I know this is the Super Bowl, but this thing will have a hard time living up to the hype, pageantry, fireworks and kick-ass-ocity of yesterday's book signing by Sean Leary. He was at Barnes and Noble at NorthPark Mall in Davenport from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday, and he ROCKED THAT M-F'ER!!!!''

Find out for yourself if any of my predictions above are correct, starting on Saturday. Come on out to Barnes and Noble from 1 to 3 p.m., pick up a copy of my new book, MY LIFE AS A FREAK MAGNET: TRUE STORIES ABOUT WEIRDOS I'VE MET, or any of my other books, including EVERY NUMBER IS LUCKY TO SOMEONE, THE GIRL OF DREAMS AND MAGICK or EXORCISING GHOSTS, and then, as you're waiting for the Super Bowl to begin, enjoy reading any or all of them while eating some pizza and a giant plate of nachos.

Now THAT'S livin' my friends. THAT'S livin'.

Hope you all have a great weekend....




copyright 2009 Sean Leary / for more writing and other stuff you may or may not give a shit about, see www.seanleary.com

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Rihanna: Afraid Of A Little Competition!

At first I thought Rihanna was just a hypocrite.

Now I realize she's just terrified of a little competition.

In her new song ....Live Your Life,'' she starts with the usual hip-hop litany of bling porn, dropping her drawas over a list of material things, blah, blah, blah.

Then she gets into the Oprah portion of the song, the uplifting message that people need to ignore haters and just live their lives.

Clap. Clap. Clap.

Very nice, very uplifting, very positive, good message.

However, when you listen to the lyrics, you get a different one.

First off, Rihanna tells people to ....stop chasin' paper and live your life.''

Okay, good advice. The pursuit of materialism is ultimately a hollow goal steeped in futility, particularly in times like these. And we all should just live our lives, not pay attention to haters, stop trying to keep up with the Jonesies, etc.

However, just a couple of lines later, Rihanna says, ....cause I'm a paper chaser, just livin' my life.''

Okay, Rihanna.

Stop sending us mixed messages here.

You're telling us not to chase paper. Just live our lives.

Then you tell us YOU'RE chasing paper WHILE living your life.

As if you're so great you have the ability to do both, while we peons don't?

Thanks for all the confidence, Rihanna.

But then again, maybe you're saying that because you don't have enough confidence in yourself?

Maybe you're saying that just to eliminate your competition for that paper?

Maybe you're telling people to stop chasing paper so that you'll have more paper to chase and less competition in chasing it?

I'm on to you Rihanna.

And I got my mind on my paper and my paper on my mind.

And I'm livin' my life.

Hey-ey ey ey ey ey...




copyright 2009 Sean Leary / for more writing, pleas for financial salvation through book sales and subterranean cries of existential desperation see www.seanleary.com

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Yeast Infection Girl Who Kidnapped Me

Below is a story from my new book, MY LIFE AS A FREAK MAGNET, which I'll be signing from 1 to 3 p.m. tomorrow, aka Saturday, at Waldenbooks, SouthPark Mall, Moline, IL.

Hope you enjoy it, hope to see you at the signing, and hope you have a great weekend!

(The previous paragraph was brought to you by the word ....hope.'' Hope. It's not just for Barack Obama's campaign speeches anymore.)

As with all my stories, feel free to spam it out to your friends and share it with whoever you want. Just include my byline/copyright/etc. when you do.

And heeeeeeeeerrrrrreeeeesssssss......




THE YEAST INFECTION GIRL WHO KIDNAPPED ME

By Sean Leary

Ever notice those eHarmony commercials never feature anyone talking about their venereal diseases?

I guess they never got an application from Renee.

I met Renee (not her real name) in college. I was 21. When we were introduced by a mutual friend, we hit it off well. She seemed completely normal, stable, funny and cool. It's not like she was dressed head-to-toe vampire, or sporting several facial tics, or brandishing a swastika tattoo on her forehead. She looked like Elizabeth Shue in ....Cocktail.'' Girl next door type.

Little did I know her white picket fence cottage house was hiding a dungeon beneath it.

She offered to drive on our first date. Not typical for me, I'm used to driving, but it seemed like a refreshing change, so I went with it. When she picked me up, the first things she said to me when I got in the car were, ....You look great!'' and ....You know, you asking me out has made my entire year!''
Two huge compliments. Not bad. I'll take 'em. Things were going just fine with me up to that point.

....I want to take you to my favorite restaurant!'' she said, excitedly. In fact, pretty much everything she said during the first hour or so, she said with an incredible zeal.

Okay, sounds good.

So, we're driving and talking and driving and talking and I start to realize we're heading out of town. We're 20 minutes, half-hour out of town, and I ask, ....Where is this restaurant?''

....Oh, it's in Barrington.''

Barrington is over two hours away. It's in her hometown.

....Hmm. I hope it's a really good restaurant,'' I joke.

....Oh, it's awesome, and I really want you to like it!'' she says, in a way that made me think this was about more than me enjoying the appetizers. ....I really hope you do, because it's my favorite restaurant, and I want it to be yours too!''

....Well, it'll have a difficult time knocking off Burger King,'' I said, obviously joking.

Silence. Three, four, five seconds of silence. Accompanied by an oddly perturbed look on her face. And then...

she busted out laughing.

....Yeah, I think it'll be better than Burger King!'' she guffawed, awkwardly.

Okay, I'm fine with the adventure of going to a new place, and while it's more than a little unusual that she was taking me two hours out of the way to do it, that's cool, it's something different, and it'll give us time to talk. At that point I was just hoping that we would hit it off, and would have enough to talk about, otherwise the two hours would be deadly. But the delayed reaction on the joke, as well as the sort of vague anger about it, was starting to make me a little suspicious that the two hour drive – not to mention the two hour drive back, or the time spent there – could possibly become a bit strange.

The next thing she said, to break the uncomfortable silence, kinda confirmed my suspicions.

....Yeah, while we're there, I want you to meet my parents!'' she says.

Huh?

....Oh yeah, they'll love you!''

Hmm.

Then, silence, as though she realized she had just said something she probably shouldn't have, and changed the subject to working at the school newspaper. She was a fellow journalism student and she asked me what it was like to be an editor. Then we started talking about music. And movies. Pretty tame stuff.

Then, a few minutes later, she asks me to hand her her purse. I do. She shuffles through it, and, quite conspicuously, takes out her birth control pill and takes it right in front of me.

Then -- and this is the capper -- she says, ....Oh, I don't mean to be a tease. I mean, yeah, I'd love to have sex with you tonight, but I can't.''

And at that point, she LITERALLY starts scratching at her groin area.

....I've got this awful yeast infection!'' she says. ....And I'm sure you don't want to get that!''

She then laughs in a nervous, high pitched squeal and begins to talk, for a good 10-15 minutes, about her yeast infection. How it feels. How she hates yeast infections. How she gets them too often. Her theories on why she gets them. How she takes wears saran wrap bikinis filled with yogurt to try to get rid of them. And on. And on..

As I sit there, just sorta kicking back, taking it all in, wondering what's next.

Then she starts to tell me again how happy she is to be with me on this date.

....Yeah, I haven't really dated anyone since I broke up with my last boyfriend...''

Keep in mind this girl is a 19-year-old college student.

Her last boyfriend?

Her 42-year-old, MARRIED, band instructor.

The remainder of our trip to her hometown is spent with her dissecting that relationship. How it started. How it continued. Why she did it. How often they had sex. Where they had sex. Where they had to have sex because he was sneaking around and they were keeping it a secret. The time he gave her an STD and she found out he'd also been sleeping with third trombone or something, who had crabs. Good stuff.

Now, some of the time is also spent comparing me favorably to said band instructor. However, the bar is pretty low, so I don't feel all that accomplished to be stepping over it. Also, by this time, the ego stroking isn't even working. I'm just completely knocked aback by this girl's bizarre conversational choices and the way she expresses them.

We get to her hometown. Before going to the restaurant we stop at her house. Unbeknownst to her Mom and Dad, both of whom are dressed for bed. Dad in a sleeveless t-shirt and boxers, Mom in curlers and a housecoat. They're not particularly happy to see us, and her Mom tosses me a look that basically says, ....I'm so so sorry...''

Renee, on the other hand, is oblivious to this, giving me a tour of her home and showing me various pictures of her in various stages of growing up.

One such picture is of her around age 12 in a softball uniform.

....I think that was the summer I got my period,'' she says.

The More You Know...

We disengage from the parents house and go to her favorite restaurant, a Chinese place that wasn't half bad, but which was a rat hair from closing when she showed up. So the next hour is spent with the two of us – the only ones left in the place – eating as the employees vacuum and tidy around us trying to get her to take a hint.

Dinner conversation is about Renee's former relationships prior to the band instructor guy. The guy she lost her virginity to, who was also sleeping with her best friend. The guys who have cheated on her. The guy whose house she egged. The guy whose car she keyed. The guy who she intentionally gave an STD to again because he'd already given one to her, and how they both found it hilarious later on. Thank God for penicillin!

I think I get in a total of three or four minutes of convo.

And for any of you who know how chatty I am, you realize what an incredible aberration THAT is.

So, we wrap it up at the restaurant and start to head home. At this point, Renee thinks the date has gone fantastic. She's talking about our future together, and dropping hints about what we can do next, and talking about what we can do over the summer together, and how Barrington and my hometown of Joliet aren't really THAT far from each other (actually they're pretty far from one another), and by the time she gets around to talking again about her yeast infection I'm just trying to find my zen quiet place.

We pull into my driveway at the end of the night and she says, and I quote:

....Do you want me to come in? I mean, I know, I said we can't really have sex, but like, there are other things we can do.''

She looks in the driveway.

....Is that your car? If your roommates are up, we can go hang out in your car.''

At this point I wouldn't care if I'd just gotten back from a 10-year stint on a submarine with nothing but men. There's no way I'm encouraging Renee with any form of physical interaction. So, she goes in for a kiss and I shuffle over last minute and make it a hug.

Awkward.

....You don't want to kiss me?'' she says.

....Um, I think I'd like to take things slowly,'' I say. ....I get the feeling you're still kinda rebounding from your last boyfriend so maybe we should just be friends and see what happens.''

She starts to cry.

Just a reminder: This is a first date.

I'm horrible with the crying. I start to feel bad for people. As I've been told countless times, I'm too nice. I give her a hug. She pulls back, looks at me like she's going to go in for a kiss again, so I disengage and pull back since she's stopped crying.

....I'll give you a call!'' I say, getting out of the car.

....Okay,'' she says, I think, because I'm trying to get the hell out of there as quickly as possible.

I go inside, tell two of my roommates about the date. One of them says, ....Dude, she kidnapped you!''

....Hmm, I guess she did.''

....Did you notice any strange smells coming from the trunk?'' the other roommate adds. ....She might've had the body of the last guy she dated in there.''

Anyway, in the middle of me talking to my roommates, another roommate tells me I have a phone call.
It's Renee.

She blurts an apology for about 10 minutes. I accept the apology, but I don't agree to date her again.
That doesn't go over well, so she hungs up.

Nonetheless, for the next two weeks, she's relentless in trying to get me to go out with her again. I very politely continue to refuse. I'm busy. I think she's still hung up on the ex. I have to hop on a plane to Tibet to join the Peace Corps. Etc.

Then, for some reason, she suddenly changes tacks and starts telling people what a jerk I was. This goes on until she finds another guy. A fellow journalism student. Three weeks later, this guy comes to me and says, ....Uh, did Renee kinda stalk you or something? Because I can't get rid of her and I think she keyed my car.''

Suddenly I'm thankful I didn't make it to the third week. Apparently that's when she shifts into vandalism. I'm guessing week four or five involved the exchange of venereal diseases, if things got that far.

Shortly after that, the semester ended, Renee quit the newspaper and I never saw her again. Five years later I saw in our alumni newsletter that she had gotten married. Another five years later and she was a Mom of three. Maybe she settled down. Maybe her bizarre nature was just a phase for her, like ripped jeans or big hair. Or maybe she joined eHarmony and found that one special person whose turn-ons included talking about yeast infections.

I can just imagine the conversation.

....Yeah, I'm so glad eHarmony matched us up. I can't wait to take you to my favorite restaurant,'' she would say, starting to itch. ....Damn! I can't stand yeast infections!''

....Did you say yeast infections?'' he would ask, his eyes aglow, as he reached into his pocket to pull out a business card that said ....Roy Jones, Executive Vice President, Monistat Corporation...''



from the book MY LIFE AS A FREAK MAGNET by Sean Leary
copyright 2009 Sean Leary .. for more writing see www.seanleary.com

So, I Finally Got My Christmas Card From Julio Iglesias Today

So, I finally got my Christmas card from Julio Iglesias today.

No kidding.

I don't know which is more amazing at this point. The fact that it took almost a month to deliver a Christmas card that was postmarked Dec. 15, or the fact that for the last decade I've been on Julio Iglesias' Christmas card list.

It all started in 1998. I know this because, jokingly, I have the initial hand-signed thank you letter from Mr. Iglesias taped up between a Lou Reed poster and a photo of ....psychic'' Miss Cleo on a wall at my office.

....Dear Sean,'' it reads,

....I want to take this opportunity to thank you for your favorable support of my latest album, ..Tango!' during 1997. It is due to such support that ..Tango!' has been nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Latin Pop performance category being held in Radio City Music Hall on February 25, 1998...''

It's good that Julio acknowledged the critical weight my opinion holds with the Grammy voters. LOL.

Of course this entire thing was precipitated entirely on three things I did a decade ago, when I'd just started at this job -- one, I gave ....Tango'' a deserved good review; two, I gave Iglesias' concert a deserved good review when he played the local arena; and three, I killed one of his enemies for him in exchange for $5,000, a Hickory Farms cheese gift basket and a year's worth of Miracle Car Wash gift certificates.

That man? Tupac Shakur.

Okay, maybe it was just the first two.

At any rate, since then I've been on the Iglesias family Christmas list. Every year I get a card, and in recent years said card has featured a picture of his most recent brood of children, all of whom seem to be growing up quite quickly. Oh, how the time has flown for Miguel, Rodrigo, Julio, Miranda, Victoria and Christina.

I bring this up because it's an unusual thing you may find interesting or entertaining, and also because it illustrates something about celebrity.

I'm sure Julio Iglesias personally does not know if I get his Christmas cards or not. I'm certain that I'm part of a massive mailing out to entertainment and pop culture writers all across the planet, and pretty much everyone who has given him a favorable review or two in the past, and the few of us who have been hired assassins to dispatch his enemies, are put on the list.

But on the other hand, Julio Iglesias has to chip out the dough for these four color, high quality paper cards, not to mention all the postage. That's got to be a nice chunk of change.

I'm guessing, from my lack of regular holiday tidings from the rich and famous that I've applauded over the years, that there are very few celebrities that do this, or even would. So I've got to give Mr. Iglesias props on this one.

Before I opened my mail I was looking at the entertainment wire. It was filled with the usual morass of ugly, meaningless stories about Z-grade demi-celebs (WHY do people give a crap about Paris Hilton? What has she done other than grown from the zygote created from a mother who gave her looks and a father that gave her money?) that will be best forgotten in the years to come.

And then there's Julio Iglesias.

Say what you want to about the guy, but he's like Elvis to the Spanish-speaking countries of the world. In the U.S., or at least the white U.S., he's known as the ....To All The Girls I've Loved Before'' dude. But outside of our honkytown, the guy's a legend.

Yet he still has his assistants printing out and sending out holiday cards to hundreds of schmucks like me. Especially someone like me, who hasn't written about Julio Iglesias in probably the 10 years that have passed since that review, unless I've reviewed another CD of his in that ensuing time.

That attention to detail and that dedication to thanking the people who have helped him along the way -- in ways however slight -- is admirable.

It's not the kind of thing you're going to get from a Paris Hilton.

Which is why Mr. Iglesias has put her on his hit list.

And why I'm cleaning my glock and waiting for my Miracle Car Wash gift certificates, as a retainer.


copyright 2009 Sean Leary / for more writing see www.seanleary.com

Saying Something ``Rocks'' Doesn't Rock

Okay, I think it's getting to be way beyond the time that we should all retire the phrase ....(blank) rocks.''

Sure, it can be kept around as an ironic comment, or as something that you might find on shirts worn by small children, who haven't beaten it into the ground. (For example, ....My Mom Rocks'' or ....My Dad Rocks'' or ....Elmo Rocks'' t-shirts.)

However, I'm sick of hearing it from adults in regard to everyone and everything, particularly when it seems lazy, disingenuous and obsequious, or when it's used as an advertising shill for something that, let's face it, really doesn't rock, never rocked and regardless of its merit, never will.

For example: ....This hemorrhoid cream ROCKS!''

I'm sorry, but as happy as you may be that your ass doesn't itch anymore, a hemorrhoid cream, by nature, should not be allowed to be described as ....rocking.''

C'mon, people, can't we find something more original to describe things? Can't we get beyond using ....rocks'' as a description with the slathering ubiquity of a lunch lady using mayonnaise?

Or at least can't we mix it up a bit?

How about saying that something ....rolls?''

As in ....rock 'n' roll.''

....Wow! This rolls!''

....You roll!''

....Damn! This hemorrhoid cream rolls!''

Hey, at least it's original.



copyright 2009 Sean Leary / for more writing and incredibly insightful commentary see www.seanleary.com

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Through difficult times, one man's tenacity wins out

There's a saying that you haven't really worked in the media until you've been fired. The business is notoriously fickle. A down ratings point here or there, a management shakeup (of which there are typically several), a shift in philosophy or a change in radio or TV station formats -- any number of factors can precipitate a pink slip.

However, the good ones, the tough ones, always make it through. They keep on finding work, never allowing their voices to be silenced.

No one can say Jim Albracht hasn't made it.

The thoughtful, outspoken, genial Albracht, 58, has traveled around the dial throughout the Midwest. He's seen it all. But he's still got his eyes wide open.

``As they say, it's been a long, strange trip,'' Albracht says, laughing. ``There are very few things I haven't done. But everything I have I've looked at as a challenge and an opportunity.''

He was all over the radio -- everywhere from WQUA to KFMH -- in the '70s; became a well-known sportscaster on WQAD-TV8 in the early-mid '80s; then returned to radio for a stint on WOC-AM1420 into the early '90s.

``Those were some great times,'' he said. ``Working at KFMH, I don't think I've ever had more fun at a job. And working as a sportscaster, I got to live out a lot of my dreams. Back then, if you worked hard enough, you could get anybody -- if you wanted to interview Stan Musial, you could. I got to talk to a lot of personal heroes, both at channel 8, and on WOC.''

Bounced from 'OC in '94, he landed on his feet -- and on-the-air -- in Green Bay and got to see the Packers win the Super Bowl.

``That's a perfect example of never knowing when something that seems like a down thing is going to turn into an opportunity,'' Albracht said. ``If I hadn't gone to Green Bay I never would've been there for that.''

He also never would've gotten to make a triumphant comeback. In 1998 he returned to WOC and began a decade-long stint as its morning show host.

However, a decade later, Nov. 30, 1997, he was let go again.

``I don't really have any hard feelings towards those guys, it was just a financial thing -- that's the way the economy was going, and still is,'' he said.

However, after a while, another media door opened -- albeit a part-time one. Since September, he's been sharing his perspectives at 6 and 10 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and 5:30 and 10 p.m. Sundays on ``The Quad-Cities According To Jim,'' an op-ed running during the WQAD-TV8 newscasts. Albracht essentially gets to speak his mind on any subject he desires -- whether it's the presidential election, Britney Spears' latest breakdown or the basketball prospects for the Hawkeyes. It's an opportunity he relishes.

``I never say anything I don't believe, but I never believe I speak for everyone,'' he says. ``It can be serious, it can be funny, it's just life. The best case scenario is that I get people to think about an issue, to talk about it.''

Having endured the ups and downs of the business has only given the tenacious Albracht a richer perspective, he says, one that informs his work and helps him connect with the audience.

``Life has its ups and downs, and its changes in perspectives,'' he says. ``When I was 8, I thought `If I could just call one game, I'd be happy.' I've been fortunate to achieve a lot of what I set out to do.

``It's been a great life,'' he laughs. ``I just have to figure out what to do with the rest of it.''

Pausing, he acknowledged the difficulties he's endured, personal and professional. But he was quick to admit that often, the old adage about a window opening every time a door closes can be true -- and he's learned to watch the windows.

``I think one of the keys is being open to those opportunities when they arise,'' Albracht said. ``The other is following your passion. As long as you're doing that, no matter where you end up, you can be happy.''



copyright 2008 Sean Leary / for more writing see www.seanleary.com

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Karli Rose Kell's name, legacy, lives on

Yesterday marked the seventh Christmas.

The seventh time there were no gifts under the tree, no place at the table, no sounds of her laughter bubbling through the house like the sweet perfume of holiday cooking.

The latest December the Kell family, Ellis and Kristi, endured without their beloved daughter, Karli Rose.

``It's always tough,'' Mr. Kell said, taking a moment for a breath, his eyes welling up a bit. ``It starts to get tougher at the beginning of every fall. She was always such a Christmas type of person; she loved the holidays, everything about them.

``We miss her. You learn to live with it, but it never gets easy.''

Since Karli passed on Oct. 19, 2002, killed in a car crash near Andalusia, her parents have helped her memory live on -- not only for them, but for many others -- and created a legacy of charity in her name.

The Karli Rose Kell Scholarship fund has been going strong since its first Moondance charity concert event in 2003. Since then, it's provided money for dozens of aspiring area musicians, and each year it accepts scores of applications from students ages 8-18. (For more information on the program, e-mail Ellis Kell at ekell@rivermusicexperience.org.)

This year it's close to raising $10,000 for scholarships to go to needy area music students. Tonight, Ellis Kell and his band will perform at the Redstone room, hoping to raise enough funds to push them over the top of that $10,000 threshhold.

``We need $560 and we're there,'' Mr. Kell said. ``We started in July and it's just been amazing to behold the outpouring of support. Even in these tough economic times, when we know it's more difficult for people to find a little extra, people have been generous, and we truly appreciate it.

``It means a lot to us, in keeping Karli's memory alive, but it means so much to the students whose lives are impacted firsthand by it,'' Mr. Kell said. ``Being (at the RME) and seeing that, seeing the kids who are able to continue their music education because of it, is amazing.

``It's the best legacy I can think for her to have, in her name,'' Mr. Kell said. ``She loved music so much, it was such a huge part of her life. I think Karli would be thrilled. I'm sure she's looking down and smiling.''




copyright 2008 Sean Leary / for more writing see www.seanleary.com

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Collins' Christmas Greetings Bring Spirit Of The Holiday Alive

By now most of us have armies of holiday cards lined up in formation on mantles, refrigerators and desks.

Some of them offer brief salutations, others deep holiday wishes, and still more lengthy recaps of the senders' lives since last Christmas. Some were dashed off out of obligation, some were meticulously crafted outbursts of feeling. Most were probably sent from a place somewhere in-between.

But all of them were the result of an effort, however minute.

They offer a connection, brief and ephemeral, to the lives of loved ones. A lifeline to the milestones of their lives.

It's been almost 20 years since the friends of Richard Collins were recipients of his own unique annual holiday correspondence.

However, 16 Christmases after the 30-year veteran teacher and coach in the Moline school system passed from prostate cancer in January 1992, that connection has been re-established.

Earlier this fall, the Midwest Writing Center released “Greater Joy, Shorter Sorrow, Thankful Prayer,” a collection of Christmas poems Collins sent to friends from 1965 to 1990. Most of the poems are recaps of the year, some of them are odes to the season, all of them have a warm personality and a certain resonance.

Books are $11 and can be ordered by contacting the Midwest Writing Center or on Amazon.com. Proceeds are shared by the Midwest Writing Center and the Richard J. Collins’ Scholarship Fund. You can find out more at http://www.midwestwritingcenter.org.

I wrote about the book in October, back when it was first published. However, three events brought me back to revisit it. One was the proximity to the holiday. Another was recently seeing Collins' widow, Susan, and son, Ryan at a Midwest Writing Center event, And the third was some time spent cleaning out old files and tossing ancient Christmas cards.

Postcards from the past. Time machines. Some worth a laugh, some worth a smile.

The same could be said of Collins' poems.

Most of them are frozen moments, warm sentiments without pretention. However, now they're reminders, comforts for loved ones, all because he took the effort to bring them to life.

``The book being released brought mixed feelings for me,'' Susan said. ``The neatest part about it is Ryan being introduced to his father's work. He knew his Dad wrote poetry but he hadn't read a lot of his poems. It was a great opportunity for him.

``It brings back memories for me, it makes me nostalgic,'' Susan said, wistfully. ``I'm glad other people have the opportunity to go through and read them. ''

It's almost a certainty that when Richard Collins wrote them, he had no idea that almost 20 years on, they would still be impacting people's lives. That people he had never met would be discovering them.

There's something very appropriate in that, given the season's giving nature. And aside from the obvious subject matter, there's something about Collins' book that really brings the spirit of the holidays alive.

You may read this and decide to pick up a copy of Collins' book for yourself. You may see it in a bookstore and check it out, flip through it, read a few of the poems. And in them, you may see a mirror of your own life. Of the cards you've gotten. Of the sentiments within. Of the connections being made, however small, with the people who have made up the fabric of your life.

And all of them beginning with an effort, a step being made, a connection forged.

When he reached out to create them, Richard Collins' missives were thought to be little more than temporary amusements.

Now they're a legacy, a tie that binds.

Little do we know how the efforts we'll make this holiday season will be received. The impact they'll have. But, however tiny, as with Richard Collins, the possibility for a deeper resonance, completely unbeknownst to us, is always there. Our actions, however insignificant we deem them, have the potential for a greater impact, now or somewhere down the line.

What will your impact be?

Have a safe and merry Christmas.










copyright 2008 Sean Leary / for more writing see www.seanleary.com

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sadly, the lights are down this Christmas season for iconic home

For 25 years, residents of Clark Hall's Moline neighborhood could always count on him lighting up their lives.

From snowmen to Santas, from colored bulbs to candy canes, the former Dispatch Griswold Award Winner's yard was a frenzy of copious and festive holiday adornments.

``People used to come from all over the Quad-Cities, and even outside the area, to see it,'' his wife, Gloria, said Wednesday of the home at 921 12th Ave. ``People really enjoyed it.

``You could certainly see it -- it was hard to miss,'' she said, with a chuckle. ``Our oldest son used to read books in the front yard by the lights.''

This year, however, the yard is icy and dark. The skeins of luminaries and myriad decorations remain indoors, stuffed in dusty boxes. Periodically, cars will drive by the house slowly, hoping to catch a bit of past Christmas magic, but they speed away disappointed, with only their headlights breaking the night.

This year, Mr. Hall has retired, he says. He won't be decorating his house any more.

``I'm not able to do it, due to my health,'' he said, voice cracking, before yielding the phone to his wife to finish our interview.

Mr. Hall is epileptic, and in the past few years it's gotten worse, to the point where now, he can't climb the ladders, can't use the equipment necessary, she explains.

``It's sad,'' she said. ``We're both sad about it. But it's a decision that had to be made.''

There were close calls in the past. A crushed foot in 1993 put Clark out of work for nine months, but his sons -- teenagers at the time -- and their friends pitched in to decorate the house come Christmas time.

The Halls' sons had also pitched in to help in recent years, as it became more difficult for Clark. But with the oldest, Jim, 34, living in St. Paul, Minn., and their youngest, Tom, 32, having to work 12-hour days and take care of his own family, time has been stretched too far, Mrs. Hall said.

``It's time,'' she said.

The tradition began a quarter-century ago, in 1982, after Clark's mother, Maxine, passed away.

``She loved Christmas lights. She used to go out every year and they would drive around and see all the lights,'' Mrs. Hall said. ``He started decorating the house in honor of her. It was a way of keeping her memory alive, of doing something she would've enjoyed seeing.''

The decorating began soon after Halloween, and over the years, the display became all the more elaborate. The two-story home had a landscaped front with a fence equipped with electrical outlets to accommodate a spaghetti pile of extension cords used for the lighting display. Several trees, a small bridge and a man-made pond in the back yard were lit.

The east side of the property was decorated with a trio of Santa's helpers' houses. A Santa climbed up a ladder to a second-story window. A church with carolers and a Nativity display ornamented the home's front. Lights of red, green, orange, white and blue blanketed the house and the shrubbery, along with several candy canes, reindeer, angels and assorted animals. Tons of white lights streamed along the roof alongside a wooden Santa and sleigh. In all, 25 plastic figures and 70 wood figurines, hand-crafted by Mr. Hall, populated the home and yard.

``It really was a sight to see,'' Mrs. Hall said. ``It was pretty amazing.''

The Halls are keeping much of the holiday memorabilia, an array nearly as populous as the number of memories they hold from the past 25 winters.

Reminiscences shared by others as well.

``I can't believe it,'' Mrs. Hall said in a phone call late Wednesday. ``We checked the mail today and Clark's starting to get `Thank You' notes from people, thanking him for decorating the house all these years.

``It's nice,'' she said, the joy obvious in her voice. ``It's sad it has to end, but it's good for him to know he's had an impact on people's lives. It's a nice thing to come out of it. To know that people cared enough to say thank you.''





copyright 2008 Sean Leary / for more writing see www.seanleary.com