As an extra opportunity for fun and male bonding, best man, Josh, sent an email saying he and Matt had set up a helicopter tour of New York City on the morning of Matt’s wedding.  The six men walking down the aisle, Matt, Josh, Matt’s brother Jake, Richard, [Alyssa’s father], Andrew [Alyssa’s brother], and myself were to fly over the city from Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to the Washington Bridge and back to see the sights from above.

At first I wasn’t particularly worried.  I still have to wear a post-op sling virtually all the time and figured I’d get the kibosh from my physical therapist.  Who, to my surprise and chagrin, said as long as I’d be strapped in it would be fine.

Fine for her perhaps.  Not so fine for me.

See, my idea of high risk recreation has to do with driving my car without getting plowed by cell phone talking drivers in three-story SUVs.  Or riding a bicycle on the sidewalk because the street has cars, trolleys, buses and trucks.

This lack of lust for HRR (High Risk Recreation) had been confirmed when I was a teenager and my girlfriend and I rode the Steeplechase rollercoaster at Coney Island.  I survived, but just barely made it to the men’s room in time to upchuck.  When she asked whether we could ride it again, I seriously considered breaking up right then and there.  But it was her car and I needed the ride back to Jersey.

This fear of fast was reinforced about thirty years ago when I tried a white water rafting trip in Maine.  I was fine right up to the moment they passed out a loss of life and injury waiver, explaining that we’d better pay attention to the raft leader or we’d be tossed out like popcorn kernels from a hot open kettle.  My stomach knotted, throat tightened, and writing hand began to shake.  Still I signed, grabbed a paddle, and struggled onto the raft (which did have narrow sides upon which to perch) along with Sue and two other friends.

It began seductively well.  Floating down a river on a warm, sunny afternoon, the shoreline lined with beautiful trees, lulled me into a false sense of security.  My breathing normalized, I paddled along with the rest of the passengers, and listened carefully to our guide as he calmly told us what to do.

Which abruptly ended when he suddenly shouted “whitewater ahead!”  At that moment every instruction that had been given flew out of my mind and all I could do was hope I wasn’t gonna be that popped-out kernel.  The raft began to toss up and down and all the while the guide shouted instructions that my fear refused to hear.  I just hung onto my paddle and side until the rocking and rolling was over.

Once the river calmed, the guide looked back at his crew and said with a wide grin, “That was a small one.  Wait ’til we hit something decent.  Hope you’re enjoying this.”

Enjoy?  Hadn’t thought that word existed once we hit the white.  But before I had a chance to beg him to take me to the shore, he shouted again, adding “this is a big one so listen up or we’ll roll over.”

That did it.  No more side sitting for me.  I crawled onto the bottom of the raft and tried my best to grab onto its rubber floor.  Not easy, but I managed to hold something (I think it was my friend’s foot).  I stayed hunkered down there for the entire rest of the trip.

When you cross the finish line, they take pictures you can buy.  Somewhere in our collection is one with the top of my head just over the side and Sue calmly leaning forward on the very front tip of the raft.

At least I hadn’t tossed my cookies.

That experience led me to wonder about people who live for HRR.  Last week I read about four people dying in an aborted attempt to reach Mt. Everest’s summit.  Saturday I read an article that described a record breaking, successful climb of that same mountain by a seventy-three year old woman.  Go figger.  I sure can’t.  I couldn’t even read Into Thin Air.  Hell, I still keep my eyes on my feet when I walk up stairs.  Different strokes.

Even though Mt. Everest is one hell of a spit from a guided helicopter tour, you couldn’t tell it by my inability to speak as we approached the take-off point.  And I really hoped that nobody in our party saw my good hand shake (they let me wear my sling) when they strapped a flotation device around my waist before we boarded.

But once inside I immediately felt my anxiety dissipate.  I had expected five-point restraints with our backs up against the chopper’s sides, but instead found plush leather seats with normal car seatbelts (though we had to wear earphones with a speaker in order to talk to each other).  I had also expected to be buffeted about by the wind but nada.  No whitewater rafting here.  Even when the pilot banked, it was smooth and comfortable.  And the magnificence of the city was overwhelming.  Seeing New York’s skyline from above was stunning–even the new Yankee Stadium looked sweet–and I’m from Boston.

When we touched down, I actually felt sad.  Wished it had lasted much, much longer.  I woulda even been happy to fly over New Jersey.

But our tour was finished and, as we lined up to march between the lines back into the tour building, I was struck by the truth that we really only have one life to live and, where good judgment is necessary, it should never be dictated by fear.

“At the heart of the matter is a battle between wish and fear. Fear generally proves stronger than a wish, but it leaves a taste of disappointment on the tongue.”  George Packer

(A special thanks to Sherri Frank Mazzotta who stepped up last week while I stepped away.  Very much appreciated.)


On May 19th my oldest son is marrying Alyssa Casden, a truly wonderful woman.  The marriage comes at the end of one of Matt’s most painful years when his mother and his mother’s sister died within months of each other.

Dealing with death is always tough, but not only did Matt and Alyssa work through their emotions, they played point on all the arrangements and every detail.

Yes, they had help.  Peg and Marlene’s friends, us, Jake, Alyssa’s family–but the weight fell on them.  Bigtime.

Watching Matt handle the situation with calm sensitivity wasn’t a surprise.  Alyssa at his side didn’t surprise either.  But until Federal Judge, Mark Wolf, who will officiate their ceremony, asked Sue and I to write about them that my lack of surprise made serious sense.

When I think of life together with Matt, lots of thoughts and images pop into my mind.  He began living with me half the week at a point where I was much less stable than now.  But he rolled with it.  Even enjoyed some of the mishigas like being brought to school on a motorcycle (I wrapped a rope around the two of us) or when we hitch-hiked in town when I no longer had the cycle or a car.  Hard for people not to stop when a little, little guy has his thumb out.

He didn’t eat all that well when with me since I can’t cook.  Spagettios were a staple as was baked macaroni, the only meal I knew how to make.  But we did well, despite the lack of nutrition, and having to move into different apartments a couple of times during those early years

But more importantly than us doing well was Matt’s ability to do tremendously well academically and socially no matter what was happening in his home life.  Which, as time moved on, became more stable–as did I.

We moved in with my friend Bill who helped father Matt in more ways than I can count.  Built him his own house out of a giant empty refrigerator box and was always willing to play ‘pong’ which was the video game of those times.  We also ate a whole lot better.  It was Bill who took him to newly created video arcades.  Bill and Matt had a ton of fun together and still do whenever Matt visits.  And it still makes me happy to watch them hang.

But when Matt was seven our lives really settled down once we moved in with Sue.  During those beginning years I worked evenings at home upstairs.  When I’d come down after meeting with a client, many times during the week Matt and Sue were sitting at our kitchen’s enamel topped table having tea together along with an after-school snack.  And often their conversation centered around going to movies and having a ‘candy’ supper.

Despite the sugar, or perhaps because of it, I was always amazed at his intense work ethic.  I knew he was both smart and insightful, but the degree of commitment to flat out work (academic or otherwise) was mind-boggling.  I can’t count the number of times during high-school when, at 1 A.M. and I was ready for bed, I’d go into Matt’s room and find him asleep in his clothes, school book open on his face.  I’d wake him, suggest he go to sleep, and was consistently met with, “Thanks for waking me, Dad. I just want to get in one more hour.”

As someone (me) who always had difficulty with school, there were times when Matt’s success blew me away.  When he graduated from Boston Latin as president of his class, 6th academically, then accepted to Yale with close to a full boat, I felt like an immigrant parent: “My son the American.” 

It was also during his high-school years when his half-brother was born.  When Jake was able to motor around the house, Matt used to lay on the living room floor, wait until Little Guy was in reach, snatch him, and roll around wrestling and tickling until Jake would ‘get away’ and repeat his run waiting for the next grab.

Watching them become even closer now, as they both grow older, has given both Sue and I great pleasure.  And gave Peggy pleasure as well when she was alive.

Another picture also always comes to mind.  Matt’s internal desire to meet, reach out, make friends with people of all colors and nationalities.  A tough do in Boston.  But something he did from before high-school and continues to this day. Something that makes me proud and appreciative about the person he is.

And of course my intense satisfaction in knowing about all the positive work he’s done from his high-school years to now with people less fortunate.  Matt has an unending commitment to helping high risk kids in inner city schools.  It’s pretty clear he won’t rest easy until schools and school related programs provide an education that gives these kids a legitimate shot at a decent life.

Which goes for Alyssa as well.  It’s not accidental that they share those basic beliefs and dedicate their lives to them.

I can’t imagine anything that could bring more joy to a parent (me again) than loving Alyssa, for who she is herself, as well as for the wonderful qualities she elicits from my son.  I simply can’t imagine a better example of people who love and bring out the best in each other.

As mentioned above, Alyssa lived through one of the most difficult times in Matthew’s life.  And stood shoulder to shoulder every inch of the way.  I have absolutely no doubt he would have done the same.  It’s pretty damn nice to see people who love and give to each other.  It’s a mitzvah.

And finally, having spent time with Alyssa’s family, it’s gonna be really great to have them as relatives.

Although I’ll be writing next Monday’s post, Sherri Frank Mazzotta will pinch hit for the 21st.  The following week I’ll be hunting and pecking, the only difference–I’ll have a larger family.  And will love it.

Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming “WOW, WHAT A RIDE”