Marriage and Football…Coming Together at Last

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He materializes before us. He’s holding a bright green backpack and his dirty feet are jammed into a pair of tired flip-flops. A razor has not touched his face in weeks and a sad desperation shrouds his eyes.

“Gotta cigarette?”

“Nope. Sorry my man.”

“There’s rain on the streets.”

We nod without stopping.

“Joe!!” he yells. He accentuates his frustration with a loud stomp on the cold wet street.

“Poor guy, he’s obviously off his meds.” 

I nod but move us forward. My time in New York City conditioned a ‘keep-walking’ mentality along vacated streets that is hard to shake. 

“Where is everybody?” I ask for third time.

My wife zips her jacket a little tighter and pushes her hat against her ears. She shrugs.

Main street. Buffalo, New York. Ghost-town on a Saturday.

It’s a shame. The city has an old-time sense of beauty. Art-deco buildings thrust into the grey sky and intriguing architecture differentiates one building from the next. The streets are clean and wide and straight. No sirens pierce the air and the closest we come to witnessing road rage is a polite beep met with a short wave of apology. We are alone and it is quiet in a once thriving city. 

It isn’t quite the start to our tenth anniversary vacation I had envisioned.

 

The sounds and smells of the Anchor Bar (home to the original “buffalo wing”) are a welcome respite from our chilly walk from one end of the city to the other. It is the day before Monday Night Football, our beloved Bills hosting that dark winning machine from Massachusetts, and the atmosphere has a buzz to it.

Bills paraphernalia hangs from every inch of the restaurant and waitresses deposit an endless supply of pizza and wings, dressed in jerseys and tee shirts of their favorite players. 

We indulge in a beer to quell the fire from our wings, and laugh at a crying child behind us. The dad is new and starts negotiating. The kid is winning and my wife looks at me, “She’s trouble,” she says. I agree. It takes a little effort to stop myself from saying “You’re doing it wrong,” in the smug tone of  a veteran parent. Instead we cheers our bottles and take a selfie. There is something deliciously satisfying about vacationing without kids, and watching new parents fail around you.

“I miss the boys,” we say simultaneously. 

IMG_0602We spend the morning of gameday at Niagara Falls. I fill my camera with slo-mo video of the falls, trying, and failing, to capture the power and magnificence of this natural wonder. I lean against the railing and watch millions of gallons fall hundreds of feet to the river below as an endless mist rises to the heavens. Raging waters upstream and calm waters downstream, it is a paradox of nature that mirrors the human soul.

I’m glad we stopped.

After a quick nap and a trip to the store for some tailgating essentials, we head to the stadium.

It is hard to encompass the tailgating scene outside New Era Field. Music and sizzling meat from thousands of grills, fills the air. Flags snap in the breeze, and though their red white and blue is injected into the shape of a charging buffalo, and not the stars and stripes, they are undoubtedly American. 

 

Everyone appears happy and no shortage of ‘cheers’ or high-fives exist. Strangers welcome strangers and positive energy vibrates through the gravel of  sprawling parking lots.

This is Buffalo.

Standing at our seats, watching the game unfold, shoulder to shoulder with strangers, the stadium roars. This is what is great about being a die-hard fan of a 2-6 team.

Every third down stop, every first down, every catch, every sack says, “Something is about to happen, something magical. This is where we turn it around.” The heart of the team thrums through your chest as people bang on aluminum seats and whoop until their throats are sore. IMG_0649

Opposing fans live on a knife-edge of fear. They do not revel in a win, just relieved they haven’t lost to a lesser opponent. As the game continues they become desperate to crush the soul of the hometown fans. It’s a team they just do not understand. How can you love something that breaks your heart again and again? How can you cheer when your team is down? How can you hold-on when the season is tossed about like a cheap raft on the Niagara river?

How?

Heart and magic.

I can’t think of a better place to celebrate our anniversary.

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC

Oil Spill…the Start to a Great Autumn Weekend in CT

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I watch the ink-black stream arc towards the oil pan. It misses and splashes down onto the garage floor spreading out like a stain of incompetence.

I scramble to move the oil pan over, which is difficult as I am laying on my back under the truck. I can’t turn over, and the only movable part of my body is my right arm. I sweep it between the bottom of the truck and the concrete floor pushing the plastic pan into position with a panicked expletive.

“Are you ok Daddy?”

I look across the floor to a pair of blue and green rubber rain boots. 

The three year old. I forgot he was there.

“Yup! Just fixing the truck buddy!”

His cute face hangs upside down as he looks at me.

“Can I help?”

“Umm sure! In a minute we have to clean the garage floor. It’ll be fun!”

“Yay!”

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The feeling of guilt at duping my son is short lived. After burning myself with hot oil while changing the oil filter, and a sweat inducing feat of balance during funnel-meets-five-quart-container-of-motor-oil, I roll the truck back and set to work cleaning my mess.

Ben is a great worker and it makes him happy. I can’t blame him. There is something to be said for a fall day with grease on your hands and some bonding time in the garage. In fact,  he’s done such an adequate job, I don’t even feel the need to tell my wife about our (ok my) mistake.

So, still feeling productive and proud of ourselves, we head to the nearby Harvest Moon Festival in Hebron. My two sons and I zig-zag through a sidewalk filled with little Obi-Wans, astronauts and Paw Patrol characters. A food truck depicts a bull holding a pig in one hand and a chicken in the other, his eyebrows furrow and steam jets from his nostrils. My son laughs, but I am left to wonder, Why is that bull so mad at the other animals? Aren’t they all going to be eaten? Local vendors sell soaps and hand woven garments. A tower of jack-o-lanterns stand as a beacon, and a one-amp guitarist strums folk versions of hard rock.

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Local artist Ann Marie Drury’s amazing painted chair! annmariedruryart.com

The streets are lined with painted chairs from local artists.

The atmosphere is strange and magical, exactly the way it should be a week before Halloween.

The boys float along on a sugar high and we visit my wife and her mom selling their Norwex cleaning wares to passersby.

We drive home talking about werewolves and vampires.

“Dad are you scared of werewolves?”

“No. I’m terrified of them.”

“Me too!” he yells in relief.

“Me too,” says the baby as his head lolls to the side of the car seat and he drifts off to sleep.

The next day we stroll through one of those deliciously horrifying seasonal Halloween stores that occupy the vacated bodies of recently failed businesses.  Spooky visages stare down at you from lofty perches, and dismembered appendages hold buckets of candy.  It is the first time my son wants to be something scary and a part of me feels an intense sadness.

I flashback to a  picture of us when he was four; him in a batman costume and me in a Robin costume. We stand, hand on hips, in the kitchen, ready to fight crime together.  At the houses, he would get his candy, turn on the steps and jump off with a, “Hup!”, his cape  rippling in the wind. He would land in a squat, one hand back, one hand on the ground. It was the classic superhero pose repeated at dozens of houses. At home, giving out candy, he would yell to retreating trick-or-treaters, “Good-bye! Happy Halloween! Thanks for coming to the BatCave!”

We get home and Mike puts on the white mask and looks at himself in the mirror. “Don’t worry Dad, I already have the black clothes and a plastic knife, this is all I need.”

I frown then smile and tousle his hair under his mask as I walk over to the sliding glass door. It looks out over our backyard. My wife’s garden is starting to lose blossoms in the cold weather. The leaves are changing and falling, and the afternoon sunshine ebbs away in that beautiful melancholy gold of late October in New England.

To my right is the kitchen where we took that picture five years ago. 

When the bite of a cold, crisp, blue sky stings your cheeks and brings a tear to your eye, you know it is autumn in Connecticut.

Happy Halloween. 

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-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC

Huzzah!

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The sound of pounding hooves reverberates through the earth.

Two champions race towards each other, each led by the point of a lance.

The horses beneath them charge with muscles rippling and nostrils wide. Their fear replaced with a duty for destruction.

A glint of sun from steel armor pierces through the shade of the tree as we watch, transfixed, by the spectacle before us.

The gap narrows and I throw a quick glance to my wife. My face says, “This is fake right?”, but she is too intent on the scene to respond.

I look back in time to see wood splinter on shield and an eruption of “Huzzah!” to my right.

I hold the turkey leg in my mouth to clap as my sons wave their wooden swords in the air.

This is the joust.

This is the Renaissance Faire.

And if you ever need a break from reality…

We walk across the parking lot that held a Monster Truck Rally mere weeks before. A cheap wooden wall separates the sea of minivans and Jeeps from the reconstructed medieval village. The experience begins immediately after you pay (it’s hard to envision the Dark Ages where ApplePay is present), and a strange intriguing world assaults the senses. 

Jesters sell ice cream, blacksmiths pound the anvil and gypsies tell your fortune. My sons immediately want wooden swords and shields and their battles extend the length of the dusty paths crisscrossing the grounds.

Corset mashed bosoms spill at every turn. 

I can’t help but be impressed by the dedication of the actors. The day is hot and they stay in character though velvet capes drape from their shoulders and chain-mail hangs from their chests.

Maybe this is why feudalism died. There had to be a knight or lady-in-waiting that was like, “We must cast offeth these sweltering garments from May through early October!” #ladygodivamayhavejustbeenwarm

My son has me hold his wallet. He wants to use his money to buy something good, and he’s squandered many a birthday twenty. There’s certainly a lot to choose from and the merchants are ruthless, especially to easily swayed eight year olds.

We pass by bows and homemade arrows. Horns hang from straps aching for lip and lung to produce their call for battle. Elixirs in ornate glasses catch the sunlight just so, and the smell of grilled meats hangs in the air. I, myself,  run a hand over a few leather bound journals with more than a bit of longing. He’s tempted several times, but holds on, waiting for the perfect memento.

“I’ve got just what you’re looking for young sir,” says the man.

The pendant twists in the sun from the end of a long chain. It looks like the tooth of a metal dragon, curved and covered in runes.

Mike approaches the tent, not in the mad rush of a kid with money to burn, but in the measured hypnotic steps of a thief coming face to face with a jewel of legend. 

“You see, young sir, this necklace is magic. Open it up and whisper your wish inside. It will keep all of your secrets safe, just don’t let anyone else open it.”

Mike cups his hands and raises them to the dangling bauble. Are his fingers trembling? I can see in his eyes that this is the prize we will leave with.

The price almost wipes out his wallet, but the exchange is made and the merchant disappears with a flourish.

I hold back a scoff as I look over the purchase. I know it will be broken by the end of the week and the plastic “gem” on the top is one little-brother-grab away from disappearing beneath the couch.

Still, I don’t dare open it, lest the magic be true, and Mike seems content as he places it around his neck. He doesn’t say a word.

IMG_0228We throw axes and watch Benny knock a lady off a log with a pillow. “Huzzah!” he yells to the delight of the actors. I pay for Mike to “Smite the Knight!” and take a long boring video of him taking swings with a padded stick. Mike sticks his head in the pillory and Ben pretends to chop his head off. It’s dark, but it makes for a great photo. 

 

We feel the sunburn of late September and money is running low. It’s time to go.

We make it to the car and I’m grumpy. I can’t put my finger on why until I look in the rearview mirror. Mike is holding his necklace and staring at it. He’s transfixed by cheap jewelry and the lies of a cunning salesman. I look back into the mirror and see myself. I look angry. “What do you think these people do in their real jobs?” asks my wife.

When does it happen?

When do the costumes start to look cheap? When do we stop believing  the man on the horse is an actual knight, or that dragons exist?

I miss the days of magic and the suspension of my disbelief. Will I ever get it back? Will I ever hear the ring of sword against sword and feel the call to adventure and the unknown?

“Dad, whatever you do, don’t open this. You heard the guy.”

I throw him a wink in the mirror. He clutches it hard to his chest. Ben is almost asleep in the chair next to him. He’s still holding his shield.

A sad smile crosses my face. The magic isn’t gone. It’s simply been passed on.

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC

 

Spowerks Launches New Book: Zagg & the Planetary Defenders!

New Book Encourages Imagination, Storytelling and Art

In the interest of helping kids explore imagination through storytelling and art, local author and educator Mike Sposito presents Zagg & the Planetary Defenders, the second in a series of Spowerks Storyboard books. Prose and poetry combine in this new book designed for kids ages 9-12, who are charged with the task of creating the illustrations themselves.

Zagg & the Planetary Defenders tells the exciting story of a pilot who lives on the planet Zorax, and his quest to stop the evil Dr. Zenith and his powerful robot dinosaur. The book, written under the pen name C.S. Moon, includes instructions for both kids and parents, and suggestions for illustrations on set-aside blank drawing pages, as well as resources to further explore drawing skills and art.

Sposito has worked in education for over a decade. His love for writing, teaching and learning inspired him to start Spowerks Storyboard in 2016. Its first publication, A Horse Named Thunder, was featured at a special Connecticut Farmland Trust event in October 2017 and has been a big hit with kids at local libraries and bookshops ever since.

“My sons love the books,” says Sposito, who is inspired daily by the adventures of his two children. His blog regularly features their adventures and lessons learned, including recent articles about September 11th, comic books, fishing, and nature exploration.

“As a parent and a former teacher, I can tell you how meaningful stories like Zagg and Thunder can be for children,” he explains. “They stay in your imagination long after you’re done reading and inspire you to think creatively about the world around you.”

Spowerks books are active learning tools designed to promote inspiration, creativity, literacy, and reading comprehension. They challenge the young reader to take clues from the text to determine setting, character traits and plot; all essential to creating quality illustrations. It’s an opportunity for kids to interact with text, have fun and be creative at home, in a classroom setting, or in extracurricular groups.

To schedule an activity-based author event or reading please email spowerks@gmail.com.

Both Zagg & the Planetary Defenders and A Horse Named Thunder may be purchased online from the Spowerks Storyboard website, click here, and from local and online retailers.

Tin and Aluminum

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“Tin.”

“Tin?”

“Yes tin. Or aluminum.”

“Sigh.”

So begins my search for the perfect tenth anniversary gift.  I am not sure who determines which materials are representative of specific anniversaries, but tin and aluminum seem weird. “Happy tenth honey! We’re getting new siding!”

Hours later I find myself at an antique store. It smells like old lemony soap. The floorboards creak and groan with every step. The rooms ooze a collection of wares ranging from butter churns to silver tea sets.

I’m afraid to touch anything.

In these situations I find it is best to cut to the chase. I head right to the lady at the counter and say, “Hi, it’s my tenth anniversary tomorrow.”

“Ok.”

“Yeah, you know. Tin.

Blank stare. Dammit.

“Tin or aluminum?”

The first bead of sweat rolls to the waistline of my shorts. I feel I’ve been trapped.

“Sir what are you looking for?”

“A gift. For my wife. Made of tin. Or aluminum.”

“We have lots of things made of tin.”

“Great is it in, like, a certain section?”

“It’s everywhere. What is she into?”

“Gardening, and baking.”

“Yeah, there’s tons of that stuff.”

“Great. Where?”

“All over.”

“Wish me luck then. And thank you for your help.”

She waves me off from behind a crossword puzzle and I creak and groan my way from room to room picking up random items and holding them, desperate for inspiration that never comes.

An hour later, beaten, I drive home with my tail between my legs. I sit down to do some work and I notice the cabinet on the far wall looks different. I go to inspect, and I find my wife has set out a bunch of stuff from our wedding day. 

I don’t open the wedding album, I feel we should be together to do that, but I do pick up the picture from our honeymoon. It’s a great picture of us set in a cheap frame from the resort we stayed in, but I love it. We look young and healthy and happy, and you can tell, from my newlywed wife’s sparkling brown eyes, that we are saying, “We found love, and it’s good. Everything is right with the world.”

And now it’s ten years later.

It’s been ten years of mortgages and kids and health scares and the deaths of loved ones and layoffs and dishes piled in the sink and arguments about money and loud sighs and mountains of laundry and fights with family and gaining weight  and losing weight and gaining it again and diets and shopping and spills and car accidents in the snow and missed opportunities and planning for the future and worrying and parent teacher conferences and homework and master degrees and more school and late nights and flooded basements and mice in the ceiling and blizzards and trees falling in the yard and crappy vacations and 

…being there.

Tin and aluminum. 

The not-so-helpful employee was correct. The place was filled with the stuff. Tin cookware hung from the ceiling. Tin lanterns piled on top of tables. Tin toys sat by the drawer full.

Cookware (Sustenance). Lanterns (Light). Toys (Joy).

It’s the stuff you can find in a home. Stuff family passes down from generation to generation because its made from good strong dependable metal. It may not have the density of lead. It may not hold an edge like steel, and after ten years of use it may have a few dents to show, or a crease where there shouldn’t be. But the essence of the thing stays, and that’s what makes it beautiful. 

Thanks Bub, for all of our adventures, our home, and most of all, our boys. I love you. Happy Anniversary.

Love,

Bub

P.S. I’ll try to be better with using coupons.

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indie Author Day!

This coming Saturday, October 13th, from 12-3, at Manchester Public Library, I will be on a panel to discuss my experiences as an independent author and publisher. 

Please come by and support this event. It is the first of its kind at Manchester Public Library, and the authors speaking there will have their books for sale after the session. 

Hope to see you there and wish me luck! (It’s my first time being a “panelist.”)

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Aliens to Invade The Children’s Museum in West Hartford on October 6th 9-4pm!

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This Saturday, October 6th, from 9-4pm The Children’s Museum in West Hartford is hosting me to sell my new book, Zagg and the Planetary Defenders!

A portion of my proceeds will go to The Children’s Museum, so swing by, buy a few copies and spend a few hours with your kids at this gem of a museum!

A Flatbed Towed My Dreams Away… and Other Country Song Lyrics

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Nine years ago it was wood-working.

Seven years ago it was boat fever.

Five years ago is was flying.

For the past three years it has been cars.

These hobbies start as a passing interest, an ember in my heart that travels to my brain and finally into my hands (and wallet). 

Hundreds of hours of YouTube videos are watched. Hundreds of pages of books and magazines are read. I wake up thinking about it and go to sleep dreaming about it. 

My track record speaks for itself. The wood lathe got me forty bucks at a tag sale. The boat I bought holds firewood in my wife’s garden. The voicemail I got back from that “Learn to Fly” pilot license program was deleted long ago.

So, why, last December, on one of the coldest days of my life, did I watch them load that rusted out 1972 Mercury Cougar XR7 onto a truck and deliver it to my house?

“I just want to see if I can get it started,” I told my wife.

“Ok,” she said.

“It will be good for me to learn on.”

“Ok.”

If I can just take it apart and put it back together it would be amazing.”

She smiled and said, “Ok hon.”

They rolled it off the bed into my yard. I couldn’t wait for it to get warmer. I dreamed of long days under the hood, up to my elbows in grease, a beer sweating on the fender, and a radio playing Pearl Jam in the background. After a few years of skinned knuckles and a small fortune spent on parts, the dual exhaust would thunder upon ignition and the once tattered canvas top would fold neatly back into place with the flick of a switch.

My first convertible.

And there it sat, rusting away in the yard.

Don’t get me wrong, I did a little work on it. I removed the old carpet (including the mysterious animal skeleton on the passenger side floor), and the seats. I checked the engine and determined it was not seized. I took off the carburetor and the doors and started sanding away the rust, but honestly, it was too big of a job for me, and I never spent the time on it that it needed.

So, after less than a year I called one of those “Looking for cars in any condition!” signs and had them come take it away. I felt a little better about giving it up when the wrecker guy asked, “Um, what were you gonna do with this?” Plus, I got a little money for it. 

I had the boys come out and watch them load it up.

“They’re taking your car to fix it?” asked the three -year old on my hip.

“No buddy, they are taking it away.”

“Oh,” he said.

We watched it disappear down the driveway and I was surprised to find him crying as he waved it goodbye.IMG_8523

It came rushing back to me. He was there when I took out the carpet. He watched me like a hawk as I torqued the crank-shaft. When I got the hood open I would let him peer over the edge. He would inhale the strange old smell and squint his toddler eyes as if the odor reminded him of something. I can see him on that freezing winter day sitting on the moldy seats pretending to drive it in the backyard with a huge smile on his face. 

Maybe he had the same dreams I had. Maybe the metal and rust and grease and rubber and hoses and wiring captured his imagination the same way it did mine. 

Or maybe he just wanted to spend some time working on a car with his Old-Man.

I wonder when I’ll get another one.

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC

 

 

Connecticut Children’s Medical Center-Thank You!

 

Connecticut Children's Medical Center

Yesterday was awesome!

I got to spend the day with some amazing kids at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center (CCMC) in Hartford, CT. We read some pages of my new book Zagg and the Planetary Defenders, did some drawing, and talked about the power of imagination, writing and art.

Nothing is more inspiring to me than watching young people be creative! I can’t express how grateful I was for the opportunity.

Please, check out their website to see the amazing service they provide to kids and their families: https://www.connecticutchildrens.org/

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC

The Aftermath…of a Birthday Party

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The side door to the garage opens with a “Bang!”.

The guests turn to watch as a kid-sized tractor squeezes through the frame. The front wheels drop to the ground and the driver floors it.

“Here comes Benny!” he yells.

The whine of the battery powered wheels slices through the sounds of small-talk and crunching chips. Bystanders have no time to think as they hop back, careful not to spill their beverages, to avoid being squashed by thirty pounds of four year old fury.

He tears around the yard, grinning like a street racer who knows the cops will never catch him.  A gaggle of toddlers run behind him whooping with delight every time he narrowly misses a shin or the corner of the house.

Ah, the four year old birthday party.

I suppose it would be easier if we went to a trampoline park or a bowling alley, it would certainly reduce the amount of clean-up we have to do (i.e I’m staring at three coolers still on the deck from Saturday), but there’s something about a party at home.

A deli platter from the supermarket sits on the folding table like a great pyramid of marbled meats and cheeses. A case of our local Hosmer Mountain soda rests comfortably in a sea of ice with flavors like Lime-Ricky and Chocolate Cream. Homemade dips and salsa vie for attention next to plates of soft cookies and deviled eggs.

Some unwritten rule exists at a home party. Screw the diet ‘just for today’. There is no sequence to the foods. It’s like a pregnant lady’s appetite brought to life. Dessert before a sandwich? Sure. Tostito in one hand, double fudge brownie in the other after eating a pickle? Why not, just be sure to wash it down with a pineapple soda. Oh, and don’t worry, the candy laden Paw Patrol cake will be out momentarily.

Between bites we check on the college football scores, hug friends we haven’t seen in months and dive for helium balloons before they escape the tentative clutches of small children. 

My wife lines the kids up (she’s a teacher) and marches them to the garden. The monarchs she has raised in our living room have hatched and it’s time to set them free. One by one she shows them how to place the butterflies on the flowers. They shriek as the tiny feet tickle their skin, and clap when they fly away. 

Soon the sodas and beers turn to coffees and old familiar stories give way to yawns. Wives look at husbands and say, “What do you think?” and the departure begins. 

“Please, for the love of God, take some food!” I say.

“No, no I’m good,” they respond.

It’s weird to me. What do they think I’m going to do with three bags of rolls, half a sheet of cake, two tubs of condiments and someone’s bowl of macaroni salad?

The last car leaves. It’s over and we are exhausted. We look into the kitchen and see the aftermath. Plates pile in the sink, toys mingle with leftovers, and wrapping-paper drifts along like tumbleweeds. 

 The day started at 6 am (we do birthday breakfast in our house) and never stopped. My feet are throbbing and I wonder why we push ourselves so hard for just another birthday party.

I put my son to bed. He smiles at me from under his new blanket and I kiss him goodnight.

Then I understand our effort. Our three year old is now four and I am desperate to stop time. 

May your days be filled with yellow tractors and butterflies.

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-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC

 

 

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