Heroes

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On fountains.

Published July 7, 2016 by mandileighbean

It’s sweltering in my house. I was dripping sweat earlier. I went outside earlier, to try and benefit from the meager breeze coming from the bay, and my outdoor furniture was wet from a storm that had passed by earlier but I didn’t even care. That’s how hot it is.

I’m not telling you this for sympathy. I think I’m building character.

My life is quiet and small and plain. Again, I’m not telling you this for sympathy or vague reassurance that my life is not the way I perceive it (that just makes someone feel crazy, doesn’t it?). I’m telling you this to illuminate my character, because this realization makes me restless. I always feel like I’m wasting my time and my youth, that I should be doing more, more, more. So I’m taking baby steps to do just that.

On Wednesday, I went to Princeton with one of my best friends. We strolled the campus like we belonged there, despite me being clad in clothes purchased from Old Navy and not J. Crew or Ann Taylor or anywhere else equally as impressive and expensive. Not only that, but an intrusive coffee stain that was too large to be ignored assaulted the lower-half of my shirt in a way that simply screamed I didn’t belong, that I was totally and completely faking it. But I didn’t let my general sloppiness ruin the trip – I’m not that dramatic.

I dragged my patient and impossibly too kind friend to the university to peruse the F. Scott Fitzgerald archives. I anticipated manuscripts and pictures kept under class in a far and quiet corner of the library. I assumed the public had free and easy access to the most personal belongings of a literary genius, but I was so wrong. We had to register, received photo identification cards to enter a restricted part of the library, wash our hands, lock away our belongings, and specifically select which aspects of Fitzgerald’s life we wanted to access. We did this without complaint (which is saying something considering the heat of the day was blistering and my dear, dear friend never intended to spend 150 minutes looking at the personal affects of some dead author), and were shown into a reading room. There, I made plans to visit Great Neck, Long Island for a long weekend (the setting that inspired The Great Gatsby) and to travel to Hackensack, New Jersey (specifically to see the Newman School, which Fitzgerald attended). My friend and I both flipped through a sort of combined scrapbook of Scott and Zelda, compiled by Matthew J. Bruccoli (the only Fitzgerald biographer that matters) and Scottie, Scott and Zelda’s daughter.

Scott’s drama teacher wrote, “Good God, save the soul of the man with the spark!” in reference to Fitzgerald. What a tragedy; what a shame.

We were presented with a facsimile of the manuscript of The Great Gatsby, complete with edits and revisions in Fitzgerald’s own handwriting, not to mention the entire manuscript was handwritten. I nearly cried.

We read letters from Zelda to Scott, which chronicled the beginnings of their relationship, as well as the more tumultuous aspects of the courtship and marriage. I compiled a list of Zelda’s best quotes.

  • … it’s so easy, and believing is much more intelligent
  • And still I’m so mighty happy — It’s just sort of a “thankful” feeling — that I’m alive and that people are glad I am
  • There’s nothing to say — you know everything about me, and that’s mostly what I think about. I seem always curiously interested in myself, and it’s so much fun to stand off and look at me …
  • … something always makes things the way they ought to be …
  • I love you sad tenderness — when I’ve hurt you — That’s one of the reasons I could never be sorry for our quarrels — and they bothered you so — Those dear, dear little fusses, when I always tried so hard to make you kiss and forget
  • … It seems as if there’s no new wisdom — and surely people haven’t stopped thinking — I guess morality has relinquished its claim on the intellect — and the thinkers think dollars and wars and politics — I don’t know whether it’s evolution or degeneration
  • To be afraid, a person has either to be a coward or very great and big
  • … free to sit in the sun and choose the things I like about people and not have to take the whole person
  • It is odd that the heart is one of the organs that does repair itself

I loved the eccentric, charming and dangerous and alarming details I learned about their love, like how Zelda consulted a Ouija board, and how she blamed Scott for her mental illness but firmly believed he could cure her.

We read Scott’s letters with a painstaking clarity, as we knew of the end he didn’t see coming. It was heartbreaking, really.

I decided the goal is to  write the last chapter of my next book in the Nassau Inn, to truly channel the passion and vibrancy and tragedy of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I found some places I’d like to visit in France, places Fitzgerald went to and found some kind of inspiration, whether for writing or living large.

We wandered around campus for a while longer, sneaking into classrooms, disrupting tour groups, and feeling – even if for just a little while – that grand things were still possible for us.

We ventured into the cathedral on campus and a Starbucks and a book store to beat the heat.

We traveled to Asbury Park for some live music and great company. It was a great day, the kind summers are made of. I intend to have more like them.

I was inspired to write the following short story. Enjoy!

FOUNTAINS
by Mandi Bean

Carlos knew that the equator separated the globe into northern and southern hemispheres, and Carlos also knew that the farther south a person traveled, the hotter the weather became. However, Carlos could testify to the fact, and possibly even prove, that the farther west a person traveled, the same phenomenon occurred. He had lived on the eastern shore of New Jersey his entire life and could say without hesitation, could say with near absolute certainty, that the middle of the state was a burning, boiling wasteland in July – the most uncomfortable Summer month to begin with – and that it served no real purpose. Carlos had traveled west at the request of his fashionable, trendy girlfriend and now regretted it something fierce.

They were traipsing about the campus of Princeton University so that his girlfriend could admire the rich history and breathtaking architecture and blah, blah, blah. It was ninety-three degrees and Carlos was miserable. He felt damp and disgusting in places he didn’t even know could sweat. Still, he took it all in stride, trying to keep his girlfriend happy and blissfully unaware of his discomfort. He said nothing as they walked innumerable staircases to gawk at old buildings and open fields that meant something to someone somewhere, sure, but that person was not Carlos. His mood dangled precariously between “thoughtfully quiet” and “crankily homicidal,” and he offered his girlfriend only interested smiles as she prattled on and on about tradition and excellence and whatever.

Carlos only perked up as they neared the center of the sprawling campus. There was a pool, six inches deep at the most, with a fountain at its center, an impressive, enigmatic modern sort of structure spouting water. Carlos took his girlfriend’s hand and rushed towards it, the way someone might rush towards a miraculous pool while stranded in a desert. But this pool and fountain was no mirage; children splashed here and there, supervised by patient adults who smiled and nodded with a calculated, weary sort of encouragement. Carlos reached the pool’s edge, where wide, flat stone steps led down to the water. He was smiling wide, with a youthful exuberance, and he turned to his girlfriend. “I’m going in,” he stated and sat down to remove his shoes and socks.

His girlfriend offered a sweet smile, totally enchanted by Carlos’ juvenile need to cool and comfortable, by his childish ambitions. He was a beautiful young man with dark features that made him appear to be super intellectual, but in reality, he was nothing of the sort. But his girlfriend, equally as beautiful, was not disturbed by Carlos’ lack of desire for education and all things brainy. It kept her in check, kept a balance in the relationship. “Go right ahead,” she smiled. “I’ll wait here.”

Carlos paused and looked up at her. “You’re not coming in? This heat is brutal.”

She shook her head and seated herself beside Carlos. “It’s hot, but I’m okay. You go in, though. I can’t tell you’re dying to.” She leaned against him for a moment to kiss his cheek. That was all the permission Carlos needed, and he took off, splashing with reckless abandon to reach the fountain at the center. That spewing, falling water was the most efficient way to get cool. He passed the laughing, shrieking children and paused at the base of the fountain. The water fell on him in the most refreshing way and he was content to simply exist, it simply be in a world where water was free to fall where it may. What a time to be alive, what with fountains and pools to keep the intense summer heat at bay. He closed his eyes and attempted to wash away the sweat and sourness of the July sun.

After a few moments, he opened his eyes and leveled his gaze. He was surprised to find another adult, another wanderer about campus, engaging in the same activity. She was gorgeous, and Carlos also noted the way the woman had been equally as daring, had strode in the same way Carlos had, not caring for the onlookers or any kind of judgments. There was only the oppressive heat, and the refreshing relief of the water, roaring down from the fountain and tinkling as it reached the pool surface. They both appreciated the opportunity, had seized it, and now stood breathless, together in their choices and ideology, but separate in their strangeness to the other.

Carlos breathed a simple “hey.”

The woman nodded, and kicked water up at Carlos. That was her greeting; that was it. Aside from the playful smile, she had offered nothing, not even her name. But Carlos was game. He returned the splash. In a matter of moments, Carlos and the woman were doing their best to drown each other. Their raucous laughter and innocent challenges drowned out that of the children and even the most dutiful of supervising parent stole a glance at the two grown adults making complete asses of themselves in the fountain on the campus of Princeton University.

But, as do all things in life, the splashing lost its appeal and became old and tired. Carlos looked back to his girlfriend and found her reading (there was always a book in her over sized bag). He waved goodbye to the gorgeous, wild and free woman he had spent the last ten minutes with. Without really thinking about it, Carlos returned to the studious, safe and responsible woman waiting for him out of the water. He supposed that was the way it was supposed to be, that for every soul willing to get lost at sea, there had to be another anxiously waiting on shore.

As he came nearer, dripping wet and breathless and smiling, Carlos’ girlfriend looked up and barked a laugh. “Am I glad you drove,” she teased, “because you would never ever get into my car like that.”

Carlos bent to swiftly kiss her before she could protest or squirm away.

fountains

 

On admiration and remorse.

Published July 29, 2014 by mandileighbean

I’m having trouble finishing the margarita my mother made me.

I still haven’t closed on the house I am eager to buy, but I have not lost hope. If I could be patient, which is admittedly a virtue I most certainly lack, then I could see the process through. I long to stamp my feet and pout like a petulant child until I get my way, which is silly for any number of reasons, but mostly because it would not work.

An independent company specializing in literary marketing contacted me via my author page on Facebook. The pricing seems rather steep, so I am going to do some more research. I hope to find similar companies and what services they offer for what prices. I need to market my book if I hope to get anywhere. I was banking on an agent to do that, but that search has been difficult and disappointing. Again, I truly need patience. I find some solace in reminding myself that I am not the only twenty-something (soon to be closer to thirty than not) who has an imagined pendulum swinging above her head, wanting to have so many things before an invented age for reasons she cannot articulate. Such is life.

The novel is coming along, but at a painfully slow rate … unless that is impatience, striking again.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #16: “A con man starts to admire the achievements of the man he is impersonating.”

barfly

 

Larry sat at the end of the bar that was farthest from the door. The place was dark and cool, and Larry found sitting as far away from the entrance as possible, what with its sporadic bursts of garish sunlight and random gusts of stifling summer heat, kept the establishment as poorly lit and properly air conditioned as most patrons preferred. However, the bar was lacking in patrons at this particular moment, and Larry attributed the absence of alcoholics in varying stages of addiction to the time. Truth be told, it was rather early to be enjoying liquor – at least in public – well before the social norm of five o’clock. But Larry didn’t really give a shit because Larry had endured one hell of a day. He downed the shot of whiskey before him, shuddered, and ordered another.

Technically, Larry was unemployed, but that didn’t mean he didn’t make a living. To the casual passerby, Larry seemed to be a legitimate businessman of sorts. He had the right kind of shiny shoes that looked terribly expensive even though they weren’t. Larry’s pants were meticulously iron and pressed, and kept painstakingly neat so that they were much more impressive than the tags would have the observer believe. Larry’s shirt was plain, just an average button-down with a muted sort of pattern made from a heavy kind of fabric. It was uncomfortable and caused Larry to sweat no matter the temperature. So while each element of Larry’s outfit was subpar, the sum of its parts was enough to impress but not intimidate. Larry looked official yet inconsequential; he was forgettable and that was the point. In Larry’s particular line of work, it was best to blend in, to claim a sort of camouflage among the general public. Larry was an identity thief, and he was damn good at it.

Larry hadn’t worked “on the books” in quite some time. When he was strapped for cash, or forced to lay low, he always managed to pick up odd jobs. With his seemingly limitless set of skills, good looks, winning personality, and luck, he had been living comfortably, even leisurely, for years. Larry had managed to be so comfortable because he shunned guilt and lived by the rules of apathy. He never thought about the people he impersonated and stole from, and only imagined them as fictional roles. Larry was a nice guy – a good guy, even – so there was no possible way he ruined lives, engineered poverty, or tore families apart. Honestly, how could the actions of one lazy, simple man such as Larry, drag someone kicking and screaming back to that proverbial square one, forcing him to start all over and begin again, work twice as hard only to get back to where he was? Larry was not so destructive, not such a monster. He was just a thief and besides, there was more to life than money and possessions, right? Everyone loved to preach about a life of substance. Sometimes, especially when drunk, Larry could convince himself he was actually aiding those he robbed blind, forcing them to experience the spiritual truth that life goes on regardless of what one had in the bank. Unfortunately for Larry, he wasn’t as inebriated as he needed to be and he had realized only a few hours earlier that he was miserable little shit, a parasitic being who had nothing to offer anyone and would die alone; he would leave this world without anyone to noticing, let alone mourning.

Larry had never been one for enduring an existential crisis of any kind. He assumed he lacked the emotional intelligence for such self-engineered disaster and misery because, given the choice, Larry would do just about anything other than sit and think. He was only participating in the activity now because of Ryan Schmuacher, the identity he was currently employing. Larry had only chosen to become Ryan because of his impressive credit score and substantial amount of money in the bank. He would use both assets to obtain a credit card, replenish the wardrobe, and then take a trip (standard operating procedure at the end of a job because it was best to cut and run before anyone got wise enough to start looking). Larry used a very special, and very illegal, type of software to hack into websites that promised free credit scores for such valuable information and he always followed that internet search up with another one – simply entering the name into a search engine and perusing through whatever materialized on the screen. He had done this a thousand times and never had such a search given him such pause, such hesitation, such … remorse.

Ryan Schumacher had been born into a less than wealthy family in some small, Southern town that become the picturesque setting for dumb oil paintings featuring snow covered barns that sold like hot cakes during the holiday season. His parents had sacrificed everything to help Ryan afford medical school, where he excelled. He specialized in pediatric oncology – kid cancer. He forwent the bar scene, the hookup culture, the flashy cars and exotic trips, to try and save the lives of little dudes and dudettes who were truly innocent victims, who had done absolutely nothing to force their own bodies to betray them, cutting themselves down before their prime. It was a truly selfless vocation, something to admire, and the picture of Dr. Schumacher with a two-year-old boy, smiling despite the chemotherapy treatments and all its devastating side effects, had impacted Larry. He hadn’t been able to erase the vision from his mind, hadn’t been able to lift a single penny from Dr. Schumacher’s account. Larry took everything from everyone to benefit himself and it knocked him on his ass to finally and truly realize that there were people on the planet that gave everything to everyone to benefit everyone.

Larry drained the second shot of whiskey, shuddered, and ordered another. He missed the bartender’s apprehensive gaze because he covered his miserable face with trembling, selfish hands and pondered his life. What had it all been for? What difference had he made? Was it too late?

remorse

On life … and how titles can be vague.

Published November 25, 2013 by mandileighbean

Life is a fleeting, funny thing- I think we can all agree on that.  Last night, I enjoyed some drinks and some nostalgia with wonderful friends.  As the night ended at a diner, the way nights in Jersey so often do, a waitress who had seated herself at the table beside ours went into some kind of diabetic shock.  My friend Raina is a nurse, and without hesitation, she rushed to the woman’s side and did all she could to keep her alert and comfortable until the paramedics arrived.  I watched her with a serious sense of awe, of how cool, calm, collected, and confident she was.  I was amazed that such a wonderful and beautiful human being could friends with someone like me, who did contributed nothing to the situation other than stunned silence and stares.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #7: “A woman gets the opportunity of a lifetime when she gets hired to sing backup for a famous musician.”

microphone

Emily was ten years too old – was there really a logical reason for someone to roam this Earth for ninety years?  What could there possibly be left to see or hear or do?  She had laughed until she cried, cried until she had to laugh, been heartbroken, believed herself to be infinite and immortal, believed everything to be meaningless, and then believed everything to be poignantly meaningful.  She had run the gamut from wildly and recklessly passionate to dangerously and stubbornly apathetic.  Had she not lived through some serious shit?  Had she not also merrily sailed through years of calm?  What could possibly be left?  Emily was ready for death.

Ah, but that was horse shit and she knew it.  The thought of going to sleep and never waking up still terrified her in a way that was inexplicable.  It was a sweeping, overwhelming kind of horror that could not be sufficiently articulated.  So, Emily reasoned, if it could not be explained, then what good was there in thinking about it?  Emily looked for something else to occupy her mind and she settled on the weather.  The snow outside was falling steadily and despite feeling hellishly cranky, Emily thought it beautiful to look at.  She watched the weather silently and calmly with her head turned to the side on the large but thin pillow.  She allowed herself to wonder, but only for a moment, how many more snowfalls she’d see, but she shut her eyes against the thought of her inevitable and impending passing.  She prayed for some kind of relief, for some kind of distraction, and in walked the nurse.

The nurse had spent many nights with Emily, perhaps pulling the short straw and getting stuck with the cranky old woman through horrendous hours, hours where the human body was meant to be soundly sleeping.  The nurse was always obnoxiously cheerful and pleasant, which annoyed Emily who only pretended to be crotchety enough to pray for death.  Emily was also annoyed because the nurse was a young man.  Men, in Emily’s learned and wise and venerable opinion, were meant for manual labor and hard work, not for soothing and caring and all that womanly business.  Emily never exchanged more than a few words with the young man, and she only relented and did so because of his eyes.

The young man had absolutely phenomenal eyes.  There were a unique shade of emerald that a human being is blessed to see only once in a lifetime.  They shone brightly, as if chips of a broken Heineken bottle were stuck in the orbs to catch and reflect light.  Emily knew it was a piss poor analogy, and a disturbing rather than beautiful image, but she was dying.  She could do as she pleased.  She gave him a sneer that was slightly less repellent than usual as he came in, and then turned to continue to watch the accumulating powder.  He smiled merrily at her.  “Good evening, Emily.  How are you feeling?”

She grunted.

“Emily, my favorite part of our time together is the scintillating conversations we share.  Honestly, I’ve never been so emotionally and intellectually engrossed before.”  He was being scathingly sarcastic, but he gave her a quick wink to show it was all in fun.  Emily did her best to hide her grin in her hands as she pretended to cough.  The young man had traversed over to the machines that beeped endlessly and flashed all kinds of numbers and statistics that meant nothing to Emily.  She watched him and had the urge to ask him a question.  Despite it being completely out of character, Emily asked, “Did you always want to be a nurse, son?”

The young man was taken aback, clearly not anticipating any kind of conversation other than the usual nods and unintelligible moans and groans.  “What?” he responded, his decorum completely leaving him in favor of shock.

“Men usually aren’t nurses.  What brought you to this line of work?”

He laughed softly.  “You know, you’re right, but no one’s ever actually asked me that before.”  With the grin lingering about his lips, he took a few moments to give the question some serious thought.  Then he said, “I’ve always wanted to be a writer.”

Emily was disappointed.  Writing was not work by any stretch of the imagination.  She had wanted him to say rancher, or laborer, or soldier, something exceedingly masculine and handsome and wonderful she could think about later.  In essence, he had given her nothing to work with, and so she became bored with the conversation and turned her face away, back to the snow.

“What about you, Emily?  What was your dream?”

There was no thinking; her response was instinctual, as effortless as breathing.  “I wanted to be a singer.”

“Really?” the young man was amused by the answer.  “I’ve got to be honest; you don’t strike me as a singer, Emily.”

She turned to him with cold eyes.  “And why not?  What the hell is that supposed to mean, anyway?  I could sing as good as any of them!  I could move and put on one hell of a show, I’ll have you know!”

The young man crossed his arms over his chest and gazed upon Emily with real interest.  “So what happened?  Why are you here instead of up on the stage?”

“Because I’m ninety years old and knocking on death’s door.”

He smiled ruefully.  “You know what I mean, Emily.  Why didn’t you ever become a singer?”

She sighed.  “Well, I was making a name for myself at the local dive bars.  I was packing places to capacity, causing fire hazards and whatnot.  A couple of stories ran in the papers and this big shot from Los Angeles came to see me.  He was impressed by what he saw and offered me a shot.  I was to go to Los Angeles and become a backup singer for Frank Sinatra for a gig or two.”

“Frank Sinatra, really?” the young man asked.  She had his full attention now as he sat on the edge of her bed, open-mouthed.

“Oh, sure,” she smiled.  “I didn’t get to meet him or nothin’, because during my audition, I was nervous as hell.  So I downed some whiskey to calm the nerves and pull it together.  I must have overdone it, though, because I moseyed on up there and soon as I opened my pie hole, I vomited all over the mic.”  Emily started chuckling.  “Everyone was so disgusted.  I was escorted out by these burley guys who didn’t even want to touch me.  I didn’t even get a chance to collect my things.”  Her chuckles had turned into hearty guffaws.  She brought her wrinkled hands up to her wrinkled cheeks as her eyes wrinkled with merriment.  She was genuinely laughing, something she hadn’t done since Lord knows how long.  It was an infectious, melodious and beautiful sound and for a fleeting moment, the young man heard how Emily must have sounded when she sang and it was tremendous.  His smile stretched wider and he joined in the laughter.

Elderly woman's hand

On Gary Sinse.

Published August 20, 2012 by mandileighbean

I’m no one special – far from it if my greatest fears are to be realized – but I’ve been blessed enough to have some special things happen to me and my loved ones.  I got to meet Gerard Way, the lead singer of My Chemical Romance which, despite all the torment I endure from some friends, is one of my favorite bands.  He signed his comic book and talked to me for about a minute and it was nice. My friend Maeve had set the whole thing up for my 19th birthday and it meant the world to me; still does, actually.

Melanie and I traveled to Maine to vacation – but really, I was mildly stalking Stephen King – and we got to see the real Pet Sematary and meet incredibly nice people.

I visited the location where “Friday the 13th” was filmed.

Oh, and this one time, I saw Stephen Colbert walking out of a hardware store in Montclair, New Jersey.  I also saw him at Church for Palm Sunday.

But of all the random and cool things that I have been blessed enough to experience, last night was the most amazing.

Those closest to me, but particularly my college roommates, know of my love for Gary Sinise.  He stars in “CSI: New York” and most famously portrayed Lieutenant Dan in the movie, “Forrest Gump.”  He also portrayed Stu Redman in the television miniseries “The Stand,” based upon one of my favorite books of all time by my favorite author of all time, Stephen King.  Basically, Gary and I have a history in the sense that I have been stalking – again, mildly so – him for years.

It was genuinely serendipitous how the whole thing came together.  The other night, as referenced in my most recently posted short story, my family and I watched a documentary about Sinise’s band entitled, “Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good.”  It was incredibly moving as it showcased the band’s dedication to honoring veterans, wounded warriors, first responders and those who gave all through their performances and visits overseas.  My father and I watched in awe as two of the female singers pulled a young serviceman on stage and serenaded him, hugging him and cooing in an endearing and yet incredibly embarrassing display of affection.  We cried as Sinise visited family after family, location after location and spent an impressive majority of his time and money in honoring those who serve.

I turned to my dad and said, “How great would it be if he could perform at the fundraiser for Nick?”

Dad laughed and said, “Yeah, he could pull me on stage.”

What started as a joke turned serious when I did some research on Sinise’s foundation, which monetarily and charitably aided veterans, first responders and their families.  I wrote a letter, requesting the foundation participate in Nick’s fundraiser but unfortunately, the request was not timely enough as Sinise is booked solid through the end of the year.  I clicked around and discovered that the Lieutenant Dan Band was playing at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson – only thirty minutes from home – in four days.

My mind began to put together a wild kind of scheme – if Dad wore his uniform and we both wore our pins commemorating Nick’s memory, then maybe, just maybe we could get his attention and he could sign a DVD copy of “Forrest Gump” for us to raffle off.  Hell, maybe we could even meet him and take pictures.  It seemed doubtful, but it was worth a shot.  I bought the tickets and told Dad it was a done deal, we were going.

The day of the concert I slept in later than I wanted.  Dad and I were rushed, as he came home from work and immediately showered, shaved and changed into his uniform.  He had me type up a letter and enclose a flyer detailing the specifics of Nick’s fundraiser so that if we couldn’t speak with Sinise, we could at least pass along a letter … possibly.  As I went to the mall to pick up a copy of the movie, Dad decided to go ahead to the park where he was not charged admission, got the letter and flyer to Sinise, made friends with the New York Fire Department and then met Gary Sinise.

I shit you not (pardon my French).

When I showed up, the band was doing sound check, so I only got to watch from the stage.  As I had the camera, the merchandise for autographing and the pen, I was nervous we wouldn’t get a second chance.  I gave my dad a real hard time about meeting Sinise without me and blamed him for botching the entire operation.  It was in jest though because as the day progressed, I met amazing men and women who answered the call on September 11th and have continued to do so ever since.  I met first responders, firemen, veterans and other heroes and there were several times I could not hold back the tears.  The stories I heard and the characters I met were priceless and had I not met Sinise, the day would have been a godsend for other reasons.

When the concert started, I loved it.  I wasn’t sure what to expect at first, but the band sounded amazing and the crowd was into it.  Then my dad WAS pulled up on stage and serenaded.  Then we DID meet Gary Sinise backstage and I do not exaggerate when I say he is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, celebrity or otherwise.  He talked to us for a solid five minutes; he bonded with Dad about being in Iraq and the crazier aspects of the war, and he suffered through my gushing.  I talked about The Stand and “CSI: New York.”  I made him sign everything we brought and hugged him more times than he was probably comfortable with.  But he did it all with a smile and was never anything but gracious and friendly.

Why am I telling you this?  It isn’t to bore you with a long-winded, personal anecdote, or to impress you with my celebrity encounter.  If I am being honest with myself, which is this new thing that I’m trying, I am telling you this because I hope it restores your faith in humanity as it did mine.  Gary Sinise really does use his celebrity for good.  He pays the band members out of his own pocket as the ticket sales from every show go to charity.  Sinise will pass the time with anyone, is genuine and compassionate and just all around spectacular.

Here is the DVD Gary Sinise signed. It will be raffled off at Nick’s memorial scholarship fundraiser in September.

I asked Gary Sinise to sign my battered copy of Stephen King’s novel The Stand.

And Gary Sinise signed it, like an awesome gentleman. It says, “To Mandi, Take Care, Gary Sinise.”

Here’s photographic evidence of the encounter.

And last but not least, here is a picture I will cherish for a long, long time.

The only bummer of the day was that the incredibly attractive young man who took the pictures for my dad and me (since my camera battery died, of course) did not seem too interested.  Alas.  Also, I can’t help but think this whole enterprise was guided by some divine intervention.  I honestly believe Nick had my back the whole time.  He is sorely missed.

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