Berks County in recent months has been plagued with several high-profile murders or suicides percolating from apparent domestic disputes. The apparent murder-suicide that abruptly terminated the lives of two Pennside housemates is the latest example that relationships suddenly can go lethally ballistic.Getting along with people we live with is a never-ending balancing act. Such dynamics can be as sticky as pine tar. Sooner or later, somebody, much like the circus folks with the shovels and wheelbarrows dutifully walking behind the elephants, is going to suspect they’re getting the short end of the stick.And if they’re really trespassing into the margins of emotional tumult, they snap with hissing velocity and punctuate matters with the flash of gunpowder.The bond between human beings seldom has the aura of blue steel. Often it’s about as stable as taffy. And when it pulls apart dramatically, it can leave nothing but wreckage in its wake, forcing their loved ones to swallow the scalding sadness.Al Walentis has blogged eloquently today about the John Reigle nightmare.But at the risk of piling on, I do feel compelled to wonder if the hermits are onto to something. They indeed may be lonely. But they are out of harm’s way.
Apparently avian influenza is just a bird’s hiccup or two away from extrapolating into a global pandemic that will alleviate traffic congestion everywhere.And everywhere includes Berks County, a k a Greater Reading.It’s somewhat comforting to read that local public health care and emergency officials are following the Boy Scouts’ mantra of Be Prepared.So why is anxiety settling over me like a shroud? Why is fear spreading in my gut like wet cement? Or is that simply a cage of rabbits somehow stuck in my stomach? And why are doomsday scenarios unspooling like horror films gone berserk in my mind’s eye?Well, I have this dreaded feeling that federal, state and local officials will handle any bird flu epidemic with all the adroitness of yours truly wrestling with a crab claw.Oh, well. Look on the bright side: PennDOT need no longer fret over the clogged 222 corridor to Allentown.
While my retinas have been scorched by the firestorm of comments I’ve received about the Bean family tragedy, it has ignited in my heart a more profound respect for the sanctity of marriage.Once the intoxicating buzz has worn off, it does take a deep reservoir of resolve and resiliency to make a marriage stick to our ribs. Relationships can be slicker than a glacier, and sometimes it’s a slippery proposition for us to navigate through a long-term commitment without losing our balance.Ideally, matrimony is a state of bliss. But there is the ideal. And, sadly, sometimes there is the real. When the champagne turns into vinegar, a marriage can turn so mean that even God might hesitate to intervene. Love, fidelity, compassion, understanding, commitment, compromise and faith are just a few of the essentials to a solid, satisfying relationship. Still, nobody has been able to bolt-lock the secret to having all spouses look into one another’s eyes and still hear romantic melodies resonating from the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. Perhaps Dr. Phil and/or Oprah can mix blue smoke and mirrors with strobing flashes of wisdom. I can’t. Charming, feathery fairy tales of a princess and her Prince Charming are for children, not adults.A marriage’s destiny should be until death do they part. But when a relationship turns so dirty that even a good shampoo and shower won’t suffice, perhaps it’s best to cut your losses and run.
Life sometimes takes an exit ramp to tragedy.For instance, the body of a Berks County funeral home operator’s estranged wife was found hanged two days before she was scheduled to testify in an assault case against her husband and then he subsequently was charged with assaulting a deputy coroner and hospital technician.Suffice it to say that sometimes life becomes gnarled and grotesque, manically unraveling and spooling out of control. And not even cosmic forces can cobble things together.Once such a dark genie squirts out of the bottle, there is no hope of rebottling. Alas, there are no mulligans in life.Sadly, there’s hardly a wrap on mourning as well.
The Hollywood spotlight must have fried Vin Diesel’s brains.Either that or he’s been using a cheese grater to shave his skull. The muscle-headed actor wants to chronicle the life of Hannibal in a trilogy.Say what? First of all, the movie-going public hasn’t exactly been foaming at the mouth and into their popcorn in anticipation of a three-part biopic on the Alps-crossing, elephant-riding conqueror.Now get this: Diesel, whose best dialogue is merely a visceral gruntiness, wants the dialogue to be all in Punic, the language that Hannibal and his troops spoke to their elephants.Punic is a language deader than Latin. Nobody has spoken it in 2,000 years (although my Uncle Stosh came close sometimes after one too many boilermakers). So what’s the point of the Punic dialogue? Diesel could have his actors simply speak gibberish and pretend it was Punic. Who would know? Granted, Mel Gibson used Aramaic in “The Passion of the Christ.” But at least some film audiences had a working knowledge of Jesus’ death, which put the movie in context.A flilm about Hannibal entirely in Punic will leave the two or three people who buy tickets to see it wailing and gnashing their teeth.If somehow Diesel gets the first Hannibal flick produced, don’t hold your breath waiting for the two sequels. You’ll wind up bluer than a XXX film.Speaking of “XXX,” I’m not sure English was spoken in that Diesel epic.Anyway, Diesel has a better shot at playing Hamlet than he does producing this terrible trinity.
Considering the breadth and tonnage of all my T.O. blogs in the past year, I’ll try to keep it this brief.But I do feel compelled to comment on the three-year, $25 million deal Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has made with the devil –oops, sorry about that — Terrell Owens.First off, T.O. is getting a $5 million signing bonus and a $5 million base salary the first year. That money is guaranteed even if he murders Cowboys quarterback Drew Bledsoe or forces Dallas head coach Bill Parcells to do ab crunches with him on his front lawn (I’d pay good money to see the Tuna do that).Since Owens forfeited roughly $2.5 million in bonus money and game checks last season with Philadelphia, the $10 million he landed from the Cowboys is really worth about $7.5 million. He was scheduled to make $8.3 million from the Eagles this year.Surprisingly, there are no clauses or any penalties in the Dallas contract should T.O. pull any of the puckish and/or destructive stunts he was infamous for in ragdolling the 49ers and Eagles.”I think you have risks in every player that you sign,” Jones said. “I wouldn’t call this a high-risk move. Not at all.”If you say so, Jerry. But you had better respect the dignity of risk. Yep, T.O. was a beaming, handsome action hero posing with you in front of all the flashbulbs yesterday. If I recall, T.O.’s smile was backlit by a 24-karat sun during his introductory press conference with Eagles head coach Andy Reid two years ago.Beware that smile. This is a selfish dude who will dropkick a franchise as nonchalantly as kicking an anthill. He mugs people — sneaks up behind them, knocks them down, and stands on their throats while going through their pockets.Suffice it to say, his outsized personality overwhelms his considerable pass-catching accomplishments. And Owens knows how to be glib and make nice when the mood fancies him and the moon is in its seventh heaven. Or something like that.”I’m a star among stars now,” Owens said gleaming while perched at the right hand of Jones. “I’m going to put (problems of the past) behind me. They can only make a man stronger, wiser. For me, that’s what it’s done. I’ll be a better teammate, a better person, a better man in life. I’m looking forward to this opportunity.””I’m going in with my eyes wide open,” said Bledsoe. “I know there have been some issues. But at the same time, going forward from here, I don’t see how it helps us to dwell on some of the stuff that’s gone on in the past.”What would help Bledsoe if he somehow could see out of the back of his head. And even if he could, he’d have to wear some sort of customized helmet. Because T.O. will be lurking behind his right passing shoulder all season. As for the subsequent two seasons, we shall see. NFL contracts aren’t guaranteed. But if Jones opts to continue their relationship beyond this season, he will have to pay T.O. a $3 million roster bonus in March 2007 and an additional $5 million base salary. Owens’ compensation for a third year would be a $3 million roster bonus in March 2008 and a base salary of $4 million.Let’s see if he ever sees any of that cash. If not, those numbers are merely Monopoly money. But at least for now, T.O. has passed Go!
Gerald Veasley is a renowned bassist from Philadelphia who’s conducting his annual Gerald Veasley’s Bass Boot Camp at the Sheraton Reading Hotel in conjunction with the FirstEnergy Berks Jazz Fest.Veasley also is a hardcore Philadelphia Eagles fan.Which is why it wasn’t an exotic stretch that former NFL great and Eagles wide receiver Irving Fryar was a special guest instructor at the camp this afternoon.But Fryar, who fiddles with the bass and told the camp students and instructors that “I can play as well as you all with my invisible bass,” wasn’t there to talk about hitting the low notes, which bassists do.He was there to tell them how they can turn those low notes in life into high notes. “We want to take it to another level, evolve the camp with a special guest,” Veasley said in his introduction of Fryar.Well, to jumble my sports metaphors, Veasley hit a grand slam with Fryar, who eloquently stroked all the right chords. Then again, it was a slam dunk that he would.Irving Fryar, the former All-American from Nebraska; the 17-year NFL star with the Patriots, Dolphins, Eagles and Redskins who played in five Pro Bowls; the kid who never really wanted to be a football player because he wanted to fly jets instead; the troubled and turbulent jock who grew morose and remote while a young drug-addled player only to morph into an eloquent elder statesman in his later NFL years after God touched him on the shoulder; now a pastor and businessman in Jobstown, N.J., is one fascinating individual. Fryar doesn’t adopt an air of religious quiescence. He’s a child of the streets who still has the street cred. He’s equally adroit at having impassioned chats with his deity as well as with his brothers and sisters.
He’s real, not a superficial ex-superstar who slaps on a veneer of worldly sophistication. In his quiet time I’m sure he becomes frozen in an electrified, meditative reverence. But when he’s preaching, he crackles with energy.
“I played 17 years in the NFL, and it’s not really cracked up to be what people think it is,” he told the bassists. “There is money and all that comes with it … a big house, fancy cars, women, but it’s a false scenario of success.”
Fryar, who with God’s grace transformed a life freighted with peril more dramatically (and light-years faster) than coal turns into diamonds, then got to the core of his message.
“The law of life is something you can’t do anything about,” he explained. “What goes up, must come down. The law of gravity is a law of life. Another law of life is a natural law. You’re going to die someday.
“Just apply this law of life: What you do is what you get. You reap what you sow. If you’re doing the right things and making the right choices, eventually you’ll be rewarded.”
Fryar then figuratively knelt in a confessional box.
“I was a product of a dysfunctional family,” he said. “Every night was Fight Night for my parents. Drugs, alcohol, gangs all were a part of my youth. I smoked enough and snorted enough … I should be dead. I smoked dope, snorted coke. I still suffer the consequences of some of my early bad choices.
“I never wanted to be a football player. I played because my buddies did and it was a way to get girls. I thought I was a better baseball player. But life always has been a competition for me. I always want to be the best. I study my brains out now to be a good preacher. That’s the way I worked out as a football player.
“I majored in meteorology at Nebraska because I wanted to fly jets as a Marine officer. But I gave football my best shot at Nebraska and I got drafted No. 1. But I didn’t want to play in the NFL. I was going into the Marines. But I played ball because my mom said we needed the money.”
Need the money? They desperately needed the money. Hard times had descended upon the Fryars with all the restraint of seven-year locusts.
“When I got back home to Mount Holly, New Jersey, there was no family home,” Fryar said. “We had lost it.”
So a Patriot he became. And a bad man. In his early NFL years, trouble and good times stalked him like a timber wolf. He, and his life, had about as much charm as a strangler’s chord.
But he found faith. And his relentless, remarkable work ethic made him excel inside the concrete-saucer stadiums that populated the NFL of that era.
“People said I underachieved my first two years in the NFL,” he explained, “so I spent the next 15 years proving them wrong.”
Whether it’s starring in a sport you really don’t want to play or trying to cease turning your life into an engine of destruction, there is a common thread in the fabric.
“The challenge is to overcome yourself,” Fryar said. “The ability to overcome your doubts, your fear, and persevere. Then you can accomplish what you want. I become a professional football player by accident but I excelled because I worked hard.”
And now he excels as a man of God and a businessman involved in real estate and credit enhancement. He also owns a salon. In his spare time, he does some sports commentary for WPVI Channel 6 in Philadelphia.
“All I have now is based on faith,” he said.
For fun, he stomps on the accelerator on his motorcycle.
“I wanted to fly jets; now I just ride my motorcycle fast to experience some of that thrill,” he said, a quick giggle and a flashing smile punctuating his sentence.
As a former NFL bad boy who has seen the light, he feels sorry for mercurial NFL stars who become arch-villains.
Terrell Owens, for instance.
Fryar conceded he’d love to pinch T.O. and wake him up to reality. Sadly, like many players who somewhat squandered their talents, Fryar believes Owens someday will be cradled in regret.
“We all grow up,” Fryar said. “But there are growing pains. It took me a long time. I pray that things will get better for T.O. Do I think he will regret a lot of things as he looks back on his career someday? Sure. I thought about giving him advice, but he’s not the type of guy who I believe would be receptive. He has a tight inner circle.”
There was a day when nobody would have believed what Irving Fryar has become. Perhaps there is similar hope for T.O. And you and me.
By the way, Fryar expects to have an encore appearance at Gerald Veasley’s Boot Bass Camp. But he won’t be wearing the robes of a preacher man.
“I want to come back here next year with a bass and learn something,” he said.” It’s my dream to someday be an adequate bass player.”
After all, a good bass line can have a celestial magnitude.