Monday, September 13, 2021

Remembering Florida Wrestler Norman Wright

 

Farewell to Norm, standing far right

These posts never get easier. But even if someone passes through my life on few occasions, I still like to write about those memorable moments. I feel it is a great way to pay tribute.

Way back when I first moved to Tampa, I attended Florida Championship Wrestling. FCW was the training ground of WWE and, as I have written often, it was a family-like atmosphere with a great fanbase. It was where I started rocking my now famous afro wig and joined the famous (maybe infamous?) Afro-Squad.

It was also where I met Norman Wright. Norm was a local wrestling fan with eyes on joining the wrestling business. Norm was a good dude, a nice guy, who always said hello and was a pleasure to be around.

If I am not mistaken, Norm trained with FCW for a bit as well, learning the ins and outs of wrestling. After finishing with the WWE's affiliated school, he then set a sail into the Florida independent wrestling scene, where breaking in is tough and networking is tougher.

But Norm made it, and in 2011, he wrestled several matches in All-Star Wrestling under the name "Roman Wright". I was a regular at ASW shows and saw Roman in the ring quite often. Roman was a tough guy who battled well in the ring, although he drew the ire of fans with his attitude and demeanor. Roman was opposite of Norm, who was a friend to anyone in the crowd.

While that was the extent of my time seeing Norm wrestle, it was a few other times I saw him around town that I will always remember. In 2019, I saw him at the now-closed Franklin Manor nightclub in downtown Tampa. He was hanging out with a few ladies and enjoying himself. We caught up and he told me he was working at another nightclub. It had been years since we talked, but we caught up like old friends.

But my greatest memory of Norm was in October 2008. October 19th, 2008 to be exact. The day the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays played Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. Being new to South Tampa, I was looking for a place to watch the game. I discovered the Press Box, one of Tampa's oldest sports bars. It was packed for the big game and there was not a table to be found. Fortunately, I spotted Norm sitting at the bar with a friend. Although I had only met him a few months earlier at the FCW shows, he waved me over to join them. The whole night was electric was the Rays won and made their first World Series in franchise history. I will forever be appreciative of Norm for finding me a spot in the crowded sports bar and letting me hang with him and his friend.

Farewell, Norm. You were a good dude gone too soon.




Friday, September 3, 2021

Selwyn Birchwood concert at Skippers Smokehouse, Tampa FL


It has been a while since I reviewed a concert on this website. I used write about all the concerts I went to. Over the last few years, I haven't done that as often. Admittedly, COVID-19 shut down the live music scene around the world and there wasn't much to write about, but even before then I wasn't documenting as I was years ago. So excuse me if I am a bit rusty.

I am relatively new to the work of Selwyn Birchwood. Although I read his name in articles and saw it on marques for much of the last 10 years, I never took the time to look him up until I saw his song "Guilty Pleasures" on YouTube. I am a blues stickler/purist and I was super impressed. He had soul, he had a groove, and he nailed the blues.

A few months later, during the pandemic, I saw Selwyn in the background in a large blues tribute show video. I think it might be the BB King Tribute in the Capital Theater, but I am not sure and the videos for that show aren't complete. Regardless of where it was, I said to myself that I better get his music before he gets super huge and too expensive to see live.

In 2020, Selwyn put out a new album, Living in a Burning House. The album contains a song called "Freaks Come Out at Night" (no, not a Whodini cover). The video for this song was filmed at the Bradfordville Blues Club, outside of Tallahassee - one of America's last remaining juke joints and one of my favorite places to see live music anywhere. If I wasn't a fan of Selwyn Birchwood before, I was definitely a fan at that point.

I finally had a chance to see Selwyn live in May 2021 at the Safety Harbor Art & Music Center in Safety Harbor, Florida. The Art & Music Center is an interesting place and the crowd was a bit subdued for my taste, sitting throughout the concert and applauding only between songs. I prefer a more active crowd.

And that is what I got at Skipper's Smokehouse.

I arrived with a few friends a few songs into Selwyn's show. Oddly, there was no opening act on the bill, only the headliner. Although I wasn't disappointed, I found the lack of opening act interesting and kinda unique. It is rare to not see an opener.

But no opener leaves more time for the headliner and that was who I was here to see.

Selwyn Birchwood and his band rocked for over 3 hours. They played a lot of his new album "Living in a Burning House", which was a lot like the time I saw him in Safety Harbor months ago, but this time he mixed in several of his older songs, such as "Guilty Pleasures" and "Hoodoo Stew".

All night long, the dance floor at Skipper's was filled with people rocking and grooving to Selwyn and his band. He is one of the few blues acts to incorporate a saxophone and it definitely makes his sound more layered and unique. Selwyn also plays a happier type of blues. Instead of wallowing in the sad things in life, his music tends to be more upbeat and celebrating positive ends through the negative.

While creating his own sound, Selwyn Birchwood did some classic blues impersonations, both in voice and in riff, covering some Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. But like he said, the reason he doesn't play like them is because they are them and he is himself, therefore there is no reason to play like them.

Overall, it was a great show. Three hours of blues, groove, soul, and dancing makes for a great time. Especially on a pleasant Florida summer night. Selwyn Birchwood is the real deal, an entertaining bluesman with a modern sound that calls back to the legends of the genre. He is one of several new artists carrying the blues on to the next generation.

On a social note, my friend's friend who joined us was a young mid-20s Black girl who wasn't used to the blues scene, but wanted to come out for some live music. While she had a great time and did quite a bit of dancing, she mentioned how it was weird how she was a minority in a show performed by a band that was 80% Black doing music her culture invented. There weren't many Black folks in the crowd. I told her my theory on how the blues was stolen from Black people in the 60s and Black culture moved on to R&B, Soul, and eventually Hip-Hop. But from my perspective as a white dude, it was interesting to see and hear her reaction to the music and to the crowd. 

Before I close, however, I want to mention the venue. Skipper's Smokehouse did a lot while closed to clean up and make the concert experience more comfortable. Outside of the always tight parking, Skippers is a great place to see a show. Everything was cleaner, from the bathrooms to the stage to the walls of the venue. 

My one complaint was with the obnoxious older couple who tried to push my friend and her friend off of their seats when they tried to find a place to sit. They got an attitude and the incident almost turned into a mess. But we avoided conflict and spent most of our time on the dance floor directly in front of them, blocking their view and rocking to Selwyn Birchwood.




Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Alexa Bliss replies to criticism

 


I am a pro wrestling purist. I like old school wrestling, where big dudes who looked like the toughest guys in the arena slugged it out for championships. When championships mattered. When wrestlers came from Parts Unknown and belief was able to be suspended.

Pro wrestling is big business these days. Wrestlers are stars who attend award shows and do big interviews.

The problem I have is when they break kayfabe. As wrestlers, they play one role - that of their in-ring persona. They are not actors, playing different roles in different movies. Wrestlers are more like Pee-Wee Herman. They are their performing role for the extent in which they are that role. If they move companies and change roles, names, or characters, then the old character ceases to exist. They don't talk about the old character.

But unfortunately too many wrestlers today are treating their in-ring persona as just a thing they do when the cameras are rolling. Their gimmick is only something they do when they are in a pro wrestling environment, whether it be a ring, a stadium, or an autograph signing. The gimmick is just a job, not a way of life.

Perhaps the worst offender of this new mentality is Lexi Kaufman otherwise known as WWE Superstar Alexa Bliss. For years, Lexi Kaufman has ignored the traditional rules of kayfabe and varied between her real life and wrestling personas. This differentiation has become more obvious when her gimmick became a dark, possessed, demon girl while in real life she likes Disney movies, playing with her dog, and hanging out with her significant other.

All of her real life hobbies would be fine if she broadcasted them under the name Lexi Kaufman. Instead, they are all published under the name Alexa Bliss, the name of a demonic, evil person in the WWE Universe.

Lexi Kaufman has never been one of my favorite pro wrestlers, if she would even call herself that. She probably prefers "sports entertainer", a term invented by WWE.

Recently, Lexi did an interview in which she stated that she would like to get into acting because "she is doing a lot of acting now in WWE". I cringed when I read that. Such a blatant disregard for kayfabe.

So I did what I normally do, and I tweeted my objection to Lexi's comments. Notice however that they are attributed to Alexa Bliss. That purposefully blurring of the line is what makes wrestling unique. Actors don't do interviews as their characters, but wrestlers do interviews in their gimmick. As they should.

But apparently Alexa Bliss wants to get away from her doll holding, creepy wrestling career and get into acting. Or is that Lexi Kaufman's goals? What are Alexa Bliss's goals in the WWE?

My tweet objecting to Lexi's interview was seen by Lexi who replied on her Alexa Bliss twitter account. So who replied to me? Was it Lexi, the Disney-loving athlete-entertainer? Or was it Alexa Bliss, the dark, demonic, doll-carrying wrestler?

Either way, she came back with a heelish reply. And I am ok with that.


Monday, August 23, 2021

Vote Curveball at the Crossroads for Best Book of Tampa Bay


I am super excited to announce that my debut novel Curveball at the Crossroads was nominated for Best Book by a Local Author on the Creative Loafing Tampa Bay contest. Creative Loafing holds this contest every year and winning it is a big deal.

There is some stiff competition for Best Book of Tampa Bay but I am sure I can gather the votes to win. After all, how many of the books on the ballot are about a pitcher going to the crossroads and making a deal with the Devil?

One. Mine.

So please take a moment and vote Curveball at the Crossroads for Best Book by a Local Author. Thank you and I appreciate your support!

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Curveball at the Crossroads on the LockedOnMLB Podcast



I had the pleasure of talking with my longtime friend Sully on his podcast on the LockedOn network. Comedian, TV producer and creator of the Sully Baseball Podcast Paul Francis "Sully" Sullivan is the host of LockedOnMLB, a podcast that covers all of Major League Baseball. 

Of course, we talked about Curveball at the Crossroads, then we discussed the Tampa Bay Rays, both on the field and off the field statuses.

I highly recommend Sully's podcast. He has a passion for the game and such a wide array of interests - check out how our conversation veered to Star Wars - and amazing knowledge of baseball. 

Here is the link: Locked On MLB - Daily Podcast On Major League Baseball

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Curveball at the Crossroads on the Spike on the Mic Show

Spike on the Mic is a longtime radio show in Tampa and Spike has been around the radio scene for years. A few weeks ago, I ran into Spike at a local sports bar and we talked about me being on his show. After weeks of scheduling, I made my first appearance.

Spike on the Mic is a fun show that covers weird and unusual headlines and has humorous banter between a bevy of hosts. I felt right at home talking with them. In the final minutes, I told them about my book, which most of the hosts were excited to hear about.


Thanks again to Spike for having me on and I hope to be on again soon!


Here is the link to the Spike on the Mic Show featuring Curveball at the Crossroads.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Curveball at the Crossroads is now available at Mojo Books and Records


I am very happy to announce that Curveball at the Crossroads is now available at Mojo Books and Music in Tampa, Florida. You can find the book in the local authors section and every copy available at Mojo Books and Records is signed by the author (me).

Mojo Books and Records is a perfect first place to sell Curveball at the Crossroads as it is also a used music store. Given the blues music inspirations in Curveball at the Crossroads, that's perfect.

Mojo Books and Music is located at 2540 E Fowler Ave, University Center Shopping Plaza, Tampa, FL 33612-6271.

Friday, June 18, 2021

The Funniest Book About The Man Ever

Almost two years ago, I self-published a little joke book that detailed everything The Man did to make lives miserable.

The book didn't do great sales - I blame The Man - but I have been able to share it with a few celebrities to include comic Cristela Alonzo and rapper extraordinaire RA The Rugged Man.

The Man Makes You Work is still available on Amazon for the low price of $7.50 paperback or kindle for $4.95 or free if you have Kindle Unlimited.

That's a great deal for a fun, fantastic read.


  

Saturday, May 22, 2021

My Grandfather and My Favorite Nirvana Song


I recently posted my thoughts about my Grandfather, who passed away last week. While I will always have pictures and memories to remember him, there is also a song by Nirvana that brings a smile to my face every time I hear it.

The first time I heard "Sliver", it was on MTV in the mid-1990s. I was familiar with Nirvana's bigger hits such as "Smells Like Teen Spirit", "Come As You Are", etc, but I had never heard this raw, punk-like Nirvana song. I wasn't even sure what album it was on (1994's Incesticide, I would find out. Although it was a single released during Nirvana's earlier days with SubPop Records.)

Sliver stayed in my memory for a long time as in those pre-internet days, trying to find a song you heard once was fairly difficult. Today, I would have searched YouTube for 10 minutes and found it. It wasn't until I found a bootleg copy of "The Best of Nirvana" at a vendor table in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1998 that I finally owned the song I heard years earlier.

First, the video, then I will discuss why this song means so much to me.


When I was little, my parents and I lived approximately 10 minutes from my mother's parents. We went there regularly. It was there that I watched Star Wars on VHS for the first time - and every time I visited. While the adults talked and prepared dinner, I was in the living room watching Star Wars or cartoons. Every time.

And when my parents had to go somewhere and couldn't bring me, as the song says, they dropped me off at Grandpa Joe's. The rest of the lyrics also reflect different times at my Grandparents.


[Verse 1]

When Mom and Dad went to a show

They dropped me off at grandpa Joe's

I kicked and screamed

Said, "Please, don't go!"

Although I liked going to my Grandparents' house, I am sure I did this a few times.


[Verse 2]

Had to eat my dinner there

Mashed potatoes and stuff like that

I couldn't chew my meat too good

I ate dinner at my Grandparents' house many times. As a growing kid with a fast metabolism, my Grandmother used to say I had a hollow leg. One of my Grandmother's best dinners was meatloaf and mashed potatoes and stuff like that.


[Verse 3]

She said, "Why don't you stop your crying?

Go outside and ride your bike"

That's what I did

I killed my toe!

I don't remember riding my bike around my Grandparents' house when I was little, but when I was 10, we visited my Grandparents' new house in Florida. I went outside to ride a bike and instead of killing my toe, I flipped off the bike, banged my head, and had a concussion. Not quite the same, but close.


[Verse 4]

Well, after dinner I had ice cream

I fell asleep and watched TV

I woke up in my mothers arms!

I guarantee this happened. As I mentioned, I watched Star Wars every time I was there. And like most kids, I had a huge ice cream habit.

I am not sure if Kurt Cobain really had a Grandpa Joe. I am also not sure if his childhood was spent eating dinner at his Grandparents house, having ice cream for dessert, and falling asleep to Star Wars. Maybe this is just a catchy pop tune that popped into Cobain's brain as he was fiddling with his guitar. Maybe he just dug the rhythm of the lyrics and an Uncle Ralph or Uncle Fred wouldn't rhyme with "show".

But I had a Grandpa Joe and whenever Sliver plays, I will remember those days. 

Every line ends in rhyme. 


[Chorus]

Grandma, take me home!

Grandma, take me home!

Grandma, take me home!

Grandma, take me home!

Grandma, take me home!

Grandma, take me home!

Grandma, take me home!

Grandma, take me home!

Grandma, take me home!

Grandma, take me home!

Grandma, take me home!

Grandma, take me home!

Grandma, take me home!

Grandma, take me home!

Grandma, take me home!

Grandma, take me home!

Grandma, take me home!

Grandma, take me home!

I wanna be alone!

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Remembering Grandpa, a grandparent and a friend


When we are born, we inherit family roles. You are a son or a daughter. Your parents become Mom or Dad. Aunts become Aunts. Uncles become Uncles. Brothers become brothers and sisters become sisters. Grandparents become grandparents.

That's how it usually is. But I was lucky. I had a Grandfather who became a friend.

Had. That's tough to write. To be honest, I have dreaded writing this for years. Although I had penned a tribute to a teacher and fellow student in college, the first time I wrote about a family member passing away was when I wrote about my Grandmother, my Grandfather's wife of over 60 years.

Both of my Grandmothers passed away when I was working in Afghanistan in 2012. I wrote about what both of them meant to me. I wrote because I missed funerals and it was a way to say good-bye. Now as I get older, and more people close to me pass away, I write as a way to process.

Since my Grandmother passed away nearly nine years ago, my Grandfather and I became much closer, making this essay that much more difficult. But it not that this is tough to write. Far from it. It is that trying to capture the memories, his personality, and what he meant to me in less than a million words is a challenge.

And in what order do you put a lifetime of memories?

For sake of not repeating earlier essays, I will pass over times spent with both grandparents - the times they visited me when I was in the Army stationed in Texas (pictured above), the times I visited them on my way to see parents during my college years. While I hold those memories near and dear, this essay is only about my time spent with my Grandfather.

The best place to start is in October 2012, when I was home on a vacation from Afghanistan. My Grandmother had only been gone six months, and I took time from seeing friends, a girl I was dating, and my parents, to swing by Ocala, Florida to see my Grandfather. It was the first time I hung out with him without my Grandmother. It is here when spending time with him became unique, as it was just us.

We went to Outback that day, or "the Outhouse" as he like to called it. He asked how I was doing. I told him stories of Afghanistan, how I was working in an international environment, and how I learned to say greetings in Polish, the language of his immigrant parents.

He seemed in good spirits, although it was obvious he was lonely.

I returned from Afghanistan in 2013, nearly year after my Grandmother passed away. I didn't have a job nor a place to live yet, so I asked if I could spend a month at his house, as it was close to Tampa where I was planning to move again. He agreed.

We spent quality time together during that month. We went out to eat a lot. We talked. I watched him talk on the phone with his children, his brother, and any other relative who called. My favorite thing was catching him purposefully giving people wrong information. For example, he would tell each one of his children - my mother, aunts, and uncle - a different date for an upcoming doctor's appointment. Then they would each run in different directions. Pulling people's leg gave him joy. He was mischievous like that.

I think he also told people wrong information because he was tired of them asking the same questions repeatedly. "When is your next doctor's appointment?", "What medicine are you taking?", "What did the doctor say?". I think he liked me because I never asked those questions. We talked about anything else. And I made a point to never ask about his doctors or his health. Enough people asked those questions. My conversations with him, whether in his house or in his care facilities always started with "How you doing?".

As the years progressed, his ability to manage his home diminished, and he was moved into a home closer to my parents. This actually made it easier for me to see him, as I had moved back to Tampa. Every time I visited my parents on the east coast of Florida, I would see my Grandfather for a bit. Sometimes if I was in town for an extended amount of time, I would spend a day with him. He always asked about my jobs and my classes and I asked him how the food was where he was living. Of course, it was always horrible and he always wanted to leave. But we had fun, even if he did make fun of me for dozing off in his guest chair on occasion.

"You came to visit, and all you are doing is sleeping? You could have done that at home."

Sometimes I would check him out of his facility and take him to lunch. One afternoon we picked up food and went to the local river and people watched. He made me laugh with sarcastic comments about almost everyone who passed by. After eating at the river, we drove the ocean and walked to the boardwalk. That's where I took a picture of him with the ocean in the background. I like this picture.

Although there are many of other pics of he and I, I wish I taken a selfie of us at the beach. I think it also would have turned out good.

On a side note, I like how the picture above compares with the below picture from a Long Island beach in October 1949. In '49, he was 23, World War 2 was over, he was recently married, and the world was in front of him. In the above picture, he has seen so much and the world is behind him.


A few years after we went to the beach, my Grandfather settled in his final home, a 24-7 care facility. The logistics of getting him out were too great, so I continued to visit him there every other month or so. In 2018, I took another international job, this time for nine months in the Middle East. When I returned, I brought him a small wooden camel. It stood alongside his family portraits and his other few personal belongings.

As the years went on, and his memory continued to fade, our talks got more and more abstract. He couldn't carry on conversations for more than five minutes without intermingling the real world with something he saw on television. Family members were suddenly living on ranches with Indian invaders, but it was ok because they had their old car and they were going move to North Carolina and remember that guy who had the store on 42nd street, he was a good guy. But the other guy on 52nd, he would rip you off. And there was a two-story building on the base when he got off the ship and if he didn't pack his clothes and get out of his room soon, the lieutenant was gonna look for him.

Sometimes it was challenging to keep up with the conversation, but that didn't diminish the fact I still enjoyed visiting. And I was proud of the fact that even to his last days, when he remembered maybe only ten names, I was still one he knew and recognized.

Like many other relationships in 2020, COVID-19 made seeing my Grandfather difficult. I didn't see him for most of the year. But I did get to see him in December 2020. He was inside his facility, eating and enjoying himself, and my mother and I were outside the window, talking to him through a six-inch opening. I couldn't give him a hug, but I could see him and talk to him. Merry Christmas 2020.

A few months later, his health took a severe turn for the worse. I was scheduled to go on yet another long trip, this time to Hawaii and Korea for over two months. But after seeing my Grandfather, I asked my boss if I could be taken off the first leg of the trip. I wasn't going to miss saying good-bye to my last grandparent. Not after missing both of my grandmothers. And definitely not this grandparent.

But a miraculous thing happened over the next few weeks after I saw him - my Grandfather regained his strength and returned to his 95-year old norm. With him doing better, I took my chances and went to Korea for a month. While there, I bought him a small piggy bank signifying the year of the ox. When I came back to the states, my mother gave it to him. She said he enjoyed it.

He passed away last weekend, a few months after my return. I like to think he waited for me to get back. When I stopped by his room on the night he died to see how my mother was doing with the final arrangements, the ox bank was on the same shelf as the wooden camel, alongside my Grandfather's other treasured mementos.

Not many people can say that their Grandfather was their friend. But mine was. Joe Walicki was a great man and I very much enjoyed his company. I like to think he would say the same about me. He will be missed dearly.

Here is his obituary, which I had a hand in writing. His funeral is Monday, where he will be buried alongside my Grandmother at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell, Florida. I will be sure to still visit.