Sunday, October 13, 2019


I am sitting atop a swiveling bar stool in a basement in Wheeling, WV, where I am surrounded by sound equipment, microphones, and the air of anticipation. Across the room an HD television mounted on the wall is showing the Virginia and Miami college football game which is kicking off a weekend of college football. The small gathering bounces between watching the game and conversations about snapchat and tik-tok, politics, and work. I take an occasional sip of my Blue Moon and slowly munch on a slice of DeFelice pizza, absorbing my surroundings with a comfortable, self-imposed isolation. I cannot avoid the one question I formulated earlier as I walked down the stairs to the basement with a white Pomsky answering to Hazel traipsing ahead of me: "Where in the hell am I?"

I am at a live recording of The Juicebox Podcast. As the late Stan Lee, long-time publisher and soul of Marvel Comics, would always say:  'nuff said.

Juice, Zar, and Punch, are The Juicebox Podcast regulars. Each will probably individually tell you that he is the "talent." Two brothers and their friend began the podcast months ago, learning by doing, succeeding by failing, and changing while remaining the same. It is all good though because they are on a journey to create something special for themselves with the hopes of giving their listeners a sampling of what life means from their viewpoint.

Once the intro music starts and the guys begin, I brace myself for the unexpected. You see, I have been listening to this podcast from the first episode and have graciously accepted their offer to email suggestions and questions. On  more than one occasion, I have asked if they really need to curse as much as they do, and I have expressed my eye-roll about the long drinking stories and sophomoric tendencies. The response has been "Sorry, Uncle A.J., we are going to keep on using those words." My suggestion simply emboldened them. But, I have to respect their decision to do their own thing despite my honest protestations.

I am here, still wondering why I was so enthusiastic about watching this podcast live this week that I had all of my papers graded before leaving school on Friday. I am sitting across from J.T. aka "Punch" as he leads the group into the beginning of the podcast. J.T. was one of my students back in 2012 when I came to CCHS as an English teacher. [Shameless plug: Read My Corner of the World.😁📖] J.T. and I have kept in touch throughout the years, but our paths have crossed more frequently as of late. J.T. told me about this podcast they were creating, and I was instantly intrigued; anything creative and original captures my attention in a heartbeat.

I am here, enduring the profanity, gross jokes, and crazy topics. I am here, taking another sip of my Blue Moon and laughing, initially hoping that no one notices. I have a certain reputation to uphold. Halfway through, I am caught up in the electricity of it all and no longer hold back my laughter. Behind all of the language are some pretty interesting discussions about Game of Thrones, Tom Cruise, and "Would you rather.." questions. Deeper than that are three friends finding their voices on this podcast.

I am here, experiencing and reveling in the genesis of imagination. The beginning of anything worth doing is never clean and neat. Messiness and improvisation are inherent parts of the creative process. The Juicebox Podcast reminds all of us, particularly an "old shit" like myself, that life can be fun and original as long we find an escape to dig deeper into who we are as individuals while knowing the best is yet to come.

This is a great recent episode because the guys welcomed Central grad and WVU basketball standout Chase Harler to be a guest. I want to give you a "Trigger Warning" regarding some content and language, but you are probably old enough to handle it.

Maybe one day...crossover, anyone?

Picture Credits: 
JT Nixon
Personal Photos

I will be dropping my podcast of this post later this week. I will offer some emotional backstory to this experience. You can always email me here or at the podcast email below if you have questions about this post or if you want me to discuss something about this topic on the podcast.

Sunday, October 6, 2019


I have spent the better part of the last week and a half in a pensive rumbling over experiences whose meaning rested in the periphery of the moments I encountered them. I have repeatedly returned to these musings with the hope that I can exact some definite significance from them all.

Last weekend I was mulling over my life while aimlessly scrolling through social media and YouTube, a terrible habit that rarely results in finding any semblance of lasting contentment. An advertisement slipped into a stream of videos: The Peanut Butter Falcon "SWEETEST FILM OF THE DECADE." 

The quirkiness of the title was enough for me to give the synopsis a reading and the trailer numerous viewings. Zack, a young man with Down's Syndrome, escapes from his nursing home chasing a dream of becoming a professional wrestler. Zack encounters Tyler, a crab fisherman who has lost his direction in life after a family tragedy. The two grow closer on a quiet odyssey down the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I spent Sunday afternoon at Marquee Cinemas watching this wonderful film and the better part of two days dwelling on the message The Peanut Butter Falcon offered.

Monday morning several senior football moms posted this picture on Facebook, further stoking a small fire in my heart sparked by the movie on Monday. I cannot recall ever seeing a picture like this in all of my years of teaching. Please keep in mind that I currently teach all of these players, and some I have known four years. I can see the personalities of the players in each pairing, the open expression of love, the silliness of the situation, and the discomfort of this not being "cool." The picture speaks for itself on the surface: this is a group of mothers; ones who love and support their sons; ones who realize that senior year is a chapter closing quickly; and ones who want to savor this journey. 

The football mothers and sons picture triggered another recent memory, one which happened a short time before the movie and the football picture. Pieces started to connect for me as I searched the school's Facebook page for another picture I had seen. At a home game last week, the volleyball team surprised one of the player's mother who is battling cancer. She said on Facebook that she was so surprised when she walked into the game and "found the coaches and all of the players in Hope for Lisa Gruber shirts and green hair bows in their hair."  

Finally, one of my students asked me every single day if I would be going to the football game, anxious to know because he was going to start for the first time this season. So on a chilly Friday I drove to Beverly, Ohio, to watch our team lose 42-0 in a brutal game during which several players were injured. I sat beside one of the football moms who winced and looked away every time her son was tackled or knocked out of bounds. My student who is typically "bouncing off the walls with enthusiasm" looked tired and dejected during the game but played hard despite the outcome being decided shortly after halftime.

In The Peanut Butter Falcon, the relationship between the two central characters is defined by a quote uttered at the beginning of the movie, one which many have heard at least once: "Friends are the family we choose." The movie then tells the story of two strangers who develop the family connection both need for neither one has family of his own. I see a larger and different theme in the different contexts of my week.

In relationship to what we call "families," we can not conclusively claim each family is the same. We have traditional families and those that are nontraditional. Many are two parent families with varying numbers of children. Others are single parent families with one parent no longer present. We cannot look at a picture and see the ideal when the ideal may not truly exist. 

We can see that which rests in the periphery, the unseen in the pictures and movies we see and situations we experience. It is the brotherly connection of two characters in a movie, the difference in emotions among football mothers and their sons, the unwavering support of a volleyball team to a teammate's mother, the occasionally unexpected support to those who need it the most. Choices in life can center on how we freely and honestly love and care for those around us in a way in which we wish people would love and care for us. This holds true when we are at our best or our worst, when life is uneventful or challenging, and whether we are willing to admit we need someone's love and care at all. 

Trying something new. I will keep you posted. 😎

Photo Credits:
Roadside Attractions
Joyce Bibey
CCHS Facebook Page
Personal Picture