The First of its Kind: An Arm Wrestling Event at NSCC

Every once in a while I think, I’m going to remember this day forever.

   I feel lucky to have had quite a few days like this. Sometimes you plan for a great day, or a memorable night, but then, it just doesn’t happen the way you want. But if there’s any lesson to be learned here, it’s that, even though life has its ups and downs, if we keep trying to create those unforgettable times, we will have more.

    North Shore Community College had its first ever Arm Wrestling Tournament. Though it was my idea to hold it, I owe it to Sylvester Stallone and his movie Over the Top, from which my motivation for it came. It’s an old 1987 film that is based on a competition that Stallone’s character must win in order to get his son back.

   I have great respect for so many films out there that have given me the motivation to work out harder or take on some new kind of challenge. What Stallone’s movie has created in me is almost indescribable. Yesterday at the tournament, these feelings returned.

   From the much appreciated effort of Sandra Rochon, who created a stir of emotions in the offices upstairs, we had several last-minute sign-ups.

   Victoria Pasciuto used her way with people to get the event going, since many who signed up came in late and, admittedly, I lost all composure for a minute or two. My plan had gone out the window. Then the matches began, as more and more students and staff made their way into the room. All eyes were on the competitors, and the professional arm wrestling table beneath them. Thanks to Victoria, the event was in progress.

   I was referee, but I was also a competitor – something that is undoubtedly against the rules in a professional tournament setting. I had to be in it. It just wouldn’t have been the same.

   There were some long and intense matches, on both sides. Kristine Babcock beat everyone out to win for the females, with Shannon Cormier coming in 2nd.

   Ben Lithgow gave me a great match, almost taking me out. During the last two weeks, his strength had impressive gains, and I fear that the next time we match up, he could finish what he started.

   Soon I went up against Nick Waiswilos. He brought me about two inches away from defeat, but somehow I found the will to come back and win. I will never forget, in particular, winning this one. Later, in the final match, he got his revenge on me, winning 1st place.

   I really like how there was absolutely no attitude, intimidation, or anything like that during the event. Everyone gave their all. This was evident with the length and effort of the matches. I know I gave everything I had, so much that I may even have injured my arm. But none of it created any negative words or gestures, not from anyone.

   This brings me back to Stallone, and Over the Top. He was a fierce competitor, tough, strong, smart, but such a good guy. I really respect when a guy can show this side of him, too, knowing that it is, I’d say, sort of uncommon to have this combination of hard and soft.

   Words can always make a story sound better, but I make it a point to try my hardest to never, ever embellish the truth. I don’t care if it makes me appear without confidence or even, like a fool. After all, who isn’t foolish from time to time? I think it is very important, and, in a way, expected of us all, to tell it like it is.

   When I think of the tournament, I know I will always remember it, but I know there is always more out there to bring into my world. Arm wrestling is just another way to challenge yourself, to see what your capable of, to get in there with all that adrenaline and nervous energy, and see what’s possible. How can you forget something like that?


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Every Moment is Precious

How many hurdles must I face before I find what I am searching for? Are the worst of them behind me already, or are more coming? But I know the answers to these questions, so why do I ask them over and over?

The search is neverending. It is typical to look beyond for things we don’t have, and take for granted all else. I place so much worry and thought into things that make little difference in life. Things I think are so important at the time, but then something so small can happen that will open my eyes.

I went to see my mother today. It was a really nice visit, and it was good to see her in such high spirits. Having just returned from a visit to Florida to see my sister usually gives her some extra inspiration.

We talked, we laughed, I teased her, she called me a prick. But that’s how you know a little Italian woman from South Boston is in a good mood. When that tenacity bursts out from time to time, even during a family visit. And it was all in good fun.

Outside, as I was mentally preparing for my trek back home to Salem, I nudged the back of her leg with my foot. Something I’ve done a hundred times. But this time, her leg buckled; it was an unexpected reflexive reaction. She fell back, hitting the sidewalk. She stopped herself with her hand, but she had gone down, and there are no words to describe how I felt.

I picked her up, and the worst of the pain was in her wrist, but she was fine in a couple of minutes. I don’t know if I was more upset with myself for thinking that this would never happen, or for not catching her on her way down. And worst of all, she appeared “old” to me for the first time in her 57 years. But just for a couple of seconds.

By no means is she an old woman. My mother still has a fierceness that is unmatched by most much younger than her. She has so much to offer the world.

Sitting at home, I can’t seem to get out of my head what happened, and that in some years to come, she may become “old.” I know how much the thought of this bothers her; I’ve seen her cry over it. And it is going to be so difficult to see her helpless, as I saw her today.

She is the kindest woman, the most generous, selfless person that I have ever known. And I would never exaggerate for a better story. I wouldn’t lower myself to that. But I just don’t know how I am going to handle it. Someone as sweet as she is, someone that will live with an empty refridgerator for weeks, barely getting by, so that her children will have what they need when things are difficult. And mind you, she will not tell you if she is hard up. That is just the way she is, and to her, it is no big thing.

I know that aging is a part of life and one day, it will be my time, too. But why does it feel like a storm is on the horizon? One that is so dark and devestating that I may not even survive it? Why is death so… deathly?

I can’t change the things I’ve said, the time I could have spent with her but chose not to. Nor can I turn back the years so that things will be the way they once were. All I can do is use the time we have left together to treat her with as much kindess as possible. With just as much as she has given me. And smile, laugh, do what I can to bring a little bit of excitement into her life, make her proud of my “meaningful” accomplishments, show her that my heart is like hers, that I care, genuinely. I need to make sure she knows how much I love her, and, never treat her like an old woman, because we are only old when we think we are old. But, just the same, I need to cut out the leg-buckling business. That took a lot out of me.



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Tilly’s Smiley Face


Molly stepped out from the shadowy woods, and the light of the moon shined upon her face. She was frightened once again, but not of the ghostly silence that was grasping for her, nor of what her eyes could not make clear in the dark. It was what was inside of her that was causing her pain.

   A memory of her little sister Tilly, when she was alive before the swimming accident, crept through her head. So did the time at the her high school prom, when she was too nervous to dance with Donnie Winchester, even though that was more than ten years ago.

   The thoughts in Molly’s head swirled and swished, until they were too much for her to contain. She knelt down, crying alone in the middle of the night.

   An extreme visual of the man she saw a few days before, walking past her on the street, came to her next. He was tall and serious with a fancy gray and black suit. When Molly walked past him, he looked at her as if he knew her.

   Which one was it? Did he think I was pretty or hideous? Molly thought. Why didn’t I smile when he looked at me?

   “What’s the difference?” asked a voice from behind her.

   Molly turned toward the woods and saw the silhouette of a man.

   “Who’s there?” she cautiously walked backward a few steps. “What was that you said?”

   “I said, what’s the difference?”

   “But… I didn’t say anything.”

   “Oh, you did, Molly. You said plenty.”

   She followed him curiously with her eyes as he approached. His face was stern, but non-threatening.

   “Who are you?” she asked.

   He smiled, reaching out his hand to her. When she tried to shake hands, he slipped a torn piece of paper into her hands.

   “What’s this?” she asked, looking up at him.

   He put his hand on her shoulder. “Just some things to think about.”

   Molly saw a sadness form in his eyes as he nodded, and then he smiled again before walking back to the tree line that led to nowhere but miles of dense forest. She wanted to yell out to him before he was gone, when it would be too late to ask him about all of the things she was feeling in this moment. But she didn’t.

   Instead, she brought the piece of paper up to read. It was difficult to see without real light, but when her eyes adjusted, she began to see what was scribbled in random places.

   Molly thought it was a joke at first, especially with the little smiley face right in the middle. Then she looked more closely, and remembered. It was Tilly’s smiley face, complete with curly cue hair and spotty makeup. Tilly had said to her, ‘I love you more when you smile like this.’

   A drop of moisture fell from Molly’s face onto the paper. She quickly wiped her eyes and noticed beside the smiley was the words Pall Mall. It was the nickname that was given to her on the night Donnie Winchester asked her to dance. She was afraid she would make a fool of herself, since she never danced before. But when she saw him dancing with the gorgeous Tamara Petersen a few minutes later, she wanted to die.

   That was when she met Jenny. She came over with her floppy hair and raggedy purple dress, asking if Molly wanted a cigarette. Molly didn’t smoke, but she took the Pall Mall anyway. After coughing for almost five minutes, it would become her first and her last cigarette, and her nickname for years to come.

   Molly smiled, thinking of some of the other times that she and Jenny spent together, and that there were still plenty more to come. For the first time, she considered that if she had danced with Donnie, she may never have met her best friend.

   One more word was written at the bottom of the paper. Pretty. Molly wasn’t sure what to make of this one. Then she remembered the man in the suit from a few days ago. What had he thought of her? That’s what she desperately wanted to know, wasn’t it?. Maybe he did think she was pretty. Is that what this is, her answer?

   Another tear fell onto the torn paper, making it even more soggy and flimsy. “No!”

   She tried to wipe away the moisture, but in her frustration, ripped it in two. It was destroyed.

   Molly sat there in the dark, with her thoughts and her memories. She thought of the man from the woods, and what he said to her. What’s the difference? She considered that it really didn’t matter that she destroyed the paper, because what was on it would never leave her. Maybe he was right about what I felt I needed to know so badly, too – whether or not this one man approved of me.

   Her thoughts returned to her friend Jenny, and how she might react when she hears about tonight. Then, back to Tilly and her smiley face. I love you more when you smile like this. She smiled, for Tilly this time, a really big one.

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Pigeons and Odd Expressions

I think about the strangest things sometimes. But then maybe, there’s good in that. My mind may have an ability to venture into uncharted territory. I worry about far too much, but I can’t seem to stop, no matter what I do. I try to consider that being this way makes me more careful in the choices I make. I know there is good that can come from this, and there is also bad. I remind myself that every one of us has flaws, but sometimes, these flaws can be transformed into things that may actually help us.

I saw a pigeon on the side of the highway today. It’s body was wilted and it began to wobble into the road. When I decelerated and looked more closely, I realized it was a black plastic bag, shifting slightly with the wind. For a second, I thought to myself, what the hell is wrong with me? But then I thought that maybe I just have a really good imagination. When presented with the shape of the plastic bag, my mind created far more than meets the eye.

My face is another problem for me. I have those, I guess you could say, crazy eyes. When I meet people – not everyone, but almost – I get that look. Unless I am already laughing or being myself in some way, new people always see me as odd.

I don’t know if it’s just the way I look, or if it comes from somewhere inside. I know I am an intense and strong person. I know I am not a jokester, unless I really know you. So you won’t see me smiling all the time. But it doesn’t mean I am brooding over how I want to take someone out.

By writing this, I am showing that I really don’t care what people think. But I probably come off like I do. When my face turns bright red – and yes, I can feel exactly when this happens – one might wonder what is wrong with me. Actually, I wonder the same thing. But it’s just a reaction. If I could locate the culprit in my head, I would then decide to become a killer and take it out.

So I am gradually coming to the conclusion that by dealing with this issue, and still moving forward in life, in relationships, in everything I try to do, I am strong, very strong. What others may see as me simply being weird, as always, I see and experience it as a fight, an intense and almost ridiculous struggle to continue to feel like I am normal, underneath my mask, and behind the encrypted words that trip out of my mouth. I try and remember that once I finally get to know a person, I am just as normal as anyone.

I love a challenge. I live for them, and will never feel worth much of anything unless I am challenging myself both physically and mentally, simultaneously during any length of time. I guess that’s why I was a good marine, and why I am good at sports and martial arts. These things will never cease to be a challenge for anyone with that crazy look in their eyes, or just anyone who wants to learn something difficult.

I’m not sure why I always want the hard in my life – the training, the challenges. Maybe it’s because my stepfather was a violent drunk. Maybe it’s because I never got the chance to really get back at him for years of, well, fun times. It could be from the Italian in me, from my mother, or the Indian that came from my father. Italians have horrible tempers, and Pequot Indians are known to be fierce fighters. It’s probably all of that. I like to think it’s also from all of the bad I have seen in the world, all of the rapes and murders and so forth, that has turned my stomach and opened my eyes.

Not only does training give me that rush, that feeling of invincibility, it also prepares me, as did the Marines. With these things in my life, I feel peace, actually. It gives me what I need to know to be able to handle any situation that presents itself. I will not stand by and watch violence happen in front of my eyes. The innocent will not be harmed, so long as I am around. I give my word on that.

Though I clearly have a protective side to my personality, most of the time, I am thinking about other things. Lately, my life has been filled with so much good, and I am extremely grateful. I try to focus on all of this, and of course, the strange things too. But I can’t help that.

I saw a pigeon on the side of the highway today. It’s body was wilted and it began to wobble into the road. When I decelerated and looked more closely, I decided to pull over and see if there was anything I could do. As I pulled over as far as I could and stepped out of my car, the guy behind me slammed on his horn. Before he could open his mouth to shout at me, I showed him my crazy eyes, and he decided he better just drive on by. Good decision on his part. I found a black plastic bag that was floating by and used it to pick up the pigeon and set him down to the far side of the grass, to safety.

There was little more I could do. It was a pigeon. As I got back in my car and drove away, I had faith that it was strong inside. As long as its body healed, it had a chance. It could go on. I drove home with a strange look on my face, but then again, maybe it was just my everyday face. I thought to myself, with a determined curiosity, that yes, it has the chance to go on.

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Dugan was always one to think things through until there was no more thinking to do. He didn’t like making decisions without coming to a complete and satisfactory conclusion in which he had faith his chosen path was deserving of a future.

   Never a loner, but far too often alone just the same, Dugan remained seated on his favorite recliner in his apartment. Staring straight ahead but at nothing, he awaited something that might take him away from such frightening silence.

   He considered what options he had for the Saturday that lay ahead. He had tasks to accomplish – several, in fact. Things that, for years, motivated and captivated him. But as the uneventful days and long, quiet nights turned into too many to count, Dugan’s thinking started to change.

   As morning turned into afternoon, a shrill of desperation poked around Dugan’s mind. Time was wasting, yet again. He sat still, for the most part, listening to the sound that wasn’t there, except for the traffic in his mind. His thoughts moved faster as his anxiety persisted through the passing of the day.

   In this overwhelming nothingness, Dugan had little ability to let in any of the positive that had often accompanied and led his actions since he was a kid. In a sense, he was powerless. But he was allowing himself to explore this unknown region. It was his choice to search further into his mind, blindly, without armor.

   It wasn’t the first time he had taken this kind of trip, but it was the furthest he had ventured. This was not a form of meditation. This was something else. He wasn’t watching his thoughts pass by. He was stalking them, following closely. He was traveling to a dark place filled with not only his own confused, bewildering perplexities, but alongside things that are more powerful than he ever would have imagined.

   In this place, Dugan became less and less aware of his own, actual life. The deeper in he searched, the weirder things became. But he was not so afraid of it any longer. He was getting to know his darkness. He had befriended it.

   The clouds hovered above, but he paid no mind. It had created a shade. Faces appeared in the pitch black that surrounded him at all angles. Sometimes, just eyes. But he was not disturbed by them, only curious.

   Having forgotten what purpose he had in coming to this place, he continued on. Something in the silence had clouded his former way of thought. He was utterly unaware.

   Walking into the deepest of the dark, Dugan was confronted by fears he had also forgotten about. All eyes were on him, some of them attached to the most hideous of creatures. Some had bodies, some didn’t.

   Dugan lied down on his back, and the creature’s eyes became the stars in the sky. He was feeling a tremendous wave of emotion. They began eating into his flesh, but he had forgotten that pain was something he would normally fear with the highest regard. In this moment, it was exhilarating.

   He was suffocating, sweating profusely, bleeding, and worse, but he was unaffected. Unaware, except toward his new dark friends and the rush they were giving to him, Dugan decided to return the favor. He felt it was his place to do so, that it was the right thing to do. And so he opened his mouth, and tore into flesh.

   Sometime later, when emotions withered and actions subsided, Dugan returned to his reality. He was back, aware again, but, unfortunately, just not the same.


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The Excitement of Life: At Any Age

From the cradle to the grave, our lives are driven by how we perceive the world around us. We are born to a bright, illuminating exploration of endless exotic objects and unusually interesting big people who seem to be everywhere. Gradually, we become familiar with those objects and get to know the people surrounding us. Yet, as we grow into young adults, we confront more and more unknown wonders, ideas, relationships. But then somewhere along the path of life, most of us are hypnotized by the traditional construction of an aging man – that we must follow the order of procedures and grow old, too. That we have no choice but to follow suit, because that it simply the way it is. And then that search for wonder, for something new,  begins to tragically fade away. But this is a disheartening ruse, and many of us have been fooled, blinded from the truth.

            As a teenager, it was difficult to see the elderly have so much trouble simply walking from their car to the front door of a restaurant. I watched with my stomach tightly bound, hoping that they would make it inside safely, and not trip and then collapse to the hard ground, breaking, everything. The thought of becoming like this later in life terrified me, and I tried and failed to avoid paying particular attention to older people; they fascinated me. I thought, there must be some way to grow old, but not grow old. I had to find out, so I began asking questions.

            Over the next ten years, I made it a point to talk to people about this topic, and continued to pay attention to what people said around me concerning the issue of aging. One middle-aged man stated, rather angrily, that it is just not possible to slow the aging process by continuing to work out, or that older people could maintain any kind of real strength and agility. He affirmed that I will find out myself when my time comes, and then I will understand. Another man, only 33, announced during a Taekwondo class, “ I can’t do it like I could when I was 25. What I wouldn’t give to be that age again.” Are you kidding me? At 33 years old? Why would he feel it in him to begin giving up on his capabilities at such a young age?

            The human body is no self-lubricating mechanical wonder, but it can sustain a long, healthy life so long as you take care of it. We all know that our bodies change whether we like it or not, but it is very gradual, and can be slowed, adapted to, or if you are truly motivated, improved, with age. Many people have proven this, including Tsutomu Tosaka, a Japanese bodybuilding champion, who, at 74, looks amazing (

            Not all of us aim to compete, but people like Tosaka should prove to the world that anyone is capable of living no different than when they were 25. It should make little difference that the Japanese are known to be healthier and more active then Americans. Why should we make excuses in the first place? We can always learn to eat healthier, and make more of an effort to find the time to be active.

             After all, being active is what makes us really feel alive, isn’t it? Maybe it is the most important thing we can do, because when we feel strong mentally and physically, when we feel capable and aging hasn’t distorted our way of thinking, then anything is possible. Even if we are successful, feeling healthy in these ways will instill even more passion into what we want to accomplish. It will keep that fire burning within.

            In an article by Jeffry Life, M.D., Ph.D. titled “Fitness to Stay Strong at Any Age: How to Stop Getting “Old,” he talks about how he went from “exhausted to exhilarated,” and at 72, feels better than ever. He learned that his hormone and testosterone levels were very low, and he countered this problem by taking the right supplements. Just as a schizophrenic can find the right pills that will regenerate normal chemical activity in the brain, a person of any age can counter many deficiencies with exercise and, if necessary, supplements.

            Who wants that sadness that seems to create a dark cloud over so many people as they age? Who wants that silence and loss of creativity and imagination? Who wants to feel weak, frail, and helpless? None of us do, of course, and we can often avoid all of these things. The truth is inside you, not what you see around you. It begins with the decision to want to live your life like you always did before, the belief that it is possible by what so many others have been able to do, and the will to take that first step outside your front door in the morning and look up to the sky as that brisk, startling winter air hits your face. Is there something out there for you? The answer does not depend on your age. It depends on you.

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When Thomas died in a horrific head-on-collision on Interstate 95, his son Timothy wept uncontrollably. He cursed God; he could not understand why his daddy, who was nicer than any grownup he had ever met, had to die in such a way. He was only 8.

            Though his wife Erica remarried within a year, Timothy took it hard, isolating himself for several months, but eventually grew into a strong, mature young man who would never take anything for granted.

            During a vacation with his wife Carrie, he was confronted by a man who lived on the streets of Mexico, just outside their beautiful resort. The man grabbed him from behind and pulled him into the shadows on the side of the building they were walking past. Without saying a word and with extreme placidity, Timothy slipped out of his grasp, turned and grabbed his wrist, all in one swift motion, before the man had a chance to even see what was happening.

            Timothy immediately stepped on the blade of the knife, snapping it in two. The man back stepped slowly, expecting to be rushed by him, maybe even killed. But instead, knowing all too well the value of a life, Timothy looked at him with powerful eyes, a stare that had great meaning to both him and his attacker.

            “I’m sorry. I should have… I’m sorry.”

            “Leave,” Timothy ordered, threatening in his rigid, but ready stance that he might change his mind and kill him anyway. Timothy was no longer the shy, timid type.

            The man sprinted away, and soon, he would not have it in him anymore to hurt another person again. In fact, a few years later, he cleaned himself up completely.

            During a drug rehabilitation program that he had once taken, he met a man named Gregory Nimbles. He shared his story with Greg, down to the fear he felt after Timothy stopped his robbery attempt. The story served as a prime example of how people can change their ways – that man has potential to be good, even in times of violence and despair.

            In time, Greg became a speaker for young college students throughout the country. He made it a point to mention his friend’s story, and the fact that his encounter had changed him forever. There was discussion, on many occasions, about whether or not Timothy should have retaliated, and that if he had, they may not even be hearing his speech today.

            Scores of students were influenced by Greg’s sincerity and his spirit, many of whom were addicts already. Of course, there were many who would not listen, for whatever reasons. But the ones who did, and all of the people they spoke to about Greg’s words, were very much affected.

            Across the country, new stories of inspiration and hope came to be known. Over many years, these stories would serve as examples, as true experiences of those were once walking the line between good and evil, between life and death. Lives were saved, physically and emotionally. Good prevailed.

            We may not understand why tragedy strikes, and may never, as the reasons are often hidden from us our entire lives.

            If Thomas didn’t die in that horrible car accident on 95, the future of that event may not have unraveled in the same way. Though it may seem impossible to control your emotions, or remain “good” when bad things happen, it is so important to try with all your heart. You never know. One, seemingly small decision could, over time, change ten thousand lives.

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