You built a time machine? Out of a DeLorean?

I changed the title of the blog in homage to one of my favorite movies ever – Back To The Future.

When I was eight years old, I begged my grandma to take me to see this movie. When I got back from two weeks in Pittsburgh, I lied to my parents and told them I hadn’t seen it yet. They knew otherwise, and took me to see it again. And I rented it on VHS again. And again. And again.

28 years later, I will drop everything to watch this movie. And the sequel. But not the third one. Though I watched the last few minutes of the movie just to find out why Marty McFly hates being called “chicken.”

There are a lot of universal themes in the movie – friendship, trusting yourself, instilling faith in others, time travel. Time travel!

And the final line of the movie suggests this: Infinite possibilities are ahead of you.

***

I just bought the soundtrack, too. While I’m not a die-hard Eric Clapton fan, as a music fan I can appreciate his genius on the guitar. But Clapton has a great song on the soundtrack that is completely un-Clapton and more along the lines of Bob Marley – “Heaven Is One Step Away.” It has a bit part in the movie, when Marty McFly returns to 1985 and attempts to save Doc Brown.

(By the way, I don’t condone drunk driving. Or crazy drunk drivers. At all.)

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“What are you gonna do?”

Last week I read a New York Times piece from 1988 about transiency and apartment living in New York City, and no-lease, four-roommate apartment turnover. The Times spoke with an aspiring actor who lived in at least seven different New York neighborhoods.

”Moving, to me, is no big deal,” said Mr. Gandolfini, whose calling is the theater but whose living comes mostly from bartending and construction. ”I have a system down. I throw everything in plastic garbage bags and can be situated in my new place in minutes. Without my name on a lease, I’m in and out. I have no responsibilities.”

I kind of got a chuckle out of the quote from James Gandolfini. But I thought of it again Friday night as I stacked boxes and bags in my living room and wiped sweat off my face.

Once upon a time I had to help a friend of mine clear out the apartment that she shared with her then-boyfriend. We had to do it at a certain time of day, during a certain day of the week and we had to take as much as we could in a certain number of hours – because we knew that it would be before her emotionally abusive boyfriend would return and do who knows what to her. And each time I packed a box or a bag into her car or into mine, I thought, who does this? Why does it have to come to this?

Thursday afternoon, the two people I helped Friday evening faced the same window and the same set of circumstances. They basically had to clear out everything of theirs in the matter of five hours, whether it was moved into storage or packed in boxes, suitcases or garbage bags, and leave the premises of a place that was no longer safe or healthy.

Then, as I took what seemed like the umpteenth set of bags through the rain and into the house, I realized something: this was transience. These people had been in an abusive relationship, at the hands of their own blood.

Frankly, I didn’t have a choice but to take in people whom I care about and people who have provided me with opportunities, and, when I needed a home, a place to stay. I didn’t like having to take those bags into my house, because of what they stood for. I didn’t like having to hear what brought them to that point and to my house, because of all the pain and manipulation that preceded it.

But at its basic level, the situation came to this: People I love needed help.

But, like Tony Soprano said, “what are you gonna do?”

The answer is easy.

My house for two is starting to look like Grand Central Station.

In the course of 24 hours it has accommodated two adults, three senior citizens and two dogs, and I’m trying to thwart whatever builds in me when I have to give away the time I use in the morning to get ready for work – one of the few hours of time I have to myself.

Part of the reason the house better represents a bustling train station is because of mental health. Not mine. Not anyone in the house. But it’s a factor that has affected my extended family for years.

I’ve only divulged to two people the root of the hustle and bustle in my house but it brings up a bigger issue: Mental health.

It’s something that we’ve been reluctant to discuss in our society, up until recently. A microcosm: In the final months of my time covering pro and college hockey in New England, three NHL players committed suicide, in part due to mental health issues. While the NHL Players Association offers “a substance abuse and behaviorial health” program, it wasn’t until the deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak that a community (and hockey is a community) was forced not only to acknowledge the issue but to consider it frankly and introspectively. Three men died in the course of a summer. At the time, I posted something on my belated work blog that said something along the lines of, “maybe this will force us to evaluate both the topic of mental health and our own attitudes toward a topic that comes with a stigma.”

I even reconsidered my own stance on mental health – bipolar disorder runs in my family (hey, you wonder why I’m so upbeat all the time – kidding, kidding). You grow up understanding that something is not right, why a parent and a grandparent rarely speak – a byproduct of a violent attack years and years ago that was brought on by a manic-depressive rage – or why a sibling is taking medication and forever going to doctors and isn’t taking the same honors and advanced placement classes that you overachieved in “because he doesn’t have the same direction that you have.”

But you don’t talk about it with others, in a public sense. Still, after finding out from a former supervisor of mine about his family’s struggles with mental health issues, and discussing it with the parent of a friend of mine in a stretch of weeks, I realized something: A) this isn’t an isolated problem and B) there are people out there who need to talk about this with someone. Sometimes, you are the best support group because you listened.

Right now, I have a whole household whom I can listen to – because I know they are in a safe place.

***

If you’re looking for more information on mental health awareness or resources, there’s a program in Canada called Mindcheck.ca that’s geared towards teenagers and young adults with mental health issues, and the Virginia-based National Alliance on Mental Illness provides a broader view on advocacy, treatment and research.

Also, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

Now what’s that Tour de France thing?

I love riding my bike. Really, I do.

So as I pushed my pedals through an unusually humid day, something occured to me – the Tour de France is coming up.

There was a time when each summer, I would wake up in the morning and turn on the Outdoor Life Network to watch the coverage of the race that wound through the French countryside and mountains. My ideal trip to Europe included a stop in Paris for the final state of the race, to cheer on the winner along the Champs-Elysees.

But this year, the TdF doesn’t bring the same excitement as it did in the past. It’s more of a sadness.  Because the scepter of dishonesty hangs over competitive cycling.

Cycling has become this decade’s answer to boxing – a sport that was once heralded because of its grueling days, the international attention it received and, of course, the challenges that a man (simply referred to as “Lance”) overcame to win the Tour year after year – surviving cancer, his tumultuous personal life, the constant hounding of and constant battles with the media … and doping allegations which later were true. That became a watershed moment for the downfall of the sport. To an American cycling fan, nothing became more maddening than watching Lance confess and attempt to save face (for a price and a cost) to Oprah Winfrey.

Now, the word “cycling” can’t be mentioned without “corruption.”

I’m not going to watch the Tour de France. Instead, I’ll go out for a 20-mile spin around town. At least I know I won’t cheat at it.

This one’s for Coach Villwock

In the ninth grade, I was cut from the basketball team at Broadneck High School. At 14 years old, rejection is a tragedy. But as I sat and cried in the living room – not because I knew I wasn’t Broadneck basketball material, but because I was told I wasn’t good enough to make the team – I knew there was another path out there. It led straight to the school’s outdoor athletic complex.

Monday afternoon, I joined the indoor track team. And at my first track practice, I was brusquely greeted by Bruce Villwock, who led the 40 freshmen through stretching and warmups. He barked orders. He yelled at kids who goofed around. He told us that the 15 minutes we spent stretching and warming up would make us healthier and stronger.

I was terrified. Out of those 40 freshmen, only a handful of us became four-year letter winners in track. Little did I know how much Bruce Villwock would make an impression on me in that time.

As a shot putter, you don’t have much interaction with the runners and jumpers on the track team. You’re isolated in a corner of the track. So it was us and Coach Villwock on those cold afternoons. Three of us were serious about the art of putting the shot, and while the others didn’t, Coach Villwock still took the time to work with them. He could have easily written them off as slackers, but that wasn’t in his nature. Little did I realize that underneath that gruff exterior – part and parcel of years as a football and boys lacrosse coach – he was also an empathetic person, that this was his way of teaching someone who wasn’t as talented or as athletic that they had a value and a passion and that what they learned, somehow, would make them a better individual.

As I prepared for a meet one day, heaving that 8-pound lead shot ahead of me, Coach Villwock called Jerry Kiple, the head track coach and distance coach, over to our corner of the football complex. Coach Villwock pointed at me and declared that in four years, I would throw at the Maryland state indoor track championships. I kind of shrugged, grinned, and said something along the lines of, “yeah right.” But the bug was in my head. And for the next four years, I made it a point to get good grades, to train, to listen to what my coaches and teachers told me and to stay out of trouble because I had this goal in front of me.

My final indoor track meet was the Maryland state 3A championships, where I finished third. I remember two people watching me compete: my father and Coach Villwock.

I read in my hometown paper today that Coach Villwock is retiring after 37 years of teaching. Coach Villwock said something that is reflective of the values of his era of teaching and parenting – one that was in my household, as well, as my parents were teachers:

“The number one reason for my success would be that I put the students first, regardless of whether I was teaching or coaching them. I tried to instill in them the things I instilled in me by my parents.

“The kids come to me and I tell them that they’re special and that they have a gift to give to the world, as I’m trying to encourage them and build their self-esteem.”

It sounds frilly, but Coach Villwock had this no-bullshit way of trying to find what was great about each of his students and that life wasn’t a competition but a chance for each of us to cultivate and share our own greatness, whatever it was, and not to worry what other people think.

I still have my medal from the state championships, and the first-place ribbon I won for the regional championship. When I wonder what my purpose is, or why I am staying up late to research my next story, I think about that medal and those ribbons. They are reminders of all the hard work and training I put in for four years to achieve the goal that was set for me and the goals I set for myself. What I reaped, I sowed.

When I read that Coach Villwock is retiring, I didn’t realize how emotional I would get over it. I took down my medal from the state championships and looked at it for a while, and told my husband this:

When I was 14, I didn’t have a lot of faith in myself. I don’t think a lot of people outside of my family had faith in me. But like he did for so many of his students, Bruce Villwock put faith in me. It was one of the best things a teacher ever did for me.