This is a piece I wrote for a short story contest last Valentine’s Day.  It’s call “A Dream of Lilies”


           Before I died, I dreamt of a girl. For five straight nights she held me captive. The dream often changed but the girl was always the same. She never told me her name and I’m not certain why it matters to me now other than to know the name of the girl that I fell in love with. 
            Because it’s a dream, does that make our love any less real? I felt her touch upon my skin. Her hair: thick and black as night. Her ice blue eyes pierced my heart, and her soft red lips became pillows for my own. We were like most couples – in the mornings we would have breakfast on a marble terrace. Afternoons were filled with strolling along the river, or to the local bookseller for a cup of coffee; where I would read aloud to her from Dumas: wooing her romantic soul. 
            Back at home we made love to the sound of church bells; as if it was the end of mankind. It was at that moment that I would be forced to leave her and walk through my waking world. I was envious of those beside me; those whose love was not bound by sleeping hours. Still; was our love any different from theirs? 
            I spent my conscious hours working as an investment banker. It wasn’t fulfilling work but it paid the bills. I made the wise decision a year ago to sell the car and use public transportation. After merely a week I chose to walk instead. Four blocks of nothing but banks, investment firms, and coffee shops. There was also the obligatory greeting card shop; announcing to all that Valentine’s Day was right around the corner. 
            Of course I had had relationships in the past, some of them had even had potential, but I always blew it on Valentine’s Day. The card wasn’t thoughtful enough, or I got the wrong flowers, or it was dark chocolate when it should have been white. These obvious mistakes resulted in the inevitable: “you don’t love me.” And they were right; so I gave up on love. The very notion of love became an apparition to me; always just out of sight. 
            Walking – this activity is allegedly good for you. All it did was piss me off. On this particular day, the warm temperature did nothing to brighten my mood. As I entered my building, the doorman greeted me while holding the door open. I retrieved my mail and grumped my way to the elevator without a word. I tossed the mail on the sideboard and fell into my overstuffed leather chair. There was whiskey on the end table from the night before. I was relaxed, content, and totally unaware that within five days I’d be dead. 
            I flipped through the mail and noticed a bright red envelope with my name on it. No address, just my name. After finding nothing to slake my curiosity, I opened it. To my amazement: it was a card. On the front was an image of a cottage, on the banks of an empty beach. Again, there were no words, but it was obvious what this was. Some fool sent me a Valentine’s Day card. The inside was slightly more telling. On the left was a simple red heart on a pink background. The right: blank but for the words written in ink: 
            “Be Mine.” Underneath was the cryptic signature: “Lily.” I knew no Lily. I put the mail down, finished my drink and went straight to bed. 
            That was the night I met my dream girl; standing in a garden of pink and white flowers, and wearing a dress of the same. I picked one and nervously handed it to her. She smiled and placed it behind her ear. I fell in love with her right then and there. For five nights she appeared to me in my dreams. Every morning I struggled with being awake; having become addicted to her love. 
            The morning of my death found me in bed longer than usual. I wanted to stay but she said goodbye with a kiss and I woke with a start. There was a smile on my face that my face didn’t recall as I dressed and walked across the street to Mina’s: The only authentic Russian Jewish deli in town. I ordered lunch and sat at one of the booths. 
            From the window I could see up to my apartment and I saw someone standing on my terrace. I ran outside for a closer look. It was her. She was looking down at me, her hair covering part of her face. I could see the smile. 
            Somewhere behind me tires squealed, but I paid no attention. All I could see was her and her smile. 
            Ironically, the bus that ran me over was the bus that I chose not to ride any longer. When I arrived at the hospital, I heard words such as thready, and shock, and then internal bleeding, and something about permanent damage. There were doctors and nurses all around me; attempting to save my life. Despite all their efforts, they were unsuccessful. I watched as they removed their gloves and exited the room. 
            I swear that I heard Procol Harem’s Whiter Shade of Pale playing over the intercom as she appeared in the doorway; smiling like a child. She came to me and took my hand. My pain dissipated and I sat up to look in her eyes. There were so many things I wanted to ask her; things I needed to know. But at that moment there was only one thing I needed to know. 
            “What is your name?” She didn’t answer, but took my face in her hands and kissed me. 
Then I remembered the card. “Lily?” She smiled and led me into our favorite café for Espresso and biscotti. We laughed and reveled in the prospect of our new lives together. Every day was Valentine’s Day. 

My latest Drum Corps World Article

My first experience with this wonderful activity

I remember this night as if it were yesterday. It was a warm night in July of 1975. There was a fog settling on the stadium of Belvedere North High School. A crowd had gathered in the stands: gathered for what was to be a magical evening. This was the setting of my first drum corps show. I don’t remember particulars but I do remember feelings. And as my father pulled the Ford Econoline into the parking lot, I was not prepared for what I was about to feel.
Dad tasseled my hair and Mom made me put on an oversized Western Electric wind breaker. We entered the gates and I asked for popcorn. There were people everywhere. The meager high school stadium was filled to capacity. Dad bought me a Cavalier’s shirt. I shrugged, not really knowing who the Cavaliers were. In hindsight, I suppose I could’ve been a bit more cooperative after all, I knew what a Drum & Bugle Corps was, I had just never been to a competition and I really wasn’t interested.
My Dad was Ralph Irons. He, along with fellow Drum Corps enthusiast Bob Goodrich were the Director and Business Manager of the Men of Brass Drum & Bugle Corps from Romeoville, IL. I had attended a number of rehearsals with Dad but my interest was minimal. My sister was involved in the activity as well so it was difficult to avoid.
It was a late Saturday afternoon when Mom called me in the house and told me that we were going to a drum corps show. Big whoop I thought. I was still thinking this as the competition began. The first Corps to perform was The Vaqueros from Aurora, IL. I’m ashamed to admit that I remember nothing of this corps from that evening, and I was under the assumption that this was how the entire boring evening was going be. And when Brandt Crocker announced the next corps; I was immediately captured by the Corps name: “The Phantom Regiment.” Unlike the rest of the performers, these guys were intense. They wore pith helmets instead of the common shako or Aussie. Their drums and other instruments seemed bigger than the others. And they had capes; big black capes – this was important to me. The whole attitude of the corps then was so remarkable, and they hadn’t even played a note.
Image They began their performance with Jenkins’s American Overture. It was haunting, and I was hooked. That years performance of Gershwin’s An American in Paris was just as unforgettable. My life as I knew it would never be the same. I sat there in the stands transfixed by the spectacle. With each performance I grew more and more addicted to the sights and sounds of what would take over most of the rest of my life. I can still remember the thunderous triple-tom solo from the Cavaliers drumline. And the Trooper’s sunburst took my breath away.
I don’t recall who won that evening but it actually doesn’t matter. I will never forget that night. It was the beginning of an experience that most people will never understand. Since that fateful evening, I have marched in a handful of corps; aging out in 1988. The activity has certainly changed since that night back in 1975: The drums are louder and brighter. The horns are crisper and the color guard has become a vibrant and intrical part of the performance.
Before my father passed away in 2008, one of the last conversations we had was about drum corps and that night. I am so appreciative to have been able to be involved in an activity so magical and powerful that it has changed my life.

An open letter to the pope

*This essay is in no way meant to ridicule or pass judgment on Christians, Catholics, or any other religious organization.

A coworker chose today to have a religious debate. There is no possible way to win an argument – especially a religious one – with a fanatical Christian. I gave him a brief summary of my feelings and beliefs and that was that, or at least that’s what I thought. For once and for all, I will provide a detailed account of my spiritual beliefs. These beliefs are non-negotiable. They are not open for discussion. They are my beliefs. If you disagree with them, that is your right to do so, and I will not judge you for your beliefs, so don’t judge me for mine. If that is your intention then this essay is not your cup of tea. That was your last chance to turn back. You’re committed now. I wish you luck.

I have been asked more times than I can count – if I believe in God. My answer to that question has changed over the years. My parents attempted to spiritualize me by placing me in a church youth group. This did not take. I tried to play nice but none of what they were teaching made sense. And all those bloody crosses, it was like a horror movie. Do you believe in God? The church mother’s would ask me. I haven’t met him yet. That response would send a note home with me and a request to keep me away. It was just as well. Life, to me was not about whether I believed in God. Life was about girls, writing, and music. As a matter of fact, my life still revolves around those three aspects. And yet the God question still baffles everyone. People continue to obsess over whether or not I believe in God. So let’s end that part of the debate right now. Do I believe in God? I believe that there is a supreme power in the universe. The word God confuses me though. God is not a name it’s a title. Who is God then? Listen closely people; we have no idea who God is. Did this God really create us in his image? According to the bible he did. But the bible is nothing more than an account of events that no one was around to witness. What’s the old Baptist adage? How do we know God is real – because the bible tells me so. The Christian bible was written by a group of men that wanted control over a religion that seemed to be getting out of control – rules to govern the spiritual world. The idea of God existed before the bible so I don’t really give the book much credit.
So, God exists, and you want me to believe. So why can’t we give this God a name. Well according to certain religions; Gods true name is unknown and to even whisper it would end the world as we know it. Come on! If God really is God then why would he or she care if someone utters his name? It’s simply more dogma to keep us afraid of the truth: the truth that we know nothing – absolutely nothing. And yet we defend this ignorance with our very lives. Mankind goes to war over their God. Holy wars have been fought for as long as that ridiculous book has existed. Our God, your God, their God. This is the mountain that bore the burning bush from which God spoke to Moses. So if you desecrate it with your ungodliness I will be forced to kill you in the name of God and sacrifice your soul to the blah blah blah.

Those that say they know God say so because they hope to know God. Their faith binds their soul to their beliefs. This is actually a glorious thing. To have a faith so strong that it doesn’t matter what is known and what is unknown. To me, that’s true spirituality. No church, no book of rules, just pure faith. I wish I could say that I had that strong of faith. But my faith – I’m sorry to say, requires proof. And I’m sorry Baptists; requiring proof does not make me an atheist.
So did I answer that question well enough? It’s still pretty vague huh? Let’s move on.

Jesus: no other name in history has caused more debate, started more wars, and incited more heated arguments then that of the alleged savior. I do not pretend to be a scholar. There is much I do not know. But there are events in the account of Jesus’s life that make me wonder. For example: The Immaculate Conception: This is such a laugh. Just look at the situation from Joseph’s point of view. I would’ve loved to be in the room during that conversation.
“My darling, I’m pregnant.”
“You’re what?”
The idea of a supernatural conception is fodder for the faithful. This idea was created by the same men who created the religion in the first place. Jesus was born from the line of kings. From David on his father’s side, and Aaron on his mother’s side; they did not need to make him a king – he already was one. What would be greater than being a king?
“I got it! I got it!” One of the men at the council would raise his hand and shout like a 3rd century Arnold Horshack. “Why don’t we make Jesus a God?” The other members would shout and throw tomatoes at the poor man.
“They already have a God you fool!”
The Council of Nicaea went on like this for days and weeks until they finally settled on the whole “son of God” story. And we bought it like a Chicago style hot dog.

A debate I entered into a few years ago, that was a little less heated and so much more enlightening, had me arguing with 3 Catholics, and two Christians. I was asked why The Roman Emperor Constantine would even care about Jesus. My answer was simplified into one word: power. The final objective of all organized religion is power and control. Don’t believe me? Look at the Spanish Inquisition: Throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, innocent men, women, and children were captured and tried for Heresy, a word that gave them power over all the land. If they were found guilty (and they were always guilty) they were killed. Thousands of people were slaughtered because they did not believe the same way or worship the same way. Since its inception, the Roman Catholic Church has been trying to gain control over the world. I know what you’re thinking. “This is the 21st century. The church isn’t doing that anymore.” Wanna bet? Run a Google search on The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. You will find that the former office of the Inquisition, founded by the Dominicans is still in operation and still out to do away with all of you sinners!!! Ha-ha, just kidding. The office does exist though.

And that brings me to the crucifixion. Jesus was tried and killed by his own people; ordered by the roman governor Pontius Pilate. I’m not so sure. This is the point where my belief over extends itself. We know that he was beaten, humiliated, and led through Jerusalem carrying the instrument of his own demise. Now, according to the biblical accounts Simon was compelled to carry the cross for Jesus as he walked towards Golgotha. What if Simon took Jesus’s place? Many theologians and biblical scholars have entertained the idea of an imposter on the cross. There’s no way of knowing for certain. It’s also highly likely that Jesus was taken down from the cross alive. In his book The Jesus Papers, author Michael Baigent claims that after having been taken down alive from the Cross, Jesus was removed from the tomb at night by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, then smuggled away to Egypt along with his Pregnant wife, Mary Magdalene. They moved to Narbonne in the south of France in AD 38, following unrest in Cairo, close to where they had settled (in or near the Temple of Onias). Other Jewish families had settled in Narbonne claiming descent from King David.

Baigent claims to have seen two papyrus documents – the “Jesus papers” – written in Aramaic, discovered in the Old City of Jerusalem during the 1960s. Baigent claimed these documents dated to AD 45 and were letters to the Sanhedrin from bani meshiha (“the Messiah of the Children of Israel”), defending himself against the allegation that he claimed to be the Son of God.

Baigent also claims these two papyrus documents were authenticated by the Israeli archaeologists Yigael Yadin and Naham Avigad, which distressed Pope John XXIII. The Pope asked Baigent’s friend to destroy these two papyrus documents, but he refused and said he would release them after 25 years. However, the documents have not been released because of the rift this information would create between Israel and the Vatican, also creating a revivalism of Anti-Semitism.

Get all that?

I would like it noted for the record that I am not inspired by Dan Brown. He’s a wonderful storyteller but these ideas were in my head long before he wrote the Da Vinci Code.

Once this discussion with my coworker had concluded I walked away, only to find this person talking to other people about me. He’s going to Hell. Perhaps I am. At least I will be going there having searched for the truth instead of blindly accepting the lies as they’ve been told to you. I said this to him. Now all the Christians are coming out of the woodwork to pray over me.

In conclusion: I believe in a higher power. Who or what that higher power is I don’t know – I guess I’ll find out soon enough. I find the historical Jesus very fascinating. He was an intelligent and charismatic leader who found himself with a target on his back. That has happened to many world leaders. It is my belief that Jesus lived well beyond his 60th birthday. Whether he survived the crucifixion or escaped the city prior to it. I believe he was married, and his wife was Mary Magdalene – who happened to be pregnant at the time of the crucifixion. His decedents walk the earth today – and they know who they are.