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Not Alone, But With No One

I was the over-sized cargo shorts in the back row, on the aisle. I was the Fidel Castro shirt-jacket, pressed up tightly against the wall, eyes closed, mouthing every word. I apologize for playing so much air bass guitar, and so flamboyantly. I couldn’t help myself.

I was the shaggy haired guy too big to miss that you didn’t see. I was not alone, but with no one.

A few years before kids my age would learn of places called Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Khyber Pass Pub, at the time one of the best small music rooms in Philly, graciously booked an entire night of music dedicated to the bands on my fledgling record label. I giddily scooped up both of the city’s free weekly alternative rags on that Wednesday and Thursday to cut out the venue’s 1/4 page ads featuring their look-ahead show calendar. I tacked the black and white squares to my apartment wall, newsprint smudges of hubris on my pudgy 22-year-old fingertips, and stared at ‘MINDWALK RECORDS NIGHT’ for hours. It’s not like I had anything else to do. Not even the aggressiveness of typesetter’s caps-lock could dim the light that flooded into my heart. The legitimacy I didn’t know I craved had been, on a small scale, achieved. I mean, it was only a Wednesday night — my vanity was held solidly in check — but it was MY Wednesday night. The show was okay, the crowd decent for a midweek, and the music solid if unspectacular. It’s likely that no one else remembers being inside that room on that evening, and that’s okay, I have it stored away for safe keeping. My two brothers, both older than me, certainly don’t remember that Wednesday night, MINDWALK RECORDS NIGHT, because neither of them showed up. I had no expectations that either would walk through the pub’s door, a¬†mighty piece of oak that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Hobbit’s Shire. My siblings each lived less than a half an hour away from me standing inside the Khyber, just across the river in Jersey. But it wasn’t their kind of music and I wasn’t their kind of brother. I was not alone, but with no one.

In meeting the woman who’d later agree to become my wife, I found another adult with whom to root for teams and swoon over bands, to sit beside my cargo shorts in the back rows of art house movie theaters. Maybe even to make out with me back there. And now, decades removed from MINDWALK RECORDS NIGHT, and quite by accident, I’ve stumbled into a new band of brothers, drawn together not by blood or shared memories but by the universal experiences of being spit up upon, stumbling out of bed for midnight feedings, and stepping down on stray LEGO bricks in the darkness of night. We fancy ourselves storytellers, chronicling the oft disrespected path of modern fatherhood. We spin yarns, some sad, some funny, some irritating, and some game-changing. And once a year we brothers come together under the Dad 2.0 banner to be merry, talk, listen, and learn. Toasts are made, drinks flow, but no one is making out with anyone, at least not that I could see. Sometimes, while surrounded by those talented men, I feel that tinge of stranger again, that I am on the outside looking in, a foreigner in their land of fruit and honey, but these are guys quick to correct such misnomers. I am welcome and I am home. I am their kind of brother.

At the end of last month, we brothers gathered again, this time in the frenetic mayhem of the Big Easy. There, a few steps off Bourbon St on St Peters, is an American music landmark, Preservation Hall, and it is there that I had longed to be for so many years. Just before my phone died for the 3rd or 4th time during the weekend, I discovered that a few sets were scheduled with the Preservation Hall Allstar Band on the final night of the Summit. I considering heading there alone, quietly ditching the crew that would most certainly look to live it up in bars on Bourbon one last time as a fitting bon voyage to that mystical city. I wouldn’t have been terribly missed and I was more than accustomed to that kind of lovely but lonely night. Instead, I decided to be vulnerable and talk about the magic of Preservation Hall, a small room where real American music is still made for a fortunate few each and every evening. I told my fellow bloggers and authors and speakers that I was going to the late show, the 10:15pm set. I told them that it’s suggested you get in line at 9:30pm to ensure entrance for that last set. I was sure this would be the nail in the coffin, that no one would give up that much time to see and hear jazz in a tiny room with no bar, with me. In my experience, this whole exercise would amount to me talking too much, showing too much of the passion for music that burns inside me and that draws strange looks from those for whom such intensity is a stranger on a subway car. In my experience, I’d end up not alone but with no one.

Only, that’s not what happened at all. A big group, some 15 or so people from the Dad 2.0 Summit, made their way to Preservation Hall on that Saturday night after eating their final New Orleans meal in restaurants across the city. Each arrived on or shortly after 9:30pm — just as I’d said would be necessary. Each handed over $20 cash money at the door and took in one of the great American music experiences on offer in the whole of the country. One hundred people and the experience of a lifetime. Fifteen dad bloggers, speakers and authors and me inside a tiny landmark together. I was not alone, I was with my brothers.

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