I still have to remind myself that it was only seven days ago today that the words “FTX Standing Rock” entered my mind.
So much has happened since then.
Let me share with you a couple of those stories.
As I wrote before, I love details.
Especially ones that have to do with planning FTX events.
Picking a bakery is a big one.
You see, it HAS to be a bakery.
I can’t just go to a bread aisle in a grocery store and see what they have.
The bread is the foundation on which I can build my love around.
Over the years Challah bread has stood out time and again as my favorite to make French Toast with.
So this past Monday morning I called one of the few bakeries in Bismarck, North Dakota.
They are a lovely family run company but sadly could not accommodate making 100 loaves of bread on such short notice and over a major holiday as well.
So I went to google maps and zoomed out to find the next city along my route.
Rapid City, South Dakota.
I googled, yelped and did the internet search dance until I found “Great Harvest Bread”.
I rang them up and asked if they made Challah as I couldn’t find it on their site.
They did, once a week, and were happy to bake 100 loaves for our event.
But unfortunately they are closed on Thanksgiving and the Friday after.
What to do, what to do? I plan to drive thru South Dakota on Thanksgiving day and I needed that bread!
I humbly asked the owner Marsha if there was ANY possible way she could open up for me on Thanksgiving so I could pick up the bread.
I apologized in advance for even asking but I told her I had to at least try.
There was a pause on the phone and then a laugh as she said “Sure. I live 10 minutes away. Just don’t do it during my dinner!”
The next day I was on to purchasing the fruit.
Strawberries, blueberries, bananas and oranges.
Buying fruit off season is not always an easy task.
But buying this much fruit in a state where I know no one also leads to the questions of where do I wash it and refrigerate it?
Some more of those pesky little details I love so much.
My lady Brandy was wise enough to have the idea that we should stay in a hotel that has a kitchenette. That way we would have two sinks in the room to wash all the fruit.
(Why haven’t I thought of it in the past 13 years of the gang?!)
Ok but where to store it?
Fruit can go bad quickly (as seen in FTX Auckland New Zealand back in 2008) and a kitchenette fridge sure won’t be large enough to store the 30 pounds of blueberries, 100 pounds of strawberries, 130 pounds of oranges and 320 pounds of bananas we are getting.
I brought up a map image of the hotel and did a 360.
Right across the street was a local North Dakota grocery store!
So I called them up and got Matt, the produce manager, on the phone.
“No problem, I can order all that fruit for you.” he said in his North Dakota accent.
And then my brain stumbled upon a solution to my refrigeration problem.
Again as nervous as I was to ask the bakery to open on Thanksgiving I asked Matt if I could pick up the fruit on Friday the 25th, wash it at my hotel across the street and then bring it back to refrigerate in the market’s fridge overnight.
“Of course! No problem!!”
(Again, why hadn’t I thought of this before!? Store the fruit where you bought it!!)
But another detail rose to the surface.
“Matt, I need to pick this fruit up at 5:30am the next morning to make it to Standing Rock. Will that be possible?”
“Of course! We open at 5am!”
That’s the only word I can think of. Unbelievable. The planning of this FTX has fallen into place over the past week with story after story after story like the two above.
I can honestly tell you it wasn’t about money for those two people.
It was simple and honest kindness.
Kindness to a stranger with a kind of strange idea.
Marsha and Matt. Two people connected to a larger story. As we all are.
We’re all in the details.
*Please see updated flyer with new location information. Please share.*
To join us on the rest of our journey follow us on:
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram: @ftxgang
#ftxstandingrock #frenchtoastandhugs #ftxgang
French Toast And Hugs Website
FTX (French Toast & Hugs) Standing Rock Invitation – FTX #21
Saturday November 26th, 2016 Oceti Sakowin Camp, Cannon Ball, North Dakota
Starting At Approximately 8am
That’s the average amount of time it takes me to plan an FTX (French Toast & Hugs) event.
“Why so long?” I’ve been asked many times before.
I would rattle off some information about the details required, the location scouting needed, the food storage and the transportation of it all.
But the hidden truth is that’s just who I am.
I’m the guy that can stare at a horizon for hours and days.
I’m the guy who will spend weeks, maybe months, working on each FTX Soundtrack. And even after I’ve picked the tracks I’ll then wear headphones and sample each release of the same song to listen for which one has been mixed best.
They say the devil is in the details.
I don’t know about that but I know I sure put my heart into them.
Which is why my gang has been shocked to learn that our next FTX is in less than two weeks!
You read that right.
I’m attempting to do something that takes me four months in less than two weeks.
Last Friday, November 11th, I was preparing to go to sleep when three words entered my mind without warning.
FTX Standing Rock
As most know, the Standing Rock Sioux have been holding their ground against an oil pipeline being constructed thru their sacred land, under both the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and dangerously close to Lake Oahe.
When that pipeline breaks, as they have proven repeatedly to do, it will destroy their water supply.
But not just theirs, it will also destroy the water supply of 18 million people that live off of those rivers and lakes.
Just the very construction of the pipeline will desecrate their sacred lands.
Those are our lands too.
This is our country.
This is our world.
And there are millions of ways we can take it back from the faceless corporations, governments and people who are deaf and blind from their fear, hatred and greed.
We can treat each other with love by speaking our own personal truth without anger or hate.
We can treat each other with love by listening to another’s truth.
We can reach for understanding.
I don’t believe, I KNOW, that there is nothing more powerful than unconditional love.
And we must muster up all our will and strength to act accordingly.
I don’t know about you but I’m tired of being bullied.
Bullied by the corporations, governments and people that believe in a power other than love.
The Standing Rock Sioux are standing for us.
All of us.
Let’s stand with them.
Let’s let them know they are not alone.
If you can come, then please come.
If you can or can’t come, please share this letter and flyer because I will need help.
I can’t do it alone. And I never have had to.
You’ve proven to me time after time that we are all one.
So please join me, in heart, in mind, in body on November 26th as we feed all we can to the world warriors at Oceti Sakowin Camp.
Four months into two weeks. Not a problem.
On November 11th I heard a voice in my head that said “FTX Standing Rock”.
These past five days I’ve realized the voice I heard was yours.
May 15th, 2016
FTX Paris (Pain Perdu Et Câlins) Speech
On October 11th of last year my best friend died.
Her name is Daisy Mae and she changed my life forever.
Sixteen years ago she and her sisters were abandoned in the trash and found by people with kinder hearts.
Daisy, a brown eyed little puppy, was then adopted by two people who are dear to my heart. I can remember clearly the day I first met her.
I walked into her new home and this brown ball of energy and wonder barreled over to me.
She looked up at me with her deep dark brown eyes and clearly asked where I had been all this time as she and I were of course the best of friends.
In that moment my life took a sharp turn. Not left or right.
My life took a turn up.
At that time I had been living most of life with a black and thick hatred for myself.
I don’t know.
Why do any of us hurt ourselves?
Why do we believe our lies?
Two years later I was visiting my Daisy and she asked me why I had not been adopted off of the streets into a loving family as she had?
To her I was a quality puppy and also her best friend.
I told her I was working on it but I was shy and scared to open and risk my fragile heart.
I could tell opening her heart to others was never a risk for Daisy but she understood her friend was troubled and alone and she wanted to help.
So she offered some sage street advice.
“What you need to do is start a gang. That way while you’re on the cold hard streets no one will mess with my pal.”
It made sense to me.
And having Daisy (a self proclaimed brown belt ninja) in a gang with me would be a powerful ally.
I asked her what we should call our little gang and recommended my favorite breakfast that my mother made me when I was a boy. French Toast. Or as you call it Pain Perdu.
She agreed French Toast was a good choice as it was brown (the color of love according to Daisy) and tasty and made you feel loved and safe.
Just like her favorite thing in the world did – Hugs.
And with that one conversation the French Toast and Hugs Gang was born.
FTX for short.
Time passed and with Daisy as my friend I gradually began to open my heart to more and more people. Some of those people joined our gang and we began to travel the world together.
Feeding people French Toast and giving them Hugs.
Only now can I see clearly what Daisy had planned for me all along.
What Daisy gave to me.
Have you ever looked into someone’s eyes and seen total love and acceptance for who you are even if you can’t see who you are yourself?
That was my Daisy.
An abandoned kid from the street whose heart stayed soft.
There is an incredible strength in softness.
There is an incredible braveness in kindness.
What are our hearts but seeds of love?
The earth around them can grow hard and filled with the rocks and weeds of bad memories.
But Daisy knew that if you have a friend, just a single friend, who will water and garden the earth around your heart it will grow into the most beautiful of flowers.
A flower of light.
And she should know. After all she was a Daisy.
Which is why when we met sixteen years ago she was so very happy.
Because she had found her friend.
Two days before she passed away last October I went to visit her one last time.
Her bones rippled under her thin brown fur and her nose was cracked and dry as she panted and lay on her side unable to stand on her own.
Her breath was metallic and came in and out in hard and soft puffs.
Her body was shutting down and starving itself.
But her eyes were still clear, brown and present.
And her eyes saw her friend.
It was then that a miracle happened.
She wagged her tail, stood up, drank some water and then she held me.
I will never forget this monumental act of unconditional love.
I held her for as long as I could and I told her that my love for her would last forever.
I arrived in a cold and grey Paris two months later.
A hollow shell of a man.
Not only had my best friend passed but six others in the past year.
Even with my Gang, even with the teachings of love Daisy gave me I was lost.
“Lost” in French is perdu.
“French Toast” is simply translated as “lost bread”.
Which is how you see me now.
But then I met you.
All of you.
The French people.
And you watered my heart.
There is a softness here I have not seen anywhere else in the world.
There is a kindness here that I have never felt.
Here strangers care for strangers.
Here people share love for refugees.
I have been one of those strangers held up by another when I fell down the Metro stairs.
I have been protected by two elderly French men and their small dog when a poor lost drunken man threatened me.
I have begun once again to bloom.
And for that I thank you.
All of the people you meet here today have flowers in their hearts.
Some of their flowers need help.
Maybe some French Toast.
Maybe a Hug.
Let’s tend to them and to each other.
That was Daisy’s lesson to us all.
This FTX is dedicated to Jasmine June, Gary Sibley, Uncle Mike, dear sweet Lucy, gentle Ben, lovely Betty, Bryce Carroll-Coe and my little boy Teen.
This FTX is for Daisy.
When you get inducted into the French Toast and Hugs Gang you get a number. And it is yours for life.
Daisy and I shared our number.
It is the number 1.
FTX (French Toast & Hugs) Paris Invitation – FTX #20
Sunday May 15th, 2016
Behind Club “Glazart”
7-15 Avenue De La Porte De La Villette, 75019 Paris
Starting At 8am
September 11th, 2015
I get an email from an old friend, Scott.
Subject line: “Bonjour!”
Inside was a short but cryptic note asking if I wanted to serve French Toast….
The first time I found myself walking around Paris was in 2011. I was lucky enough to be working in London and took the train to Paris to visit my friend Alex for the weekend. She showed me around all the sites a first timer would probably go see: the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, pastry shops!
I remember standing in front of Notre Dame Cathedral and wondering if I would ever get to do an FTX (French Toast & Hugs) event here. What were the chances a small town guy from New Jersey would be here in Paris once let alone twice?
But in 2013 I was back. I was fortunate enough again to be working on an international show and one of the places we shot was in Paris! We were here for only about a week which was a far cry less than the four months it usually takes me to prepare an FTX. And so I just enjoyed the city and was on my way. Never once thinking I would be back here again.
Even as a small boy I never was one to expect more from life than what I’ve already received. I figured you enjoy what you have as much as you can and that’s pretty much that.
But life has a way of challenging us.
I feel what it challenges most is our hearts.
Since FTX Motor City took place in Detroit on September 14th of 2014 I’ve lost seven people close to me.
With each loss I tried my best to deal with it but another and then another and then another would happen. It is now at the point where I don’t really know what to do as I am so backlogged with grief.
And so when Scott wrote me about French Toast in France my immediate reaction was joy.
Joy not only to do French Toast in the country of its namesake (it is called pain perdu here which translates to “lost bred”, something I have been this past year and a half). But also joy for the opportunity to give again. It may sound like it should be the opposite but in truth when I am given the opportunity to do an FTX I am grateful because they fill me so much. They are four months of work and planning but in those few hours we hand strangers unconditional love I can’t imagine a person receiving more than me.
It is a healing time.
I left for Paris on December 26th, 2015 and said goodbye to my lovely wife Brandy and our two older pups Greta & Teen.
Shortly after being here Teen passed away as old age took its toll.
His passing has hollowed me out like an old tree in the woods.
I found myself unable to push forward to my goal of FTX Paris.
The weather was cold with rain and snow and wind.
The city was crowded and loud and there was nothing I wanted to do more than hide in my apartment.
Time passed and my friends Julien, Sophie, and Scott’s passion towards this FTX kept me moving forward.
I would walk early Sunday mornings trying to find the perfect place to do it but could never find more than a handful of people out. I have never in the previous 19 events had so much trouble in finding a location.
How can you give a gift when there is no one to receive it?
Because of recent attacks the city’s police force walks around in body armor and carry automatic weapons. There is a feeling of fear here that the locals told me grew and fed off of the November Bataclan attack.
Where would I go to find people and if I did what were the chances I wouldn’t be shut down by the police? I felt like giving up.
But it was Sophie who found the key.
I find there is much to be proud of in the French people.
They are kind and caring to strangers, on the metro they give up their seats to the old or mothers.
They are affectionate in the way they show you they love you with the gentle pats on the arm or the greeting kiss on your cheeks.
They took in refugees when many countries would not.
There are a few grass root organizations who feed the many refugees and homeless people here in Paris. I write many people but if you were to walk the streets of Paris you would only find one or two at any given place. I believe that’s because the police don’t allow them to congregate. Instead they are scattered and only are found in large numbers when they walk to the pre-planned places they know will have free meals.
Early on we tried to contact these organizations to ask if they had any recommendations of where we could do FTX Paris but never heard back.
Sophie found a website that listed a place that handed out lunches on Saturdays and Sundays and on March 20th she, Scott, & I made our way there.
Far from the beautiful parks of Paris we found ourselves in the 19th district in front of a graffiti covered former bus stop and now music club “Glazart”. Mere footsteps from the local police station.
Behind the club we saw a line of mostly men standing in front of what looks like two large shipping containers stacked one on top of the other. Sophie bravely went up to the door and asked who was in charge. Without question we were let in to find a clean and well used cafeteria being set up for that day’s lunch.
People were bustling around and we were asked to wait. A few minutes later an older man wearing a well used brown leather jacket came up to us. He had those clear piercing Clint Eastwood eyes but with an easy smile to accompany them. I have always been a fan of World War 2 movies and to me he felt like the French Resistance fighters James Coburn meets at the end of the film “The Great Escape”.
His name is Jean-Francois and this was the moment everything changed for me.
Jean-Francois is one of a few people who run l’Un Est l’Autre which translates to “the one is the other”. A belief I strongly hold to.
In minutes, without knowing us, without knowing what FTX really was or even my legal name as I was introduced to him as Toast he offered to let us do our FTX with them!!!!
He offered to open his cafeteria early on the day we do it so people can choose to eat inside or out.
He offered to have Fodil, the man who buys their supplies, to drive me to pick up FTX fixings at a discount restaurateur supply store that you can only get into with their card.
He put us under the blanket of their organization so that there was zero possibility of being shut down by the police.
And best of all, the people will come to us as close to 600 do each Saturday and Sunday when they get their lunch from l’Un Est l’Autre.
The one is the other.
That’s damn right.
It is with great happiness that I invite you to our 20th French Toast & Hugs event: FTX Paris (Pain Perdu Et Câlins)!!!!
I know many of you won’t be able to make it but that shouldn’t stop you from being a part of it.
We will have live updates on the day on our facebook page so sign up and check in on May 15th. We plan to start at 8am Paris time.
FTX is free but if you would like to support the good people and good works of l’Un Est l’Autre please click the link below.
Please know l’Un Est l’Autre never asked for me to do this (and don’t even know that I am) but it feels right. Just like finding their place did that Sunday in March.
(When they ask for country on the donation page the United States is “Etats-Unis” and the United Kingdom is “Royaume-Uni”.)
It’s a funny thing. Every FTX had the location of where we were going to do it as the artwork because to me the location was always the heart of the event.
Every event except this one.
After meeting Jean-Francois and his team I realized that to me they were the heart of FTX Paris. They were the location I was looking for all along.
So much has happened these past two years.
The highest of highs and the lowest of lows to be true.
As always, it takes me a long time to get how I’m feeling on the inside to make its way to the outside.
But now, on the nearing of the end of our 2015, I sit outside in the Ojai sun with a Bundaberg ginger beer and know I am as ready as I’ll ever be.
Over the past two years we’ve lost some stone cold gang members but we have gained some too.
As I wrote on October 11th, we lost our co-founder, the one who put “stone cold” into FTX, our forever lovely brown eyed girl Daisy Mae.
But is lost the right word?
Some days, most days, I feel lost without her and the word seems to fit. But that’s just personal to me and not representative of the good she’s given our world.
What Daisy has given our world, love and friendly meals to thousands upon thousands, is forever.
How can any man say an animal, any animal, is less than us when they learn of her?
How can they not be inspired?
Daisy was and is FTX 1. And wherever FTX 1 went FTX 0 was sure to follow.
FTX 0 is our pale little deaf girl Jasmine June but Daisy let me know long ago her true name is Alien Kinkaid (more on that later!).
Jasmine was said to be a little slow and in her deafness approached life in her own unique way.
Jasmine loved the feel of the bushes on her face.
Jasmine would sit and stare for hours at her friend the dryer.
Jasmine would make sounds never heard before on earth.
And for good reason.
According to Daisy’s legend, Jasmine (Alien Kinkaid), crashed to our blue green brown planet in a spaceship similar in appearance to a regular clothes dryer. Alien was rescued by some good folk but in truth Daisy let me know she was adopted so Daisy could keep an eye on our confused little space wanderer.
Daisy recommended to me, the other FTX 1, that we let Alien into our Gang as FTX 0 so all of us could keep an eye out for her. Zero. A number that doesn’t seemingly add anything but over time both Ms Mae & I realized she added quite a bit.
She added love and companionship to Daisy’s life and Daisy to hers.
When Daisy passed into the mystery on October 11th Jasmine followed her one and only true friend a few weeks later on December 2nd.
I know that I will miss these two girls for the rest of my life.
To me, forever, 1+0 will equal the love of sisters.
Sisters and a dryer shaped spaceship.
Until I can see you again, rest easy dear girls.
I wrote back in my FTX Motor City wrap up about the incredible Gary Sibley.
Gary was a teacher to autistic students in the Detroit area as well as a filmmaker. I met him thru a friend and without hesitation Gary single handedly spearheaded FTX Motor City into becoming the success that it was. Choosing the location, where to get good local bred, sending out flyers to his friends and students and even standing next to our FTX 5 as the police threatened to shut us down.
Gary passed away April 23rd from heart failure. Far too soon and far too young. I never was able to give Gary his shirt but I will give him his number now. Like all our numbers they are yours and yours alone. His is 914, September 14th if you will, the date of FTX Motor City. I dedicate this day now and forever to the man who gave that day meaning to me.
Only once before have I dedicated the date of an FTX to a person, without whom the FTX would never have happened.
And that person is my dear friend Jess (Jessy) Harrison.
I met this Aussie lady in 2012 when I flew out to Namibia to work on Fury Road.
That was easily the most physically demanding job I’ve ever done. We worked 5-6 days a week without a break for food or bathrooms or sometimes it felt like even for air. I was under the gun to put it lightly to plan and organize what was and is the most complicated FTX ever.
And that’s where Jessy came in.
I soon realized I wasn’t going to be able to pull this one off on my down days.
I asked Jess, who worked mostly in our office in the town of Swakopmund, if she’d be open to handling a few FTX tasks. Without hesitating she agreed.
But a few tasks was an understatement as I dropped on her desk pages upon pages of things to do before September 30th, 2012 – FTX Namibia.
Jess did them all with a smile and a happiness that fed directly into my exhausted heart. Having a partner, someone you can count on especially when times are their roughest, means everything. That’s what FTX is all about. And that was what Jessy was and is to me. The 300 orphans we fed that day didn’t really know who the true angel was that day. But I present her to you now, FTX 930, Jess Harrison!!
Besides Gary there were three other new recruits at our FTX Motor City in 2014.
FTX ROLL CALL!!!!
FTX 69 – Kurt Jackson. I met Kurt in Detroit on the job but he’s a Canadian thru and thru. His accent always made me smile but it’s his irreverent sense of humor that made him the perfect pick for 69! (I danced around who to give the number to for years but when I met Kurt I knew my dance was done).
FTX 72 – Eric Luling. I’ve known Eric for over 8 years. Again I met him on a job but I knew right away he was someone to keep close. A perfectionist and a rebel, you can always count on Eric to get the job done right and to not back down from the man.
FTX 73 – Jami Garbett. I met Jami thru my lovely Brandy and was hooked right away to her shot straight from the heart smile and her sarcastically sweet sense of humor. When I found out Jami was going to be able to attend FTX Motor City from her Ohio home I had her shirt made ready and on the day I gave it to her right then and there.
And that brings us to our last two recruits.
I met Rachel in 2011 in Malta. I had just been married and it was hard, to say the least, to leave my home so quickly and to resume work. I remember clearly the hot and humid day I met her as she prepped cameras for our show. Being me, I had about 1 billion work questions to ask her while she was trying to do her real job. I can be frustrating and relentless when I want to get something done but she took all my questions with a smile. That day I wrote her name down on a piece of paper so I wouldn’t forget it. I still have it now. Little did I know I was meeting one of the greatest friends I would ever meet. That job was a tough one full of toxic people but Rachel just kept shining thru. Together we were unstoppable. We still are.
Her boyfriend (now fiancé!) Freddie was kind enough to surprise her with her gang colors in their London home. FTX please welcome our very own tough and soft roller derby gal – FTX 77, Rachel Clark!!
Our final recruit is my sweet girl, the redbone coonhound Greta Garbone. Now if you think I’m playing favorites you’d be wrong. Greta has been in my life since 2009 but she didn’t make it in the gang till this year. What with the passing of our good dane Audrey (FTX 59) last year Greta went from an it’s all about me type of kid to an orange-brown love bug. She’s still a little all about her but a lot less now. She’s stepped into her big sister’s empty shoes and I think she finds they fit her nicely. Welcome little one, FTX 67, with her gold glitter FTX tag – the first of its kind.
Hard to believe just with these new recruits how international we really are. But Canada, USA, England and Australia are just names someone else made up – FTX is the land I come from.
I never thought it would actually happen but it is.
2016 will be the year of FTX Paris!!!!
That’s right. French Toast & Hugs in FRANCE!!!!
I will be leaving in a little over a week for Paris and will be there till sometime in June. The only thing that makes leaving home bearable is planning these events. As usual, I’m a bit nervous about whether or not I will be able pull this one off. With the recent attack I’m being told no. But I’ve been told no each and every time. My hope is to do it in April or May and to invite as many orphanages as I can. I’ll keep you posted once I know more but if you have ever had a hankering to go to Paris I would love to see you in your gold and white shirts there on that day.
In case you’re curious this letter was written to Peter Bradley Adam’s song “One Foot Down”.
that brown is the color of love.
that sharing a meal can change the world.
that none of us have to ever go it alone.
i added the french toast and she added the hugs.
and together we set out to turn strangers into family.
the best of families. one born of trust, respect and love.
like john and yoko, daisy and i are equals.
so much so that we both share the same FTX gang number of 1.
in our world 1+1 always equaled 1.
today my lovely brown friend passed on from our world.
some might think of her as only a dog but they would be wrong.
she is on par with gandhi and king and peace pilgrim.
with her open heart daisy connected hundreds of people the world over and fed thousands upon thousands.
more than anyone i have ever met, daisy changed my life for good.
she will always be FTX 1.
as will i.
but today i feel less.
This was written to Sharon Van Etten’s cover of Bruce’s “Drive All Night” on repeat for hours and hours.
September 14th, 2015
FTX (French Toast & Hugs) Motor City – FTX #19 Wrap Up
What a strange concept we humans have made up.
We use it to track our minutes and our days and the minutia of what seems to matter at the moment.
But how often do we stand back and view it for what it really is?
For me time is an ocean we all float in.
It ebbs and flows and we have no choice but to move with it.
Sometimes it is calm and the sky is the softest of blues and the sun is warm on our faces as we rest on its surface.
And sometimes it rages with silver tipped waves and the sky is as black as the water below as we scream air in and out of our lungs.
September 14th, 2014
One year ago today I was living in Michigan for work.
On this day my temporary home was filled with loving people who among many others were preparing to descend on Hart Plaza in Detroit as we emptied out our hearts and pantries to the people of the Motor City.
French Toast & Hugs was in full effect!
That was one year ago today but for me the time between then and now has been lost in that raging black sea of memories and emotions.
For on the evening of September 8th, 2014 my wife Brandy and I had to say goodbye to our soul mate, our love, our friend, FTX Gang Member #59 – Audrey The Good Dane.
More than anything else, for me, she was and is my daughter.
Audrey, a sweet and funny Great Dane, was diagnosed with stomach cancer not long after I left our home to work in Michigan. Brandy, as always when I am away, had to take on the brunt of the work. The medications and the comforting. The physical and emotional heavy lifting.
But I was away from them. I was stuck in time. Because I couldn’t physically be there I was trapped in the last peaceful memory I had of us all before leaving.
I have a deep love and respect for all living things.
I have the stubborn belief that we are all the same.
I refuse to accept that one person is better than another or one species is above another.
To accept that you are better or worse than another creature limits you from seeing the value of all life, including yours.
For are we all not out here swimming?
Losing Audrey was not losing a dog.
It was losing an invisible limb that I will always feel tingling and wondering where it went.
You get what you give in this life and when I love I give everything I have.
One year ago today was the culmination of almost four and a half months of work to prepare FTX Motor City.
Happy work. Joyous work.
For I never truly feel as close to perfect as I do on the day, the moment of an FTX.
Here is my journey.
I arrived in Detroit on April 28th, 2014 to wintery skies and grey sleet lined roads.
Chris O’Hara, a Michigan friend I met in 2012 while we were working in Africa of all places, recommended I connect with his close friend Gary Sibley who made low budget films as well as taught autistic kids how to make their own. Chris told me Gary was just the guy to help me plan FTX Motor City and Chris was right.
I met Gary at Dino’s Lounge on May 24th. I had never met Gary before and had no idea what he would look like. As I sat at the bar, weather beaten cowboy hat in hand, I scanned the room looking each person in the eye to see if there was a spark of recognition. But no one stood out as the voice I had heard on the phone.
And then he walked in.
A beaming smile of joy filled his face. Gary, a 51 (at the time) year old African American with a pronounced limp, a bit of a belly and at least to me (a New Jersey kid who doesn’t know much about much) a shorter version of Kid from Kid ‘n’ Play’s vertical hairdo.
In other words he looked like a big happy kid.
It is fair to say I liked him right off the bat.
Over the next three months I met Gary weekend after weekend as we prepared for FTX Motor City. He gave me moral support, insider Detroit wisdom of where and how to hold the event, his dedication that he would bring as many of his students to the event as he could but most importantly he gave me his time.
Yes time. Or what we make of it. In truth what is time but life? Gary gave generously of his life. And it seems to me he did this with everyone.
My mom, FTX #70, and my younger sister FTX #55 (don’t think I’m not getting a kick by calling them by their numbers and not their names!) came to visit me for a weekend in late August before FTX.
FTX #55 has Down’s Syndrome and also difficulty walking. August 16th, 2014 was something of a special day in Detroit. It was the day of their annual Woodward Dream Cruise where muscle cars and other classics drive up and down Woodward Avenue showing off some of the best art Detroit or any other city ever gave to this world.
Gary, as was his way, offered to share the day with us and show mom and sis around. As the gorgeous steel girls of Detroit rumbled past us I was captivated for I have a deep deep love of Detroit muscle. Gary offered to sit with my mom and sis as I wandered around to see this once in a lifetime event. I was grateful.
It wasn’t until that evening that I found out from the internet that that day was Gary’s birthday. His 52nd.
He never said a word. He just shared his day with us with a quiet grace.
May 28th, 2014
Brandy & my third wedding anniversary.
Brandy woke that day to Audrey vomiting and refusing to eat.
Scared to take her to the vet and something horrible be discovered on such a special day my brave wife still took our Aud in.
Less than a week later we learned that she had cancer in her stomach.
June 5th, 2014
The biggest ball of cancer the surgeon had ever seen was removed from our good girl. The surgeon tells us we caught it just in time.
June 19th, 2014
As with our last FTX, FTX Namibia in 2012, I wanted to dedicate this FTX to kids. More specifically, kids without parents.
In Africa they are called orphans and there are more than I could ever imagine – on the outskirts of the small town I was living in at the time there were thousands.
In America they are called foster kids. We have state run programs to make sure they have homes and food and clothes and schooling. But they still are missing what the African kids were, what matters most – a stable family.
My goals were to invite as many of the kids that could go to FTX Motor City – a family in its own right, and to raise donations for them as well. Whether a kid needed a new backpack or sneakers I believed that first and foremost what they would get is that someone out there cared about them. That they weren’t alone.
I contacted one of the oldest and highest regarded foster care agencies of Detroit – The Ennis Center For Children.
I was plenty nervous calling them as I was concerned I would appear as the stranger I truly was asking them to take me at my word that I only had the best intentions.
I find that in the west we have a suspicious nature.
It must be something taught just as I find often in the east it is not.
When I told the locals in Namibia that I wanted to hand out free French Toast and Hugs to local boys and girls their reply was “Well of course you do.” It just made sense to them that someone would want to help someone else.
That isn’t always the reaction I get over here.
I rehearsed and rehearsed what I wanted to say to whoever answered their phone. I would tell them that I had done this eighteen times before all over the world and even though I would have no permits that I could be relied on. That I was accountable. That all I wanted was just this one moment – to give to this special city and to these brave kids.
And so it was with a desperate heart that I called.
My call was directed to Jennifer King and in that moment I forgot everything I had rehearsed!
I stuttered as I am apt to do and I rambled as I am also apt to do in a winding road of thoughts and emotions.
When I finally came up for air she paused and her heart said:
“Well of course you do.”
Sight unseen, she leapt completely and fully into my dream!
She told me she would talk to the President of The Ennis Center, Bob Ennis, and see what he thought.
I immediately wrote my new brother Gary to which he immediately replied:
“Keep me in the loop! I can reach out to more organizations. Let’s blow the roof off this event!”
And even now, one year to the day, I find tears in my eyes to think of their love.
Turns out Bob Ennis loved the idea and Jennifer King and Erin Covert of The Ennis Center put the word out to all the various foster agencies in the Detroit area about FTX Motor City.
Days and weeks passed as I locked in the location (where could be better to share our hearts than in Hart Plaza?) and found the local bakery, farm and gelateria that we would purchase our challah bred, eggs and gelato from.
I put the word out to people who could or couldn’t make it that day that we were raising donations for these kids. And boy did those donations ever come in!
The people in my office had to start storing them in another room as they began to reach to the ceiling.
And Audrey, my good girl, weeks past her surgery began to eat once more, growing happy and strong and my heart grew with her.
Jennifer & Erin told me they weren’t sure how many foster kids would actually be at FTX as it was up to their foster parents to take a Sunday off to bring them down. There was no judgment. The foster parents were doing their best and lives always get busy. “No matter” I told them, each FTX turns out exactly as it needs to be.
August 8th, 2014
The previous year, 2013, I had the rare fortune to actually be home on my birthday. Brandy, knowing how much I love being with our family, planned for Audrey, our coonhound Greta and us to stay at a small inn along the Pacific ocean. We took walks on the beach with them and ran and played and laughed.
It was the greatest birthday I have ever had.
But August 8th, 2014 arrived and this time I found myself working. It was a long, hot and tiring day and I told my friends that I’d prefer to go home and rest rather than celebrate. I called Brandy as I was leaving work and couldn’t help but hear the silence in her voice.
“Audrey’s cancer is back.”
And just like that the sky went dim and I found myself alone in a raging sea.
Salt water choking me and mixing with my tears.
It was the worst birthday I have ever had.
Audrey got progressively sicker as her cancer caused her to starve herself.
Brandy, my poor lady, had been thru this before you see as her mother passed from stomach cancer in 2012 in our home months after we married.
She too starved to death.
August 30th, 2014 to September 2nd, 2014
I flew home for one last visit with our girl.
Oh dear God how thin she was but her eyes were still a puppy’s.
We did everything she loved to do.
Frolics on the beach.
And my favorite – lying down on the floor with her and holding her close.
As I did I fell asleep with Audrey, my arms draped around her chest.
Softly I felt a touch and woke to see Brandy wrapped around Audrey’s back.
We held her in a circle of love.
I promised Audrey I would be back soon as I closed the front door.
September 8th, 2014
I will never forget that Monday.
It was a hard night of work.
Due to the nature of where we were working I had to be the only one from my department out there for most of the night. I spent it running back and forth down a muddy road carrying equipment.
Once Audrey got sick Brandy & I made a deal. While I was working if anything important came up that she had to email me about she would put what it was in the subject line. This was because my internet would often go down and if I saw a subject line about our girl and was unable to open the message I would go into a state of panic.
I finished work the morning of September 9th alone except for my co-worker and friend James. I was covered in mud and exhausted as I checked my email before leaving for home.
There was an email from Brandy.
Subject: I’m sorry to have to do this via email
It had been sent at 4:54pm the previous day.
Audrey was done. She was telling Brandy it was time for her to go.
I didn’t get the message till 6:24am the next day.
I had worked thru the last moments of her life.
I looked up at James and told him my girl was gone.
While Audrey was struggling for life Brandy and I decided it would be best if Brandy stayed home in California to nurse her while I did FTX in Detroit on September 14th.
Now that Audrey was gone it was undecided if Brandy should come out.
How do you give when you feel so empty?
September 9th, 2014
Another email from Brandy.
Subject: Heidi and I are coming. :O)
How do you give when you feel so empty?
The answer is simple.
You get what you give. And you give what you get.
September 14th, 2014
And so here we are.
A long journey thru a very specific time.
The sun is full and the sky is blue. The air is crisp but not cold as we arrive at Hart Plaza. The perfect weather for grilling!
Hart Plaza – home to many Detroit concerts and events. I purposefully chose this day as there was nothing listed on the official Hart Plaza schedule. Since I didn’t have a permit I didn’t want to interfere with anyone that did.
I pulled our van near the iconic Joe Lewis sculpture (as seen on our FTX Motor City flyers) and got out. Gary was there along with some of his students – ready to go.
I made a mental note to myself that I would have to induct Gary into the FTX Gang with his own gang number one day soon.
The crew started to unload and carry the enormous amount of food we had across the street to the empty plaza.
I stood alone for a brief moment and looked around.
Here I was, so very aware of time. And the life it actually stood for.
Here I was knowing that Audrey would not die for me until I returned home three months later.
Here I was and I took the deepest breath I could.
Because I knew, somehow I knew, that I would be trying to stay afloat in that raging sea of grief and that each and every breath counts.
Turning I saw my friend Kurt, aptly numbered for his irreverent nature as FTX #69 and we laughed because what could we do but laugh?
Together we crossed into Hart Plaza.
I hung up a picture of Audrey in front of my grill and read my speech to the small crew that were assembled.
FTX Motor City was a slow burn. People came and went and even the cops came (and went thanks to FTX #5!) and all was well. That is until 10:30am!
Just as I was talking about packing it up early the entire Detroit Salvation Army showed up!
Unknown to me they had booked the plaza and were celebrating their organization along with a full marching band!!
I think they thought we were part of the Salvation Army and we fed every last one of them. The line stretched on for hours and at one point I looked up and saw that their marching band was facing us as they blasted into a full concert!
With the punctuated drum rhythms and the deep brassy horns I found myself grilling to even greater heights and speeds as the music took me over.
Bees swarmed us and danced around us as we picked them out of pools of syrup and whipped cream. Leaving us *mostly* unstung.
It was a true celebration of life as I battled each moment with the grief that tried to hold me under.
I could and can still feel the love in the faces of my gang.
Chris and Daisy with the gelato and Robin cutting the fruit.
Kyle in his chef uniform and Heidi staying near and close to Brandy.
And James, who was with me on that dreadful September 8th was there holding up pictures of my car Grace.
And Sandy and Paul and Amy and Eric and Jami and Carmine and Tricia and Kurt. Lovely Kurt walking up to complete strangers and telling them “So glad you could make it! We’ve been waiting for you!” and leading those poor confused people into our joyful celebration.
I looked and saw Brandy and she was smiling and laughing, loving and giving.
My dear wife who had lost the greatest love of her life less than a week before was filled with joy!!!!
She confided to me in later days that the love of that FTX got her thru those first few weeks without Audrey.
No greater miracle has FTX ever accomplished.
By the end of it all I was spent.
I had emptied out fully and was grateful for the privilege to do so.
And as we drove out of Hart Plaza I was aware that we were already becoming a memory.
But what a wonderful memory.
October 26th, 2014
Jennifer and Erin come to my Michigan home and pick up a wall of donations.
Days later I receive this letter from their founder – Bob Ennis
December 5th, 2014
But it didn’t quite feel like home.
Since September 8th, 2014 I find it hard to look people in the eye.
And so as I walk Greta around town I do so with my cowboy hat low on my eyes.
I look down and smile as I pass people hoping that will be enough.
Enough for them and enough for me.
April 23rd, 2015
Gary Sibley, my friend, my brother, passed away in the night from heart failure.
He was only 52.
He spent his last birthday with me and my mom and sis.
Gary, who never got his FTX number but will forever be in the gang.
Gary posted an image online the night before his death.
It is a clock face over which is written “The Clock Is Ticking”.
September 14th, 2015
It’s been a year and I still find it hard to look people in the eye.
The sea is calmer now but not entirely so.
But I feel something in myself stirring. A need, a calling to do it all over again.
One day I will look up again and I hope that on that day as I’m setting up my grill and music is in the air (hopefully a marching band) that on that day as I lift my head that I’m looking at you and that you are looking at me.
Because time is life and life is all we have and I want to share mine with you.
Of course we all know that toast loves Mad Max, if not then you probably don’t know toast.
But the story of toast working on Mad Max; Fury Road is something you may not know. An astounding testament to the kind of a person toast is, and even more so, how his succinct, beyond subtle way that he attracts those who “need” to be in the know. More words than necessary, but I hope it gets the point across.
I encourage toast to edit this post at will, but my understanding is that he wrote a letter to the director George Miller, of Mad Max: Fury Road. George Miller is also the director of the original Mad Max. Toast explained in the letter why he wanted to work on Fury Road, basically asking for a job.
If you are not in the film industry you might not understand that this kind of job hunting is as about absurd as walking into an Apple Store and thinking you are going to get a job as a genius. It just doesn’t work that way, but for toast, it did.
The movie was made in Namibia, Africa. There were not that many people brought in from the US as far as I know, so even more so is the fact the he basically got the job because he HAD to get the job because THAT is the way things happen when you hang around with TOAST. It is just a fact of life if you are a member or friend of a member of the world of ftx. It all works out.
My heart sings as I see images of toast attending the premiere of Fury Road all decked out to the nines with his lovely bride and none other than the baddest ride I have ever been in, for reals.
Here’s to you toast, a toast to a good friend and what’s more a person who I think transcends, period.
Oh, and whats that I see happening in the image from the Fury Road premiere? Some sort of official ftx hand salute, can we get confirmation, is this true, do we have an official hand gesture salute thingie?
I’m not from here but I feel like a part of me is Detroit.
The part that doesn’t give up.
The part that pushes forward, knowing and loving who I am but still wanting to be more.
The part that knows that community and friendship is stronger than any job or industry could hope to be. And in that friendship we will find our future.
The part that loves muscle cars.
I was born in August of ’71 and that very same month that my parents brought me home they also brought home a brand new Chevrolet Malibu Chevelle. She was a metallic green with a black vinyl roof and an AM/FM radio. On cold winter mornings in Jersey I would ask my parents if I could be the one to start her and wait with her as she warmed up. I remember pretending all alone on those mornings as my breath fogged the windshield that she was my car. I remember summers as she drove us around to the community pool. And I remember her saving my life when a station wagon ran a red light and smashed into us. Even then she kept running. Because you see, her heart was strong. Her heart was made and inspired here – by the people of Detroit.
I have my own girl now, the first car I ever bought. She’s a jet black 1972 Chevrolet Chevelle and her name is Grace. But in truth I didn’t really buy a car. I welcomed a new friend. I knew it the first time I sat in her and closed her door. It was a not so chilly Los Angeles night 11 years ago and as I turned the same style GM key as I had as a boy I knew I was once again complete. That my childhood friend was here once more.
And so I thank you Detroit because you have given more than you have gotten.
Which is why it is my honor to celebrate you today with FTX Motor City.
Our 19th event but one that I’ve been waiting for since that cold 70’s winter morning. It’s my way of saying ‘thank you’ because I am grateful.
Something I feel every single time I start Grace and hear her rumble back in return.
This FTX is dedicated to Mr. Jim Ellis who passed away from cancer the week I arrived here. He and his wife Nancy raised more stone cold FTX members than anyone else. I wrote him a letter during his final week here on earth but it didn’t arrive in time. My hope is that he hears this one now.
It is also dedicated to Mrs. Mimi Burdick. Another close friend who passed away a few weeks back. This gang would never exist without my having made a lifelong friendship with her son Geoff and his pup Daisy. You have changed my life Mimi dear. I send you my love on this very day.
And finally this FTX is dedicated to my baby girl Audrey, The Good Dane. What can I say about Audrey? She is FTX 59. She was there when love bloomed between her mom Brandy and me. She was the glue that cemented us together into a happy little family. This week she has ended her battle with cancer. I honestly cannot imagine a world without her. And I won’t have to. Because love never leaves. And love is what we are creating here today.
Audrey my dear dear girl – your daddy loves you, now and forever.
Ladies and gentlemen, please celebrate with me life – here and now.