Sunday, December 30, 2012

Life inside a fortune cookie

Sunday, December 30, 2012

We went Chinese during and after our trip to Scranton for Christmas this year, and since I live my life by fortune cookies – since I can see no real logic as might as well – I collected the combined fortunes as a kind of forecaster of the upcoming year.
In truth, they seem to verify what I already believe, and how I already live my life, reflecting how we all get ahead in the world – the basic building blocks of success.
I don’t mean success in money or power, those bits of fools’ gold most people seek, but the stuff that at the end of life, you can look back on and claim real victory.
This comes after a turbulent year, full of ups and downs, conflicts which I apparently won or lost depending upon whose ledger or daily planner you look at. Survival is often the only measure of winning anything, but as long as it is survival on your own terms.
In some ways, I rediscovered myself this year, starting out as a blind man after serious surgery only to have my eyes reopened to how the world really works, and how sadly we must play out the roles we are assigned in it.
But as the first of this last series of fortune cookies pointed out, “the man who has no imagination has no wings,” and in this year, I saw more through those eyes than I ever saw in those that nearly went blind, and have caught the fever for creativity that wandered out of my life over the last few years.
But this is tempered by yet another fortune that said, “Every production of genius must be the production of enthusiasm,” and the process to recreate this passion for creativity is often not easy, and requires as yet another fortune points out, “determination is what you need now.”
But all real success, as the last fortune points out, is wasted and pointless without finding yourself, and “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
I can’t think of a better road map for the future than these four fortunes, flying the way I have always flown, fighting for those things I hold dear, and making certain that in some way I make sure all this comes as a way of helping serve others, not just myself.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Lights, camera -- inaction

November 5, 1981

I expected a dark room filled with angry men and cold ruthless women more befitting the name blue movies than the glass sided house in Hollywood Hills with a view of Los Angeles so spectacular I thought I had arrived in heaven. True, the rooms had beds and cameras, but the sunlight blinded me to nearly everything, even the dread I had carried up the hill in the car from the modeling studio.
The women attracted me in the same way that pretty science teacher in junior high school had and one of them kept saying, “Hold on, boy, you’ll poke your eye out with that thing,” and I only laughed.
But brightness could not hid the hardness in the men and women, especially the guy named Dayko, who gripped a cigarette holder and let smoke come out both sides of his mouth, telling me or no one how we couldn’t waste time and how the place was costing him a bundle to use, and urging everybody to get “in the mood” quick to shoot.
“The view is better at night,” he said. “But then we have to use lights and I like things natural – if you know what I mean. Besides, we don’t want neighbors seeing what we’re doing up here. They might call the cops.”
This shoot was for all the dirty old men in all the dirty 42nd Street theaters to gawk at, the camera man said to me, then went to shoot the first set in which I was only to play a prop.
“You’ll come into this later,” one of the other women said. “So put your gun down, boy, and watch.”
The other woman, with bright brown hair and large breasts, kept complaining about the lack of heat.
“No heat is good,” Dayko told her, and pinched her nipple. “Besides, don’t you know this is LA, it’s never cold here.”
My girlfriend looked nervously around, under dressed, but not like the other women were, looking at, but not complaining about the costume she was expected to put on.
One of the other girls did complain.
“When’s the last time you washed any of this shit, Dayko?” she asked.
“Don’t worry about it,” Dayko said around another puff of smoke. “You won’t have it on long.”
“You scared, honey?” a blonde woman asked, her lipstick so red I mistook it for blood.
I nodded. She touched my shoulder.
“You’re new?”
I nodded again.
“Well, don’t you worry about a thing, I’ll walk you through it. We have the next scene after she is through,” she said, nodding in the direction of my girlfriend, who Dayko was already telling to get dressed, and positioning her, and calling in the two men who were supposed to do the scene with her.
“Let’s go, let’s go,” Dayko shouted. “We’re losing light.”
And so it started, and I wanted to be remote, pretending like it wasn’t my girlfriend I was watching, and that she wasn’t doing it with two strange men, but the pain started the minute the filming did, rising up from somewhere deep inside of me.
I thought it would be easier to be on the set to somehow manage to stop this, but seeing it was worse than hearing about it, and I knew I could not stop it, trying to turn away, the woman beside me, squeezing my thigh telling me not to be nervous – and time ground on as they shot and reshot, and were finally done, and it came my time to take center stage, by which time, the girl’s had something else to complain about.
“Hey Dayko,” one complained. “He can’t do this like this.”
“Well,” Dayko said amid more smoke. “Encourage him. You know how to do that, don’t you.”
“Give me a kiss,” the blonde woman said.
I shook my head.
“Why not?”
I could not explain it, since I loved kissing almost as much as making love, and that sometimes that’s the only thing I had on my mind, even back in the theater as an usher when we all ached to go all the way with any girl who we could get into the balcony.
“Dayko!” the women yelled. “He’s not cooperating.”
I couldn’t get the previous scene out of my head, my girlfriend with the other men. It felt wrong, and though I thought I might shocked my girlfriend into quitting, if I did it, too, I just couldn’t do it, could not bring myself to take that step even when everything inside of me ached to do something.
Dayko replaced me with one of the other men, who was not too tired from his shoot with my girlfriend to earn a little extra.
Although I would try again on a number other shoots, the pain never left me, and though I managed to fake my way through some of the scenes, it was inconsistent. It all needed to mean something to me, and none of this meant anything to anybody, least of all my girlfriend, who laughed too much between sets, each making the pain worse, even if I never let on.
Years later, this pain would linger in me long after my girlfriend and I merely became friends, a twinge of regret, of sadness, of something lost each time I looked at her wall calendar and saw times inked in on some appointment I knew no longer involved a camera.

Friday, December 28, 2012

How I got into porno without really trying

(one of a series of essays written for a college feminism class)

November 11, 1981

She wanted to go; I didn’t want her to.
This was when I was still naïve to believe I could influence a woman to do anything but what she wanted to do and that I had no right to stop her, even if it hurt me.
Later, I learned (and am still learning) that regardless of how painful, the best thing to do is to step aside and let her do what she wants, and hope that she still wants me when it’s over.
We argued, but no matter what I said, the debate ended with her even more determined to go that before, and me even more helpless to do anything.
“They have my contract,” she kept saying. “I signed it”
She had gone before, aching to become a movie star or model like the sign said at the Hollywood Boulevard office, and for the first few times I didn’t ask what it was she did, until she told me – scalding words describing acts I mistakenly believed I had exclusive rights to (yet one more misconception on my part). The best you can do is accept it or leave, wisdom I had yet to learn as well.
So when she said she was going back for more, I said no, she said yes, and she went, and because I could do nothing else, I went  down to the office to see about getting her contract back, my imagination filling in the details of that acts I knew went on as I did.
In the office, I told the receptionist I wanted the contract; she said I could not have it, that it was between management and the client, and since I obviously wasn’t the client, I should get lost, implying naturally that there might be serious repercussion if I made a scene.
I wanted to beg her to understand – when I was the one who didn’t get it. This was business, nothing personal, and what my girlfriend did had nothing to do with me, only making money, and that I should go home and wait, and appreciate how hard she worked to get the money she got.
All these years later, I understand that, although it still hurts when something like this happens. I just learned not to interfere with something I can’t control.
But back then, at age 19, just how of a year in the army, hunted by the police and mobsters for some stupid crime I committed back east, I was scared and lonely, and clung to the illusion I had rights to things I had no right to. You either accept it or walk away, someone told me later.
Back then I could do neither. These days I swallow hard, still struggling with the basic concepts, but understand I have no real say in the matter and reluctantly, painfully sometimes, accept it.
Then I did beg, telling her that I needed to contract or I would go nuts.
She told me to leave even more coldly than the first time – or else.
Then, something stirred in the back of my cave man mind, some pathetic idea that soon grew into something of a curious plan, a way – if not to fight back, then to stand my ground.
I said: “Do you give contracts to men?”
The woman behind the desk eyed me very strangely, then a bit less coldly, looked me up and down. After a year in the Army, I was in good shape – although my folly would not reveal itself until later, the ups and downs, the embarrassing moments of inflation and then the even more embarrassing moments of deflation. She said, “Yes.”
“Then give me one,” I said.
It didn’t solve anything.
My girlfriend still did what she wanted to do, and when push came to shove, I refused to do some of the stuff they asked of me – clearly unwilling to share the same men my girlfriend did, but it was the deflation that did me in at the end – utter dread of public humiliation and the dread that I was helpless to fate or change any bit of destiny as I learned the one basic fact of life: everybody has the right to do pretty much what they want to do, regardless of what I think, and that in the end, it is a matter of not trying.
“If you can’t beat them, join them,” one of the other men told me. But he never had deflation issues and no problem being with other men.

A test of wills

January 8, 1973

I held the cup of coffee near the open window trying to get it to cool enough for me to drink, at the same time, trying to keep the driver from seeing it.
A test of wills: me sneaking the cup onto the bus each morning despite the sign posted saying no drinks allow and the wary eye of the bus driver looking for an excuse to toss me off.
He’d caught me twice already and made me dump the cup before I got on, so as to be extra wary of me when I came on, eyeing my heavy coat for suspicious lumps.
I hate losing these little mind games, beyond the fact that I might get fired from the job if I’m late too often.
I like getting over on the guy, especially knowing he knows I’m getting over on him, but is helpless to stop me.
Yes, it’s petty. But sometimes small victories are you can expect, especially when you work dead end jobs like I do at the card company where I pick, pack and load orders all day.
Outside, Montclair passes into Verona, a once wealthy world for an up and coming one, with a line of mansions along the boundary I’d pull teeth to live in, even though I’m not much for playing big shot.
I live in a rooming house in Montclair where I pay $100 a month for a room with a bathroom in the hall, and the landlord bitches when I stay up too late tapping out poetry on my portable typewriter. I tell him I’m going to be famous one day. He tells me he can’t wait so he can raise my rent.
Another test of wills.
He doesn’t hate me so much, and thinks I’m up to no good. He’s convinced I deal drugs – sometimes I do, but only pot, and only because it’s the only way I can afford to pay rent and still have enough to live on.
I sip my coffee, but it’s still too hot, and look at the baseball scores, cursing the fact that the store sold me an early edition so the late scores aren’t listed.
I ache to talk to the pretty girl seated a few seats up from mine, but I never do, aching a little over the breakup I don’t talk to anybody about, trying to stay loyal in case the girl I broke up with takes me back and I don’t have to feel guilty about anything, when all I do is ache and know she’ll never take me back.
I’m always being loyal to the wrong things, always trying to keep ties that have long come undone.
I sip my coffee and stare up at the driver, waiting for him to look up into the rear view mirror and catch me.
That’s part of the game, too, tempting fate, leaving just enough steam in the cool air so that he knows what I’m up to.
Maybe I’m a sucker for pain, needing to get caught, or worse, needing to get a fix on being naughty while pretending I’m nice.
A test of wills with myself, maybe.
I sip, then lower the cup just in time for the driver to miss me sipping, I smile at him, he scowls. I hope the coffee cools soon so I can gulp it in time to reach my stop.
Yet one more test wills.

Confessions to the river

November 1, 1981

It’s Sunday.
A day of peace and the river flows below me here like a silent friend, who shows his wounds in rusted tin cans and broke bottles, and the oil slick that covers the surface like a second skin.
I come here often with my woes, and though the river gives no advice, it gives comfort, accepting my pathetic ranting about lost love and minor infractions, and flows on with them.
Today, I rant about “me,” a self-centered bit of tribe that devours me from the inside with its narcissistic poison.
I feel it spreading through my chest, leaving me cold and distant.
I’ve constructed a shell around myself, emotionally, if not spiritually, trying not to let other people’s opinions bother me.
“You have to protect yourself,” others have told me, “Look out for number one.”
And I do. And yet it bothers me.
Sometimes, I suffer from spiritual narcissism, aching just to grab and run, and not look back at the landscape of damage my personal greed might cause.
I problem is I always look back, always feel bad, and though I still look out for myself, I feel guilty about it, thinking there has to be a better way to do things that doesn’t cause other people pain.
The donut cook where I work tells me I’m nuts, saying that we can’t look out for anybody but ourselves.
This kills me. It makes me wonder if we have managed to evolve at all from animals the way we like to think – doing onto others before they do onto us.
It’s not the murder and mayhem I have a problem with, it’s the mistrust – and how I ache to trust everybody I meet, and most times it’s the right thing to do, but not always, and I don’t want to be one of those people with my hands in other people’s pockets, or to grab the last donut off the shelf.
I don’t want to walk around thinking I’m the most important person on the planet the way many people do – most often, they aren’t, but think they are. And yet, there are times when I catch myself trying to get the larger piece of the pie, if only to keep some other son of a bitch from getting it first.
I read a newspaper article about one of the mill owners claiming the dead fish floating near one of the mill drains has nothing to do with his operations.
I see jerks with cross bows shooting fish from the top of the Outwater Lane Bridge just because they like killing things.  Some kids set fire to the dry brush just because they can.
And me, I guess maybe I want a piece of the action just like all of the high rollers that come up the parkway from Atlantic City, I just want to be able to look myself in the mirror and say I got there because I earned it, and sometimes, I don’t want to go through all the fuss.
So I confess my sins to this old friend, river, both of us suffering each others pain, knowing that when I walk away I’ll feel a little better, until next time.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Art for fart’s sake

 Jan. 29, 1981

It’s easy to get pissed off at the limited mentality of our so-called academic saints, those grand masters who in their egotistic self-aggrandizement, establish the rules for what it takes for an artist to achieve greatness.
Many of these academic bullies have a stranglehold on truly creative people while they themselves have largely been unable to attain any status except as arbitrators of other people’s talent.
They hold the keys to the promised land of greatness, and force young aspiring artists to jump through academic hoops in order to qualify.
These fools try to channel young artists into categories, comparing them to those who came before as if that is the only criteria.
Yes, it is hugely important to know what came before, how great artists achieved mastery, and what specifically made them great.
But to assume that a young and upcoming artist cannot come up with original and great work on his or her own is arrogant.
Van Gogh, Walt Whitman, even beat poets and writers like Ginsberg and Kerouac defied traditions, while still maintaining the continuity. I love Blake as much as I love Shakespeare, but I don’t see either one confined by rules set up by academia – if anything the opposite is true. These people learned what they needed to learn, then ran to the edge of the world and jumped off, relying on some inner instinct to raise them to the heights of greatness.
But from what I’m getting in this place of higher learning is this idea that we should not try and put two words together without first consulting the literary elite to get a gauge on whether we are going in the correct direction.
Michael talks a good game and has irritated a number of professions with his punk approach to art, but in the end, even he seems to be married to the academic standards he slowly loudly protests.
I guess my coming out of a working class tradition makes me sympathize more with ritual, seeking to draw art out of something more inherent in human nature than in the repeated diatribes professors give us.
I want to believe in people like Jack London are just as valid literary snobs like T.S. Elliot (who I love despite his footnotes).
I want to think that there is hope for people like me, who are not geniuses like Shakespeare, but who struggle to write about the birds and bees, and the deeper human emotions I see in everyday people around me.
Shit, man, I’m only a street kid, who wants to mug and rape you with pen and paper rather than a switch blade or a gun.
I want you to feel every thing I want you to feel, the high emotions, the low, the good feelings, the bad, the bitter and the sweet. I want to make you love me or hate me, want you to praise me or curse me, I want you to cry when I say cry, and laugh when I say laugh. I want to be able to do anything I want to you, take advantage of you, make you ache for me in ways only my words can make you do.
I don’t want any academic master’s permission. In fact, what I want most is to piss that person off, to make him eat his or her own words about what he or she claims is great, to admit that anyone who works hard enough and gets to know enough about the inner workings of people can achieve greatness, even without first genuflecting in front of some poetic pope some self-righteous critic, and better yet, I want some squirt of a writer who is even young that me to come up and do exactly the same to me, to move me in ways that I never imagined anyone could move me, not because he or she uses the correct form, but because he or she has a handle on something I’ve never seen or heard or read or felt before. I want that person to hit me harder than I have ever been hit before, fuck me better than I could ever do, and to pour his or her words over me in ways I could not do – and having done this to me, made me want to do be that good. I don’t want to learn stupid rules of art, I want to feel it in my bones, I want to be challenged by someone as good as I am or better than I am, so I can become better, too.
I want to be Gaughan to Van Gogh, I want to feel so strongly about art that I might be willing to cut off my ear or nose or some other valuable part in order to create a masterpiece that is all mine, made possible because someone else could create great things, too.
I came here to learn how to make what I do better – and find that there are gates in the way, and guardians who make claims as to what shall pass.
Fuck them!
Okay, so I’m hungry for concepts such as symbols and signs, want to make love to every rose I see, bring down every glass house I walk into, break down every egotistic, monolithic literary dynasty, create art through revolution, draw out of common experience, raise up the rabble and their feelings and their lives, and bring about true art that is not exclusive and cannot be caged or contained.
Michael thinks I’m crazy. A lot of people do. Some even want to stop me.
Let them try.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A triumphant return?

February 6, 1986

So who should show up last night at work?
Joanne again, dismal, curious Joanne looking for comfort in that wondrous way of hers.
She returned like a stranger, someone once utterly in love with the mall, but now divorced from it and aching for the old feelings she used to have for it, calling from the bagel shop for permission to see me, so she can slip passed guards whom she believed wanted to keep her out.
“That’s silly,” I told her over the phone. We could almost see each other across the dark hall.
Not so silly, she told me, since management has warned all the night guards against her, making her one of the most disliked people in the mall.
She is a liar. She even lied to me last night about Phil and her other job, still trying to sound more important than she really is. It is hugely important for her to be someone.
She is a thief, too, though not nearly as bad as many of the others who used to work here. She steals little things, like people’s souls, attaching herself like a leech to men like Danny, filled with an intense need to have him hold her, something that did not sit well with Danny’s wife.
But deep down inside of Joanne there is another person, a gentle caring child who trusts too much, presuming that others – especially men – won’t hurt her, therefore allowing them to hurt her even more.
She is not a pretty woman by many standards, but she is cute in her own fashion – a cuteness that draws men’s attention no other more eloquent women are around.
She has dark hair and dark eyes that remind me of one of those puppy pictures they sell in the center of the mall, and often acts the part of a puppy when she’s attracted, bobbing up and down at someone’s side.
A closer look, however, shows her hunger. She licks her lips when she is horny, and pressed her chest into the person she’s attracted to. She has a crooked smile that flashes on and off like an advertisement.
But she is slovenly, too, and slumps, and on bad days she smells for lack of a shower.
When she isn’t putting on a front, when she’s just herself, she had something of a bland look, lost and lonely, hunted and mistrusting.
Last night, she was ON, wearing a wrinkled silk shirt with an uneven collar, and jeans patched in stylistic copy of poverty. When she crossed the hall, she staggered a little as if drunk, glancing this way and that at the old sights, and saying when I let her into our store that she didn’t miss the place at all. Not long later, she moved around the store again as if she owned it, using the toilet (where she once made love to Danny during the busy shift), making herself coffee, pausing from time to time to stare through the gate into the hall, shaking her head, saying how everything had changed, looking every bit like the lost soul again, only to snap back into character.
She was one of the original mall rats, having come here when the mall opened in 1970, a mall rat who must have wrenched something inside her when forced to leave 15 years later. The last time I saw her here, she had men lined up waiting to take her out to their cars, with me aching to be one of them, and never was. Now the men here are all strangers, and she talked of other men, other places, other times, before fading away back into the night, leaving the place that much more devoid than it was before.

Chains of love

December 25, 2012

This never gets easy, this sadness that comes on holidays like this.
We talk about home and home coming, and realize that surviving means leaving many of those things behind – especially the people.
Once rich in family, I have become devoid of members – either scattered by the grim reaper or driven out of the state by high taxes.
Also, a huge part of the holiday has always been my best friend’s birthday for which we gathered each year on Christmas Eve to celebrate, a gathering that lost meaning with his death in March 1995.
Most of my closest family died in the years between 1989, when Uncle Harry died, to New Years Eve 2001-01 with the passing of my mother. A few lingered for the next decade, but the last of those I consider my elders or contemporaries passed this year, leaving a huge gap in my life – even though I had not seen Uncle Pete in a few years.
My family has for the most part consisted of wife, ex-wife and my daughter, and Christmas has usually involved a trip around the holidays to Scranton where my ex-wife and daughter live. Last year, I went west on Thanksgiving weekend, only to get struck with retina detachment that kept me blind for several months.
This year, I not only went west on Thanksgiving, but also Christmas weekend, staying over in a cheesy motel in Moscow where the wind howled and so did other woodland creatures, although it was the creaking bed that kept waking me, and, of course, the thought of time passing, and people missed, and loved ones past and present, part of that litany of love we profess but rarely accomplish.
Scranton hasn’t changed much since my first visit there in mid-1971, nor over the decade that followed in which I lived an estranged existence from ex-wife and daughter, nor did it seem much altered from that day in July in 1982 when we reconnected, and have kept close since – a city in decade, whole at its core, but frail around its edges, buildings straight out of the turn of a century few are alive now to remember, sagging, gray, sad and full of the terrible social problems most declined economies face: drugs, prostitution, violence, and a fear of change.
Going back is always a trip through time. I always feel like the 32-year-old lost soul seeking forgiveness, returning to make up for past mistakes, and like that first time when I saw my daughter standing waiting for me in one of the small streets (only blocks from where she lives now) waiting for me, I was shocked at how innocent she looked, how previous, and how much like me she has become – naïve in the belief that love conquers all, and the by loving someone, you are not saving them, but yourself.
When I talked to my daughter about marriage, her response reminds me the opening lines of Women in Love, and the offers she’s had, and how she was more tempted not to marry, than to marry, knowing that marriage and love are an experience, but not always a good one, and she still holds out for that one experience that is worthy of temptation.
I am hardly an expert on love, only that when I love, I throw myself recklessly into it, for good or bad, and even when burned by its intensity or by my inability to make it work, I never stop – even for those like one striper I loved in the 1980s whose grave I visit regularly. I will never convince my daughter that love conquers all, and certainly do not believe that it is better to have loved and lost, then to not have loved at all – thinking, of course, of that line from Men in Black: “Oh yeah, why don’t you try it.”
I guess the best I can offer is that idea that sometimes, having people who we love in life, here or gone, near or far, endeared or estrange, provides us with those three ghosts we need most to make Christmas work in our lives, and to keep us from dragging around a chain of selfish acts in life in the afterlife. If we bear these chains in life, working loose the kinks that bind us, we need not worry about them in the next world where we can finally greet all those lost souls I ache over each Christmas, my mother, best friend, uncles and aunts, and then take our place on that line to greet those who love has bound us to in this world, hoping that they somehow manage to deal with their own chains before they get there.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Night in the Blue Motel

Monday, December 24, 2012

I must of passed this motel hundreds of times since my first coming up this highway in the Chevy pickup truck we had converted to use as a camper for the long trip from New York City to Portland, me, my girlfriend, my daughter, Michael, the man who’d made the FBI’s most wanted list for a week earlier that year, and his girlfriend – packing our entire lives in the back of the wooden box we have built so that we looked very much like Okies from The Grapes of Wrath.
Each time I returned to visit Scranton in the subsequent years, I always took this highway, first because it reminded me of who would become my ex-wife, in whose footsteps I walked dozens of years – never ceasing to love anyone I once loved. I’d even traveled this road that time when she wanted to see me and I drove west with my two best friends, who hoped they could help convince her to take me back and allow me to feel like a father again, a romantic’s notion that never transpired, then later, I took this route because the road was one of the blue highways, an up and down ribbon through time and space that brought me back to an era before the super highways and modern concepts of speed. I always drove slow here and looked to the trees and ponds, yet oddly, have over looked this particular rundown motel, something straight out of post World War II with few modern conveniences except a pub that had beer signs posted over its front windows and two handwritten signs on the door: bikers welcome and closed until further notice.
I had called well enough in advance to make reservations and when I pulled the car up in front of the place, I celebrated my foresight, seeing pickups and other trucks sprawled on both sides of the highway in front of it – perhaps hunters coming in for their Christmas kill.
“No it’s an auction,” the woman proprietor told me when I finally tracked her down, trying all the doors to the office and then the closed pub, only to find them locked and their interiors dark.
I saw the door bell on the office door only after I saw the woman coming to open the door, and when I told her my name, she nodded, took my credit card and ran this through a swipe that did not take.
“It doesn’t work,” she said.
I was certain I had enough credit left to pay the $50 fee. But I gave her another card. This didn’t work either. Then I gave her a debit, and when that failed, I gave her the cash.
“We had a power outage last week,” the woman said. “Maybe the machine is broken. I’ll have to get someone out here to check it.”
But from the look of it all, the machine was not the only thing broken. The three building complex tended to sag in places it out not, and the driveway between these buildings can strong evidence to the heavy weather the snow-laden sides of the highway had only hinted at on our way there, ice covering the asphalt (and fortunately filling the holes that might have swallowed my small car).
She handed me a key to room #6.
“Check out is at 11,” she said. “Just leave the key in the room when you leave.”
Since I was on my way into Scranton to see my daughter, I only dropped off a bag with a change of clothing. But this gave enough of a glimpse of the interior – or rather, a sniff. Decades of cigarette smoke lingered inside, part of the charm of a room that barely had space for bed, table and chair. A TV set blocked most the way on one side of the bed. A small refrigerator sat in the bottom of a closet which had no bar or hooks to hang clothing. The bathroom had a window that looked out onto the pub’s back porch, which looked like something out of The Hobbit, only far more deteriorated, with old bar signs used to patch the broken spaces on the roof.
The toilet had another handwritten sign like those on the door of the pub saying “hold the handle down to flush,” only there was no handle, just a kind of button.

While the room had towels, it had two pathetic pillows and a very thin blanket. The heater, although claimed to have grades of heat, in truth presented only two options, scalding and frost bite. I chose frostbite and put on most of my clothing. The bed sagged in the middle and groaned like a wicker chair if you moved – or breathed too deeply. Needless to say, the night was one of waking and trying to sleep again.
And strangely, I loved it, reminding me of those days living in cold water flat in Passaic when I first re-hooked up with my ex-wife and daughter again, when I still believed that I would become a great novelist and was suffering for my art, when I placed myself not in some fancy hotel or celebrated venue, but in the down-and-out world of poor painters and suffering writers.
The night in the motel reminded me of what the artist life is supposed to be about, and how in the end, the work is what matters, not the accolades, and each time I work up and I thought again – to chattering teeth – of how special a place in the world artists hold because we do indeed owe a debt of gratitude to moments like this when we are reminded that the real satisfaction comes from what we do – even it if took the better part of the next day to work out the kinks in my back the lack of eat and bad bed causes.

Sunday, December 23, 2012



I thought I left girls like her behind when I quit the band, the early morning 19 year old telling me she planned to jump off a bridge – not because the lead guitarist didn’t take her home after the last set ended, but because some professor said she couldn’t act when she’d had her heart set on stage and movies since she was five.
 A shy girl, often mocked at school before floating across the campus in a haze of hope, she often talked to me in the student center lounge about small things that bothered her – just the way the groupies often did – shy down deep myself, I guess none of them see me as a threat, or maybe when it comes down to getting what I want, I simply see too far ahead and know I’m going to hurt someone pursuing it, so stop myself, and eat the ache rather than force it onto them.
These episodes happen a lot. Girls like these litter the landscape, unnoticed mostly, disconnected from the hard news and war of wars we hear in on TV or from the spew we get from the mouths of elected officials.
These girls and me are part of some disconnected social thread, full of unrealized passion and pain, I feel but media doesn’t, and I ache over and don’t know why. It’s almost as if we all have radar, me feeling the warning signals as these women gravitate towards me, and we both collide in places like this, a student center lounge or the back of some bar with a bottle of pills or some intention to go somewhere and do something we all will be sorry for later, and the only person between them and doom is me, when all I want down deep is what every man wants, only I have this lousy conscience that won’t let me simply take and often won’t take at all because it never feels right.
This is true of this girl, who is about as fragile as a feather, her self-pride always hinging on the good opinion of some egotistic maniac like an acting professor, instead of some inner gyroscope she can use to gauge her own worth.
“He told me my acting stinks,” she says “But it’s a small thing. You shouldn’t have to hear about it.”
It all starts out small, I think but stay silent, fearful that one of the usual slick crew will overhear us and start to escalate things with their mockery. Someone always snickers at the wrong time. Some people think she’s stupid, and call her retarded behind her back. I see her as unbearably innocent, let loose to wander here without protection, like many of the groupies I knew who thrust themselves at musicians thinking somehow they can get love in the cheap dives we play in, somehow putting together the ingredients the way the bartender does drinks.
Sometimes, I hate humanity and all that status crap that marks one group of people as superior to others.
No one has mocked me since high school, and even then, they only mocked me because I chose to hang out with the losers and geeks, not out of sympathy, but feeling less phony when I did.
But we all have our egos and we all get them bruised. Some people like me can get kicked in the head over and over and not have it affect them, too stubborn to let any asshole tell me what I am or who I can be. But girls like this fold up and die.
This girl isn’t stupid or retarded, just innocent – and maybe not even that inside.
I listened to her fiction in our writing class, her wry intelligence peeking out from behind her shyness like a forest nymph, making me ache, making me want to make love to her poems and her stories, even though she has nothing overtly sexual in any of them, just natural talent I don’t have and ache to get.
“My father is going to be angry,” she tells me, looking around at the passing people – I suppose for signs of the same snickering fools who don’t understand her and would never get the inner meaning of her writing if they had a billboard to tell them. “He’s always angry at me about something, telling me I should just get a husband and forget all this artist stuff. But I won’t. I’ll die first. Maybe I should. Everybody seems to think I’m funny around here.”
“Don’t let them get you down,” I tell her, but I know how easy it is to say, when no one is mocking me. “You’re bright and talented it, and if you’re not around, we’ll all miss you.”
“Yes,” I say, but I know she can’t survive with skin so thin as hers, but if she gets tough, she won’t be the same.
They never are.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Think Big

October 20, 1980

Susan is ill; the Yankees have lost; and I am not the writer I thought I might be.
Although the sun shines, it is cold out, and day wears depression on its sleeve in my name.
I spent yesterday working out a draft of a story I’m not at all happy with.
What depresses me is the fact that it represents the best I can do at this point in my life.
I’m reading Lawrence and wondering how he ever managed to finish his first novel when he wasn’t satisfied with it, and his material was great.
I stumble over words and phrases as if real objects. I pace around my cold water flat like a madman, aching to somehow transpose that madness from my mind and onto paper.
Genius, I’m told, is work, work and more work, and even after all that work, something may not be finished. Some writers aren’t finished until the work is published and still hate later what they’ve done.
I slip another piece of paper into my typewriter and begin again, trying another idea, then another.
Susan is home with a cold and an empty house, and wonders why I’m not there.
I have to write, I tell her. But she doesn’t really understand or maybe doesn’t believe I really have what it takes to make it.
I have doubts when I’ve written a story like this last one and not liking the outcome, thinking that all the work may come to naught.
I am not a man of many talents and so if this doesn’t work, I have to find something more trivial to make my living at, back to truck driving or worse – though I stunk at porno movies in LA, too, getting excited at the wrong time or not at all when I was supposed to.
How many guys can brag about being fired from blue movies?
I ache to write, and thinking – we all have to start somewhere, and that not everybody can be great from the start.
“Think big,” someone once told me, but never prepared me for how big the bad feelings felt at being rejected – or worse, seeing the flaws before I get a chance to show them to anybody else.
Fortunately, I don’t take rejection seriously. I’m a stubborn bastard.
Some people never recover, crawling back into their shells because nobody could see the merit of their work. I keep thinking of Dickenson and her amazing poetry, and how I would kill to have an ounce of her talent.
Other poets thrill me when they’re great, and make me want to live up to what they do.
This place is cold, yet somehow I manage to stay warm, somehow manage to survive each winter and pay each bill, although I’m always on edge of disaster.
I live with hope that someday I won’t look at what I do and see all the flaws, not just in the work, but in me. All I really want from life is to making my living writing, not doing other things so I can write – even rock and roll distracted me, emotionally and physically, so it became more and more difficult to come home and write.
My theory has always been that if I wrote and wrote and wrote I would eventually get better, so that I write about everything I see or hear or anything that happens to me, so that I have history of people I care about already down on paper. So that if and when I do get better and learn how to control this monster I ache to ride, I can bring them all to life.
But I really would like to know if I have what it takes now, so as to avoid wasting my life pursuing some dream that I may not be able to realize.
Maybe I’m deluding myself.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Closing in on Christmas

 December 19, 1980

Well, Christmas is another day closer and the year’s end after that.
The semester ends today and like a messenger traveling across some dreaded war zone, I deliver all my final papers – allowing me to proceed onto my next level of learning.
Semesters seem too short to get all the work I need get done, yet long enough to wear me out, and make me ache for their conclusion.
On top of all that, I’m ill again – with some cold.
But then everybody I know is ill. Susan has a touch of it. And Marcy.
I ran into Garrick, Pauly and Ricky yesterday and they looked like zombies, just waking from the deepest bout with death and took deep breathes as if their last.
We met at Sterns in Willowbrook Mall, and for a time, drowned our misery with bad food at a mall snack bar.
Garrick claimed he could not taste and drowned his cheese steak with hot sauce, and act that I knew he would regret later just as he did when I lived with him in the Passaic apartment and he took me out drinking, bragging that he could eat more jalapeño peppers than I could. I refused to take the bait and refrained, which did not stop him from demonstrating just how many he could eat, and his moans from the bathroom later kept me up all night.
Pauly, in his usual egocentric piety, moaned a lot and said he was bored with our company and should have stayed home where he could suffer in peace.
Ricky stared through the glass barrier at a waitress with a low neck blouse who had bent down to retrieve a coin from the floor, a pleasant vision to men contemplating the end of existence.
It felt good to be around them again, as miserable as they claimed to be.
Outside, the sky had turned gray and a wind rattled the skylights that illuminated part of the upper floor of the mall – while the chill of the season  piled up ice on my car so that I spent a good half our chiseling my door to get it open, feeling all the worse for the exercise.
Back home, on Passaic Street, the wind made beggars of us all, as men and women huddled against it as they walked from the Polish market to the Polish church, stopping off at the Polish bar to get something to warm them. Many dive into doorways till the gusts calm.
I feel something like a lost leaf, being blown from one place to another without any clear indication of where I might land or what forces are the cause, or even if my life has any real purpose despite my pursuit of dreams that may not materialize, regardless of what my professors claim.
My art professor has joined the short line of confidence-building educators who think I’ll amount to something, which is more confidence than I have in that regard. After a decade working as a truck driver, warehouse man and rock & roll roadie, I’ve seen too many people with talent wasting away – more talent than I’ll ever have, more ambition, too, growing old without cashing in. I’m not in this game to cash in on anything, nor do I have any natural talent. I’m obsessed and driven, determined to make something happen that I have no right to expect.
So I park my car and sit to watch the world blow by, the last of autumn’s leaves, evading the ice to cling to my windshield. The wind knocks over a metal trash can and sends it rumbling down the sidewalk, a stream of food wrappers like a tail behind it.
Trucks roar down 8th Street headed towards the bridge into Wallington, each rumble shaking me and my world, as if more than just the semester is ending, as if I have turned some corner into some new life, facing new obstacles I may or may not be prepared to handle, a slippery and illusive as the icy sidewalk outside, the icy street over which trucks and cars travel.
I already miss my old life, secure with a steady paycheck and the indignity of unimportance, always looked down on as someone who works to hard and grinds my nose against the millstone for nothing.
College is suppose to elevate me somehow, make me more important, allow me to hobnob with better crowds, get up front in the line – the way Joey Ramone once got us all into Club 54 when other people had to wait.
I hated that idea. I still do. But I understand why John and the others got off on it, just as they got off on being in Hendrix studio to record the demo a few months ago. They like feeling like stars, being fussed over, being made to feel important, even when it is all an illusion and that any real importance has to be self-generated.
From where I sit the world looks like some impressionistic painting my art professor says I should study more closely, but with the paint still fresh, dripping more like a Jason Pollack painting than anything from Monet, everything weaving into everything else, tree limbs into the backdrop of sagging wooden porches.
Somewhere in this mix, I smell the scent of fire, a wood stove stirred up by poor relations on this block, who have collected fallen limbs near the rail road track and river to cheat PSE&G out of its daily blood money.
For some reason, this puts me in the Christmas spirit, despite Pauly’s vulgar comments about the holiday when we jaunted through the mall, especially when some poor fool tried to beg spare change from him.
“I gave up painting for this?” he said, referring to the numerous watercolors he created each Christmas as gifts.  “I’ll give him money only if he promises to do sit on Santa’s lap”
I felt sorry for the bum and gave him all the coins I had in my pocket, and got a giggle thinking he might spend them trying to get a picture of himself on the mall Santa’s lap, and wondered more soberly, what he would ask for: a roof over his head, a job, or maybe if he was as foolish as I was, a future.”
It’s hard to think that we’re all turning 30 this year (Pauly already has as has Hank) and still pondering the future when most of those are age are settled down with families.
Back home, alone, I felt the ache, not of cold or illness, but of uncertainty, wondering what it all means, and where it will all lead, and if it doesn’t work out, how I’ll ever get back.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Can’t save anybody, you have to save yourself

Dec. 6. 1981

I’m afraid: of guns, women, cars, taxes, police, drugs, booze, bikers, trucks and me.
Most of all me.
I’m my own worst enemy – partly because I care too much about those other people call the wrong people.
Now, I’m sitting with a frightened 17-year-old named Joanne, who tells me again and again how not scared she is.
We’re sitting in a completely American diner in a completely American town, and she tells me about her father and his rage, and the exploding fist on the dinner table that always shakes her world apart.
I’m not complete sure why I’m with her, except for the lure of a free breakfast after a hard night’s work working up a huge hunger in me, a hunger that three eggs, toasts and hash browns won’t cure.
She scares me more than her father scares her – or my reaction does anyway.
I’ve heard all the rumors and gossip about her, and they make me ache, and feel guilty, because she’s looking for salvation and I’m looking for…
Yet her terrified eyes hurt me.
She asks, “how to do I tell him?”
I break the yolk of one egg with the tip of my folk, watching the yellow ooze out. I’m scared to look up. She wants to know how to tell her father about Chuck, the 47-year-old married mall guard who professes to love her.
There are always a lot of Chucks in the lives of women like Joanne.
I tell her, I don’t know, still staring down at the spilled yolk, cringing at the still two unbroken eggs that stare back at me like eyes.
I’m no longer hungry although the hunger still rages inside of me.
I’m thinking of that time in Portland with Louise when we lent our spare bedroom to two 17-year olds so that they wouldn’t have to “do it” in the cold back seat in some remote parking lot where the cops might catch them, only to find out later, the girl’s uncle was a police captain, and he wasn’t happy with me for acting as her pimp.
I can’t give love advice to someone who makes me ache to look at, even when she gets angry at me for staying silent and tells me to stop staring at my eggs and tell her what to do.
I ask what she thinks her father would do if she told him straight out.
“He’d call me a whore,” she says, loudly enough to turn the heads of some of the patrons, and raise the curiosity of some Chuck-like men near by. “He always calls me a whore.”
“You know what I mean,” she says, her voice lowered as if she realized her mistake. “I can trust you, can’t I? You won’t turn on me.”
“Yeah,” I say, knowing that I’m always the trusting type, but don’t look up from my eggs, “you can trust me.”
“I thought about getting my father drunk first,” she says. “But then he might beat me.”
Her hand moved to cover the bruises on her right wrist, bruises that look suspiciously like large fingers. “He always gets violent when he’s drunk. But I have to tell him something. He saw me kissing Chuck in the mall, and now he thinks the worst.”
“The worst?” I ask, looking up finally.
Joanne takes on a coy look, somehow managing to blush when she isn’t the type to blush.
“I hate when my father calls me a whore,” she says, voice still lowered, her gaze sweeping the interior of the diner as if she expects to see her enraged father making his way towards us. I look, too, scared he might think I’m doing Joanne to, when I only want to.
All I see are the other patrons, their gazes returning to their own lives, their talk is of weather, of Sunday’s sermon, of football teams waiting at home on the TV, but not of angry father’s beating hapless daughters.
I hear someone laugh and I’m ashamed, as I break the yolk of the second egg and stare down at the contents I can no longer devour. I sip the milk I ordered instead of coffee because I soon have to go home to sleep and do not want more coffee keeping me up. I imagine all this will do that already, the talk and the hunger, and the desperate need I have to win her trust, when the last thing I want is to be trusted.
“Truth is the best thing I can think of,” I say, my words sounding hollow, like a lie. “Was it Chuck’s birthday or something? You might tell your dad that’s why you kissed him.”
Joanne’s eyes brighten, and she reaches across the table to squeeze my hand. Her fingers are warm, but it is my blood that boils. She rushes out. I wait until she’s gone, push back my plate, pick up the bill Joanne was supposed to pick up, leave a tip and head to the register, wondering the whole time if truth is anything more than a convenient trap, playing into the hands of an enemy who would use it like a knife and twist it deeper.
I keep thinking of the poor girl back in Portland who gave us up because her father, the police captain, made her swear to her lie on with her hand on The Bible, and she couldn’t do it. I keep hoping Joanne’s white lie won’t bring her more black and blue. I keep thinking how much trust is a two-edged sword, with me aching in everyway possible over a girl who loves someone else.
But I know I’ll do it again. When she comes back crying, I’ll sit with her, breaking yolks as my own heart breaks, trying to find a way to help her when I know I can’t save anybody, least of all myself.
I pay the check, and head to my car, and hope I can get some sleep.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Pursuit of greatness

Dec. 14, 1985

I’m tired again, existing coffee and too little sleep, and certainly not enough money -- nothing but bleary-eyed stumbling from this job to that.
This I suppose is the dues one pays, working into greatest – or even mediocrity.
Lenny Lopate on the radio last night spoke painfully of his bout with art, a serious student once, three credits away from his masters, over 40 now and disillusioned. He talked about making a mark on the world and bitterly said now he never would, even when others called up commenting on his remarkable observations on art, on must, and on most things.
He often puts himself down, especially after he’s made some valid points. He often qualifies his statements with “I’m not sure what point I’m making here.”
He seems to believe he will make no mark on the world and wonders if that’s a bad thing, if greatness seems to be the objective of everyone, or is it enough just to go on living.
What struck a nerve in me was his description of those who seek to obtain greatness (and of those who try and fail, but keep on trying). Obsession, a sense of self importance, a need to find immortality and have an effect on the world.
I’m not sure which one of these I am – the future success or future failure.
But I have all the ingredients to go on. I go through depressions and never have enough time to finish what needs to be done. Not enough craft to make things work the way I want.
It takes time and energy to learn the craft, to put one words after another in a logical and pre-planned progression. And for some, it never comes, for some; there is self delusion about effect their work will have.
With work, I feel good and feel real progression, always making progression, always learning enough to take the next step, as of what I am currently working on is merely an exercise, even though I might not be aware of it at the time. Some times, the work is completely inspired.
Shakespeare, I suppose, had these moment, too, when he felt right putting brilliant speech in the mouth of an idiot.
“Some aspire to greatness; others have greatness thrust upon them.
But I suspect truth is more devious and that one works and works, hoping for greatness, hoping that the magic spark touching the work as you move along, making the parts come together, beyond craft, beyond inspiration, when body and soul touches you for the briefest moment to give your work real life.
Joyce described this as radiance.
But to strive for magic is folly. One simply builds the house in the most appropriate manner possible, using all the most solid materials with the hope the spirit might move in, that the house weathers, serving generation after generation as Shakespeare’ houses have, finally realizing greatness. If you’re lucky, you might realize that greatness in your life. Most don’t.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Two weeks to Christmas

Dec. 11, 1980

Two weeks to Christmas, and like a small boy believe in Santa Claus and Christ, I sit and wait for it to come.
This has not always been the case. Like the time I got caught hiding behind the living room couch when I should have been at mass, raising more than a few eye brows and voices when I told them I hadn’t gone to church in some time.
I usually hid out in the graveyard in a small mourner’s building just inside the gate. It had seats and windows, but no heat – which is why on that particular Christmas I decided not to hide out there.
The old stone building depressed me even in warm weather as I watched people drive through the gate, their faces as ashen as the grave stones, all of them desperate to find some consolation here, when I knew there was none.
I couldn’t take looking at the dark holes they had for eyes, their faces shrouded in self pity.
I remember sitting in the armed chair that Christmas staring at the large tree, drenched in tinsel and ornaments, and old style lights that that my grand parents brought their first year together, before my mother was born.
I even had presents there, although I didn’t deserve them, games and such, my uncle Harold had insisted on giving me, because it was something we could do together that didn’t involve his chasing me around the house trying to hit me in the head with a hammer.
I didn’t even need to open one to know what they were.
The ones puzzled me were the ones with my mother’s name on, presents we would later have to put in the back seat of my grandfather’s car for the long drive to the hospital, where she would open them so slowly with fingers shaking so badly, I always ached to snatch them out of her hands and open them myself.
Christmas started officially when my grandfather came down the stairs, and the family gathered to take everything in together, resisting the usual petty feuds only brothers and parents could maintain for so many years.
And here, my grandfather stood over me, glaring at me, asking me why I no longer went to church – eve on Christmas, his outrage slashing across me like strokes of a whip.
I could not tell him. I’m not sure I knew why myself, why I would spend that hour staring at graves and mourners rather than in the back pew of a warm church, why God no longer meant anything to me, and how sometimes, when I was most scared, I wanted Him to.
Each lash of my grandfather’s voice made me want to leave now, cold or not, dressed as I was, to seek refuge if not among the graves, then down in the empty, snow-covered fields of Nash Park where the old World War II air plane slowly rotted, where the fountains no longer worked, where the air felt even colder as it came off the surface of the river I loved so much in any season.
But I made no move, and after some heavy discussion with my uncles, my grandfather sent me to my room to wait until dinner, and when I came down later, my presents were gone.
I don’t know why I think of that time now, staring at the pile of poorly wrapped presents I had collected for my family and my friends, my mother’s among them, waiting for a trip to Toms River, not Graystone Mental Hospital. Maybe after all these years, I like Christmas again, and believe in it, and deep down, maybe I even believe in God again.


Sept. 1, 2012

It gets confusing.
People always tell me how I ought to express myself, reveal my feelings, and then I get slammed when I do.
Maybe I don't it right, never having been schooled properly in social graces.
I'm out of touch with the social world, was even when I was young enough to be part of the up and coming. Now I'm hopelessly out classed by younger, smart, more street savvy people, for whom life is more complicated and yet at the same time, more free.
But then, being too open is dangerous, often used against you when you say too much or express some feeling or confusion other people find uncomfortable or threatening.
People say you're crazy when you express confusion, and so it's better just to clam up and express nothing, even when the feelings of love or affection well upside you.
Maybe there's a class at New School I can take on how to properly say things so that people don't feel like they are being judged.
Me, I'm always being judged -- I've come to accept it, even when I don't agree with the sentence handed down at cruel and unusual.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Out of my league

July 5, 1981

(recollection of an event from 1966-67)

Everybody laughed when the squint-eyed, blonde-haired busybody up in the front of the class said it, and I buried myself in a book trying to hide. Everybody that is but blue-eyed, dimple-faced Ellen that blushed so deep she might have died from shame.
I wanted to find comfort in my book, but the lines of text could not hold my attention even when I didn’t feel so small, and I peered over the top to see everybody whispering, chuckling at my expense.
I had suffered indignities before in grammar school from Leonard who’d made abusing me his personal project until I beat him up with his own shoe on the hill outside of church, making the school bully cry in front of everybody who had thought him so tough all those years.
This was different. I was the odd fish in junior high, that wild boy from the border of Paterson nobody really liked and tried to provoke, hurting me in ways their fists could not, beating me up with their laughter and scorn – with no way for me to fight back, tongue-tied with rage and humiliation.
Most times, I ignored them, staring out the window at the gray sky and the occasional flutter of a bird between the buildings or I cut classes where they out numbered me, those slick kids with clever tricks, who hid behind the teacher when I got angry enough to want to beat them up.
It’s hard to fight back like that, when it’s what they imply that hurts, not what they actually say.
And this time, they had said too much, and knew that they had hit me hard in a place I couldn’t get up from, Mrs. Bailey on the prowl in front of the class, waiting for me to do something stupid, to say something rash, so she could send me to the office again, and wouldn’t have to hear the snickering she knew was aimed at me, but wouldn’t stop, as if she had been one of their breed when she was their age, and hated me as much as they did, and wished she’d not inherited me as her student.
Her stare daring me to say something, and when I didn’t, she called on me anyway, as if to blame me for the snickering.
“What is it?” she demanded to know.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You must have done something to set off your classmates,” she said sternly. “What did you do this time?”
“I didn’t do anything,” I said, waving my hand towards the clutch of snobby kids who occupied the safety of the remote rear portion of the classroom, a clutch of giggling fools immune to anything I could do or say. “It was them.”
“And what did that do that made you set them off?” she asked, as I struggled to make sense of the question, and how she seemed to turn what they did into something that was my fault.
“They said I have a crush on Ellen,” I said, hurting even as the words came out of me, knowing how true it was, and how vulnerable I felt having it all hang out there, as if loving someone was a weakness they could use against me, knowing how little I could do about it, and how saying it allowed caused them to giggle more, and poor Ellen, to shrink down in her seat, wilting, dying under their gaze and mine, shrinking away to a place where I could never go, and me, thinking how I would wait outside – the way my uncle Ritchie once did for the gang that beat him up – for each and everyone of these snobs, and teach them respect the same way I had to reach Leonard long ago, because I couldn’t fight them the way they fought – but someday, maybe, when I got smarter, and didn’t feel outfoxed by other people’s words, I could fight them with words, too.

Friday, December 14, 2012

I should be famous -- some day

“In this world, it is not what we take up, but what we give up, that makes us rich” – Fortune cookie 12/14/12

February 6, 1981

            I really should start trying to live within my means.
            I mean, my bank statement says I have $27.30 cents left in my account, when mere days ago, it said $500.
            What an illusion.
            In the last several days I have spent without real consideration to where it went or how fast. The relief of a job merely an addition to my usual poverty.
            I had books to buy, and old bills to pay, and I’m also in debt to my girl friend Susan, and now the rent is due – again.
            The professor we call “Dr. Chief” at school tells me I have a future in writing, and claims it is “tight and accurate,” and talks to me as a literary equal as uneducated a I am – a ninth grade drop out who faked my way through the GED so I could go to college to learn more about how to write.
            And I haven’t even shown him what I write for myself.
            I wonder what he would say and if he would like it?
            Yesterday, Andy, Mary Kay and Chief sat down together in the college cafeteria where Mary Kay – laughing – asked if I talked about anything else but writing.
            Maybe I’m just too enthusiastic, needing to know how to turn that enthusiasm into cash -- $27.30 doesn’t buy a lot in the way of futures, and unless I find a way to inflate my account, I might wither away from malnutrition.
            I guess I should eat less at taverns (and stuff fewer bills in the g-strings of go go dancers) and learn how to make more money.
            Sure, I just got a job making donuts. I hate the job, and I hate donuts. I much preferred working in rock and roll, but that paid peanuts, too, and left me picking up the pieces of potential suicide groupies who didn’t get to go home with the musician they wanted and got stuck with me.
            But even with a steady pay check, I tend to think I have more money than I really have, especially when I have to bust my ass to get it.
            I’ve just taken on too much.
            I write a lot and read out a lot, but don’t have enough on paper to save me from the grind of manual labor. Everything is school, work, school, work, school, work and in between a few hours of precious sleep.
            Maybe the poet Gray was write in his church yard elegy in that we spend our lives in constant struggle with the elements and in the end we only manage to get the rent paid, gas in the car with nearly no time left in which to create.
            I even dream donuts, even though this semester my writing has exploded, my forms have molded into something worth reading, and if I can find the time, I might even find a way to get myself published.
            This is quite a change from last year when nearly everything I wrote felt like crap.
            Yet isn’t that why I came to school, to find inspiration?
            Maybe I’ll end up okay after all. It is hard to tell.
            Don’t laugh. It’s hard to tell how far I’ve come or how far I still have to go. I’m pretty sure I’ve made progress. But how do I know when I get to the top, I won’t just fall down the other side?
            How do I know if I have the strength to climb up again?
            How do I know if I’ll end up anywhere or just become one of Gray’s gravestones of people who could have been?
            With $27.30 cents in my bank account, I know one thing for certain – I’m not there yet.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The passing of Tiny Tug

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

In those last moments all I could do was call his name; all he could do was purr – a ritual we’d engaged in since his birth in my yard in 1999, a call and response that has tied our lives together in a way only undying love could, and here, he was dying, and I had to let him go.
No animal or human has ever attached itself to me in the way this cat has – he needing me so utterly I could not help but reciprocate: love for love, need for need, call and response.
My fingers stroked his fur even as the vet eased the needle of death in the cat’s leg, the vet searching for a vet searching for a vein that would perform this one last insult life issued before expiring.
I still called him Tiny Tug, even though I knew Big Tug, his father, had expired years ago, laying down his life in the tumble of trees behind our house, pausing on his way to death to say farewell – he like Tiny Tug’s mother, Jelly, knowing we kept sacred the one offspring of earlier litters none thought would or could survive in the wild, Jelly nudging the accident prone and troubled-breathing Tiny Tug into our doorway for safe keeping, and he, Tiny Tug, latching onto me as mother, father and best of friends, sleeping with me at night, clinging to me during by day, as if the cat expected me to expire before he did, or leave him the way his parents had, comforted – I hope – by the my voice and touch as the tender mercy of the vet’s needle too him out of this world and its worries and into that other place beyond pain and sorrow.
I cried over Tiny Tug the way I had cried over my mother, knowing feel well that someone special had just departed from my life, someone the like of whom I would never meet again, and whose absence would generate a hole in my heart I could never fill until the last beat ceased and I like Big Tug, Jelly and Tiny Tug moved onto the mysterious other realm.
A day later, I still have the cat carrier in my car, and feel something contained in it, as if when leaving Tiny Tug’s body behind I carted away his soul, a spirit even now more firmly attached to me, clinging to my heard with all his claws.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Impeded perfection

June 18, 1982

Yes, I am hung up on perfection in a perfect soul and heart and fleeting feelings.
This has been a problem dating back to the early years of my life.
Perfection was drilled into me by clearly imperfect people, establishing a conflict I have yet to resolve.
I am not perfect, yet I expect others to be so.
Sometimes I fail to account for the effects of human emotions on reason, a barrage that affects even the staunchest of intellectuals, flipping reason on its head, prevent any accurate prediction.
Worse still, I do not see other people seeking perfection for themselves, and I get irritated when they seem to settle for mere comfort.
And so the search for perfection seems impeded by two obstacles: emotional disturbance and status quo.
Many people think it is safer to stay where they are than risk falling back.
And sometimes, I feel that way, too, although deep down, I hunger for something I can’t define, something beyond myself, something I might define as perfection, if I actually could ever figure out what perfection is.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The unattainable things -- June 15, 1982

June 15, 1982

I’ve become such a foolish soul these days, pinning my hopes on words instead of actions, setting myself up like a bowling pin to be knocked down again.
A person should learn wisdom from past mistakes. But I continue on, building a pyramid, brick by brick out of my foolish romantic ideals.
Anyone else would have by this time realized that a pyramid is just a marker for a grave, and it is folly to spend a life time building a marker for no one to remember but the maggots.
Still, I persist, building up my own tension, vibrating with melancholic airs in expectation like a man masturbating in preparation for sex.
Somehow I expect all of this to end up in a heightened experience.
The past, however, proves that such optimism breeds disaster.
Or does it?
Sometimes, it seems so – that hope which drives us on also drives us into the ground like a stake.
We hold up the tent to some evil intent, witnessing not great events, but sour things. The lost of love, of life, of liberty.
I wish  I was wise enough to see why.
But I think that Job is right. Good and bad in nature are beyond us, and fate is merely the karma of a three-dimensional being in a four-dimensional universe. We do things and have little control over the consequences, like a stone landing in water has no knowledge of the ripples it makes, then when the ripples lash back, we wonder why.
Well hope is a powerful force we then to use to foolish purpose, creating ripples that smack us later when the important issues come along. We ride the waves like helpless ships, condemning everything else but ourselves for the effect.
Maybe we should restrict our hopes to obtainable, worthwhile things – like love?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Faces of evil

I didn't realize until this year, how many packages evil comes in, and sometimes it wears a face that seems innocent or vulnerable.
For years as a reporter, I have previously seen evil done to other people, with me as the objective observer, battling on other people's behalf, trying to make sure that evil gets put back where it belongs. It was never anything personal. It rarely came after me -- at least not unexpectedly. When it did, I always knew it was coming, partly because I had somehow challenged it, and knew that I could ward it off when it came.
This year, I got blindsided, becoming a target of someone's agenda -- evil hiding behind a face I trusted, using a voice so sweet I never suspected it until too late -- a puppet show in which even the puppet was deluded into thinking it was on the inside of some great scheme, clawing its way to some level of importance it would never achieve -- as much of victim of the puppet master as I was, because puppets rarely know they are being used or for what purpose, and then are tossed away when unneeded.
My friend said, "what doesn't kill you, makes your stronger," which is true enough, except that sometimes, when you get wounded deeply enough, something changes in you, a vision of the world changes, and you see just how mean spirited the world can be, and how dark inside some people are who you have known for years.
You can't go back and pretend the world is a good place. It isn't. Some people in it are good. But not the puppet masters or their puppets.
In the end, the only thing you can do with evil is resist it, and the only thing you can do with puppets is to cut their strings. Nothing heals the wound a poison blade inflicts. That you have to live with.