Monday, January 28, 2013

Dead rat in my back yard

Monday, January 28, 2013

Finding the dead rat in the back yard wasn’t the worst part of the week, although it said something about omens, I suppose.
Driving out of Bayonne only to rip my tire on a sewer drain grate is high up on my list of bad things since it occurred relatively late at night on Wednesday, and on one of the coldest days of the year so far.
I was in a hurry, and had sped up the highway the back way through graveyard, avoiding all the usual tie ups I get into when coming up Avenue E onto Broadway.  The light was red when I got to Garfield Avenue, but I could turn on red and did, only to see the pickup truck barreling towards me so I took the turn sharper and faster than I had intended.
I’d had trouble at that corner before, but this time, I knew something bad had happened, but didn’t know what and considering the neighborhood, I didn’t stop until a mile or so later when I got to the top of the hill near Summit and Fairmount and heard the rumble of a flat.
This was my first flat in this car, but I figured I could handle it, leaping out only to remember I had a trunk full of crap that I now had to put in the back seat so I could get to the spare and the tool, and when I did, I couldn’t find the jack.
I keep the car manual in the back seat for times like this, at least ever since that first time when I drove to work and realized I didn’t know how to open the gas tank and I was below E, and went on line to find the switch.
The temperatures outside this time was below freezing, and I had all the junk from the trunk on top of the manual, so after more digging, I eventually found the book, my frozen fingers turning page after page until finally, I found the page which informed me the jack was located under the front driver’s seat.
More fumbling and scraped fingers, I got the jack out, fitted it under the car, and managed somehow to raise the thing only to discover that the lugs were so cold they wouldn’t come off.
Somewhere in all this, I had dropped my cell phone, and sorting through the junk in the back seat I eventually found this, battery nearly expired, so I had to plug it in, call home for a number to our friendly local tow truck operator only to find the number went to some very irritated guy who told me never to call back or he would find me, and so I called the dealer instead, and to my surprise someone answered and gave me roadside assistance – in Nashville.
After a 40 minute frigid wait, a guy in a car showed up with a real jack and a real lug wrench and helped change my tire.
The next morning I drove on the donut tire to the dealer only to find out, they didn’t have the tire in stock and sent me to Sears, which had it only because they service Zip cars. By the time I got to work, I was exhausted and facing a long night at the Board of Education, and I was in no mood for the drive home when a couple of idiots doubled parked near where I had to turn and I had to speed up to get around a car making a left so as not to hit them, beeping my horn and giving the figure to the idiots seated in the front seat – who turned out to be undercover cops on a coffee break, who after pulling me over, made the usual request for paper work while asking, “Do you have any points?”
“I guess I will after this?” I replied
“What was that?” the cop asked.
For once in my life, I shut my mouth and shrugged, taking the tickets and driving off thankful I wasn’t hauled off in handcuffs.
It snowed that night, and the next morning, I found yet another poisonous spider in my shower, and this time, vowing not to kill it like I had the last, I found a way to put it outside, only to watch it die in the cold.
The spider didn’t kill the rat, I’m sure.
I didn’t know it was a rat until my wife said there’s a dead squirrel in the yard and I went out to take a look at it, and found it was a fat rat with a long tail and pointed front teeth.
I felt sorry for it, and for myself, thinking how fragile life is, and how lucky some of us are – escaping the worst impacts of our stupidity, while innocents like the spider and rat could not.
Omens, did I say? Perhaps more a life lesson about behaving better, and trying to live a good life, and hoping for the best.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

In search of what?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

I woke up from a cold night to find a rising temperature, a warmer wind blowing across the side porch as I put out food for the cats.
On the kitchen table I still have the left over food from the Chinese take out we had last night, as well as a pile of fortunes I’d collected over the last two weeks, unable to tell which fortune went with which week so they all sort of mingled together, stinging a little as reminders of the past and the wisdom I was smart enough to give, but never follow.
“Trust yourself,” one says, “You know more than you think.”
I suppose I do, instinct always outweighing every other option in my life, always telling me by some mysterious process when I am on the wrong path or what I should do next.
I keep thinking of the Indiana Jones movies where the hero keeps “making it up” as he goes along.
There are contradictions in these fortunes, such as when they tell me to “take time to relax especially when you don’t have time for it,” or how “sincerity is the finest point of communication,” or even “there are not stupid questions, just stupid answers.”
I still pondered these over breakfast at The Coach House, where I routinely spend Saturdays reading the latest editions of North Hudson newspapers, sorting out fact from fiction before I take a cup of coffee to go and wandered up the street into the lower part of Union City, taking glimpses of a fading piece of history, old garment district reminding me of the days when I grew up in the Silk City, similar ruins, similar people, similar memories – rusted fire escapes, street sides filled with crying babies, and people who speak tongues I barely understand.
I always come back down Summit, passed the old theater with posters for movies no longer playing, in fact, no movies are playing, just the echo of theater ghosts stirring in the back, aching to be set free now that the only occupants are them.
I like the other part of Union City, the section where Bergenline Avenue hits the viaduct, and a handful of old fashion banks surround the intersection straight out of my memories of Paterson when I waited for the bus to go home each night from a job in a theater than hadn’t yet turned to cobwebs, where we ushers went as far with girls in the balcony as the girls would let us, always coming out after our shifts aching for more.
I met my best friend in that old theater, and as I walk around this part of town, I think of him, and the adventures we had, and the immense sadness I felt at his passing, as if an age of the world had come to an end, an age of innocence I could no longer lay claim to.
I guess I’m always searching to get back that innocence, or at least, to look at it to see if it really ever was anything more than wishful thinking, and that the me of that time is as stained in heart as the one of this time, and most of us really spend our times struggling to find something we can never really attain, love, fame, fortune, glory, and in the end, have to settle for something much closer to truth than we ever thought – our version of truth, anyway, truth not found in tea leaves at the bottom of my paper cup, but in coffee grounds, just a bit bitter and hard to swallow.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A good wind

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The fog lifts slowly from the harbor this dull morning, revealing bits of a landscape I thought I knew, each aspect unmasked by the shredding, a landscape sheathed in ice over night by persistent sleet bound and determined to keep secrete the deeper keeps I ache to discover with each walk here.
Everything I thought I knew I must learn again, finding new maps through this changed landscape trapped in ice, fog and the bayside rocks, whole lives caught in the endless eddies none of us can fully escape.
My grandfather, the boat building, told me once that sails are only as good as the wind that blows them, and we all must trust to luck or fate before new can manage to steer clear of narrow places and shallow water upon which boat bottoms scrape.
Across the bay, industry imitates nature as great steel cargo cranes take the shape of the gentle egrets common on this side, mirror images distorted in the funhouse of the modern world where we are constantly confronted by real and unreal and must decide which is which and which we want to follow.
I walk this asphalt path along this side because it is all I know, the only solid ground upon which my feet can travel with any certainly, thought as time as proved, I have sometimes stumbled over potholes hidden in the haze, leaving me injured but with no choice but to rise up and walk on, tightening my sails the way my grandfather told me, hoping a good wind will take up the slack and ease me out from the narrow water eddies in which the world traps us all.
Somewhere high up a sea gull cries, making me long for the sea.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The life

November 9, 1982

The first you learn is that you never give it away.
You use power to get power; any expenditure for any other reason is a waste.
But we live in wasteland of waste, especially when it comes to rock & roll, politics or charismatic leaders.
The other lesson you need to learn that in most cases, if you destroy yourself you rarely rise again.
That’s why my being the sound man of this band makes no sense, cast in with a pack of over-30 outcasts that couldn’t make it in the music biz and so have finally learned to settle for drugs and sex.
Some drink to excess, clinging to their guitars as if crutches, somehow managing these nights to hit the right strings, and to give off the impression that they still have what it takes, superstars in a pond filled with pond scum, clinging to the rapidly evaporating sense of power they once had, settling for partners after hours they would not have looked at twice in those days when they had better choices.
And me, I sit behind the board, pushing buttons, raising and lowering it, trying to make them sound better than they deserve, one more big fish wishing I was some place else, doing something better, with a whole new cast of characters, yet not quite able to give up “the life,” or the status, even when we’re only impressing ourselves.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Seeking inspiration

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Went back to the usual ritual of morning exercise in Bayonne county park, starting off the new year with the same determination stay sane and healthy.
The world is just too complex for me. I’m a very simple man at heart and why ELP’s “Simple Man” was a theme song for my life for years. Pauly and the band played “Love of the Common Man,” at my wedding, reading something in me I was not completely aware of.
Personal politics gets really ugly when there is no firm ground to stand on, some fundamental belief system that defines who and what you are. Absent faith in God, there has to be faith in something else outside ourselves that we can rely on to steer us. Most people I notice do not have this core value, but bounce in a constant reactive rebounding, going from person to person and belief to belief, never firmly attached to anyone or anything.
At my core, I believe in writing. It has always been my religion and my faith, and I get most lost when I forget it or neglect it, as happened over the last few years, but was shaken back over 2012 in an unexpected way.
I’ve always risen to the challenge of writers who I believe are better than I am or at least have more natural talent. Like everyone, I aspire to the greats – having found heroes in Graham Greene, EB White, JRR Tolkien and others, but the real challenge has always come from contemporaries who are one or two steps ahead of me, and whom I see as rivals, people whose ability challenges me to do better, and to aspire to, and try to beat – even if my natural ability leaves me at a great disadvantage (as did my home learning).
Early on in the paper, several reporters at the paper did this for me, people whose immense talents I still aspire to, going back to them the way I go back to Bob Greene or Mark Twain, to teach me how to do what I forgot to do.
But over the years, many of these people moved on, and I have remained a fixture where I am, treading water, hoping to inspire myself (an impossible thing for me) until others came along. I always need challenges to inspire me, and so looking back at to 2012 I found inspiration again, and perhaps this time, I might be able to hold onto it, taking it into me as a life lesson I can return to again and again, seeking instruction on how to turn a phrase the way Tony Morrison might or to tell a straight yet emotional yarn in the manner of Jane Austin.  Yet I know, I will always continue to seek out people who are better writers than I am, the way a man climbs a ladder reaches for the next rung, hoping to reach the top of something I can’t even imagine its height, to find my place or to simply rise as high as I can before time and energy runs out, and I have done all I can do, been inspired by all I can draw from, and aspire to all that is possible for a man of limited means can do in a life time.
I look ahead to the new year for inspiration, and the next rung on this insane ladder called life.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

It was a very good year

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

So we begin where we started, stirring up the old fires that New Years always inspires, goals and ambitions, plans that we need to get done before the new year expires and we are one year older without having accomplished what we set out to do all those years ago.
Somehow, with all the turmoil, blindness (literal and figurative), disappointment and overwork, I managed somehow to finish the first draft of a novel I started early in the year, and to start typing in the river book I had handwritten the previous year, and to start a new novel for this year – none published, of course, but with the idea that perhaps this should be my goal for 2013 --  year that must have more luck than 2012, although if truth be told, I was a very, very lucky man in 2012.
Our lives escape us always. We plan and then we rarely manage to do more than our weekly chores, and yet, if lucky, squeeze into these those tidbits of pleasure and pain we did not plan on or expect, nor in the end regret.
The hard part of surviving, as my 91-year-old grandmother found out before her death, is leaving behind so many of those who have not or could not or did not have the right stuff to make it, and in the end, surviving always means a measure of loneliness.
By best friend died in March, 1995, part of a sequence of deaths that left me devoid of those closest to me. Once rich in uncles and aunts, nearly all perished between 1989 and 2001 (when my mother passed), and my Uncle Ted pulled me aside to say, “You and I are the last from the old house,” only for me to see him pass on in 2010, and this year, to bear witness to Uncle Pete’s demise – the last of recreation room sports gatherings in Fairfield where I recalled only the yelling at faulty quarterbacks, the air filled with cigarette and cigar smoke, and the strong scent of alcohol and sweat.
All gone.
The tragic part of New Years is when a person looks back more than ahead – an event that usually hits as a person approaches 50 and realizes that much of what we cast aside as old and done with were the real treasures of living, and that by the time we reach my age, it becomes clear that we have lost more than we have gained, struggling with the New Year to reach for smaller things to accomplish, such as waking up happy and unburdened each morning, finding small happiness in the sound of birds rather than raging hormones or unabashed ambition.
It’s the people who matter, those who have touched us and whom we have touched, and in those years if we have managed to reach more than we have cast away, we have lived a good year, a profitable year, a year full of memory we can be proud of.