Friday, June 21, 2013

Digging dirt in New England

Friday, June 21, 2013

The last time I traveled north, I didn’t go as far as New England, just up the Hudson to Kingston, and a few miles west to Woodstock.
New England is as foreign to me as mars, although my father’s family came from East Boston, a place I need to visit before I die.
I made it to Boston with Garrick and Pauly one very rainy winter in the mid 1970s to help move a mutual friend who was going to attend art college there.
That was the year McDonald’s went on a sales pitch about getting your burger anyway you wanted it, and pissed off Pauly when we had to wait an hour to get it. That was also before the Sandinistas took over and drove out the rip off cattle ranches that allowed McDonald to sell beef cheap. But that’s a whole different direction.
Hank and I speculated about buying land upstate New York, or even in New Hampshire, were we might till the land and make our living digging dirt.
These days digging dirt in that part of the planet means something entirely different, but I still long for the peace of it.
I missed the gang’s trip to Nova Scotia – because I was on the west coast at the time. My family has roots there, too, from the con-artist that married by Great Great Grandfather just prior to his death and took off back to where she grew up in Nova Scotia with the lawyer and the family fortune.
My grandfather on my father’s side also married a woman from Nova Scotia – although she apparently resided elsewhere in New England before marrying him. So I suppose I should go to Nova Scotia before I die as well.
Hank, Rob, and Pauly made that trip in the summer of 1971 just after Hank broke up with Peggy, the love of his life, but managed to blaze a trail of love making the whole way up and back, once even abandoning Pauly and Rob at a broken down motel so he could go with a girl to a rock club miles away.
I remember hearing about the argument about whether or not to take a ferry or drive through New Hampshire, with Hank arguing for the longer driving route only to get outvoted and threatened if he didn’t take the ferry.
But even getting to Nova Scotia they still weren’t safe, getting lost at the top of some mountain where Hank tossed the keys out of the car into a field of grazing cows, while Rob hunted for the keys, Hank sat on the hood of the car singing, and Pauly with his tape recorder interviewed the cows. After digging dirt for a while, Rob eventually came up the keys and they went on their way, down into the mists, and back to civilization, the dirt of that hill top clinging to their heels.

All these years later, I still have the tape Pauly recorded on that trip, including the interviews with the cows. But I really want is to feel the dirt they dug, feeling it against my skin, thinking that if I can’t get there, at least I got to touch a bit of it before I die.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013



Truth, justice and fair play

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Who knew a year ago when he and I sat in the park in Hoboken sharing secrets that we would a year later be sitting in a restaurant in Jersey City still caught in the same web of deception, how our lives have become entwined, not because of what either of us did to each other, but what has been done to us, spun around us, and slowing forcing us together – like or not.
Good guys don’t always finish last, but foolish good guys do, especially when bad people convince us we are better than we are or can have more than we have a right to expect or are somehow special when no one is as special as fantasy makes us seem.
It is always the same routine on the telephone, how someone really digs us, and how much we can teach them, or how really great we could be if only… well, if only something, I always forget what comes after that.
And a year later, the only thing special about either of us is how empty we feel, used up, but not of any less use.
I find villains the more fascinating characters in films I watch and so playing the role of one over the last year has been no problem, even though deep down I’m more a flawed hero, one who stands up for righteousness when all else gives into the temptation and seduction.
It doesn’t make me bleed any less, but it certainly makes me feel like the loss of blood served some purpose higher than someone else’s greed.
All good heroes – flawed or not – stand up against evil even when they risk losing everything, not because they know they will win, but because the world cannot afford to let bad guys win.
And sitting at that table, hearing the same old deception being cast in new words, created by some web master no longer visible, from whom we have no need to hide like we did last time.
After a year of people trying to lure me into ugly situations, after learning that personal politics often bleeds into the larger variety, and that people bent on getting what they want at any cost, I’ve learned not to take things face value, but always question odd turns of phrase or ill logic, or even subjective truth.
I learned no good cause can be served by a lie, and that right and wrong might be relative, but they still exist, and that fair and unfair show the quality of lack of in people who accept or reject them, and that cheaters often win, but end up with nothing for their efforts – and that some people are so bent on cheating, they don’t’ care.
But then, these were lessons I always knew and needed to be reminded that down deep, where it counts most, I still stand for things like truth, justice and fair play, and I’m willing to give up all I have to uphold them – and that truth can’t be manufactured out of lies, and justice can’t be served by deception, and the only really valuable people are those who play by the rules – even if they don’t win.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Poison Ivy

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Beatles version of the old song keeps playing over and over in my head.
I’m allergic, but not so bad as some, although if a plant breathes on me, I get the rash.
I’ve never had my throat close up, although I have had one eye closed once, when I got it as a boy scout all those years ago.
Combined with the fact that we brought in a new cat – and inevitably the problem such cats bring in fleas – we make a terrible family, all of us scratching – although unlike the cats, I try to resist.
There where and when of the contact with the evil plant remains a mystery since I tend to wander off the beaten path often. I do have a batch of the stuff in my back yard where I might have received a dose while cutting the lawn. But most likely, I encountered the plant when wandering in the remote portion of Bayonne behind the former A&P where the cats run wild and weeds grow over a small swamp.
I must have brushed my shoulder against it because my right shoulder and under arm are the worst hit portions with only a little spreading to my other arm.
None the less, it comes at a time when others I know suffer serious illness while I have for the most part in my life escaped with minor injury. My eyes are the worst part of my problems over the years which seem to be better now, while friends and family perish under the gloom of heart ailments and cancer.
So I consider myself lucky, and struggle with resisting itching rather than with resisting treatments that might leave me zombie-like or worse.
My life has always been a blessing, I attribute most to my mother whose daily rosaries kept me from harm at the worst of times, such as when the motorcycle gangs in LA tried to beat me up, or Billy Night Rider tried to shoot me, or even when the police pursued me and Mike Day in a high speed car chase in Portland.  I was even immune against the Manson Family when they decided to throw me out of an apartment in Las Vegas. They could have killed us, although I think they were a little bit under pressure since their goal at the time was to get Charlie Manson out of jail.
My mother’s prayers got me through more scrapes than I can recount, keeping me from jail to ill-fated romances, although her most persistent prayers were reserved for my first marriage. She always wanted me to reunite with my first wife and my child, and oddly enough, in its own fashion, during my mother’s funeral it did.

But prayers alone can’t save me from the ill weed of poison ivy, and as the song runs through my head I fight the urge to scratch and make it worse. There are some rashes that need to heal themselves, and patience is the only real cure.

Monday, June 17, 2013

It’s all I have

April 29, 1982

My parents took me home after my giving my mother nine months of living hell.
She said I kicked a lot, but I refused to believe it. Other kids kicked to get out. I liked it there.
Maybe I didn’t want to come out to see them fighting all the time, even when they said the right things about me being their “bundle of joy.”
Even a kid at my tender age could handle only so much of the sap.
Perhaps I only kicked now and then to remind them I was still there.
I don’t know if it was that first day that I remember or one of the days just after, but it’s the only memory I have of my father holding me.
I remember going from a bright place to a dark place and getting scared.
I might have been as old as six months, but I remember my father’s strong arms around me – because he split about that time and I never saw him again – swoosh like a scared rabbit, sending ten bucks a week to my mother from some place in Passaic before vanishing entirely along with his money.
I remember them taking me home from some place, along a dark alley I much later picked out on 21st Avenue in Paterson, a dark alley along side a white building which would later get covered over with aluminum siding. But in those days it was wood. I remember how stiff he felt, as if he was wood, or I was, carrying me like the carbine he must have carried when in navy boot camp.
As I said, he didn’t stick around long enough for me to get to know him. So I treasure this memory and that long walk down the short alley, because it’s all I have, and I remember that dark alley like I remember my first two front teeth. I remember the door to our apartment was about half way down that alley on the left. I remember my nervous mother scrambling ahead and how the keys jangled as she tried to unlock the door. I started to cry again which only made her more nervous. I could hear my father’s hushed voice trying to soothe me. I just wouldn’t be hushed.
There was something dark in that whole business, bad feelings that filled me with fear and wouldn’t be flushed out even when my mother flicked on the lights inside the apartment. That only seemed to scare me more and made me cry even louder.
My father and mother were angry, but not at me.
Yet when my father put me down in the crib, I screamed even more. The animals painted on the sides of the crib scared me, pink and blue creatures floating on a background of varnished wood.
The crib was the gift from some neighbor who said she wouldn’t need it any more.
My mother and father left me then. They were always leaving me, always fading out beyond the haze which thickened around me, becoming a blur among blurs. I remember the room growing dim again, and I kept crying until it hurt too much to cry, and so I stopped.

Oedipal indigestion

May 7, 1982

We interrupt this current thought for a message from a dream: my mother is a go go dancer.
Yeah, that’s right folks; you too can smash glass and dishes while dreaming of your mother making the grand attempt to stop her from stepping out onto the stage.
It all connects as I lay sleeping with sweet and wonderful Doreen.
My mother is a stripper.
Anyway, the other great love of my life is elsewhere.
What a terrible connection for my unconscious to make.
But Freud’s been on my brain lately. And there is it, a single dream, meaning everything he said it should mean.
For me personally, it was a nightmare.
I dreamed I was standing in the kitchen of the old Crooks Avenue house with my uncles and my mother. I was smashing dishes at my mother’s occupation.
“It isn’t decent!” I heard myself say.
My gallant uncles did nothing.
But I sensed their approval, just as sensed their disapproval at everything bad I did in my life.
They just wouldn’t voice their judgments.
The dream had several terrifying interpretations.
First there is the obvious oedipal complex issue.
Secondly, there is Louise, who really is a stripper and more, and my frustration at trying to keep her out of porno flicks in LA, and my joining her to keep tabs on her, growing hurt over every explicit act.
Now, more than a decade later, she keeping appointments, I dare not object to, though feel as if each is the lash of a whip, aching for her to be something else, perhaps as pure as my mother is, and in my twisted dreams, my unconscious gets it wrong, and I wake up in a sweat wondering where I went wrong.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Seaside memories

  May 10, 1982

 Seaside wears on my like a history of scars, the salt air eating at me like a metal tin man beginning to rust and flake away. The ocean roars then whispers in an alternating rhythm I can’t always predict, sometimes boasting like an exaggerated actor, and other times more subtle. I came here in 1973, angry and alone, suffering from some kind of ego deflation that made me ask for the ocean to strike out at all the plastic people I saw around me.
A moment later, the city went black, every light extinguished, leaving people stranded on the rides. But it isn’t the people who are plastic, it’s the social structure, drawing us in, making us fit molds. It’s all hype, people used to call in it the sixties. But it’s really more than that. We all thought we were individuals back then, doing our best to stand out as something different from everybody else, when did exactly what everybody always does, and picked up whatever fashion happened to be popular, just as people do now. Back then, we all tried to fit in by looking different.
Now they try to fit in by looking the same. But then and now, people fall into types, groups needing certain characteristic people to include as members. Sometimes, when I walk around, I see our little clan, the artistic type, the rebel type, the intellectual, and the comic. We all need to feel happy and secure, even when we act as if we are neither. Most people are consumed with pursuit of money, even when we profess that we are non-materialistic, knowing in the end that cash gives us options we don’t have otherwise, even when we survive on very little.
 This place lets people escape their real lives for a time – letting them play, acting out their lives in some other fashion for a week or two, different here in that this is mostly a place where teens meet, while more seditious in the complex adult play land of Atlantic City where men and women get to delve into even darker fantasies. But it is all a fantasy, an illusion that people engage in, for brief moments before they get back to their real lives where they must earn their way in the world. Some forget this, and linger in this limbo, like I did when I was 22 and seeking to regain something I had found here at 16.
 Adults do come here but they come as parents mostly, reliving their earlier lives through their very young children, or giving their teens a little space where they might engender the other gender in a way far safer than what can be found in the adult world. Those who forget that this is a fantasy lose themselves and their way back, assuming somehow that they can stretch this amusement out for a life time, thinking that the prizes they win either at the wheels of fortune or in the strip clubs, can become a way of life, when for real people, honest people, thoughtful people, it isn’t.
 While the masses come back again and again to spawn here like salmon each summer, few take it so seriously as to get trapped in the spinning wheels, and those that do become part of the amusement ride, not merely plastic, but mechanical. Most of the people who live here year round oil the machine, making their living off the tourists, but understand that it is a job, not a fantasy, and they do not take it so seriously that they get caught in the spokes. I come here more regularly than I used to but almost always off season like this, my family living a few miles away so that it is just a short jog down the highway and over the bridge to this place. I’m drawn here when the rides are still silent and the hawkers still too busy setting up their little games to pay much attention to me.
I’m drawn to the sea and its endless cycle of whispering and screams, the seagulls calling over me in some song I still don’t completely understand. I don’t come here during the season, except for some specific reason, though sometimes, when I do, a little bit of the old magic still shows through, a glitter of the fantasy in some of the younger people’s eyes, a little sadness in the faces of aging beach bums who couldn’t give up the life they mistook at real, they, too, perhaps, listening to the song of the sea, seeking answers like I always do from this mystic place of mystery. Today, the work shakes with waves not crowds. The music rises from the beach side instead of the boardwalk concessions.
A handful of sunbathers take their place on the still uncrowded beach as the sun slants slowly casting shadows across their world and bringing them out with a chill. But it is an ordinary dark that comes, not a black out, and I stroll along the beach searching for myself and not some fantasy I left here at 16 or 22, carrying a notebook under my arm strange thoughts about the real and unreal, and just how any of us can possibly expect to tell which is which, when deep down we are drawn by something we cannot possibly understand, and ache for fantasy to relieve us of what is real, and in the end, if we choose fantasy, it becomes worse than the drudgery we thought we might escape.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Getting bent

Sunday, June 09, 2013

The rain ends.
Slanted light oozes through the wet leaves in my back yard, and I drift in a dream of green, not sure of where I am or how I got here or if there’s anywhere to get back to if I wanted to get back at all.
The uncle I cared for and helped bury 15 years ago would have turned 80 this week, living longer than anyone ever expected even him.
I guess we live our lives expecting one thing and getting another.
This is the time of season when we get to the point where the days mount up to that day which is longest, and then wind down like an old alarm clock to grow short again – a dreadful thought that I am reaching the age when short days matter, and I get scared.
I’ve always lived my life believing that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line only to learn that nothing is so straight as we pretend it is, least of all me as I bend to the invisible forces Mother Nature casts at me, hoping if I learn to bend right I might yet get what I came for.
Once, when I was young, I asked a circus strong man why he bent metal bars with his teeth. Didn’t it hurt?
He said it hurt every time, and sometimes, he just didn’t feel strong enough to do it, regardless what the circus posters said. But he said he had to do it to survive.
We all bend and get bent, I’ve learned since, the secret is not to mind it.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Gray day in Passaic (from feminist class journal)

November 18, 1981

PASSAIC -- It’s cold, yet not cold enough – at least not for the change of season. Rain is in the air instead of snow, and this makes a difference in this world. It is a different mood that claims mere here, the mood of being protected by the thin (yet leaking) roof of my small porch.
In winter with the snow, I’d be up at Pauly’s place (well, girl’s friend mother’s) in front of a fire, smoking pot and wonder why I was there, old friends are like that sometimes, serving as substitutes for others. Old friends and fires and Christmas around the corner.
There is sadness in the air that makes me feel colder, the stillness and silence of a rain in the ghetto seeping into me, depressing me.
The cars that pass splash the puddles with loud dramatic slaps and the water covers the tin trash cans still uncollected at the curb, trash overflowing and condemned to get swept up by tomorrow’s street sweepers.
The world is gray; I am gray. This isolation (self induced) produced moments like there where I sit on my door step and watch the surface world move, the silly people covering their heads with sagging sheets of newsprint, darting from doorway to doorway. The hurried and angry milk man darts from his truck. The wet newspaper dropped on the previously dry sidewalk sags with the weight of words.
Isolation is a condition here, learned by habit, learned by living in oppression. Down Eighth Street, the whistles of the factories blow, calling the wetbacks hither. Two months ago, the police raided them, the seventh raid of the year, but no one raids the houses here, the ruins of the past now stuffed with three and four families, thirty or forty people at times living in two squalid rooms.
Strangely, they are no where near here now, and I wit and wait and wonder about their lives and how they feel, and if they have hope, and if they feel as gray as I do now, or angry, though I suspect they do not wish as I do that this rain was snow instead.

(Don't ask me why I wrote this in my college journal for feminist class, but I did)

The cuss from Hoe

Thursday, June 06, 2013

All these years later, and I still remember how odd it felt, working at this club in Paramus, a pickup bar, one-time disco that like the band I was with wanted to pick up on new wave and the hip crowd, when it was just a suburban joint where working class guys and gals hooked up for a drunk and something extra in the parking lot, nothing hip or special about it, except that like most places it changed its name and became something else when the trends changed.
I worked lights or sound for a number of bands there, trying to keep the money flowing in when I no longer had a straight job to count on, and needed to eat and pay rent while going to college. I didn’t drink much on these nights, and this was burdensome since drunks are intolerable to be around unless you’re drunk, too, and watching the strange dance that went on night after night because a sad commentary on the world – working class people struggling to find some comfort in an otherwise uncomfortable world.
Years later, I would come to miss The Shayds most, and outlive some of its members like John and Bob, both who have passed away over the last two or three years, one-time hopeful stars in whose music shadow I could barely stand, and yet, whose lives touched mine in important ways.
I remember Bob’s break up with Chris that Christmas season when I worked with Marcie at the Toys R Us in Totowa, and how hurt Chris was, and how well I knew that hurt and wanted to comfort it, but knew that no one could except for Bob, who had moved on without her.
They had made up a huge part of the band life for me, the bass player and his girlfriend, and their laughter at me. She once poked me in the stomach after I had gotten back into shape, saying “You’re getting real tight there.”
And I remember the long nights at this odd place in Paramus where the band played for the drunks, more than a little drunk themselves, aching for fame and fortune, destined to make only one recording together and later one video before the fell apart, and how a few years later, bits and pieces of that band came back together with me as sound man, Bob and John shooting heroin and snorting coke for the one gig at The Locker Room after which they tore up the place in a mad rage I only understood years later when the picture all came clear that they would never achieve the dream they wanted and has to settle for something else.
“I’m too old for another band,” I quote Pauly in a journal from that time. “I’m 32 and this will be the 10th band in 16 years.”
Looking back, I realize it didn’t end there, and the bits and pieces continued to fall into different patterns for years after that, more bands, more reunions, until death do they part.

I guess finding the old card from the old performance today, just brought it all home, the pain and the glory, the sadness and yet somehow, the magic – still lingering in us.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Without expectations (Reflections on a reading at The Beat’n Path, Hoboken)

April 21, 1980

The spot lights burn my eyes.
I raise my hand to fend off the brightness, then rub them as if they hurt.
A nervous habit as I read.
I feel my words dribble out of me and hear them as if someone else is speaking them.
They are true, but sound false.
I shuffled the papers as I read, changing the lines around so that they might come out differently, sounding more truthful, when in altering them, they become lies.
Past the brightness of the lights, I see faces looking at me, listening to me, and I wonder: do they know what the truth is?
I’m scared because inside I fear people’s laughter, and wish I was back along the riverside where the slow water flows up to my feet, without judgment or motive, sloshing and gurgling with the events of the season, carrying leaves and debris to me as gifts – and in some ways, my words capture a little of that, flowing out of me the way the river flows from some other more mysterious source, seeking to convey some feeling or thought, I can convey in no other way, my gaze finding one set of eyes in the crowd to reach out to, and then ask within these shuffled words, whether I have found truth or not, and whether these gifts dribbling onto the shore convey the spirit of river out of which they flow.
And then, I’m done, the pages finished, my mouth snapping shut on the last like a turtle condemned to the silence of the river, and vaguely, I hear someone clap or laugh or mutter approval or disapproval, I cannot tell.
I close the notebook, step down, and pass out from under the glare of lights to take my place in the shadows, to pass judgment on those who follow, knowing they will forget that they passed judgment on me once they are there in front of those lights, and I wonder, can I accept their gifts as they flow up to me as readily as I accepted those gifted to me at the river.

I sit and miss the river all the more, knowing how much simpler life is without expectations.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

note found in dressing room

April 15, 1980

The dressing room lights burn low. But the counter and mirror reflect the dull bulb so it seems brighter in here than it ought to.
I’m alone here, except for the mice all back stage theaters have, scurrying among the costumes and the empty dance shoes flat on the floor near the closet, lined up, waiting for feet to fill them.
I sit for a moment listening to the endlessly rehearsed lines from the stage, which are cast out into the vacuum of empty seats, ricocheting back at the actors like bullets.
I’m one of the few invited guest to this slaughter of language I helped write.
But it is the note left on the counter that interests me: unaddressed, unsigned, small and insignificant in the hay stack mounds of costumes and other abandoned cloth.
“I watched you today,” the note reads, “all during the play, trying to catch your eyes and their glint, and hoping that the sparkle in them was for me.”
At that point a rime fiddles in my thoughts, and I whisper it, soft and low, like a flute playing its solo in the wind:

All in green went
My love riding
On a great horse
Of gold into the
Silver dawn.

I don’t think ee cummings minds my using his words, for strange enough, it is spring and the green is inside me, the greed is the bud of a gentle flower rising to bloom, and my God, I think it might be love.