Saturday, August 31, 2013

Snake oil

Saturday, August 31, 2013

I was in a Hoboken bar last night waiting for a rock band and thinking: is it possible to be doing two different things at the same time, things that seem contrary to each other, and still have both thing valid.
Such as someone selling himself on a snake oil cure for his addition to booze – and telling everybody that he’s on the wagon – when at night he roams bars like this, deep in the dark life?
Can he actually make me believe that he’s found the magical elixir that will turn his life around, cure all of his ills, while at the same time still swimming in the same swill that made him ill in the first place?
Not a chance.
One or the other is valid, and he can’t be curing himself with his magic potions while still engaged in the same habits that made him sick.
So he’s trying to sell more than snake oil, he’s trying to pan himself off as reformed when he’s not, and the worst part, is that he got the idea of getting the cure because someone he is supposedly close to really is ill, and is taking the hard rode to recovery, and really trying to turn his life around, when all the first guy wants is for people to think he’s reformed so he can keep on scamming people the way he did when he started.
After the first drink, all this faded into the bliss of watching the New York Yankees win – for a change.
But then, like the guy who is really sick, they’re taking the real road to recovery, not faking it.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Shall the meek inherit the earth?

Friday, August 30, 2013

We started with rain – tiny splotches on the glass as I made my way to Hoboken to pick up the paperwork for Gene.
Illness has gripped our little world so tightly it is difficult to believe it is all real.
But we live in a world of illusion, of slight of hand, of wool over our eyes, and we have to make sure that what we see is not just something we want to see or are made to see for someone else’s benefit.
I kept thinking how near I came to blindness less than two years ago, and how some years seem to set the stage for the events of other years, mists forming not over our vision, but our thinking so that we carry the fog inside of us and never know what shall pop out of it.
I kept thinking of films like The Third Man during my wait on the viaduct, and how he faked his own death in order to escape the wrath of law, doing it daringly, in the open, so that he could continue his life of crime.
I like to walk the streets and alleys of Hoboken because of the film, On the Waterfront, and its constant reminder that evil lurks not in dark alleys or rough bars, but in the heart – and how we are always being deceived by Wizards who hide out in the open, not behind curtains as was the case with Oz, and that Dorothy is not all that less guilty than the two witches she slaughters.
We live with people who either have integrity or with those constantly trying to steal ours, and in the end, we relive scenes from old movies, clinging onto those characters we think reflect us best.
I tend to watch the same movies over and over, things like Casablanca – where the hero retains in his heart what he seems to lack, and Citizen Kane, whose hunger for power ruins him because he is rotten in the heart.
Good and evil are always at each other’s throats, and there is no guarantee that Rick will manage to win over against evil, or that Kane won’t get elected despite his ill heart.
I parked in a spot and did not have to pay the meter because we were working summer hours and I had arrived before the clock turned on the money machine.
Inside, the old building the memories were less acute. I remember the old place more distinctly because they seemed to stand out against the backdrop of this new On the Waterfront, where in recent years in the new building all the years and issues seemed to run together, losing focus, turning into mists that help disguise what really goes on in our lives or what is really important.
I don’t spend a lot of time there and even when I used to work there full time I often walked out by the water, seeking something real, something sincere, something I could feel against my skin.
These days, filled with disease, real and unreal, acute or superficial, we age inside a mist so that the years pass by quickly, almost painlessly, leaving us to wonder what film will reflect this era the way films like On the Waterfront or Citizen Kane reflected those eras, or has life simply imitated more devious films like The Third Man, where we are always wondering if the villain is really dead or dying, or is this just some trick he’s invented to make himself less vulnerable to arrest and scandal.
Orson Welles plays in both Citizen Kane and in The Third Man, in the first, his hunger for power is obvious, and it destroys him, in the second, he is just as hungry for power, but has learned to cloak himself, to fake his death when his evil genius grew too obvious and he needed to become someone else, someone invisible, someone new.
I drive up the viaduct again, heading down to Bayonne, to the other office that has become my home and refuge, recalling the film that was created there in my life time, where invaders from Mars broke up out of the ground in their stealth invasion, and how in the end, their own inability to deal with earthly disease became their undoing – and all human kind had to do to overcome their superior technology was to wait for the inevitable so that the meek could once more inherit the earth.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The illusion of power

August 3, 2013

The rain comes with no sense of shame, leaving its trail of tears across the wet landscape – a gray misery disguised with a fake sense of relief from heat, a sadness of personal conquests few can easily see amid the glitter and dripping.
We walk stress empty of shadows, making all seem that much lonelier since bad company, we think, is better than no company, and we are wrong.
Strolling along the street with only our reflections in the car windows, an honest, but distorted reflection of who we are and who we think we might be. The rain washes away the illusions along with the dust because as the old adage goes” we are born alone and we die the same way, and days like this remind us, a good tale to keep inside for when we are foolish enough to believe otherwise.
This was a week of illusions, of people pursuing power that they can’t have or handle including me, doom always just a breath or two away, regardless of how strong I feel. It is never strong enough, and while others can latch onto strong people to allow them to carry on, I don’t have the stuff to do that, or the lack of conscience. I can’t convince anyone to take me on and so I cling to the illusion of power in the hope that others believe I have more than I actually have, and let the sword hang over me, to leave me, unscathed.
Sometimes, it is just impossible to defend yourself against false accusations, no matter how hard you try, and the best thing to do is the lie lie so that ultimately, the liars defeat themselves.
Life, of course, is only this moment in which we live, the past and future, illusions. One we manufacture out of our own memory to what we perceive we experience, the other a fantasy based on our sometimes exaggerated expectations. Those who live in the past are often disillusioned, seeing their time as already expired, and those who live in the future, deluded and drawn on by the belief of what they might never become.

Power is always in the present, what you do at this moment, what resources you drawn on. Some wisely invest today’s power in the future, building a framework of relations they can draw on at need. But even then, even the most powerful, generally spend their lives alone.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Ghost of Christmas Past (from Poems from a Garden Wall) link fixed

January 30, 1982

People never really change.
They roam the same avenues searching for the same versions of love.
Here, it is all about one night stands, and uninspired pick up lines shouted over too loud guitars while pretending to dance in tight pants.
Tonight, I saw one of the girls from the old band hanging out at the bar.
“Love is a cock,” she said slurring all four words. “It’s any guy who’ll buy me drinks and take me home, even if home is a motel.”
Years ago, she was in love with the lead guitarist of a three-piece band I worked with, and now hangs out at a slum bar in Passaic, drowning herself in booze because she never got the man she wanted even in the glorious old days, and always had to settle for other men who lured her with white lies, and white lines.
I’m the ghost of the past who happened to pop up in her life at an unexpected time, bringing pain only because I remind her of the man she still can’t have since he’s (un) happily married in some other state.
So she lets me buy her drinks but with no understanding that it will lead anywhere, and I’m kind of happy about that, since back in those days, I played a similar role, filling in at the bar until another man came into the picture she could use without feeling anything. She didn’t want to spoil the real thing with a man like me since I’m more than just her version of love, and always will be.
Since then, she’s developed a nervous tick, and eventually, starts to smile at some younger guy across the bar, a guy who won’t smile back because he has other ideas with someone else.
When she finally finds someone promising, I move down to the other end of the bar, and continue to watch her although it is clear she has forgotten me.
Her phony laughter rises over the loud talk and music, and I know she is really crying inside.
There’s no room for kindness in these kinds of places or subtly, and so when he makes his move, she nods and picks up her purse from the bar, giving the room one last glance and then cringes when she sees me.
There’s no cure. There’s only trial and error, and mostly error, her soft blonde hair now nearly brittle white, like a silver crown over her leather attire – which hugs her frame like a second skin.
The only love she will ever find either comes behind a zipper or at the bottom of a bottle.
And here I am more than a month after Christmas, playing the role of ghost, dragging her if only briefly back to that moment when she still had hope.
When she finally makes her way out, she lets the door slam, and we both know she won’t ever come back to this bar, needing no ghost like me to remind her of what she can never have.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

No dull boy

Sunday, August 25, 2013

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” the old saying says.
I don’t know who Jack is but with my weekends so burdened with chores – lately life dedicated to getting rid of “stuff” we’d acquired since moving into our house – the saying as validity.
For this reason, on Sundays after most of the chores are done, we make a point of traveling to a different part of Hudson County, mostly along the waterfront somewhere to get some air and some sense of awe.
In this part of the world, with the New York Skyline stretched out before us like Avalon, any place from Guttenberg to Bayonne will do.
Lately we’ve been picking on Liberty State Park, coming to it from various angles, and today, we mistakenly took to the part where the golf tournament was taking place – you know Tiger Woods and all the stretch limos hogging up the curbside.
But the scare getting there proved less than expected and we got to walk around the old train station, although most of it is fenced off still recovering from last year’s attack by that evil bitch, Sandy.
A cruise ship sounded form Bayonne and made its way out of the harbor, and then another came down the Hudson River, all giving us a show as we strolled the promenade.
Inspired perhaps by the memory of Sandy and the urge to sip a little wine over dinner, we made our way to The Starting Point – which resides in the shadow of the Bayonne Bridge, and which when Sandy hit, flooded so badly that it took months to restore the place – fortunately, the flood waters never rose so high as to assault the classic rock album covers that serve as decoration in the bar.
We sipped our white wine and wasted for mussels and then thin crusted pizza so flavorful, we might not have needed crust at all, we debating which was better, Bit Apple’s or The Starting Point’s and unwinnable argument since both were equally wonderful in their own way.
We had not been to the Starting Point since before the flood, and there were only small differences from what we remembered, and on a Sunday night, the crowd was thin – many of the usual suspects cheering on their favorite teams at the bar, while couples and groups sat at the tables.
With the Little League fields so near, the bar draws a crowd of adults from around town, although almost any one from anywhere is likely to stop in. I’ve seen school officials and politicians here at intervals, although I recognized no one this night.
The background of class rock music mingling with the bank of sports TV reporting brought back the old days at the Red Baron (late Rose Buds) and the kind of mingling of people such places bring out, not for the booze, or even the delightful food, but for the company as people meet people they have known most of their lives, and though we were relative newcomers, we felt at home – and certainly felt sated when we were done.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Bleak seaside

January 16, 1977

They creak with age, each splintered board stretching out between sand dune and concession sand in testimony to some better life me and my family have floated between since all of us were kids.
My mother tells me she always loved the ocean. So there is some irony in the fact that she has moved so close to it and yet cannot get here unless I drive down from north Jersey to pick her up to drive the last few miles over the bay bridge to here.
This place is part of that tapestry of waves saved in our chromosomes so that we can never get the scene of sea out of us – and we come here to renew ourselves even ought the place has become a huckster’s paradise full of games only suckers will play, all of us losing even when we win. It is no surprise that the state picked Atlantic city to start up its gambling, since AC is so much like this place, the two sea side cities might be twins, and we’re used to losing ourselves in both, and somehow getting satisfaction out of it.
Snow sweeps across the boardwalk now, tapping against the shutters of the closed arcades, wind-driven snow that looks just like sand. So I half expect bare feet to appear despite the chill, though the dunes that pile up give this largely vacant world the feel of some alien landscape.
I walk here, shivering under several layers of clothes, and find myself missing the sounds that have always define the place for me – the blare of music, the click of gambling wheels, and the taunting, concessionaires, daring me to risk a quarter to win a prize.
I feel this strange sense of nostalgia even though in season I secretly mock those people who indulge, such as my best friend, Hank, who haunts each record counter here with the hopes of filling his collection with records he is too cheap to buy, pressing himself passed the kids and parents who take the whole seduction less seriously than he does.
As cold as I am, as alien as the place seems, I like this place better this way without the flood of thoughtless sun-worshipers who compulsively invade this shore each summer, jumping into water that is way over their heads, and into the social nightmare the way lemmings jump off a cliff.
But we all fall for such stuff at some point in our lives, and must learn somehow to resist the urge to leap when we know it means ill.
In the midst of such mass of humanity, it is difficult to feel human at all, and I prefer this lonely stroll down empty boardwalks where only the most hearty dear go, where the only music is the sound of cold waves and the forlorn cry of seagulls against the chill wind.
But even I am not sturdy enough to make my way out onto the sand where men (and one woman) with metal detectors sweep the sand in search of fortunes they never find, though the real treasure for me are the waves, rolling in with thundering voices only to wilt and whisper away as the sun glistens off their reflections.
I stop and watch the gulls struggle to make their living, too, off the remnants the waves leave behind, bits of food that barely sustain them until the tourists return.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The great scheme

Friday, August 23, 2013

The rain actually started when I was still in Laurel Hill Park, a gradual splattering on my windshield as I steered passed the dinosaur park and boat ramp towards the cliff at the far end. I had come in search of a story – with the beats split after the loss of several very competent reporters – I was back to doing a Secaucus story per week, and this one involved a bunch of kids and the police department. But outdoors? With a sky that looked like it would soon crack open and dump a good portion of the Atlantic Ocean on this open landscape. Blue cracks of lightning tore off pieces of the sky as I pulled into the gravel parking lot and stepped out into the rain.
A lone police car stood near the ball fields with its back to the cliff, and I made my way to the open window to ask the officer about the fate of my feature story. He directed me elsewhere, and I returned to my car not too wet since the storm had not yet let out its full breath.
But I would get wet, I thought, if I didn’t hurry, and rode back out the way I’d come, back into a different kind of deluge near Turnpike Interchange X – a ludicrous name for an emerging part of a new, modern Secaucus commonly called “Exchange” because its life blood was the recently constructed rail interchange where commuters from elsewhere in the state leaped off their train to access a train that more directly went into Manhattan.
A bad idea from the start – this thing eventually will change the world of one-time pig farms and green into a new Jersey City, or perhaps more accurately, a new Battery Park City, filled with people bound to Manhattan but with no roots here except to sleep.
As an indication of the cultural indigestion this place had already produced, I came out from a park filled with canoes, a mountain, dinosaurs and ball fields and into a mass of traffic that included expensive luxury cars weaving between tractor trailers all trying to access one or two lanes and stuck at a traffic light that seemed to remain green for all of 20 seconds.
The splats on the windshield grew more intense, but not yet so intense that I felt I would not get where I was going without building an ark first. The wait, however, was unbearable, as truck and car inched up towards a pointless light, struggling against new tides from parking facilities and warehouses to either side.
I guess I missed the idea that a small town like Secaucus could remain unsullied by the madness of overdevelopment urban counties like this one had, and that a pond where kids could fish did not have to overhear the roar of trucks and beep of impatient horns that expanded development always brought.
I was also struck by the irony of the dinosaur park and the idea that each of us in our separate vehicles operated on the remains of those ancient beasts, and that we were wasting that resource because each of us had to live and travel in our own little box, where we did not have to rub shoulders with anybody else. I was also struck by the fact that the traffic jam I was stuck in was the result of an effort to actually remove vehicles from the road by providing them with alternative public transportation, and that this great scheme was self-defeating from the start, from when some advertising giant thought he could make a fortune off of connecting rail lines to the belief that humanity will get out of their cars and get herded into Manhattan-bound cattle cars without a fight, and that we would waste as much fuel trying to save fuel because in the end, we all must have these boxes, even if it is only to get ourselves to cattle cars.
Eventually, I turned off the wrong way and took a longer route to the place I needed to go, the rain growing heavier as I drove so that it was a downpour when I finally got to a place where the cars stopped and the real remaining open space was. But by then, the glass was so smeared with rain, I couldn’t see it.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Bye, Bye, Sid Bernstein

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Early to midweek are days that blur as they blend in, making me lose track of where one ends and the next begins, with sleep, when it is possible, the division between each that gives some clarity.
I use to live life in clumps that one old journey entry defined as “segments of time and place that seemed to reflect different worlds. Some of these focus around a place so I can map them out as easily as I could a road trip.”
Portland, Oregon, was such a clump – well, each visit separately was – even though in both trips many of the same people played parts, a cast of characters acting out a plot indigenous to that time and place.
“The old house I grew up in on the Clifton/Paterson border (which became platform for a number of short stories) was that kind of clump. Even when the tales took place outside that house, they somehow seemed to reach back and connect to that house.
“High School was a different kind of clump, more of a time reference than a place, a passing a series of events not so much connected to the place as that time – so that flashing back to hear boys singing songs from St. Pepper’s album carried a significance beyond school, and shaped my destiny as part of a group of people sometimes referred to as rebels or hippies.”
This clump becomes very relevant today because of the passing of Sid Bernstein, the man who brought The Beatles to America, and a man I considered a friend, though I saw him less frequently over the last few years than a decade ago.  He was a clump unto himself, a man who tried to sell me schemes in Hoboken, and Secaucus and later in New York, come back musical talents or new kids he said would become the next Beatles, but never did.
I last saw him in Thompson Square Park in the company of yet another blow back to my past, David Peal, who was trying to sell Sid on the idea that a washed up Washington Square street performer could once more rise out of his ashes, even though the man who helped him so many, many years ago (John Lennon) was dead.
I had numerous ill experiences with David Peal, even as late as the late 1980s when he was scamming young kids in some side show act on Bleaker Street, acting out the role of superstar when he was no such thing.
Sid didn’t take him seriously either, but recognized me, and much to Peal's discomfort, Sid asked me about my kid and the paper, and how life was treating me as a musician. He may have liked me because I never pretended I would be the next John Lennon, and was happy doing what I was doing on any scale in which I got to create.
A few months ago, I called Sid to find out how he was, and his son answered and then put Sid on the phone.
Sid had just arranged to meet Paul McCartney, who was in New York for some show, and recalled other times when Paul had arranged for him to attend a show, once I remember in Philadelphia. Like all such calls, I always asked Sid to pass my best on to Paul, even though Paul had no clue as to who I was, my lone connection to one of the four men who were most influential in saving my life, and Sid always said he would, and to this day, I believe he actually did so, and can only imagine the frown on Paul’s face wondering who the hell Sid was talking about.
All of these moments, of course, clump together in me so that it is difficult to say when each happened, and when I spoke at which point. At one point, when interviewing one of the (Young) Rascals – which was my local band growing up – I mentioned knowing Sid. The band was to appear at the Hoboken music festival, and they had not seen Sid since the 1970s or 1960s whenever it was he had worked as their manager, and they said they wanted to see him again. So I called up Sid and arranged it, and he came over from New York City to meet with them in Hoboken, a long awaited reunion no one knew about but Sid, the band and me.
Sid was my sole connection to many things I never got to experience as a kid, the big time acts I only listened to on my transistor radio, and somehow, this man managed to pull together all those little musical clumps and make me feel as if I had spent my life connected, and in fact, knowing him, I had.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The trouble with sprouts

Monday, August 19, 2013

New sneakers, soft shorts, and a gravel track did not make for a good jogging experience yesterday, even though the mosquitoes (and their tendency for West Nile) did not swarm over me seeking blood.
I wobbled like a winding down top, with two of four quads in my left leg totally useless.
This doesn’t mean I’m going to give up.
Despite nearly two years on an indoor bike, the jogging left some muscles aching – always a good sign in my book, suggesting this was an area of neglect that other kinds of exercise – even my weekend yoga – cannot reach.
Done on a mild day, the jog took me along the gravel paths of the Secaucus park where the remains of the cedar forest litter the water. Tide was particularly low and so these were much more exposed than on other days when I simply walked around the park.
Lately, there have been jerks from the upscale condos near by riding the paths on bicycles. Apparently, the city did away with the restriction because the warning signs banning them were gone – perhaps stolen. But today, I only had to dodge one jerk, and fortunately, I wobbled the right away to let him pass.
Some other idiot in a while shirt – and in the company of a young man and woman – took a long pee into the water. I guess he figured the plants needed a little ammonia to help them grow.
In the past, when getting back to jogging, I had to stop and start, and so it was true yesterday, where I ran, then walked, then ran again, until I figured I should not run much farther and risk this morning’s aches and pains (which were surprisingly few since I have exercised regularly over the last two years and did my regiment of yoga before taking the jog). The only thing missing from the early days was the mid-jog reward of coffee, and, of course, the river. These ponds even with rising and lowering tides, just does have the same feel as running along a living (or perhaps in the case of the Passaic dying) river, and dodging jerks on bicycles isn’t nearly as challenging as jumping out the way of oncoming traffic. And who in their right minds will put a Dunkin Donuts along these paths, just so I can get my brew.
At home, switching futons from couch to bed proved nearly as exhausting as the jog, especially later when I tried to get comfortable for sleep and found an unfamiliar landscape between me, firmer than the terra firma I was used to sleeping on. Moving futons is also a challenge because they are heavy and tend to go where they want and not where you direct them.
None the less, the shift was successful, and I did not throw out my back.
The supper salad, however, had its issues.

Never trust sprouts from a supermarket. Iceberg lettuce may be boring, but it survives longer than other varieties, and a salad can be made more interesting by adding spinach leaves to the mix. In my case, it was a combination of black oils, spinach, diced onions, quartered egg-shaped tomatoes (don’t know what they’re called), quartered cucumber, iceberg lettuce and – unfortunately sprouts (which I didn’t notice were soggy until after we dished out some into two bowls to have with our baked chicken breast). Fortunately, removing the spouts proved less hazardous than jumping out of the way of arrogant men on bicycles or texting idiots in cars. And with a little olive oil and apple cider vinegar, supper was saved.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A trip of Lowe’s home improvement

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Last week was a week of small inconveniences – the tiny things that went wrong, but didn’t amount to life-changing: a torn sheet, a missing trash can, ruined screens, and an avalanche of clothing in my closet.
Our trash guys tend to toss the cans as they finish. These sometimes wind up a block away. This week, the can left for a permanent vacation, so I knew that we would be adding a trip to Lowe’s to our Saturday routine.
Some stretch in the middle of the night caused the bottom sheet to tear – we’ve not kept up in some time so a number of the sheets are worn. So this added yet one more stop, but since Target is near Lowe’s in North Bergen, the most difficult part is taking the precarious trip up Route 1&9.
Opening my closet to retrieve my house clothing, I found that one of our more precautious cats had climbed up onto the shelf above the hangers and rearranged the pants I usually have folded there – rearranged it so that it all fell out on me when I opened the door. This only strengthened the need for Target or Lowe’s to purchase better closet organizers. And since several cats have made a habit of clawing up window screens, less to escape than to get the leaves outside, we figured to replace some of these during the Lowe’s trip.
Since we go to the bank first thing on Saturdays, then breakfast, and a visit to our old friend Salvation Army, the trip north fit between those and food stopping.
Yesterday, one of the two cash machines did not function and the line of people went out the door, so we varied the routine by going to the Coach House first, where I’ve given up a heavy meal of eggs and potatoes for a great Greek Yogurt combination that includes fruit, granola and honey. This I’ve been doing for about three months after for some reason my system could not longer tolerate eggs. Usually accepting whatever diet Sharon adopts, I’d lived on mostly fish and vegetables for more than a year. I added yogurt early this year because I missed it from my days when I jogged every morning. Since the Greek variety provides twice the amount of protein and very little increase in calories, I adopted that once I got the taste for it at the Coach House. It is far less sweet than commercial yogurt, even Stoneyfields Farms, but with the combination, it works. I take a container of it with me weekdays along with tuna sandwich for lunch. This week, I discovered a liquid yogurt – with tons of cultures – to use on cereal – a modified version of the Coach House dish that includes oatmeal as a base.
Also recalling a blast from the past, I’ve started back on the regiment of yoga – which I mostly do on weekends. This is beginners stuff, I first started on back in the summer of 1978 when I was working in the warehouse of a wine importer, dumping as many as 5,000 cases of wine on a conveyer belt nightly. My back got so stuff after a few days, I would barely walk. So I started on a system recommended by the Light of Yoga Society. Advanced for most people, the system didn’t go to the extremes, but managed to stretch out nearly every muscle I needed, and with a regiment before and after work, kept my back loose.  Later, I used it as a warm up to jog.
When getting back into shape in early 2012, I mostly used weights, boxing and bicycle to lose weight and build muscle, but recently realized the release of yoga is also necessary and so I do it on weekends – which I did yesterday before going off on this crazy round of shopping.
Over breakfast, I read the stories in most of Reporters and well as the daily before going off to Salvation Army. Since I only peruse the shelves and seldom buy anything, I’m out early and head back to the car to read or write – I’ve stuffed the kindle with a number of my favorite books and news stories of the past.
Then, we went back to the bank, and to the shoe store to buy a pair of black sneakers (so they can fend for shoes if I don’t have to change) in a test of whether I can get back to jogging. Last year, I fell in the supermarket parking lot and destroyed two of the four quads in my left leg. I hobble a little these days, and haven’t been able to find a way to strengthen the other two. I haven’t been able to run and I’m wondering if jogging can help.
North Bergen stretches up the west and sometimes eastern side of the Palisades. For us, the trip to Lowe’s is just a hop, skip and jump up Route 1&9 – which runs along the foot of our street – to the stores some 80 blocks away. With this highway so narrow, hopping, skipping and jumping is perhaps the only way to get anywhere on a Saturday morning.
These stops proved far less painful than I imagined, but time consuming, and we resumed our usual shopping schedule at Columbia Park near 30th Street hours after we would have normally, skipping stops in the dollar store and Staples in order to shave off time we would need later (I still had to construct the closet organizers, rearrange my clothing, and replace the screens) when we got home.
As I said previously, I’d lived on a diet of vegetables, fish and slow carbs for several years. I rarely get bored with food and feel comfortable with the basic routine that includes oatmeal and yogurt in the morning, tuna sandwiches and celery for lunch, and a meal of fish and salad at night (substitute veggie burgers for fish for half the week). Since I do all the cooking, I try to keep things simple. I like rice based dishes that can include chick peas, cooked vegetable and tuna, or substitute meat with black bean soup and lots of cheddar cheese. I make passable cold pasta salad, and better coleslaw. But for several years, this pretty much defined my dietary needs.
Recently, however, Sharon decided she wanted to start up with meat again – chicken and turkey, giving us a bit more variety with some of the mixed dishes, and quick meals of turnkey burgers I make patties of after shopping and freeze. But I dislike a lot of meat and so leave meat leftovers to Sharon and try to keep the meat menu down.
Anyway, with shopping done and after a short rest I took to the additional chores, and finally got my clothing straight. I lost weight over the last two years, but my waist size varies between 33 inches and 34 – some looser cuts of 33 feel comfortable, while 34s are generally a little loose. But I keep three sets of pants, 33s, 34s, and 36s for when cold or wet weather requires additional layers I need to tuck in.
The closet now looks like a filing cabinet – more organized even than my personal writing which fills five filing cabinets downstairs. More importantly, it is cat-immune, and though I know I will have to replace the screens again next summer, I won’t have to worry about waking to an avalanche of pants in the morning.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A girl named Sue (from Poems from a Garden Wall)

Oct. 15, 1980

That first winter 1972 into 1973 proved a challenge in a number of ways, and the biggest wedge between the men in the house was Sue; an 18-year-old sexually-active more-than-a-little-na├»ve daughter of a rich Upper Montclair doctor who wanted to be out on her own and convinced her father to foot the bill for the rooming house while she “discovered herself.”
She was pure catnip to the mid-20s men in the house like Ed, Meatball and even me, over whom even some of the women fought – mistakenly assuming Sue was to blame when she wasn’t.
She greeted me my first day at the new house, but it wasn’t until I had fully moved in that she made her biggest impact.
There was another women on the third flood, a little bit older than I was, and very street savvy, who knocked on my door one morning to say that she had locked herself out of her room and did not have time to wait for the landlord to get up since her ride to work was going to come shortly, and she asked if she could wait in my room out of the drafty cold. So I invited her in.
I didn’t notice Sue coming out of the bathroom at the moment my door closed.
Nothing happened (not because I wasn’t attracted to the woman upstairs – Ed was on her the first day, but she was savvy enough to avoid him and Meatball, but tolerated me and one of the other men in the building because we didn’t sniff at her heals like dogs).
But the next day, I got a knock on the door. This time, it was Sue. She was naked except for a small hand towel she held across her chest. She said she’d locked herself out of her room after her shower and was freezing, and wanted to know if she could come in my room to keep warm until the landlord got up (a lazy scheming man who I loved dearly, but who rarely got up before 10 a.m.).
Sue, whose room was right next to the bathroom, rarely brought clothing in the bathroom when she took a shower, but ran in and out – at least, this was her claim.
She would become my nearly constant companion in the house, although not a love (I was still too screwed up from the break up with my wife), and we often sat in her room where I read poetry to her (and when I started finally to write and perform songs) and sang to her.
“She wants to be a Lover,” a song I still perform was written about her, something she was thrilled about.
I was the person to whom she cried most about other people and other men who used her and abused her, even though sometimes, she tended to invite the abuse.
She often prowled the bar across the street, a very popular hangout for bikers and macho working class hippies, as well as my old crew from Little Falls. More than once, she appeared to send messages she either didn’t intend or sent as a flirtation only to find some beefy, angry man pounding at her door to be let in, forcing the landlord to call the cops.
While I had no beef with Ed or Meatball over her, the two men became to hate each other – even though both professed to love other women in their lives. Ed never ceased sniffing out new territory, and Sue seemed infatuated with him. Meatball pretended to want to protect her, even though he did exactly what Ed did.
She was a regular visitor to both their beds, and sometimes sought the protection of one against the other when Ed or Meatball got angry at her.
I was on the public phone in the hall one day (trying to make sense of what Hank was trying to tell me) when Ed and Meatball had it out over her. Ed was lean, but gnarly, while Meatball, much more muscular (softened only by his near constant ingesting of pot). They looked like gun fighters but with curled fists instead of guns, and their raised voices filled the hall so that even the lazy landlord called up from downstairs to know what was going on. Hank squawked at me over the phone with the same request.
They didn’t come to blows. But it divided them until a new woman moved in to the rooming house, and distracted them, and Sue eventually moved out.
But the only one who really seemed to miss her was me, and every time I sing that song, I think of her, and wonder what ever became of her, and if she still remembers me.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Happy tears for a gray day

Aug. 13, 2013

The rain taps on the hood of my car like an impatient gangster using all ten fingers.
This is Tuesday, but I drive to Bayonne instead of Hoboken.
The rod is treacherous and full of impending danger, one slip or wrong turn, and the slick street sends me to my doom.
Standing still for a moment, I stared out at the drips of rain on the glass; I feel safe.
It is movement that endangers people – that first step on risky pavement, never knowing whether the ground we walk on is secure or even solid.
Some walk on clouds of illusion, of things we wish were true, but like mists these part before us before we can touch them.
On days like these, I usually seek water, real water, flowing at my feet, not some temporary arrangement of rain that dries up when I need it most.
But in a rush to get from where I was to where I need to be, I forego the water and live with the rain and the hope that I can survive the journey.
There are so many pitfalls and traps, potholes into which my spinning wheels might fall and get entangled.
We live with steering around so many of these and yet cannot avoid them all.
Sometimes we need to fall into one to know how good it feels to climb out again.
Sometimes we do not know how deep any of these re until we sink over our heads.

I drive and hope to reach the place I need to go, and when I get there, pause and let the rain flow down the windshield – happy tears for a gray day. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Going home to Colorado? (from Poems from a Garden Wall)

April 1970 (rewritten at some point later)

We don’t have the money to have the van painted right. So we buy a couple of cases of spray paint and decide to do it ourselves – pissing off our land lady at the McCadden Apartment, who eyes us from between the slats of her downstairs blinds to make sure we don’t leave any marks on her driveway.
What she makes of the red, white and blue motif we can’t tell.
She certainly hasn’t seen the movie “Easy Rider.”
Even more confusing are the sayings we pasted onto the sides in stick on black on gold letters” “Battlewagon for peace” and “multi-colored rainbow roach.
I know for a fact that the hammering we did over the last few days annoyed her as Dan and I hauled in lumber to construct a bed in the back.
Dan has serious concerns about all the weight we are adding to the van.
No ten year old 1959 VW van can handle all the stuff Louise intends to bring along on the trip.
We are bogged down with recently acquired possessions and pets, and she can’t bear to leave any of them behind. Se we stuff the van, building cubbyholes where we and put as much as we can and crying over what we can’t.
I can only image the face of the landlady when she discovered all we left in the apartment after we are gone.
Lumber, pegboard and other stuff will kill us when we try to climb the mountains, Dan tells me – too shy to tell Louise for fear she might burst into tears again.
Louise is caught between the life of her parents and the life hippies are supposed to lead.
While her parents always traveled a lot, collecting things they found every place they want, they always had a home to bring the stuff back to and didn’t have to carry it on their backs like a turtle, the way we intend to do.
But hippies aren’t supposed to let possessions tie them down.
I know we can’t have it both ways, but I’m scared to tell Louise, too.
So Dan and I grit our tech and pack the van, each of us picturing the moment in our minds when the van breaks down on the road.
But Dan’s more of an optimist than I am and eventually shrugs off his doubts, standing back from the art work we have created with our spray cans. He grins, then climbs back up the stairs to our apartment, pausing on the landing near the front door so he can get a bird’s eye view of our master piece. He twists the end of his handle bar moustache, leaving a speck of blue paint on the brown hair.
I stand alone when he is gone, staring at our future mode of transport, convinced only doom will result from this rushed flight. I hear Louise upstairs humming Judy Collins, then Joanie Mitchell, and other songs she learned in the mountains of Colorado, and knows she is thinking she is going home again.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

After the rain has stopped

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Sunlight pours through the window after the heavy rain has stopped, streaks like tears running down every pane, the air thick with wisps of shredded cloud like torn bed sheets after a long hard night’s bliss, the moist kiss from morning’s lips lingers on the tips of fingers that touch the glass.
To ask for more to pour over me when I have already asked for too much is too much to ask for: the locked window through which I see to unlock for me, to dream of rising sun and rain, to kiss and be kissed by a gust of wind. What fair thing is this after so much bliss, the night stalked day because it has lost not its taste for daylight or rain, but because enough is never enough. Even when gorged, it aches for more.
The gray day changes to streaked blue with bright skies and the chirp of birds leaping in the wet leaves, shaking loose the last drips my thirsty lips ache to sip, but lost beyond this streaked glass and window that will not open to such clumsy fingers as mine.
How do I breathe with air so heavy as this, this aching for release, this need to reach out and feel what is real even if it is to steal a piece of the beyond?
What life can we lead that will relieve the doubt of what exists beyond this glass, or keeps us trapped on this side or that, on inside or out, touching not the real air, but the chill window that makes all unreachable, too scared to smash what we cannot open, praying perhaps that the rain will come again and wash away these streaks on the inside and out.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Dinner at the Malibu

Oct. 12, 2013 

We had dinner at the Malibu Diner before taking in a movie Friday night. Oh, not the Hoboken Malibu, or the theater tucked under the 14th Street Viaduct. This Malibu was on 23 rd Street in Manhattan, just a block or so away from the theater.
After missing an off-off-Broadway play last week because of the foolish notion I could take a bus via the Lincoln Tunnel (which turned out to be jammed) and get there on time, I took the PATH to New York instead.
Not having to walk up the hill from my house to get to a bus, I was actually early. I met an old copy editor from the paper on the train, one those strange coincidences since I was reading Mark twain’s Roughing It on my Kindle and saw a typo and thought of her.
I decided to get off the train at Christopher Street and walk up to the park at 31st near Madison Square  -- an old routine that allowed me to meander and take in the sights I usually missed when in a rush to get somewhere like a show.
I always take pictures of the world I wander through, knowing that the next time the place might not be the same.
Then seated in the park, I wrote as I waited, just as I used to do at the foot of the World Trade Center towers all those so many years ago (talk about things vanishing) at which point we strolled back to 23 rd Street for dinner and the show.
The diner was a classic, one of those bygone days NYC diners with stools and counter running from the front along one side, booths along the other with tables in the back. It had a classic menu, too, full of salads and wraps, and very little of the disastrously unhealthy stuff New Jersey diners usually offer. We had chicken wraps and a house salad that put spring into our step even as it filled our stomach. But any of the other items on the substantial menu would have pleased as much. We had to take a doggie bag home (but not for the cats but for next day’s lunch) and we left paying a bill that didn’t always take our shirts.
The people serving us actually treated us like they appreciated our business, something I hadn’t experience in the old days in NYC when I worked there.
And between healthy food in our stomachs, money still in our wallets, and a sense of well-being for having been treated with respect, we welcomed a relaxing movie – even if it was filled with the usual anxiety of Woody Allen.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Anniversary syndrome

August 1, 2013

Some things change everything.
Some moments – when a number of events collide – you know (even without knowing it) that the world will be different.
This is an illusion, of course, a kind of Freudian wish fulfillment with our minds sorting through reams of information we need to make sense of and coming up with connections that exist in nearly every living moment of our lives.
We give imports to some over others, as I do now that monumental trip to South Carolina on August 1, 1979, the first stone of an avalanche that would eventually undo the foundations of family as I had known it.
I just didn’t realize it at the time.
I remember being extremely anxious about receiving my student loan check for college.
I had decided to go back to school after a rough and tumble decade as a blue collar worker and worse. I lived in a rough part of Passaic and did not want the nearly $2,000 check to sit in my mailbox for the three days I expected to be gone.
For days I had helped the family pack up their possessions in Little Ferry to return home desperate to find the check there, and it was not – until the night before we were set to leave and I was to drive one of the vehicles south.
Pleading the need to get the money secure, I convinced my uncle not to leave at the crack of dawn as he wanted, but wait long enough for the bank to open so I could deposit the check, and to my surprise the normally hard-headed head of that small family agreed.
This part of my family has always been within easy reach of me – except during those years in the late 1960s and early 1970s when I was on the run from the police and them – so this move out of state was more than a little disturbing, spelling the disassembling of a family I had always counted on to “be there” even if I wasn’t.
This move also corresponded with the decline of my other uncle – a desperate alcoholic my father had taken down the wrong road before I was even more – and the family had relied on the south-bound uncle to take in the drunken uncle, and now with some many miles between them, someone else would have to take up the chore.
I didn’t even sense it at the time that for the next two decades that someone would be me.
College – even going as late as I was – would also change my life and drag me by the heals out of my lower and working class existence and into the bottom tiers of middle class. And this dark cloud (or bursting sunrise, depending on your interpretation of how the future turned out), hung over me the whole trip, raising questions I could not answer about whether I was doing the right thing in giving up a life I seemed made for in exchange for a life I dreamed might be.
The omens (ill and otherwise) were everywhere. During the trip south, I learned of the death of my all time hero, NY Yankees catcher, Thurmond Munson, a man whose character I had modeled myself on, but never managed to live up to, more than just a symbol of my working class existence, but the rung I clung to in order to avoid falling into the pit I had lived in during those years hunted by the police.
Lying on the floor of a motel room in Virginia (maybe West Virginia – I don’t remember rightly now), the news hit me harder than the move itself, and I found myself mourning the man the way I would family member after family member over the next two decades, as if he was the first of the siblings to vanish from my life.

The death and the trip itself seemed determined to strip me of all icons from the old life in order to provide in me room for new icons that better represented what I was to become. So by the time, I got there and back, I was already a different person, and the world I walked into was a different world as well, new sets of friends, new budding romances – another clump of time (periods in my life that seem self contained, filled with their own sets of characters and own situations – I’ve lived through scores of them to this point although not likely to live through many more) – where I would learn new rules of order, although this time, college and the land beyond seemed like a whole new planet – and was.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

That first winter (from Poems from a Garden Wall)

(Observation April 15, 1974)

“Who am I?” sayeth the prophet.
“Who am I?” sayeth the Lord.
I keep thinking I’m equal to everybody else, but everybody likes to think they’re better, and it annoys me, this parade of special people who cut in front in line, who want to get on the inside track, not because they can do anything better than I can, or even that they’re smarter, but because they can.
I stand by the waterside, waves washing up at my feet, staring at an early evening moon that somehow showed up before the sun has gone down, confusing me as to which I should pay more attention, too.
I’m so full of dreams I near bursting, and know that without dreams, the future doesn’t exist.
Who am I?
I don’t’ seem to have a place in this world, no more foothold that the loose sand the sea takes back when it waves retreat.
Is it too much to be expected that I have a dream to hold?
Some quit-witted people like to mock me, treating me like I’m stupid when I’m not.
I just like to think things out carefully before I make a move, to shape my dreams so that I don’t make a mistake and grab hold of the first dream that comes along and end up some place I might hate.
But who am I?
You tell me?

Oct. 12, 1980

It hardly snowed at all that first winter in the Montclair rooming house.
But it was cold during those months going from 1972 into 1973 and often the wind gushed through the halls of the house from outside as if it had a key to the front door. If found every possible crack, and roamed freely from room to room better than any ghost could.
The people did, too, often coming out of their rooms covered in blankets, even to go to the toilet, especially going to take a shower.
We all grew closer for having to endure it all together.
Ed was like a great dane, but instead of carrying a keg of rub around with him, he carried tequila. He sampled his own more often than any us, and so had to crawl up the steps from the first floor for fear of falling backwards if he stood, but managed to reach us and dose us with his offerings so that despite the steam that came out with each breath we breathed, we felt warm.
Often, we gathered in Meatball’s room on the third floor with the faulty theory that heat would rise – a very faulty theory since we did not know the how cheap Dave the landlord was and how he deliberately kept the heat down – and we huddled and hugged and passed the bottle until we were so drunk none of us dared chance the stairs and just stayed seated on the floor.
Meatball had his own strategies, and after the first few weeks of cold, figured out he could make the room warmer by hanging rugs on the walls, and he would sit on the edge of his bed, stoned out of his mind, and getting his kicks watching his pet kitten Penny, playing with the bed sheets.
He always told the same joke about this being good practice for us to go work on the Alaskan oil pipe line.
Meatball was only half joking, and really did want to, a man born in the wrong age, longing for a time of adventure, wishing he could be Lewis or Clark, or Daniel Boone or even Davy Crockett provided he could skip the bit about The Alamo.
Sometimes, he would sit on a wooden chair in the front gable of his room and stare out the small window that looked down on Valley Road, but more importantly up at the Orange Mountains where sunset reminded him of the far west.
He hated the traffic, and complained about the number of people – not just moving into the rooming house or the town, but onto the planet. He kept saying we were going to run out of room soon, and he feared most government intrusion, saying that we would soon be kept track of, watched 24 hours a day so as to keep us all in line.
He even suspected the TV and wouldn’t have one in his room, and hated when I bought a small black and white set to watch the Yankees on.
He tended to hate machines, and the changes machines brought, claiming each new invention made us just a little less human, and that sooner or later, we would not know where the humanity left off and humanity began.
He wanted to live in a log cabin, even after I told him cabins would even be colder than the rooming house was in winter.
“Not that much,” he laughed, then passed me a joint to suck on as he hunkered down with the quilt over his head like a tent.
He perked up when he heard Ellen downstairs talking to someone near the bathroom or perhaps on the public phone Dave had had installed on the landing.
Ed and Ellen had already made plans to go to California. Meatball said he would miss Ellen, but not Ed – who he claimed was a traitor to humanity, since Ed had some job in technology – and would get rich of it some day, he told us when drunk enough.
Meatball would more than miss Ellen and we all knew it, having heard the yells from the second floor behind Ellen’s closed door, Meatball saying “Go ahead. You don’t need my permission. See if I care.”
But when she was gone, he did, getting stoned more often, until eventually, he moved out, too, though I doubt he went to Alaska or ever found a log cabin to live in.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Happy New Year (from Poems from a Garden Wall)

Summer days (an observation from 1974)

A child is supposed to smile at these summer days, even though they pass straight though his hands like sand grains through spread fingers, strange ways smiles wilt in summer’s noon heat, the lost dreams are the worst part about dying young, the empty sea shells scattered on this beach, the out of reach cloud shapes their desperate fingers cannot touch and their fading minds cannot shape into crows or snow top mountains, it is not the fact that he cannot grow old, but the haze over his eyes that hides all that might have been imagined, the everything of happiness he can no longer bring into this world, his tiny footsteps vanished as the waves of the too-soon wash over and wash them away as if he never existed, no rage for love or outrage at injustice, no poetic words to carve out his love inside his lover’s heart, no father to hold a child of his own, to coo over, to grow old with, to cry with, the too-soon-waves crashing down, leaving only the haunting sound of sea gulls to mourn his passing.

Oct. 10, 1980

I said 1974 was a hard year, but it was not the hardest year of my life – 1972 was, even though it was that year that I first set foot into the rooming house and found real freedom in my life.
You have to go through hell before you find nirvana, and I did, returning home after three years on the run from the police to face justice and myself.
I was 20 when the new year started, living still in an apartment above a head shop in Portland, Oregon as people celebrated the new year, shouting from the street below as they passed.
We were already planning to come home – make our way back to the East Coast, though I hadn’t yet figured on confronting my family.
I missed my friends, and felt very isolated with 3,000 miles of America between us.
I’m an East Coast boy, used to the hubbub of New York, even if I lived in New Jersey, and so we made our way back East, slept in my best friend’s living room for a week before he got sick of waking up to my baby’s cries and made Garrick take my girlfriend and baby, while Pauly and I sought out jobs, and I got scared that the cops would spot me or my uncles wound, at which point, I decided I had to turn myself in, and did – arranging a meeting at the Coliseum on Columbus Circle, where my family worked the annual boat show, and how going through the Lincoln Tunnel in the back seat of my friend’s car, I tried to explain what to expect, whether my daughter would wind up fatherless when my uncles decided to shoot first and then find out what I wanted or something worse, and how when we walked in – my friends leading the way – my uncles met us, like two armies ready to do battle then suddenly calling for peace.

Then the rush to the police station, the days in jail, the court, and the hasty marriage, and then the real sentence when my wife left – for any number of righteous reasons, and being alone, and sad, and going through a summer in pain that felt like a part of me was missing, homeless because I lived in other people’s homes, and then finding a home of my own by year’s end, sitting in the lonely, empty room on a trunk I’d had since I was a kid, trying to make sense of what had transpired, only to hear out the window people yelling Happy New Year, and wondering if the new year would be happier than the old year had been, and thinking, it couldn’t be any unhappier, and as it turned out, it wasn’t nearly as bad, if not any less lonely.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Deep Sleep (from Poems from a Garden Wall)

October 9, 1980

(An observation from March, 1974)

The cartwheel is broken, rotting in the bright sunlight, looking a little like squinting eye ready to close. Brown sided mountains stand behind it at the edge of dead brown field, history claims men died on, but only a vivid imagination can paint their raised hands clutching sunlight and life, not yet aware of when the war exactly ended or if it did, or still goes on – piles of raw wood caskets waiting for their find moment before some general orders them filled, and then buried.
War is hell, some general once said, but for many it is a mud hole where they learn to bleed, dried up river beds with a stream of green running down its middle and stained red by the small rivulets men made when they bleed.
It is all the same sun, now and then, on the same field, preserved by those who survived, to remember those who did not, even if the holes dug to bury the caskets vanished over time. On some mornings, a heavy mist flows over this part of New Jersey, filling in the spaces, covering over the brown stains, making the mountain invisible, out of which deer walk along with the ghosts of those who perished here.


They played guitars, quaint gathering of rooming house regulars, some who slept but did not live there, sharing booze, pot and bed as after dinner mints.
This was hippie stuff three years after hippies supposedly vanished, and the songs came off Joni Mitchell albums, or those by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
We usually gathered in Meatball’s room on the third floor, leaving little space for the hot air to rise, and the smoke, and the music, all of which curled around the rafters of those attic rooms like spirits.
But this wasn’t high up enough to keep Dave, the landlord from shouting about the volume, even though he lived on the first floor on the far side of the house, in a section of building so excluded we would have forgotten his existence if not for his shouting.
It did not discourage us in the least, since this was a mating ritual and we needed it to pair off, though I rarely was able to pair off with the one I wanted to pair off with the most, since she was the most sought after and the best singer, a look-and-sound alike Joni Mitchell, except with bigger breasts.
She always selected her men with great care, but never the same man twice, and never me.
Perhaps she sensed how scared I was of her, or how much more I wanted than just one night.
She always sang and then went off to one of the other rooms with one of the other men, returning still buttoning her shirt to pack up her guitar and leave, bearing an air of indifference, although each time, just before she vanished down the stairs towards the second floor, she always glanced back at Meatball – who like me was the only other man she never selected, but only because he might not have gone with her if she’d did.
The ritual was always the same, each weekend, me, looking at her, she looking him, and Meatball looking at the end of the smoldering cigar-sized joint he intended to finish without help before he did anything like sang or fucked.
Ed always cursed Meatball for being so reckless with her, saying a man only gets one shot at perfection.
“If you don’t take a gift from God when it’s offered, you may never get another chance,” he told Meatball once, through the haze of his own, if much smaller joint.
Meatball only grunted, and mumbled something like “She’ll be back,” and she always was, banging her way up the stairs with her large guitar case as if she had to announce to everyone her arrival so that everyone would look their best for the selection process, although nobody knew why she picked one man over another, certainly – as Hank proved once – not because of looks.
She always came in high, but not the pot kind, but after a time, I learned that she and Ellen shared their own kind of high with Pete in Helen’s room across the hall before the music started – not digging so deep as to find veins, just a little pop under the skin. Pete later could not resist the plunge, and ended up dead one day in this same room when I took it over from Meatball a year later – but by that time, the routine had changed, and she must have gotten high enough to become brave enough to actually ask Meatball for go with her, and he got high enough to not care and did, and then, she was different, still coming up with the guitar, still singing her songs, but looking at Meatball the whole time not at potential suitors, and when he did not look back, she just glanced and picked anyone, anyone, of course, but me.
But this only lasted a short time, and eventually, Meatball stopped coming, and when she came she spent too long in Helen’s room, and could not play her guitar when she came out, and finally, she stopped coming at all, and Pete only came over to my room to crash, finally crashing for the last time that night in June, 1974, with only me to find his cold shape in the morning. Later, I learned that Pete had loved her, too, and like me, she had never selected him either, unlike me, he had sat through all those nights of her singing and selecting, in utter pain, easing it with a deeper and deeper plunge of the needle and a sleep even Dave’s screaming from the first floor could not wake him out of.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

My leaving Las Vegas

May 12, 1970

My hands shake even as we ride with Shawn out of Las Vegas.
I turned 19 today, but almost didn’t live to tell about it.
If not for Shawn, me, Louise, our two black cats named Jewel and Spitfire, and our dog, Midnight, would be lying in the desert bullet-ridden, perhaps the last murder of the Manson family.
This is not how I planned my birthday, fleeing town in a dust cloud in the direction of LA.
All I wanted was to trip and see the lights. Gil even spared some of his precious LSD for the occasion.
I took the day off from Burger Chef, one of those fast food places on the eastern approach to The Strip, not so far out as Hoover Dam, but in that direction.
We never expected The Manson Family to show up at the place where we were crashing, even though Chris – the guy who we stayed with – seemed to fit in with them, a real character, a man who had tried once to blow his brains out with a gun and only half succeeded.
He once made me feel his head where the bullet came out with half his skull and a good chunk of his brains.
I’m still not sure just how crazy he was before the shooting. He’s certainly crazy now, and angry, half his body crippled as a result of the wound, forced to living his life using only one hand.
I remember how impressed I was when I saw him strike a match and light his own cigarette, folding the match out and using his thumb to rub it against the striker.
He’s angry at us because I got paid today and haven’t offered to pay him for our stay. I wanted to conserve our cash so we could get a place of our own sooner and get the hell out of his hair.
All that became moot the moment the Manson Family arrived. They’re angry, too, over Charlie’s arrest and they take it out on anybody they encounter, and they encountered us.
They waved their fists at us and told us to get and stay out or else.
I actually thought the whole thing funny at first, looking to Chris to tell me that this was some kind of joke.
His look told me it wasn’t. So we left, dragging our few possessions behind us.
What chance did we have?
I still figured we might get the 1949 Chevy from Gil’s friend in North Vegas, a rust bucket for sure, but one that we might use to get around, to and from work, and maybe even live in it until we found some rooms.
Gil tried to cheer us up by calling Chris paranoid, and promising us the man would change his mind later once the Mansons moved on.
He suggested we stick to our original plan and take our trip through the bright lights of that desert city.
In Gil’s car, we drove up and down The Strip as if we owned it. We even stopped to watch the fountains rise and change color.  When we got to where we knew Howard Hughes lived, Gil got a strange idea on how we could make some money and get The Manson’s off our backs.
“Maybe we can kidnap him,” Gil said.
“Kidnap who?” I asked, all three of us well off this planet so as not to know exactly what we were saying or its implications.
“Howard Hughes,” Gil said, his eyes glittering, for even though he had taken three or four times as much acid as we had, he was a close to being straight as we might have been having taken none at all.
He was always on acid, and this world was his normal world, not something over the rainbow the way it was for us.
“You’re nuts,” I said, but let him lead us into the lobby of the tall hotel anyway, where we found the universe blocked by a giant of a man that a hotel bellhop told us was Howard Hughes’s body guard, a man as broad shouldered nearly as he was tall, with two gorgeous women clinging to either arm.
Even Gil got discouraged, and decided maybe we should drive out into the desert and wait for a nuclear bomb to get set off.
We saw sunrise instead, like two giant flaming red birds lifting off from the horizon, threatening to explode over us.
We didn’t notice the car approaching until it was upon us, with a reckless fury we knew meant no good.
Chris’s friend, Billy, hoped out near us carrying a gun. He said he intended to use it on us.
I’m still unclear whether or not the Manson Family had ordered him to kill us.
Shawn, who works with me and Gil at the Burger Chef, came then in a car of his own. At first, he tried to calm Billy, and when that didn’t work, he tried to shove me and Louise into his car, and drove away.
I’m still not sure if Gil survived.
We heard no gun shot.
Shawn suggested we go to the police.
I told him I’m wanted by the police and would wind up in jail if I did.
At that point, Louise told me she’d left some things back at Chris’ place and she would not leave town without the stuff.
Shawn said we were crazy, but drove us back there, and waited outside by the car while Louise and I went in to collect our stuff.
We were just packing the last of this into Shawn’s car when we saw Billy’s car coming up the road, and Billy holding the wheel in one hand and his gun in other.
Shawn didn’t need any encouragement to step on the gas.
Now, we’re driving to LA, glancing over our shoulders wondering, did Gil survive, and will we?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Room of my own (from Poems from a Garden Wall)

Oct. 8, 1980

I had a lot of reasons to move to Montclair that late fall, 1972.
Most of all, I was desperate to get out of my one-time best friend Dave’s family house in Paterson.
His young hoodlum brother, Dennis, had kicked in the door to my bedroom whenever he wanted to fiddle with my stuff.
When I complained to his mother, the woman just shook her head and said, “You shouldn’t even have a lock on your bedroom door.”
“If I don’t have a lock, he’ll steal everything I own,” I said.
She shrugged and told me it was my problem.
“You deal with it,” she said, explaining why half the police force knew Dennis by site, and the other half wanted to shoot him.
So I dealt with it.
I found the apartment house on Valley Road that was close enough to a bus route I could get myself to work.
But I had no furniture, not even a bed, and that first day when I moved “my stuff” in, I stood in the door way staring down at the expanse of empty wooden floor, wondering if I had made a mistake.
Hank honked the horn from the street where he waited, wanting to go get a beer or find some girls.
He didn’t know what it really meant to have a place of his own, since the only time he’d lived anywhere other than his parent’s house was with Laurie, and most of that time in an East Village cold water flat.
I lived for a time around the block in a similar place with my then pregnant girlfriend, Louise.
But this was different. Since my breakup from Louise, I’d been living in other people’s houses, renting rooms upstairs or in their basements. This – with its sunlight ceiling light glaring at me – was all mine.
This was the place where I began to write bad verse in a cheap imitation of the poetry Rosemary wrote, some of it bemoaning the loss of Louise, some offering pathetically bad advice if not to myself than to someone just like me – some of it inspired even by Neil Young lyrics.

You learn to struggle,
You hope, and then you fight
And in the end,
Learn to lose,
You knock upon
Your neighbor’s door
Searching for something
You can never find,
The broken pieces
Of dreams or secrets kept,
Holding on with hope
You can put the dreams
Back together,
Only to watch them
Collide with reality again,
You search for love
And perhaps when
You find it again
It’s not the same.

While I was still standing in the doorway, contemplating my new home, I heard a voice behind me say, “hello,” and turned to see a short girl with very black hair and equally black eyes looking up at me.
“My name is Sue,” she said, extending a small hand for me to shake.
Her smile was filled with secrets, and seems to say something her words would not, a promise maybe or threat. She 14 but said she was 18, and then put both hands on her hips as if she expected me to do or say something I was at a loss to do or say. And then, she told me she lived in the room near the bathroom at the end of the hall and that I should come and see her sometime, saying it the way Mae West did, as if she also expected me to come bearing a banana in my pocket. She wiggled her fingers as she made her way back to her room, and smiled again before she went inside and closed the door.
Hank honked the horn harder, and I sighed.
When I got to the car, he told me that this move was the smartest thing I ever did, save for making his friendship that was,
But as close as we were our friendship had already frayed.
I began to see Hank as something stagnant, something that would never change or grow, while I ached to do both, even if I didn’t yet know how, even when I knew change would be gradual and slow.
Hank resented change. He saw it as a threat to his security, which of course it was.
“So what took you so long?” he asked as I closed the car door and he started off down the long sweeping curve of Valley Road.
I almost didn’t tell him. He had had so many girls, and I’d had so few, I didn’t want him stealing this one until I was sure what to do with her first. But then I told him.
“Really?” he said, giving me a side glance that I knew wasn’t hopeful. “I’ll meet her later. You can introduce me.”
I nodded, but wondered how I might manage to avoid it.
Hank was girl crazy, taking out his hurt of losing Laurie in gratification.
But then, he had cheated on Laurie the whole time we’d all lived in New York, never able to get over the Free Love concept he and I had embraced as teens. He had a power over women I didn’t have, and yet, I wanted. They flocked to him, even though he wasn’t good looking or even a fast talker.
Sometimes, it was the only thing he cared about, and I resented that, too, since he was the person in my life that had taught me what art is, and the pleasure of pursuing it, and how that hunger could overcome the lack of anything else, even love.
But in that I had already left him behind. He had wandered The Village, east and west, seeking to make his career as a singer, and somehow, he lost his hunger for it just as I was gaining mine, and seemed smaller for the lack of it. Where once he had seemed bigger than life, he now seemed shriveled and insignificant, and I ached for his art more than he did.
In Jersey, he lived his life going from slimy to slimy bar, and I accompanied him, not because I expected anything out of it, but to see what it was I was missing, and each time, finding I wasn’t missing anything at all.
On this night, he droved to Bloomfield and a place called the Dart Tavern, where a small stage had one somewhat lazy stripper trying to milk tips out of us and the other drunks.
Me, I kept thinking of the girl back at the rooming house, and the fingers she had wiggled before closing her door. All I wanted at that moment was to see her again.