Tuesday, April 30, 2013

When he comes home

Nov. 10, 1981

The spouting water burns as I splash it on, trying not to look too closely in the mirror at my morning face, cycle of life gripping me in their jaws as I hope for a change of luck. The mirror has a tiny crack in it from when Garrick painted over it because he didn’t’ want to look at his face either when he lived in this apartment, or maybe when Pauly scrapped off a tiny circle just big enough for him to shave when he lived here, or when I finally moved in and couldn’t stand such a limited view – so that seven years of ill-luck turns out to be my misfortune, and I wonder, just when the ill-luck started so I can calculate as to when it might end, if ever.
I have a line of useless bottles along the ledge between the mirror and the corroded faucets of the sink, all rattling with the pipes whenever I turned the hot water on, my morning music that wakes me up better than the clock radio and the annoying newscaster telling me about the list of disasters I ought to know about from the night before.
Sometimes the bottles rattle from traffic outside, as trucks make their way down Passaic Street, turning the wrong way at the train tracks and confused as to why they can’t find the bridge across the river into Garfield. Their horns honk like frustrated geese, nature never intended to produce.
The apartment is always cold, but I’m reluctant to turn on the heat until a real frost comes, the energy man sucking the life out of me, and then like the drug pusher he is, threatens to cut me off when I can’t pay. So I take comfort from the hot water when it finally rattles out of the spout, and scrape my whiskers off so I look more respectable than I am.
Dust falls from the tin ceiling Garrick also painted over while living here. He was good for painting over anything that didn’t move, and always in that suck ass tan paint he got cheap from some warehouse on River Drive, maybe the same warehouse where Pauly worked, and who sold it to him on the sly, pocketing the cash so he could buy pot later.
The dust catches in the light through the shade, and looks strangely pretty, like a shower of diamonds or snow, although snow it a four-letter word I have no use for, and already dread.
This early, I already hear the raised voices of my neighbors, the bastard who beats his wife before he goes off to work, and beats her when he comes home, calling her all sorts of names for all the things he imagined her doing while he was away. And I always think of how she won’t be there when he gets back someday, and imagine his howl and outrage, and how somewhere some place safe she is laughing – even though I know she wouldn’t laugh, and that she would likely come back even if she left, and take the beating “like a man,” when she isn’t.
I can’t wait for the shouting to stop and the door to slam, and the thud of his footsteps on the stairs as he makes his way out, and I always imagine being outside when he got there, revving my engine for the moment when he steps off curb. But I never do. I just listen to the rattle of the pipes, the honking of the trucks, and to her sad whimpering in her anticipation of when he comes home.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Booby Trap

Sunday, April 28, 2013

One of the things I learned from my best friend, Dave, growing up, is that when someone is plotting against you, pretend like you don’t know.
Dave always had a crush on the girl next door, and she hated him – more than a little curious why he would bother, since she made it very clear she didn’t go for losers like us, but preferred a brand of loser that had a leather jacket or a high school football jersey.
She hated him so much she sometimes pretended like she didn’t, just to hurt him more, I guess.
She thought he was stupid, and that after all the hate she expressed for him in School #11, and later in Junior High, he was suddenly going to believe it when she started acting nice.
This didn’t happen often, but when it did, Dave would go along with it.
He liked her, but he wasn’t as stupid as she made him out to be in front of her in-crowd, and he said his uncle had just come back from Vietnam where they were always getting booby traps set.
“You either let them be or set them off,” Dave told me.
I didn’t quite get the idea until one day when she started dropping hints that she might say yes if Dave asked her to a dance.
I knew she didn’t mean it, that she had some plan to embarrass him, perhaps thinking she might go as far as to let him take her out on the dance floor where she might get her crowd to mock him in public – as if mocking ever bothered him after all the years of abuse heaped on people like him from people like the people she liked to hang out with.
I asked him if he really believed she was sincere, and he laughed and said, of course not.
“Then what are you going to do?” I asked.
“Let her keep dropping hints,” he said.
“What does that get you?”
But he only winked and never did answer the question.
She got bolder and more desperate, trying to get him to commit to her little scheme, and he would smile and nod, and meander off, acting as dim-witted as she thought he was.
It got the point where she got so desperate for him to fall for the trap, she asked him outright in the middle of the hall with dozens of her cool friends looking on, all of them gigging, waiting for him to take the bait.
At which point, he said “No.”
I remember her screeching at him as we walked away, saying she never meant it in the first place, that she would never go to a dance with a jerk like him.
He never turned back the way I did, he didn’t need to see her red face growing redder with rage, the bobby trap exploding inside of her instead of inside of him.
If he felt hurt, he never told me. I could read no emotion from his face. But I know he never stopped loving her, even when he never saw her again.
But he did later tell me on the bus to our jobs at the theater where we worked as ushers.
“Some things are just too good to be true,” he mumbled, then went back to reading his comic book.

Friday, April 26, 2013

I walk the line (Arbor Day)

Friday, April 26, 2013

It is not Johnny Cash I hear in my head when I walk in these woods this time of year, but rather the voice of something more remote, rising up from inside of me, a stirring of inner leaves I can’t always believe.
Although I stumble over sticks and stones, it’s not until I come upon the chips of wood that I take pause, trees cut to pieces before me, leaving bruises on the landscape, and scars in the woods I keep inside my head, as if each of our personal sins has done its best to ruin what lay outside our lives, polluting the landscape so that it cannot be easily cured.
I came this way because I thought I would find peace from cracked concrete and stench of the corrupt city I must live my ordinary life in, profiting from the rape of nature while I ache over it, troubled by the life I am forced to lead rather than the one I wished for.
Still at these times, I steer by way back to the place I started, back to the choices I thought I’d made correctly, but turned out wrong, determined in my life to walk at line towards something I still see as possible, where trees still grow, and yet, I always come to places like this, filled with fallen chips.
You can’t escape the life once you’re in it, viewed skewed by too few alternate routes, everything becomes a short cut to someplace else (even if it’s not where I wanted to be), easy money to be made as long as I am willing to sell my soul to get it, each time one more chip added to the ever rising pile, leaving less on the stump with which to grow, so in the end, I feel hollowed out, out of breath, with no firm footing anywhere that a misstep could cause even more to break.
I need to know what’s left, where the chips stop and the tree truck remains, struggling to keep from feeding too much off other tree trunks and keeping free of being feed for them, hoping that over time, I had retained enough real wood to feel solid again.

I walk the line – not because I can resist the call of the wild woods to wander in where I might risk turning to chips for some promise of fortune – but because I need to know where I am and where I am going, even if in the end, where I end up isn’t as glorious as I envisioned when I started. I want to end up where the trees still grow and the grass is still green, and where I can feel I’ve done nothing to diminish either. I want to hear the breeze through the leaves and breathe deep the pure scent, even if in getting there I was something less than pure.

I may be on a path least traveled, but it is my firm foot print I see behind me, not the ghosts of some haunting I fear.
This is not to condemn those who take other paths – some of whom I love, if cannot follow – but we each must walk our own path to wherever those paths lea, and though we stumble over stones, each in our own way, we call out in that vast wood, listening to the other, if only to rest assured we are not alone.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Inch by inch (written in a recent notebook,undated)

your fingers, still warm from wrapping around the cup of tea,

 reach over the table and touch mine,

 your nails pale against my tough skin,

 the pace of each finger leaving their impression on the back of my hand,

 hard, but not too hard, dtermined to draw my hand to you..

 The pale room hums with the remote movement of of remote traffic 

too far beyond the walls for either of us to feel,

 this room filled with your preferences, with your clam shell stare 

and your oyster lips, is all there is,

 heated breath rising and falling with its own tides,

 inch by inch my hand reaches over the table top to where you are lingering 

as the soft embrace between each button, 

warmy gorwing warmer, breathing nearer to dispair, 

the air as thin as mountin tops and me an anxious mountain

 climber desperate to reach the top, inch by inch

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Alter ego

March 30, 1980

(I don’t often write when I’m drunk or high. This was written after a visit to one of the strip clubs on Main Avenue in Passaic)

We’ve made it, sitting here on this park bench in the middle of the Passaic Avenue parking lot, more than a little stoned, watching the flicker of light in the night, darkness flashing with cigarette lighters and then, the pale glow of cigarette tips growing brighter and then pale with each puff.
We laugh; we giggle.
I need coffee or some other legal drug to keep us going. So I rise – we rise – me on the outside, you inside.
Rain trickles into drizzle, filling the air, giving new things for the distant light to play with, streaks like fireflies before our eyes, the broad-faced moon peeking out from time to time behind heavy puffs of cloud, a shy but devious nymph peeking in through gray curtains to catch lovers engaged.
He sees only us, walking along this wet street, sees the sparking of the headlights as cars swish by – lights like diamonds glittering off this wet word, making us ache inside and out.
Our breath leaves trails of steam before us, the huff and puff of some imaginary dragon whose fire has yet to be quenched, unaffected by the chill air, we needing some other thing to cure this ach, some spear thrust to kill the dragon that roars inside us.
But there are no heroes left to cast a spear into that fiery gap, no one brave enough to venture into those deep dark places and pluck the prize that waits there – only us, walking survivors, staggering stoned along these moist streets, huffing and puffing and aching inside, weary winter expiring around us, stains of white lingering near where our feet fall.
We struggle to survive this change of season, this ache, this lioness, always mistaking the journey for the destination, sticking speaks into jaws that always break us and leave us in pieces.
I walk and think of you, deep inside of me, the soul I can never let out, the alter ego I dare not reveal for fear the spear might stab too deeply and leave both of us dead
But we’ve made it. We’ve survived. We walk on with the light of the night glittering over us, in front of us, inside of us, tempting us and making us ache for release.
We’ve survived.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Small dreams

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

I’m hard pressed to figure out where I am or what I’m doing or even what I’m supposed to do. I’ve always seen myself as a child of nature, one of those hippie fools, who thinks life will work out if I let it, even when I sometimes want something else.
I took a walk by the Hudson River again today – not a long walk from my office, and out onto the pier where the real world glares across at me from the other side, skyscrapers catching bits of sunlight as if they had managed to capture the sun itself.
You can’t fight city hall, the old saying goes, and you can’t stop progress, and you can’t stand in the way of ambition – these are things that run over you, even when you don’t mean to get in their way.
That’s the world, and it’s hard lesson to learn at my age when I had assumed the world was less lethal. Even those who engage in the game are usually victims, struggling to find their place on the ever moving treadmill that casts you off if you’re not careful.
Love, friendship, loyalty became confused and old fashioned ideas in this new cycle of life that isn’t new to anybody but me.
So I stroll along the waterfront, looking at the lapping water from the passing ferries, understanding that even nature gets bent out of shape by this thrust towards some unimaginable goal.
I used to sit on a park bench down in Toms River, where the river mingles with the bay, and sailboats floated lazily from place to place. I always wanted to sit there with someone pressed against my side, someone who I could trust and could trust me, and just simply took in the sights without needing to be anywhere or anybody or anything other than what we were at that moment.
It is an old dream. Perhaps it vanished when the old hotel that stood at the end of pier burned down (some say deliberately when the owner could not make a living off it) and that stretch of waterway filled up with jet skis and angry young hipsters who when they weren’t creating waves were down in Atlantic City feeding casinos coffers rather than helping the poor. The world has become the playground of people like that, who ache to be better than everybody else, needing to be superior in order not to feel so down on themselves.
When all I want is that dream of a park bench and warm sunlight that isn’t reflected off some rich man’s penthouse, but off water made choppy by sailboats and geese.
Sometimes, early on a Sunday morning, I get a little of this from the Hudson, and even see some young couples strolling hand in hand along the walkway. Some people do find their dreams, small dreams, maybe, but real, and things they can hold on to and get warmth from, a sunset on the water, a breeze blowing in their face, a sailboat making its slow, but steady way upstream.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The rules of the game

Oct. 10, 1979

“I don’t go anywhere I’m not invited,” Hank told me over beers one night at the old Red Baron pub in Cedar Grove, explaining why he refused to go to the party with the members of the band, despite the fact that the girl he loved had gone. “If she wanted me to be there, she would have invited me, otherwise it hurts too much when I get there.”
At our age, I wanted to tell him, we couldn’t afford to be picky. But Hank was a social butterfly with clipped wings who would not willingly go back to the cocoon he had lived in early in life, but feared to walk into a spider web, he said, at least not without someone inviting him.
But knowing Hank as I did, and seeing him walk out the pub door that night, I knew he would go anywhere and do anything if he thought there was a chance for love at the end of it, and as it turned out, he did go, and he did get hurt, and even then, when he said he wouldn’t, I knew he would still do it again.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Art for art’s sake?

Sunday, April 07, 2013

            I didn’t know last night was to be the last performance of Love Assassin or I might not have gone – I’ve seen too many great people giving up on their art, and remember the time when my then best friend, Frank, gave up his craft as a singer/actor for a “practical” job when they changed him to the second shift.
            He didn’t have a family to raise, or even rent to pay (he lived in his family’s house), but something compelled him to give up, and it pissed me off.
            Maybe I would have gone to Maxwell’s anyway, even if it was to witness the death of a great band. I was that hungry for down and dirty rock and roll.
            I always ache for it until I get there, and even then, among the clamor of cymbals and the wail of guitar, I wonder why I gave it up.
            It’s not age – at least not in the county of years, but rather the wear and tear, rock and roll being an endurance test to sort out the wheat from the chaff: those who fall into excess or do not have “the stuff” it takes to make it.
            I keep thinking back all the years to that parish hall in Paterson when I first saw a group with the silly name of Eric Lemon’s Milk Band and realize talent doesn’t always count, or ambition or dedication to craft or even luck.
            Some rockers never stop even when fortune has abandoned them, love of “the life” or habit of craft moving them ahead when all else has faded from them – men and women who believe in something more than just success or failure, fortune or poverty. This thing lacking in all the bands I was associated with over the year, who despite great talent and massive ambition, eventually quit.
            Two years ago, I mourned more than the death of a talented guitarist when one of the lead guitarists passed away, but the passing of a dream – my memory of his performance still vivid when in reality he hadn’t touched the guitar in years.
            I felt wounded from his giving up.
            A twinge of this touched me, too, last night, when the lead singer for Love Assassin announced that this was their last performance, bringing out all the old feelings in every way, the triumph of being great and the pain of not making it in the commercial world, the plague all great performers suffer even sometimes after the world has acknowledged them.
            “This is not a bad thing; it’s a good thing,” he said, trying to convey to the disappointed fans that there would be life beyond the band, something I have heard so many times over the long years, I almost laughed, a shadow in the shadowy otherwise unchanging world of a club I had frequented often as poet, writer, even singer since the 1980s – and once, in another incarnation, made a delivery here as a truck driver, more than a disappointed fan, mourning not the loss of a band, but of an idea that art may not after all be immortal, when deep in my heart I always believed it could be nothing else.

Drums along the Passaic

May 31, 1980

The drum beat rises with the heat like crickets.
But even on days like this with a gentle rain, I hear them rising from the tracks up Passaic Street, a sound track to life here on this boundary between ghetto and the Old Polish world.
The birds chime in, caught up in their own endless conversation that seems made louder by the lack of screaming kids, too typical for other days when the sun shines.
This place would shake the faith of any middle class housewife: shouting and stomping, and the beat of the drums.
The kids dance to the back beat though the older Poles call it noise and call the police, who can do nothing, or won’t, figuring it is better that the black kids beat drums than the staggering Polish drunks who make their way out of eye-opener bars even this early in the day.
The sound of the drums reverberates off the sides of the rusting box cars and unused chemical tankers that are as much icons of this world as the strip club and the Polish bakery.
Our mayor talks about keeping the peace in this part of the city, while someone told me yesterday a cop got stabbed down here, and some has been setting fires, and black kids have been fighting white kids up on Main Avenue, the boundary between rich Passaic and poor.
Wiser people do not go up there after dark, but I’m not wise, doing my tour of the go go scene in search of authentic characters I might write about some day, finding that world all too authentic for comfort, many of the inhabitants looking at me and wondering what it is I put down in the pages of the notebooks I carry – their lives part of this amazing tapestry I can never get enough of, all too authentic even for me to handle sober – except on mornings like this when the drizzle greets me and so do the drums.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

What’s a woman like you doing in a…

April 24, 1982

Her name is Liz and she’s 34 and she works in a bar in Passaic called the Coo Coo’s Nest, which is probably the most appropriate name ever given to anything.
            It is a go go bar and I go there because the place has tables where I can drink and write without anyone bothering me, too much.
            Liz, the hostess, delivers drinks to the tables and she sees me writing and bends over me with more than just a literary interest.
            It’s a strange place for a woman like her and her sweet smile. She doesn’t fit here. She doesn’t look older than 18 either. This makes her seem even more innocent. I ask how she stands the place. She smiles and tells me she’d tell me later, and later, she hands me here number, saying we should have coffee together.
            Yet, she’s here, surviving this world and its hard faces, surviving me and the strange man beside me, and the man beyond that.
            She mentions vaguely that her husband left her and her seven year old child.
            I want to ask why a man would leave a woman like her?
            But I don’t.
            Those words won’t come out of me, and shouldn’t.
            You just don’t make those connections in this world. You sit; you listen; you take what you can get.
            And she likes me. You can’t ask questions like that when someone leans over you with that bit of sexuality in her eyes.
            A week ago, I told her this was a rotten place to pick people up in, too much raw energy, too mush lust.
            She only smiled with that compact smile of her sand touched my hand, and all I kept thinking of was of weeds and flowers, a whole lot of weeds and this one tender flower growing in the least likely place of all.
            So now I have her number and a piece of her heart, not a lot, but something, and it strikes me strange how a human can make contact with another human even in a hell-bent place like the Coo Coo’s Nest.
            So maybe I’ll called her, maybe3 I’ll reach out this time and make contact with the single lovely flower and maybe I’ll find out why such souls spend their lives alone. Why their husbands leave, how they survive in bars like this.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The nature of art

March 10, 2013

Sunrise peers over the lip of the land like a long lost friend, When dark of night haunts us, we always revert, seeking those who touched us closest first for comfort and warmth – and remains true all these years later with all these sad days between back then and now, those hopeful times when we all assumed we could change the world, when time teaches us it the other way around. A few manage to keep their pledge, fewer manage to tread water and keep from being changed too much, still fewer manage to stay the same and only a handful, a desperate few, do what they set out to do.
Those are the great ones, evil or good, the killers and the Christs, who leave their mark so firmly on this planet we cannot forget them, those who cut off their ears or drink the poison, to live on through their art or their philosophy, the people who grasp the world in their claws to elevate it or break it to pieces, who are so consumed by what they need to do they have no room for anything else and can only do that one thing before they climb onto the cross and move on to the next task the universe assigns them.
Few can be so consumed and not think of other part of life, we need or want, that art itself becomes a sole existence, worked for every waking movement of every living day, not bothering to wonder if anyone will recognize or remember them later.