Sunday, July 28, 2013

Christmas lights

Sunday, July 28, 2013

My grandfather had the same string of lights from the first Christmas after his first child, my mother was born (today is her birthday)
The wires on this string were so thick they looked like strands of rope; cloth-covered writer entwined, and often so entangled my grandfather needed from Thanksgiving for his work-blistered fingers to get them straight in time to put them on the tree.
This was a chore of love he gook on each season, untangling this array of ancient light to rewind it onto the tree the weekend before Christmas, always placing it the same way with all the colored lights in the same order, always adding the same Christmas ornaments to populate the space between each light so that this tree varies from previous trees only by the new ornaments he added that particular year, ornaments that stood for a child he reared that year or a dream he aspired towards. That first year was a very rich year since it was the year of his first child and a year before the Stock Market crash. During the less rich years that followed when money was too scarce to waste on such things, he had to make the ornament himself. But some of these during the Great Depression reflecting one of the baker’s dozen kids he reared were among the grandest and utterly previous. The grandest of all came in the post ward years when he foresaw an amazingly bright future and added an angel at the top to reflect that vision – blindly bright with inspiration.

In the later years before his death, my grandfather struggled to find bulbs to replace those that burned out, even though the cloth had worn off the wires, and the string was of the variety that if one bulb went out, none would light. And some years, he spent as much time searching for which particular bulb was bad as he did the rest of the ritual, refusing to give up until the whole string was lighted again – even though the brightest light was always the one in his eyes. He never gave up. He never lost the vision.  

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Seed no one sees

July 26, 2013

Journal Square does not bake under harsh sunlight today as it did a week ago when I was here last  -- nor is it as busy with a train stuck inside some tunnel under the Hudson River – with trains backed up and the announcer here saying over and over and over again that there will be a delay.
People still come and go, thin crowds coming up the escalators from the stop the announcer still calls “The World Trade Center,” although this isn’t the same World Trade I used to sit under to read more than a decade ago
People come and go with these trains. A man in a broken straw hat struggled to get his bicycle up the stairs, his brown pants, baggy, his sandals slapping the pavement with every step, sweat discolored part of his un-tucked cream-colored shirt as its tail hangs down to the back of his knees.
Self-important men in tucked white shirts and creased black pants yak into cell phones about some deal that has soured or about some private matter that his no business being aired in a public place such as this.
Each train from Wall Street brings a new wave of similar people, men in green shorts, black shoes, white socks and baseball caps, women wearing tight pants that come down just below their knees and even tighter blouses and sunglasses they don’t need with the sky as clouded as it is today.
The pigeons scatter to each approaching set of feet, to resettle on feed on feed no one but they can see.
An man settling flavored ice passes, jangling his hand bell with the was nuns used to back when I was in elementary school, seeking to draw customers to their carts, but managing only to bring over people as poor as they are, while the big shots from Lower Manhattan pretend the ice man or the poor do not exist, and they can’t hear the persisting ring of the bell over the roar of rush hour traffic.
For some reason, I always come early and watch this perpetual dance, unable to tell the difference between the people and the pigeons, all going through the motions of life, pecking at seed none of us can see, seed that can no more sustain us than pieces of stone.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Summer of 77

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Some people tell me a small tornado touched down in Bayonne a few days ago, part of what is supposed to a strange weather pattern.
This coupled with the death of Elvis Tribute Artist Eddie O’Rourke only served to bring me back to that horrible summer in 1977 when I was working in a warehouse in Fairfield when a small tornado ripped up a portion of the roof.
For some reason, I was up front in the office rather than where I should have been back near the loading bay when I heard the crunch of metal ripping, and rushed back to find the area where I worked uncovered, and rain dripping off the rip along with sunlight.
Cliff, a one-time linebacker for the University of Pittsburgh (whose injured knee kept from the pros – a fact that allowed me to pick on him with impunity since I could run faster than him) stood with giant hands on his giant hips staring up at the roof, looking at it, then me, as if he expected me not to be there, drawn up into the funnel perhaps to become that fake wizard I more our less pretended to be.
This was a summer full of such disasters, full of fear of some guy in New York that would later be called “Son of Sam” but whom the news reports referred to as the 44 caliber killer, and the great black out that showed us all how terrible humanity can be when there are no rules to keep us in order, and then, the death of Elvis, who most of us didn’t feel much about until his death, although his songs had haunted me my whole life, especially when I served in the army.
It was that summer my family moved south to Toms River, and my mother forced to move with them, clinging with all her fingernails to the Paterson she loved and leaving scratch marks down the New Jersey Turnpike a blind man could follow.
Some years just don’t set right in the universe, ripping up the tarmac of our lives, taking their place in our collective memories not for any good reason.
And yet, there are times when I think back at that summer with fondness, and puzzled by the ironies. Such as my best friend falling in love with a girl from Toms River that summer so that each weekend we both wound up wandering the Sea Side board walk, finding each other, getting drunk in one of the cheap Sea Side bars, both of us trying to pick up the girls who didn’t want hippie types like us, but the macho muscle-bound beach bums who wanted to beat us up for even looking at the girls they wanted.
I remember standing at the mouth of Toms River and the bay and being awed by sunset and the light flickering off the water, and by the old Victorian hotel that sat there like a queen, and by the widows walks where in old days the wives of sailors kept watch for sight of ships returning, although the only sails I saw were those of small sail boats struggling against the wind.
All these years later, I still remember the ducks and geese, who quacked in lowered voices while I strummed guitar and sang, not to them but to the waves and the gusts of wind, feeling as if somehow being there was part of destiny, and that the measure of sadness that year brought, was more than made up for by the powerful images that remain fixed in my mind, images that return when I hear things elsewhere – even this far north in Bayonne.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Happy birthday, momma

July 28, 1977

I’m always confusing my mother’s birthday with the day she got married, then recall the marriage came earlier in July, and how by the time the 28th came along, she was alone again because my father had to travel to Washington D.C. to straighten out his dishonorable discharge from the U.S. Navy.
Now all these years later, I have abandoned her the way my father did, refusing to let my family force me into living with her again.
I’m 26 years old. The last thing I need is to live with my mother, which is exactly what I told them, and so forced her to move south with her mother and her brother and his family, she seeing it as some kind of prison sentence similar to when they locked her up in the mental institution when I was a kid.
This is her first birthday in Toms River – her first birthday out of Paterson.
She doesn’t hate the sea shore, but she has to rely on other people to get around now when back up in Paterson she could walk or take a bus.
I was supposed to go to see the New York Yankees with Cliff from work, a rare Thursday excursion to the bleachers where he and I usually get falling down drunk, more than enough excuse not to show up at the warehouse tomorrow. Now I have no excuse.
I have to visit my mother instead, driving down the Garden State Parkway waiting for the Yankee came to come on the radio and my hero Thurmond Munson to come to the plate, but all I get is some newscaster ranting about some oil pipeline in Alaska so I tune to FM and the fading WNEW playing old rock and roll I know by heart.
It is not hot. But I have no air conditioning. I have the windows open and like the looks I get from other people seeing me in my brand new Ford Pinto, my first new car ever after a series of broken down hotrods I spent most of my time trying to fix. I love the car even some news reports claim it might blow up if hit from behind.
My mother turns 49 years old today, and sadly, she’s already started to show the gray. She was my grandparent’s first baby, back in 1928 when they had so much hope, only to have the stock market crash a year later ruining their dreams and forcing them into hard labor.
I suppose they got drunk that night. I would have.
I wonder if my mother ever got drunk. I know my father did, often. My uncle Ritchie told me. My father was a sailor and a rowdy one at that, a boy who joined a medical corps. early in the war only to have the Navy take over even when he was still under age.  A sailor on the Yancy, his ship sat in Tokyo Harbor during the surrender, and later sailed through an atomic cloud, and still later to the North Pole before he was drummed out for a reason I never knew. He worked for my grandfather building houses after the Navy, and often snuck off the work site with Ritchie and Little Bill to drink in a Haledon bar.
I don’t know what my mother saw in him.
Maybe she thought she could reform him, just as she tries to reform me with her constant rosaries.
And as I drive I keep thinking of how lonely that birthday was, a two-week newlywed whose husband deserted her, looking out that window that July 28 wondering if he would ever come back. Did she know I was already taking shape inside her?
So I press down harder on the gas, determined not to let her spend her first birthday away from Paterson alone.
My present to her is me.

It’s the best I have to offer.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Happy Birthday, baby

May 12, 1978

I don’t know why I always do this to myself this time of year, as if I had a birthday death wish with me playing the part of Charles Manson as well as the low life he’s hunting, searching out the face of the stranger in the mirror.
Jobless again with no savings in the bath to pay next month’s rent with and no inclination to do anything at the moment but go get drunk.
I keep the radio on all the time, and loud, tuned to a news station so I don’t have to listen to myself think.
The whole luxury of living free of a job falls in on top of me like a half baked roof, a fantasy that wouldn’t work even if I had money to pay all the bills.
I like being around people and the idea of being here – even with the pretense of writing a novel – would drive me nuts.
I need some reason to get out of bed in the morning, need to see some face other than my own in the mirror as I shave – even if it is the face of an ugly boss screaming at me over something I fucked up.
Maybe I’ll go beg a job with the band and find some inspiration from the groupies and the bar sharks I write about all the time.
I envy them because they’ve found a purpose in life. But I could never be like them.
I couldn’t take the heart ache groupies suffer, falling in and out of love nightly like they always do. And I have too much of a conscience to exploit them and every body else the way the bar sharks do.
But for some reason, they fascinate me. The whole scene does. Maybe it is because in acting out their lives, seemingly so artificial in their artifice, they have stumbled on a corner of reality I still can’t sink my teeth into, and find that my role in their world is as an observer or confidant, or even someone to provide the victims a measure of comfort when they fall down.
For some reason, I can still hear their voices in my head long after I have sobered up.
It’s the quiet of the rat trap I live in that scares me. I’m the only person I meet here, and when I do, I hate what that person has to say, and I fear the pathetic look of panic I glimpse in his eyes.
Yes, I think I’ll go get drunk tonight, pick up one of the groups, let her fill my head with all that prattle other men find so annoying, but which does much to chase out my own thoughts, and when I wake up, someone else will be here in the morning to help fill up the silence.