Saturday, September 28, 2013

With only one eye to see

February 28, 2012

The hedges look like green cupcakes, white on top where the new snow melts.
The moisture drips into the dark depths of the still-green, which sags only slightly.
I keep thinking of the trees in my yard after the freak snow storm last October, and how branches cracked one after another, whole limbs falling down into the yard.
They are still there – now covered in snow, leaves withered, while I recover from eye surgery that keeps me from sawing them into smaller pieces to cart away.
The doctors say I shouldn’t exercise or do anything strenuous or else I might lose the eyesight surgery restored.
But labor and exercise have always been a kind of meditation. Sometimes, I lost myself jogging when back in Passaic. And working nights as a donut baker, I could feel the texture of the dough as I worked it, and know when I finally get back to the point where I can use the saw, cutting wood would serve me as well.
I need to feel warm of it where the blade cuts through the skin, and catch the pungent odor of slightly burnt wood from the blade’s friction.
But with my patch on, and my restriction, I have become an observer on life, not a participant.
And the sharp sun shining through the gaps of melting ice here blinds me in a different way, another form of aggression winter brings – pressing against the limbs, and against something inside of me.
I can hardly breathe with it mounting inside and outside of me, as if the same cold hand that presses down on these hedges, presses down on me, and only a real thaw, some amazing life event marking a change will relieve me and let me breathe again.
And so, I wait for spring to spring back, just as these hedges wait, and the rest of his frozen world I walk through with only one eye to see.

New day dawning?

July 25, 2013

Gray skies belie the mood of day after weeks of stead heat and fear of beating sunlight. The world grows calm again, less brutal, soften around the edges by a gray haze and sense of peace, and an almost steady drizzle I feel peck at my cheeks – each a cool kiss making all seem well with the world.
Nothing stirs the leaves here except when the weight of water proves too much a burden and then the leaf releases the gathered moisture, letting it fall to the next leaf and the next, until finally, reluctantly, and with a great sigh, this reaches the soft brown earth below.

My footsteps make no sound. So I move through this landscape like a spirit, a whisper where there is no wind, a movement through still trees, leaving no trace that I exist, no memory for the world to mark as having passed through it – and perhaps this is best, to remain this, unaffected and untainting, doing no more damage to this already damaged world than what has already been done, to watch and wait, to love without acknowledgement, to find peace in this simple passage, letting the cool drizzle work its remarkable magic and sooth wounds already done – a brief space so that when the new day dawns, I can begin again.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

There and back again

February 19, 1985

Back again.
Three years after the beginning. Settling old scores, finding some new means of survival, or old.
It seems we spend our time reversing ourselves, going back to those things that have served us in the past. Sometimes, this past didn’t serve us at all, but grew in our imaginations over time into something grand.
Louise and I had this pattern a half dozen times during our brief relationship, going to and from Denver twice, to and from Portland twice, to and from Phoenix, Las Vegas, only to end up in LA where we started, seeking that perfect condition upon which would could rest.
The process always contributes to the deterioration.
Later the pattern continued in my life alone.
It lent itself to a career decision in 1974 when I took up work in Donald’s warehouse instead of another job as the manager in a calculator company (something that I could not have imagined would take off later into computers). I wasn’t together enough at the time to manage my own life, let alone a warehouse. Not then anyway.
Still later, after having finally escaped the rooming house in Montclair, found a quality apartment in a good part of Passaic, and bought my first new car (a Ford Pinto); I decided to move back to the rooming house in Montclair. I learned to miss the quality place and bemoaned my leaving it especially later when I moved back to the poorer part of Passaic where I live now.
I even did this with college – going back to school was in a way going back in time, trying to settle an old score with myself for having quit high school. I needed to prove something, and I guess I did, although I couldn’t even make it through college on the first try, forced out by poverty several times and a need to work to pay rent so it was there and back, there and back, grabbing piece of education as I could (better than the long hours in the Passaic Library I had spent trying to educate myself with the help of a Harvard graduate turned hobo who would pause often to advise me about which book was worth reading and which was junk. Even mentally ill, he proved more accurate than many of the so-called sane professors I later met.)
I had the delusion I could make a living as a writer. And so in December 1981, I gave up a job in a Dunkin Donuts and struck out on my own with a half dozen hand-written manuscripts.
But I am most of all a practical boy. I had the idea of starving and I hated that one time when I actually was homeless. So scared over lack of finances and with a very persistent landlord seeking to collect rent, I took up labor (what a joke) in a Fotomat booth – a sit down job in a fish bowl where for the most part I set up an electric typewriter and tapped away at novels trying not to get too annoyed at the customers who actually wanted me to help them.
It was piss poor money, but I got a lot of writing done, although I was more gypsy than anything, traveling store to store whenever someone called it sick or someone quit. I made so little at it that I had to rely on small loans from my uncle or my mother when rent came due or the power company wanted to turn off my electric and heat.
But alas, I sick of threadbare clothing and brown rice every night (saving pork chops for pay day) and crawled back to the Dunkin seeking my old job back. Part of this has to do with Anne and her brother, and Pauly – who some how became my room mate again though I’m still not clear as to how) and part of it is the need to do something to catch up, not just financially, but with myself, an labor – I mean real physical labor – has always made me feel rich and accomplished down deep inside, my hands doing something that matters, even if it is merely making donuts and muffins.
While it doesn’t equal putting words together, it does something that my writing has yet to do: pay the rent.

Scrap Paper Review menu

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The small things that matter

Wednesday, September 26, 2013

Some days, all I can feel is sad.
It’s not a matter of weather or what has happened in the day, but some other thing – perhaps an accumulation of world or even local events that make the day tougher.
I’m not even talking about international terrorists or the grid lock in congress, or even the grid lock in NYC streets due to the UN insanity.
The biggest struggle is the every day struggle ordinary people face.
Going back to places like Secaucus where I see faces I haven’t seen in years I see this struggle in their faces, as they must seen mine on my face.
Yesterday between meetings, I took some pictures of the military monuments outside Secaucus town hall when a cop pulled up and grinned at me.
I hadn’t seen him in a decade, but knew him from Facebook, and he thanked me for posting a photo of him I had taken in the near by park, one I had taken ten years earlier.
It wasn’t a great photo because I was using a terrible camera, and I was shooting into the sun.
He was greeting two very small African American kids.
He didn’t even know I was taking a picture. He didn’t even know anyone was looking.
It was one of those magical moments in life where I just happened to look at him doing what he naturally did, and caught it.
“A lot of people comment about that photo,” he said, slapping me on the shoulder as he headed into the police station and I headed into the meeting.
Sometimes, magic is more important than logic, and sometimes, our role in life isn’t to make great changes, but to document the small changes people like this cop make.
And I guess, waking up this morning, I realized I need to do more of that, preserving magical moments for the ordinary people, and let the world spin on its wobbly axis in events I am too small to deal with anyway.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The trouble with karma

Monday, September 23, 2013

Never monkey with someone’s faith, Will Rogers once claimed. It’s better to die ignorant and poor, believing wholeheartedly in what they always believed in, then to die prosperous and smart, half believing or not believing at all.
“There was never a nation founded and maintained without some belief in something,” he said.
This remembrance hit me yesterday when I stumbled onto the Feast of the Assumption in Bayonne.
Last year, I watched it go by partly because it conflicted with another event I covered. This year, the second event started later, and so I wandered over to take some pictures and talk to some people.
It also comes at a time when I started to pray again.
Like Mark Twain, I’m a bit cynical when it comes to prayer, but figure I might get to like the habit once I got used to it.
My mother constantly said The Rosary for me – a ritual that probably went a long way to saving my life more than a few times – and the few times when I was desperate to pray in earnest, my prayer got answered after a fashion.
Like the time my mother got trapped inside her apartment unable to walk and with the door lock jammed so I could not use my key to open it. I prayed as I called the police, and eventually, the answer went beyond what I asked for and opened the door onto getting her the head-shrinking treatments she needed, but resisted.
After her death, she insisted on showing me that she was still around.
The summer of 2002, we had a blackout.
In the morning, during my walk to Hoboken, I stumbled on a pair of green plastic rosaries that looked just like the pair my mother constantly prayed on. I thought it was funny until I looked up and saw on the wall of the house a picture of Christ my mother also favored.
Later, the blackout hit, only my side of the block happened to be on a grid associated with Secaucus and we maintained power while others did not.
A few years later, during a person crisis (I don’t remember which they come and go), I was again walking to work, and thinking of my mother because I was near the corner of Paterson Avenue in Jersey City where I once tried to rent an apartment for her. An odd reflection of light from a window across the street had painted a cross of sunlight on the wall of that building.
I took it as a sign of hope.
By and by, I’ve had preachers blessing me lately for a number of things I did or did not do, some even to help me through this or that situation.
But returning to prayer was my own choice when I realized that some situations were just beyond my power to resolve, and I figured if the rosary worked on me for my mother, it might work for me as well.
I’ve been through religious dogma from Buddha to Christ, even with a stopover in New Age, and learned most tap into Jung’s common consciousness at some level. I taught myself to meditate as a kid so as to get over the tension of a mad mother in a house full of insane people just so I could get some sleep. I started Yoga in the summer of 1978 in order to keep my back whole as a result of a tough truck-loading job, and never stopped.
Somehow the ritual works. Zen people tell me that the rosary and chanting basically work on the same principles, diverting the conscious mind so as to get to that place beyond.
Buddhist chanting and the rosary always made the most sense to me because the incorporated my doing something – even if in I didn’t always know what I was saying in that silly blue Buddhist  book and eventually gave it up for the basic chant.
I always felt guilty about the Buddhist chant because I was catholic, and then my Zen friends told me Hail Mary and the chant are basically the same sounds, and same rhythm, and both tend to bring the person into the same state of spiritual being.
While I felt better about chanting, I always imagined a difference in results. Somehow both seemed to get the job done after a fashion, answering whatever problem it is I turned to prayer to solve, if to help me grow or to save someone else from a fate worse than death.
The chanting, however, always seemed to come with a thing called karma – I was never quite resolved from my guilt, while the rosary’s answer seemed to show more mercy on me.
The logical part of me says it is all bunk, but if I’m desperate enough to turn to prayer, the last thing I need is a backlash of karma.
The trouble with karma is that is dumps as much responsibility on the back of the petitioner as on the person I’m chanting to save.
Needless to say, I’m sure karma will catch up with me sooner or later, but I’m wearing out dollar-store rosary beads hoping it won’t come too soon, and perhaps, in getting used this habit, I might yet get what I ask for, if not what I want, hoping God or the collective unconscious will defy my personal feelings and provide real relief – not so much to karma-bound me – but to those souls whose hearts are so hardened that only prayer can help them.
In the meantime, I’m petitioning my local councilman for neighborhood street signs saying, “Look out for falling karma.”

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Petty gods come and go

Thursday, September 19, 2013

I can’t believe it, but I’m actually disappointed it isn’t raining.
These few days have been the best of days for weather that any can remember for months, but I need to feel the rain on my face.
I’m just in the mood.
I took a walk along Newark Bay yesterday, and the slanting sun painted everything amber. It just didn’t feel right.
So I went back there this morning, and sat in my car, but the day bloomed up over me continuing where it left off.
So I drove to work, and completed the not always pleasant duty of reporting ill news.
This is a place where ill news blooms like flowers, withering almost as soon as their buds open, and I grow weary of the corruption and the pain, and the unfairness, and the dressing up rituals, and the dressing down rituals, the showing up for show, and not showing up out of fear.
Some big thuds in one part of the county bossing around scared little people to keep them in line, so the thugs can play like they are important, when thugs always end up in the same place at the end.
A place a lot hotter than July was this year.
And all I want is for the little guy to get even, and perhaps that will happen, but not likely.
The bad guys mostly get away with it, casting a few of their own to the wolves so that they can get away.
And I spend a good portion of my life writing about the process.
So I ache for rain to wash me clean, to let it all flow over me.
But the sad truth is that we have spoiled the world, soiling it with our soot, so that rain doesn’t come down the way it used to, but either evaporates high up and doesn’t come at all, or it comes in buckets that wash away more innocent people – the whether gods terrorizing ordinary folks the way the thugs do, only the gods don’t pretend to be all so important. They really are important.
They don’t have to dress up or put on a show, they just exert their will and shit happens.
I keep thinking of Sandy and all the crap that happened after it, and how one of my favorite places in the world went up in flames nearly a year later because the salt water Sandy sprayed onto the wires caused them to short.
Some shit, eh?
I guess that’s why I do what I do, to keep the thugs in their place and to make sure that when shit happens, it’s not the petty gods who get away with it.

We might not be able to fight back against the real gods, but these other sons of a bitches better watch out.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

I will be renewed

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

I made reservations for the Cape May motel, the cheaper one that we went to last year, and the one with the thin walls.
Sometimes, it’s nice to hear it all, from the roar of the sea to the roar of bliss, and know that somehow it all connects in the soul.
My cycle of life runs from October to October, part of that ritual I guess kids get used to going to school. I still dread Mondays for the same reason, and Sunday nights, although Tuesdays with production sometimes gives me the same grief.
The sea has always been a source of strength to me, and going there creates a calm down in the bones more regular visits to the river can’t.
This year with the dolphins dying, I almost dread the beach walk. I do not want to see an intelligent being belly up.
But the need is nearly as great in me this year as it was last year, though I am stronger now, and have learned a lot about my ability to overcome adversity.
We all live with some inner strength we do not know until we are called upon to use it.
The sea feeds that part of me.
Maybe this comes from growing up in around boats, with my grandfather as a boat builder, and before that a bungalow builder. I still have the photos of my grandfather and father and mother and the old Hudson car in front of the family bungalow near Toms River – no doubt bulldozed out of existence to make way for condos.
But I recall those early days when my family brought me to the sea, and how amazed I was at seeing it, and how amazed I still am.
My grandfather loved the sea as well, and it is only irony that I make my way to Cape May each year just as he did in 1927 for his honeymoon. I even have some photos of that.
Sandy didn’t hurt that part of the world as it did farther up, in the Toms River area, and yet, I will think of that storm as I pass exit 82 and the most recent fire that turns out to be yet one more nasty bit caused by Sandy, salt water abusing the wires so that a fire could consume all those memories – the way the 1962 hurricane did in Cape May, altering everything, except for the sea itself.
I guess that’s the thing we all have to rely on, those things that are so much larger than us, things that can’t be changed by something even as powerful as a storm, the forces we can alter but not defeat, some of which are contained in us, and drawn upon, and renewed.

I will be renewed.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Inside and out

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

As a kid, I remember a move called “If this is Tuesday, this must be Rome,” or something like that.
But after working for the last decade with a weekly routine of coming to Hoboken each Tuesday, that movie and its destination have long changed in my mind.
This time of year, with the cool of September growing around me, it is hard not to become nostalgic for the grand old days of when I first started at the paper – when we all worked out of substantial digs diagonally located across from the current Hoboken office, and on rainy days, we might expect to be up to our ankles in water as we struggled with pathetic computers and hard copy to get the papers out.
I did not take my usual walk out to the waterfront today.
Traffic coming down the hill from Jersey City Heights was so horrendous, I drove the long way into Hoboken, down Paterson Plank Road only to get stopped by the light rail crossing that caused nearly an equally long back up, and had to cross down with the glare of sunlight making it impossible to see pedestrians.
Then, I turned uptown to the Malibu Diner and across to the office, where the curb side trees are just starting to show their change from green.
I did stop to sip coffee beneath them, one more weekly ritual that seems fitting in that world, a kind of intake of breath before the plunge into the mania that always accompanies production: meeting, briefs, lay out, and discussions about the upcoming election and the video debate will be have to do here at some point in the near future.
The breathlessness of production and being apart of something important in the community has never completely escaped me, though it sometimes feels strange – because I don’t always believe in my own importance.
We all live our lives on the edge of something we don’t always understand, a sense of place or time or reality that doesn’t always keep time with what goes on inside of her.
Sociologists called it psychic distance, that space between who you seem to other people and who you think you are. Some people can close that distance and feel more comfortable within their own skin than other people can, some never do, and always live duel lives, one inside, one outside, and trying always to keep them straight, trying, too, also to keep from laughing too hard about who others think we are.
In college, I always felt very distant from my exterior self. These days, I’m pretty snug with only an occasional lapse, a pondering of why people think I am who I pretend to be, when inside, I think I’m somebody else.
I don’t take this disassociation as seriously as I did in college – perhaps because I’ve spent most of my life being as real as possible as often as possible, even to the point of  exposing who I really am inside to the outside world, and risking the world not liking me.
I guess the real challenge is to make sure that I like myself, inside and out.
And for the most part, I do.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Seaside no more

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The cold air comes in thought the back of my open bedroom window on the back of a batch of thunderstorms.
A day later than I expected, but it is still here.
Autumn always arrives this way for me, a waking in the morning, a sudden awareness of change, and hints of what may come later – omens of larger changes that the end of year sometimes brings.
This late in life everything is an anniversary of some earlier event, if only a year old or 40, the memory becomes fresher and distinct, as if lived yesterday, or still being lived.
Some flashes come from my fractured youth, and make me wonder where my old friend from Paterson is, Dave and his brother, with whom I got in some much trouble and then somehow got out of.
My recent visit to the old work place in Fairfield keeps Hank in the forefront of my mind, and I miss him – especially with the destruction of the boardwalk in Seaside – both from the fire and from Sandy – which steals from me a lasting memory of his most silly ambition, a talented singer who spent too much time gambling at the magical wheels in pursuit of a record collection he could have afforded easily if he had taken more time to hone his craft.
There was some magic connection between him and winning, and he found some great satisfaction in predicting on what number the wheel would stop.
I went back to that neck of the woods twice in 2012, before Sandy, to glimpse again, not just the past I had with Hank, but with my family.
I have an old photograph from the late 1970s or earlier 1980s of two of my uncles walking down the boardwalk with my grandmother there, and photos of my mother standing on the boardwalk looking out at the sea.
Things change, of course, as the whole shore has. Even during my last few visits to the place, I still struggled to remember just where The Chatterbox was, the boardwalk music venue where we played, where most of the popular Jersey bands played. But what filled in that space after its passing, seem to fit in with the tone of the place so that while I missed the name, it left no gap in the sequence of buildings and I could walk along carrying its memory.
But this new disaster, this fire and wind, wipes out all the physical and leaves only the spiritual memory of what was, and the whole burden of remembering is carried on inside me with no outside stimulation to remind me of what once was.
With so much changed in the world, with roadside vegetable stands gone, with super highways crisscrossing the state instead of roads following old Indian trails, there was comfort in coming to Seaside to see that little had changed, and now it all has.
Although it is foolish to imagine that I could point to the boards upon which Hank stood when throwing down his coins or the space near the benches where my mother clung to the rail to look out at the waves, I liked to think that when I walked from the Southern portion in Seaside Park to the most northern portion where chairs were suspended in the air in Seaside Heights, I followed in the footsteps of my uncles and grandmother.
When very young, my rich neighbor and I always were in dispute over Seaside Park – which was a getaway for the better class (doctors and lawyers) while Seaside Heights was the vacation destination for working class people like me. But in reality, such distinctions are dishonest, because we often wandered from one to the other, all of them giving us a mountain of memories upon which to construct the rest of our lives, a mountain built on faulty wood which fire and wind could wipe out in a matter of hours, while we hunker down with our memories, struggling to keep them in tact after the reality is blown away.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

On looking down the Hudson River

September 10, 2013

HOBOKEN – I didn’t always feel this way around this river.
Sometimes, I don’t feel the horror at all, except this time of year when I stared across the water at the old space refilled with a new shape after more than a decade of empty space there.
After coming back from the dentist yesterday, the image of a vacant grin greets me, as if some bully has punched New York City in the face. And no matter how hard the dentist works to replace the missing teeth, the smile just isn’t the same.
I used to spend a lot of time on Pier A prior to the attack, absorbing the tidal surges of this larger river after having spent most of my life absorbing the lesser urges of smaller rivers like the Passaic.
This river is vast and grand, but never intimate – until that day when the water reflected the two towers and the smoke belching out of them, and then did not reflect them any more.
Sometimes, I still see their reflection when I look down stream from where I stand today; it is an illusion, a bit of wishful thinking, a memory of a thing long pat, which I need to somehow preserve, even when I hated what the two towers represented. Somehow, removing them with the associated slaughter is not an answer and I mourn something unrelated to me as I would the loss of a member of my family, feeling an assault that I should not feel, and being here, staring out, I felling the old pain renewed, and still have no answer for it – like a cure that is worse than the disease of greed it attempted to cure. There is no excuse for it.
Most times, I simply feel the loss of something, and will always associate that feeling with this river.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Good gums

Monday, September 09, 2013

I had to travel out to Fairfield this morning, traveling against rush hour traffic to get to my dentist, who I’d owed a visit for some time.
After 40 years going to the same institution, I could go nowhere else.
The one time I did chance another I lost a tooth, and though I have lost a few since then, this place always saved what they could, and kept my smile bright.
Drugs and an overbite gave me bad teeth, even from my days in the Army.
So about this time 40 years ago, I still had dental insurance while working for a greeting card company in Fairfield – shipping them, not writing them – and my aunt, who was loved by everyone in that whole town, felt sorry for my pain and sent me to this particular group.
Over the years, the doctors took good care of me, one became my biggest fan at a writer, and even cancelled my debt in the belief that I would some day become the great writer I always aspired to be.
If I was in pain, he came out on Sunday to take care of me.
His retiring upset me greatly, although I soon found that his son was just as warm heated as he was, the person who when he saw me today, greeted me as a good friend.
Indeed, he was probably running around the office during my early visits.
His father loved my aunt as much as anyone, and I last saw him in early 2012 when he came to her husband’s funeral, and when he saw me he asked “Are you still writing?”
Of course, I was.
I learned that I need a crown but despite by infrequent visits I appear to have halted the decline in my teeth, and so have good gums and solid smile that might just last me if I continue to use my electric toothbrush and floss.
Going back to that part of the world, only reminded me of Hank, and how we worked together at the old card company, and how about this time of year the floods came, and we played Huck Finn on the back of an air fright container.
So naturally, I drove back to the place where our warehouse had been. Very little had changed, except maybe for the diner which had been taken over by middle eastern people with posh pretentiousness, and the installation of an equally pretentious office for the property owners. But the little slots that served as warehouses forty years ago, looked exactly as they had then, as did the load docks in the back, and I drove passed the place where we worked and wondered about our dreams back then, how he had hoped to become a Broadway singer while I hoped to become a novelist, and how he had died early in life with his dreams unfulfilled, while I carried on without him.
I still carry on.
One of the greatest and earliest disappointments in my life was watching him give up his dream, settling for working class night shift and drinks after hours in NYC, and being a barroom clown everybody loved, but nobody respected.
I remember how the gang set a place at our usual diner the day of his funeral, ordered his favorite meal: cheese burger deluxe and a coke.
I would have ordered as much and left it at the foot of the loading dock today in tribute to him, only the diner was no longer that kind of diner and I didn’t have time to search out a real diner where I could find real food, for a real friend I still miss.
So kept my appointment with the dentist, missing Hank, my aunt, her husband and drove to Bayonne thinking: “I’m sure I have good gums and teeth,” although the thought didn’t really provide me with much comfort.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A sister?

Sunday, September 08, 2013

After so many years living with the idea that I was an only child, it is a bit disconcerting to learn that not only am I NOT an only child, but there is another guy running around in the universe with my exact name – right down to the Junior at the end of it.
Dad, who I never knew except at a rumor, was as busy as Johnny Apple Seed, and spread the family wealth far and wide.
So far I am certain now that I have two half sister, two half brothers and an adopted half sister who is also a facebook friend.
The three half sisters came from one of my father’s wives, the two half brothers from another, none of which until a few years ago, did I know he had married again – and with at least one of these wives (the mother of his other sons) I’m not sure he married at all.
He certainly never got a divorce from my mother, who he split from in the early 1950s before making his way across country to spread his wealth.
If I sound ungrateful, I’m not.
I need family more than I ever have since all of those who I had come to see as brothers (my uncles) have since passed off this mortal coil, leaving me devoid of those I felt closest to (and sometimes resentful of) during my younger years, and yet, who stood up for me during the aftermath of my criminal days to keep me from rotting in some state prison.
The idea that I have blood relatives on my father’s side thrills me, and I have talked to cousins I didn’t know I had and shared information, and today, one of these great people actually came up with a phone number to a half sister who actually wants to touch base with a family member she didn’t know existed until a few hours ago.
Life is strange in that regard – the whole concept of family taking on new meaning when you least expect.
I keep thinking about my father and his life in California, and how more than once during my wildest days I must have come close to where he worked and perhaps even passed him on the street, neither of us aware of the other until it was far too late to connect. He died in 1990 two years before I began a serious search for him, and now all these years later, the fruit of my search has ripened and if not meeting the man himself, I begin to meet people who actually knew him and breathed the same air he did, an lived part of their lives in his company, and can give me a glimpse into what I missed.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Filling the gap of the fallen Two Towers

Saturday, September 07, 2013

I made my way to The Village for a poetry reading, and should have been better prepared for how dismal an event it was.
Not the poetry, but the rehashing after 12 years of those sad moments during which terrorists hit at the heart of America.
Booked as a remembrance, the reading wasn’t open for other poets and so I did not get to read.
It was just as well since most of what got presented was either not relevant – people posing pieces of work as influenced by the attacks, or tales of horror that we have already heard too much of and which did not provide any new insights, no healing or solution, nothing but old photographs of a moment frozen in time that we did not have to live through again.
One or two poets managed to shape something new out of the material, but most just went back to those images stuck in their minds all these years later, and it was painful to endure again – like hitting yourself with your own shoe, knowing in advance that it will hurt, but you do it anyway.
This is not to say the poem I wrote for the event and which I did not get to read was any better, or worse, or any less painful, or infuriating, but reading your own work tends to heal you when not others.
Yet the NYC that greeted us when we came out of that basement reading space was the same NYC saw before we went it, if only a little bit thicker with people who did not have this 12 year old cloud hanging over them, and who could still laugh as they walked through the streets, dressed in nines for some night out on the town that would be infinitely cheerier than the baggage that people carried out of that poetry reading.
These rituals aren’t supposed to dredge up the old pain, but sometimes, we get connected to a piece of history and we just can’t let go of it, and know that something special – even in horror – has a occurred and we have born witness to it, and we cling to that moment in an effort to retain our place in an important moment, when all we really should be doing it letting go of the pain, and those particular images, and some how find new images with which to replace them, a foundation for a more positive world that will fit the huge foot print the bringing down of the towers left.
And after a little reflection, I came to realize that my poem was not positive, not hopeful, but not a recollection either, but a dismal glimpse of what the new world had become filled with NSA spies and killer drones, filled with a change in politics as ripe as the one Reagan brought, but more odious because those we trust most to look out for our interest disguise their agendas in protecting us. So our new Orwellian world is one in which we must always look over our shoulders and wait for the worst to happen, rather than looking ahead to see a better, brighter future ahead.
At least, for many of the survivors of 9/11, this is the legacy the terrorists left, much more enduring than any vision of the falling towers, because we can’t reconstruct a new tower to fill that gap, we just have to live with it.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Revolution in perspective

Friday, September 06, 2013

Woke up cold early in this morning and made a racket getting the quilt out.
I prefer the chill to heat, and hate trying to sleep with air conditioning. But with the heat in July, it’s run the air conditioner or fry.
Sammy, a one time adult feral cat that has since adopted me, sleeps next to my head, snorkeling all night. He hates the air conditioning, too, but likes to cuddle, even at the expense of waking me up with his snores.
Ginger didn’t get surgery yesterday. The vet found an infection and so I had to go collect him and treat him with antibiotics with the hope his hernia doesn’t bind.
The visit to Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary gave us religion again. We’re using up the ground turkey we have and then reverting back to vegetable diet I’ve been on (mostly) for several years. It felt odd eating meat again anyway.
As much as we’ve regained faith, I can’t give up yogurt now that I’ve reintroduced it into my diet. Eggs are also a problem since their production involves the torture of some of the wisest animals on the planet (see the book by Alice Walker or one of my favorite movies, Chicken Run) so I’m back to begging my boss for donations from her very free chickens, and doing without during those times when I can’t get them.
Cheese is another problem since it is as addictive (my friends from Woodstock tell me) as heroin (just not as mellowing, I suppose.) So it’s soy cheese or nothing.
I’m a tuna for lunch kind of guy I sometimes liked to spike the sandwiches with Swiss cheese. I’m using up what’s left and then will figure out if I need it at all.
9/11 is coming up again. I’m planning to read some poetry at a special event tonight, part of an effort to get back on the circuit. I would read from the book on 9/11 I got talked into writing all so many years ago, but I hate it when other people read long excerpts so I’ll refrain and still to the shorter pieces.
Besides, I’m writing fiction again anyway – rewriting a Snoden-like novel I wrote two years ago, figuring to self publish it shortly. I’ve also started on a new novel (as if I don’t already have too many) as possible material for a commercial publisher.
I have the Toads stuff, but I need time to connect the two drafts I have – I wrote parts of it from the heroine’s point of view, and then another part from her father’s, and I need to weave them together. Perhaps I need a week off.
Writing is my solution for every problem – whether it is journal or fiction or poetry. Somewhere in the space between the point of the pen and the surface of the paper, it collects wisdom I do not possess in me, and through it, I find peace, and a record of life.
I’m reassembling the Two Guys from Garfield journal stuff because I found entries that I didn’t know I had in some of the alternative journals I kept back then. The current version sort of takes excerpts from some journals, I’m going to post them fully since they give a better flavor of that mad rebellious summer when I pretended to be a Marist revolutionary with Two Guys management as my personal capitalistic target.
But since then, I learned that the masses do not want to be saved from their bosses so much as become bosses themselves, and that human nature isn’t about equality (even when spouting such) it is about getting in the front of the line.

And this was just as true of Che, Mao or Abbie Hoffman. It is the intellectuals who paint revolution as pure.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The trouble with Ginger

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Sharon’s cat Ginger went into surgery today.
Ginger, an orange and white adult male, showed up in the neighborhood about six weeks ago.
Someone had dumped him on the street, and he went from house to house, taking gifts of food where he could.
The problem is he was particularly not savvy when it came to life on the street, and so wander from this side to that side as unconcerned about traffic as traffic was about him.
Friendly as hell, Ginger (named for his color and for one of Sharon’s favorite drummers – no, not Keith Moon) went up to anybody and everybody, but nobody apparently wanted to actually take him in.
He began to get dirty and Sharon vowed to save him.
He actually came into the house willingly, but also wanted to go back out – a bit of wander foot he still retains.
For Sharon, this was the reincarnation of another cat who wandered in our lives some years ago – called Telly – and who we managed to keep for 11 months. Ginger like Telly follows her around everywhere and makes a suburb paper weight whenever she is settled at her desk or reading chair.
Telly differed in only that he ached to come into our house, and made a campaign of it, waiting outside our front door until we came out, at which point, he attempted to follow Sharon down the street. We tried sneaking out the side or back doors, but he was wise to us, and so inevitably, we took Telly in.
He was like a dog he was so loyal, following Sharon everywhere she went, always being there, but not intrusive, just in the same room, or always within the same reach.
He was playful with our other cats, and had a rivalry with my cat Max that often resulted in chases in the middle of the night – which apparently brought on Telly’s demise.
Suffering from a shoulder injury, I sometimes had to sleep in a chair in the livingroom, which was the case one night when Max chased Telly and Telly leaped off a table, and then died in mid-air. This was from an unsuspected heart ailment we later discovered, but at the time, I managed to catch the cat before he hit the floor and he died in my hands.
I had to wake Sharon to tell her, something she never got over.
But when she saw Ginger, she felt a connection, as if Telly had come back, and indeed, Ginger acts very much like Telly in every respect, even to the point of taunting our female cat Jen.
But he came with a flaw, a large lump on his side, that when we had checked out, was either a hernia or a benign tumor. The vet told us to watch to see if it gets larger, rather than operate right off.
Last week, the lump started to get larger, and so we took the cat back to check out, and today, I took him for surgery.
Needless to say, Sharon is worried that history might repeat itself. I hope she is wrong.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

box car fire

June 4, 1979 (best guess)

I wake to the taste of smoke, thick as oatmeal in my mouth, the way I did back in 1975 in the Montclair rooming house, choking out my panic as I think this old tinderbox has finally caught a spark.
I leap up and ran out the door to the carport, forgetting the fact I lack pants, the sudden victim of teenage giggles from the upstairs girls.
Something’s burning, but it isn’t us this time.
Still, I stagger back into the house, get dressed and make a proper exit, for the walk to the Wall Street Bridge where I see the smoke.
I halt half way across the bridge and look upstream to where flashing lights of fire engines give clue as to the location of the disaster – box cars stuck halfway across the rail bridge near Monroe Street smoldering, as fire pours out their sides like blood, red paint pealing into black as the blaze consumes them, plumes of smoke following over streets, bridge and river like some evil plague with the river water reflecting it all with mocking clarity.
I take the short cut behind the school and across the great lawn and into the woods where the homeless men sometimes congregate. None there now, just curious people like me, staring over at the men in the fire hates, and the web of fire hoses stretched across three streets, arches of water sending their spray down onto the fiery box cars and our upturned faces.
The acrid scent of chemicals sneaks in and for the first time I wonder if the smoke might be toxic and that we might all be dead by supper time. Some of the Latino men mumble something in Spanish I can’t understand, but I recognize the same panic I feel, and we all realize that this fire could have come up at any part of this river, and consumed any place along its shores, whipping out lives and homes, in the day or the dark of night.
I stumble home, covered in the scent of smoke, and panic, and know that sooner or later, it will be some thing other than a box car fire that wakes us.

Traffic jam

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Civilization depends on people honoring rules, and following predictable routines. It is need that allows terrorists and con artists to thrive. Terrorists rely on people’s need for routine, predictability, and so as to know where to strike. Con artists rely on the frustration people feel when they are trapped in routine, and on the inherent need to step out and seem special, or to get something they cannot get as one of the masses.
Nobody wants to stand at the back of the line and wait their turn. So it is all the more pleasing to see natural or perhaps unnatural disasters frustrate these over ambitious souls and force them to wait on long lines such as the traffic jam between Jersey City and Bayonne we all went through today.
Concrete fell off the covered roadway in Jersey City and closed off several of the streets traffic needed to access the heights from the rest of Jersey City, and the overly aggressive, greedy fools who usually cut their way through traffic like race car drivers, fumed behind their steering wheels, forced to wait their turn when that’s the last thing they think they deserve.
I thought I could get around the frustration by going to the Hoboken office instead, but found when I got there I had forgotten my files in Bayonne, so had to trudge back up the hill and find another way.
The radio had warned about an “accident” on the turnpike extension.
Some radio broadcasts have stopped using the term “accident” because most are fully aware that these fender benders are caused by the same greedy breed who believes they are too above the fray to have to obey rules of order and generally cause misery to others as they collide with them in their rush to get ahead.
Fortunately, this accident had vacated by the time I got there and though I got in late in Bayonne, I got there without too much trouble, having swung through Secaucus to access the turnpike.
Of course, the lines of frustrated drivers remained on both sides of the covered roadway, and I got great pleasure in picturing all of the most those overly aggressive drivers stuck where they are because they’re too clever to ever think of an honest way to get where their going without having to run over somebody else to get there.

Bayonne never seemed so sweet to me, knowing that I’m not in a hurry to get anywhere else.

Monday, September 2, 2013

In search of Woodstock Nation

Monday, September 02, 2013
With the exception of passing it by accident in the vain attempt to seek out land to settle on during the 1970s, my first visit to the Village of Woodstock didn’t happen until 1994 – during the week leading up to the 25th anniversary of the concert that gave our generation its name.
I knew the concert didn’t take place in Woodstock – but at a location significantly far from the village that it had almost no impact that weekend in 1969.
But in 1974, people flocked to it – just as they had after the concert – seeking renewal of a spirit much of the 1970s and later the Reagan era of the 1980s had managed to destroy.
I came for the same reason, although I managed to somehow make it work as a story for my newspaper, going to this place to find out about the way it was dealing with traffic and other issues as an example of what might take place back in New Jersey faced with a similar upcoming event.
The nostalgia of that weekend clouded the reality, even for me, in fostering the illusion that this place, this enclave to the past had somehow retained values we had lost during the previous 25 years.
I thought if I went there often enough and looked under every rock, I might find that lost spirit. So this became something of a yearly ritual, similar to one we had established in October by going to Cape May.
Most years, we went around the anniversary of the concert in mid August, even sometimes staying over at the Woodstock Inn, or one of the motels just off the Thruway on Route 28 near Kingston.
Occasionally, as in 2012, we took the trip in spring because of vacation scheduling issues. After about four years from the first trip, the polish of Woodstock wore off, partly because many of the institutions that had existed prior to that were fading away. Our generation growing older and no longer able to maintain the illusion of the Woodstock Nation, not even in Woodstock.
The place was already a relic, a themed shopping mall for the wanna be hip, drawing artists of all sorts, who went through the pretense until they came to realize that art wasn’t a place, but a frame of mind, and could be done in some other place that didn’t have its streets clogged by tourist traffic nearly every weekend of the summer, its roads packed with ice in the winter.
We had even thought about moving there. But the isolation of the place would have been unbearable, and then we considered Kingston -- which was still an option until earlier this year.
We did finally make our way to Bethel where the concert did take place, when it still resembled the place I saw that hot and stormy day in 1969 when I flew over it in an army helicopter – minus the few hundred thousand people.
Yet despite knowing how bogus the hip illusion was in Woodstock – damn it, they sold The Big Pink – we continued to go back, making the usual rounds of Tinker Street, and even read in a few of the poetry readings at the Tinker Street CafĂ© – before it closed and turned it into a photo studio – a concept somewhat as extinct in an age of digital cameras as Woodstock itself became.
We had friends up there, people who had wandered up from the old Beatnik scene, helping to establish the place as a hip community long before the concert put the place on the map. At one reading, Sharon was such a hit, they wanted to give her a feature reading there the next week.
Each trip, we searched for a quicker way to get there.
The most familiar route was one I often took to New York State when Pauly, Hank and Garrick wandered up into that neck of the woods in search of a farm we could buy and settle on (a misguided concept to say the least). Pauly had pulled a scheme during the concert in 1969, arranging to use Rob’s car to drive concert goers up, and then would leave them off at the foot of the NY Thru way in Mahwah – where I was once arrested on a weapons charge during my high school years.
In school, I cut classes and hopped a freight train that inevitably left me off at the Ford plant in Mahwah. Later, Mahwah was a short cut Hank used to take on his way to other places, and I occasionally passed through it to get to remoter sections of Pennsylvania on my way to see my daughter.
But after a time, we sometimes took alternate routes such as the Palisades Parkway, and eventually found our way to the Thruway.
I suppose after a while, we would have given up the trip if we hadn’t stumbled onto the farm animal sanctuary, which turned us away form eating meat and for a while dairy products. I don’t remember if it was on 2009 or 2010 trip that we found the place.
Partly because we had restored meat in our diets, and partly because we needed to renew ourselves, we went back for a one day trip north yesterday.
We took the old way, Route 80 to the Parkway, to 17 and then the thruway, only to discover on the way back that we could do away with the Route 17 portion entirely, a section of the state I hate mostly because of the mall, but also because I had worked in that area in the early 1980s and it did not hold fond memories for me.
Once in Woodstock, we parked in the gravel lot near the old graveyard, and slowly strolled back to the village square. This had changed over the years – especially the stores, which were as one realtor’s door confirmed no longer surreal. Musicians still played there. But many of the other places were simply capitalizing off the name and offered no inspiration, although I did see one woman carrying her yoga mat on her shoulder as she headed off for a session, making me think I should buy one also if I wanted to get back a ritual I had done since 1978.
The threat of rain, however, kept many of the usual merchants near the square and farther down at the flea market from displaying, so it was a quick walk up one side of the street and then the other, before making our way to the Sanctuary.
The place had grown in popularity since our first visit. It even offered a bed and breakfast feature to help fund the project that protected animals from slaughter. We said hello the chickens, and then the pigs.
This last proved a bit of a chore for me since two of the very large animals had some running gripe with each other over a particular piece of muddy real estate one wanted and the other refused to give up. Later, when we were allowed to go onto the pasture to greet them, the two continued their dispute and I got caught in the middle, my legs covered in the mud these two so coveted it.
I found a hose attached to one of the buildings and washed myself off before moving on to visit the goats – one of which butted Sharon from behind because she’d not paid it enough attention. It was a hog for pets.
Some the sheep wanted pets, too, which we accommodated, knowing that we would draw significant attention from our cats when we got home later.
When we tried to leave, three large gray and black spotted pigs decided they liked the small patch of mud in front of the gate, forcing the few dozen people on the tour to exit through the barn.
On our way out, I took a wrong turn in the car and we wandered the tree lined roads for a while not sure of where we were or how we would get back to Bearsville or one of the other villages we recognized. But like all roads, they all eventually bring you somewhere that you recognize, and so this one did, too.
We stopped back in Woodstock to look for a place to eat – now true converts again—at least for the afternoon. Since vegan place was no longer a vegan place, we hit the road again, and settled into a diner near Kingston where we feasted on black bean veggie burgers and contemplated – not our navels – but the dim future of where we would end up, and again, gave up on Woodstock or Kingston as an option. Too remote. Too full of illusions.
Most likely, and pretty definitely, we would move to Scranton where my remaining family lives, and investigate enclaves elsewhere, which had fewer artists (I’m an artist, one woman in one shop boasted as we passed earlier in the day) and more real people.
Then we drove home, having gotten our fix for another year. But even as Jimi Hendrix played on mp3 player (we’d listened to the Grateful Dead and Joni Mitchell on the way up) I knew we would need to return here, not just next year, but in the years to come, just in case there really was some magic we missed, some secret to the old culture that only those most dedicated to finding it can find.
We will go back.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Memories of Woodstock

Forty years later the concert is still an icon

“Private Sullivan!” my sergeant roared, his voice filling the Fort Dix barracks like a bullhorn. “You have a phone call.”
Privates – especially ones just finished with basic training – didn’t get phone calls like this unless to convey bad news, usually a family member telling someone about some tragedy.
But the voice on the other end of the phone was not a member of my family, but rather my hippie best friend from New York City asking if I wanted to go to the Woodstock concert.
He called it “The Aquarian Exposition,” one of the many older names concert promoters had proposed when laying out what was to become perhaps the most famous outdoor rock festivals of the 1960s.
My friend Frank had talked about it for months, writing me letters to keep me posted on the off chance I might get a three day pass so I could attend.
As it was Vinnie, a fellow private I had teamed up in basic with, and I were trying to get passes for that weekend. But the last thing either of us wanted to do was bivouac in the woods. We would get enough of that when we went for Advance Infantry Training. So I said no.
Neither me nor Vinnie ever suspected that our sergeant would call us for duty on that weekend and that we would get to glimpse the concert site from the air as we made our way to Fort Drum as back up support for medical operations there.

Frankly, I never thought the concert would happen since it had gone through so many changes and delays. The concert was originally supposed to take place closer to Woodstock, but was relocated to Bethel an hour’s car ride southwest of the historic arts village in upstate New York.
The event that began on Aug. 15, 1969featured some of the most prominent musical acts of the era, including The Who, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, as well as others, and as many as 500,000 people crowded the fields in a moment that gave us the label as “The Woodstock Generation.”
Jimmy, the leader of our civilian hippie troop in northern New Jersey, kept telling people not to go, saying the whole thing would fizzle and everybody would be wasting their time by going.
Nothing would stop Frank from going since his life ambition was to see Jimi Hendrix.
Carol, the girl everybody loved, went, too, and where she went, Ralph went, and both of them managed to talk our mutual friend Rocky into driving them.
Ralph was infatuated with Carol, and hoped the love and peace festival would make him seem more acceptable in her eyes. But his plans failed.
“She disappeared the moment we got there,” Rocky recalled. “I wandered off, too. We met against two days later at the car.”
With an estimated half million people attending it was easy to get lost. Nearly all my friends went, but none actually ran into each other while there.
Bob, the only one to listen to Jimmy and stay home, fumed by the side of the radio as reports came in about how many people were going and how successful the event appeared to be.
Jimmy, always the capitalist, talked Bob into ferrying concert late concert-goers from the hippie store in downtown Paterson to the start of the New York Thruway, charging a fair for each.
Frank, never go to see Hendrix. He took ill with pneumonia and was airlifted out a few hours before Hendrix was scheduled to go on.

Twenty five years later, illness kept Frank from attending the anniversary of the concert in 1994. But this illness proved terminal and he passed away a few months later, still regretting the face he had not seen Hendrix at Woodstock.

By the time I got to Woodstock...

(This was the story written for 25th anniversary of Woodstock for the Secaucus Reporter in 1994)

The first time I ever heard the name ``Woodstock'' was when my top sergeant yanked me from my bunk saying I'd volunteered for duty there. I was too busy overcoming my fear of helicopters to ask many questions, or point out the 1969 rock festival was actually held 50 miles southwest of the town.

I was part of one of the medical evacuation teams sent to the area to transport the ill and injured to area hospitals. But I kept my eyes closed for the greater part of the time in the air, much to the chagrin of the Vietnam-hardened pilot. On the ground I dragged people on or off under the swipe of the helicopter blades. My best friend was flown out with pneumonia by a crew from the New York National Guard. Reportedly he screamed the whole time he wanted to wait and see Jimi Hendrix. It was only when my unit left that I opened my eyes, and briefly glimpsed the magnitude of what has been called ``Woodstock Nation.''
For years the town of Woodstock has been the Mecca for people seeking to recapture a bit of the old magic, and celebrated as a place where some of the 1960s ideals had been put into practice. I studiously avoided the place, having once been turned away from Alice's Restaurant of the Arlo Guthrie song for not having a reservation. The experience made me a cynic on 1960s myths. But as the 25th anniversary of the concert neared I gave in to the urge to see just how much better the people of Woodstock were handling the crisis of the 1990s.
Strangely enough, I found the people of Woodstock struggling with many of same problems people in Hudson County faced: questions on development, how to attract tourism and how small communities deal with nationally advertised events.
Hanging over Woodstock were not rumors of traffic woes caused by World Cup soccer, but much more acute concerns about the impact of this weekend's anniversary concert on what was normally a sleepy community. While Hudson County had the benefit of mass transportation and a variety of highways to help siphon off the invasion of cars, many of the roadways around Woodstock are narrow two-lane 1950s roads, never designed for high volumes of traffic. Like Hoboken with its recent bar-closing hysteria, Woodstock fears a major social impact, and yet refuses to shut out the traffic entirely the way Secaucus has during the World Cup. For the businesses of Woodstock look forward with mixed feelings towards the concert, hoping it will revitalize their economy.
One essential difference you notice when turning off Route 375 into Woodstock is the lack of development. No condominiums. No chain stores. No office buildings of any kind. But along both sides of Tinker Street, there is store after store straight out of 1967 Greenwich Village, selling everything from beads to wind-chimes. Indoor and outdoor art galleries give the village an oddly urban feel, contrasting against the clearly rural mountain community around it.
It is like stepping back in time with many of the local residents dressed in period costumes, beads and headbands, as conventional as suits and ties are in most places. White-haired hippies walk side by side with high school-aged kids. Few but the tourists stare. At the local outdoor fruit cafe, a Janis Joplin look-a-like lectures kids half her age about 1969 and that era's philosophy.
The name ``Woodstock'' is an obvious selling point with nearly half the stores in town incorporating it into their own names. But plenty of other places opted for the usual 1960s flair, with names like the White Buffalo, the Warm Store or Sunflower Natural Foods. The smell of honeycomb and incense inside the Candlestock brought it all back. The 7-foot-high collection of wax drippings might well have been started in the Summer of Love.
Although many people came here after the 1969 concert, Woodstock has a long history as a Mecca of the arts, contrasting with Hoboken <197> where the gallery scene started after development began to transform the town. Ralph Whitehead, a utopian English philosopher, founded the Brydcliff Art and Crafts colony here in 1902. Woodstock became the summer home of the Art Students League and in 1910 Woodstock Artists Association was started. In 1940, the Woodstock Guild was formed to promote the development of arts and crafts and form the basis for the current ``Colony of Craft the Arts.'' A variety of chamber music concerts began in 1916, and in 1937, the Woodstock playhouse began theater and dance performances <197> for which Woodstock was initially famous. Famous writers, musicians, artists and crafts people are among those who live in the wooded crags around the village. Indeed, Woodstock is now known for some of the finest recording studios in the world.
While development in Hoboken and other parts of Hudson County has spurred the economy, here in Woodstock, there is a not-so-silent dread of developers. Development is strictly limited.
``The owner of one piece of property tried to put in a small strip mall, but it was voted down,'' said Roz, an owner and operator of a small bookstore in the center of town.
Most of the local economy here runs on tourism, something Secaucus is now investigating as an antidote for shrinking ratables and its own rebellion against development. Yet Woodstock has taken much from the 1960s. Competition is not welcome here. While the 6,700 full-time residents endure the tourists, it does not open itself up to increasing business.
``This is not the kind of place where new faces are welcomed,'' Roz said. ``We started our business here and they didn't want us. They said they already had a bookstore in town, they didn't want two. That's the way it is with everything here.''
The vision is also typical of the 1960s in which there is only so much to go around, and with too many people dipping into the tourist trade, someone's bound to suffer.
But this dependence on tourism has its price. When Roz first got here in 1985, business was booming.
``The streets were so packed on a weekend in the summer you couldn't walk down them,'' Roz said. ``Business is down. The recession has hurt us. People are staying away.''
Coinciding with the recession was the fire that burned down the Woodstock Playhouse, one of the other chief attractions of the town. Although IBM and other corporations located their national headquarters within a stone's throw of Woodstock, layoffs have sent a further chill into the local economy. Barnes & Noble had planned a store in a neighboring community, but backed out of the lease after the layoffs.
One answer to the slumping economy is nostalgia. Woodstock is world famous for the 1969 concert which bears its name. A 25th Anniversary concert planned next month for eight miles out of town has many people hopeful of a tourist revival. Indeed, the town is dripping nostalgia, taking its cue from the national event to recreate 1960s magic here and now.
This weekend, Woodstock was holding a festival of its own in a nearby field, featuring 20 bands and 40 crafts concessions. The names of the bands were hardly the household variety of the original 1969 event. Many of these bands have copycat names typical of generic perfumes and video pornography. The
Clearwater Singers, Pepe Santana, Ellis and Friend, Chiapas Indian Peace Caravan were among those scheduled to play.
Even the local movie house has gotten in on the act, featuring a Cinema `69 series that includes Yellow Submarine, Woodstock, Easy Rider, Alice's Restaurant, In the Year of the Pig, Gimme Shelter and other films, as well as guest speakers like Arlo Guthrie. The admittance to each performance is $5, half price if you come in period costume.
Yet the impact on the area may be many times greater than World Cup soccer had been on Hudson County. Unlike many of the dire predictions made in Hoboken and other Hudson County communities, changes in Woodstock have already begun. Town Hall estimates that 25,000 will descend upon the small community during the weeks before and after the concert. The volunteer rescue squad, already short-handed, is out seeking more volunteers. The local soup kitchen, set up in 1993 to help feed people suffering as a result of the recession, closed its doors for the summer.
``We do not have the resources,'' said Victoria Langling, of Woodstock soup kitchen. ``We did not have enough food and we did not have enough volunteers.''
The soup kitchen had been feeding 40 people a day until last month when the numbers began to increase. Last count it was at 75 per day. The church out of which they feed people has a maximum capacity of 80. There have been burglaries, too. Over a three-day period at the beginning of July, police reported several break-ins to local restaurants. Over the July 4th weekend, Police made 40 arrests up from 18 the year before. Many of the people arrested gave addresses from Texas, California, Idaho and Florida.
``Several said they were in the spirit of Woodstock,'' Woodstock police chief Paul Ragonese said. ``But these people can't just do their own thing.''
The police have also found people camped out on private property around the area. This weekend, store owners say, the local green has seen a significant increase in new faces. Many of those coming are in their early to mid-20s. Chief Ragonese said there are plans to bring in the auxiliary police and ask for volunteers. But this is largely to handle the expected traffic woes. He said for the most part, people are well behaved.
``They made very little noise and didn't leave much litter behind,'' he said.
One of the clerks at a town jewelry store said many residents are worried about what kind of people the concert will bring in. ``The organizers initially wanted to bring in rap and other new bands,'' she said. ``We don't need that kind of trouble around here. We pressed them to cut out most of that music. But there's still the heavy metal bands to worry about and the kind of kids that music attracts.''
Members of the Family of Woodstock, a local social organization, said they noticed an influx of people, too. There have been reports of panhandling and other activities. On my brief tour of town, I saw several girls hitch-hiking. Although they were dressed like hippies, down to the almost obligatory backpack, they were barely 20 years old.
An umbrella organization called Woodstock Ambassadors met in order to deal with the incoming crowds associated with the festival. Their agenda included festival hours, drugs, noise, trespassing, pay phones, directions for local roads, lost and found, free food, transportation, festival information, parking, trash-recycling, baby-sitting and auto repair.
In the typical Woodstock tone, a spokesperson for one of the participating organizations said the idea was to show care and concern.
``We want to show them the real Woodstock in all its variety,'' said Eric Glass of Woodstock Youth Center. ``We want to offer reassurance and a deep sense of community good will.''
Although ticket sales for Woodstock `94 are not moving as quickly as first expected, organizers from Polygram Records say they will pick up. As of July 5, 128,000 tickets were sold. It is estimated that the event will draw 250,000.
Will the festival bring back the post-recession business of the 1980s? Some business people like Roz from the bookstore think not. Roz said her business is solid, based less on tourists than local residents. But many are not so lucky. At the Sunflower Natural Food store, women walk around in full regalia, straight out of photographs from Haight-Ashbury. Yet inside, an elder hippie and his son are paying for their natural food drinks with food stamps.