Saturday, November 30, 2013

Nightmares



Saturday, November 30, 2013

Nightmares when they come always come early in the morning, shaking me awake at some pre-dawn moment with all the anxieties my conscious mind sweeps into corners during the waking day.
Last night’s were about the usual subjects: lack of money and pending bills, unmet deadlines, cats I need to get adopted, unanswered correspondence with a few new additions due to films I’ve been viewing: ghost stories such as Dragon Fly, The Blair Witch Project and 12 Monkeys combined with more real films such as Kill Your Darlings.
Allen Ginsberg and I have a strange mutual history, separated by a decade and a half.
We both lived in Paterson, and both had to deal with mad mothers who controlled our young lives and steered us in odd directions that God, fate or something else wanted us to find.
Both of our mothers wound up in Graystone Park mental institution in New Jersey, paths crossing in odd ways. My mother worked at the hospital when Ginsberg’s mother was a patient there. My father and mother met there, training for a career in nursing that my father would go on to pursue, after he and my mother split in the early 1950s.
As with Allen, I became the sole focus of my mother’s existence, someone, however, she didn’t always recognize during my Saturday pilgrimage to the hospital to see her. The hospital had a long history with my family. My grandmother’s father had spent time there in the 1920s, suffering some mental condition from a fight he had with his own father that had resulted in his getting a clever imbedded into his skull – the affects of which did not show for years but eventually led to his madness and his death in a hospital in Middletown, New York. Later, the uncle I cared for over several decades ended up there with his routine attempts at suicide.
Seeing the film and the fictional Allen visiting his mother there brought back some of the pain, and thus stirred up material for my early morning nightmare.
But I had set the stage earlier in the day yesterday when I finally got to talk to a sister I didn’t know I had (found out earlier this year I have three half sisters and brothers), and a step mother who was willing to talk to me about the father I never actually met.
This is the stuff of poetry and nightmares, and so naturally, I had the second first, and will eventually get down to shaping words that will fit the feelings that all these things brought on, just I will eventually meet the deadlines I need to meet, and pay the bills I need to pay, and get on with the conscious life I must lead after full wakefulness comes.
This is also the anniversary of George Harrison’s death – one of my heroes, and someone who made the year 2001 even more painful: 9/11, his death and my mother’s death all coming within a few months of each other. In my mother’s madness, she thought she was responsible for the terrorists’ attack she saw from her window in a Union City nursing home, and no matter how I argued to the contrary; she refused to believe she wasn’t.
I suppose in some ways, we all are.




Friday, November 29, 2013

Harry Potter as Allen Ginsberg?



Friday, November 29, 2013

I took a stroll down memory lane today – literally and figuratively.
The film – staring Harry Potter as Allen Ginsberg – was just too intriguing to miss, especially when it dealt with the early years I had been researching anyway.
The theater was on the lower east side, a part of the planet Hank and I wandered frequently in the late 1960s, and near where my daughter was born.
I spent time there later although it was not there that I met Allen Ginsberg for the first time. But since the theater was located on E. Houston, it brought back each memory of him.
The film called “Kill your Darlings” (a news room term for getting rid of complicated sentences something I am sometimes guilty of in my column) the film deals with the meeting of the core Beats – Carr, Burrows, Kerouac and Ginsberg. While not completely accurate, the film was precise enough and dealt with the first of the three Beat deaths and perhaps the most troubling – Carr’s murder of his gay lover.
Harry Potter (I can think of him as no one else) was brilliant in his portrayal of the young Ginsburg and his coming out as gay – this being horribly shocking no doubt to Harry Potter fans, although in many ways, even the Potter character had those tendencies despite his getting married and having kids at the end.
I met the real Ginsberg in our home town of Paterson on what I believe was his 50th birthday. He had returned to Paterson for what was then called “The Great Falls Festival” (later renamed in his honor) at which time he got himself in trouble with the mayor of the city for admitting he had just smoke a joint prior to the reading. The mayor issued an arrest warrant later based on Ginsberg claim.

The reading went well enough. People treated him like a returning hero, and after the event, even through him a birthday bash at a local café, and since I was one of the local poet/writers who had participated in the open reading, I was invited to attend. By the time I arrived, Ginsberg was drunk and in full glory as all the girls and boys grooved up to him. He was not your typical rock star type, but accepted their adoration with little arrogance. But he was horny, and seemed to be looking around for someone who might keep him company later, in private, at which time he noticed me.
At first I thought he was joking. And then when I realized he wasn’t, I told him to go away.
This seemed to often the host of the party more than it did Ginsberg, a slight that left me out of the poetic social club for several years – until the memory faded.
I saw him read a number of times later, and if he recalled me during those meetings, he never let on.
In the mid-1980s, my friend Michael and I barged into a lecture Ginsberg gave at William Paterson College where we accused him of selling out.
He had just abandoned City Lights publishers for a major publishing firm, and we saw this as something of an affront to those who admired the Beat movement and all it supposedly stood for. Ginsberg did not call the police, although the professor did ask us to sit down and be quiet or leave.
We sat down.
Years later, I saw Ginsberg several more times at the Dodge Poetry event (when it was still tolerable and held at Waterloo Village), one of the last events before Ginsberg’s death – after which I was invited back to Paterson to take part in his memorial service.
Over the years, I got to meet many of the other Beats – not Carr or Kerouac – but some of the others Ginsberg helped, some still residing in the same Lower East Side I strolled through today. All but one of them are gone now – the last few clinging to the old traditions in Hudson County and Woodstock, New York – the poet remains alive in me, especially when wandering streets to which I always connected with him even before I actually met him. Hank and I as teens had scoured these very streets for the remains of the Beat movement Ginsberg and others had started in the late 1940s, and in some ways we never found it, or at least not until today seeing it portrayed in the film and then walking out again into that same world Ginsberg spent so many years living in, his feet strolling along these same walks, seeing many of the same things I saw in the twilight.


Christmas job at Toys R Us



December 4, 1980

A missed a day here, a snap of a twig, a beat of the heart, a call from the wilderness.
I missed a day in a long, long series of thoughts. And here I am repeating myself, beginning again where I last left off, starting from scratch.
Yesterday, I worked on my term papers – although really I worked on just one when I had planned to write three.
Getting just one done was struggle enough before I had to head off for my seasonal job at Toys R Us, where the other employees give me the same odd look that my summer job did when they saw me writing.
Inevitably, they always ask the same question: “Are you writing a book?”
But there is one exception, a very loud lady who talks for the sake of talking and could give two shits about what I’m writing as long as it doesn’t interrupt her talk.
There’s a guy I like who is both funny and lazy at the same time. He started the same day as I did and for some reason, this has become a bond between us, as he deliberately tries to crack me up when ever possible, and most often succeeds – at the most inopportune times. So often as not, our wandering boss catches me in mid laugh I struggle to stifle.
Bob – my bonded friend – often wanders around the wide aisles carrying merchandise. I suppose this is a cover so that he looks busy when caught doing nothing.
Sometimes, he tosses a football to me down the crowded aisles, over the heads of the customers, leaving me to catch it or else let it hit some unsuspecting patron in the head.
When he’s not wandering around, he stands in some remote corner eying pretty women and grinning.
He tells me he just got off a ship last month and hadn’t gotten used to the ordinary world and its way of life.
“I’m a seismographer,” he tells me, boasting about his year-long trip on a geographic survey ship. He tells me he wants to go into computers. “That’s where the real money is.”
A lot of times, he falls in and out of songs, perhaps some odd habit he got during those lonely days at sea. These days, he sings the lyrics to the Christmas carols the store constantly plays the Musak versions of.
Last night, we helped the day shift stock the shelves in the company of a guy named Jim.
“That man is seriously crazy,” Bob whispered to me as Jim climbed monkey-like up the pallet racks in back to the top, from which he tossed down to us cartons of games and toys.
Then from down the aisle the boss yelled, “How many times have I told you not to do that?”
It was like the voice of God, making me and Bob jump a little. Jim only shrugged.
“Sorry about that, boss,” he said.
The boss glared at us. “One of you get him a ladder so he doesn’t fall.”
I moved, when Bob didn’t.
The boss settled in front of him and stared at his face, “Who are you?”
“Bob,” Bob said, giving a last name I never caught.
“You new here?”
“Na, I’ve been here a week.”
“How come I’ve never seen you before?”
“Guess because we’re both lucky,” Bob said.
The boss shook his head as he strolled away mumbling.
“Nothing like being anonymous,” Bob said to me with a wink.
Jim tossed more cartons down, but ignored the ladder when it was time for him to come back to the floor.
Later, I found Bob in a corner of the store with a broom. He wasn’t sweeping. He was just leaning on it, grinning, and told me somebody told him he should sweep.
But he wasn’t. This is a standard ploy to look busy only when someone like the boss is looking.
I told him the boss may not know who he is, but that won’t stop the boss from firing him.
Bob shrugged
“No one cares,” he said. “They never do.”
Bob drives Darcy crazy.
She’s Garrick’s cousin who lives in the same apartment building where I live in Passaic. She started just after Thanksgiving and has some kind of seniority, walking around more or less as the boss’ assistant. Neither of us listen to her. Me because I know her too well. Bob because he could give a shit.
She’s always catching the two of us at some grief, goofing off or being in aisles we aren’t assigned to.
Bob likes the back aisle, the one that makes up one whole side of the store and extends from the front window to the warehouse door in the back. This is his favorite place for playing catch, and where we spend most of our time when we can get there, the football rising and falling in endless Hail Mary passes. Each time Darcy catches us at it, she yells, and it has become a ritual of hers to sneak up on us – sneaking down the aisle nearest the warehouse door behind me or Bob.
This time, she got behind Bob just as he threw a very low pass just over the heads of the customers – something he did from time to time to see if they noticed the ball whizzing over their heads.
Darcy stepped out just as he released the ball aimed at me, and just as the boss – who is a foot taller than most people -- stepped out between me and the ball. He wasn’t looking at Bob or Darcy, he was looking at me, wondering why I was standing there doing nothing with my mouth wide open and my hands in the air.
I was looking at the horrified expression on Darcy’s face as her gaze followed the flight of the ball – which inevitably was aimed straight at the back of the boss’ head.
I woke up this morning thinking how much I’m going to miss Bob, and whether he will ever get into computers like he said.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Alice’s Restaurant in front of Macy’s


 
Hank

Thursday, November 28, 2013

No holiday was ever so important as this one was, when it came to my best friend, Hank, the hippie I met when working as an usher in the Fabian Theater in Paterson in 1967.
We met again in early Spring 1968 downtown, when he promised to come over to my grandfather’s house to hang out.
Being young and foolish, I did not anticipate the culture clash when he strode through the front door to greet the collection of red necks I called my uncles.
“We’re just here to listen to records,” I told them, and then ushered the bell-bottomed, Nehru-shirted long-haired Hank into the dinning room where our only stereo sat – the glares of my uncles following us the way a sniper’s rifle might, each waiting for one false move from Hank.
I closed the pocket doors on their grim faces in the living room. Hank produced an album with a strange man naked from the waste down on the cover, and the name Arlo Guthrie underneath.
I had presumed that we would be listening to my uncle’s collection of records that encompassed country and western and other conservative classics at the time.
From the moment, the needle hit vinyl, I knew there would be trouble, Arlo’s voice going on and on about that Thanksgiving in the church and the trash, and finally when he reached the point about the draft board and started screaming “Kill! Kill! Kill!” and the pocket doors opened to show stern faces even Mount Rushmore would envy, I sank down and wanted to die myself.
Out, Hank went, forbidden to return, and me forbidden to seek him out.

But being 16, I didn’t listen and soon hung out even more with Hank, traveling everywhere, especially to New York. He never tired of speaking and singing every word from the record, and once nearly got us thrown off a New York City bound bus that got stuck near Paterson Plank Road in North Bergen, after he ran through the Alice the Restaurant song word for word three times.
We dreamed of going there, and eventually did, but more importantly, he wanted to sing this song at Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. And so, one what was the coldest Thanksgiving I can remember, we made our pilgrimage there, and with teeth chattering and the wind threatening to tear off our hats, we sang that song word for word, drawing as much attention from the spectators as we did from my uncles – although some young Hare Krishna girl appreciated our effort, and felt sorry enough for us, to drag us into a coffee shop to buy us Hot Chocolates, and to later wander off with Hank for something even better, while I made my way back to New Jersey, the words of that song still reverberating in me, better even than the turkey I got when I finally reached home.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Chasing the wild turkey



November 26, 1981

My uncle Frank was with me tonight as we looked for his brother along Route 37 in Toms River.
Ritchie was on the loose again, only this time roaming around barefoot and in short sleeves on a day when the temperature fell below freezing.
We shiver even in the car wearing down jackets.
I kept wondering how Ritchie felt.
Or did madness provide its own unique protection, insolating him against the elements after it robbed him of everything else?
“I used to hate going home for the holidays,” Frank said as he drove, twisting the steering wheel to avoid things we could only vaguely see through the misting glass, both of us trying to clear the windshield with our gloves. “There was always something going on. Fights and other shit.”
We both recognized how much the family had deteriorated over the last few years, brothers and sister scattered across the state and even beyond, as if they could not put enough distance between each other for comfort.
This wasn’t new, but none recognized the signs until after I was born and my mother went mad – a family illness that tends to come out in the weakest link, reflecting a struggle for power among the strongest, held in place by a most powerful grandfather – and later by his loving daughter, my mother’s sister. When passed away, so did the family for all intents and purposes – revealed most evidently in the family’s next weak link Ritchie.
This was his fourth attempt since my bringing him down from Passaic to Toms River for Thanksgiving.
I could not trust to leave him alone up north, and he resented my dragging him to meet a family he had no use for any more than they had for him.
Each member of the family had taken turns taking him in, mostly for a week or two. Frank gave up when Ritchie decided to sleep in the cab of his carpentry truck rather than on Frank’s fold out bed, drawing scorn from neighbors who complained about the drinking and the stench. Ted already had my mother and my grandmother to take care of did not need one more of the old family to interfere with the raising of his own family.
He didn’t mind us visiting, but could not handle a mentally ill drunk.
So Ritchie got dumped on me, with the suggestion that I might commit my wayward uncle into one of the less than fine institutions such as Greystone or Bergen Pines, or the terrifying Willowbrook on Staten Island.
They had asked me to do the same thing for my mother, saying that I was so poor that the state could not expect me to pay when each of the other family members had a house or savings the state might tap.
Having my mother in such a place for most my childhood, and her pleading for me to get her out, I could never sign anyone into one of those places – even Ritchie, who I had hated most of my life.
Ritchie terrorized me during those early years when I was still impressionable and my mother in the hospital. I would be sitting on the floor watching television or reading a book and he would come into the house in a drunken stupor and lecture me about everything I was doing wrong in my life. Later, when I started to get in trouble with the law, and got dragged home in the back of a police car, my punishment was to work for him – something each of his younger brothers also suffered until they grew big enough to tell him to fuck off.
I never got big enough and so I avoided him, hiding out in my room, or finding places out of the house to hide – and eventually, I fled the house entirely partly to get away from him.
So it is one of life’s ironies that I should get stuck taking care of him when he got too unstable to take care of himself.
Ritchie may be crazy, but he’s also crafty, playing an assortment of head games – whether to mess with me or get sympathy, I can’t tell
He used to limp around my cold water flat complaining that his leg hurt until I noticed it was never the same leg he complained about, and he stopped.
We found Ritchie finally stumbling towards the on ramp to the Parkway and put him in the back seat of Frank’s car for the drive back to Ted’s place for lack of any place else that would take him. We called the hospital down here and they said they didn’t have room. The police had stopped him on the side of the highway earlier – but did not pick him up even though he was clearly under dressed for the weather.
Ted and his family left for north to see his in-laws, leaving me to lock Ritchie in the spare room downstairs.
But I have to stand guard until it is time to drive back up north for fear that he will again climb out the window and take to the highway barefoot.
Happy Thanksgiving. I keep wondering which one of us is the turkey.



Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Turkey Day



November 24, 1981

Thanksgiving is one of those difficult holidays, a prelude to Christmas, but never really as important.
In 1969, I slept completely through the day, hiding from the police in an East LA apartment like one of those b-movie gangsters, thinking the FBI or the mob might kick down my door at any moment.
I never saw myself as an anti-hero, just a scared kid a few months out of the army, in love with some girl everybody warned me not to get involved with and yet I got involved with her anyway.
In love enough to throw away whatever life I had at home, steal some numbers money from a safe in my uncles’ house and head west to try to find her.
I went to LA first and stayed there for a few months, waiting for things to cool down and for my uncles, the law or the gangsters to bypass Boulder where she lived so I could go there.
I remembering eating bad Mexican food out of a can, and smoking a lot of dope, waiting for the holiday to come and then waking up nearly 24 hours later with the clock ticking down not onto a new year but the end of Thanksgiving.
I was so damned lonely, I went out to the public phone the next day in the back of the Chicano bodega and called her, telling her that I was coming to get her, and asked it that was all right.
I heard doubt in her voice, I didn’t realize until I got there was regret over another man, someone she was in love with the way I was in love with her, but she couldn’t have, and so she settled for me.
In doubt when I hung up the phone, I wondered if maybe I had made a mistake, and felt this strong longing for home, the missed Thanksgiving turkey I knew my family had devoured, and now doubt still picked the bones of even as I stood in that rainy LA air, 3000 miles west.
I wasn’t even sure what I really missed since I’d spent most of my younger days doing everything I could to escape them and the madness, and yet, I ached none the less, and didn’t try to cure the ache by smoking it away.
I just sat on the stoop of the apartment building, drawing dirty looks from the land lady, who said she hated hippies, Mexicans and bums – and though I didn’t look like a bum with my army crew cut still fresh, I acted like one.
And maybe I was a bum.
And maybe I was grateful for being anything at all.

The next day I went down to the Trailways station downtown, got on a bus with a newly purchased motorcycle jacket (against the expected cold) and headed off to Colorado, vowing not to miss Christmas the way I had Thanksgiving.

The small things that count



Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The rain comes – along with wind.
I never heard of a Nor’easter until I moved to Hoboken in the early 1990s, and then I never stopped hearing about, especially when my condo roof leaked.
This was far worse than anything I experienced in Passaic, where life was relatively dry inside, if never quite warm enough.
We live in a changing world – not just because of global warming, but also because we can’t seem to find a place that feels warm and dry on days like this.
I remember jogging through all sorts of weather with the confidence that when I got back home I would not have to worry.
These days, life is full of worry and obligations, and assumptions – we either have to shed or get crushed under their weight.
Sometimes the real weight isn’t on the outside, but inside, and we carry it around like excess baggage – the way Louise used to pack our VW van with things we would never need on our road trip out in the west.
I’m in the process of shedding a lot of physical stuff with the hopes it translate into something inside that is always shed.
Of course, we should be wary about what we get rid of as much as what we keep. Sometimes, things that seem of little value are the most valuable things of all.
Wisdom is knowing which is which, and at what point a blessing becomes a burden, and should be shed.
But then, I’ve never be as wise as all that, and keep small treasures inside me forever, things that other people might think I should shed.
I just can’t – useful or not, some small things make life worth living, and though we might be able to live without them, life would be greatly diminished – perhaps even pointless to live.

So I stare out the front window of my office at the rain, and know I shall soon have to plunge out into it, to get to my car, to get to some pointless meeting, to get home hoping that the roof isn’t leaking and the heat still works, and perhaps to feel just a little of that tenderness I felt way back then when I shivered against the cold in Passaic.

Monday, November 25, 2013

This is life



Monday, November 25, 2013

This is the time of year when we heal our souls, the transition time when the seasons change and we come face to face with mortality.
The chill air came rushing in with a gush over the last few days, making me shudder even under the thick covers in bed.
This has always been the safe place for me, even as a kid growing up in a house of rage and madness.
I went to sleep by relaxing every muscle in my body one inch at a time, a technique I later discovered was a kind of meditation.
I still use it, trying to bypass the conscious barrier with its early morning panic to get to that stream of consciousness to which everybody contributes, drawing from it strength, knowledge and wisdom I do not possess for myself.
Sometimes, I curl up in a yoga stance, my face against the mattress, my arms down at my side, my belly bent over my knees as my back gradually gives up the weight of a week’s worth of worry – so when I straighten again, each muscle eases and I ease into sleep or some self-induced sense of peace.
This always worked best in colder months as a kid because with a quilt over me, I felt less vulnerable, my little tent against raging storms beyond.
This still works for me all these years later, as I resist the greater tensions of the world beyond the walls of my house, the darkness that does not come with changing seasons, but from some deep illness in our souls.
The leaves that had clung precariously to the trees behind the house – a gold and red wonderland – have fallen into heaps in my back yard, a patched quilt that snow shall soon cover over, but looking down on, has its own magical quality I treasure for those moments when it lasts.
These leaves crunch under my footsteps as I make my way to the shed for the seed to fill the bird feeder, a ritual that will become regular over the cold months, and then cease until this time next year.
As a city kid growing up in Paterson, I always longed for that middle class life that people always showed us on TV, where kids rushed through piles of leaves and teens took hayrides.
Having a yard like mine sort of gives me a little of that, and the sense of change that is often missed in places with few trees.
I suppose I need to have some visible indication of change externally, when dramatic changes occur in me.
My favorite English professor in college said I would change my mind about loving autumn when I got to be her age and had to stare down into the jaws of death and realize that’s what autumn is – dying.
She was wrong. I still love this moment in time, perhaps because I still believe that there is a spring that will follow it, and though I might be a totally different person when it comes, I believe wholeheartedly, it will come and I will be there to greet it and the green it brings, and I will remain to see those leaves change to gold and red, and to watch them flutter to the ground so that they may crunch under my footsteps when I go out to feed the birds.
This is life, and it is good – no matter what else happens.



Sunday, November 24, 2013

The old house


 
Old house: 1946

December 3, 1986
  
I dreamed they tore my old house down
That constantly changing thing on the hill
Where I grew up, then again, just about,
But there is an empty lot of landfill
Covered with the dark, black of asphalt,
I was in tears even though I hated that place
Sitting on the corner to figure out whose fault
It was that caused me to want to erase
That bit of history contained in that old site
The house that sat there, so loud at times
Yet at other times so quiet and still despite
The rumbling of traffic rising with sunshine
To die later with the pink glow and rising dark
Maybe they just a space for those trucks to park

I always come back here to look at the old house on the hill because part of me still haunts it. Some places just don’t leave you even when you leave it, and this is one of them for me – as I’m sure the cold water flat I live in now will strike me the same way later.
Too many things happened here – the way huge historic events somehow stain the ground where they took place so that one cannot exist without the other in people’s minds.
I had a hard time here, moving in and out of this place as my mother’s mad fits dictated, sometimes returning here after terrible times elsewhere deeper in the ghetto.
I come back here because it is a lasting icon in my life that has yet to be bulldozed out of existence, even when nearly everything else has been.
The day I come back and find it gone, I’ll have lost part of myself.
I come back here when I feel lost and need to find my roots again, this generally after some bad bit of misfortune, a failed love or some other unnatural disaster I have brought down on myself.
Seeing it brings me home, even if strangers happen to be living in it now.
I remember when my uncle finally decided to sell the place and move to Toms River, and how lost I felt, not being able to return for visits, knowing that this place the family moved into after the great war would no longer get cared for by hands of the same blood line. Chuck, the guy who owns the gas station bought it and the boat store, and changed both while at the same time, kept up their surface appearance so that from the outside, I still get the same sense of foundation.
This time of year is even more important, because with the exception of the Christmas I spent in the projects in Paterson and the two I spent on the run from the police – most of my holidays were spent here.
All of these things are true this year, and I suppose the dream I had about its vanishing scared me so much I would have come here faster just to make sure it was only a dream.

Having seen it, I go on my way again, if not healed, then at least less wounded.

Firework



April 4, 1981

I used to watch the fireworks outside Clifton Stadium.
My mother used to drag me there and we would sit on the lawn by a large grassy knoll with an oak tree at its peak.
The fire works shot up out of the stadium like magic, bursting high in the sky with showers of color.
For some reason, it took me years to realize these bursts came with explosions, and then after a few years of going, I got scared, hands over my ears against the sound – each boom seeming to explode inside of me as well as out.
Still later, the noise didn’t bother me at all. In fact, when I went there as a teen, it was for the booms and not the bursts of color.
I could not get enough of the loudness, and I could not duplicate it, no matter how high I turned up the radio volume when I got home.
Sometimes, I just went out into the back yard and yelled as loud as I could, drawing the wrath of my uncles who hurried from every part of the house to find out what was wrong and grew enraged when I could not tell them.
I simply loved sound, the louder the better, and music like the Beatles and the Stones only scratched the surface of the itch I felt, fireworks of a sort that went off inside my head each time I dropped the needle onto the surface of the record.
I still don’t know what I expected, perhaps looking for a niche in this ever shrinking world where I needed to find voice I could not find any place else.
Or maybe something real, a bit of beauty that has to come with an explosion inside and out, a sense of pain and pleasure mingling.
I live in the very real world of Passaic, and pass all sorts of good and bad people in my walk down the block, hardly shocked, or even judgmental, always waiting for some light show and explosions to mark this life, illuminated.
Maybe I am the firework, waiting for someone to light my fuse.

I think that there’s a word for me
A gross thing in my mouth
I think that is it killing me
To ever let it out.




Saturday, November 23, 2013

A new pen

April 3, 1981

I think I’ll buy myself a new pen
One with new words in it so I
Won’t have to see these words when
I’m crying on my pillow or cry-
ing when I’m down; I know it’s bad
when I can’t rise and face the day
that same old loneliness I had
when I was alone and used to pray
that someone somewhere would come
along and save this dying soul
of mine, no one came, no one
and I dug myself another hole
and lay there in my self seen shame
and moaned there in my peppered pain.


Things keep mounting: my ex girlfriend, my alcoholic uncle, my mad mother.
What’s the sense of going to school when there so sense of survival beyond it.
This hole I dug is filling with me on its bottom. There’s a gap in my chest and it feels empty. I feel it slowly opening like a bad tooth, ready to collapse in on itself until only the hole remains, with only the sharp, crusted edges left, like a stone henge to some mysterious past whose purpose has been forgotten.
Yeah, I think I’ll buy a new pen, one that inscribes a different life, one that inks this page with happy thoughts – that’s the difference between 8th Street in Passaic, and Oak Street in Paterson, except time, as if I have spent a decade presuming I made advances, when in truth I only marked time.

I can’t even blame my ex-girl friend this time. She’s 23, I’m 30. I ought to know better, have learned something, and have not.

Protest



April 24, 1983

It’s the lines of people that get to me, the row after row of protestors more than making up for the belts of bullets the soldiers wore, or the cops in their plastic bubbles and Billy clubs.
It takes determination to come out here, unarmed and vulnerable, to stand up for what is right against all these paid bullies.
My Marxist neighbor always rants on about The Revolution but he didn’t mean this. He means bullet for bullet, and you can’t beat a bad man by doing bad things, I tell him, and he disagrees.
He sees people rolling out of their homes to overthrow the evil government – for him Ronald Reagan is a blessing not a curse, someone to rally around.
He does not understand in a world filled with sinners that look like saints, no one will rally to such a cause when they love saint/sinners like Reagan, because they are as greedy as he is.
There are many like my Marxist friend in the crowd, but more of us, and in walking this walk and talking this talk, I hope we can contain our worst so as to keep their worst from hurting us.
But I hear them mumbling about kicking down the doors of capitalism, about dragging out the fat cats into the street where we can stone them.
And this scares me more than the official Billy clubs do.
This is more than about air line workers or overthrowing a government, it is about a change of heart, and how we must be better than who we oppose, and I’m scared that we aren’t, and that fundamentally, when we take over as each generation must we will be just as bad as those we replace.
Washington is above us now as we wink into the ground, the honeycombed interior of the Metro, a half moon dome over the tracks, reminding me something out of a science fiction move, then the train stops, and we rush in a flood over the platform and onto the street, all of us ready for battle, but not the same battle – some with pure hearts, but many as rotten to the core as those we oppose, and we must win against our own rotten apples before we dare shake down the tree.




Two faces



December 22, 1982

She mixes metaphors like a cocktail, scared to death of the headshrinkers she thinks are out to get her, and probably are – the enraged panic of a lost soul, who fears being chewed up by what she calls “a corporate zombie.”
The first rule in fighting any war is to know your enemy better than your enemy knows itself – or you – and to distinguish between those things worth hating and those not worth bothering with.
She does not always know which is which or friend from foe, and so, fears everything equally, and keeps everything out.
She only has a vague idea of how the real world works or how those who oppose her actually think – she assuming they think like her, and often, this is her undoing. Each time her fingers get burned touching the flame she mistakes for enlightenment, she creeps deeper into herself, and is longer to venture out again when the stinging stops.
Me? I like less vague boundaries, even if I have to build my own structure – like a blind man who builds a house he can come to know rather than spending a life time bumping into things he can’t possibly ever see, and feeling the edges of only causes pain.
In that regard, she is braver than I am, or more deluded; she may believe she can actually survive out there without boundaries, presuming that because she knows how to float nothing can sink her when nothing could be further from the truth.
So over time, she learns to wear two faces, rather than live in a box, one that looks out and pretends that the world doesn’t affect her, the other, she keeps in an even smaller box inside herself, that place where all the real feelings go, but never show.
But often, in the most terrible times, even she can’t tell which face is her face, and perhaps neither face is.



Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Kats and Kittens



“Catch up, Cats and Kittens, don’t get left behind…” Paul McCartney

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Three kittens, I’m trying to get adopted, have taken over my kitchen.
I called Liberty Humane and got a recording that said I should call the Jersey City Animal Control office.
This is the same office that dumped at least two of the cats I already have on my door step over the last few years. So they are the last people I will trust with kittens I took in to stop them from running into traffic.
Called Muffin, Puffin and Onion, the three kittens have vastly different personalities, and are even of different sizes.
Onion, a black female, is the runt, but is also extremely adventurous, getting herself in and out of trouble even in one room.
Puffin in the middle sized one, but extremely shy, still running away from pets as much as it accepts them. Very playful, but only on its own or with its kin.
Muffin, the only male, is also the largest and most beautiful, and acts like a typical male. Very egotistical, he loves pets, and often acts like a lion.
I’ve had them for over a month, and now they ache to go into the rest of the house, while I continue to seek homes for them.
I worry over Puffin because she is the least likeable of the three which I probably why I like her most, and know that if she is to be adopted, she must go with one of the other two. If she goes to Liberty, no one will want her, and since the shelter kills animals after a certain amount of time, her fate is sealed.
Life is rarely fair, a lesson I learned early in life, then forgot, only to get reminded again about it in recent years.
Very few people on this planet have been a lucky as I have been, managing to get through life with little of the serious baggage I rightfully deserve.
So it is easy to be judgmental when you’re as lucky as I am, able to tell how others ought to live their lives or formulate theories about how the world ought to be when it isn’t.
The three kittens seem to define the population on the planet: the handsome variety like Muffin, who can get along with attitude, the crafty ones like Onion, who learn to get in and out of trouble with their wits, and the ordinary ones like Puffin, who must lean on someone to make its way in the world, constantly facing extinction.
And there is me, trying to save them all, struggling to understand the distinctions and praying that creatures like Puffin can find some lessons from creatures like Onion, in making up for her deficiencies.
Most likely, if I can get the first two adopted, I’ll keep Puffin.
And the last thing I need is another cat.



Sunday, November 17, 2013

Back home



Sunday, November 17, 2013

It was  like going home again, back to that converted barn called the Red Baron where we used to play most weekends and sometimes Wednesday nights, a dive to end all dives where nothing counted for nothing except what we scored between sets in the parking lot with the girls who came to see us, and sometimes, not even then.
All these years later, and I found it again in the back room of a veterans’ post in Bayonne and a pickup band that included one very famous guitarists, a local piano man, a very promising but shy woman singer, a steady young bass player and a drummer who ran the post.
They were tight most of the time, but they had heart, the guitarist, George Cummings, from a historic novelty band I hadn’t heard of since the 1970s when my best friend and I wandered through the landscape looking for a farm to build a commune on, and our band played David Bowie, Stones and other down and dirty music in that other dive to end all dives.
I found out about the pick up band after an unsuccessful venture searching for music a few weeks ago, and remembered George from passing during the intervening years.
He had played guitar for 1970s iconic pop band Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show, which started out in Union City – one more New Jersey-based band that had helped shape the pop charts for several decades during my younger days.
He had come from Mississippi to Bayonne, claiming he had taken a wrong turn on the Turnpike and ended up here.
As with the bands I worked with, Cummings and his band rose up out the hard-hitting, gritty club scene along Bergenline Avenue in Union City in the 1970s, which made its mark with a handful of hits before fading away – although the most famous was the song “Cover of the Rolling Stone,” which played over and over on FM and AM radio until it came true.
The band’s name was contrived while working in what was then The Bandbox in Union City. The owner asked Cummings and fellow members Ray Sawyer and Dennis Locorriere to come up with a name so they could post it on the sign outside. Cummings borrowed a pencil and wrote the band’s name out, based partly on Captain Hook from the children’s story “Peter Pan.”
This was similar to the band I worked with that for the latter part of its career served as the house band for the revamped Red Baron (reborn at Rose Buds) which changed its name weekly in order to make people think a different band played each week.
After checking out the usual places in Bayonne, including The Venice which had a solo singer performing to pre-recorded music, we made our way to 9th Street and found two of three of band members standing outside.
“We’re on break,” the man who turned out to be the bass player said. “Are you the key board player?”
“No,” I said. “We’re the audience.”
A joke apparently soon turned into reality when we got inside and found only one of a half dozen tables occupied.
The keyboard player arrived from another gig a short time later, and then with this rag tag group of variously experienced musicians, we all went down memory lane, as George and the rest played covers from my past, from Tennessee Ernie Ford and Nat King Cole to Neil Young and Johnny Cash.
I knew nearly every word of every song, although I didn’t always know who wrote them. George did, a played a kind of Jeopardy from the stage challenging us and the band to name the song writers.
At one point, George asked if I wanted to play, too. I declined.
This partly because I just wanted to soak it all in without getting back into the groove of sweat and labor music always meant for me – I play a song over and over and over until I get it. George and these guys knew how to pick things up as they went along for a jam.
I jammed over the years, but only with Pauly and Garrick and Hank, people who I knew so well they didn’t mind when I made mistakes.
But more importantly, much of what got played that night came from the record collection my uncle kept in the dinning room of the old house, stuff that I had listened to over and over and over until I knew them buy heart, stuff that I later put down when I met Hank and we started listening to Bob Dylan, The Beatles and other such stuff we thought was cool and this Americana stuff was not.
But last night, as all these songs got played, I felt the old feelings again and saw the face of my uncle Frank, whose records I played in the old house, and I heard him strumming out these same chords on his big bodied Guild, struggling to sing the songs that he let me sing instead, and for that moment, as George and this pick up band in Bayonne played them, in my head I was singing to my uncle’s guitar playing so many years ago.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

The George Syndrome



Saturday, November 16, 2013

It’s more than a relief.
Not just the rain that peppers my bedroom window with wet pebbles, but the shedding of anticipated woes I foresaw for the upcoming week.
A friend of mine once told me, “Don’t try to dance on somebody else’s dance floor,” which was her way of saying: “Don’t go where you know you’re not wanted,” or more precisely, don’t step into an environment where you know you can’t compete.
I didn’t always pay attention to these sage advice, and defied fate, assuming I could survive in the world on bluster and nerve.
Sometimes, it is important to give space to things that are beyond me, and avoid people with whom I know I can’t compete.
Back in high school, I used to have what I call the George syndrome, taking this from an episode of Seinfeld in which the character George always thought of a pithy response long after it was appropriate to use it.
Even some of my more clever friends, such as Pauly, were always one step ahead of me in making clever repartee.
I’ve gotten better at this, but never good at it.
And the best defense against being humiliated in public came from my training in martial arts as a kid: avoidance is always better than confrontation, and sometimes, by letting an opponent win, you win.
I never surrender in the traditional sense – if I think I’m right.
But I’m always a little uncertain where the line between right and wrong is, and if I know for sure I’ve crossed it, I then back off.
This is why I refuse to play King David and walk into the lions’ den or dance on someone else’s dance floor when I don’t know how to dance.
Sometimes, I can’t avoid it. This occurred a few months ago, and though I came through the experience unscathed, I felt out of place, and as out of step as George, not exactly knowing what to do or say.
For this reason, I was not comfortable with the expected repeat performance next week when I got an invitation to another, perhaps even more dangerous lions’ den. Earlier this year, I had a similar invite and chose to by pass it, feeling all too much like George with two left feet. But this one, I had promised to attend, and was reprieved at the last minute when the other dancers decided they didn’t need a fumbling, bumbling, tongue-tied George like me stumbling over their dance floor.
Perhaps Arthur Murray might help me prepare for the inevitable next time. But somehow, I don’t it, me still being me.


Friday, November 15, 2013

the snake



February 2, 1973

I thought snakes hibernated in winter like bears.
Then I saw or rather heard one slithering through the wet leaves when I came out of the Red Baron.
Of course, I was drunk, staggering towards my car at the far end of the gravel lot.
I figured I’d get a few nods before I chanced the ride home back to Montclair.
Tommy, the bartender, always taps on the windshield when he’s finished locking up, to let me know it’s time to go and to keep the cops from waking me and taking me to jail for the night.
Sometimes, this early in the morning, when the lot is empty, I think I am stumbling over hollowed ground, some sacred place revered by Native Americans before white men built over it.
If I’m drunk enough, I see spirits rising out of the ground like a mist.
This time, I saw or heard a snake.
I did see its forward motion, slithering through the leaves, not fast, yet fast enough to make me stop and stare.
It’s slithering told me it was a snake, though its shape kept beneath the leaves or deep in the shadows cast by the buildings flood lights.
It was probably its hunting old nest or for rodents and was made sluggish by the chill. But I imagined it was coming for me. Other shapes moved as it moved, fleeing out of its path as it advanced.
I felt its threat and the urge to run.
But still I remained unmoved – a doe starting at the headlights of an oncoming car, waiting for the moment of impact when life came to an end.
I can’t quite explain the huge sense of relief I felt when the snake passed me, looking for some easier target I guess.
Still when I finally staggered to my car and got in, I locked the doors.
I don’t remember nodding off, only the tap tap tap on the glass and my jerking awake to find Tommy’s friendly face staring in at me, telling me, it was time to go.



Carnival



Friday, November 15, 2013

I forgot all about Hot Dog Day at St. Brendan’s School and the litany of fellow classmates that remain fixed in my mind as friends even though I have not seen most of them since I left them all those years ago.
These are icons of memory forming some strange foundation in me upon which I have built my life.
And even if I wanted to shed them – which I don’t, I can’t.
I still ache for the annual church bazaar that gobbled up our playground each sprint, filling it with colored lights and cotton candy, over which we drooled each day on the way to school as sweaty, muscular men struggled to put together the pieces, our fingers enmeshed with the gaps in the cyclone fence.
Each of us gripped that fence tight as if holding onto what we could not yet get our hands on, thinking that if we let go for even an instant, the whole thing would vanish like a dream.
I’m still gripping, clinging to that image in my head, recalling how we were let loose from school early once during that week long festival to indulge in what was then our wildest fantasies.
I still taste the cotton candy although I have not eaten it since. I still wander from game to game, taking chances on things that are beyond me, knowing now and then how little chance I actually had in winning any of the prizes. I did not know then, but do know now, that the prize is the memory, not the stuffed animal or water gun I might have walked away in.
I remember, too, how scared I was on each of the rides, thinking that might life might come to an end at any moment – part of the thrill thinking impossible thoughts, yet confident in the steady hands of the operators, and the ability of the muscle men to have assembled all the pieces of the puzzle well enough to keep me safe.
Back then, we were sheltered, and were only vaguely aware of it.
Now, life is shorter and thus the years infinitely more valuable, and we ache to take those chances we took back then, wishing that we had the same steady hands on the controls and the same sweaty men building a safety net we no longer have.
These days, the risks are real, but so is the ultimate prize, and when we wander through this carnival of life, we need believe we can achieve or else we will always fail, falling off this ride into a limbo we can’t possibly imagine.
We need have faith in our own steady hand and our own sweaty efforts, because often there is no one else.



Thursday, November 14, 2013

Hope




April 19, 1981

We live in a world of hope.
Not Camp Hope, not Mount Hope, not even Bob Hope or his wife, but a single foolish desperate hope without which life is not possible.
This keeps me rehashing the old adage: where there’s life there’s hope – when in reality the opposite is true: where there’s hope there is life.
This is the creed of billions of people clinging to something that we no longer have.
We hope for love, for money, for freedom, or sex mostly because we live without them, aching away our lives to get them back (if we ever had them in the first place.)
I remember confessing to Louise two years after our breakup that I had not made love to love to anyone since her, one of those shocking moments in my life I thought was such a secret, when everyone already knew.
I kept holding out hope I could win her back, and somehow thought I needed to remain loyal to her.
Hope is not always an illusion. Sometimes we become better people because we maintain something we want even if we never can get it, a faith in something beyond us that we can count on even if it never transpires, a faithfulness to a dream that we fight for to become real, and in that, becomes real in a different way.
I guess I’m a queer fish in all this.
I remember attending Cape Hope – a charity camp for ghetto kids I attended several summers when I was a kid, and the illusion of hope it held out for kids toughened by the city. Somehow, strolling through woods that I could not find in the busy streets of Paterson, I found magic.
Bob Hope used to make me laugh, helping me passed some of the most troubling moments of my life – my mother’s madness, the gang fights in the projects, even this sense that I wasn’t worth anything to anybody.
I still retain hope knowing all people are worth more than they know, even me.

My world is all hope, and if it is an illusion, then life itself is an illusion,.one I can't live without.

Under cover

December 28, 1981

PASSAIC – A lot of the trouble about waking up in the cold in the morning comes when making the decision whether or not to remove the covers from your very warm and comfortable body.
I tell myself that it is unhealthy to shock the body thus. So often, in this cold water flat in Passaic, I just remain with the cold nipping at my nose while the rest of me basks in the well-established warmth under cover.
How can anybody be so crazy as to leap out into that?
Some unwisely insist that we have to, as to not shirk the responsibility of school or work or some other foolishly practical occupation.
This seems a little strange to me. Which should be a priority? Should we subject ourselves to discomfort at the insistence of practicality?
Pauly, who turns 33 today, would not move or subject himself to the torture of cold.
Garrick, who turned 31 yesterday, would not either. Nor would Hank who turned 32 four days ago. So why should I, the youngest of this crew, do so.
Dudley, my orange and white kitten, leaps around the room attacking imaginary creatures, finding pleasure in the smallest bit of abandoned cellophane, jumping over a pile of newspapers to attack a rolled up sock I left during my plunge under covers last night.
But Dudley’s fur is as good as a quilt, and he does not abandon it the way I do my clothing just to sleep.
This nakedness we live with makes victims of those who claim to be master of the universe.
There are bits of Christmas wrapping left from our exchange of presents on Christmas Eve flapping on the table, unnoticed by Dudley, but reminding me of our Christmas Day invasion of Pauly’s family’s house – me, Hank, Garrick, searching for Pauly, finding a multitude of brothers, sisters, cousins and such, but no Pauly.
Hank and I sat on the couch so out of place we might well have become statutes, there but like those in the park, unnoticed in the hubbub of package openings and chatter – blessed only for the lack of pigeons that might have landed and done unspeakable deeds on our heads.
We broke fast with the family; of course, doing our share of feeding and consuming drinks, but did not add much to the festivities, drawing odd looks from more extended family members who wondered why we were there.
This has not been a happy year for me, breaking up with someone I still love, and finding myself hiding under the covers of my misery against the chill of the real world, my nose over the lip of my protection nipped by the chill while the rest of me craved the comfort of numbness people feel after the most acute feelings fade.
I considered my showing up out of doors at all to be an act of courage, although deep down I felt very much like the cowardly lion lacking any wizard to provide me with a heart.
The last few years have even strained my friendship with Hank, and leaving him at his door on Christmas, he lingered and looked at me, as if he needed for us to be close again, the way we were back when we were teens.
But in truth, we can’t go back to that. Hank isn’t the hopeful artist he once was, and in many ways, he is hiding under his own covers, staring out at a world that has let him down, and hoping for me to yank the covers off – resenting me when I tried in the past.
I won’t try again.
I have moved on, grown, struggling to make progress where he has settled for a life of habit, and I refuse to give up my dreams the way he has.
Maybe the cold is just too much for him, and he will prefer living like he is, on the second floor of his parents’ house, going to and front work, to and from bars, singing only to the radio or when the band invites him up for a guest slot, forgetting all that stuff he inspired in me when se both worked in the theater, how we could someday be great, how we would rise to the top of the world and be its masters.
We all live secret lives, I think, what we wish for and what we accurately work to achieve.
I still remember the moment when he gave up, after his girlfriend hired a con-artist, who promised to make him famous. I still have a copy of the demo Hank recorded, a tape that cost him a small fortune to make, a bit of proof that the guy was legitimate before he vanished with the cash, leaving Hank holding the tape in one hand and crumbling dreams in the other.
But in this I’m not like Hank, I can’t live two lives – dream and not dream. And perhaps I should adopt the motto: no secrets and expose myself to the world to let it do its worst to me so that in the end I toughen up enough not to let it derail me.
So in throwing off the covers, I let my body get used to the cold. The body must have its own way to make warmth or it dies.
So, I suppose this means I should get up now, and do whatever I need to do to stoke up the fires of my dreams, refusing to let the embers fade the way Hank has.
Ready world? Here I come.



Wednesday, November 13, 2013

My un-groundhog day



Wednesday, November 13, 2013

It’s 10:30 p.m. and I’m wide awake, and shouldn’t be.
This is my third late night out after meetings in every part of this silly county I cover, Monday a veterans day in Bayonne, Tuesday, Freeholders in Jersey City, and then a jaunt to Secaucus to cover the council, and tonight, a council meeting back in Bayonne after a long day typing out a column and story for the weekend papers.
This is the day the world changes for me each year, my anniversary syndrome that dates back as far as I can remember – the day of the year when events transpire that change my life dramatically, although not for the worse.
I know this is mostly in my mind, a kind of wish fulfillment that allows me to make order out of this chaos in which we all live. But it is consistent enough and previously so unconscious for many years I didn’t notice the events until after they happened, and noted they fell on the same day.
Usually, it is a change of wind that results in some significant occurrence later, some act of mine or something acted upon me that blooms more fully in the spring.
So naturally, I kept coming back to this idea all day, wondering what I would do to inspire that is likely to be an earth-shattering event, and as the day wore on, full of the usual labors of job and my consistent devouring of coffee, nothing happened.
Perhaps it is simply the fact that I’ll be moving back up to the Hoboken office after ten years in Bayonne, and will be covering Jersey City. Perhaps it is something tiny I did that I am unaware of that will bloom into something I totally won’t expect.
Perhaps I’m just reading tea leaves before I’ve finished sipping the tea, and can’t quite get to the bottom of what life is about, especially my own life.
So hours went on, cold morning giving way to a cold afternoon, and then to an even colder night, my making my way back to Jersey City a weary correspondent seeking warmth of a meal at home, and the luxury of bed.
But I can’t sleep even though I am weary, and I sit up, the way a kid might before his birthday or Christmas, who has yet to get the present he expected and will count down the last hours of this special day until the moment passes, before giving up on it.
Not that I’m disappointed. Every moment in my life is a special moment of discovery, even those that are painful to me. They are precious gems of experience I would not give up even if I could. I refuse to regret things to the point where I imagine myself going back to undo them. All redemption is an act of the present affecting the future, so to be sorry is not to be sorry about the past, but to amend the future.
And in truth, it only the present we can manipulate, molding it into something we want or wish, before it slips out of our grasp and we are forced to mold the next moment. If we are quick enough, we find happiness in our creation. If we’re too slow, it is pointless to wish that moment back because it cannot be, and so we do our best to make the next moment into what we think of as perfect.
If I have regrets, these come from those moments that I have molded badly, knowing I cannot recreate them, and must settle for some creation that is less perfect that that previous moment might have been.
And as this day – my un-groundhog day – passes into oblivion, I wonder: did I make it as good as I would have wanted.
Most often, the answer is: almost.

Sometimes, that’s the best I can ever do.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A November chill



Saturday, November 09, 2013

I wake to the cold this morning, steamed breath even thought the temperature is still above freezing.
The chill air kissing my chin where it pokes out from under the blankets – not as raw as when I lived in Passaic, but with the gentle reminder of how tough things were in those days when I perceived myself as a starving artist.
I miss Passaic and that life in a way I never thought I would, partly because we risk little when we are still making the climb. We rarely look back or down, only up.
It’s when people reach the point at which they believe they actually have something to lose that they glance back down at those climbing behind them.
Those, who look back often on the climb up, rarely get to the top.
I talked to a minister last week who said she’s glad she doesn’t have power – when she actually does.
What she was trying to say falls into what Joseph Campbell said about power, in that those who wield it for the public good seem not to be aware of the power they have.
Evil in Campbell’s opinion, are those who use power for personal gain.
This is the essential evil of myth.
When I ventured to Cape May last month, we saw a sign on a lawn that said “I’ve never been the same since that house fell on my sister.”
The film “Oz” tried to capture this concept of misuse of power, of witches either duped by their own egos (which allowed others to misuse them) or people consumed by their own desire to lord over others.
The minister’s power is disguised by the fact that it is almost always outward bound, and that whatever influence she has, it appears to be benefiting those around her and beyond her, and not herself.
After a final conclusion to an election season in which we saw a host of back stabbing, behind the scenes manipulations and power grabs, it is comforting to know that in the end – sometimes, someone is using power the way it is supposed to be used – and a good witch doesn’t have to worry about a house falling on her or her sister, or how much such a tragedy will alter the course of a life.
The power is not in the ruby shoes, or even in the wand the good witch waves, but in the ability to do good for a good reason, and not to worry about who knows it or whether you get credit for it.
Back in Passaic, I would get up in the cold, turn up the heater in the cold water flat, and make my way to my small desk to write out my morning journal entry – a warm up exercise that not only heated the cold water flat, but stirred up the coals inside me.
I was never sure exactly what I wanted, except perhaps to have what I wrote read some day after I no longer needed to warm my bones. In those days, I was worried more about keeping a roof over my head more than a house falling onto me. And I never had ruby slippers to take me home, I was home. I had a handful of friends who as in the older version of Oz, sought courage, a heart and intelligence each of them already had and didn’t know it. And I suppose in that quest for what I wanted, I had what I wanted and needed as well, and it takes cold mornings like these, with my chin chilled with a November chill for me to realize it.



Monday, November 4, 2013

Apples, Bananas and figs



Monday, November 04, 2013

The warm weather held out for another day, leaving Sunday a mixture of rain threat and sharp sun.
This is laundry day traditionally for me, and as I have since moving to Jersey City, I made my way to the Bubbles on Kennedy Boulevard, to buy the paper and coffee at Angel’s Market, before putting the clothing in the washers.
Then, again as a weekly ritual, I made my way down the street to the fruit market – which previously had been a popular eatery and hangout – for my weekly purchase of fruits and vegetables.
Over the summer, this is an easy chore since the assortment of fruits overflowed bins and I could take my pick.
But with autumn rapidly passing into winter, the plums and berries I usually included in my purchases were no longer available or the few that were so untrustworthy, I needed to select something new.
Celery and bananas are staples for me since I tend to bring them both with me for lunch daily – along with Greek yogurt and tuna sandwich – even though the bananas I buy today are not the same ones I knew as a kid, nor nearly as flavorful, as the ones I knew as a kid were wiped out in some early blight forcing us to settle for a blander kind.
I’m told that we are supposed to eat things in season, and for some reason, when I saw the golden apples in one of the outside bins, I felt a yearning for them I haven’t felt for apples in years.
During the week, someone close to me offered me a caramel apple which on account of teeth issues I politely refused. Perhaps this started my craving for the Garden of Eden fruit and so I grabbed them as I passed and carried them to the register with my usual purchases.
But the desire for the fresh figs I saw on sale at the counter came from some inner craving. In the past, I always preferred the dried assortment to the fresh, but for some reason at that moment, I could not resist.
All this has little or nothing to do with healthy feeding. I mostly eat well – only recently letting ground turkey back into my diet. But this purchase of fresh fruit every week is a kind of religious ritual, a connection to my primitive past, as if it is important for me to connect to some aspect of nature I cannot otherwise find in the big city.
I go to the river as often as possible, and even managed a rare walk in the woods this week, but this market thing seems to touch something else, something I carry with me each day in my lunch bag.
Indeed, the apples proved to touch a spot in me that I didn’t know needed touching.
And so did the figs.
Feeding a craving I didn’t know I had, and may not have again for a while, as the chill weather comes and the threat of snow, and autumn fruits give way to those things that we share around the holidays.

Perhaps next week, when I wander to the market, I’ll find some new thing to devour, something that will touch me deep inside the way the apples and figs did this week, something I can carry away with me, warming me against the external cold, brought on not just by winter, but that other change of season we all dread most.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Saturday Night's all right for – getting lost



Sunday, November 03, 2013

Still hungry for rock music after being spoiled by a club in Cape May, we went in search of it back here in good old Hudson County.
But short of dipping our toes in Hoboken where parking is harder to find than gold nuggets on a place misnamed The Gold Coast, we followed a trail of rumored music in Bayonne and a mythical bar called The Venice – only a block from the office I work in five days a week.
Since traffic from my house in The Heights of Jersey City makes the most direct route to Bayonne impossible during the week, I figured on Saturday night we could get there with no problem.
I didn’t account for the fact that in reconstructing the circle that connects Route 7 with 1 & 9 (something that happened after the death of a family some years ago – the state always expends millions in a knee jerk reaction to accidents that are really reckless driving in disguise) I mistakenly thought the state would put up road signs that made it clear which of the multiple roads would direct us to Bayonne. They had multiple signs, including one that directed people to Route 1 & 9 south (but none to Route 440 at that point) and so we wound up on the Pulaski Skyway headed into the heart of Newark’s industrial area (or Kearny’s) and took Newark only because I knew some of the roads there and could eventually get back to where we started.
I had not been in that part of Newark since the 1980s, empty streets – even that portion of Raymond Boulevard – with this sense of foreboding that defied the concept that it was to become shortly the new Hoboken, another edge of the Gold Coast only real estate brokers and corrupt politicians could find nuggets in.
After one or two turns, I managed to steer back to Harrison, then Kearny and then back to the same former circle I had intended to get to when coming down from my house, passed a car fire, and then the usual blank faced Hudson Mall, until at last, after nearly an hour of going in circles the state could not reconfigure, came to The Venice, to be told that the band scheduled had come down sick.
We walked over to another nearby bar known for its music to find it empty. And then drove up to a place near my old office to find that empty, too, with a man out front giving us wrong directions to a fourth bar uptown that might have music, and when I found the bar on a street other than the one he said, this was empty, too.
During the drive home, I realized live music was a luxury these days with so many alternatives, and I thought about Hoboken and Maxwells (which closed earlier this year) and the few bars I knew that were fools gold in Hoboken, but still played music, and I calculated how it might be easier to take the questionable public transportation to those places than to follow misdirection by the state or bar flies.
But alas, I came to miss Cape May all the more for what it gave us for free – a gift of music we could not find so easily any closer. And I wondered, after all that driving, it might just be well worth the two and a half hour drive each way to Cape May since it required so few turns after you actually got onto the equally mis-named Garden State Parkway.

One small consolation in all this, was that we got to turn the clocks back and managed to lose less sleep than we might have otherwise.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A harried visit

A harried visit 1985

I will always miss the mushrooms

I will always miss the mushrooms 1987

The morning before the morning when the clocks go back



Saturday, November 02, 2013

It is the morning before the morning when the clocks go back – that one day when it is possible to relive what was lost, only to lose it later in the spring when things spring ahead.
I go back in time reluctantly.
I am not one of those people who looks back and wishes I could do something over that I did wrong the first time (not an unusual event), learning to live with the consequences of what I do on the first go round.
Yet on this day, this moment when we become master of time for an hour, I relive things I wish I could relive exactly as they were, even when they seem painful when first lived, not to change them, but to examine them more closely, to take each moment apart tick by tick to see how it ticked in the first place, to understand more fully what I could not possibly have understood when I was in the midst of it.
This is the day for that, when I know that I will relive on hour out of this year, and will be able to treasure it and polish it like some precious jewel, a gift from the gods, who have bestowed upon me an hour of reflection, even if it is the hour before the dawn in which they come to collect Christ, or that moment before the world ends and I get to breathe the free air for one hour more before all falls in.
It is still dark out now. Tomorrow it will not be at this hour. And later after the dawn when the sun rises, the day will seem older because of the slanted light of the sun and the later hour I have used up already, worn out, sad light that casts everything into a deeper glow that will bring on twilight too soon.
There is always a price for receiving gods’ gifts, in this case months of this sadder sun, a penalty for man’s messing with time.
So that now, on this morning before the morning the clocks turn back, I must appreciate this gift, and accept it, knowing that the world will not return to its normal spin until this hour is recaptured, and instead of living in the past for an hour, I must leap ahead and lose another hour later – and always wonder what I might have done in that hour in spring, and if it is worth keeping this hour now at the expense of that hour.

But I never know.