Saturday, April 26, 2014

The car crash

Saturday, April 26, 2014

This is the anniversary date of “the car crash,” which broke my nose, not for the first time nor the last, but the most memorable. And the day when Hank broke his neck – a historic occasion in itself since it kept him from getting fired from one more lousy job, at least for a few months.
Greenwood Lake was the hot spot for music and booze, partly because New Jersey wouldn’t change its drinking age to 18, and so the lake – which is half in Jersey and half in New York became an easy venue for drinking and debauchery, and naturally, attracted me and Hank, who were into both, as well as the music.
I remember our driving north and Hank pulling over to the side to pick up two hitch hikers, very pretty girls who clearly didn’t even meet the 18 year old age requirement, but said they had idea, and since both Frank and I were 20 or better, I got a little nervous since not only did we stop for beer on the way, but clearly the event was designed to be more than just a ride in the car.
Hank had no qualms. Age was no restriction. So he was very happy until we came around a curve on the lake side road just shy of the New York border, and we hit a car that was making a k-turn. Hank hit the windshield. I hit the dash board. We heard the girls moaning in the back seat, and the driver of the other car screaming about how fast we were going – a moot point since he was making the turn on a blind curve and nearly everybody in his overcrowded car was injured in some way. The car was totaled. So was the 1966 Dodge Dart we were in.
Hank moaned. He did not yet know he had a fracture. Blood pored from my face like a water fountain with red water.
Somewhere in the back of my head I thought to get rid of the beer cans in the car and I found the empties and the remainders of the six pack and rushed over to the nearby woods to toss them in, a chore the driver of the other car was also accomplishing from his stash.
After that it was all cops and ambulances, and I remember driving in the back one of the emts asking us questions: name, marital status, and when I said I was married (just at the end by that time) one of the girls yelled at me, saying “You never told me that.”
At this point, Hank passed out.
We wound up side by side in the ER. Hank woke and found the nurse trying to take his blood and he refused. They said he could not refuse until he also refused treatment. At this point, we heard the father of one of the girls grumbling outside saying “Where the fuck are they?”
And we knew he meant us.
Both of us signed out, and made a hurried call to Pauly, who with Jane driving the car, picked us up in a blue Volkswagen beetle. We sat in the back seat. The bumps along threatened to kill Hank who was not yet aware of his broken neck.

Pauly looked over the seat at me and said, “Did you know your nose is bleeding?”

Monday, April 21, 2014

The price they paid

January 2, 1978

Harold knew from the start he would hate the job at Capitol Airlines.
But my grandfather obsessed about money so much for so long, somehow the state for money had gotten into Harold’s blood, too.
Like his brother, my uncle Richard, Harold began a personal campaign to get as much money as he could.
The job paid well; it just wasn’t enough.
Yet in his position, he knew he could raise money in a different way. He was, however, concerned about getting caught.
Grandpa had survived the scandal in 1944 by the war’s end a year later and the nation’s desire to put it all behind – Grandpa hadn’t been the worst of the profiteers who tried to capitalize on materials. Grandpa had tried to horde construction materials that should have gone into the war effort. The Great Depression had hit our family hard, and he saw this as a way to finally come out on top.
His mother, Jenny, saw things differently and turned him in.
The government apparently saw that he had a large family to feed and agreed to let him go if he gave up in cash what he had gotten from the sale of material.
Harold had a similar problem. He didn’t have to worry about his mother spying him, but rather other workers. He wasn’t to work at the airport alone.
How he got connections to sell the goods smuggled in, he never said. But he was convinced that “they” who oversaw the whole thing only took him on because they might be able to pin it all on him later if things went wrong.
There were other drawbacks, he didn’t talk much about.
He did his job as an airport security officer, checking those things that came in to make certain that the special packages got diverted before they got inspected.
Why he sometimes came back to the house with his eyes glued shut from being beaten, I didn’t understand until years later, and his had nothing to do, he said, with what he did at the airport.
And those that did this to him later paid a hefty price.
After all, he said, he a valuable man, he was connected. Those others at the bar who didn’t like his being gay should not have waited for him outside, should not have hit him.

What price they paid, Harold never said. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Not dead yet, but dying

July 16, 1982

For Louise, Passaic is the big city –ten dozen stores strung together like rosary beads connected to other strings that extend from downtown Paterson to the heart of Newark, historic snap shots of a past that Scranton has also lost: Woolworth, Grants, C.H. Martin and other names that have ceased to exist in the ghost town of downtown Scranton.
My walk through downtown Scranton was like walking through something dead and waiting to be reborn, while Passaic and its environs linger perpetually on the edge of death. There are rumors about things changing in Scranton such as some kind of mall that the city fathers have made plans for, but I saw only the closed stores, windows sealed with cardboard like English pennies on the eyes of the dead.
The crowds keep Passaic alive, the flood of immigrants and others who flood through its streets in consistent flow of blood, pumped in my promises of jobs the factories near the river still provide.
In Scranton, I saw no crowds, except outside the strip clubs and other bars where grimy men grimly stoke on cigarettes and grumble about life as they eye the few expensive cars they see driving up the hill towards the rich parts of city near the park.
Louise comes to this place and seems to see glitter where there is none, mistaken the broken glass that litters these gutters for diamonds after coming from a place in which nearly all the glass has been swept away.
She is a country girl coming to the most dismal city and seeing something better than she has where she is.
But Passaic is falling slowly into the same state, through fire and abandonment, housing new immigrants of Latino and blacks in shacks as bad as some of what the south once offered when still entrenched with slavery.
Desperate business owns slap paint over their crumbling store fronts to give them a fa├žade of life, but after so many coats of paint over paint, it gives off the same impression an old woman might give with too many layers of makeup. The wrinkles are still there, perhaps made more obvious by the effort.
The theaters I grew up with our all gone – except for the Capital and the Montauk, one serving music and classic strip tease, the other straight ahead porno. I used to sneak into the striptease shows as a kid – the stage guard getting his kicks at the idea that I might be getting off the aging stripers the Capital retained. I’ve not gone into the Montauk since its marquee went triple X, though I remember what it looks like from when I saw James Bond movies there as a kid.
Scranton has its go go bars like Passaic, but from the outside they seem tamer than the ones here in Passaic, with few violent characters lingering near the doors, and women too over dressed to seem tempting.
Louise complains about the men of Scranton, claiming they have only one thing on their minds. But that’s men everywhere. We live in a media world that says men should be men of a certain kind, and mocks those who aren’t.
We crave most what most of us can’t have or are too scared to get or are disappointed when we get it, and so crave for what we think is out there and isn’t.
All this includes me, too.
And I wonder, what Louise is thinking now that she has finally come to my part of the planet and seen where and how I live, and I wonder what thoughts she will take back to Scranton with her after our being so long apart.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The ‘she’ I deserve

July 15, 1982

The day swelters around me, sun beams pouring glisten off the windows of the famous Passaic Street tower, a building mockingly used as the front cover of a religious newspaper although no religious institutions occupy it.
I stroll under its shadow, waiting as I have waited before, if not for this woman, then for another, who once worked in this place – who has in two years become as vague a memory as the shivering shadows my feet step over.
I used to write here while she worked, and now times have changed, and I return here like a criminal to the scene of a crime I did not actually commit, hiding from time as if from the police, hating the injustice memory brings.
I sit where I once sat, and watch the traffic rumbling by down Main Street, an older love caught inside of me like a splinter, triggering old feelings – good and bad, fears and joys jabbing me as my thoughts turn this way or that. I am awash in a changing tide over which I have no control.
How much has changed in my life since I last sat here, and now when I expect to see again an even older lover than the one whose memory clings to this place, a lover who returns to my life at a time when I am most vulnerable.
By brain boils with an overflow of thought and feeling, hormones coming back into play after long slumber, telling me I have no changed at all, and remain the same desperate soul that once stole money to seek out love in the far west. Down deep, remains the same yearning boy I was then, now a hungry man, caged and desperate, lusting for love or in love with lusting.
And this place, this tower, rising over me like an old friend, a stop over back in my most distant youth when I changed buses here for the second leg of a trip to a job where I met my first love. And somehow, I connect the dots and come up with this idea that there is some even more significant connection I just can’t put my finger on, but know it is there, one more shadow in a world of shifting shadows.
Behind me, the old Number 2 bus roles by, huffing and puffing with black exhaust, the engine that could that has kept going far too long, with memories for passengers, many of which are my memories – such as the kisses I exchanged on the bus stop and the secret movement of my hands under her jacket as we parted, me going back home at the end of the shift, she returning to her parents’ home, me, later, standing on the bus stop as I sit beside this one, missing her when she was gone, aching for a return I am only getting all these years later.
And so here, outside this office, near this bus bench where I sit, I get confused, over this love and that love, and which love I want most to return, and so I stand up and take a walk around this tall building, searching the shadows for some clue as to what I really want, and to sort through the catalogue of memories for which matter most to me – the long miles stretching out over the long years, wavering in the intense July heat, boiling up inside of me, making me mistake a more recent summer for one long ago, that summer “she” came to work here, for that summer I make the trip to where I worked with another “she,” and wondering now, which “she” I will see and which I want to see, and after all these years yearning for the first, mourning the loss of the second, which “she” I actually deserve, suffering the heat of indecision as this intense sun pounds down on me.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Fool’s Gold?

June 12, 1982

There are peace marches in New York today.
Singers sing. The spirit which made the Sixties the Sixties lights up on the cold walls of these old skyscrapers.
Meanwhile, us old folks lie on our couches and suffer with our weary and aching bones, made all too aware that this ain’t the Sixties no more.
Hank fell asleep on Pauly’s couch after some free family picnic with Pauly’s family. Then, he went home for another nap.
The cycle swings back to what it was; but we are not the same. We no longer scream and vent in our insanity.
Pauly tends his garden like a good little wizard, trying to spread his magic like seed, but doesn’t realize he can’t build his mystique that way.
Meanwhile, I clean my little cave, trying to put all the pieces of my life in order, trying to find perspective. But I am not the same.
I keep thinking Louise will see this when and if I ever get to see her (she’s returned to Scranton after her run to Portland) and I think she might flee again, seeing me as a lost cause, while I continue to cling to this one loose thread I hope will lead to love.
I don’t want to die like this, alone, living in a cold water flat in Passaic, New Jersey.
I don’t want to waste the next ten years digging graves for dying friends, like Hank – who despite predictions managed to live passed 25, and now 30, but raises doubts about making it passed 40. I even have my doubts about Pauly, although I’m sure Garrick will outlive us all, his life punishment to live as an eternal hermit, watching each of us pass away.
The sad part of life is watching all those who you care for most pass on with you condemned to push on alone, growing old on a park bench feeding pigeons bits of bread.
I keep thinking this may be my last chance, and that Louise has come back into my life to save me. But then, this may only be the glitter of fool’s gold, a lonely man’s false hope, struggling with the illusion that I might yet find happiness in this cold world.
Louise has returned to this part of the world, but I’m really ready.
I never will be. So let her come. Maybe part of the Sixties is still smoldering in my blood, enough again to inspire love.

Monday, April 14, 2014

I remember: recollection from 1966

December 15, 1982

I remember:
            Walking with two cents in my pocket and scared to go back, scared of school, the glitter of spring popping up inside me and out, green buds nosing their way out of dull brown earth and among the trees.

I remember:
            Losing my way along the tracks, the rusted steel and rotting wood, the pebbles and stink of oil, the chopped down trees and red brick, and the smoke-stained backs of crumbling buildings

 I remember:
            The dread I felt, not from that one football player that always wanted to beat in my face because I mocked him, but all those faceless people who wandered around the school and halls, unaware that their faces had been taken.

I remember:
            Sitting on the great lawn in front of Lambert Castle, my hands and pants cold, the feel of the yellow grass like tongues on my fingers, the senses that this was the first step towards a great journey West.

I remember:
            Thinking of California, dreams of palm trees, warm days, Disneyland, and the ocean, pictures of each floating around in my head, and losing them as I rose. There is something sad about having memories of things you never had.

I remember:
            Crossing over that molehill of a mountain as if it was the Rockies, my good shoes stained with mud, my new pants torn on the gravel and thorns, my shirt open trying to let in the sun.

I remember
            Climbing down, seeing the name West Paterson on the signs, being amazed that I had already gotten so far, Dylan had only made it to East Orange.

I remember:
            The streets that tumbled down like asphalt falls, finding the edge of the twisting, crawling, snake-skin Passaic river at the bottom: a foreign part of a familiar waterway, I had never seen.

I remember:
            Wandering the streets with factories on it, later called McBride Avenue, the war materials were made here, I thought, seeing the name Keirfoot.

I remember:
            The police car slowing, and the face of the cop glaring at me, and my lying, telling him that I only had a half day at school that day, and he saying, “But it’s still the morning,” and how I tried to convince him that I had the first half off not the second half, and then lied again by giving him my best friend’s name as mine. Somehow, I still don’t know how, he knew that me was me and called my uncle.

I remember:
The shame. The silence. The defeat of being driving back over ground I had fought so hard to gain, each mile fading into a memory of pain, and my uncle’s enraged face at the end, waiting for me with a leather belt he vowed to use, lying to me when he said “This is going to hurt me a lot more than it will hurt you.”

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Los Angeles: November 1969

“The buss leaves for Denver in an hour,” a puffed face bus station man says, his collar so tight it makes his eyes bulge and his face look like a balloon.
The waiting room is a quiet racket of air-brakes and murmurs, Continental Trailways burning under my seat like a rash.
The bums, fresh from their Sunday brunch at the mission, gather to see us off, yolk still clinging to their unshaven faces like yellow blood, bleeding down their cheeks to their chins which they can’t or won’t wipe away.
I sit on the bench with them, a conspirator with my how chinning chattering, my teeth ache, my brain steams, soft boiled from too much thought, my want and desires imprinted on my imagination like a bad tattoo.
It is almost December, always that winter’s day the song from the stereo warns of, and I am the rock and the island, the soul for whom the bells toll.
A click of heals sounds across the scuffed bus station tiled floor, accompanied by the swish of nylon, and I glance up, stunned by the impact of lipstick-stained teeth.
The night’s ladies linger there until they get chased out by the cops, corporal saints committed to a curing crime.
The chink in their armor is a person like me, a great eastern sinner invading LA, waiting for love in a room too well air-conditioned by lust.
The driver opens the bus door. The balloon-faced man in his too tight collar waves for us to board.
I climb the steps, wearing the smile and the stain of a kiss I never got, a stiff serpent point the way up the narrow stairs, my mind caught stark edges of the platform and wondering if Denver will be any less start.
What is Denver anyway, but a sticky stone, a hard place, full of pounding stones, a place where my uncles wait, perhaps also the police, guarding the pass through which I must go to reach the other side/
Why am I doing this?
I touch the edges of the shredded letter in my pocket, a letter with barely legible writing, read into memory.
The bus smells of sweat and old wine, as cigarette smoke hovers over the tops of the seats.
The driver is a big man with brutal lips and a savage smile, his face pounded flat by harsh reality from which he had to rebuild with a blueprint.
I find a seat and sit, silent, waiting with money in my pocket like a parishioner in a church, with only the open sky above the terminal as a steeple, riddled with stars, and carbon monoxide for incense.
The bus burps and bumps and backs out, air brakes hissing and squealing, lights above my seat flickering on, and I am finally gone, to the heart of the mountains, to the waiting mystery of Denver.

April, 1971: First time in Scranton

The only reason we headed to Scranton that spring day in 1971 was because we knew half way up into the Ponoco’s along Route 80, we would never make it to Portland in our home made camper.
It we could not get this big wooden box over the sloped edge of these low mountains in the east, how could we expect to get it over the steep Rockies out west?
Even on these smooth roads rising out of the Delaware Water Gap the wind blew us from lane to lane. So we pulled over onto the side of the highway, unfolded a map, and looked for large swatches of yellow that indicated large population areas.
We did not want to get stuck out in a rural area after what we had encountered in similar landscape of Northern California. Even this late, some people in this part of the world still hated hippies.
Even then, we drove north warily, remembering a from a week earlier the New York State cop that had rousted us at a rest stop for our sleeping there over night on our way back from the Canadian border. And that was allegedly more hippie friendly New York.
Pennsylvania, we figured, was bound to be worse.
But it didn’t feel bad as we rolled up and down the rolling hills that led into the east side of Scranton. It felt refreshing after having lived in the cluttered Lower East Side for the last six months, even though I was stuck in the back of the box for most of the trip, peeping out the back door at the road we’d already traversed.
We barely made the trip up the hill to the final drop into Scranton, stopping at the look out to ponder our chances and to debate whether we should heed the warning signs that claimed no trucks should try and make the descent.
Just to get there, we had to get out and walk beside the truck as it struggled up to that last peak. Riding down would be more like rolling a stone, and we were not sure the brakes would hold and we could stop once we started rolling.
But they held, and when we reached less steep landscape, I saw two and three family houses along either side.
Mike, Marie, Louise and the baby road in the cab of our strange pick up and camper, and so got to see the whole journey I only saw in reverse.
Mike, who did nearly all the driving at this point, pulled over several times to talk to freaks he spotted on the street. At one point, Louise came into the back with the baby and so leaving us both to lean out to listen to what was said, debating if we should be involved in the discussion. But it had been a rough trip on the baby already, and she was finally asleep, and so we waited until Mike’s face appeared at the door.
He was a shy man really, despite making the FBI’s most wanted list for a week or so (and later would get that distinction again when the feds ran out of killers and rapists, and had to settle for non-political rebels to hunt,) and angry rebel who had already lived his life in frustration and hadn’t yet reached the unbearable and untrustworthy age of 30 (he must have been 25 then.)
He grinned at us, and told us that he had found someone who might be willing to trade an old car for our box on wheels, a vehicle that might manage the next 2,900 miles to Portland, when the box clearly could not. He said these people would also allow us to spend a few days at their place if we wanted to rest after the grueling first hundred miles of our trip west.
Louise, being concerned about the baby, said we should. She looked so much like the Madonna with Christ Child at that moment, I could not decline, even though I had some doubts.

I did not know that this town, this amazing haven in the hills of northern Pennsylvania would loom so largely in the future, and that it would become a place of refuge later, and a place to which I would come often, sometimes in extreme joy, sometimes in utter misery, but always leaving me changed.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Wicker baseket

May 10, 1978

Wicker basket, its old weaved rites
Warms the winter stews
Helps the flame keep burning bright
And paint its shallow hue

Shades the glare of cool spring light
As you drink its brew
Until August suns fade from sight

And bring on something new

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The right (rite) of Spring

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Blue Jays and cardinals battle for bird seed in my back yard – both chasing the sparrows away.
With winter over and the budding started, the sparrows come in packs like cockroaches, wiping out each bird feeder filling with their outrageous antics.
But they fear the blue jays, and cardinals, and so stand back to let these royal beasts feed – first one, then the other, never the two at the same time.
All these rituals acted out in good faith, as if they had rules of order that we humans can barely perceive.
This is the weekend when this part of the world made its final turn from the chill of late winter to spring, this winter ignoring the calendar so as to stretch out over us with a constant threat of snow, and with a chill that still resides in my bones even with the temperature finally rising.
I’m always anticipating change before it happens, and so took a trip to Manhattan aboard one of the roach-like shuttle buses so I could catch a strange but wonderful movie about a strange but wonderful hotel in a time period leading up to the first World War.
Rain poured down the whole day and since we arrived early, we had to walk about trying to find shelter from the storm – first at the Starbucks to buy coffee, and then inside the cavernous halls of the Port Authority.
This was not the place I recalled from when I was a kid, but something more like a shopping mall, and it depressed me a little to think that time alters all things and paints them in shades of some new generation.
The movie said it best in its story within a story. The hotel had been past its prime even in the deepest level of story, and so it is true of this part of New York in which malls replace places I once considered a refuge, and which had helped me escape my fate when I was young, the starting point for my great migration west, and the destination point when years later I returned to suffer the consequences of what I had done.
The place and the people had shown me kindness, a forgiving nature I’m sure the world today lacks, except for rare corners, where a person can still find forgiveness.
Eventually, we wandered back into the rain, avoiding walking up 42nd Street and its flood of open umbrellas for 43rd or 44th, so as to enter Times Square with less of a rush of people, although people still bumped into us the way they did that one New Years when Frank and I mistakenly thought to come here to celebrate.
I’m lost in crowds, even when they are less furious. As so I clung to the side of the sidewalk where the walls of the store provided one side of me with protection, and gradually made my way back to 42nd Street and the walk back to the movie theater – taking refuge in this historic place with its historic dome, and seeing all of the people here the way I saw sparrows at home, flocking together, struggling to make their way through this maze to some source of soul-food they might find on the silver screen.
But there were so many screens and dreams to choose from, and ours proved to be on the top floor, giving us a choice of multiple escalators or a single ride in an elevator. We took the latter choice. We had no choice on return since the elevator ceased working, and like sparrows, we crowded onto this moving stairs for the long journey into the depths, the silver visions of dreams from the screens still flashing in our eyes, even when we finally reached the street and the rain, and the stream of open umbrellas making their way in the direction of the Port Authority.
It wasn’t until the next morning that I noticed the first flowers, rising up from the bed of leaves, or the half empty bird food container, and the hundreds of sparrows in the branches of the trees, all waiting for the escalator to bring them down to feed.