Monday, June 30, 2014

Art circle

July 8, 1980

Pauly grumbles over tea as he recounts his troubled time with the art critics at the Boonton Art Fair where the snobs of the Boonton Art Council discounted his work as “cartoon.”
He sounds hurt, and I understand it.
Poe hated these highfalutin art critic types, the “art mongers” who made their living drinking the blood of real artists, and yet lived like kings.
Pauly is hardly a starving artist, living in a house rent free at the top of the mountain, where he gets to putter around daily in his garden before he makes his way to the post office at the bottom of the hill to mail this off or that, spending most of his time in a library smaller than the tiny train station across the street.
Pauly needs remote places away from the hubbub to create. I know other artists and writers like that, who ache for some kind of retreat where they can get away from it all in order to stoke up the engines of creatively.
He did not do well when he lived next door to me in Passaic, always being distracted by the rattle of water pipes or the bratty kids banging a basketball against the side of the building.
Pauly is silent for so long I think he might never speak again. I want to tell him we might still find a piece of land where we can make his dream come true, maybe up in Nova Scotia or along the Canadian border like we once planned.
But in truth, I would be miserable there.
I would drive myself crazy with the silence and the distance. I need to be up close to what I write about, eye ball to eye ball, dragging my notebooks to barrooms where the worst or best characters reside, pissing off strippers who hate the idea that I love words more than I love looking at them, which isn’t true – or at least only in the limited way they mean it. They (that preponderance of the washed and unwashed that make up this world) are everything to me and without them, I have no art, and my imagination would starve to death.
This is not to say I don’t find inspiration in the remote at times, suffering through terrific storms or feeling the intense isolation at the very edge of a beach, seeing something in every grain of sand or every lick of wave that none around me see.
But people in their own environment mean more to me than anything, from stripper to bank president, even the range of folk I deal with at my job.
Everybody I meet is an inspiration, someone I need to paint with words, some more than others, some I can’t resist, others I force myself to document because I know that if I don’t do it, nobody else will.
And sitting with Pauly in this café at the end of the world, I wonder what the art critics would say about what I do, and whether I would be like Poe, cast out to the dogs, to fend for myself, unaccepted in the upper art circles because I choose things that seem too ugly or real to ever get accepted as art.
I tell Pauly to forget those assholes. Who’s going to remember any of them in a hundred years anyway?

Rain like honey

July 7, 1980

I can pay some of my creditors all that I owe, all of my creditors, part of what I owe, but I can’t pay all of my creditors all that I owe.
But I managed to throw them enough meat out of my student loan check to keep them from tearing me to pieces this week.
So I feel less like a fugitive than I usually do.
The note on the refrigerator tells me my girlfriend has gone off for a walk and that she misses me.
I went for my morning jog, sun on my back, wind on my face, churning up inspiration daily labor tends to devour as readily as my creditors do my student loan.
The spirit dies with thoughts of work – which still lies ahead of me like gray clouds of an approaching storm.
It is a gray day with a promise of rain I can’t enjoy except for a brief respite near the loading dock door where I might stick my hand out and let the wet weather lick at the tips of my fingers, which I lick, tasting the honey of life I constantly labor for.
The river shimmers in the early morning even without sunlight, and I am caught in an eddy of time, a flash back to that time when there was a Mayor Kramer in Paterson, and Dave and I played river rats not far from where I jog. Kramer – a Republican – is running for something, a mayor twice of Paterson, who has aspirations to become something more important. His signs litter this side of the river even though his world is on the other side, Paterson still filled with horror stories his second term could not cure. I knew him from when Hank and I hung out on Market Street waiting for the bus to New York, and from when we worked at the theater, and it seems ironic that he would retake his place in city hall in a few years ago – with money pumped in from the federal Republicans, who ached to have a Republican mayor in an otherwise Democratic town.
The world is changing, and he is an icon to a past that no longer works, a hope for a future that can no longer take place, the hip model of peace and love extinguished by the harsh reality of gas and food shortages, and the rise of drugs no one anticipated when Hank and I wandered the streets of Paterson or Dave and I came here.
This river is the only constant, it’s dirty water flowing at my feet, carrying away the hopes and dreams of older generations to bring in perhaps fresher water from rain that has fallen up stream, rain that people can stand under and absorb without fear, rain I ache to strike my tongue without needing to stick my hand out from a loading dock to catch.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Full of holes

July 6, 1980

The storm is over.
At least the one on the outside is.
Life inside and out is a series of small squalls, each tossing me this way and that like a tiny boat out in the depths the sea, while waiting, looming above in the gray sky, and below in the even grayer shopping water, monstrous storms brew.
We watched last night’s storm from the shelter of the Music Pier, admiring the intense beauty, the sharp tinges of color that slash across the dark, cracks of electric blue brilliant against the black backdrop of billowing clouds, lightning (followed by roaring thunder) revealing each crevice of that alien landscape, painting planes far better than even Cezanne could.
But the real pleasure in watching the storm is feeling safe, secure as we were under the roof to a porch that if did not keep us completely try, kept the worst from us, allowing us to survive and make our way back to more secure shelter as one squall left and before the other arrived.
This morning, I hear the street sweepers clearing the debris the storms cast about.
I keep thinking today is Monday when it is not. The Fourth and its deceptions play havoc with my sense of time.
Or is it that we are caught up in such habits that when they get disrupted, we are lost at sea?
These storms deprive us of habits that have become – like shells for hermit crabs – homes, and when the storms pass we must rebuilt them, sorting through the detritus of ruined clothing and furniture, reconstructing floors above and below, putting in new windows we can stare out of and still feel safe as I do now, upstairs, looking out at the street and the sea, as my girlfriend wrings out went clothing left on the porch during the storm, just as I did earlier when I woke.
We get the water out, but not the sand, and we will travel north with the grit still gnawing at us until we can do a more thorough job, at cleaning, at rebuilding our lives, perhaps replacing the clothing the storm and sand has shred or punctured. I feel so full of holes sometimes, and ache for storms if only for the relief of feeling safe at surviving this storm or that, and not caring about the aftermath.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The open door

July 6, 1980 (recounting an event from 1958)

They always left that door open, those strange neighbors of my married uncle where he lived up in West Milford.
And it always bothered me each time I went up to visit for a weekend or a week (the length of time depending on how much trouble I’d gotten into recently or whether my mother was acting up in the hospital and they needed to keep me calm.)
Half swung in, this was a small cellar door with four dirty panes, and a large gray shackle for a padlock – which hung from the unlatched loop like a silver drip.
It haunted me each time I saw that door, and made me ache to go over and shut it. I kept thinking something might come out that I didn’t want to see, some terrible, gruesome beast or monster. But it is exactly that which kept me from going there.
Sometimes, sleeping in a room on that side of my uncle’s house, I heard the lock rattle in the wind, or the rusted hinges groan.
In morning, I would glance at the window for some sign of the beasts I was sure had wandered out and come near to the window where I slept. But I saw no sign.
I also never saw sign of the neighbors that supposedly lived there, and presumed they stayed in the upper spires of that old house.
When I came down to breakfast with my uncle and aunt and their batch of kids, I must have looked pale. My aunt asked if I felt all right – presuming I was upset about my mother. My uncle, grumbling from behind his newspaper, told her to leave me alone, meaning that I had to learn to deal with life’s tragedies. He was always such a practical man. I dared not ask either about the house next door or its strange neighbors, or why they kept that basement door open all the time.
So on this particular day when I went outside after breakfast, I could not stop staring at that door. Its gaping hole was like a hole in me.
And so I started towards it, grimly determined to shut it, my small feet stumbling over tuffs of grass growing between the stones of the walk, kicking them by accident so that they clattered ahead of me like an advertisement.
I cringed with each unintended sound and the door grew larger at my approach, as did the windows above, dark and dirty, so that I imagined each of them framing faces that looked down at me.
I shivered even though it was hot. The palms of my hands sweated as I came face to face with the hole in the world and reached in with my small hand to grasp what seemed to be a very large door handle.
I yanked on it. The door, groaning like something dying, came only half way before catching on some stone embedded on the dirt inside. I kicked the stone, and then pulled the door again, slamming it, causing a shudder to ripple through the whole house. Then I ran like hell back to my uncle’s house, and around the other side where I didn’t have to see it, shaking when I got there as if the temperature had dropped to below zero, and yet filled with intense pride.
In the middle of the night, I dreamed of groaning and moaning, and fierce monsters that were pounding on the door to be let out.
When I woke in the morning, I stared out my window only to find that someone had opened the door again.

Chanel is dead

January 11, 1971

Gabrielle Chanel is dead.
I don’t know why this matter since Louise and I have other things to worry about, but it seems ironic – we living on the Lower East Side struggling to keep our heads above water in our new, more expensive apartment on East Sixth Street, as the world mourns the woman who has become synonymous with class.
Even the manager of Ratner’s seemed upset when we stopped there for a meal, and then later got so sick from food poisoning that we thought we would die as well.
My Jewish boss uptown refused to believe I got sick from food I ate as one of the more famous Jewish eateries in the city – the East Village restaurant, not the one near Chinatown.
But we did get sick and since the only food we had that night we bought there, one and one equal two, and we struggled during our walk to even keep our balance, Louise and I leaning on each other as we walked from the East Village to Washington Square, stopping at a drug store on Eighth Street for antacid.
We split the roll in half, and devoured each lozenge as if we were junkies.
By the time we reached Broadway again, a block from the Astor Place cube, we were bent over, drawing dark stares from bored cops, particularly because Louise was very obviously pregnant.
We should have gone to the hospital, and would have, had we enough for the taxi fare. (No way we were going to go on a subway in our condition).
But the time we got back to our apartment, the antacid had started to work. But we must have looked incredibly bad. George, who was just getting ready for his walk up to the Fillmore, stopped and asked what was wrong.
We told him, he shook his head, saying he never eats in that place.
We vowed never to do so again either, although as my boss insists, it couldn’t have been that place that made us sick.
My boss refuses to believe rich people ever do anything wrong, Jewish or not.
But by this morning, the pain and the trauma was over. Louise said she felt fine, as I made my way out to catch the subway to 96th Street and work.
But I’m writing this instead of eating lunch. I still don’t trust my stomach, even when the food comes from a corner deli I’ve eaten in since my getting this job just after Christmas.
Better not to take chances.

As for Chanel, my boss, was as upset as if his own mother had died, and greeted each of his rich customers as if holding his own private wake, saying how sorry he was for her passing, and how much she will be missed. I’m sure he never met her, but I’m also sure he wishes he had.

Friday, June 27, 2014

A small beach with green stairs

July 4, 1980

Green painted wooden stairs descend to a short narrow beach bordered by sharp, grey wet boulders on one side and the slimy spikes of rotting waterlogged wood on the other.
The small beach with coarse sand limits the number of people who can use it, crowding everybody into a box-like space.
I can hardly breathe despite the still breeze gushing in from the sea, and I wonder why we came to this place when we have the whole ocean before us.
This thing emphasizes the differences between us.
I am uncomfortable with the rush waves, the regulation that beats this beach with each beat of my heart, so regular that there is little room for anything else.
My heart beats at its own pace, and resents being forced into a box like this, just as it resists beating to the tick of a clock, the regular routines of when to rise or go to sleep, when to punch my time card in, each tick of clock or lick of wave, closing me into some existence that is not existence at all.
All this seems too small to me, and I think, there must be some way to live my life without being forced onto small beaches like this, to be worn away over time by the steady beat of the waves like the rocks are, turned into tiny grains of sand, fated to fade.
I need to live for myself, a statement that sounds selfish when I think on it. I need more control over it and its habits, and find myself feeling the intensity of the seagull cries as they weave in the air overhead.
I have always been foolish in this way, resisting being put into any box I haven’t chosen for myself, or limited to boundaries other people set for me.
She likes the regularity and predictability of such a world as this, being able to calculate what comes next, if not always, than for the majority of the time, like an insurance broker setting odds over what calamity is most likely to strike, and by knowing this, steering as far from its path as possible.
But my life is an open beach with new ideas whispering across the sand with each gust of wind, filled with promises of something more, something grander, something I might not get but will never stop struggling for, and something I won’t find on a beach like this.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Standard bearer for the state

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The flashes across the sky started when I walked out of City Hall last night just before midnight – the threat of a coming storm that would not arrive until just after I got home, and then came in a gush of rain and rumble of thunder.
The meeting depressed me because it told me that the city I’ve come to love is no longer a city I can remain in for long – destined to become so dense as to become the largest city in the state. And this is being sold as a good thing.
But it is more than just overcrowding and the rise of skyscrapers that will fill the air with peaks and the streets with people. It is about social invasion – a concept I saw in Passaic more gently, and in Manhattan which was more violent, as young wealthy shove their way into old spaces and by default of their numbers and their income, push out those who have invested their lives in those spaces as they are, not as they will become.
One such soul said she could not afford to buy a brownstone, but wanted to live near the park and so willingly supported the construction of a building that would destroy the texture of the neighborhood she so desires to live near.
Other younger, even wanna be young urbanites supported the closing of a street as a pedestrian mall, even though the block contained vital medical services for the elderly, not merely to recreate the Greenwich Village feel overdevelopment has already destroyed in the area, but as a foothold for a new concept of development that would slowly work its way along a one-time viable shopping district after construction of a mall near the waterfront diverted customers from its stores.
This is social warfare as one generation shoves the next generation out of the way, something we have not seen in this town, but has been going on in Manhattan for decades, generation gentrification that will not end well for the older generation that clings to these streets as home.
Even the earlier gentrification that marked the streets I walked along to reach my car is at risk, as the march of tall buildings encroaches on the village-like setting that attracted so many creative people, and like the nearby town of Hoboken which went through this already, there will soon be no room here even for the artists that many claim they came to this space to be around.
It is new vs. old, and the new has control, almost reckless in its ambitions to rival New York across the river, to become the standard bearer for this state much the way New York is for its own.

The big question in my mind as the thunder started and I climbed into my car for the drive home: what is it a standard bearer for?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Fog on the boardwalk

July 5, 1980

The fog swirls over the boardwalk like a warm, wet kiss, pressing up and inside of me with each breath I take.
This flimsy veil parts as my limbs pass through, revealing the subdued colors of seaside buildings beyond, each pointed edge protruding, and yet caressed.
The gray planks groan under my footsteps, muffled moans echoed by the seductive whisper of a sea I cannot see except in glimpses.
I walk through time as I push aside each layer and let each layer close behind me, always looking for something beyond this translucent fabric, something my fingers can curl around, my palms can hold.
The heavy air makes me breathe pant, a one man parade on this otherwise empty ocean side in Ocean City, New Jersey.
The wind, when it whips up, casts debris across my path, the detritus of the previous day when crowds filled this space, and devoured it, and its offerings to the gods.
All now is wet and raw as I push myself into it, invading it slowly, taking its salty scent in like a sneak thief stealing something previous I know I can never give back.
No hawkers announce anything this early on such a day, only the forlorned cry of invisible gulls, shrill voices filled with the same ache I fell.
Everything here is like an oyster, gray and filled with the promise of some secret treasure, some previous pearl I might find it I probe deep enough and long enough, though I search for simple pleasures in this world filled with pale shredded fog, aching less over the fate of humanity than my own humanness, seeking not wisdom, but a steaming cup of hot coffee that will open my eyes and perhaps let me see passed all the veils of illusion – some of which I have created for myself, some that others cast before me, the seductions of life, made more desirable because they are hidden from view, coming up like empty, pearl-less shells when I finally pry them open and devour the sweet meat they provide.
But this is not like the place where I live, even at the height of season, and people do not rise up with dawn on days like this, and the stores I thought would provide for me remain shut up, like closed eyes along that side of the walk as I walk, though I know somewhere in this, beyond the fog there is a place if only I walking long enough, press hard enough, and cast aside enough layers of fog.
There is a bit of justice in all this since I could not resist sneaking out of the house where she and others sleep, drawn out by my own sense of urgency, with the foolish belief that it might find relief here, when all I’ve found is a veiled world dancing before me, teasing me with flashes of real things beyond, but never revealing enough to satisfy my curiosity, always holding out some new promise behind new veils I must cast aside again, and again, while I breath deep the mists.
And yet, I would have it no other way. I do not want to see too clearly or believe that there is no promise for the future, even if it proves an illusion when I get there. Sometimes it is better to parade through a fog with the hope of finding something, than to know with absolute clarity that there is nothing to find.

And so I stroll this boardwalk looking for something I may never find, kissing and being kissed by a fog that perpetually seduces me. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The cool girl and the rebel

December 3, 1981 (an account recollecting events from 1967 through 1971)

I was never cool in high school, the way the cool kids were. Unpredictable, temperamental, rebellious, yes, but not cool.
This is why I never understood why this pretty chick named Denise had a crush on me.
I think she mistook my going to Greenwich Village as hip when no one else went there, or had hair as long as mine. I was in the village so often, I often didn’t get back home in time to go to school in the morning.
I could never figure her out, a blond chick with big boobs who always wore black, and always had every sort of cool kid sniffing after her, from the hot rod, Camel cigarette boys to the leather jacket gigolos with switch blades.
She would see me in the hall, and start after me, and generally the boys who were trailing her had some issue or two to settle with me and I had to take to cover.
Once or twice, I saw her off school grounds, near the head shop in Paterson where Hank and I hung out. She was always looking for some bit of jewelry or some dark shade of lip gloss that would make her seem mysterious.
Most often, I saw her face framed in one of the school bus windows pulling away from in front of school, just after I got back from playing hooky. She always waved, wiggling her fingers at me, and I generally waved back.
A few years later, after I had gone underground to avoid being busted for stealing some money (a long story told elsewhere) I saw her again. In the East Village, dressed in black and a kind of star along a few blocks where everybody was something other than they were. She was trailed by a pack of wolves that were not the usual sort, but that make believe hippie that had emerged when it really became cool to have long hair and flash peace signs.
I don’t think she saw me, although I had changed very little, wearing the same kind of jeans I always wore, my hair as long as it was in school. Maybe it was because I traveled these days with Louise, who was pregnant. We had come back from the West Coast so we could be near Hank and where we would have support when the time came for her to deliver the baby.
I never pointed her out to Louise, maybe because I still had a thing for Denise and didn’t want to admit it.
I worked uptown, and sometimes saw Denise when I came back off the subway at Astor Place, strutting around the Bowery like she owned it.
Then, in mid March, Louise delivered. Hank and I spent the better part of the night trying to get in to see her – with guards, who didn’t like hippies, telling us to get the hell out. Eventually we found a guard who agreed to tell how Louise was, and whether my child was a boy or a girl. Then he threw us out, telling us to come back during visiting hours the next day.
Hank and I walked down First Avenue yelling at buildings. People thought we were drunk, and I guess we were. A cop car pulled up to the curb and told us to shut up. We toned it down and made our way towards East 6th Street where I lived.
My bones ached, and so did my heart. I wanted to be with Louise and our new born, and was impatient for morning to arrive.
We ran into Denise near St. Marks Place. She seemed bewildered and still didn’t seem to recognize me until we passed her, and then I heard her call my name. I turned, she leaped into my arms.
She looked different, less bouncy and most assuredly stoned. She wore long sleeves, but I suspected these hid tracks. Her hair was limp and stringy, and she looked a little faded, ghostly even.
She clung to me, and cried.
Hank looked at me, frowning.
“What are you on?” I asked.
“Nothing, just a little acid,” she said, “Maybe some smack.”
Then she told me how great I looked, and suggested I come with her to a party she was headed to, lot of drugs, and where we could talk about good times. She made it clear she wanted to do more than talk, and an old tugging inside of me made me want to go along, just for old times’ sake I thought, just to see what it was I missed back when I was too stupid to pay attention to the girl wiggling her fingers at me from the bus window.
I told her I couldn’t, but didn’t explain why. She made me promise that I would look her up later, and insisted on scribbling down her address on the back of some receipt I had from work and shoved this in my front pocket where her fingers remained longer than necessary.
It felt horrible leaving her like that, but I stumbled away, yanking Hank along with me because he seemed interested in going to the party in my place.
He asked where I had met her.
I didn’t say.
I just walked and stared straight ahead, trying to remember where I was going and why, trying to think of what I had to do in the morning, and who I would meet, and how good that would make me feel.
I never did see Denise again.

Ocean City

July 4, 1980

I can hear the ocean from here, a hushed breath rising and falling as I linger at the edge of sleep, my breathing somehow out of time with it, while around me, in this house, in this city, all others breathe in and out as if part of that never ending sea.
Everything seems so pure here, so fresh, so clean, filled with that seaside twinge I always feel whenever I come this close; I vibrate with it; I taste the bite of salt on the tip of my tongue each time I breathe in.
I listen and feel, keeping my eyes closed at first, as waves of air wash over me, stiff on a bed in a room filled with beds, my limbs pressed against this mattress as if some powerful body pinned me here.
I hear water pipes rattle and gush of water from the kitchen sink in one part of the house, telling me someone else is up at the hour many call ungodly, just at the winking of dawn.
It is not that I fear to move from the bed among beds in this room with one closet and many windows looking out at the streets the sun paints pink, but the discomfort the morning ache brings, and the need for it to settle down before I hobble up.
I am unable to face people in this condition and breathe deeply waiting for it all to change, the ocean falling slowly inside of me with a hiss of foam I cannot see.
This is not Passaic or my cold water flat where I live like a bear in a cave, drawn out of hibernation each morning to the rumble of trucks and the exploding of fireworks or gunfire (I often cannot tell which is which). I cannot hear the river there like I can the ocean here, leaving all other sounds muffled and filled with the intensity of potential, ready to explode, but unsatisfied.
Over night, I heard the dribble of rain on the roof, dreams filled with moisture and the scent of changing air, visions of things I cannot have here, yet crave none the less. The rain ceased long before I became conscious enough to miss it, and I struggle against returning to sleep which will satisfy me less, and devour this special time of day when I am at the edge of collecting some treasured moment I can only get here and now, and not when I get back to where I actually live.

I linger and long for the ocean, feeling its rhythm slowly seduce me, drawing me in and pushing me out, stirring up my blood until I throb with it, and come to it like those around me have, swaying in the sea breezes until I succumb.

Monday, June 23, 2014


December 12, 1981 (recounting my February 25, 1972 wedding)

Hank once called my marriage ceremony the most beautiful shotgun wedding he’d ever seen.
Considering the fact that it was my family doing it and not the family of my intended bride, this was a remarkable observation.
But any wedding where the guns aren’t visible is a beautiful wedding.
My uncles, of course, kept looking at me to see if I intended to bolt. But after two and half years of running, I was worn out.
Hank, my best man, stood in the church vestibule reminding me of the fact that Louise was late and that my uncles were getting nervous. I blamed my friend Garrick, who had volunteered to drive her to the church because Garrick was late for everything.
Hank, who kept lifting and replacing religious books from their slots on the wall, reminded me that Pauly was with Garrick. I told Hank to stop messing with the books, and so he went over to mess with the holy water, splashing some over the side of its container.
Then I heard a car door slam and peered out the window, seeing only an old lady with a dark veil tugging on the door I leaned again. She looked startled to see me standing there when she finally got it open, holding her umbrella as if she wanted to hit me with it. I gave her a weak smile and held the door open for her.
Hank splashed some more holy water, and told me to calm down and that brides are always late.
This wait was nearly as bad as the wait getting out of jail, waiting for bail, waiting for the guard to turn the key in the lock, waiting for the arrogant guard in the property room to let me sign for my possessions.
Up at the other end of the church, the priest waited, too, fiddling with some vestments. My uncles squirmed and glanced back down the aisle at me. I shook my head.
Uncle Harry, who had volunteered to serve as the father figure in this strange farce, came into the vestibule just as I made my way to go out to the street, demanding to know where I thought I was going, and when I told him, to look for my bride, he told me to stay put.
“It’s cold out there,” he said.
The chilled February breeze pushed through the partly open door more indignantly than the old lady had. I closed the door.
These men with their invisible shotguns scared me. I blamed them for driving my mother mad, and driving my father away, and driving me nuts with the persistent phrase “you have to do the right thing.”
This though pissed me off, and shoved the door open and went outside anyway. He didn’t follow, a shivering Hank did, shaking his head at me.
“What’s with your uncle?” Hank asked. “He told me to get the hell away from the holy water.”
At that moment, the maroon Chevy pulled up and five figures popped out its four doors. Louise wore brown. Garrick, a burly man, wore a sports shirt, work pants and sneakers. Pauly wore his usually flannel shirt, jeans and sneakers. Behind them, and better dressed than any of us came Garrick’s girlfriend Jean and her daughter, Lauren – both chattering at Louise.
Pauly told me we needed to get this thing over with quick because he had things to do, drawing a sharp remark from Garrick who said “like smoking pot and listening to Bach.”
“I like Bach,” Pauly said.
Jean told them both to behave.
Louise was already crying. She had called her parents to invite them, but they had said something rude and hung up. Pauly said something rude about her parents. Jean told him to shut up. I complained about them being late. Garrick blamed Pauly who arrived at Garrick’s house an hour late.
“If you had told me to come an hour earlier, I would have been on time,” Pauly said.
Jean told them both to shut up again, and then ushered them into the church.
Louise and I held back, looking at each other, realizing how much we had changed since we had first met, but already aware that something important had passed that a marriage ceremony wasn’t going to bring back.
Behind us another car door slammed and strangers climbed out, looking at us, as we looked at them. We went into the church.
My aunt held our daughter’s hand near the front pew. We – Hank, Paul, Garrick, Jean, Lauren, me and Louise walked up into the altar area, where the priest had use form a semi circle. Someone was crying near the front and I realized it was my mother. Most others waited as the priest read off what we had written for him to say, what he had added to, more of a hippie wedding than anything traditional, nothing about enslavement, nothing about eternity, just peace, love and understanding.
Louise looked at me, and I looked at her. We knew it couldn’t last, but at that moment, with all the echoes of the priest’s voice around it, it didn’t matter.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Freak out

November 29, 1981 (recalling an event from 1971 – this is from a college journal. I have other accounts of this incident)

“I took too much,” I told Louise.
She stared at me as if she was on LSD and not me.
The world had started to change, going terribly wrong when all we had wanted to do was celebrate Louise’s birthday.
In LA I had taken so much acid that it had become a little like eating the tabs of candy off of sheets of paper the way I did as a kid.
“You build up a resistance,” Dan Newhaul told me back then.
So I didn’t think much of taking two four-way tabs when my friend from the messenger service offered me some.
Louise, who was as fond of acid as I was, seemed peeved at not being able to take any now – you can’t take acid when you’re pregnant.
Then I didn’t think about it any more, and took the long walk from East to West Village to have dinner with her at some posh little Italian place we really couldn’t afford, even sipping a glass of wine or two before making the long trek back.
Fillmore George (aptly named because he worked as a state hand at the Fillmore East) invited to his apartment up stairs to partake of weed and endless sessions of The Grateful Dead, which we did, and where I started to notice things going off, horrible changes in the faces of my friends I’d never seen in previous trips, flattening from both sides until they were all nose and ears with eyes popping out their sockets to hand by their optical nerves.
“How much is too much?” Louise asked, a tremor real or imagined crossing over her expanded belly where our baby rested inside of her. I tried not to look at her face, fearing it would look like the other faces.
“2000 mics, maybe more,” I said.
Her shrill voice sounded like a siren in the dull softness of the room as she called George over, he stirring from his lethargic haze to make his way to where we sat near the window.
“What’s up?”
“I think Al is freaking out,” she said.
The words send a chill through me and I pressed myself back against the couch as the images got worse and even more terrifying. I saw the fabric of reality growing frayed before my eyes, leaving me in a void of blurred shapes and mumbled words.
The Dead, which had seemed so lackluster when I was straight, pounded on the sides of my head with their music.
Then from somewhere beyond the room, I heard the sound of sirens, and jumped up to look out the window where I saw a dozen police cars pulling up in front of our building and dozens of cops pouring out to come get me.
I ran to the door.
Everyone in the room turned to look at me as I fumbled with the door knob I could not manage to turn. None of them had moved. George told me to calm down, saying there were no police. My throat went dry as panic rushed into my head. People had talked about people losing their minds on LSD. Louise touched my arm. I told her I was scared, but didn’t bother telling her that the walls were melting and that flames shot around me, scorching my skin. I told her I had to leave, and she nodded, helping me on with my coat. The smell of lint was suffocating.
“We have to find Hank,” she told me as we made our way into the hall and down the stairs to our first floor apartment.
But I was too scared to face the street and the walk around the block from 5th to 6th street. Looking out the glass door, I could see the cars turning into beasts with gapping, hungry mouths looking to feed on me. I knew too well about the muggers and rapists, and thought I could not protect Louise if any came after her. And I told her I couldn’t face them.
She looked scared; I said I might be able to sleep it off, when I didn’t know if sleep was possible at all.
The drug was rushing through me like a freight train its whistle blowing steam out of both my ears.
“Monee,” she said, referring to a local prostitute who had befriended us. “She can get you something to bring you down.”
Hope surged in me thinking that Monee’s Black Panther friends would have something to relieve me of this madness.
So when we got out onto the street, we turned right instead of left, heading into an area of The Lower East Side that was as dangerous as any part of the city, a hostile world full of even greater madness that would crush us if we made it too obvious as to how vulnerable we were. The dark brick tenement buildings bled from suddenly exposed veins. Grim faces appeared in the brick, grinning at me, or crying with some private agony I did not understand.
Was this what my mother had gone through during her years of madness, seeing walls turn into people and people into walls, losing touch with feelings and senses and thoughts. I remember when I was nine she thought the walls were talking behind her back, plotting doom against us.
I clutched Louise’s arm as we passed doorway after doorway, one more ominous than the next, each revealing the red eyes of some beast ready to leap.
A year earlier, I had seen similar eyes in similar animals staring at me from the back of a van in Phoenix, the same drug pulsing through my veins at the time, not so terrifying them as they were now.
Then Louise shoved me into one of the doors and through the vestibule and up the stairs. I felt like the six-month old baby again, crying from my crib in Paterson after my father put me down and vanished into the blackness of the room.
Monee chased out her company telling them she would give them double next time, and then led me into her apartment, a place of shimmering black walls, red curtains and bedding. She asked Louise what I took, and Louise told her – as I felt the acid burning me from the inside out, flame pouring out of my veins, melting my fingernails and my skin.
“Can you get him something to bring him down?” Louise asked.
Monee wasn’t sure, saying that her dealer was out of town and the only other son of a bitch she knew was a guy named Spooky, and Spooky hated her guts.
Her voice stopped like an eaten cassette tape and I tumbled head over heals in space, my stomach revolting with the threat of vomit, my head twirling around on my shoulders like a top.
Monee went to her dressed and came back carrying a pistol, one of those guns people would later call a Saturday Night Special. The room exploded with the slamming door as she left. My voice sounded distant, my spirit floating above me like rising balloon.
Monee had laid me down on her bed and so I watched the room spin, and eventually closed my eyes, only to open them to hear other voices.
“Do you think he’ll be all right?” one cold voice said in a room that was no longer black, but clinically white, with doctors and nurses hovering over me, staring down at me.
Monee’s chest bulged out of a doctor’s outfit as she held a glass of water to my lips, saying, “He’s a strong boy, he’ll do well.”
Louise stood near by holding the hand of a child that looked about two years old, a child who kept calling me “Daddy.”
“He’s making progress,” another voice said. “Two years and he’s already learning out to speak again.”
I mumbled. The words came out as gibberish, a child’s first attempt at speech.
Please God, I thought, not knowing what it is I prayed for. The long faces over me simply stared. The child reached out to me to touch my arm, but the fingers turned into a claw.
I woke the next morning to the same black and red room with a still pregnant Louise half asleep in the chair near the bed. My head ached. Monee was half asleep in another chair still dressed the way she had been for her previous caller.
“I’m alive,” I said.
“Yeah, you’re alive, you asshole,” Monee said. “But if it wasn’t for your fuckin’ old lady, you’d be long gone.”
Louise sighed a happy sigh and fell back to sleep, the bulge of our child shifting as she shifted, still waiting for her own moment to arrive.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

It could have been me

June 20, 1980 (about an event from 1972)

We dragged him out of his house to meet her, telling him we had something special we knew he needed, and he being who he was had no idea of what we meant, even though she did, and wanted to do it because he needed it, and her boyfriend, our best friend, cheated on her so much, it was all right for her to do it with this one – if only out of pity.
While I pretended like I was one of the conspirators, and in fact, had help organize the whole thing, but the whole time felt like our best friend, and felt justifiably jealous, wish she was taking pity on me the way she was taking pity on our friend, her mouth around my mouth, instead of around his, me inside of her the way he would soon be.
Our friend lived his life in one room and didn’t think he needed anything beyond it, having made a dip in his old coach that he fit perfectly into, and knew the route to the refrigerator and bathroom so well, he could make it there and back in the dark even before the TV commercials ended.
We knew better than he did, and I knew better than we how much he, we, me needed to be with her – at least once, to make something better happen than just cheer of one TV program coming to an end before the next one started
And during that whole drive to where she lived, I saw him in the back seat through the rear view mirror, thinking about how good he would soon have it, how much he would enjoy it, and how when it was over he would be a different man, unable to go back to his old life, or to watch another TV show over some stupid TV dinner, and I kept wonder how much he would take to let me switch places with him, not telling her or our best friend about it, until she felt me beside her in the dark, and I imagined just how it would feel, just I had imagined it a million times, always feeling guilty about me thinking like that about the girl my best friend loved, and how much more pleasure I got from thinking it anyway, and how much pain I felt now, when I knew it was real, but it was the real for someone else not me.
And when we stopped the car and we walked him to the door and we rang the bell, he still had no clue as to what we were up to and so did not know how good to feel, just as I knew too well how bad it felt when the door opened and her hand came out and pulled him in, and we went back to the car to wait until it was over, me imagining every moment I was missing, and hating myself for missing it, hating myself for wishing it was me, and hating him the man for whom we were doing this for being there, when I could not, was no brave enough to do what I got him to do, and later, during the long drive back to drop him off back at his apartment and his couch, how horrible the silence was, how I could not look up at his happy face in the rear view mirror, and how long I would think about that moment – perhaps always, perhaps thinking it could have been me.

Dust in rain drops

July 3, 1980

The rain returns this morning in a gush through the gutters that shakes me awake from some dream I can’t remember, only feel, and I wander out into it, looking up at the gray sky that hovers overhead, so low I could almost touch their gray surface with the tip of my fingers, and ache to curl my palms over them, or suckle from the clear liquid that drips from their lips to mine.
But I also feel pinned in by this oppressive gray, like a captured butterfly, my limps spread, and pressed down, as this body of gray presses down on me.
Nothing stops the rain or the wind that whispers promises it never intends to keep, and I settled behind the steering wheel to stare out a windshield smeared with the muted colors I feel inside and out.
This unseasonable chill bites deep into my bones, and stirs up the ache I thought I had left in bed with the dreams, as if I have not yet woken from the dream, and wander through it, tasting the teasing breath of something I yearn for, but cannot grasp, this thing that I need to press myself into and let it consume me, but eludes me, the kiss of rain on my cheek, the touch of wet on my fingers, the taste of pleasure on my tongue.
Outside, the wind struggles to stir up a moist landscape, shaking the wet limbs of trees until they drip, lifting the clinging fingers of newsprint that won’t let go of the earth, needing to extract yet some last gasp before being shredded, their desire so deep they seek self annihilation rather than surrender.
Homeless men huddle under dripping garage roofs like zombies, their gazes lost in some thought I dare not think, though my imagination stirs up some fantasy of love lost, and their choice to wander the earth in search of the souls they can never regain.
Shop keepers growl at them as they sweep the stoop of debris, the wet grip making this a chore as they stroke and stroke again and still can’t achieve what they want, news print filled with stories of woe I feel even without reading them, of world changing events that changes nothing in my world any more significantly than the rain does, as I cling to the pavement of my life, having nothing better left to cling to.
I am filled with washed out headlines and memories of tales that no longer matter, but not the throbbing over what once was, and might be again, if only the rain would let me limbs loose and free me to let the wind stir my edges up and send me somewhere else in a tumbling, bumbling dance I do not wish to predict or know where I might land.
And yet, I feel new, perhaps renewed, or want to feel that way, savoring each wet kiss of wind as if lured on into some potential satisfaction. The red ink I write with smears with the moist touch of drops I hesitate to taste for fear they might taste of salt and tears rather than rain.
I am like the homeless men, huddling here, longing for something I cannot have, but also cannot define, a mingling of limbs or minds, and not knowing or caring about which one I get first, as long as both come to ease this ache that is always with me
And this rain that falls down upon me and my world is like the uneven beat of my heart, which skips beats and hurries ahead only to slow down and drain, and leave me feeling empty and abandoned as one of the rattling bottles on the sidewalk, wet and expended, but still filled with need.
They say there is a grain of dust at the center of every rain drop, leaving its stain on the world even after the rain has ceased, leaving its stain on me as I stare out and long for more.


Friday, June 20, 2014


June 17, 1980

She stands in the rain.
The gentle drizzle wets her dark hair regardless which angle she holds the umbrella.
It is a chill drink she’s sipped for four whole days, making every day seem like the verge of evening.
She thinks of him and the things he said that made her warm inside, even with the rain.
She aches to tell her best friend about it all, a friend she’s not seen since the Friday before the weekend, and waits now for her to pick her up and drive to work.
The road is slick and the cars slide over it and the slippery layer of oil the train has stirred up.
And she worries a little about her friend, and the road from there to here, and she worries that she won’t arrive, and she won’t be able to tell her of this new man, this man with warm words that makes her feel warm inside.
But she waits, and let the rain paint her face as if painting tears, cool, hard flicks of rain that wets her dress and the flesh of her chest, and rubs against her with wet cold fingers, the way he rubbed his fingers over her.
She can still feel them, and the rise they brought about in both of them, and the warmth they caused inside and outside, and causes her now, if only to think about.
He says he’ll see her again, and she believes him, or at least wants to if only for the need to feel warm inside again.
The rain comes harder against her. Her face is moist. So is the space between her thighs, but not from rain.
She is scared her friend won’t come, and he won’t, and this makes her shiver as the rain beats a little harder on the stiff surface of the erect umbrella, each drop a drum beat, each drawing primitive feelings up inside of her she can’t completely explain. The heavier rain turns the street into a river, a broth with white foam rushing along the curb at her feet.
She sees a car slow, but it is not her friend. She blinks and thinks it is the man she hopes will come later, but it is not him either, and it passes with fading tail lights in a growing midst that seems more inside her than out, caused by her overheating – like the windshield of car that steams up, and she blames the clothing against her chest and the rain against her thighs, and the thoughts she has for what she will do when she finally does come.
And in the wind and wet, she no longer wants her friend to come, but him, and knows that she will be disappointed when the wrong person comes, and at the destination she must go to, and not the place where she needs to go.
The rain presses in on her, wetting her from head to toe, and the warmth to grow inside of her, impatient, maddening, frustrating warmth that will burn on until the right person comes to get her – if he comes at all.


June 17, 1980

The morning light flickers through the window and I blink.
It comes too quickly; I have just closed my eyes when the sun invades this darkened sky.
This isn’t Christmas Eve; but an unseasonable chill has me under my winter quilt and I feel its soft fabric against my bare skin, so smooth I grow taunt from it.
This night into morning is not like my waiting for the sandman to come as I often have done when young.
Sleep takes me without warning, a mean stalker that shakes me awake again with scalding sun.
I stretch and feel each rib, my stiff joints crack.
I don’t even know what day it is, and vaguely think someone should be shouting for me from downstairs for me to get ready for school.
But there is no downstairs, and the school I am scheduled to go to doesn’t start up again until September, and I must get there myself.
But I am 16 again, filled with all the urges and rages that come together only at this time of day, and I am aching with it.
I want to leap up and run outside, and through some grassy field I must find somewhere nearby, climb some hill, find some maple tree that will accommodate my limbs in its limbs and rock me in its wind.
I feel in the bright light for my abandoned trousers and sneakers and t-shirt.
I smell breakfast, but it is not my breakfast, but the sizzling of bacon from some other apartment in this beehive of cold water flats I live in, but this, too, stirs up only hunger that I cannot satisfy simply by eating, and I hurry out, into the car port, and down the drive, and onto the street, and across the bridge and down along River Drive, feet pounding the ache out of me until I am pumped up with something else, and the sunlight that comes too soon makes me sweat out the ache I wish I could satisfy in another way, heart aching for something else that the miles help ease out of me.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

In her eyes

July 2, 1980

Who am I? What am I? What am I worth?
According to Plato, the enlightened must return to the simple hills out of which they were bred, these caves, these hallowed bits of darkness, and they must teach.
But I am no teacher, just a man with many flaw, and promising makings of a future life, of some potential life.
I am sometimes a fool, seeing my own pain reflected in the eyes of others.
Does self importance come from that?
I suppose it does, that we maintain, even grow in what we see reflected back at us in other people, and we must read what those tattered looks mean.
What others think of us matters regardless of whether we wish to admit it or not.
Her thoughts matter.
But she hides her eyes behind her intellect, and leaves to guess what she thinks, and since I can’t see for myself, I have to take her word for it.
She is a bigger rebel than I am – defying not just her middle class upbringing and the kind of internal slavery women suffer, and so sometimes, I have an enemy and denied again even that sense of what I am to her in her eyes.
We need to build each other, but I have to earn every brick I lay, and I often stumble under the weigh of the chore.
I struggle not only with my own vast ignorance, but with her knowledge – and fear each time I make a mistake that it might be the last mistake I am allowed to make.
And all I really want to know is who I am and what I might become to myself, to her, and to the world itself, feeling now insignificant and unaccomplished, knowing that at some point, if I do see myself in her eyes, I might not like what I will see.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

They’ve killed McMurphy

June 29, 1980

I still see my aunt, sitting on the edge of my bed, telling the four-year-old me that my mother is ill.
This concept comes as a shock after nearly three decades of learning what ill meant, and after having my mother insisting a few years ago that I take her to see “One who flew over the coo coo’s nest” for her to see if they got it right.
I could have told her as much myself from having spent a few days in Bellevue’s mental ward as the aftermath of a bad trip.
They almost got it right.
She thought so, too, but said McMurphy – the character I admire most of nearly all fictional characters – got away with too much for too long before the authorities did what they did to him.
Perhaps my mother was right. I had a very hazy memory once they pumped me full of tranquilizers and anti depressants and led me upstairs, a memory so much like when I went to jail that I sometimes confuse which is which, door after door closing behind me, telling me that there was no easy way to get out again once they got me where they wanted me, the echo of footsteps resounding before and behind with the sound of doom.
“How can I tell you this so you will understand?” my aunt said, biting her lip as she tried to explain how Graystone had gobbled up one more victim.
But even at four, I knew, just as I knew a few years later when I was six or seven and watched my mother swallow a bottle of pills she should have taken only one at a time twice a day, and she shouted at Ritchie, her brother, when as usual he over reacted, and how my other uncles surrounded her in the kitchen as my grandmother with shaky hands dialed the phone number for the police.
I squirmed under the kitchen table amid the legs of chairs to a point where none could reach me, wondering if this “illness” was contagious, and vowing to not let them take her back to Graystone again, unable to keep my eyes open, and so woke in the morning in my bed and my mother gone from her room down the hall.
Although I had never seen the shock treatments she underwent, I had seen the machine they did it with in her doctor’s office in North Paterson, a horrible device of torture filled with dangling wires, and dials that regulated how much torture the victim would undergo at that particular session.
And though I had vowed not to let her go, and failed, I could not overcome the onslaught of sleep, and found my aunt once more sitting on the side of the bed, repeating the words she had spoken only a few years earlier.
I never meant for McMurphy – who faked mental illness to get out of jail – would become my hero. He just is. A man who didn’t fall asleep under the table. The man who fought the system in order to save someone else from a similar fate, a man who eventually was rescued by a big Native American Indian by giving him the only way out of all those doors after the system had ruined him.
I recall all my mother’s bouts with madness, even the trip when I was two or three to Ohio, she trying to shush my crying on the Greyhound bus, and how when we arrived, we came into Canton, then being reconstructed, and how we stayed in some cold water flat, and how scared she was that my uncles would find her there. I don’t remember how we got back, only later, when we lived on Carroll Street in Paterson, amid her madness, and I somehow hoping it was all a bad dream. It was, one from which I woke up with my aunt beside me telling me, all will be well, and that my mother was ill.
And though my mother is stable now, I keep thinking back to the inside of that place, from what I visited her and she wasn’t sure of who I was or didn’t believe I was really her son, and that I might be a substitute, and still years later, me thinking of McMurphy, and how we all struggle to escape, never knowing whether it is us that suffer the illness, or the world in which we live.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Star light is bent light

June 16, 1980

Let’s say, she’s young.
That’s why she doesn’t understand – headstrong and caught up in the idea of love, dreams and a happy life.
She does not know the compromises people make when growing older – the job one settled for when the checks start coming in;  the man, one marries when the years go on without other, better offers; the children she puts up with because of loneliness and the  doleful husband’s arrival at home as lord of the manor.
So we spoil our children; then regret it.
So we lean on them; but make them think they lean on us.
She doesn’t know it yet. She can’t see the disappointments as they flicker by in her life, as dreams vaporize and we are left with wet hands from the bursting bubbles, dreams that die hard; but are also hard to catch.
She doesn’t know.
You try to warn her, to tell her about the bumps and bruises, the wounds and lacerations that will come into her life.
But they don’t listen at her age; they just turn and say, “Oh mother, stop being so dramatic!”
And they leave to find their dreams.
And she doesn’t hear the words her man is really saying, when “I love you,” really means, “I want you,” and “I care,” means for now, not forever.
She just laughs and walks into that world.
“Nothing is forever,” the world warns her, a world that hurls angry words at dreamers, insisting that they “grow up” or “face facts,” or “deal with reality,” when nobody really knows what reality is.
She doesn’t know that starlight is bent light, and that the world doesn’t fundamentally change and the dreams don’t come true.
And yet, sometimes they do, and she insists that she is different, and that star light is still star light, bent or not, and that the world does change every day, only some people just refuse to see it, and she walks towards tomorrow determined, with her dreams clutched firmly in her hand, willing to defy what others dare call reality,

At the edge of autumn

June 28, 1980

I pass this house twice in my daily jog, once going up River Drive, again during my jog back to Passaic.
It was a small complex of blond-brick buildings surrounded by a low wall of matching brick. Regardless of the season, it always reminded me of autumn, most likely because of the line of red maples that were strung along the sidewalk on the River Drive side.
The main house had a dark doorway inset with a round window above it of stained glass like a church, making it different from all the houses along that road, making it feel almost sacred.
The stained glass, however, wasn’t the kind I saw in church as a kid. It wasn’t religious at all, but was a broken geometric pattern that looked a little like the points of a compass – and that compass always seemed to point north.
The small property contained several smaller buildings, a garage made of the same brick and another smaller residence along the side street modeled after the house, but not so grand.
I don’t know why, but each time I ran passed it, I felt its age, as if it had come out of the 18th Century, somehow managing to survive when other houses that might have once been constructed during that time had faded away to so-called progress. The red maples with their perpetually win colored leaves seemed to stand guard over the place, giving strength and at the same time emphasizing its age, and of its connection to the earth itself.
While I never saw anyone come or go, or even any car in the gravel drive that led up to the garage, I always imagined someone staring out, some old lady lingering behind the lace curtains, like some frightened ghost living out a past life inside a world she knows and loves, rarely if at all venturing out into the changing world in which the rest of us had to exist. I imagined her dressed in black with a veil covering her face, as if she was the widow of some great and once powerful land baron.
The iron gates in front of the driveway and the walk up to the front door only made the house seem more remote, as did the brick walk to the brick front stairs leading to the front door with nearly perpetually yellowed grass to either side (never overgrown, suggesting someone cut it, but did little else). This, too, seemed in contrast to the other houses along that stretch of road where the grass was green and sometimes overgrown during this time of year, and the trees laden with green leaves.
I kept thinking how that widow somehow managed to make time stop at the time of her husband’s death, and how the house and property clung to autumn for her sake, and that winter would only come when she finally passed away – she knowing the old house will not see another spring.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A member of an exclusive club?

June 26, 1980

I’ve had this conversation before with the poetry elite on campus: although all poets may be equal, some poets are more equal than others.
This is basically what I got from last night’s reading up at the college, and a little more salt rubbed in an already open wound when it comes to who gets included in events like this.
I have problem with the Club 54 mentality that picks and chooses who gets into the inner circle, although I understand fully why it happens.
I get invited inside all the time – like I did with the St. Mark’s poetry crowd, who at the same time tried to exclude Michael. But this only gives me a deeper understanding of the old Groucho Marx saying: “I wouldn’t be part of anything that would have me as a member.”
I also hate pretension the way Poe did, and such gatherings are often soaked so deep with pretentious people, I keep reaching for a can of roach spray.
This was particularly true at this event in which the most pretentious poets got up before the most pretentious audience and read the most pretentious of poems.
One of the organizers read his work with such conviction I could only picture him as an ant stirring up an army of ant urging them to wage war, filling in each line with well-worn phrases I’ve heard uttered from his lips more than once.
I don’t question his conviction, only his lack of sympathy for the unwashed masses (from which I sprang), and his talk about how not all poets are “the same” or “deserving of attention,” this at a school in which all the excluded poets pay tuition, not some private party.
Even Roland, that West New York fellow I thought of as warm, fell in with the in-crowd once he received his invitation.
Roland was always different to me, someone with something to say, things he wants to do, people he needs to reach. He believes in love and pain, people and things. It’s just that he wants more, something beyond just the ordinary, something mystical that he can grab onto without much suffering or labor, and as a result suffers more and works harder for less. He once told me that he prefers the devil to god, and that he is destined to become a fallen angel. Much of this I get from his art.
Maybe art is an exclusive club.
I always presumed that if you work hard enough at anything, and get the right exposure, you can go pretty much anywhere you wanted – and that places like this because the breeding ground for new artists, places where they can safely expose themselves without fear of being put down.
But clearly I am wrong. Part of the lesson of surviving as an artist is how to handle being rejected by your so-called superiors, and learning to eat the dirt such superiors kick into your face in the name of art.
Of course, some poets are better than others, and the good poets will go on to achieve something in their lives if they are lucky.
But every artists should have a right to be heard, and I guess the best way to deal with snobs is to create an alternative universe where they – we – can have voice.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The concept of fatherhood

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Some years Fathers’ Day passes and I almost don’t notice – except for the card I get from my daughter.
The concept of fatherhood always a vague thing to me in regards to my own father, and only made real when I became a father myself.
These were things I thought during the drive to Scranton yesterday to see my daughter, and the belief that at some point I will end up living in Scranton as well.
But I also thought about the strange twists life creates at a time when I thought I had a handle on anything.
Until recently, I had lived my life as an only child, growing up like a tag-a-long on a family of uncles after my father left for parts unknown just after my birth.
Since the late 1980s, my uncles started to pass away from all the associated health issues many working class of the Great Depression era suffered: heart attacks, strokes, and such.
The closest in age to me died in 2010, far away in North Carolina. But it wasn’t until my Aunt’s husband died in early 2012 that the truth hit me: I was the last of a dying breed.
With the exception of scattered cousins and a few survivors of my mother’s cousins, I had only my daughter, her mother, and my wife as immediate family.
This was a time when I was facing mortality myself, having gone through several years of serious eye surgery, ending up near blind in one eye by the end of 2011, resulting in retina reattachment, and for several months had to wear a patch – which seemed to add to this sense of decay.
I felt like the last Mohican or worse, some pirate waging a losing war against growing old, and had too few family to comfort me in my old age.
I had tracked down my father eventually, learning that he had perished in 1990 of cancer, and had remarried at least once. But only over the last few years, did I discover other cousins on his side of the family, and learn, eventually, that I had half brothers and sisters elsewhere – and even got a chance to speak with them.
Since my ex-wife lost all of her family long before I did, my daughter had very little in the way of extended family and so her life was devoid of even what I had.
Driving west to see her, I realized that in some ways our lives had been renewed, new family to carry on some odd sense of tradition we really never established for ourselves, something to cling to as we take a longer trip later.
I still don’t know what fatherhood is, or how I fit into that concept, but I do know that my daughter and I are no longer alone, and that threads of our existence still stretch out over this universe we live in, weaving hope for some future neither of us will ever see.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Square peg in a round hole

June 25, 1980

I’m here and awake with an empty feeling biting at me, change swirling around inside my head like a chill breeze I can’t actually feel because of the heat wave.
I feel as if I can never go back.
She didn’t call last night, and I’m scared she won’t call this morning even when the clock reaches an acceptable hour.
She may never call me again.
Last night before she left I ranted on about working class hero I forgot all about her, and how saddled with her own worries she is, so that when I looked up, I saw she was crying.
I’m weary now, and afraid – a terrible combination.
She did leave smiling, but even that seemed a struggle, no smile ever really makes up for tears.
But then, she confuses me at every turn.
She doesn’t always tell me what she really feels so that when she does call, I have to listen for her tone.
She confesses a lot to me, but I’m not sure if this is her reaction to internal pain or love.
I’m not always sure there is a difference because the definition of love is so ambiguous.
I see imitations on the TV faces, and hear it coming out of the mouths of people who act out roles.
Everything seems as polluted as the river, with no way to make it clean again – with her or the world.
I ache for a river that flows clear through which I can look to the bottom and see all there is to see, rather than this murky, brown sludge through which we all must trudge.
I don’t even know how I feel.
Something stirs in my chest, harmonizing with my heartbeat, but I can’t absolutely define it as love.
It’s not the palm-sweating, below-the-belt kind of feeling I always associated with love, although that ache aches in me as well.
It’s not the dime store novel kind of love either – so easily described and later dismissed – although I also ache for life to be so simple as to be explained by a glossy cover with a provocative image.
I’m confused, trying to come to grips with feelings I don’t at all understand, trying to fit passion for one thing in the same box with passion for everything else, but it is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

It just won’t fit.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Just to keep up

June 23, 1980

My uncle Ted can’t be convinced of anything, he doesn’t already believe.
This is the youngest of five brothers and the one closest to me in age – and yet, we stand on different sides of a generational gap neither of us can or is willing to cross.
We each live by a different set of rules, his rules violating many of those things I believe in. He’s more conservative than even his father was, and yesterday, when I visited him, we argued over the right of a business owner – especially a small businessman – to fire an employee who gives two weeks notice.
He seems to have an adding machine in his head, calculating value of money over human value.
He and his brother, Harry, are very similar in that way, although Harry, older by about seven years, still has some measure of blue collar left, and respect for the little man.
I guess why these two brothers bicker so much and could not remain partners for long after grandpa died.
Ted was born in the middle of war, but aches for a post war success story he’s never been able to achieve. He often talks of Alice’s husband’s success on Wall Street as if it should have been him, and perhaps Ted was destined for a similar career when the draft grabbed him and sent him to Vietnam.
He worked at Pep Boys auto supply after high school and attended community college at night studying business.
Grandpa’s death brought him home, but saddled him with a small boat business and a way of life he hadn’t imagined for himself.
He learned capitalism the hard way, by needing to keep costs down. A great man with a great heart, he doesn’t see the need for government imposed social justice, while I do.
He might envy rich men, but he would not impose burdens on them, seeing their lofty salaries as just rewards for coming up with new ideas.
I think of him here at Two Guys when I hear the workers here complaining about how little they make.
“I just need a little more just to keep up,” Brenda tells me. “A quarter an hour more would do.”
And when the raises come, she might get it, but we all know the suit and tie men will get a lot more.
“Some people make hundreds of dollars an hour,” Bobby, the clerk, says, but he’s like Ted and envies them, and even admires them, and wonders just how he can become like them.
Each of them looks ahead to a time when they might “make it,” although I suspect that freedom as we all define it, is mostly for those who can afford it, and for the rest a mere illusion inspired by hope.
My other uncle Ritchie doesn’t believe a working man can make it rich regardless of how hard he works. But he distrusts the government as much as Ted or Harry, and lives in constant fear because he cheats on taxes. He also doesn’t trust banks and so keeps most of the cash he gets in big strong boxes he hides in other family members houses – this fact got me in trouble when I was younger when I stole money I thought was his and it turned out to be money Harry was holding for the mob. Fortunately, my uncles pooled enough to pay off the mob to keep the mob from coming after me, telling the police I stole their money instead.
Luck has more to do with getting wealth, or greed. Poor people tend to stay poor, and rich people tend to get richer. The system is designed that way, and unless you’re crazy enough to do what I did and steal it, or find some other way to get around the rules, you stay where you are – begging bosses for a quarter more an hour – just to keep up.