Monday, March 31, 2014

Ocean breeze

Aug. 3, 1980

A cool ocean breeze whips into the shore, its brisk slap hinting of Autumn <197> still a good month and a half away. An alley glows in the early morning light, full of bottles and trash, and perhaps a few bodies hidden beneath, a cool moon still lingering in the sky while gently yellow light creeps in from the rising sun. I turn down one alley, the round top of a temple floating ahead like one huge sea shell waiting to be drawn out with the tide. It's shell of tan and green painted metal bears the faded red message of ``Jesus Saves.'' They even have that here, I laugh, but the salt air robs ieven that of its freshness, making the message seem like a 1930s languishing emblem like the Cocca Cola sign or the Coppertone naked bottom.
 The ocean roars loudly with the early morning sun, a infuriated noturnal lion enraged by the end of his reign, its breath vaccuming up cups and sandwich wraps and loose gull feathers. There is little lack of these as the wobbling, clumpsy creatures stumble into unhurried flight, leaving a trail of feathers as they squabble over scraps.
 A terrrible loneliness reigns here in the morning -- though any place can be lonely, even with the crowds. I have walked many sand bars feeling this way while around me millions burried themselves in sand, or struggled to catch wildly tossed frizbees in their grab for happiness.
 Yet this loneliness has a differnt touch, resounding in my footsteps as they stride over the concrete onto the wooden planks of boardwalk, their thud echoing hollow in my head as I walk. It is emphasized and underlined by the laugh of irreverent gulls and the watery giggle of the pigeons, bobbing at my feet. The tanned faces of the few wake strangers offer no relief, their hard eyes struggle to stay open after a night at the clubs. They whinse and crawl by me like snails whose shells have grown too heavy over night. Each refuses to even look at me as if each had pennies over his eyes.
 Even the lovers do not look, cuddled onto benches with limbs entwined, cooing like excited pigeons as I pass. I envy them. Years ago, I spent a week lost on beaches such as these, looking to coo like that, looking to make some poor girl's eyes as sore as my eyes felt. Sore as a gull's cry. Sore as a stone locked into a beach and beaten by the repeated ways. Sore as the pull of my pants and throb in my chest. Even that had a hollow sound as I think back. The pain has not completely vanished over time, it has simply faded like the Coca Cola sign into a scar that only bothers me now and then, when I hearing the ocean calling.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Midnight meeting

Thursday, March 27, 2014

After a while, the faces blur and what the voices say falls into a murmur of repeated phrases that don’t always make sense.
To be diligent, you have to stay, and listen, even when you struggle to stay awake.
But when the clock ticks towards the bewitching hour, this gets difficult.
What they say is important, if only to them, and it is a duty to remain with them through the ordeal as a show of faith in this Democratic process we lost faith in after so many headlines of corruption, each a soldier in a war against complacency.
And tonight, of all nights, what they saw matters more as groups line up behind nervous unelected leaders, who come to raise Cain over this issue or that, over a questionable developer or the closing of a school, or even something as simple as a big brother traffic light.
This is a war of attrition as each little group takes a stand against the group many elected to make decisions, sometimes winning their point, only to lose the battle, sometimes – as is the case tonight – forcing the contestants to abandon the battlefield for another day, another night, another round of speeches we each must endure if only to save Democracy.
Everything is personal in this world, and we are all struggling with inner and exterior demons, those spirits that have somehow dedicated their soul interest to save or doom or souls, a democracy that debates in the chamber inside our heads, usually after our eyes have closed and we think we get our rest. And though we sometimes claim victory, we must admit the struggle that we undergo at those times after the clock has clicked passed midnight, when we are left to our own devices and must come to a consensus inside ourselves, having heard all of the pronouncements and judgments, we ourselves have made, and find that in the end, when we are most pressed to take a final vote, we generally win the day.

So that the morning after – whether it be a real morning such as the one I wake to this morning – or after some change of season when spring springs upon us finally, we realize we have survived the tempest and can still get on with our lives, and we realize that all of this, the struggle before and after midnight is what life is all about – decisions made and lived with, only to be re-decided again after the clock strikes twelve.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A day off the grid

Sunday, March 23, 2014

I dropped my phone yesterday after leaving the Coach House Diner. Spring has sprung and with my usual spring time cold, I guess I was in a bit of a fog and so could not keep grip on the device that has become such a part of my life over the last few years.
The phone survived the fall, but the battery popped out the back and landed in a puddle of water – thus becoming in operative.
Such is technology’s biggest flaw. For all the idiots I see riding bicycles and running pedestrians down on sidewalks in their effort to reduce the carbon imprint, we all have made things infinitely worse with our collection of “devices,” so that we undo with our texting fingers that we supposedly make up with our arrogant wheeling.
Anyway, with wounded phone in hand I went to the center a block away, purchased a new battery while also paying my bill – although in truth, some other fool at the head of the line had such as problem as it took all the attention of the one person working there that I had to wander off for a time to check out the Salvation Army before returning to get my device fixed.
In the meantime, I’m sure this frustrated the NSA to no end not to know where I was at that moment, and was sending their array of satellites overhead to search me out the way the rest of the world was doing for the plane lost in the Indian Ocean a whole day a way from Union City/North Bergen.
This idea that these jerks can be trusted to look out for our best interests makes me laugh. We’re still trying to justify the fact that the CIA when no one was looking decided they could torture people in the name of freedom, ignoring the basic precepts of the Bill of Rights. Can we trust people who have infinite power and no accountability to resist their own savage urges?
I think not. Especially when we have a president who always wanted to be James Bond when he was a kid, and now that he has the power to do so, has given these same jerks license to kill. Which is worse: a president who allows the CIA and NSA to torture people, or one that likes to send them off to kill them in secret?
I had a heated discussion with a coworker over red light cameras – or for that matter the array of private security cameras that have taken the place of big brother over the last two decades.
Of course, human beings can’t be trusted to do the right thing. The choice of right and wrong is always the great challenge in our lives, but it is the rising above the base human instincts, the ability to choose right over wrong that gives our race its greatest potential, what makes good people stand out in a crowd of selfish, mean-spirited savages that gives the world hope.
There will always be people who choose to ignore rules, to place themselves above all others, to want to run red lights, sell dope, murder or torture people. But generally, as Snowden has shown, the ones we need to watch are generally on the wrong side of the cameras.
As much as I hate all the cars that roar down my street, I hate more the idea that we need to control them through some elite police force that knows better than we do what is right or wrong, and that by force of camera or gun or water torture, will control us against our worst instincts.
True, some people do not learn from their mistakes. Most don’t. But those that do evolve, who grow up and become powerful forces for good, aren’t motivated by someone holding a gun to their head or watching their every move.
My colleague argued that there is a difference between private and public spaces, and that the state has a right to watch what we do in public. I disagree. We do not shed our basic rights for privacy the way we might a coat, taking them off when we go outside.
And how are we to know who are the truly heroic, the people who will choose right over wrong, unless we give them freedom to choose without intimidation and without constant supervision by a pack of power hungry secret agents?
Teach people to be good, then let them earn the right to be called good without holding their toes to the fire.
If they prove us wrong, then shame on them. But we will never tell the good from the bad if we watch everybody all the time. We’ll only create a race of people who will never come to make the choice on their own, and will walk around like robots, doing and saying what people expect, and when no one is looking, doing what they want anyway, and most likely, not good things.
So when I finally got the new battery and paid my bill, I still could not get reconnected to the NSA, since the new battery needed to be charged, and for a brief time walking the streets near the Coach House Diner on this fantastic day in spring, I fell off the grid.
And it felt wonderful!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Is it Spring yet?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

I always get ill this time of year: turn back the clocks, change the smoke detector batteries and break out the cold pills.
It’s not allergies; it’s wear and tear.
The pattern is always the same: I suddenly lose energy doing small projects such as trimming the tree out front of my house.
I’m so exhausted, I flop down in bed and think, “Man, I must be getting old.”
While this is in fact truth these days, I felt the same at 25 doing similar chores.
Cold’s sneak up on me in this cat and mouse game in which I am always the mouse, and I always fall for cold’s simplest tricks, presuming that I simply need more sleep.
By the time the real symptoms emerge, I have already concluded I’m on death’s door and made out my final will and testament.
This reflects the inside and outside of the change of season, when I struggle to break through the last crust of ice to that region of warmth I’ve craved for since first frost in the fall.
This is a right of passage.
I remember moving into my apartment in Passaic on March 1, 1978, a cold water flat that had me huddling around a gas heater and wondering what the hell I had gotten myself into – a long month that dragged on me until spring finally sprung.
This year, winter clung on with all its claws, dragging me down, leaving wounds on my back that won’t heal fully until summer.
With drizzle predicted this morning along with near 60 degree temperatures, I assume, but do not take for granted, that I have managed to pluck off the last claw and can make my way into a warmer world, sniffling with the aftermath of illness that clings less rigidly.
It is not the pills that cure this ache inside and out of me, but the realization that I have survived yet another winter to witness another spring. For this, I am extremely grateful.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Luck of the Irish?

Monday, March 17, 2014

I got a sore neck from trimming one of my trees Saturday.
Since the fire and the threat that nearly blew up the house two weeks ago, I’ve turned into a handyman again – just as I planned when I first moved in, figuring to save money by doing the small things – such as trimming tree branches.
These are the branches in the front of the house – not the back which largely fell down during the Halloween snow storm in 2011 (which left me sawing wood for months). These trees in front have become the haven for birds – a conversation tree from which they also poop (not on my car, but any car that is unfortunate enough to park in front of the house).
The branches have played havoc on windy nights, brushing their fingers against the gutters like haunting spirits I cannot escape; spirits that wake me in the middle of the night so near to my bedroom window does their touch come.
But it is those branches that have grown entwined with the power lines that I fear most, thinking that a heavy gust will leave me in the dark. For all that we have advanced over the last century, we are still very primitive when it comes to wires – strings of which hang everywhere and become the victim of wind or frost.
Armed with a ladder and a long pole, I took to the task little realizing that I would have to look up for so long that my neck would ache for a week.
Age is finally catching up with me. I’m no longer able to sustain the level of energy that I did at this time twenty years ago, and so after an hour or do snipping off the branches and dragging them to the ground, I was forced to rest.
I noticed the ache when I ventured out to cover the parade yesterday, but  thought it would ease as they day wore on, and it did, but rest last night, brought it back this morning again worse than even yesterday morning.
I keep thinking of the old men in the general store complaining about their aches and pains, and the ointments they used to make the pain go away.
I used to work very physical jobs, truck driver, warehouse man, dunkin donuts baker, each creating its own impact. I remember throwing out my back a few times when I had to hoist the huge caldron-like steel bowl onto the bakers table in order to loaf and roll out dough. This usually happened on days of cold and wet -- this time of year.
The worst was that year I worked in the wine warehouse where I fed a convey belt with cases of wine  and other booze, and had to adopt a yoga regiment in order to loosen my back before going to work, and then do the same routine afterwards to keep my back stiffening when I went to sleep.
Later, I used the routine as a warm up for jogging, and still use the routine from time to time these days, but did not get a chance to do it over the weekend – thus my aches and pains.
I doubt I could survive long in Ireland or Scotland where cool, wet weather is a near constant.
I did eat like an Irishman yesterday, cabbage and turkey ham, with a bit of mustard on the side.
I did not wear green yesterday, except briefly – putting on a pair of glasses sent to me from a friend. I am not wearing green today. I remember the mistake I made when jogging in the early 1980s when I went jogging along the Passaic River wearing an orange t-shirt, a true sin to any of us southerners in that orange symbolizes the north and those Irishman who sided with the British.
My leg feels better and I’m debating taking up jogging again if and when the weather finally gets warm enough.
I keep thinking about how lucky I am, having survived so much – including the resent carbon monoxide and natural gas build up in house, just when similar more fatal disasters have struck others not far from here.
Maybe it’s the luck of the Irish.  Perhaps it is just dumb luck.
What’s the old saying about God looking out for idiots and children? I’m clearly not the second.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

It’s sure been a cold, cold winter

Saturday, March 08, 2014

I woke warm this morning for the first time in months.
Of course, I had my cat, Seasick Sam, licking my eyelids because he was hungry and I got up late from staying out too late.
The eye-licking is a new strategy for the elder cat, who has gone through a number of tricks to trick me out of bed when I sleep later than I should. Sometimes, he just falls on my face when he can find it. Whenever I cover my head to avoid him, he finds the air hole and shoves his face through it so I wake up breathing fur. This is more subtle stuff for the aging animal. In the past, he simply found my hear and let loose a blood-curling scream in it. The first time he did this years ago, I leaped out of bed looking for the banshees.
Sam got his seasick name later in life.
He was an outside cat that had laid siege to our front porch chairs until they were his chairs – at cat so dripping with odd sorts of liquid he always seemed on death’s door. But he tended to become the nanny of every new batch of kittens the neighborhood produced and kept them warm through winters such as the one we just bore, until they wandered off into their own lives. When the Jersey City animal control decided they wanted to scatter kittens around the city rather than actually do their jobs and collect them, we wound up with a batch of cats, some so sick they died within days, but not Charlie, who Sam adopted as his step son (and who has since replaced Sam in the front porch furniture, neutered and safe, although not willing to come indoors.)
For two years or so, Charlie was raised by Sam and by another neighborhood cat we called Crazy. Crazy got ill and we took him in, but not in time to save his life. At that point, the always apparently ill Sam took a turn for the worse and we thought he would die as well and we took him in – even though he dripped from every facial cavity so that he looked as if he was spinning webs.
His mouth and eyes were crusted with odd sores the vet was never able to complete cure when he brought him in.
Fixed finally, he refused to leave our kitchen. In fact, he refused to leave our kitchen table, until we brought in one of the padded lawn chairs, and for months, he lived on that in the kitchen – slowly recovering enough that the drooling and dripping ceased, and he looked a bit more civilized.
He was never unfriendly. At his worst, he wanted to stick his face in mind when we sat with him outside, purring like a kitchen, never fully realizing how disgusting this dripping was when encountered nose to nose.
Eventually, he discovered the rest of the house and abandoned the kitchen chair for more comfortable furniture elsewhere, but always arrived in the morning with the 6 a.m. alarm clock to remind me that he needed to be fed.
One day, he couldn’t walk straight. He kept falling down. We thought he’d had a stroke, and assumed he would soon die. The vet said it was some kind of ear infection that screwed up his balance, and we medicated the cat. But recovery was slow. Always seasick, he struggled to eat. But he soon discovered a way of walking without falling over; he leaned against walls as he walked. Eventually, he recovered even from this and because as regular as the alarm clock when it came to breakfast.
But over the last year or so, he has lost some of his vigor and his voice, and so has taken to new and equally effective strategies for rousting me out of bed in the morning. His tongue isn’t rough like many cats, but it is wet – and it gets me up as readily as his previously harsh voice.
And this on a day when I’m warm for the first time and I can sleep in late, and want to, and need to, but Sam being Sam won’t be denied, and so I am up and feeding him, just as I have the whole of the cold winter that that seems to fade around me – and once up, it is impossible to recover the warm mood I had before the wet lick.
Coffee anyone?

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Invisible dangers

Saturday, March 01, 2014

We’d smelled the scent of something odd for a few days – odd being an odd description for a vague smell that we caught in the upstairs bathroom usually early in the day.
What it was and it’s potential did not register, perhaps suggesting its effect on us without knowing.
It’s the silent things they say that kill you.
Not until much later did the memory of the Gale Place explosion occur to me, how an ordinary house on an ordinary street can fill up with something invisible until some spark causes it to explode.
Last week, an ordinary merchant went down to his ordinary basement and died there because something invisible crept into his lungs and denied his brain the oxygen needed to comprehend his danger and to spark inside him the necessary flight urge to escape.
I thought none of that when I came downstairs to take my morning shower.
The sound from the boiler room – a tiny enclosed space off what formerly served as the TV room – bore a strange crackling sound, and the scent that had been so vague previously filled the space if not yet my lungs as I moved to the door to where the boiler sat and yanked it open.
Later, a fire official told me that opening the door on the enclosed space, likely caused the invisible gas to wash over me and to fill my lungs.
I saw the fire inside the room, flames pouring up from the bottom of the boiler and along the sides – a tiny voice in the back of my head saying this was dangerous – but I was numb;
I ought to turn off the gas, I thought, but could not figure out which of the valves to turn, even though I was inches from the one I absolutely knew would turn it off.
I had become stupid – a certain sign the official said that I had already succumbed to the gas.
“You’re lucky you didn’t pass out,” he said. “You would have died.”
All I thought at the moment was how can I stop the gas that fed the fire, and the idea of turning off the thermostat upstairs occurred to me, and I fled in that direction, an accidental reaction that apparently saved my life.
While the other, deadly invisible gas had permeated the house even upstairs, its effect was less, and I managed to twist down the knob to stop the fire. My head cleared, although foolishly I returned to the basement to see if the flames had ceased.
I could have passed out in the process. I didn’t, and fled again once assured that the house would not catch on fire at that moment.
I called the gas company. Then the fire department, and then stepped out onto the porch to let – if not clear air of Hudson County – pour into my lungs, then fresh air.
In the hours that followed, the arrival of the fire department, and then the gas company, and then finally the news we would have to replace the furnace, all I heard on the radio were warnings about installing carbon monoxide detectors.
I kept thinking about the poor store manager in his basement, and how stupid he must have felt, knowing something was wrong, but unable to detect what it was. I kept thinking of the house on Gale Place that had burst with a spark after natural gas filled its three floors.

I kept thinking how lucky I was to still be alive.