Saturday, December 26, 2015

Stalking Springsteen?

Saturday, December 26, 2015

They strolled the north end of Asbury Park boardwalk, pausing often to let people pet their rescued greyhound.
We sat on a bench after having walked several hours in Point Pleasant, and then through Asbury, searching for the usual clues from a past we came too late to witness for ourselves.
Those trips to the Stone Pony I took with Hank in the 1970s too vague a memory to count on, and that one trip through the ruins of the Casino in the early 1990s when a cold rain made it impossible for us to look more closely at what had survived the early wrecking ball.
He, an elderly man with a salt and pepper goatee, stood back as his wife talked about the dog and how it had raced for years in Florida as a champion, but might have been killed – because that’s what the racing industry does to dogs when they can no longer race.
“You can only race them for five years, and they then have to go,” she explained.
They hailed from Pennsylvania now, but he boasted of having been born here, his parents come to Asbury Park just prior to the Great Depression. His father was a window washer in a town with too many windows for anyone to count, including those in the Convention Center behind us.
“But when the Depression hit, people stopped caring about their windows,” he said.
His father took up another living moving things, which seemed to help the family some until one day while moving grand piano, he ran over his foot and crushed the bones, after which things went from bad to worse.
They were so broke that when he was born in 1936, they couldn’t pay the hospital.
“We’ve still owe them the $15,” he said with a wry grin as if he had gotten over on the system.
He was one years old when the family moved out, but he continued to return here, as if drawn back by some power he could not explain. The family took vacations here, and he continues to have memories of where things are or should have been, and sees them in their rightful place even though the wrecking ball has claimed most of them over the years.
“My daughter comes here four times a week,” he said. “She’s here somewhere today jogging. She’s consumed with Bruce Springsteen. Frankly, she’s here stalking him. Earlier this year – on her birthday – she was at the Wonder Bar when he showed up. It was the greatest moment of her life, she said. She just got tickets to see him in Philadelphia. She couldn’t believe she got the tickets.”
His bright eyes glinted as if he had somehow made an important connection, had passed down some great legacy from his own past, and his passion for this place and what it once was, his daughter finding an important connection to a town he loved so much he had to keep coming back, and their return on Christmas Day part of some mutual pack that said they will continue to share this treasure.
I didn’t ask him what he thought of Springsteen, since he was of a different generation, more Frank Sinatra than Rock & Roll, but I could see the joy in his eyes, this amazing Christmas present the whole family shared, daughter jogging through the fog on this warm holiday in December, while her parents walked a dog they had rescued, all somehow managing to save something important here, some aspect of Asbury Park they gave to us in passing.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

One giant step

January 21, 1984

Indeed, we are into the age of computers, tools like those which man (humanity) first learned to use, stones by which to make our bread.
Knowing nothing, I venture in, my hands full of data, my head full of confusion.
Pauly says, “They’re like babies. You make them do what you want.
He means this literally.
But I don’t even know that much.
What is this black bowl we have here, this thing that can do almost anything provided you know what to tell it?
“You’re only limited by your imagination and memory,” people tell me.
What I want is a tool that I can use to put out my underground magazine without having to rely on the mimeograph machines at school.
I know what I can do with those machines. But I stumble into this world filled with symbols and terms I do not comprehend.
What will this machine do that others won’t?
What are roms, rams, bits and bytes?
What is this empty space between the borders of my screen?
In a sense, it is an independent universe, and you are god.
This is a terrifying concept, and an intriguing one: man made machines capable of doing anything. Of course, there are limits, yet even within these limitations, there is a universe to be conquered.
For years, people have talked about lack of frontiers: no new worlds to venture in.
Yet in the back woods of America, boys, girls, men and women sit with their frontiers before them, some rebelling against the system, some hiding from exterior reality.
The social revolution the computer is bring stuns me. It almost a reversal of the industrial revolution. We go back to our homes again, attached to corporations, but no longer enslaved by them, and then, there are our minds – we extend ourselves now. He reach out and think with new languages, new means. This empty bowl before us is that part of ourselves which we never knew before, and we aren’t really gods, but aware.
Now the computer becomes affordable. It is more than a tool which we use; it is our minds reaching out into dimensions that never before existed for us.
Perhaps all that we see in the screen is nothing more than our imaginations personified. Yet isn’t that alone a miracle? Isn’t it grand that we can now project what we ourselves see so that others may see it as well?
Life in this then becomes grander and the future much more hopeful.

Yes, I am buying a tool, but getting myself back in the process.

Oh Christmas tree!

Sunday, December 06, 2015

People used to complain all the time about how commercialized Christmas has become, how we’ve tied everything up to how much we have to spend in order to maintain the American economy and forgotten the basic message of peace and love we hippies used to profess when we were young.
Now we try to destroy Christmas entirely, and not because we believe business over peace and love, but because some people hate the idea of religious freedom, and refuse to let it spill over into the real world where it might moderate some of the excess behavior we see in the news.
This councilwoman from a nearby town went into a near faint because her compatriots decided to keep Christmas in Christmas when they put up their annual Christmas tree. This is part of a trend, and something so ugly that it feeds into my basic belief that evil tends hide behind the mask of righteousness, and destroys what hope there is in the world by infecting good with misguided good intentions.
This councilwoman is not alone.
A whole pack of politically correct self-serving self-righteous anti-religion bigots tried to get the courts to rule against Christmas in Christmas trees, too, in their crusade to create a society where religious life cannot have an influence on the secular world.
They like this councilwoman have taken their campaign again icons of any kind one step too far, the way the jerks on the subways complained about the TV series icons used in advertising a symbol similar to those used by the Nazis or the massive anti-Confederate battle flag campaign sought to humiliate the American South with one more carpet bagger attack.
This anti-anything that smacks of belief movement comes out of the shadows of the 1960s when we believed that we should oppose any organization, law or government that violated basic moral principles – an immoral law should not be obeyed.
But the movement has become perverse. We have decided to become morality itself, and rule on what other people should and should not believe, forcing faith in anything to hide its face so we won’t be offended.
We play god and tell other people what it right and wrong, while at the same time, we as (mostly liberals) insist on certain rights we believe we should have and point to the other side as oppressing us.
It is typical hypocrisy.
But it is also evil.
Instead of embracing the message behind Christmas, Christianity and faith, we decide to destroy it, building a crusade to keep our lives free of its symbols.
Behind all this, is the old poetic concept of playing tennis without a net, when one poet complained about writing poems without rime.
We want to live in a society where we are allowed to make up our own rules as we go along, making concepts like truth “relative,” so that we have an excuse when we cannot live up to the basic rules of living in civilized society.
The last thing any of us need in this relative society are symbols such as Christmas tree that show how much we fail in living up to any rules but our own.
We can’t live by the rules of the game so we don’t merely take the ball and go home, we throw away the ball so we don’t have to be reminded how inadequate we are.
This attack on symbols goes beyond just the Christmas tree, the confederate flag or even the so called Nazi symbols on the sides of buses. We are actively destroying the past, partly because we do not feel adequate to live up to its expectations, and we live in a society where things are not going as planned, and lacking a road map to replace old road maps, we burn bridges, flags, and any reference to the rules we are unable to abide by.
We are not only trying to rid ourselves of religion and faith, but of any reminder of just how much we have failed to find any faith of our own, and how we do not need to be reminded about it.
People are offended by Christmas in Christmas tree mostly because they can’t live up to the basic rules of being a Christian, or even the love and peace we professed when we marched against war or on behalf of black rights.
We get offended by Christmas in Christmas tree or any of the other symbols of the past because these things force us to look in the mirror and see what we are not, what we have failed to become, and those things we can’t live up to as civilized people.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Going back to Phil?

May 29, 1985

I don’t trust Phil.
He’s one of those all-American business types looking for a way to stab you in the back.
And I don’t like the way he refers to blacks, mocking them as if speaking about a lower life form.
“I’m hiring new people,” he sad to me last week on the phone. “Trying to get the place half and half again.”
In many ways, he acts like the Old South did in the early 1960s when black people were seen as good for nothing – not even work.”
And here I cam going back there, knowing that somewhere in that narrowed little mind of Phil’s there is a scheme.
Maybe he intends to build the place up so he can sell it again, reaping yet another mass profit.
What works twice will work three times – although I am of the philosophy that a boy crying wolf eventually gets eaten, only in this came, we’re playing with sharks.
This is a time of dishonest living, of big fish eating little fish. But Phil is a little fish with a bloated belly. While he believes himself grown, his actually fattening himself up for a still bigger fish than he is.
Maybe that’s why I’m going back – to see him consumed.
But there is something self-destructive in this process, too.
This week I gave up the Bloomfield job, a secure position that would well have lasted me years, and took up with Phil and his brooding mall work.
Around the mall others [I knew] are slowly fading away, too, moving on, leaving behind the impression that everything must radically change.
Good old Wild Bill, the night guard for three years, changed his job to become a porter, and then quit his job entirely to leave night duties to two crazy men.
And for a time it seemed as if they could hold onto it all, keeping Mall and themselves content.
But they aren’t Dan and do not have the experience or the integrity of Wild Bill.
Nobody (mall rats) fears them the way they did Dan. And Wild Bill was a special man, stupid sometimes, but only because of his stubborn streak. He often had opinions about things he knew nothing about, and yet picked up on details that brought surprising truths out of his mouth.
He and I often conflicted. I was always trying to kept him to fact things he tried to ignore, things that as it turned out, could not be easily solved – such as locking the doors at night so that people inside could not get out without a key.
But that was the fault of the mall corporation, a Nazi-like answer to overnight theft. Instead of building on trust, they dealt in fear and intimidation, not seeking so much to catch thieves as to make it impossible for anyone to ever steal from them.
This is one of the fundamental issues of our time, and comes back to Phil’s perspective on people.
Instead of creating conditions in which workers won’t steal, malls and business people like Phil seek to make people fear them, punishing everybody with suspicion and in the case of the night guard, Dan, locking doors to keep us in.
I told Dan that any order imprisoning me was a crime against humanity and that Dan has to decide between disobeying bad orders issued by his superiors or engaging my rage.
It took him a long painful time when he finally opened the doors, he felt guilt.

His replacements keep the doors open until management catches them, and then they locked them again and shrug.

It never lasts

Saturday, December 05, 2015

The events of the last few weeks brought to mind someone I haven’t thought about in years, a boss at a baking job I worked during the 1980s.
A small, petty little man, Phil was always trying to prove how much smarter he was than anybody else, especially when it came to business.
And yet, he was always trying to get me on his side. In a business that changed hands about half dozen times while I worked there, I was in the best position as the night baker, partly because nobody else wanted to work the overnight shift alone in a shopping mall, and partly because I did my job as good as anybody else.
Phil was one of those nasty behind the scenes manipulators always calculating, always trying to find ways to get over on people he did business with.
Down deep, he must have felt shame over how he got his fortune in the first place and desperately needed to make another fortune in a manner that was more legitimate.
He just didn’t know how to be legitimate or honest, and so each new maneuver was even more unethical than the last.
At some point after college, Phil had hooked up with a soft drink distribution company, and managed to claw his way up to becoming manager. The job may have been at the request of his father, who apparently was best friends with the company owner, and needed desperately for his son to find some place to land.
As manager, however, Phil’s true talents emerged, especially when the contract with the soda providers came up. He underbid his own boss and then took over contract – a matter that ended up in endless litigation. Phil was always suing someone or being sued, and seemed to see this as a fact of life, and part of doing business.
Buying the bakery where I worked was his first real venture on his own, trying to prove that his success wasn’t merely a fluke. He had a handful of cronies he brought on with him from the soda business, hangers-on who learned how to cultivate favor by kissing his ass, and doing anything he asked them to do – ethical or not.
These cronies slipped into all of the power positions in the bakery, replacing competent people who had cultivated real and honest relationships with the previous boss through hard work and loyalty. Most of them eventually quit because they do not take having to answer to these incompetent jerks.
Naturally, business suffered. Phil was into power and so were these close associates, all leaning on the backs of fewer and fewer competent workers until those who didn’t quit, broke down, got ill or became just like the others.
Phil put the business up for sale. And he was just sly enough and had enough sly shysters to forge a contract with the new owner that set high payments, and a provision that if the new owner didn’t keep up payments, the business would revert to Phil.
At this point, he began to spread rumors among the employees – including me, dark talk about how evil the new owner was, and how corrupt, and how much worse things would get shortly, and how we all ought to get out and find new jobs before everything fell apart.
A number of people took this seriously, and got out – although being where I was and seeing what I saw I knew this was a ploy, one of Phil’s calculated moves designed to destroy the person he had made the deal with.
I asked about it later, and he laughed.
“This how things are,” he told me. “There are no rules in business or in politics. You just do what you need to do and make sure you don’t get caught.”
But like all petty dictators, Phil eventually destroyed himself. His old boss with the soda distribution company forced a settlement that took away a lot of his ready cash, and since Phil was never the businessman his inflated ego made him think he was, he was forced to sell off the bakery to more competent people under terms were far less favorable to him. He, of course, still came out ahead from when he was a mere manager his father begged an old friend to hire, but he lost the one thing he really craved: power.
“It always ends that way,” a reporter friend from Verona later told me. “Power never lasts.”

Friday, December 4, 2015

No power is absolute

Friday, December 04, 2015

A stark blue sky highlights everything in this city today.
This is a classic fall day, easing in on winter, when everything becomes vivid and unmistakable.
I ache for days like this because it is testimony to what life is supposed to be about, free of clouds or doubt, free of the haze behind which people hide their intentions.
Clouds hide things, often things that people do not want us to see, or of which they are ashamed, or feel guilt about.
But we also live in a world where knowledge is power, where people horde truth in order to dish it out in small slices the way drug dealers might, keeping people in line because they cannot get information from anybody else.
This is the nature of politics, whether this is with a big “P” as in a presidential or other world, on the more mundane “p” of an ordinary job.
There is always someone trying get inside, to become the conduit to power everybody must go through in order to get access.
Over the years, I’ve been through enough business takeovers to see the rise and fall of this middle people, who spent years grooving up to a boss only to lose power when a new boss comes.
But sometimes, the most powerful person in a room isn’t the one you think, but merely a figurehead, someone that allows the real power brokers to operate without being held accountable.
This is largely what happened with New York Mayor Laguardia, who basically did all the public functions while Robert Moses manipulated the levers of government.
Recognizing who is really in charge is a huge challenge for those who want to keep government accountable, for people to live under a blue sky rather than a hazy one.
But as better minds than mine have pointed out, everything has a season, and few people retain power for long.
Part of this has to do with the nature of power, and the concepts laid out in “The Prince.”
All power is built on the backs of other people, a shaky pyramid of potential contenders, each of whom is waiting for his or her chance to be the one on top.  This is one reason why the truly powerful have only a handful of people they trust – most often family members or people they have known since childhood, people who have already been vetted and clearly have learned their role in the power pyramid.
But hunger for power is the most addictive hunger of all. It can change your closest friends into your worst enemy, waiting only for the right moment to emerge.
Most power tends to weaken over time, a few years, maybe as long as a decade before it begins to erode.  This is true of personal power or powerful institutions – the Greek or Roman empires, the Catholic church, the Spanish Inquisition, the British Empire, or the sway of political parties in the United States.

Power never lingers in one place forever. And all you need to do is to wait for it to crumble under its own weight. It always does.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

My grandfather’s Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Although he has been dead now for fifty years, Thanksgiving will always been my Grandpa’s day.
More than Christmas or Easter, my grandfather seemed to relish this day most, partly I think because it was the day when the once vast extended family made its rounds from around the state, stopping in at our old house in Clifton to celebrate, not merely the foundation of our nation, but our arrival in this part of the planet.
That side of the family began to arrive in the United States just after the conclusion of the American Civil War, though the patriarch of the family – a soldier of fortune – apparently came here early to earn his keep in the war, and went back to take part of the Italian revolution, returning finally with the eldest of his kids to start a new family here with a new wife.
My grandfather’s father was born in Italy, but by the turn of the century had already started his own family, producing four songs and two daughters, who all became icons in my life, since I was my grandfather’s first grandchild, and was touted as such in a regular tour among their households.
My grandfather’s generation came into its own after the death of his mother just at the end of World War II. The inheritance allowed poor housing contractors to pursue their dreams. My grandfather and his brother expanded their construction business until a series of heart attacks caused both of them to slow down. My grandfather took up boat building instead. One sister started a business in Rochelle Park and then later moved it to the Jersey Shore where we all traveled to each summer.
My grandfather bought the biggest house in he could find, a Victorian place at the top of a hill that overlooked the Passaic River and much of the neighborhood where he raised his family when poor.
This was my house growing up, and it became the center of attention particularly on Thanksgiving when the extended family flocked to it, pausing on their tour of other family members to help us celebrate.
This was a very typical Victorian home, but already out of date by the time my grandfather furnished it, reflecting what was considered wealthy back when he was a kid. So living there for me was like living at the end of the Victorian age, a particular confusion when my grandfather bought our first black and white TV in the 1950s, and later when my uncles upgraded to color after my grandfather’s death.
We had a classic dinning room with icons more suited to Queen Victoria than President Eisenhower, and on this holiday, we spread open the pocket doors that separated the dining room from the living room, carrying in the kitchen table so we could all sit at the same long table when it finally came to the point when we sat down for the meal.
The women – my grandmother, her daughters and the wives on her sons, did most of the work naturally, spreading out the feast – although every table was filled with some snack, nuts or candy, that allowed us, especially the kids, to eat from dawn to dusk, leaving room for the real meal and the various pies as desert.
I remember how vacant the kitchen look without the table, and how busy all the women were when I came in to help, they giving me some dish or another to carefully carry into the dinning room where I would place it on the main table.
I remember my grandfather finally seated at the end of the table, the lord of his manor, the icons of the Victorian age around him along with the paint by number paintings he so proudly displayed on the walls – his hobby when he was resting from working on the boats in the yard outside.
I remember his face beaming with pride, his eyes glowing as he looked around at the assembled faces of a massive family he was proud to be apart of. I remember his gaze lingering on me, as if I was the thing he most accomplished, the grandchild who was to begin the next generation just as he had begun his, and his father had begun his before that, carrying on something special, and grand, something he was forever thankful for.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Brown sunlight

Saturday, November 21, 2015

I strode down the waterfront from West New York to Hoboken yesterday, just to take in the air before the weather turned.
This is already very late in the season and yet sunshine kept me too warm after only a few steps.
I had left my car home thinking I would need to walk only to and from work, only to find out the paper needed me to cover a ground breaking a few miles north.
I got a ride to the event, and thought about taking the light rail back, but the light rail stop was nearly a third of the way to where I had to go, so I just kept walking, snapping pictures of the changing leaves and the vastly altered environment.
The West New York mayor mentioned the fact that this all used to be railroad tracks where many of the long time residents from the upland side of the Palisades used to play as kids.
Now it is all buildings and riverfront walkway, joggers and bicycles in a perpetual play land of the super rich.
I certainly didn’t fit, except perhaps among the few other stragglers I saw walking to and from what in another time might have been called servants’ entrances to the luxury buildings, these stragglers serving to keep up the illusion that life is always pleasant along this side of the tracks.
The water glistened with the odd sunlight that always haunts the world after Day Light Savings ends, a tainted dark light that turns everything slightly brown, as if the whole planet was one large leaf turning with the turning of seasons.
My boss kept calling me on the cell phone to remind me that I needed to be back at the office by 3 p.m., and I kept thinking it was later than it was because of the light.
This was a walk through time as well as distance, especially when I finally crossed over into Weehawken and saw the houses on the hill and the ramps to the helix leading to the Lincoln Tunnel.
Seeing this from below as a new vision, and yet, seemed to carry me back to those days when I used to take the bus from Paterson to New York City. One bus took me along Boulevard East so I could see the skyline. The other bus came down Route 3 through Secaucus. But both buses eventually came to the tunnel.
For a moment, I was 16 again, and thinking of the adventure ahead on the other side.
Last winter, I came here to shoot pictures. The temperature was so slow the electronics in my camera froze and so I wound up with a lot of distorted colors, negative images of everything I saw.
This sense of reversal, of fall stumbling into winter, of me walking through time as well as space is always unnerving, because I lose myself for a moment and struggle to find myself when I finally put my feet back onto a path I’m more familiar with – the icons of my life spread out before me, but in an altered state.
This was a week from hell for a number of reasons, violent stalkers pursuing me, corrupt officials seeking to silence me, illness that I thought might be more serious than it was, all boiling up into one mess of an inner state only a walk like this could dispel.
This came in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, and so personal fate seemed to intermingle with the fate of the world, and strolling along this walkway towards an office I have worked in for a third of my life, in a town where I no longer feel welcome, I felt more than a little scared – not of dying, but of being forgotten or overrun by things over which I have no control, change, corruption, personal greed.
I’m a stubborn person. I tend to fight the good fight even when I know I can’t win, forcing those who dislike me to use up their resources, even when those resources seem imposing.
Justice is always about holding powerful people accountable, and sometimes, you have to get run over by change in order to make a difference, and sometimes, you have defy the all powerful to prove they aren’t quite as powerful as they think.
Things like changing seasons, brown sunlight, and an endless waterfront, are the only things that mean anything in the end.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

We’ll always have Paris

Saturday, November 14, 2015

I keep thinking of the flash back scene from the movie Casablanca, and the moment when the Nazi armies rolled into Paris – this slow motion sense of doom that we no longer can depend upon.
We had a lot of warning then about the rise of evil in Europe, and those who had the ability to  flee, did so or stayed at their own peril.
As with contemporary times, plenty of factors contributed to the final Blitzkrieg that eventually turned a whole continent to ash: Chamberlain, the unfair reparation payments from World War I, the mean spirited victors in the West, greedy corporations American and European who saw profit in a well-run Fascistic system, and others.
But once the guns started and doom approached, Paris needed more than just people and things to blame as to why they were about to be consumed.
Last night, Paris burned again.
There are plenty of guilty parties as to why, some wearing suits and ties or bearing diplomatic pouches, some simply press credentials (refusing to challenge the stupid foreign policies in the middle east), but once the guns started and the bombs exploded, and innocent people started to perish, blame meant nothing.
We live in a world where the conflict rarely reaches the real culprits, the oil company executives or the food companies whose infant formulas kill kids in third world countries, the violence reaches those who do not have private armies to protect them; the violence strikes those who go to work on a sunny Tuesday in September or to a rock concert on a cool Friday, and its leaves carnage that makes headlines, but never makes people understand just who exactly is to blame.
Blame does not stop the bleeding or make up for the loss of life.
Once the violence starts, it starts on both side, and one act leads to another as survivors call for vengeance, not justice, and we create a police state to finally protect those who should never had been the subject of an attack in the first place.
I keep thinking of another more recent Harrison Ford movie in which an Arab kid is hounded out of the country by ICE (our version of ISIS) for daring to write an honest essay about 9/11 and the perspective of the Arabs might have had in striking out at the United States.
No one actually listened to essay, they simply painted the girl as a terrorist sympathizer because she was saying something no body wanted to hear or will ever want to hear, painting the terrorists in a light that is no simply to make them look evil. Evil is such a subjective word. Beheading people is evil. Blowing up people is evil. But so is torturing suspects, and selectively killing people by remote control.
The same day Paris happened, American drones incinerated two people we suspect as terrorists. While I doubt there is a direct connection, it is part of the pattern of misperception. When we bomb innocents, it always an accident, we always say we’re sorry, we always want the other side to forget the loved one we incinerate.

This, of course, reminds me of yet another movie, some of the Terminator series were remote control craft seek and destroy freedom fighters, and though I know those who we actually target are vicious killers, they do not see themselves that way, and until we come to grips with the real causes of this conflict, and stop people like Kerry and Clinton from choosing which country ought to have leaders acceptable to us, these people will keep attacking us, because they think we are evil, and that our corporations that steal their resources and sell bad food to their kids, ought to be stopped by any means necessary. They, of course, are misguided, thinking they have god on their side. But then, our money also professes a similar slogan, as we make weapons dealers wealthy in our perpetual wars.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Good news

June 17, 1969

Laurie, who goes by the name of Peggy because she’s runaway from home, had her baby last night.
Someone called my uncle’s house to inform me since nobody can actually get a hold of me here in Fort Dix because I’m still going through basic training.
It was most likely my mother who called the base commander to tell him about the birth and that I should know. So I had one of the sergeants shaking me away an hour before reveille to tell me my DI wants to see me.
My DI is a huge black sergeant, who spent three tours in Vietnam. He already doesn’t like me because he thinks I’m a wise ass (and he may not be wrong).
“What the fuck are you up to now?” he asked me the moment I got through the door to his office at the end of the barracks – we’re on the second floor of a four story brick building, one of a few hundred buildings that remind me somewhat of the housing projects in Paterson.
“I don’t know what you mean,” I said, and honestly didn’t.
He leaned over his desk to glare at me. He hadn’t shaved. So his deep black face looked even meaner than usual.
“Nobody in my fucking unit has his fucking mother calling here,” he growled. “This ain’t the boy scouts. And this ain’t fucking summer camp.”
“My mother called?” I said, still trying to wring the sleep out of my brain.
“Are you fucking deaf?” my DI shouted. “What did I just tell you?”
“I’m just surprised,” I said.
“You were surprised?” the DI said, mocking me as he glanced at one of two other sergeants in the room. “He was surprised!”
The other sergeant shrugged.
Then the DI glared at me again.
“Let me make this clear, boot!” he shouted. “Don’t ever let it happen again.”
“Ever?” I said, starting down the same path of endless questions with which I had driven countless teachers crazy in high school. “What if…?”
My DI had half turned away; his turning back halted me.
“You are testing me, boot,” he said, in a gravely voice. “You do not want to test me.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…”
“Will you fucking shut up already,” the DI shouted. Both of the other sergeants looked at me in amazement. Clearly they saw the train wreck coming, and could not believe I still stood in the center of the tracks, not only not moving, but taunting the train.
Wisely, I fell silent, and after a few minutes, the DI dismissed me.
The news of Laurie’s giving birth is a big deal.
Laurie is Hank’s girl, but the baby isn’t his – but rather some biker from one of the biker gangs who got her pregnant then dumped her, only for Hank to come along.
I can’t wait to see his face, and find out all the details, although I remember her telling me that she planned to “go natural” at one of the other more progressive hospitals near Union Square.
I’ll just have to wait until I get my weekend pass after basic to see how it all comes out.

Let’s hope my mother doesn’t call again with any more good news.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

We’re all right

Aug. 31, 1969

Alf calls me at the hospital to tell me everybody’s all right. This is about an hour before lights out, and the ward nurse, a bastard of captain eyes me like I just sold my country to the Vietcong.
We don’t generally get phone calls from off base. So three in a month, and two within a week, are just too much for the captain to handle.
The fact that Alf is on the other end puzzles me.
We don’t talk much. For the most part, we’re adversaries, rivals in some imaginary game I’ve yet to learn the rule of or what it is about.
“We had an accident,” Alf tells me, referring to him, Bob and Pauly.
The trio apparently decided to take a drive after Bob and Alf dropped acid. Bob refused to let Alf drive, and Pauly being Pauly, said he didn’t care what they did as long as he didn’t have to hear any of the BS.
Bob’s Volkswagen is legendary, and so is Pauly’s ability to cause damage to other people’s vehicles. So as Alf relates the story, I believe it, I see it unfolding in my head like a grain movie: Bob behind the wheel, Alf in the passenger seat, Pauly in the cramped back seat playing solitaire, pretending everything is normal when it clearly is not.
He’s always doing this, trying not to let any of us get to him, when I’m pretty sure, behind that unmoved expression, some voice inside him screams about our being nuts.
Anyway, Alf tells me Pauly suddenly laughs and says he sees a spider.
Alf says he doesn’t see any. Bob looks into the rear view mirror and wants to know what the fuck Pauly is talking about. Pauly leans between the seats and points at the front windshield.
Alf still doesn’t see anything. Neither does Bob.
Pauly smacks the windshield with the heal of his hand, causing it to crack.
“There,” he says, pointing at the cracks. “That’s its web.”
At this point, Bob, who is paying more attention to his cracked windshield than he is to the road, steers the car into a curb.
“It drove the steering box through the front fire wall,” Alf told me over the phone. “But we’re all right. But Bob wants to kill Pauly – not only because he caused the crash, but because he got out of the car and blamed Bob for everything. He even says Bob screwed up his game of solitaire. I think Bob really would have killed him, if Pauly hadn’t waved down a passing car and asked for a ride. He fucking left us there, the prick. But we’re all right.”
After he hangs up and the ward lights go out, I crawl into bed and ponder all this. Around me, I hear the heavy breathing of soldiers who have seen too much war, some of whom won’t be leaving this place alive, and I’m thinking: We’re all really all right, aren’t we?”

Sunday, November 1, 2015

All Soul’s Day

Sunday, November 01, 2015

It’s All Saint’s Day. Tomorrow is All Soul’s Day. These are the other two days in a trinity of celebration for the departed.
Growing up a Catholic and attending a Catholic school through my early grades, these days played a bigger role in my life than they do now, although with so many of my family now part of the departed, I feel their impact more.
Starting in the late 1980s and through the early 2000s, I watched most of those closest to be pass away – my mother dying at the end of 2001.
The last two hold outs in this were my uncles, Ted and Pete.
Ted was my mother’s brother. Pete married my mother’s sister, Alice (who died in late 1975).
I remember Ted pulling me aside at my mother’s funeral to say “We’re the last two,” meaning the last of the old Crooks Avenue household, where five brothers, two sisters lived clan-like with my grandparents in a large old Victorian era house.
When Ted passed away in 2010, I felt incredibly alone.
His home in Toms River during the 1980s and 1990s was nearly a weekly journey from wherever I happened to live. Even though he moved to North Carolina shortly before his death, his home in Toms River was as much mine as his, and I still can’t pass that exit on the Parkway without thinking of him.
When Pete died in early 2012 I was devastated. This was partly due to the fact that I was the last one standing from that generation, and from the fact that I was feeling my own morality. I had just undergone extensive eye surgery, and began to hear the whisper of the grim reaper in my ear.
Fortunately, during the last few years, I discovered that I am not alone, and found that a whole new family had sprung up on me.
Until recently, I had assumed that I was an only child. My father left my mother shortly after I was born, and I have no living memory except one of his holding me as an infant.
Caught up with the idea of finding out what happened to him, I eventually encountered cousins on my father’s side, who in turn, helped me find half sisters I never knew I had, and a step-mom who I actually got to talk to briefly about my father before she passed away earlier this year.
On this day of the year, it is good for me to remember those I love and have loved, but need not dwell on the idea that I am alone.
We are never as alone as we believe we are. Even if those we loved most have passed on, they still with us, imbedded in our genes, living out an extended life through us as we will in our children later.
And as sad as family history can sometimes be – my family has very sad stories – it is also remarkably rich, part of a living legacy each of us carries to the grave and beyond.
I miss my mother, my uncles, my aunt, my grandparents, but I also feel them stirring inside of me with each breath I take, and it is a remarkable feeling, a feeling of intense joy.