Saturday, December 24, 2016

In search of Princess Laia



Saturday, December 24, 2016

Princess Laia has been rushed to a hospital in Los Angeles after apparently suffering a serious heart attack while in flight there from London yesterday.
The news comes as a shock since we are all wrapped up on nostalgia these days after she reappeared in a squeal Star Wars film last year.
She touched our lives in a way many of us do not fully understand, part of a myth that came real at a time when we all desperately needed something to fill the gap we all felt in our personal lives.
The reunion only went to show how we are all aging together, and that she has become an icon of a generation that is in the process of passing on, leaving behind a marker for what was, not so much of what will be.
We live in perilous times, when all the promises for a bright future dim and become the harsh reality few of us predicted let alone prepared for, of children who have become so spoiled as to presume they deserve things without the struggle and pain that their parents (us) and our parents and their parents before them went through, and now have to learn the lesson over again the way those generations unlucky enough to get born into times such as these have had to, so that we might rebuild a vision of the future we were denied.
Star Wars came out at the end of the 1970s just when the fabric of our lives was starting to shred, and we came to realize that the high hopes we’d had coming into the 1970s did not seem to be materializing, musicians, artist, poets and such forced into manual labor so similar to that which our fathers labored we were rapidly becoming our fathers.
Then, dangling before our eyes, the way the space ships in the film dangled from hidden strings, we got introduced into a new, brighter, and mythological future, filled with heroes and villains we came to love and hate as if they were real.
Laia was the woman we all wished we could love, and did from afar, not because we knew who she really was, but only that which she was to us.
Media is full of stories about her struggle during the flight, mingling fact with fancy as she struggles against a power far more lethal than Lord Vader, in a conflict we all must face and are coming to face with her: our own mortality.
Today is my best friend’s birthday. He would have been 67 had he lived, passing away at the age of 45 in the mid-1990s when we all had already come to face the morality of our parents and their parents, and glimpsed our own on the horizon.
Carrie Fisher’s age surprised me. She in fact is younger than we are, a mere 60, when the rest of us have already passed through half our 60s and plunge towards that age when we can no longer deny that we are old.
I sincerely hope she gets better, both for her sake and our own. We still need her to help guide us through this dark universe towards some brighter future. We need to know there is still hope for us.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A poem for the inauguration of President Donald Trump





Abe Lincoln once said:
“All the armies of Europe, Asia and African combined…
With Bonaparte for commander
Cannot by force take a drink for the Ohio [River]…”
If we choose to stop them,
This is even truer now than in the pre-war years
When Lincoln said it.
“The danger,” Lincoln said, “If it every reaches us,
Must spring up among us, it cannot come from abroad.
If destruction be our lot, we most ourselves be its author…”
A forewarning of the events that would later shake our nation
In war we ball by different names
Depending on which side of the Mason Dixon Line we live:
The Civil War, The War Between the States,
The War of Northern Aggression, a war we continue to fight
Despite Gen. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House,
Because the issues that gave rise to that war
Continue unresolved, despite all the blood spilt
In places such as Gettysburg and Manassas,
We live as divided now as we ever did,
In a nation populated by people
Who do not hear each other because
We do not listen to what others says,
Our war is no longer a war between north and south,
Or even east or west, but on some ethereal landscape
We cannot see or touch, but only feel,
Though the pain is just as real and so is the bloodshed
This all coming at a time when we see ourselves
As something less than what we really are.
Donald Trump campaigned on the idea of
Making America Great Again
In truth, it has never ceased being great.
We have simply forgotten it,
Losing our vision in the petty squabbles
Unworthy of a great nation,
Passing judgment on people who disagree with us
Based on personal prejudice and ignorance
We ourselves have created,
An exchange of hostilities that might make
Fort Sumter seem tame
Yet filled with fears no more real
Than the ghosts in the closest
and monsters under the bed
We feared as children.
We make them real by own relentless assumptions,
Each degrading remark contributing
To our own downfall, from within, not without.
It is not ISIS or the Russians or even an asteroid from space
We must fear most but our lack of faith
In who we are as a nation
And what we are capable of doing as a people,
Black or white, gay or straight,
Liberal or conservative.
By faith, I do not mean religious faith,
Though it is made up of the same substance,
Out of which all faith is derived.
Mrs. Obama talked about hope and its loss.
Hope is not the answer.
Faith must be.
Father that we as a united people can accomplish anything,
Overcome any barrier, whether it be terroristic theater from without
Or more potent and ultimately deadly threat
Of a divided nation within.
We need to rebuilt the faith that Lincoln help recreate,
A faith that we can learn again with far less bloodshed,
To listen to each other, feel each other’s pain,
Elevate each other so we can see the best of those we opposed
Rather than the worst,
We must have faith that can overcome all those things we fear most,
And then, indeed, like a dreamer waking from some terrible nightmare
We can remember just how great we really are.



Saturday, December 3, 2016

Blue Collar or black




Sept 29, 1979

I get the idea of college from an incurable Dead Head with an incurable growth of cancer on his chest, a need to escape this place full of dust and sweet perfume, the slave trade warehouse work life in which people like us are trapped, our lives tied down to a time clock and a weekly pay check we can’t make stretch to cover rent, meals and the few beers at the local pub on Friday nights, we all resenting the welfare checks we see other people collect when we cannot not, this struggle to make sense of a world that feeds some and lets others starve, with someone like this Dead Head figuring out that if he can get his ass through college he might get out of this rat trap and maybe find a better rat trap where he won’t have to envy the welfare crowd, and won’t feel like a racist when he sees them doing better than we are, working half as hard, and so I start thinking maybe I might go to college, too.
But I soon find out that kids on campus don’t like white people like me, even though they’re white people, too. We remind them too much of their parents who grew up and fled places like Paterson for places with fancy names like Wayne, so they aren’t reminded of where they come from, father who labored most of their lives for companies like Continental Can, rubbing shoulders with black men wearing the same blue collars they do.
The college kids don’t hate blacks; it’s hip to be block, and they act more black than the black kids on campus do, shamed by parents who don’t like blacks, calling people like me racist because we came to college ten years after they did, too late to get steered down the twisted path some professors want to mold us to.
I’m not racists. Though my family is, living on the border of the ghetto in a house my grandfather broke his back to buy, filling every window with a WWII era carbine for that time when they believe the riots will spill over into our neighborhood out of the black side of town.
But I’m not ashamed of my family the way these kids are of theirs, because I have worked the way my uncles worked, and understand just how scared they are of losing everything they worked so hard to get, when they mistakenly believe black people get too much handed to them and still want more.
I know it’s not like that; but you can’t argue anybody out of being scared.
Maybe that’s what’s wrong with the college kids, who really have had the good life handed to them, lives built on the backs of their hardworking fathers they are so ashamed of, never having lived except in some safe place where they don’t actually get to meet any black people until they come to schools like this, or understand just how hard life can be, blue collar or black, with blue collar and black fighting over the crumbs some rich man leaves, calling it a pay check or a welfare check that neither blue collar or black can feed his family with.
Even the black kids on campus don’t get it, somehow magically elevated out of a ghetto only their father’s truly understand, desperate to cling to the noble traditions of their race, but rapidly becoming whiter than the white kids are, because in a white world like this, it may be the only way to survive.



Sunday, November 27, 2016

Vacancy near Deal Lake




November 27, 2016

When we got to the old house on the street between Deal and Sunset lakes, we found it empty -- a shock, if not a complete surprise since everything is changing in Asbury Park, and this was hardly the icon the old arcade is, or the copper round carousel where the merry go round once was, now assigned to bear the beat of music and the rattle of skateboards.
This house was a private house that we stumbled upon late in 2014 during our Christmas trip here, a pleasant surprise amid the routine places that lined those streets, summer cottages or even old mansions to which this place barely compared.

We were drawn to it the way we are drawn to all things that defy the normal, things that stand out as rebellions against the homogenized sameness society breeds people to become.  This was much like the house in Cape May we loved, filled with creative junk, items reused as art.
But the house in Asbury Park, when we found it, was a testimony to something else, filled with statues of saints, cupids, and other fairy creatures in a garden that appeared unkempt, but was clearly of some higher design.
Since seeing it the first time, the house became a regular stop on our unofficial tour of Asbury Park, one of a handful of places that had nothing to do with Bruce Springsteen, even though his finger prints are on nearly everything that remained of this once industrious seaside city.

We missed seeing the house during our first autumn visit this year because we went to Main Street to see the deli where Bruce sometimes goes, not so much in the hope of seeing him there (we didn't even look inside) but with the need to somehow connect, it being a touchstone for us, the way the stars on Hollywood Boulevard are for tourists, something tangible to see and touch at a time when Bruce seems more like a spirit, the ghost of Christmas past (we have never seen, but only heard rumor of) and so we need places such as the Deli and the Stone Pony to remind us of what is real.
When we came two weeks ago, we only realized we had missed the house on that visit when we arrived at Sunset Lake Park and were too weary to make our way back in the direction of Deal Lake, putting it off to this visit.

We don't go to Asbury Park in summer and so we only take stock after many months, during which changes always happen, and as in this case, a somewhat sad change.
Like many events that happen when we go away to places like Asbury Park or Cape May, there is usually a tie-in to our lives, and so seeing the house vacant and its yard stripped of icons was made sadder by the fact that news had reached us that our old house back north in Jersey City was in the midst of being demolished.
Even though we sold the house knowing this would happen, the news did not sit well with me. Places where I have lived become icons of their own, a different sort of touchstone that comes with a bundle of memories I renew each time I go passed them. Nearly every place I've ever lived still exits in much the same condition as I left it, and so have one vanish before my eyes brings a strange sense of loss like a death in the family, carrying to the grave a history I feel cannot be recovered.
We didn't know the history of this house in Asbury Park until our second or third visit, when some woman walking her dog noticed us gawking in front of the place.

Not quite an eyesore in the traditional sense, the place had an exotic air -- situated on corner lot with three wooden gates, two of which were so overgrown with vines as to be inaccessible, with a third leading to a slate path up to the porch and front door. The fence along that side of the house had a line of statutes of saints large enough to seem garish in a grave yard, yet somehow appropriate here.
Two of the gates were guarded by stone lions, more than half buried in ivy and so worn by time and weather as to have lost their growling demeanor.
Each time, we came here we spotted some icon we'd not seen prior, not because anything new got added between trips, but because things became hidden and revealed as nature covered and uncovered things that had been placed there at some time in the past, items meaningful to the person who had installed them, but whose meaning we could not piece together in any cognitive fashion and had to accept the whole and its parts the way we might some piece of art hung in a gallery, seeking from the impression to guess at the artist' intent.

The pantheon of saints and cupids were both provocative and innocent, to which we added guesses with each visit -- though the dog walker filled in the basic background against which we could better guess.
The house belonged to a gay man, a long-time resident of Asbury Park who had lived with another man for many years, and whose passing the gay man could not reconcile, and so began to decorate the house and yard as a tribute to his missing lover, pieces added over many years, each apparently having some personal meaning, but conveyed always this sense of faith, innocence and sexuality.
The gay man never connected with anyone else, living apparently in the house alone, in perpetual mourning for a man that he still missed, and whose essence was somehow reflected in the collection of icons, a tribute to love that was supposed to be immortal, but was not, as all flesh must succumb to time, and precious memories lost.

The windows of the house looked like vacant eyes, absent the coverings that had been there at our last visit, the lace lashes now stripped away, as was the land itself, every icon, even the sad toothless lions, gone so that the yard looked more grave-like than it had before, filled with a vacancy so acute it hurt to witness -- icons sold off no doubt by some relative, who had no memory to preserve or appreciation of what they had meant to the house's occupant, leaving only the now untended garden over grown with weeds and the slightly sagging unguarded wooden gates, the last testament to love we never knew and yet still felt , lingering and sad, a memory that is not ours and yet we somehow shared without substantiation, merely taking it all on faith.
  





Thursday, November 24, 2016

Alice's Restaurant, revisited (from Visions of Garleyville)



My uncles hated Hank from the moment he appeared at the front door, an aberration from some ghostly world beyond their limited imagination.
Gasoline and a struck match made a better mix than they did with him.
Born and raised in the desperate times of The Great Depression and World War II, my uncles perpetually saw themselves under siege, if not always by the threat of poverty, then by unsubstantial enemies such as the communists or the blacks.
M-1 World War II vintage carbines lined the attic wall for that time when the race riots started, and they would take up position in every window to fight back against the hordes the way patriots had the British back in that time when the hill upon which our house rested served as high ground for Washington’s troops.
Yet as prepared as they were for any invasion, Hank, with his shoulder length hair, scraggly beard, purple Nehru shirt and worn bell bottom jeans was like an invasion from Mars against which my uncles had absolutely no defense.
With the death of his own mother and the inheritance she’d left, my grandfather had bought the biggest house in that part of town, a Victorian tribute to his youthful perceptions of what wealth was. With the exception of converting the servants stairs to closets (on account of his youngest son falling down them one day in 1946 in the dark), my grandfather had left the house largely unmolested and so the front doors became a gateway to a fantasy long out of fashion, and a way of life even my uncles had ceased to believe possible complete with front porch, double doors with beveled glass, a mud room between them and the inner door, and a front hall over which a small chandelier hung.
Few actually used the front door except on particularly pompous occasions such as weddings and funerals. When the front door rang, it usually meant bad news, such as the arrival of a representative of the IRS – a notorious public entity my uncles feared even more than the communists and their reaction was similar in that fear to the moonshine back country hillbillies who feared “revenuers.”
Hank’s hanging on the doorbell set off alarms in my family that gave their reception an artic chill.
My grandfather, who had died slightly less than two years earlier, would have perished from the shock,
A black man’s appearance at the front door would have raised less dander since in my uncle’s vivid imagination, such a visit was inevitable: but nothing could have prepared them for Hank. So intend of reaching for their weapons, they stared at this aberration, and when this aberration mentioned me, my uncle’s then screamed my name.
Well in touch with the real world through their working class livelihoods, my uncles had some sense of what went on beyond the doors of the house or the boat business they ran out of the garage next door – the anti-war generation with painted faces and clothing that seemed more suited for circus clowns than wear on the street. My uncles simply did not believe massive revolution taking place elsewhere had anything to do with them or would ever come in contact with their lives – except for the occasional joke as I heard sometimes when we drove to the shore and my uncles spotted boy and girl hippies walking the sandy roadside, my uncles mumbling to themselves as to which was the boy and which was the girl.
They might have said the same thing about Hank and his hair, but for the scraggly beard, Hank’s crooked teeth, and eye glasses so thick they might have served as space goggles. Hank was simply too ugly even as a hippie to ever be mistaken for a girl.
Of the four of five uncles that still resided at the old house, none fumed as much as Uncle Harry, a hard core Bircher who would have worn a KKK hood had that fashion not gone out of fashion in the north, so instead focused on rooting out communists, real or imaginary, most of whom to his mind just happened to be black. For him, our home town and our house in particular always stood at risk of a Soviet invasion and so he -- like so many musket-bearing patriots of two centuries earlier – saw himself as the sole resistance, clinging to some outdated mythology changes to the constitution had long discredited, except for the most fundamental under the most questionable interpretation of the Second Amendment. He was Daniel Boone with a M-1 carbine (who died too early three decades later to ever fully take advantage of legalized assault weapons) that might have put a hole in between Hank’s frowning eyebrows had he seen the invasion coming in time. Harry, however, could only shout, repeating my name over and over like an air raid siren, helpless to take shelter against the nuclear holocaust he went on and on about over daily supper.
And I, isolated in the attic bedroom my family had assigned me as punishment for my last vain effort to flee the house, heard my name through the floor boards, and echoing up the narrow stairs, knowing from the tone and the constant repetition of such a chorus that bad news awaited me at the bottom. So as pervasive a call as my uncle made, I took my time, fingers brushing against the dusty banister from the attic to the tiled top of the second floor, my feet making the wooden stairs moan under me even though I weighed little then, and carefully kept my footsteps close to the sides as I had done hundreds of other times when sneaking out.
Uncle Harry and my other uncles surrounded the stair bottom like a net with me, and the already out of date Beatles-like mop top hair cut they hated and waited for some infraction of their rules to allow them to shave off into the crew cut they so admired – haircuts I routinely earned with every failed subject on my quarterly report card.
Seeing Hank in the front hall beyond the gauntlet of my uncles shocked me as much as them, raising a vague memory of his promise to “drop in” and play records at my house sometime, a promise or threat I never quite took too seriously, partly because he lived completely on the other side of Paterson and needed to change buses twice to reach me.
I had met Hank in the theater the previous fall where we both worked at ushers until he got fired and I quit, and then had not seen him again until the spring when I bumped into him downtown near Woolworths (which turned out to be a regular stop for him where he waited for the New York bus over a glass of Coke and a well-done hamburger). He was in a hurry to get to Manhattan, while I was in a rush to get home before curfew so we exchanged few words – only this vague promise to meet me in the future. How he found me remained one of the great mysteries of the universe since I never gave him the address, he apparently putting together my living arrangements from the collection of clues I left like breadcrumbs during those long nights as ushers while standing through endless reels of bad movies.
In the midst of those long conversations, Hank had left clues of his own to a future he envisioned for himself, a vision that utterly and permanently altered my world view, filling me with the seeds of a discontent that would take years to blossom into real rebellion – he singing Bob Dylan and other songs not commonly played on the radio, filled with ideas and images that haunted me later when I tried to close my eyes to sleep.
Always a troublemaker, my life until then tended to revolve around pranks and petty crime, fist fights with neighborhood thugs and such. The local police painted my future on the inside of a jail cell where I sometimes wound up after this prank or that. Uncle Harry’s rage at me came largely because he saw me as following in some of his more misguided footsteps, but leaning farther over the edge than he allowed himself to go, and since I had no father, he made up his mind to make sure he kept me from falling off the way he almost had.
Hank’s taught of Greenwich Village and a life as an artist (his tenor voice often filled the theater after closing much to the chagrin of the theater manager who screamed for him to shut up) made me wonder if there might be a place in that pantheon for someone lacking any obvious talent such as me.
But in the months after our departure from the theater, I had reverted to my old ways, wandering the local streets in search of trouble, not inspiration, finding more than enough to allow the local police bring me how as regularly as a taxi service, my uncle receiving me with due diligence and the deep sigh of a man who clearly had not yet succeeded in steering me right.
Seeing Hank downtown and again in the front hall of my house rekindled the coals from the previous winter, and while not setting anything openly ablaze, the altered state registered an startling alarm in Uncle Harry’s dark eyes as he realized that the turn I had taken thanks to this strange man standing in the hall was one well-beyond anything he could have anticipated, and something that was far more dangerous than any communist conspiracy his books by John Birch could have prepared him for.
More than anything else, Uncle Harry looked betrayed. From the day he had greeted me and my mad mother at the door when I was three, Harry had assumed I would take my place, a younger version the parade of uncles my grandfather had sired. His gaze understood for the first time, this might not happen.
He glared at me, then at Hank, as if trying to determine which of us bore the most blame, and whether or not, he might end it somehow with some act of violence he justify in court, and from his increasing look of frustration, I could tell he could find no way to undo this thing unfolding before him, and was forced to let it transpire.
A decade earlier, Harry and others could simply have tossed Hank out and ended this thing, though even he did not yet understand just how out of control this thing was about to get, or how impossible it would be for any of us to revert to what we were before this moment happened, and that no matter what he did or said, life was forever changed.
Although my taste in music tended to be less deep than Hank’s – he knew more about folk and hard rock from listening to long playing albums where as I liked pop tunes I could hear on the radio – we tended to like many of the same bands such as the Beatles and the Stones, music that in the view of my uncles was not so much music as noise when compared to Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and performers of their generation.
I mistakenly assumed that my invitation to Hank – if I ever actually invited him at all – would generally mean our listening to those agreed upon tunes, and so I paid very little mind to the LP that Hank had clutched under his arm as he waited for me to get passed my uncles and lead him out of the hall, through the living room and into the dinning room where the family record player sat.
I did not own a record player of my own, and so had to borrow one that Uncle Frank had brought. He was the only one of my uncles who actually invested in music, buying records he liked and listening to songs not readily available on the radio – most of these fell into the general category of Country and Western. My Uncle Frank, a mountain of a man with hands too large for any form of art, loved to draw, but also made a valiant effort to learn guitar – this sat in the corner across the room used less frequently than the record player, which saw less and less use mostly due to the complaints of his brothers, who dedicated their non-working hours to watching TV in the living room and did not want to hear “the racket” Frank’s music made.
Settling in front of the record player – even with the pocket doors closed between living and dining rooms – I knew that if Frank’s music was unacceptable to my other uncles, then Hank’s would be worse. I didn’t not realize until Hank actually unveiled the album just how much worse this would be.
Until that point, I hadn’t even heard of Arlo Guthrie (nor heard any song he’d sung) and could not have imagined how this travesty of music that Hank got ready on the turn table would become our anthem for the next few months and for the rest of our lives, but I knew from seeing the naked man on the album sleeve that this music wouldn’t be of the variety Hank and I had shared before, and would become even more outrageously unacceptable to the blue collar sensibilities of the four men seated in the room beyond the pocket doors watching Bonanza on the TV.
I should have stopped Hank, but like Uncle Harry, I remained helpless to halt the inevitable, and so sat there before the speaker struggling to anticipate what would come out, and how it might alter the course of the rest of my life.
Since the portrait on the cover roughly resembled Bob Dylan, I assumed the record would produce some similar variety in music. Pat Boone was too much to hope for.
I got neither.
Later, thanks to Hank and other knowledgeable people, I would come to make the connections between Arlo and Dylan, building in my head an image of the pantheon of musical saints we would pay homage to and come to envision as the real leaders in our lives, how Arlo’s father – a patriot of the downtrodden from the Great Depression – would influence that struggling Zimmerman in a reinvented Greenwich Village, one of many of those who would emerge on the radio airwaves and more remotely us in suburbia,
Over time, I would even come to love Arlo for his songs, and those songs of his father’s he performed, but at that moment, when Hank’s cigarette-stained fingers lowered the needle onto the record, all I heard was a scratchy, almost whinny voice recounting some adventure that had happened to him in some remote place I could barely envision. More disturbing, however, was how Hank mouthed each word having already memorized the diatribe to every nuance – something that would over the rest of the summer and in subsequent years haunt me, his need to relive a memory that was not his memory, by being able to recite each word.
This came to disturb me the way my uncle’s country and western songs did, the lyrics – if you dared to call them lyrics – oozing down into me by repetition so I knew them nearly as well as Hank did, and so suffered through each repeated rendition on street or subway platform with the impatient martyrdom of churchgoer long bored with the litany. Not until decades later, after Hank’s voice had long gone silent did my faith in the song and its message return, and each repetition became a memory of him.
The story was about Alice moving into the upstairs portion of an old church, and because of the all the room downstairs, did not need to take the trash out for a long, long time.
The metaphor for religious dogma didn’t occur to me until many years later, as did the symbolism that surrounded their decision to take out the trash finally, and dumping over a cliff which put them at odds with the law. Even the trial, the police officer, and the blind judge who could not look at the photographic evidence made me laugh. But when Arlo came to the point in the song when he had to report to the draft board for his physical, and was confronted by a host of social degenerates with whom he got along quite well after he said he’d been convicted of disturbing the peace, I began to squirm.
If I had never heard anything like this before, my uncles hadn’t either. But they had listened, dragged into the tale by its sheer absurdity, and confronted by Arlo’s violation of all they as blue collar European-descended Americans believe – the song mocking law and order, the Vietnam war and the justice system in one single diatribe, blind justice leading up to Arlo’s chant that he wanted to “kill! kill! kill!” as a true patriot.
My shock was nothing compared to the disturbance the “music” had beyond the pocket doors where my uncles stirred, beasts taunted by sound beyond their immediate reach, their movements echoing in my ears from countless other times when they grunted and groaned, though this paled all previous experiences, as to make me jump when Uncle Harry yanked open the door to glare in at us.
Although only in my imagination did I see my uncle’s expression altering during the playing of the record, his yanking open the door to the last uttered “kill” concluded what must have been a stunning transformation.
A crack down the faces on Mount Rushmore would have seemed less stunning with Harry unable even to utter is usual string of four-letter words, just my name in a manner even I had never heard before, as if what emerged from the cocoon of the dinning room did not at all resemble the caterpillar that had crawled in earlier, and he had no way to clip the wings I suddenly had grown.
When finally, Uncle Harry spoke, it came as a single four-letter word which summed up his rage and his bewilderment, his gaze moving from my face to the stereo, to Hank’s and finally to the album cover with the mostly naked Arlo on it.
Then, he did what he should have and could have done from the start, an afterthought that stirred out of some deeper part of him even he did not know existed, from a place beyond his paranoia over communists and blacks, beyond the flag-waving and his staunch support for a war in Vietnam, beyond even the roots of family that had endowed this house and our lives with a meaning we had lacked for all the years of wandering prior to our arrival here.
This invasion, this perversion of me, and the fact that it had come straight into our house through doors meant for something more significant so enraged Harry that the word exploded out of him, “OUT!”
He didn’t even have to mutter anything about hippie or beatnik crap, since this was so beyond such labels.
His mood so shocked me I thought Harry might kill Hank and so I snatched the record off the turntable, stuffed it into its sleeve, and then the sleeve under Hank’s arm, and dragged the speechless Hank back through the living room to the hall, and through the doors in through which he had come, as if this ritual might reverse what had transpired, though as deep in me as was Harry’s outrage, I knew what was done could not be undone, and that life in the old house would take a course none of us could have ever predicted, and still could not predict, only in that it would surprise us when it came.
Once gone, Hank’s spirit remained, a stain in the air and on the carpet where he had sat, a stain in the gazes of my uncles who glared at me, and then went through the litany of warnings that I should never see, let alone invite, him or his kind to the house again. My protests over not having invited Hank in the first place went unheard, since I was no confident in my defense, and even less confident that I could avoid future contact since something in me continued to invite that change.
So overcome with shock, my uncles never thought to punish me and so I avoided being dragged down the block to the barber shop on Vernon Avenue for the crew cut they saw as their answer to the altered world.
I received no lecture, no grounding, not even a dark look of warning that accompanied nearly every other act of rebellion I committed.
Even the prohibition to not see Hank again seemed weak and ill thought out, a policy that for all Hank’s preparations for invasion could not enforce. They must have somewhere deep in their sub-consciousness must have understood by saying I could not see Hank again meant that I ultimately would, and did, even sooner than I ever expected, and more often than even I desired.
Once safely back in my room, I turned on the radio, hearing the pop songs Hank and I had sung in and outside the theater, and yet, wishing to hear what the disc jockey would not play, perhaps because of the subtle drug references Arlo sprinkled throughout the song, or the more overt call for a social revolution, or more likely because I had changed so much in such a short time the tunes the radio accepted I could not.
Perhaps I sensed some deeper meaning no song was meant to convey, about the unfairness of life, about how despite all Alice and Arlo did to live a simple life, things intruded them, and I could not get it out of my head how Hank seemed determined to walk that same walk, and to drag me along with him.
And the song would become the sound track from our experience together with Hank memorizing every nuance so that we needed no record player, only his memory, and his voice duplicating Arlo’s so thoroughly, I later was disappointed when I again heard the original, though protesting over Hank’s constant repetitions the whole time.
Hank sang other songs, of course, many of which I sang along with him, harmonize Simon & Garfunkel tunes or Beatles or Stones, but in the mix Hank always included the 20-minute rendition of Arlo’s, and often as not, he sang it more than once – and in public places where others had to endure.
Alone in my room that night, I could not predict how fast friends we would become or how he would finally lure me to New York, singing the song on the bus because the trip took roughly the same time as the song took to sing.
Those drivers who regularly transported us cringed when they saw us waiting in front of the pizza parlor on Market Street in Paterson, their faces filled with silent rage as they glared back at us in the back of the bus during the whole trip, often telling us to “tone it down” or else.
But then when snow storm hit in early spring our bus, navigating one of the last turns before making the helix down to the Lincoln Tunnel, got stuck.
We were part of what must have appeared like a caravan of deviated buses forced up along a slanted rise of a former plank road out of the Meadowlands, and then up this twisted narrow one block-long side street that led up to an alternate approach to the tunnel.
Our bus did not breakdown on the slick ice covered roadway, but the one in front of us apparently couldn’t find traction to get up the steep incline, and we might have backed down and taken the plank road the other way to the top of the hill to make an approach through Hoboken, but the bus behind us developed engine trouble.
So wedged betweens the two buses, our bus had to wait until a repair crew could arrive to fix the bus behind us -- we watching daylight fade and the lights on the York Motel glow.
The bored Hank having already annoyed the passengers with the 20 minute song on our way to that place decided to do it again, drawing not just moans from the others travelers, but warnings to shut up from the driver, who had given us dirty looks coming aboard, and had glared in the rear view mirror over the whole trip, especially at the part of the song where Hank got to scream “I want to kill, kill, kill.”
By the time the bus behind us was able to move, and our bus backed down the hill to take the alternative route, we were no longer on it; we were standing on the side of the road in the cold and ice, pondering alternative transport home or to New York.
I could not foresee all that lay ahead, my uncles still smoldering down stairs as I cowered in my room. Hank’s talk of the village I knew would translate into reality; I knew he would find a life as a hippie, though I could not predict how tainted it would become, how once established in the place he thought he loved he would find it was not the same place all, and he would spend days and night stumbling over the sprawled bodies of prone junkies or become the victim of street gangs – regurgitating memories of his younger days when coming down the hill to Paterson from Haledon, thugs waiting for him near the projects, making him empty his pockets, laying in wait even when he altered his route as if they knew what he would do next.
When the hippie life proved an empty promise, he would return to New Jersey, to Paterson, to his family home, and start over, if not seeking to become the next Paul Simon or Art Garfunkel, then some more modified suburban version that would allow him also to make a living in a warehouse job.
He didn’t stop singing the Alice’s Restaurant song, he just reserved it for Thanksgiving, the way singers reserved carols for Christmas. Yet it meant more than just a holiday remembrance – and the more we got bogged down in mundane jobs and strayed away from the dream he talked about at the Woolworths counter that day I met him in Paterson, the more he thought about finding his way back, joking about finding the place for real at first, and then pulling out maps to calculate how long it would take us to drive there and say hello.
Was it real? Or had the song come out of some twisted dream inspired by a few joints, drinks or tabs of LSD?
“I need to know,” he told me one day some years later. “And I don’t want to go alone.”
I dreaded the drive, not just for what we might or might not find at the other end, but for the time between, the time Hank might feel the need to fill with endless renditions of the song he sang so often on bus rides and on the streets of Greenwich Village.
Still, Hank swayed me and so I climbed into is old Pontiac, agreed to split the cost of gas and tolls, and kept him company for the long ride north.
He didn’t sing. We barely kept the radio tuned as familiar channels faded away and we lacked energy or will to find replacements. We barely even talked, Hank gripping the steering wheel with both hands and struggling to keep the car moderately above the speed limit.
I kept a wary eye out for Alro’s Officer Obie, and for the rail road tracks the song said we have to cross to get where Alice was.
Then, we arrived, and lacking any better way of navigating the unfamiliar turf, we actually asked a local cop directions to Alice’s Restaurant, shocked when the officer nodded and complied, and mumbled something about how good the food was.
We did not dare ask about the trash situation, following the instructions instead, and parked the car in a small lot nearby.
Hank’s boots kicked up gravel as he hurried across the lot to the restaurant, his gaze fixed, dreamlike, almost elated. His expression bore a little of that look I saw that first time when I saw him off on the bus to New York, both times, he anticipating the realization of a vision I didn’t completely share.
We could see people at tables inside through the windows, and the movement of waiters we did not expect. Where was Alice? How could she afford such an army and how could she accommodate so many guests?
A man wearing an expensive suit and tie greeted us the moment we came through the door, frowning a little at our attire which in my case had varied very little from when I was young, though Hank now wore a cloth coat, vest, jeans and boots, with a Clint Eastwood kind of cowboy hat.
“We’re looking for Alice,” Hank told the man.
The man’s frown deepened.
“You mean you want to dine?”
“Yes, that, too,” Hank said, still glancing around, expecting perhaps a glimpse of Alice and maybe Arlo.
“Very well,” the man said. “Do you have a reservation?”



Sunday, November 20, 2016

Bushwhacked by Burr



Sunday, November 20, 2016

When Burr shot Hamilton on the Weehawken bluff above the Hudson River, Hamilton deliberately missed; Burr aimed to kill.
This apparently was something similar when the actor playing Burr in the musical “Hamilton” took aim at Vice President Lance, sparking a huge debate over what is freedom of speech, and what is yelling “fire” in a theater.
Freedom of speech is among the most precious rights Americans have.
So I can't disparage the actor who played Burr in Hamilton from exercising it. Although what he did largely amounted to bushwhacking
This is similar to the stunt Terry Gross from Fresh Air pulled a few decades ago when she lured then Mrs. Reagan onto her show to talk about a book and then hit her with a barrage of questions that eventually had Reason leave the studio
Gross went on to become a hero of the political left for her attack on the former First Lady, and recently was even honored by President Obama, even though what she did was considered a gross abuse in journalistic ethics.
The left loves bushwhacking its opponents.
So Burr, who plays a character not unlike today's Donald Trump, followed the ignoble tradition of lecturing to a captive audience in which included the upcoming vice president.
This idea that the left has the right to lecture people is as offensive to me as the Jesus Freaks I used to meet on Hollywood Boulevard years ago, somehow endowed by moral superiority, by whom and for what purpose remains unclear.
Artists are particularly guilty of stretching their platform so as to believe they had been given a special voice with which to inspire opponents to give up their pre-determined views and take on the views that the artist and the left appears to want.
Leftists, as I said, love to lecture.
I remember having to attend summer school one year to retake math because I had cut the class so regularly during the school year, I could not pass the final. The summer school teachers, who were leftist radicals of that time, wanted to teach us anti-war stuff instead of math, and apparently were willing to pass us if we didn't squirm too much during their lecture.
I learned a lot about the number of bombs that fell on Hanoi that summer, but not much else that added up.
Most of the time, the left preaches to itself, trying to pump its follows up into some kind of non-religious frenzy to somehow justify their point of view.
Even protests are designed for their own and for the media with the vain hope that they can somehow shame the elite into doing what the left wants.
President Trump, like Nixon and LBJ, plays right into their hands by taking insult to their remarks, giving the left an opportunity to capitalize even more on his reaction. Reagan and Bush ignored it and got on with whatever business they had in mind.
The Burr lecture, inappropriate or not, raises serious and legitimate questions about free speech, questions the  politically correct left largely ignored when pushing to ban the flying of the Confederate flag in some public locations.
The left is also largely behind the banning of certain words as offensive or indelicate again raising the question as to just how much they really believe in the concept of Free Speech at all or whether it is more that they support free speech provided they agree with it.
This zealot approach to freedom of speech or thought somehow recalls the most troubling scenes of a Tale of Two Cities where there were acceptable things to the revolution, all else were banned.
This means that politics is no longer about policies, but what people believe in as good and evil.
One Democrat spin doctor tried to claim that the vice president's positions involving gays was evil, because like many religious people, the vice president does not see gay behavior as normal -- and needs treatment, a clearly outdated concept that time and heavy political lobbying by the gay movement has made as unacceptable as any of the naughty words nobody dares speak aloud in public for fear of being called racist, sexist or a bigot – labels the left throws around anyway, tagging anybody who disagrees with their extreme positions.
Many of the Trump appointees represent factions of American society that have been suppressed by a largely liberal agenda since the 1950s, such as the KKK.
Even Democratic presidents like Obama had a similar problem when they took office when the right questioned some of his questionable connections to radical left, characters who espoused ideas that seemed out of character with American mainstream.
Obama, however, did not make the mistake of naming any of these to his cabinet.
Many the Trump appointees were leaders in his campaign, but the left did not rail against them with the same shrill voice on the mistaken belief that Clinton was going to be the next president and so why waste breath.
This also comes against a backdrop in which Democrats are largely supportive of the protests in the streets.
One Supreme Court justice even encouraged the practice, suggesting just how far left the court would go if Clinton had been elected.
Is it appropriate for a sitting justice to express a political view when she is supposed to rule without bias? In some ways, she is like the actor abusing her platform to express views that are better left to other people in other venues.
The justice, of course has the privilege of immunity and cannot be replaced just as the actor and cast has the immunity of an immensely popular Broadway success, a liberal icon nearly as powerful ion his left-leaning message as Hair in my time had been.
Calls to boycott the play are foolish, as well as un-American, since it as much censorship as taking down the confederate flag.
With the exception of the vice president, most of those in the crowd were wealth enough to feel immune as well, wealthy enough to afford the ticket, most likely liberal enough to agree with (as the boos indicate) the actor's position.

This was not the same as screaming fire in a theater, and those who were wealthy enough to afford a ticket and yet conservative enough to find the actor's lecture offensive, merely had to put up with it for a short time, as the actor got his radical credit the way Terry Gross did long ago, just one more bushwhacker striking out from safety and getting applauded for it.

Friday, November 18, 2016

When I was 17…


(Paterson, Winter, 1978)

These leaves – windswept yet frozen from an already long winter – wander these streets like I do, Chlorophyll homogenized by time, season and the star-blue glare of downtown Paterson’s street lights, ghost-like, linger after the crowds have gone. Their movement echoes off the stone faces of banks and legal buildings that frame this corner of this part of the city, shaping it into an island or a prison from which the bus provides salvation, leavings shuffling under each footfall, cracking the way ice cracks when struck, the emptiness filled with sound like substance. Even cops stop walking here after dark.
I am one more leaf rustling, the child of season making the tips of my fingers numb, my nose drip, feeling a melting season come that is not yet ready to arrive, me moving the same way the leaves move, from doorway to doorway, hoping not to get sucked into one the way many leaves have, piled in drifts not frosted enough to be mistaken as snow, my whole life lived from foot rise and its descent, each step landing on a landscape I have no time or energy to explore, not alien after so many years of coming and going here, just different, altered, rebuilt since my last memory so as to seem strange and new, making me restless and aware that nothing every stays the same, even seemingly unchanging places such as Paterson.
When I see people they are black people, and they stare at me, the wrong-colored leaf for this time after dark, a pale yellow in a place where nearly all the other leaves are brown, and I wonder, cannot remember, if this was the same when I came here at 17, foolish and naïve, lost then as I am lost now, lacking, however, all the missteps I have since made so as to feel less lost then than I feel now, less lonely, governed more then by hormones than experience, seeking something not yet found rather than something lost, scared of nothing, except not knowing, where as I know what I know scares me most. I walk and wait and watch for the bus to arrive and bring me to salvation.



Thursday, November 17, 2016

A bitter pill for liberals



Thursday, November 17, 2016

Somehow I survived the usual world-changing annual anniversary I usually suffer through on Nov. 15, unscathed this year, or so it would seem, or perhaps Nov. 8 served as the alternate date this year not just for me, for everyone as Trump beat Clinton in the electoral vote while the popular vote nationwide gave Clinton supporters something else to complain about, denying her in fact what she so ached to have in reality: a place in history as the first woman president – a horrible thought since she and her most ardent followers are so arrogant I wanted anybody but her to win, and anybody won, ushering in a new Fascist state under Trump.

Yet it is not unexpected. The change of administration comes as a reaction to the over-reach of the left, massive social changes rush in too-quickly for many people to digest, a string of social victories imposed on part of the nation not yet ready to accept them – akin to the election of Ronald Reagan that came after decades of a decaying civil rights movement, pushed down the throats of people like a horse pill down the throat of a horse by a liberal northeast or Left Coast elite who somehow believe it has the moral authority to dictate what others should believe or how they should act, an elite shocked when the horse they thought too stupid or docile kicked back and reversed positions to shove the pile not town the throat of the liberal elite, but up its posterior, a vulgar and outrageous demonstration of power that sends bewildered protesters out to the streets in a pointless self-congratulatory demonstration of utter helplessness, unable to change back what has occurred, still too arrogant to change themselves in order to avoid it from happened again, or worse, to stop the horse’s unfettered rampage bound to – if not completely – undo all those change imposed, then to set them back in the way General Lee succeeded in doing when he delayed tine inevitable Union victory in the Civil War.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Clifton Swim Club (another chapter in my novel, "Paint it Red"



We come here to look at girls the way a horse in the desert goes to water to drink, hot sun scalding our faces as we march up to Main Street from the bus stop on Lakeview, hearing the pools advertising mantra in our heads: “the short without the travel, this same pool called “Rentschler’s Pool” when my uncles came here in the Great Depression, clutching nickels for the ticket to let them in, before the war that sent Dave’s dad to Europe, my uncles hiking the whole way up Crooks Avenue from Gordon and the house my grandfather had to live in because he’d built it and couldn’t sell, my uncles walking because in those days, they didn’t have money for bus fair and the pool the way Dave and I do today, that pool the same pool as this pool is now, only the girls are different, with Dave wanting one girl in particular he knows will be here, too, though she won’t be glad to see him or me, she never is, both of us trying not to think too much about that other girl who drowned here in a graduation after party last June.
That last dance haunts everybody from school even fools like us, the comic duo, the Abbot and Costello, Batman and Robin most of the cool kids hate and most jocks can’t catch to beat up.
Main Street buzzes with cars, trucks, buses as the crowds fill the sidewalk outside the gate. We can’t see in through the cyclone fence with the strips of green metal that provides privacy to this public place. The American flags flap over the ticket book where the fence opens in the middle, three windows to accommodate the people seeking to get in, and we buy our ticket as if we are going to a movie, and maybe we are, filled with pool side movie stars who strut around the pool side as if a stage.
Dave stands high over the crowd, his six foot something making him look older than he is, left back twice, yet not old enough even for high school, looking for that girl in the crowd he hopes he won’t see, desperate for her to see him, while I shuffle my feet beside him, wondering why I came, thinking of no girl here I want to see when I want to see them all, half naked in broad daylight, exposed as I am exposed.
The crowd moves so slowly I think we’ll never get in, the sounds rising and falling from the rabble just beyond the cyclone fence, people and tables and umbrellas like ghosts behind the privacy slats, so all we hear are the voices of the cool people drinking cold drinks and slowly getting drunk – and rowdy.
Kids screech in front of us in the line, anxious, bored, complaining at their parents about how long it takes to get through the gate, we all in the same sad boat, clutching our dollar bills the way my uncles did their nickels, clutching deck chairs, bottles of sun tan lotion, blankets, towels, things neither me nor Dave thought to bring: we wear our bathing suits under our jeans and if we brave the water will let the blistering sun dry us, and try not to get embarrassed when Dave sticks to shallow water, a legitimate landlubber despite his size.
When we get to the window the woman behind the glass takes our money and hands us wrists bands with the number of our lockers on it, blue for boys, pink for girls, she doesn’t even look us in the eye, too many of us, sometimes thousands on a Saturday, piling in shoulder to shoulder the unlucky masses who could not take the trip to the shore.
Then inside, we pass through the space where the big shots sit, round metal tables with perforated tops and ringed benches around them and multi-colored umbrellas sticking up from out of their middle, a rare reprieve the constant assault of sunlight on this mostly concrete existence, this a social club filled with people that look to dip, but never dip, whose life is sip and chat, sitting the way the cool kids sit in the cafeteria, there to show the rest of us how hip they are, sipping but never dipping until they are so snockered they can’t do either.
Above and beyond the fence to the right as we come in, jealous kids stare down from the second floor of the brick apartment building, kids younger than we are, kids who watch the waves of people flow through the gate and into the pool complex the way waves at the beach flow over sand, the scent of grilling food from the snack bar and wet bar flowing over this whole section, sizzling hamburgers and hot dogs, we can’t afford, but long for, just as we long for something else here neither of us can have.
She won’t be in this part, I tell Dave, meaning the girl who lives next door to be, sweet Sue Dave is so sweet on it hurts.
People bump into him because he stops just inside the gate to stare at the red faces around the round tables, or clustered under the awning to our left, the name of the club stretched across its front along the narrow edge of the roof.
I nudge him in that direction, to the doors leading to ramps that take us into the building where the men’s and women’s locker rooms are, dark and dank with the flicker of florescent lights overhead, casting an unnatural glow over this danker concrete landscape, painted blue and white, just as the pool and the concrete around it is painted blue and white. But outside in the sunlight, the colors seem sterile and clean; here the air smells of mildew, sweat and chorine, air so thick I can barely breathe, and so crowed nobody has privacy, taking off and putting on clothing along low benches that run between rows of lockers in front of everybody else.
We take off our pants and shirts and stuff them into the locker assigned to us with our entry tickets, the key dangling from the wrist band as we make our way up yet another ramp outside to the pool.
We are young, and we ache to be noticed by the near naked girls around the pool, Dave aching more for one than the others, though none of the girls we see see us, girls clustered around the elevated seats where the lifeguards sit, clucking at them like chickens, nearly fainting when one takes notice of them.
 So we climb down into the water, playing odd games that splash the people seated on the bend along the long end on one side of the pool. The lifeguards, stirred from their celebrity by the complaints, growl at us to behave, girls giggling. We splash each other and move and get more stern warnings and eventually the ultimatum to quit the antics or get put out.
We stay near the shallow side -- not the kiddie’s corner, near where the stairs come down into the pool near the snack bar where the drunken people can keep a close eye on the kids so they don’t accidentally drown – we come down the other stairs nearer the ramps to the locker rooms.
I tell Dave she will be near the deep end if she’s hear at all – the far side just shy of the fence and the trees that grow beyond it, near where the two diving boards are, and slick kids do tricks and dive deep into the water.
Dave won’t let me go there, more scared of her than of the deep water which really, really scares him, yet he can’t stop staring in that direction, studying each face along that side of the pool, those in the water and out, trying to make out her shape against the backdrop of mostly near naked people, the cool kids she likes to hang around, who she wants to think well of her, who always laugh at people like even and laugh now at us, even though we don’t know exactly what they are saying.
Still, I edge away into deeper water, egging Dave to follow, and after enough abuse, he does, feeling each inch ahead of him with the tip of his toes, the slick blue-painted bottom slowly slanting down so as to make the increased depth deceptive, like the crabs or lobsters my uncles cook each time we go to my grandfather’s bungalow in Toms River, getting cooked as the temperature gradually rises to a boil, but not aware of how deep the trouble is until over our heads, and me, thinking of the girl from the dance, who came here that night, laughing with the cool kids the way Sue always does, diving from the high board to plunge deeper than either me or Dave will ever go, and the teachers at the funeral later telling everybody how much promise she showed and how great she might have been, when the police report testified to just how drunk she likely was when she hit the water.
And me thinking of how my uncles and aunt and mother came here, clutching their nickels, and how it wasn’t here that my mother nearly got drowned, but off the coast near the bungalow that summer just after the war when she was about the same age as the girl who drowned and how shocked everybody was when they saw her crawling out of the water, her head bloated three times the size it should have been, something the doctors later never could explain and me wondering if that had anything to do with the madness that later sent her to the institution, and if she had collected the voices she hears from something she found in the depths of the water, and now, we edging deeper and deeper into the deep end of the pool, risking a similar fate, drunk of something we carry inside of us, scared me we might catch something from the water we don’t intend to collect, the laughter of the cool kids filling the air, along with the giggles of the girls near the life guards, along with the shrill sheiks of the kids near the kiddy pool where drunk parent pretend they can’t hear or see anything, and listen mostly to themselves talk.
And I keep thinking about the life guards distracted from the attention the giggling girls to hear one drunken girl desperately treading water in the pool, their panicked leaps from their ivory painted towers into the deep water to rescue her, yanking out, pounding on her chest to get the water out, her bubbling breath emitting liquid but no longer air, unable to bring back to life what the water has stolen, she hearing maybe the same angelic voices my mother hears, needing death to accomplish what my mother managed to drag back with her to shore, and Dave aching beside me to reach deep water, to reach the deep end just to show he can, to show her he’s not as scared as he really is, to survive the way the girl after the dance had not, moving inch by desperate inch, water to his waste, then his chest and finally his chin, standing on the tips of his toes to keep his mouth above the surface where I am treading water to stay afloat, sunlight stark and blinding on the surface, so scorching me and Dave will go home as red as boiled lobsters, unable to cure the pain no matter how much ointment we apply, then yet another inch, the blue bottom so clear we can see the divers sink and rise like dolphins immune, more fish than human, then another inch and another inch, Dave staring up at the life guard who does not look at us at all, whose ever utterance brings a flutter of giggles from girls to whom we are utterly invisible, not even important enough to laugh at, or save when we finally reach that point in the pool when we are over our heads, not nearly as pretty as the blonde-haired life guards, and still Dave takes another step, and another, until he is forced to float, a too-scared Jolly Green Giant with a face green not from the reflected bottom and sides of the pool, green from imagining breathing water the way that girl after the dance did, thinking no one will leap in after him if he suddenly starts to sink, aching the whole time for the shallow water, wishing his shrieks are the sheiks of spoiled little kids trying to raise the attention of the drunken parents that are the previous generations cool kids only at the other side of the pool, instead of shrieks that girl did after the dance, needing to get back to a place where he and I can stand on our own two feet, where his six foot something has real meaning even if mocked, where here in the deep water it means nothing, when the water tells us we need to be eight or ten or twelve feet tall to survive, he, clinging to me like he might a life preserver, threatening to make me sink, too, we both bobbing in water we have no business being in, my lungs filling up with deep water even though I do know how to swim, and imagine with each bob the bubbling water coming out of me the way it did that girl that day in June, and me, wondering will I survive, will I like my mother crawl out onto the concrete with my head bloated three times its natural size, dragging imaginary voices behind me like seaweed.
I tell Dave we need to get to the side before we both drown, and he gets scared and say he thought I knew how to swim, and I tell him, I can, just not for two of us, and so as slow as sea turtles might on land, we crawl though the high water to the pool side where the wide concrete is filled with a forest of tables and umbrellas and near naked girls lying flat on large beach towels.
We clutch the slick side of the painted pool with both hands, the surge of the water behind us, lulling us back with the mistaken belief we might survive another bout, the blond-headed, blue-eyed muscle-thick life guards glancing at us the way they might two soggy old fish.
We are fish, gasping not or water but for air.
And then she sees Dave, not the she who drowned in the pool in June, but the she in whom he drowns, over his head in a pool so deep nobody can see its bottom, adoring the girl that abhors him, she looking down at both of us with mockery in her eyes.
If the sun hasn’t made his face fire red, this does, painting him as vivid red as the pool is blue. We sink down into the warm water until only our eyes and finger tips show over the pool lip, spy guys in an alien landscape, peering out a periscope at enemies we despise, surprised at being surprised that they despise us, too.
All I can think of is that girl after the dance who had come here in the dark on the edge of the rest of her life, and how my uncles and my mother, and how the water had consumed her, and how someone had tried to bring her back to life, making her cough up that substance of which we are all made, yet cannot breathe, and I think of us, two clowns keeping low over the illusions of love, and how twisted hopes can be when we ache for what we cannot have, and cause love to cross over into hate, and I keep thinking of how scared we both are, two eyes above the rim of a pool, aching inside and out, from what we don’t know we want and from a sun that exposed just who we are and for anybody to see, and I keep thinking how much Dave must hurt, and how lucky I am, and how like my uncles who clutched nickels in their hands for a chance to be here, and how lucky I am just to be alive.