I ain’t stupid. I know what’s goin’ on. Always did. Back then, around ’73, me I was maybe seventeen. I didn’t know shit, but I know I loved Long Daddy. That’s what we called him, Long Daddy. I don’t know why we called him that. ‘Prob’bly something I said when I was real little and it stuck. You know how little kids think they hear something so they say it an’ get it all messed up, then everybody say, “Oh, ain’t that cute,” an’ they keep sayin’ it. I know he likeded it ‘cause after a while he got other people to call him it, and pretty soon everybody say Long Daddy or maybe just LD. See, he never had no other street name till I, his son, give him one. Maybe ‘cause he was real quiet, a stay home and watch TV guy. He never hung out and never had no real job at a store or nothing. Just stay in the crib and get high and watch TV.
At night that’s when he went out. Not to no bars or nothing. He went out to make his money. ‘See, Long Daddy was what they called a cat burglar. Don’t get me wrong, not like he went out and stealed people’s cats, ha ha ha. After dark he’d find ways to get into people cribs and take off they jewelry or, later on, their new electronical stuff. You know, like cd players and walkmens and then all that eye-shit. He never took no computers. They was too heavy, he said. If you gonna be a cat, you gotta be light and fast.
Anyhow what I wanna talk to you about was one night how me and him went out together. It was the first time, see. Before that he wouldn’t tell me nothing about where he went. He sure as shit wasn’t about to let me come along. I used to beg him to let me go with him. I’d say, “Long Daddy, c’mon, lemme hang with you tonight.” He’d say, “Hell no, Skinny Wilson.” He called me that ’cause he thought it was cute or something. See, my name ain’t Wilson and, truth be told, I wasn’t all that skinny. Maybe lean or something, but not skinny. It was cool. He could call me Skinny Wilson, but I didn’t let nobody else call me it. Skinny sound like weak or a pushover or something.
Anyhow I’d keep beggin’ him. He’d just say, “I’m a man. You’re a boy. I’m goin’ out to do my man stuff,” and walk out the door. If he wasn’t high yet he’d yell back, “Make sure you lock that door, Boy!”
All that got different back in ’73. The year before that the Knicks had lost it in the NBA finals, but this year they could do it. They had Clyde Frazier and Earl the Pearl and a couple of white guys–DeBusschere or something like that and Bill Bradley (the guy who got to be the senator over in New Jersey) and this other guy, Jerry Lucas, who could throw it in from Times fuckin’ Square. These guys played great team ball—you know what I mean? So that night my boys come by to watch the game and shit. Around half time Long Daddy come out of the bedroom. He got his Knicks shirt on—the real team kind with no sleeves—and his undershorts and his eyes all weird-ass like he been blowing massive reefer, and he tell me to go out and get him some smokes. He smoked Newports. Damn that shit was foul. It was so mentholized it used to burn your throat. I know. I used to cop one outta his pack when he was too lit up to notice and always throwed it out after one drag. I’say to myself, I ain’t never gonna do that again, but you know how it is. It’s not like you forget. You just do it again. Later on, when me an’ him was in it together, makin’ money and all, I actually started buying them things myself.
Now I think I did it to be like him, but back then I didn’t see it like that. I didn’t see it like nothin’. I just smoked the shit.
Anyway, my boys an’ me, we had some 40′s and some smoke an’ we was in the front room watching the game and carrying on, an’ LD, he comes out of the bedroom in his Knicks shirt and skivvies and he got this attitude an’ he shouts at me, “Hey Skinny Wilson, go get me a fuckin’ pack o’ Newports and make sure your dumb ass bring me back all my smokes an’ all my change!” Then he throw a five spot at me. It fall on the floor between us. I bend down to pick it up, you know, I mean, all this in front of my boys. I feel like shit. Then Lacy, my number one dog, he start going’ “Hey, Skinny Wilson, hey, Skinny Wilson.” Pretty soon they all like singin’ it, you know, thinkin’ they so cool.
That’s when I lost it. Just lost it, an’ I started screamin’. We had this lamp on the table. It was about two foot tall and had a frosty white shade on it. I grabbed the sucker with both hand—it musta weighed about five pounds or something—and started swinging the motherfucker like it was a baseball bat or something. You shoulda seen them fools run! It was like one of those movies where the guy gets drunk in the saloon–a cowboy like–and starts shooting off his six shooter and everybody run out the swinging door or jump behind the bar. Or maybe like nowadays, I guess, when one of them mass murderers go off in a movie or a school or someplace. When it happened I was pissed as hell. Now I remember their sorry asses and just laugh like hell.
Long Daddy? That stoned look come off his face and his eyes open wide. I swear he look at me like he seeing me for the first time ever. He just stand there while all my boys running down the stairs out onto the street. His mouth all hangin’ open. He grab me around the middle and give me the biggest damn’ hug he ever give me. ‘Think about it, I think it was the only time he ever hug me. “Boy,” he says to me. He got a grin an’ a half on his face. “You an’ me, we goin’ places together.”
And we did. We did go some places together. We even went out of state down to Atlantic City a couple of times. LD loved to play cards when he had the cash. Back then I wasn’t old enough to go into the casinos, so I’d stay out on the Boardwalk and hustle weed. Sometimes things’d get slow on the Boardwalk, so I’d go over onto them streets where the hookers hang out. Long Daddy tol’ me my mama never come outta the hospital when I was born, but I couldn’t help thinkin’ some night down in AC I was gonna spot her. She’d look like me or maybe I’d just know. I’d conversate with her. Then she’d get pissed that I was just talkin’ and keepin’ her off the stroll. Then she’d finally know it was me. Now that was stupid! How she gonna recognize somebody she ain’t never see before? But, you know, I’d think maybe she used to come around when I was in school and walk past the play yard at recess time to check me out. Stupid as the day is long! Anyhow then I’d go back, cross over the Boardwalk to the sand and take off my shoes an’ socks. If it wasn’t too cold, I’d roll up my pants legs and take a little walk where the water came up to about my ankles. That’d feel sweet.
Anyway me and him started doin’ cat burglaries together. Then one night we was walkin’ home feelin’ real good with some good money from Johnny Rocks, the fencey-man, and right outta nowhere he say to me, “You gonna be all right in the joint.”
“What you talkin’ about,” I says to him. “What joint?’
He says, “C’mon! Don’t go lame brains on me. You know the joint–the joint!”
O Jesus, I think. “You mean like jail,” I say. He sniggers.
“Shit, Skinny Wilson. Jail’s just a minute. Unless you real fucked up or a punk anybody can do jail. I’m talkin’ hard time. You know, upstate. I done it twice, a two-and-a-half-to-five and then a four-and-a-half-to-nine, all in Sullivan County. They got some mean motherfuckers up in that spot. The CO’s beat your ass down in a minute—especially the Black ones—and you ain’t got no table lamp to be swinging at ‘em with.” (He like laughed when he said that part) “and all them wanbes from like Buffalo and Rochester–they call it ‘Rach-ster’ up there–they think they gonna get a rep takin’ out somebody like me an’ you from The Bronx.
“But you cool. You know how to do, and you got the heart. Put another fifteen pounds on you before you go and get you used to movin’ around with that new weight. Fifteen pounds gonna make all the difference.”
You see, Long Daddy was always looking out for me in his own way. I was his only son, so when the lawyer asked me to take the rap for him, what? I’m gonna say “no.” He want me to say when I was up in that apartment the night we got busted, like he only came up there to try to just pull me out before I took somethin’. Of fuckin’ course I said it. Besides, he already had two strikes on his ass. If I’d a said LD did it with me, they’d a burned his shit good. Locked him up till Jesus come back. They was gonna give me a misdemeanor at Riker’s and some community service if I ratted his ass. No fuckin’ way I’m gonna give up my old man!
I ain’t no chump. Bet your ass there was something in it for me. You know, Long Daddy said how he appreciated it and how he was gonna make sure my commissary was stocked. And he was gonna come visit me on the regular. He said they got these busses that split the City maybe six or eight at night and you sleep on them and in the morning you’re upstate for your visit, easy as that. Mostly it’s the women with they kids on the bus, but there some guys–the ones like us don’t have no cars. He owed me big time, so I knew he’d come.
The simple straight shit: He never did come up to see me. Not even once. Never even wrote me even a fuckin’ postcard. Commissary? Shit! If I wasn’t sellin’ blow up there, I’d a never got my smokes or Snickers or batteries for my little Walkman. But you can bet your ass nobody at Clinton or Green Haven or even when they maxed me up to Comstock, nobody ever called me Skinny Wilson twice! Even the ones be ganged up, you know. At first we had the Black Assassins an’ the Reapers and the Javelins an’ a million more. I sent a bunch of them dudes to the infirmary. Later on when we got Latin Kings and Bloods and Aryan Brotherhood, once or twice I went in there myself, but ain’t nobody ever fucked with me again when l comed out.
Them dudes I sent into the infirmary, one of them come out feet first. That’s why they maxed me up here to Comstock. Long Daddy’s got all the time in the world to come visit me now ’cause, you know I ain’t goin’ nowheres. I’m like fifty-seven now. If I don’t get iced, I probably got 25 or so left in me, so he got plenty o’ time to get his ass up here. One way or another I know he gonna show. I was in this rehab program back in The Bronx one time, an’ I met this dude come from the joint in Newark. He tol’ me in the Green Haven was where he met his old man for the first fuckin’ time. Can you believe that? LD could come up here by the bus or even the damn’ paddy wagon. Whatever—when he do, I’m gonna hug him just like he hugged me that time. A man’s only got one daddy, an’ he’s the only one I got.
We were raising a glass to old Martin G, God rest his soul. His hands, I said, hurt something awful when he clapped. This was indeed unfortunate. The world so pleased him that he had reason to applaud a hundred times a day. And no, he needn’t have had a whiskey or a beer or even good sex to feel this way. Morning sunlight reflected off the windows of the new building across the avenue, the drumming of rain on the air conditioner, the fresh roar of motors each time the traffic light outside his bedroom window changed, the sliding scratch of cat claws on wood as Wookie (the gray & white) chased Fred (the amber tiger) out of the bedroom for no reason at all– and these no more than the top of a list as long as the Chinese Army marching past you ten abreast. You’d be dead before he finished. The man lived and died a happy man, no more than that.
Billy, a bit bleary-eyed, looked me—just looked. The Saturday coming up his youngest daughter was to be married. He was already out of money and energy both. Not even a “grumpf” out of him, but that didn’t mean I was to remain quiet. He don’t speak, I’ll speak for him.
But, ‘ah,’ you say, I say to imitate Billy, and, of course, he’d not said a thing. ‘What a rare thing is that, a happy man.’ Billy swirls his empty glass—not even remnants of ice cubes.
And I reply, ‘Are you sure? Or do you perhaps put too high a standard on ‘happy’?
Then, as Billy, “And what do you mean by that?”
So I’m here to tell ya. But first things first. “Barman,” I call out. “Give us another, me and my poor listener. If I’m gonna carry on maintaining both sides of this here conversation, I’ll need lubrication. If he’s gonna put up with me, he’ll need some numbing.” Tall John was on that night, him grinning his ‘it’s-almost-closing-time grin’ as he strides down the catwalk, a spigot-topped bottle in each hand. An old fashioned bartender, Tall John. For years he worked at Smith’s down by Penn Station. This quiet neighborhood joint was his idea of retirement. Still he kept to his old ways. No fresh set-ups for the refills, just more booze.
“If yer glasses are dirty, it’s yer dirt, an’ anything I pour into them’ll kill anything that’s already there.” I remember it was almost midnight and John’s white apron was still spotless. Clearly the man knew something. He filled the two glasses, gently tapped the bottles to each other, set them down in the gutter rail in front of us and left us to our talk.
A swallow and good friend Billy speaks out. “You were about to tell me about happiness.”
Truth is I was, and yet I really wasn’t. Now don’t get me wrong. I can carry on, especially when I’ve been sitting at the bar for an hour or two. But looking back it seems my talk of Martin G had more to do with me than with him. Things had been slowing down of late. It’s this retirement thing. Almost a year now I’ve been not working and still not comfortable with it. My family, you see, my family’s a working family. We put great stock in doing what’s ours to do and taking care of ourselves without the government. Sitting around is something we’re just not at home with. If it wasn’t for sports on TV or a bar to sit down in, we’d all have second jobs or go crazy with the boredom. Now here I am with a Medicare card and a senior citizen’s half-price Metro Card and asking every time I buy something, “Do you have a senior discount rate?” It doesn’t feel right, even though I know it’s all legal.
Martin G was from the same stock as me, brought up with the same values. He’d been retired for about four years before he left us and, I wasn’t lying, he was happy as your fabled clam. He knew something I didn’t and, clearly, this was something I needed to know. It wasn’t like he was running here to there doing from morning to night. Something else. More than once I wanted to invite him out for a glass, for a chance to pick at his brain, but every time it was the right time, I’d get kind of stupid and drop the idea. Then, of course, I’d go to the bar alone and spend the night kicking myself for having done just that. Dumb son of the sod I can be! By the time I felt like I couldn’t postpone things any more, he was too ill to step out, and I was too self-conscious to visit.
Now I was wishing Billy was Martin G, wishing I could say something as simple as, “Fer Chrissakes, Marty, how do you do it?” Instead I’m here with Billy who don’t give a rat’s ass what I talk about so long as I sport him a shot now and then. Martin’d order one tequila on the rocks—how he started drinking that stuff I’ll never know—with a soda back and sit there all night with it. The only reason he’d get that is because he’s renting the stool. He’s good without the buzz. I don’t get it. I wish I did.
“You were gonna tell me about being a happy man or something,” Billy wakes me up.
“Yeah, I was,” I respond.
“’Tell ya the truth,” he goes on. “I don’t think you know shit about it. I mean, you can tell me about Marty G, not that I didn’t know the man myself, but when it comes to being happy, that hasn’t been you since you left the shop.”
What? Was this Billy talking?
“Huh,” was the best I could come back with.
“’Huh,’ right,” he says to me. “Face it, man. You haven’t had a minute of happy time since Sally passed, and it’s only gotten worse since they pushed you into this retirement bullshit. You haven’t a clue about happy or anything like it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Look at your calendar—if you have a calendar—the only thing it might say on it is ‘go to the bar.’ You got no idea how on God’s earth to use your waking hours once you feed yer cat and dump the litter.”
“And who the hell are you to be telling me this crap!” Now I’m pissed. “If I wasn’t buying, you wouldn’t be here.”
“Well you are, and I am, and I guess that means I owe you. So here it is: You’re alone and retired, so accept that and act alone and retired. Get a hobby! Read a book! Go down to the senior center and see what all them widows are about! At home you got nothing but pictures of your dead wife, God cherish dear Sally’s name, and your overfed cat. You spend your damn’ day doing nothing but waiting until you can feel all right about walking into this place. This place! Nothing new or interesting has happened in this hole in the fifty years you’ve been coming here. There are probably more women in gay bars than in this one. Get yourself a life goddammit!”
I swear to God I wanted to clock the motherfucker. I wanted to lay him out no thicker than the sawdust on the floor after they sweep. He was right, and I hated him for it. I just looked at him.
“Now you listen to me,” he goes on. “I know it all hurts. I know what I said hurt, but I’m not about to apologize. I needed to say it. You needed to hear it. More than that, my friend, you need to do something about it. Y’understand me?”
Whoa! I could feel my shoulders come down from under my ears. I took a deep breath, stretched my neck up out of my collar.
He smiled. “Ya pissed at me?”
I smiled a little, chuckled sort of. “I thought you didn’t care about that?”
With raised eyebrows, “Are ya?”
I showed him a deep sigh. “No, no I’m not.”
“Sometimes things gotta be said,” he said.
“I suppose,” I answered him. We both finished off our drinks. I was gonna ask him what he had planned for the next day, but next day was a Tuesday. He’d be at work. I wouldn’t. I thought about the Yankees. They had a day game, but they’d been nothing but disappointment all season. No reason to go back to what don’t work. Besides, I figured there’s a whole bunch of places I’ve never been I could probably go to. Museums and such, and, I suppose, that senior center. I’ve walked by there more than once. They got a whole bunch of groups and classes and the like. As for the widows, that feels like a way off.
“Look” Billy says. “It’s getting late.” He gets up and reaches for his wallet.
“Where you going with that,” I ask him.
“Let me just get the tip,” he says.
“What the hell,” I answer. I pay. He tips.
“Safe home,” he says.
I still remember the pool room. Guys and Dolls they used to call it. Back in the ‘70’s when my first marriage was falling apart I spent a lot of time in that place. Sometimes now it feels like I’m the only one left who remembers it.
Guys and Dolls was enormous. ‘Must have been thirty tables, six for billiards clustered down away from the door and the others for pool. High ceilings so nobody got bothered by all the smoke—everybody smoked in those days. I was a Camels man—no filters, just like my dad. It was up on the second floor. Beats me what was on the first floor. It might have been a 5 & 10. The place had this wrap-around wall of windows on two sides. You could see the whole intersection of Broadway and 79th Street. There was the old stone church that always had bums sleeping on the steps, the same one that’s still there, and a bank—not the one that’s there now. The subway and the bus stop were right there. You could see who was going in and coming out of the liquor store on 79th. That was a good thing for later. You wanted to know who might have a taste hidden in his jacket pocket.
Abe Rosen used to hang out there. We used to call him Abie. Abie’d been an honest-to-God world champ at three rail billiards. By the time I got there he didn’t play that much. Not like he was totally past his prime, but more because everybody knew how good he was, and nobody was ready to throw away good money shooting against him. Once a hustler gets a reputation, he’s gotta go out of town to make his money.
Abe Rosen, he shot like a text book: he stood close to the ground, if you know what I mean. Feet apart but not too far apart; a strong bridge; he held the back hand right at the balance point, with the cue loose between his thumb and first finger. You’d look at him and there was nothing on his face, just blank. I think more than anything that was what scared the shit outta guys when he was out there. No fear. No joy. Not even confidence. He was nothing but business. His eyes looked like they could burn holes in the table. At Guys and Dolls he’d shoot pool for the hell of it. In the middle of a game he’d always break things up with trick shots. “Here, here,” he’d say. “Lemme just show ya this one.”
I liked Abie. He was short and solid, never bragged. He reminded me of my father except those eyes and, even though he was quiet, he wasn’t as quiet as my dad. Besides the half dozen guys who came in on the way home from office jobs, Abe was the only one in the place to wear a suit. Freddy, the manager, liked having Abie around. Freddy used to work in vaudeville before he took over at Guys and Dolls, and he did have a kind of showbiz thing. His hair was always slicked back, no part. That made his face look thin. He wore Hawaiian shirts, even in the winter. He always called Abie a “draw.” When Abie shot three rail billiards, Freddy would call everybody around to watch. See, you rented the tables. As long as the clock was running on all those tables, Freddy didn’t care if anybody was actually shooting or not. The more time you spent watching the show, the more time you’d need later on to finish up your games.
Billiards wasn’t that much for gamblers, especially three rail. Real gambling, hustler gambling was for the pool shooters. Eight ball, nine ball, short games with lots of room to set things up, to maneuver, lotsa chances to bet. Three rail was a long, slow game. More about a simple, gentleman-style wager on the outcome. Once in a while, maybe, a side bet on a particularly tough shot. Only a fool or what you’d call a newbie nowadays would bet against Abe Rosen.
Rebel was different. He was the opposite of Abe. Rebel. Just thinking about the guy you gotta smile. Poor, sad Rebel. He was short like me, about 5’6”. (I used to say 5’6” and three quarters. I never made it to 5’7”. Now it’s more like 5’5”.) He must have outweighed me by at least fifty pounds. As classy as Abie dressed, Rebel dressed the mess. Always dark, baggy slacks with always some stain somewhere hanging down so low you couldn’t see his shoes. Guys used to joke and call him “Barefoot Billy” behind his back. His shirt was always half out of his pants and you could see the crack of his ass after he’d been shooting for a while. He was that sickly kind of white you see on guys who don’t spend much time out of doors. I’d guess he was in his thirties back then. Whatever, he was nothing but a wannabe hustler. No one knew what he did during the day or how he got the name “Rebel.” Nobody cared. The regulars stayed as far away from him as possible. He always smelled a little funny—like some cheap kind of aftershave he was using to avoid taking a shower.
Every night about seven he’d show up. A little small talk about the Yankees or the Knicks depending on the season, then to work. First he’d walk around the room to see who was playing alone. He’d offer to shoot with them “for the time,” you know, the rent on the table. If they said o.k., he’d grab a stick and they’d play. Don’t get me wrong. He had skills, but he’d lose more than he’d win. After a while he’d suggest they “make it interesting,” you know, a small bet to get things started.
If cruising the room didn’t work out, he had a favorite spot up front by the cash register where he could be the first one to spot suckers. Anyone walking through those swinging double doors—especially if they were carrying their own pool cue in one of those imitation leather cases—got to hear Rebel’s gravel-voice welcome, “Hey! Looking for a game?” If he got a “yes,” he’d call out, “Set us up” to Freddy and walk the new fish over to the rack to pick out cue sticks. If the answer was no, I swear to God—and I seen this a hundred times—Rebel would produce new pairs of socks the stranger might be willing to buy “at a real good price.” Sometimes he had those three-packs of polyester underpants that were poplar back then.
Poor-assed Rebel, the man was lost somewhere between being an extra in that movie with Paul Newman, The Hustler, the one with Jackie Gleason, and that other one where Dustin Hoffman was the bum who dreamed of getting to Florida and eating oranges off the trees and dies in the back of a the Greyhound. When he couldn’t find a sucker, he’d play me at three rail “for the time.” That means the loser would pay the table rent—I think I already explained that. Don’t think this was time off for the fat bastard. He wouldn’t breathe if he didn’t think he could make a buck off it. He knew I wouldn’t play him for cash and I wasn’t going to buy underpants, but that was o.k. He had other games, if you know what I mean. When I miss-played a shot, Rebel would grab up the three balls and put them back in their original positions.
“Try it again,” he’d say. Then he’d say something like, “This time hit above center to the right. You wanna stretch it out way down the table to catch the corner long.” I’d try it. If I missed the shot again, we’d play on. If I made it, Rebel would wait a few turns then hit me up for a five or a ten. A loan to Rebel would always turn out to be a gift. You could count on that!
And there was another thing. Rebel used to talk to me while we played. He hated Abie. “Ya know,” he’d tell me. “Abie’s ascared of me. He wouldn’t play me even for the time. He knows I can outlast him. Maybe I can’t do them fancy trick shots, but that’s not what it takes to win. I got perseverance. That means I got strength. I got a good back and good legs and feet. I can stand at that table for hours—hell, days if I have to.” He’d look around the room. “You just wait,” he’d tell me. “Someday I’m gonna show all these stupid motherfuckers who’s really number one around here.”
Of course they never played, Abie and Rebel. Once Rebel tried to get Freddy to set it up. When Freddy figured out what Rebel was talking about—Rebel never just came out and said anything straight ahead—Freddy just rolled his eyes and walked away. Most of the time Rebel’d scowl at Abie from his spot by the door. I never saw Abie look in Rebel’s direction.
I can remember Rebel like it was yesterday and that it was Abie was the one who finally did move to Florida and that #23 was the best table in the house—the one the serious players would favor. And—I don’t know his name—but I can remember this guy who wrote jingles for commercials. He’d beat me at three rail, then we’d go back to his apartment and smoke reefer and listen to Mingus. This was on records back then, vinyl records!
You know, it’s funny. All this comes back like it was yesterday, but real yesterday or even this morning, more and more they feel like mysteries. Anything I can’t find in my pocket might just as well be in another country. But it’s okay, you know. Time goes by. You get used to it. I used to think this was a problem. Now it’s just whatever.
The snap above was made at the opening of a truly fine art exhibit, “A West Side Story: 80’s Subway Painting Exhibit” By Graffiti Art Legend, George “SEN One” Morillo. The show is still going on at
Goddard Riverside The Bernie Wohl Center
647 Columbus Ave
New York, NY 10024
but this isn’t about that. Here’s another taken at the same event:
Of the however many photos I snapped at this event, these are my favorites. In fact, they’re the only ones I like. Clearly both are unclear. The camera is moving; people are moving. In neither case was I looking at the viewfinder when the shutter was released.
I don’t know.
There’s a different element of mystery in the three pictures below. In each we see two people. What’s going on between them? Now here’s where not knowing becomes creativity. Look at each snap…
We don’t see their faces, but we know something is going on between them. Perhaps casual, perhaps dramatic, perhaps outright silly, the interactions by which we remind each other–at least for the moment–that we exist and are part of their lives and that, for the most part, we care.
Here’s what I ask of you: Click on the “comments” or “leave a comment” written below in a reddish color and write a few lines of dialog to accompany any of these photos. You can be as brief or not as you choose. Identify the photo you’re illuminating by it’s number. Have fun!
[Another bit of business: WordPress just notified me that it's planning to insert advertising into this blog to cover the cost of me using it for free. Why this has become an issue after 7 or so years of posting is, like so much else, a mystery. Please let me know if you do or don't mind an occasional ad.
The snap above was taken with a Lumia 928, the camera part of my new Nokia smartphone. In one easy motion the phone was removed from my pocket, turned on and the camera function activated. The device was then aimed and the picture was taken. At home the colors were deepened a bit, a brownish warmth and a thin black border were added using Picasa, a free photo editing and storing program from Google.
One block away sunlight on a construction site partition, brown wood partly painted blue. Same phone/camera, same Picasa.
This is my world.
I look at it,
I’m knocked out.
One hundred steps beyond the top of my book
A man, dressed adequately for all seasons
walks slowly, unsteadily yet gracefully across the grass
separating my bench from the river.
He stops, kneels, then lies down on that grass.
After some time he rises
walks a bit more
stopping mostly behind a tree.
and then moves on.
At a bench to my left
he spots a newspaper
sits down, reads.
Life provides. All is good.
The man who walked, slept, pissed and read
laughs softly, repeatedly
a high pitched ha ha ha.
He gestures enthusiastically
to those I’ll never see
converses intimately, silently with them
words I’ll never hear.
A woman, ears covered
against the noise she creates
drives a Toro mower
in no clear pattern
across the field in front of us.
The smell of fresh cut grass
envelops us both!
It’s been about six weeks since the last posting, an interior dialog resulting in perhaps a deeper understanding of what so many folks find obvious. Living with the benefit of that knowledge–that what we see is what we get, and how we see it is how much we like it–it was off to the beach, to Crescent Beach in Niantic, Connecticut on Long Island Sound for eleven days. Actually it wasn’t that simple.
Between the time this vacation venture was decided on and the moment of arriving at the beach the significant majority of my waking time was spent in either interior monolog or exterior dialog avowing my dislike of the beach and anticipation of physical, emotional, social and spiritual discomfort for the full duration of each and every one of those eleven days. My father–as those of you who read Welcome! already know–lives on deep within my head. It was he who described the beach weeks of my childhood as
“lay on hard sand; eat sandy food; get sunburned. Repeat.”
My beloved Bobbie endured the dialog part when l was tired of talking to myself and couldn’t find others to kvetch to. It was quickly evident, you may be sure–she was!–that promises of lobsters, clam rolls, and peace and quiet weren’t about to sway me. Visits by the kids and grandkids and even a first visit from two of the great grandkids wouldn’t do it. Seeing some of my cousins? Much as I love ‘em, unh-unh. A day spent with Bobbie’s brother Ron and sister-in-law Connie, despite images of Ron and me raising our tequila-filled glasses in our favorite toast,
Death to the Kaiser!
were still not enough to alter my feelings.
No fool, she proposed I leave if I really didn’t like it, so long as I gave it a chance. Understand, Bobbie loves the beach. Be it the Connecticut shore of her youth or Rockaway with dear friend Annie or even by subway to train to taxi or something to Long Beach on Long Island’s south shore, she loves it. A chair by the water, something to read or a puzzle (crossword or Sudoku), lots of sunblock and water temperature warm enough to permit wading up to mid calf and she’s happy. Really happy! It’s not that she wouldn’t miss me, but it clearly wouldn’t be a factor while at waterside.
With all that in mind we packed remarkably little, took the subway to the train to the car rental agency at Union Station in New Haven and let a GPS we ultimately named Gypsy guide us to South Washington Avenue, 4 blocks from the beach. When we arrived, it became immediately apparent that somewhere along the way I’d lost all my doubts, anger and anxieties, all my obligation to maintain my father’s attitude, all the twisting in my belly and muscle tension in my jaw and shoulders. There wasn’t even a little voice in my head pointing this out, questioning it or singing it’s praises.
I was just…there…at the beach…just there.
Before we left New York I’d loaded my mp3 player with 227 albums featuring 317 artists performing 3241 “songs” in 81 different genres. From the time we exited the train in New Haven to the time we, eleven days later, boarded the train home, the only time the mp3 was used was to sound the chimes beginning and end of my morning meditations.
No tv. Minimal internet.
Beach, books, Bobbie, family.
No others need apply.
With all that in mind, here are some snaps from this unexpectedly just-right time:
Grandkids Benny & Topher
I can tell ya a story about this place
Dharma Drum Retreat Center, Pine Bush, NY…
“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”
“As you get older you need less sleep.”
“Yeah? Anything else you wanna tell me before I either hammer your dumbass mouth or just walk the hell away? Ya know, I don’t have to be here.”
“Remember all is impermanent.”
“Including me, right? Right?!”
“When you think about it—“
“Will you just shut up and let me meditate?”
“You are meditating. You’re focused on your body.”
“My damned body is focused on me. “
“You are meditating. This is meditation. If you weren’t sitting here in this beautiful building, kneeling on your nifty little padded, rocking Japanese-style seiza bench, you wouldn’t be in pain.”
“Just shut up and let me focus on my breath or the ringing in my ears or the birds outside the window! Breathe in…breathe out…breathe in…breathe out…breathe in…breathe out… breathe in…breathe out…”
“I’m still here.”
“I can’t hear you!”
“Yes you can!”
“No I can’t!
“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”
“You said that before.”
“I’ll say it again.”
“Please, I only got about 4 hours of sleep last night.”
“Remember, “as you get older you need less sleep.”
“Then why am I so tired?”
“You’re doing everything you’re supposed to. You’re not falling asleep. Hell, you’re not even any clumsier than usual.”
“I will. All is impermanence, remember?”
“Will my knees and my back and my thighs and my butt stop hurting?”
“When it’s time.”
“You mean when I’m dead?”
“Now you said that.”
“You’ve got an answer for everything, don’t you?”
“A perfectly useless, meaningless answer for everything. It was bad enough when it was just the body aching up it’s little storm. Now I’ve gotta listen to your preaching.”
“I’m really getting to you, huh?”
“Yes you are!”
“How do your knees and back feel when you’re yelling at me?”
“…Wow…I don’t feel them…hardly at all.”
“What do you feel?”
“You’re playing me!”
“Am I? What are you feeling?”
“You know damn’ well what I’m feeling. I’m feeling like a fool. After last Spring’s retreat I said I’d never do this to myself again. Maybe I’m not too old, but my body sure as hell is. I can’t keep these hours. I can’t sit for—what—40 minutes at a time–in this kind of pain. How the hell can I work on anything when my brain is filled by agony? Or when I have to listen to your preachy bullshit, your know-it-all preachy—“
“Shut up! That’s right, you shut up…”
“…Who am I to you anyway that I can rent so much space in your head?”
“You’re my mind. I know that.”
“So who’s responsible for every thought that comes out of me?”
“You trying to say I’m responsible for your bullshit?”
Tap…tap…a bell rings
“Take a short break, and then return to your cushion to go through it all again.”
Some of you already know or at least suspect that I’ve really–REALLY–gotten into Taoism lately. Not the religion which developed from this understanding of ultimate reality, but the original teachings of Lao Tzu and Chaung Tzu. It’s a profoundly simple and uncomplicated understanding of all that is, complicated only by it’s rejection of so much of what we regard as basic and true. That being said and me rereading what I’ve written so far, it’s clear that nothing about this is particularly clear. Whatever…
There is another book also alleged to be the work of Lao Tzu. Lao Tzu, by the way (that’s btw for those who speak only text) may or may not have existed, an idea which somehow imparts the essence of Taoism–which, of course, is not pronounced tow-ism but dow-ism. Go figguh. That book is called The Unknown Teachings of Lao Tzu, Hua Hu Ching. Now get this–and this part will be no surprise to those of you who like to have fun–Hua Hu is pronounced whahoo! (the exclamation point is mine, but what did you expect? Ching is pronounced Jing. Whoopee.
All that aside, on page 21 of Brian Walker’s translation of this tome, talking about the “mature person”who seeks understanding of the Tao, he says this:
Gently eliminating all obstacles to his own understanding, he constantly maintains his unconditional sincerity.
His humility, perseverance, and adaptability evoke the response of the universe and fill him with divine light.
All that is fine and respectful and such, but there’s something else, something utterly essential. At the heart of the Tao with it’s constant rejection of all we westerners and most easterners regard as reality is it’s ability to laugh at both us and itself. Really! There may be no other body of take-this-seriously-’cause-we’re-ultimately-spiritual-and-divine literature with such a wonderful and instructive sense of humorous self-deprecation. Humility, perseverance and adaptability are nice–don’t get me wrong–but if you can’t laugh, you don’t stand a chance of understanding Taoist understanding or truly loving this life.
* * * * *
Disclaimer: Just in case I prove to be following in the footsteps of the late and sorely missed Emily Litella in all of this,
It occurred to me this morning while sitting in peaceful meditation that I do indeed need a high-powered assault rifle equipped with a magazine holding at least 100 rounds of profoundly powerful kill capability. Had my meditative state been any less profound, this remarkable revelation would have disrupted it severely, perhaps even causing me to latch onto that thought, building an ever-greater structure of consequences upon it until becoming sufficiently engrossed as to miss the three chimes signaling the end of the meditation period.
[I interrupt myself here. This post is not about meditation. It is about my--and perhaps your--relationship to those weapons of significant destruction which have recently come under fire ('couldn't resist that one!) from the liberals.]
Most folks who support the individual’s right to own an AK-47 or the good ol’ 30-06 (a.k.a. thirty aught-six), the recently spotlighted AR-15, Remington 870 (“most popular shotgun in the country”) or even a Glock 40 tend to put it in terms of the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution. That, as some will say, is all well and good, but justification via legality for owning one of these babies pales in comparison to the rationale supplied by actual need. As one owner says,
“Guns, if they have a moral dimension, are good. Without guns, the strong can always dominate the weak; the many can always dominate the few; and men can always dominate women. A gun gives each person an agency equivalent to his (or her) moral standing. In my humble opinion, those who teach correct and proper gun use are doing G-d’s work.*
And there are a wealth of additional reasons to maintain one’s personal ability to wreak havoc from a distance. Fear is usually at the heart of it. But not always, especially among the truly brave. Here’s mine: it’s fearless and it begins with a photo:
The photo is one of traffic outside my bedroom window at night. Think about it: every one of those cars has a horn, a radio and probably one or more additional devices for amplifying sound. In short every one of them is capable of–dare I say it?–ASSAULTING sleep, reading or other bed activities. This I do not like, but O, what to do? From seven flights up there is no way to tell which vehicle hosts that honking horn or offending sound system. If the culprit vehicle had a blinking roof light or other visible sign of identification, an M-15 or other designated marksman rifle (DMR) sniper rifle would be acceptable–if, of course, I was fast enough on the trigger to select, aim at and squeeze off that well-aimed single shot. Quite frankly, dear reader, that scenario goes far beyond my sharpshooterial skill level. An automatic weapon, on (or in) the other hand, would allow me to hit all, thus insuring that the actual noisenik received his or her ultimate comeuppance.
And, with the aid of a silencer, I’m sure my neighbors would thank me for standing up for our community’s right to a peaceful night’s whatever.
* * * * *
Now it’s your turn. What is your reason for owning a gun.
- To protect your loved ones?
- To protect your valuables?
- To protect your castle?
- To defend your state via militia participation?
- To kill coyotes or other varmints?
- To have your way with small shop owners?
- To show them who’s a victim?
- To stand up for–or even enforce–your beliefs?
- To quash opposing political or social opinions?
- To feel like a real man or woman?
- Just for a thrill?
Use the comments tab below to register your reason for big gun ownership.
The image above was made with the idea that the camera never lies. The one below with the idea that the camera is capable of going beyond reducing the multidimensional world to a mere two. In the one above the goal is to show what things looked like. The one below works more with emotional impressions which don’t fit well into words. Which, for you, is the more engaging?
Click on “leave a comment” below to let me know your preference.
LONG SON PAGODA, NHA TRANG, VIET NAM: The Long Son Pagoda’s huge white Buddha is visible throughout Nha Trang and beyond. The pagoda is dedicated to the Buddhist monks who gave their lives or were killed protesting the repression of the Diem government. Perhaps the memory of Thich Quang Doc’s self-immolation in 1963 played a part in my seeking out this place. More likely not. There was simply something compelling about the gigantic, utterly peaceful presence of the 79 foot tall Buddha that led me to taxi away from resting at our hotel and to the base of Trai Thuy Hill, to look up in awe and then begin the climb (120 or 152 steep steps, depending on which guidebook you believed) to the statue.
Half way up there was to be a great reclining Buddha created by a Thai sculptor. I never saw it on my way to the top. The only diversion from my climbing: a covered platform off to one side housing a great bell, a stone bench under it, attended by a monk who motioned me toward the bench. Was I really ready to willingly break my momentum? Apparently so, for I found myself going down steps to reach the platform then climbing up steps to take a seat on the bench.
From the waist up I was within the bell surrounded by messages taped up by previous sitters: notes, poems, sections of sutras, wishes, thanks. I began to feel myself to be part of a large, ancient and contemporary culture of gratitude.
My shoulders relaxed as did my belly and legs. My breathing, stimulated by the climb and my fears that this was more than a 71 year old with my feet could handle slowed down into a warm and gentle rhythm.
The monk sounded the bell. A deep, low, almost soundless vibration surrounded me like a loving embrace. He began to chant softly. Twice more he sounded the gong as the chant continued. All the lunacies of the climb and of aging and of all the rest of the neurotic package I’d brought with me from home vanished. Writing now, two months later, the ease of that moment remains with me.
The rest of the walk up felt both brief and easy. The hilltop was filled on two sides by snack and souvenir vendors, some worshipers, some tourists and some folks just hanging out. Both the “legitimate beggars” and the “scam artists” the guide books had warned against were absent or on a break. Built into and around the hilltop were containers for the cremated remains of generations of monks and believers.
The statue itself rested atop a pedestal large enough to contain a shrine room where another monk assisted those wishing to light incense. I removed my shoes, entered in silence and bowed at the altar. The vibration of the bell below was still inside me.
Walking joyfully back down the steps I came upon–no surprise, right?–the enormous reclining Buddha. Clearly the universe had known I wasn’t ready for it on the way up. There were several folks admiring and interacting with it including honeymooners who were being photographed touching Buddha’s elbow for luck.
I made a note to do that once the elbow was cleared and began photographing the enormous statue from various angles. I moved in close for a tight shot of the Buddha’s face. That was when it happened. The right eye winked at me! There’s no other way to say it, just as there is no way to explain it. As I looked at the crystal clear image on the camera’s viewing screen, the right eye of the great stone reclining Buddha statue winked at me! It did! I looked directly at the statue. No second wink. Back at the screen. No wink. I switched to “memory,” but, of course, I’d not taken a picture.
I virtually skipped down the remaining steps, My smile growing with each stride. At the base of the hill, just outside the pagoda, I got into a singing, giggling goof with three Vietnamese souvenir-sellers, then rode back to the hotel on the back of a motorbike through what seemed to me to be remarkably calm and well directed Nha Trang rush hour traffic. There’s a picture of me with the cyclorickshaw driver, but that’s not what this is about.
Aside from some practical information in a couple of pre-trip guide books which focused on the historical ruins of Angkor Wat, my first exposure to anything more substantial than history and hotel locations in Cambodia came when I read Step by Step, a short book of Buddhist monk Maha Ghosananda’s words. Frankly, they were only words to me at the time, standard Buddhist canon not at all unlike what I’d been reading on-and-off since the early 1960′s. Then came real life. In my three day “minute” actually in Cambodia, I learned. My teacher was this man known to us as Thai.
In a brief introductory letter Thai wrote to us visitors:
My name is Thai and I have the pleasure of serving as your Trip Leader…One of the best things about my country is the warm and friendly nature of the Khmer People (Cambodian people.)… May Buddha be near and protect you on your journey of discovery and spread luck along your path.
Thai not just showed us but truly demonstrated the quiet strength and depth and ultimate beauty of a people whose history has housed millenia of struggle with nature, with neighbors, and recently with the indigenous, naive and ruthless Khmer Rouge, creators of the Killing Fields,
with the Vietnamese who came allegedly to rescue the Cambodians from the Khmer Rouge and, sadly, with my own nation. For three days our little group traveled among this remarkable enclave of peace, gentleness and focus on a present, among as many as 6 million landmines in this nation of 14 million mostly rural people without even the slightest thought that one of us might step off the road to rest or piss behind a tree and have our legs blown away.
Maha Ghosananda led a series of dhammayietras, peace walks, through the Cambodian countryside and into cities and towns even while hostilities raged. On these walks to bring peace and to restore the Cambodian traditions of Buddhism and civility monks and nuns and lay folk were sometimes shot, sometimes killed. Still the people rallied to participate in or support the dhammayietras. Even soldiers of the Khmer Rouge, sworn to eradicate Buddhism, would put down their weapons and bow when a dhammayietra passed. When he asked why he would bring his message of love and forgiveness to the Khmer Rouge, he’d reply that no one needed to be brought back into the human fold more than those who had strayed so far from it.
Maha Ghosananda said to know suffering, to really know it, is to know nirvana. For me there was the overwhelming feeling that the folks we traveled among knew suffering. They knew nirvana as the present moment, this moment, right now, the only time without either regret or fear, the only time in which love, joy and accomplishment was possible.
Here are some of the faces that greeted us:
And here–I don’t know why–is the one I remember best:
It happened like this.
My hall neighbor, Nicki, wrote that she would suggest to her son, Tyler, that he respond to the writing opportunity I posted two or so ago under the title
the one no one responded to.
Hmm, I thought to myself…Self, what about a posting specifically for kids. Many of the folks I announce new postings to have kids or grand kids or, at least in one case, great grand kids. What if they were invited to write in response to…to what? Then I remembered I’d brought home at least 50 snaps of kids from Viet Nam and Cambodia. Some city kids, some country kids, some kids who lived in the mountains as part of ethnic minorities and even some kids who lived in a floating village! Take a look at them!
#1 sits in the ancient Cambodian ruins at Angkor Wat.
#2 shows Vietnamese “just marrieds.” The bride is 16. The groom is not much older.
#3 is a thoughtful Montagnard, member of an ethnic minority who lives in a mountain village.
#4 shows to residents of an orphanage run by Buddhist nuns.
#5, 8 & 9 show Montagnard school kids.
#6 is a drummer in a Montagnard folk music and dance group.
#7, 10, 14, 16 & 17 are city folks.
#13 shows a Montagnard young mother and her child.
#15, 17, 18 & 19 are country kids.
#12 & 20 live on houseboats in a floating village in Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia. Even their school is a boat.
* * *
Now here’s what I’d like you to do:
- Show the collage of kids above to your kids or grand kids or nieces or nephews or neighbor kids…
- Ask them to write a short story (one page maximum) based on any one of the pictures.
- They can:
- Type it directly into comments
- Or type it on a word processing program and cut and paste it into comments
- Or write it on paper, scan the page and copy it into comments
- Or draw a picture in response to a photo–maybe something they feel the kid in the photo would like–scan and copy it into comments
- Or something else I haven’t thought of.
In order to use “Comments” you
- click on “Comments”
- scroll down to “Leave a Reply”
- and enter your story where it says “Enter your comment here…”
- When you’re satisfied as you’re gonna be with your writing, click “Post comment” at the lower right.
- Along the way you’ll see two options: Notify me of follow-up comments via email and Notify me of new posts via email. Check either or both if they’re right for you.
I truly look forward to seeing what the kids produce and then sharing it with you.
Vague thoughts about Buddhism, reports of the country’s beauty and outright admiration for a nation that had survived a thousand years of Chinese domination, a century of French colonialism and eleven years of American military technology all played into my decision to go to Viet Nam. Maybe there was also a need to confront some lingering shades of poorly defined patriotic guilt. Despite my poorly displayed opposition to what there is called the American War, I went to Viet Nam still expecting to be seen and, in some sneaky, snide way, treated as the enemy. But look at this guy! Look at the look he gave me when I, unmistakably American, asked, as best I could, if I could photograph him at his post in Hanoi at the Ho Chi Minh Masoleum.
“Yes! Of course! You betcha.”
And this warmth was absolutely typical of the response our group got everywhere we traveled in that country, from Hanoi in the north,
along the coast through unspeakably beautiful Ha Long Bay,
to historic Hue,
and Hoi An,
and Nha Trang,
to Da Lat,
and Ho Chi Minh City as it prepared for Tet, the new year
and into My Tho in the Mekong Delta.
We lunched in private homes with both ARVN vets who fought with the invading American forces and members of the Viet Cong who fought against us. All agreed,
“The war is over. Our job now is to make Viet Nam the best it can be right now–not to waste our time being pre-occupied with the past.”
Guilt laid to rest, there was still worry…
* * * * *
“How does anyone (like the woman at the left of the photo above) get across the street alive,” we asked. “It’s not like Rome where you wait for a nun who’s going your way and tail along behind her.” They said, “Relax. When you want to walk, walk deliberately and steadily across the street. Don’t look left or right. Don’t speed up, slow down or stop. Cross like you’ve got the right to do so. You do! People on bikes, motorbikes, in cars and trucks, they’ll see you and go around you. If they can’t go around you, they’ll stop. No one will honk or yell–the way they say they do in your country.”
* * * * *
After that reality and theory fell into place. Maybe because I want to believe it, I do see the hand of the Buddha in the veterans’ focus on the present and in the mutual respect shown by those who use the street. I see it in the harmony of native and French cuisines, in a guide telling us, “We are a very practical people. We eat everything.” This was our introduction to weasel coffee. (In the words of Yogi Berra, “You could Google it.”)
* * * * *
A remarkable number of my trip photos are of people: workers, kids, some Buddhist nuns. The kids all go to school. Everyone else works. It’s said in Viet Nam, “If you don’t work, you die.” More Buddhism?
There’s more to say about this trip and the 3 day extension into Kampuchea (what the Cambodians call Cambodia) with Angkor Wat and a floating village and memories of the Khmer Rouge and the Killing Fields. Stay tuned.
I’ll be away for the next 3 weeks. While I’m gone, I’d like you to write me a story. I want it to begin in the picture above with you passing through the red door (in either direction, your choice.) Once you’ve done that (and, of course, you’ll have to tell us the details, you travel here:
or maybe even here:
only to find yourself confronting her:
Write me a story in 200 words or less, making yourself the central character and following the outline above. Spelling, grammar and vocabulary do not count! Interesting counts! Engaging counts! Fun counts–unless it’s dramatic or really serious. Satirical always counts–except when you’re being dramatic, etc.
Submit your stories by putting them in the Comments section following this post. To do that just
- click on “Comments”
- scroll down to “Leave a Reply”
- and enter your story where it says “Enter your comment here…”
- When you’re satisfied as you’re gonna be with your writing, click “Post comment” at the lower right.
- Along the way you’ll see two options: Notify me of follow-up comments via email and Notify me of new posts via email. Check ‘em off if you wanna. Whatever… One way or another on Tuesday morning Bobbie and I are off to Vietnam and Angkor Wat for 3 weeks.
- More will be revealed.
20 years the social worker for addicted, street-affiliated institutionalized adults.
2 decades of wonderful daily challenge.
“You’re only a failure if you believe it.”
“I believe it.”
“Which? What I just said or what they said?”
“No, man, it’s not about them. It’s what I say.”
“Which do you say?”
“That they’re right.”
(Forgetting about ‘them’) “About what?”
“That you’re a failure?”
“What did you fail at today?”
“Look at my life. Look at where I am.”
(Firmly & slowly redirecting) “What did you
fail at today?”
“What do you mean?”
“Did you get up this morning?”
“Piss? Shit? Wash up afterward?”
“Make the bed? “Straighten things up?”
“Yeah? What’s this got to do with shit?”
(Keeping focused) “Show up for our appointment?”
“I was late.”
“Are you here?”
“Yeah, I’m here. What’s this all about anyway?”
(Keeping focused) “Are you here?”
“Yes, I am here.”
(Quietly) “What did you fail at today?”
“If you put it that way, nothing yet, I guess.”
“Did you give yourself credit for any of that?”
“What you did.”
“No, not really. I mean, it’s such small stuff.”
(Puzzled tone) “You said ‘stuff.’ Usually you say ‘shit.’”
“See what I mean: you make stuff out of nothing.”
(Focused) “You said ‘stuff.’”
“O.K., I said ‘stuff.’ Are we finished yet?”
(Exhale, feel shoulders come down, smile appears) “Yes.”
“This shit is really crazy.”
“Yes, it is. Next week?”
“I don’t know…”
“Same Bat time? Same Bat channel?”
“Same Bat time. Same Bat channel.”
I read (present tense here: read “reed” not “red”)
Beau Sia and I want to write like Beau.
I want to be angry and write anger
and feel and sound justified in
throwing the word fuck into whatever I write
often and in the right spots–even on this page right now
And clever—yes, clever—and intellectually hip and
All the good shit he does so effortlessly (unless—
And this is a possibility—he stays up really late after performing or partying or whatever he does—
and works his craft like an obsessed candymaker counting jelly beans and spice drops into cellophane packets.)
Even before I knew of him
I saw Beau live heard him read alone without others
At MOCA, a museum in Chinatown
More modern than the Modern
More ultimately metropolitan than the Met (maybe not.)
Next I saw Slamnation: 162 slamassed poets from all over the USA
***First on the goddamn
and don’t you forget it!***
In teams of poets
Competing in raucous rhythm and gaudy glee (and some anger to be sure
but probably never really angry)
In a competition they loved (I’m sure they loved it)
Without believing in it:
“How can you rate a poem, a poet, a performance in points?”
“You can’t. “
“You can’t score poetry.”
“We tell them to.”
“Oh yeah…but for the prize money, right?”
“If we do it for the prize money, we lose out on the fun.”
Beau from Oklahoma representing NYC!
Go figure. Nobody seemed to be
Where they were from.
(Question: are YOU where you’re from?)
Nobody cared. All were great—I mean it. Great!
Now I’m reading THE UNDISPUTED GREATEST WRITER OF ALL TIME: POEMS BY BEAU SIA
Reading it aloud
VERY FUCKING LOUD!!!
So I have to wait until I’m alone in the apartment or by the river so I don’t scare anyone or give them a headache—I’m good at being loud when I think no one will hear—but I can do that.
What I can’t do is be angry. I can
fake it. I fake a real good anger. But
Don’t get me wrong, I can feel anger all right.
It starts in my shoulders, then drops into my belly
before it rushes up my burning neck into
All those empty spaces in my brain where memories used to be
The ones I’ve pretty much disconnected from my mouth—pretty much
Swims in there, it does, while my belly becomes
the bucking bronco festival for city folk every once a year
at Madison Square Fucking Garden.
But enough about me
This was supposed to be about Beau
But the only thing about Beau is Beau
So you hear him—you know he’s on YouTube
Tell him I sent you. See what he says.
Two recent articles by Richard Schiffman, I recommend both to you.
Do All Religions Teach the Same Truth? http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-schiffman/do-all-religions-teach-the-same-truth_b_2217161.html?utm_hp_ref=religion
Did the Dalai Lama Just Call for an End to Religion? http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/atheologies/6647/did_the_dalai_lama_just_call_for_an_end_to_religion/
Let’s start with the 3 jewels of Taoism:
Simplicity, Humility, Compassion
Now let’s add On A Night Such As This, a collage created by Romare Bearden in 1975:
Here’s a picture of a pretty full moon rising over my block…
…and a Thanksgiving souvenir stand briefly on our corner:
There’s so much I know nothing about, so I present it rather than write about it. What about you?
Another guest blog, this from a friend, Hannelore Sander
Notes from Sandy
I am volunteering a lot these days at disaster relief sites in Staten Island, Far Rockaway, and Coney Island, communities, which have been hit so hard by Hurricane Sandy. I love doing this. It is such a good place to put my energies. I get up at six a.m., when it is still dark outside, and put on layers of clothing and a backpack, so that my hands can be free. I take the subway to the Mayor’s Office in lower Manhattan. Old clattering yellow school buses, called back into service for new turns of duty, take the volunteers, who have gathered there in the early morning cold, on long bumpy rides to the places where help is needed. They come from all walks of life, ready for simple, practical, sometimes backbreaking, curiously unsentimental work.
On the way, initially towering above us, and then seen from afar as we cross the bridges out of the City, are the monstrous buildings of Wall Street, many of which still stand silent and empty, their electrical guts destroyed, a skyline of previously unassailable giants brought to a patient halt. The power and the money that is in Manhattan will soon have erased all traces of the storm. But it will take years to rebuild the devastated neighborhoods of the outer boroughs, with their often poor residents, whose lives and harsh living conditions, which were a reality even before Sandy hit, now are made infinitely worse. I have never really been aware of them before.
The most dramatic sight of boats carried onto shore and tossed onto the roads along the beaches is gone. The cars that were buried under mountains of sand swept in three or four blocks deep on 20 foot waves are freed now, though their engines, corroded by salt water, will never allow for them to be driven again. Where will they end up, these thousands of car carcasses? Most of the commercial establishments along the main streets are boarded up but a few of the grocery stores and bodegas and small food places, their walls stained and their floors buckled and cracked from water damage, are beginning to stock some goods again. Cosmetics are not important, the aim is to just open and make a living again. There are piles of debris filling the yards and the sidewalks in front of the houses. In some cases, it seems that every last possession that ever was in those homes, is heaped outside. Traffic snakes slowly through streets clogged with fire engines and Con Edison trucks and other emergency response and repair vehicles.
In cavernous warehouses, we sort through mountains of donations, which will then be delivered to various distribution points. In community centers and churches, we hand out bottled water and food and toilet paper and tooth brushes and diapers and cleaning supplies and serve a warm meal to those who for two weeks now have had neither heat, nor water and who are, in many cases, still without electricity. “We will only take what we need,” they say shyly or proudly, and we feel a pricking behind our eyes. We smell their bodies and wonder where they will be able to take a shower or wash their clothes.
Where will they go to live, these thousands upon thousands of people from those huge, housing projects, now still huddled around their gas stoves, which they keep on day and night to get some measure of warmth? For many of these buildings are no longer safe, with gas leaks increasing and mold growing relentlessly on the walls. “We went through the buildings the other day, knocking on doors asking if people needed help. I smelled gas coming from behind one of the doors and we found a woman inside the apartment. She had a respiratory disease and needed oxygen. There were tanks of oxygen all around.”
As responders are beginning to look up from and beyond providing for basic survival needs, the scope and scale of this disaster are beginning to be seen and known. “It is so much larger than anyone can possibly imagine”, the team leaders, who accompany us on the buses, say. “We now need to move into the restoration stage and it will be massive. We just hope, that the interest will not wane, that people will still want to come out…”
This is Thanksgiving Week.
My dear husband,
If I were your guest blogger, this is what my offering would be:
“Today, Day 24 of Richard’s retirement, has offered us a moment that could only be described as WONDERFUL. The scenario: me, at my desk, catching up on some work interspersed with checking email; he, supposedly at his desk, responding to various Facebook offerings. As I was somewhat engrossed in my own environment, I slowly realized I was hearing a sound emanating from the kitchen…a sound of clean dishes being put away off of the dish-drying rack. Or so I thought. But it continued. And continued. As I sort of “came to,” so to speak, it dawned on me that we didn’t have that many things on the drying rack. Sounded like coffee mugs and glasses. Lots of them. And then it hit me!! He was rearranging the mugs and glasses in the kitchen cabinet!!
I quietly walked to the sound I dreaded to confirm….and YES, there he was, up on the little step-stool, rearranging the mugs and drinking glasses!! I waited for about 30 seconds, which was all I could muster before I started to quietly snicker. As he turned around to see what the sound was, he smirked as only he can. We then both broke out into uncontrollable laughter. He said, “Busted!!”
I can’t help but wonder (dread?) what the NEXT 24 days will bring. “
Your loving, and patient, wife….Bobbie
OK, so there’s the guest blog exactly as written. Now permit me a few observations.
My dear [please note the lack of capitalization in "dear." Dear indeed!] husband,
If I were your guest blogger, this is what my offering would be:
“Today, Day 24 of Richard’s retirement, has offered us a moment that could only be described as WONDERFUL. The scenario: me, at my desk, catching up on some work interspersed with checking email; he, supposedly [and just who is doing the supposing? Who was directed to suppose?] at his desk, responding to various Facebook offerings. [Actually I was supposed to be checking to see what time the Beau Sia poetry reading at MOCA--Museum of Chinese in America--was supposed to start.] As I was somewhat engrossed in my own environment, I slowly realized I was hearing a sound emanating from the kitchen…a sound of clean dishes being put away [and you can be sure just who cleaned them] off of the dish-drying rack. Or so I thought. But it continued. And continued. As I sort of “came to,” so to speak, it dawned on me that we didn’t have that many things on the drying rack. Sounded like coffee mugs and glasses. Lots of them. And then it hit me!! He was rearranging the mugs and glasses in the kitchen cabinet!! [Well golly gee wonkers...]
I quietly walked to the sound I dreaded to confirm….and YES, there he was, up on the little step-stool, rearranging the mugs and drinking glasses!! [Hey! It's not like I was rotating the dining table chairs.] I waited for about 30 seconds, which was all I could muster before I started to quietly [Quietly like a 16 year old practicing the trumpet] snicker. As he turned around to see what the sound was, he smirked as only he can. We then both broke out into uncontrollable laughter. He said, “Busted!!”
I can’t help but wonder (dread?) what the NEXT 24 days will bring. “ [Whatever that might be, I'm sure we'll love it.]
Your loving, and patient, wife….Bobbie [Sigh...]
As I’ve said elsewhere, “Hey, I’m retired, I’m home, I’ve got nothing better to do than to notice everything and make comments.”
Sunday morning I began attending a 6 part adult education series (free, of course) on the Book of Job being held at All Souls Church at Lexington Avenue and East 80th Street here in Manhattan. The first question posed by Minister David Robb was “Why be good?”, but there seems to be a pre-question, “What is Good?” Is Good the same as moral or ethical or correct or polite or something else? maybe natural or appropriate or desirable? Growing up I was taught that being good meant obeying the 10 Commandments, to love–not just honor–your parents and to be polite. Whatever these requirements or guidelines might be called, the Book of Job clearly depicts a deity not acting in accordance with them. This set me to noticing what for most people is obvious, that animals and oceans, winds and electricity–most humans in fact–don’t act in accordance with the Commandments or Precepts or any other concepts beyond what might be called their own nature. But back to God…
How much human misery has resulted from people expecting God to obey the laws God had made only for humans and then being regularly disappointed at the reality that such is simply not the case?
While the Abrahamic faiths all label people as good or evil as they guide their lives by the Commandments, Buddhists and Taoists–Taoists particularly–emphasize following one’s human nature and simply fitting into the grand scheme of things as being the desired style of living. The Tao Te Ching says we know the truth of this by looking inside ourselves. This means looking past all the beliefs, opinions and feelings we’ve accumulated–the ego–to what others have called “God within” or our “Buddha Nature.” Some might talk about uncovering the “real me,” but that, I suspect, easily turns into the “me I want to be” and sticks me back in the ego trap.
Retirement has taken me from a “senior” position in which I was expected to know and control a great deal and the ego to support that responsibility to one in which I am free to just respond to whatever comes along without having an assigned or defined relationship to it. Relaxed, I don’t have to have opinions or any other habits of thought or behavior that must be brought out in reaction to the world as it presents itself.
Will this bring me closer to revealing that Original Mind, that Soul, that Real Me waiting under 70 years of accumulation? Maybe. I do know that there’s an increasing ease of living, a new joy each morning in discovering myself awake with a new day ahead. Less concern–I avoid the word “anxiety” here–with what I’ve done and what to do next. There’s certainly less self-criticism for the variety of emotions–lust and anger come to mind–which come up unbidden then, usually, pass unrealized. More music, more flavors and sights find themselves in the “delightful” category each day. More options are not only acceptable, but actually exciting in their potential to take me somewhere new. More spontaneous “Aahhh” and “Thanks!” and “Wow!”
All of this ties together. Good, God, God within, fitting in, freedom, gratitude, delight and the rest of the list.
What do you think? Please leave a comment.
I am not a victim of Hurricane Sandy.
Neither am I a hero nor a particularly keen observer.
I’m just here in New York, participating in my life
Itself unremarkable but for its uniqueness
And only thus equal to those of all others.
Sad with those whose pain
Is overwhelmed by suffering,
Envious of those with strength and determination
To lose themselves in service
With jealousy, too, for those whose words and photos
Have done so much to convey this moment to the world.
Friend Annie from Rockaway Park
Slept two nights on our couch
Glued by tortured imagination
To televised images of chaotic reality
Then replaced by Stepson David,
Just moved into an apartment 42 stories high
In a building without electricity
He firmly focused on next steps.
Some time spent in an emergency shelter
Serving bacon, eggs, pancakes and coffee
To grateful, subdued, nameless strangers,
Some time at a seniors center phoning
Inviting folks to a Thanksgiving feast
(“Travel should be possible by the 18th.”)
–Needed, then not needed at a hospice–
A contribution to the Red Cross inspired
By rock ‘n’ roll.
I attend a presentation on Taoism
& Relationships, another on the Book of Job,
One more on Issues in Buddhism
Watch an old movie, Chocolat.
Vacuum! Cook! Drink tequila.
Friends from The Bronx come to dinner
Bringing red velvet cake and their love.
Return DVDs and CDs to the library
And the laundry—after the tragedy, the laundry.
He was born “Richard,” and up until he time he arrived in New York everyone who knew him well called him Dick. That, of course was before the word became synonymous with either a body part or an arrogant dufus. The truth be told, this was after the time of Richard Milhouse Nixon, but coming from a liberal, pro-union family and having been active in civil rights since his middle teens, there was never any fear of him being identified with the disgraced president.
New York is different. New York changed that and instantly.
It happened one night at the Annex, a bar, a jazz-filled bar on Avenue B in the Lower East side, it’s floor covered with peanut shells the way other bars covered their floors with sawdust. The year was 1965, and the Annex–not and never annexed to anything–was the kind of place you might see John Coltrane or Sun Ra or Reggie Workman or any of the other Philadelphia expatriates who’d found their way to The Apple late’50′s-early ’60′s, axes in hand, eating fried chicken. Dick, who less than a month after this historic evening would find himself, Ivy League diploma at home in his suitcase, frying those chickens for 75 cents an hour–had already finished one Cutty Sark on the rocks and was about to order another when a remarkably attractive and island black woman entered glancing about the room appraising it’s contents. He was cool in his approach, never stumbling or wishing he’d held a drink.
“Hi,” he grinned with delightful naivete. “My name is Dick.” She looked slightly up into his eyes, her own blinking just once and very slowly. Her face curled into a smile of no clear meaning.
“C’mon, White Boy. You really don’t expect me to believe that!”
The “White Boy” thing went right past him. It was 1965 and, remember, he was cool. Still “huh,” was the best he could do.
“‘Dick?’ In New York that’s not a name. That’s a value judgment.”
He stood blank-faced. Again, “Huh?” Her smile became a grin at the edge of a laugh.
“But back home–” he responded uncertainly.
“Where’s that, Georgia?” She looked him up and down. “You don’t look like nobody from Georgia.”
“Maybe that explains it.”
She hmmed. “‘Hartford,’ I like that. I’m gonna call you Hartford. Maybe even Hart if I like you.”
Dick stared at her. That damned New York thing. No wonder everybody was calling him Richie. He stared at her and wondered, was he staring like a dick? He smiled and thought, “I could like that. Hartford…Hart, ” not really sure if he’d thought it or actually said it out loud. He envisioned a heart, not the valentine kind, but the anatomy heart, pulsating and powerful. “It’s still an organ–” again not sure if it was thought or spoken, but,”Yeah, that could work for me.”
She smiled with her eyes. “OK, Mr. Hartford–”
“No–No ‘mister.’” He was still smiling, but his words were firm. “You say ‘mister’ and I think you’re talking to my dad.”
She blinked. Now her smile was warm, light, almost inviting. “You got that, Hartford. My name’s Pinkey.
“Pinkey!” He smiled this time.
“Don’t give me no grief.”
He knew she’d heard before what she anticipated hearing now. No worry, he thought. The grin never left his face. “That’s the last thing I’d want to do.”
A beat. Her eyes twinkled. “And what’s the first thing you’d want to do?”
His eyes twinkled. They both laughed, walked to the bar and sat down.
Whether Pinkey was her first name or her last name he never did find out.
It all comes together.
Overcoming a virus, the Jewish New Year, a trip up the Hudson to the Bear Mountain Oktoberfest, the meeting in Briarwood Queens, home of Samaritan Village’s corporate headquarters from which I left with my retirement determined, the training in working with people with extensive childhood trauma, the legitimate possibility of per diem psychotherapy work at Postgraduate Center for Mental Health and the purchase of a new (Diamond Back) commuter bicycle–one with front shock absorbers to minimize the aches in my forearms.
And then there’s the image and words above, the first Rosh Hashonah card I’ve ever sent. The photo was made from that Circle Line boat taking us to Bear Mountain as it passed under the George Washington Bridge. The words fell out of my head without my having actually thought of them.
That sort of thing happens to me more and more frequently: stuff coming from somewhere deeper than my brain, bypassing the thinking process altogether, then making itself known to me at the same instant it finds its way into the ears of the world. A spontaneous outpouring–not unlike the sunlight above the bridge (I don’t remember seeing that!) in the photo–of the me I hope will become more visible and commanding as I continue alive.
And it’s everywhere:
Sometimes it shows up when, riding the bike toward a destination, I turn–unprovoked–into a side street toward I don’t know or particularly care what.
- Sometimes it’s walking into an unknown movie theater only because the show’s about to start.
- Sometimes it’s about what’s put on top of my pizza.
- Sometimes it determines which church I walk into.
- So often it determines when I click the shutter of my camera or the words I write for you to read.
- Once it chose the woman I am still married to.
What about you? When has your spontaneity (I call it that only because I don’t want to turn off the atheists by calling it God or even Buddha Nature) raised its chuckling little head and dragged you off into Gee-I-didn’t-think-I’d-go-there. Put it in a comment after clicking on “Leave a comment” below.
“Nothing’s wrong. Everything is just as it is, that’s all.”
“Then why’s my belly flipping? And my shoulders, how come they’re up around my ears–”
“That’s about you.”
“Yeah? Ain’t I part of this goddamn’ world?”
“Hey! Take it easy. Buddha said–”
“Are you sure?”
“Wickipedia. You could Google it.”
“You know what I mean.”
“What’s up with you?”
“‘What’s up?’ The last six years you been sayin’ ‘What up?’ You tired o’ tryin’ to be street?”
“I guess. Never thought about it.”
“See? That’s it. There’s a whole bunch o’ shit you don’t think about any more. You just come up with your automatic Buddha says stuff like nothin’ could be nothin’ else.”
“You do an’ I’m sick of it. We usta talk about shit, explore it like. Now, no matter what I say, you shoot back some five to seven words of 2500 year old profundity and think, ‘Topic closed. I tol’ ‘em again. O what a clever spiritual being I am.’ Ya know, I’m gettin’ really fed up with your ‘more deeper than you are’ crap.”
“No! No, I didn’t realize…I didn’t mean to–”
“And when things ain’t workin’ for you, you go into your little silent withdrawal in public–like nobody’s got anything to say to you, so why even give ‘em a chance? Mr. Silent Sufferer, except that you wouldn’t suffer because Buddha says suffering is just mind-created bullshit, and so, of course, you wouldn’t do that because you’re so damned in tune.”
“Don’t you mean “Buddha”?
“And the way you always talk about ‘Everything works out.’ How come you always seem to forget that while it’s workin’ out? When you were goin’ through that shit at work and before that when you couldn’t eat because of the whatever that you wouldn’t get operated on because you were convinced it wouldn’t work”
“Hey! Gimme a break. I gotta be perfect?
“‘Course not. Nobody’s perfect. We both know that.”
“So what’s this all about?”
“I tell you the truth: When we’re together, whether you’re being the spiritual asshole or the sulking asshole, you’re still being an asshole.”
“In both cases you’ve forgotten about me.”
“Especially when I’m being an asshole. Shit, man. That’s when I need you. Not some preachy shit or some ‘poor me, but you wouldn’t understand.’ I need You!
“When are you an asshole?”
“Christ! Like right now. Right now! SEE! You don’t listen. Fifty thousand butterflies doin’ the polka in my belly. My jaw is tight…my shoulders…”
“Turn around. I’m gonna give you a back rub.”
“Yeah. Right. What’s that gonna do?”
“Just turn around…and shut up.
“Yeah. You shut up too.”