Little Simple Things

Hello Everybody,

Last week, I boarded a flight from Los Angeles to New York City. I sent a last message to Dan, my friend and director of a filmed version of Richard the Third I was to act in, while there.

On plane. On time. See you in 6 hrs.

I turned off my phone. The rest of the passengers boarded, sent their last texts, turned off their phones, settled in for the flight. But as we waited to taxi to the runway, this message came over the PA…

20140427_141435“Ladies and gentlemen, we have word our 1st Mate is stuck in traffic. Looks like there’s some wildfires wreaking havoc on I-5. We are currently trying to find another pilot to take her place, but until then we must ask all of you to deboard the plane and wait at the gate for further notice. But it looks to be at least an hour before we can board again.”

Off plane. Delayed. Who knows when.

Back in the terminal, I sat next an electrical outlet so I could charge my phone. A few passengers hovered over me, rather irate now that we wouldn’t be landing in New York until late in the night. I wasn’t, because Dan texted back…

Will track ur late ass. Get here when u get here.

45 minutes later, I received an email alert telling me my flight was delayed 45 minutes ago. That’s helpful, you silly little machine. At the gate’s kiosk, a passenger argued with the gate attendant who kept smiling and uttering statements anchored with the words force majeure. The passenger was bald, the pate of his head glowed red. He wore the remains of a business suit, sweated through it as he shook his phone at the attendant. But the attendant held her smile…force majeure…so Baldy walked away, dialed a number, then shouted into his phone statements anchored with the word f#$k.

An hour and a half later we were in the air.

“For couple of years there,” said Dominic, who sat next to me on the flight, I pulled in like a hundred grand. Then a couple of years later it’s back to setting up tents at weddings. Catering.”

Dominic had been watching the movie, Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks, through the little viewing monitor on the chair in front of him. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, was playing on the screen in front of the passenger on my other side, but he’d fallen asleep. Little Hobbits fought the fire-breathing dragon in front of their sleeping audience as if movies weren’t made for people, anyway. The guy sitting in front of him watched The Wolf of Wall Street, but he was drunk and just kinda moved his head around as Leonardo DiCaprio and Co. screwed the fools of America out of millions until they drank, snorted, f#$ked and wrecked themselves into prison and money went on being made as if it didn’t need Us to make it. I was watching Her, a beautiful movie about heartache and moving on and falling in love with an Operating System. Well written and well acted, the movie’s frighteningly foreseeable. The drama unfolds in a Los Angeles set somewhere in the near future, but not yet the LA of the film, Blade Runner. Throughout the movie, more and more people are seen cooing into their computers or listening to the sweet nothings of The Cloud from their ear pieces.


When the movie ended and the credits were rolling, I took a look around the cab and saw everyone plugged in to the screen in front of them. I rubbed my eyes, unsure if I was still watching the movie or not. I noticed that Dominic had paused Captain Phillips sometime just after the evil black pirates had taken Christlike Tom Hanks hostage, ordered him into the escape pod, and jettisoned into the sprawling blue ocean. Dominic was staring blankly at the illuminated screen.

“Couldn’t get into it?” I asked.

“Uh…I’ve seen it before, so…” He shrugged his shoulders.

Dominic was from Ohio, been in LA 10 years. He liked LA but didn’t know if he wanted to live there anymore, but of course, didn’t know if he wanted to live anywhere else. And, of course, didn’t know what he’d do Anywhere Else.

20140519_222132“That’s good, man,” he said, “that you gotta real skill, building things. Me, I’m catering, waiting tables, bar-backing and whatever I can when I’m between films. It’s such a hustle, man. Everyday. Everything’s always up in the air. I’m supposed to act in and oversee the production of a film my friend’s been able to put together, as soon as the money comes through, which is supposedly soon. At least that’s what I’ll tell my brother I’m visiting in NY.”

Dominic and I exchanged info at the baggage claim and bid each other farewell. Will I ever see him again? Will I not? It seems a simple decision to make, seems I have all the power to say yay or nay. It seemed a real possibility that we would indeed meet again, just before I turned and headed to the taxis, just before I pulled out my phone, texted Dan…

Getting cab. Be there soon.

…just before another email alert popped up telling me that my flight will arrive at JFK late, just like it did. But Will I? Won’t I? Will I? Won’t I? may as well have been the riddles of Taoist Monks. Will I? Won’t I? Will I? Won’t I? as a cab came approached. I stepped into it helplessly, a being guided by an incomprehensible fate.

The view inside a memory.

The view inside a memory.

I spent Friday walking around New York. It was a cloudy contemplative day. Strong memories came to me at every corner. But they came in blurry. I couldn’t recall a single, specific moment of the 10 years I spent in New York. Block after block, the harder I tried the blurrier The Past became. So I gave up trying to remember and when I did I realized New York City was the memory. The honking horns. The ambient roar in, out, over and underneath everything. This is all a huge part of meThe walk lights flashing, the stopping and going of people and traffic. The endless chatter that no one on the street seems to be speaking. Everyone walks with shoulders tensed, mouths slightly open, their eyes behind fixed protective expressions, their gazes falling upon a point of distant calm through the vast realm of chaos. Wires running out from their ears, pumping The Cloud into their brains. A huge part of me...

Rain drops began to fall from real clouds, and the rivers of humanity on the city’s sidewalks flowed harder to the subway drains. I helplessly flowed down the drain and was spat out in Astoria, Queens where Dan lived. The wind was hard and knocking down awnings and whisking trash all over the place. Then came the hard rain and in seconds I was soaked, through and through. The rain came in from the side, so I held my head to the opposite side as I negotiated the storm, glancing in one eatery after the other. It was evening now, and the Fridaynighters ate and spoke with silent mouths, leaning close together and smiling in dry clothes just a thin pane of glass away from the biblical deluge through which I trudged.

31st Street, below the elevated N,Q train line was river. The sewer drains were clogged with plastic cups, plastic bags, plastic bottles. The water rose over the curb. The roar of the rain and wind and trains pummeled my consciousness. My soaked hood flapped about my face like hound dog ears. I felt my Self disappearing into just a moving shadow seen only on the edge of the headlights of passing cars.

20140516_175352Then the rain stopped. The wind stopped. The city was now calm and quiet. Smokers crept outside of bars. One smoker saw me, let out a one-syllable laugh, tapped another smoker on the shoulder, who looked at me, laughed the same way, took a drag. Then they turned to each other, huddling in a cloud of nicotine the made all by themselves.

I got to Dan’s, threw my soaked clothes in the dryer, put on some warm, dry clothes, kicked back and relaxed. Sleep was fastly approaching when my phone chirped out another email alert: Flash Flood Warning!

But there was nothing but sunshine the next morning. I ate breakfast by the kitchen window and let the sunrays warm my skin. The same sun would rise over Los Angeles a couple of hours later, 2,500 miles away. The same sun but a different shine. One spoonful of yogurt and granola after another, I kept thinking a hard thought, I don’t miss New York anymore. I love it, but don’t miss it.

After breakfast, I hopped the Long Island Railroad out to Ronkonkoma. There I met up with Dan and the rest of the cast and crew of Richard the Third. I played Clarence, imprisoned by his brother, King Edward. The first scene we shot was mostly a long monologue through which Clarence describes a nightmare he’d had the night before. He dreamt he escaped prison and sailed with his other brother, Richard the Third, across the English Channel. But Richard knocked him over board and…

Lord, lord, what a pain it was to drown!

What dreadful noise of waters in my ears.

What ugly sights of death within my eyes.

Methought I saw a thousand fearful wrecks,

Ten thousand men that fishes gnawed upon,

Wedges of gold, great anchors, heaps of pearl,

Inestimable stones, unvalued jewels,

All lay, scatter’d in the bottom of the sea,

Some lay in dead men’s skulls, and in those holes

Where eyes did once inhabit, there were crept,

As t’were in scorn of eyes, reflecting gems,

Which woo’d the slimy bottom of the deep

And mock’d the dead bones that lay scatter’d by.


I rode back to the city with Ben, the costume designer. Ben’s been a friend of mine for over 15 years, since Texas, and we’ve been working together off and on ever since. We began to chat – as Ben drove us out of Ronkonkoma – about old times, new directions, etc. Conversation was easy as we cruised down streets that could have been anywhere in the USA. One-story houses, small green lawns, one tree on either side of the sidewalk leading to the front door, an SUV or sedan in the driveway, the occasional rusted, dusty and dented sports car parked on the curb. Georgia. Minnesota, Texas…

Public toilet in Anywhere, USA.

Public toilet in Anywhere, USA.

…then we drove down a street we’d already been on and Ben hit the brakes, stopped in the middle of the road. He huffed and puffed and picked up his phone, and spoke, “Get Ben home.” The kind lady in the computer agreed, and led us to New York City.

On Monday, I met up with my friend, Lauren, in Central Park.

“Yeah,” she said, “I got fired from the restaurant, sublet my apartment and have been crashing on couches ever since, getting some clothes out of storage every now and then. It’s great. I feel it now, Todd, the freedom you have.”

“Well, I’ve been feeling it for 4 years now and don’t know how much more of it I want. I’m broke, and I gotta do something about that, or more of what I’ve been doing, or more of whatever–”

20140519_203305(0)“You’ll be fine. We’ll all be fine. See, it’s not just you or anyone of us, but all of us. We’re all highly unstable. Pluto may not be a planet anymore but it’s still a powerful force on us. Right now, it’s squaring up against Uranus. Those are two powerful forces. Pluto’s a slow mother#$king tugboat of hell and Uranus is lightning. They’ve been at it for a couple of years but next year they’ll stop going at it. Then our paths will be clearer. This is all crazy shit happening at the end of a larger 13,000 year cycle. During that time, Humanity has been defined by brutality. It hasn’t been pretty. But we’re about to enter a new age of Man…you know, the Age of Aquarius (rolls her eyes)…a time when we’ve gotten all the rape, murder and rule out of the way…a time of great enlightenment.”

My phone in my pocket was warm on my skin. An app was running. An app’s always running. The phone’s always running. Always. Everywhere. At once. Always will. I stood up. “I have to pee.”

“Oh god, I do too,” replied Lauren. “I mean, I’ll probably have to be wheeled to the toilet I have to go so bad.”

Almost there...

Almost there…

The next day, I took the N-train to the 7-train to the E-train to the Air-train to JFK. Just before the train pulled into my terminal, I saw all of the borough of Manhattan Island clearly, completely. So small in the distance: the skyscrapers of the financial center downtown to the low buildings of Greenwich Village to the skyscrapers of Midtown and then the consistent range of mid-level buildings to the end of the island. A small simple city. The sun shone brightly upon it, as it will on all cities. As it has on all cities over the last 13,000 years. Cities built by a small simple species that almost has all the rape, murder and rule out of its system.

Be well…

Hey! What’s this?! It’s a donation button! Think El Jamberoo’s worth a couple a bucks? More than a couple a bucks? As many bucks as you can spare? Hey, I won’t stop you…but more importantly, thanks for reading. It means a hell of a lot.

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Yes, This World

Hello Everyone,

This is a good visual of a Murakami book...and of Friday.

Portrait of the inside of Murakami’s brain…and of Friday.                            

Friday morning, I awoke to heavy rain drops. The morning light couldn’t seem to find its way into my room, therefore I couldn’t seem to find my way out of bed. But I was finally able to carpe the diem and arise, because I knew I couldn’t hide forever. The rain continued and the gray glow out the window accompanied me through the morning as I began work on a music project I’m involved in – after coffee, of course, and only a minimal amount of procrastination. So, I put on my headphones, recorded, cut, re-recorded, listened, recorded, re-recorded, cut, coffee, erased, gave-up, gave it another try, recorded, cut, re-recorded, etc.

I finished around lunch time. The rain had stopped. The day felt quiet after the rain, and the silence seemed to filter the life-force of the day as it traveled into my room – only a gray light came in, only the residue of real light. I felt isolated – in a warm and fluid womb in which I swayed rythmically, attached to the world only by an umbilical cord with a slight obstruction somewhere in it.

After finishing up the project, I had nothing to do until the evening. I ate, figured that was a good idea. After eating, I was still a bit creatively wired, but the rain came again and I could feel the cold air come into the room – going for a walk was not a good idea. So I sat down and opened up Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 – a gorilla of a novel about parallel worlds. I liked the book – so far, I was only 700 pages in – but I couldn’t concetrate. The radiator kicked on. Hearing the radiator knocking in April is a bit of a drag, like seeing the box of Christmas decorations in the attic in June. Knock, pop, knock, knock. I stared just over the top of the book. Knock, pop, knock. Then the refrigerator joined in. Click, click, click, click. By then I was holding the book in a reading position simply for posterity. Finally, the sink – drip, drip, drip – a metronome keeping time in this womb, with no crescendo, no birth. Drip, drip, drip. Underneath it all was the constant ringing in my ears due to the tinnitus that I’ve had all my life – so loud and palpable, millions of tiny screams poured into the ears. I looked out the window. So gray. Soundless. Nothing come through. A fish in a fishbowl.

The upstairs neighbors came home. Their heavy footsteps burrowed down, through the ceiling, to me. I could hear the wooden studs of the ceiling creek. I could hear voices, but no words. At 4pm, my neighbor, James, came home and started yelling. He was probably a few drinks into his loud and rageful descent into his alcohol weekend. I could hear him clearly. “Alright! Whoo! Yeah!” He doesn’t say much more than that on late Friday afternoons. He saves the speeches for the darker hours – when he desperately tries to convince himself about something of ultimate importance, but slurs too badly to understand what he’s telling himself.

See the other world?

See the other world?

1Q84 centers around two star-crossed lovers who are trying to find their way to each other but are in parallel worlds, so to speak. They’re so close, at times – they can hear each other, sometimes even see each other – both just on either side of the barrier that seperates them. The search becomes more about finding and understanding oneself, and, that only in finding oneself can one find their compliment. It’s a very good book, but reading about parallel universes and dreamscapes in the middle of a cloudy day made me feel more isolated. That gray light out the window. It didn’t feel like it came from a world I inhabited. There was the slightest membrane, seperating me from everything else – plyable, like elastic, but utterly impenetrable. I put the book away.

Later, I hopped over the threshold to my apartment door like Neil Armstrong, into the hallway, relieved to know I was – indeed – on Planet Earth. I locked the door and headed out into the dreary evening.

I hopped the D-train. The D-train is always cold. It has metal walls, instead of insulated plastic walls like the other trains. Yet, I didn’t really feel the cold – more like I was simply aware of the cold. I sat amongst a large Mexican family, laughing and joking in Spanish. But they sounded so far away. Correction, I felt far away – like a peripheral character in a novel, who I can’t get interested in, and can’t figure out why he’s even in the book. As we crossed the bridge into Manhattan, I thought about all the tourist-y things I said I would do, here, in my last week in New York. I didn’t do any of them. Just like the last time I left New York. And the time before that.


Stagnant light.

I got off at the West 4th Street stop, then meandered about in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. The sky still offered light, but the streetlights were already on. They shined in the wet gray air, along with the traffic lights and headlights. But all electric light seemed to die just beyond its source, creating only isolated pockets of unatural color, as if the ingredients of the moment had failed to mix.

Steam rose throught the grates in the sidewalk, eagerly filling in the spaces between each light. People passed across my view of the world, in and out of the steam, from every direction, but I still felt seperate from everyone. The isolation had a rather narcotic effect. I floated through the steam, the park and people, possibly toward oblivion, when a rough looking fellow with a scowl reserved for mugshots called to me and demanded I play chess with him. He sat – shivering in his dirty clothes – at the outdoor chess table.

“Hey! Wanna play chess?” said the man. “I know you do.”

The peices were already set, he was ready to battle. He just needed another human to play. I was too cold.

“No thanks.”

He gazed at me as I walked away – baffled – like he was holding up a sign that said Free Gold. Further down from him another man whistled at me and asked if I wanted to buy some pot.

“No thanks.”

He shook his head, forgiving me as if I knew not what I did. I was grateful to him, however – and to the lonely chess player – their attention tethered me to the planet, satisfied my hunch that I was not yet a ghost.

Right there, but far away.

Right there, but far away.

The night that ached to be was finally born. Around 8pm, I met up with my old friend, Ben, and we went to see the movie Evil Dead. The movie was awesome, everything I like in a horror movie – build up, copious moments of dreadful shock, and release laced with laughter. But what made it an experience – something more than just a movie – was seeing it in a crowded theatre. Normally, I hate noisy crowds, but with a horror movie, part of the fun is jumping at scary scenes in unison, then laughing together over the fact that you just got sissy-fied. Everybody was in it together, united for an hour and a half. I was watching the credits roll when I realized my ears weren’t ringing anymore.

Ben and I have been watching horror movies together for about 15 years – since we were college students in Texas – and it never gets old. After the movie, we went to a coffee shop to have one more cup of joe together, before I left town. Ben told me about a tenant that was found dead in an apartment on the floor of his building.

“She’d been dead for nearly three months. They found her in the doorway. I thought it was just a really bad garbage smell,” Ben said. “But nope, it was human. It’s sad, but it’s not even news in New York. So many people die alone in such a crowded place.”

That was as much of the past as Ben and I discussed. Instead, we talked about ideas that we’d like to create on stage or make into films – projects we wanted to do together. We didn’t need to talk about the past. Simply being with each other confirmed all that had happened in regards to our friendship was real. The past bolstered the moment we were in – and in that moment, we confirmed our existence.

It happened at the top of the steps.

It happened at the top of the steps.

It was well after midnight when I took the slow train back to Bay Ridge. The train rocked back and forth and time sloshed about like water in a bucket. The subway car was filled with the aroma of whiskey breath, marijuana and farts. Most passengers were laundry bags, bouncing at the mercy of the moving train, exuding a goofy, drowsy smile. But for a few others, the novelty of their drunk had worn off, and to take its place was the old familiar anger, contempt and longing over something so wonderful, so beautiful, that seemed just beyond reach only a few short hours earlier, but at the end of the night, was nowhere to be found.

Sometime after 1am, I was certain I belonged in this world. Then I went to bed.

Be well…

The Lensing of Truth

Hello Everybody,

The voices are like shadows - ephemeral, but there nonetheless.

The voices are like shadows – ephemeral, but there, nonetheless.

Thursday, it became clear to me that I needed to sift through my belongings. I will be leaving New York City in less than two weeks, and I need to get rid of or give away anything I won’t need. I didn’t have to work and I had nowhere to be, so Thursday was a perfect day to get it done, or at least set aside any clothing I wouldn’t be taking with me. But shortly after realizing it was a good day to do so, I glanced over at the dresser, thought about going through it, then resumed what I’d been doing before I had the realization – staring dumbly into the computer, drinking coffee. After enough of that, I glanced over at the dresser again, then played my guitar. The dresser stood in front of me, like a hulking, wooden audience who looked unimpressed, in fact, looked as if it had died as a direct result of listening to me. With an encore obviously not needed, I put up my guitar, looked at the dresser again, then thought about eating. Finally – after not eating – I went to the wooden cadaver, opened the drawer that was home to all my t-shirts.

Most of the t-shirts were old, frayed at the neck and arms. Many sported little tiny holes, and some I could easily pull apart with my hands. Most of them could be thrown away, I only needed two or three at most to work in or wear at bar-b-ques. However, as I went through them, I noticed that deep within the fibers of each worn garment was a memory, and the shirts, together, created an image representing much of the ten years I’ve lived in New York. One shirt was given to me by a friend, another I recieved by volunteering for a park clean-up, and ah, this one I wore in a play. I was wearing this shirt when this happened, that shirt when I did that…etc. The memories started out fondly enough, but soon took a dramatic and dark turn, when I heard a voice way back in the back of my head shout FAILURE! several times. Then I heard another voice behind that voice screaming something inaudible, but based on the intonation, I determined it to be something like self-pity. I decided it was a good idea to shut the drawer and take a walk along the bay.

I walked out the door and into a straight-up, bona fide, sunny spring day. It was so bright, I ran back inside and grabbed my sunglasses. I rarely wear sunglasses, but the sun bouncing off the water of the bay would make a thorough, slow and internal voice-quieting walk a bit tough. So I put on the shades and headed to the water. Two blocks from the bay, I could smell the salt air. The sun felt good, though pockets of shade were a bit chilly. It was such a grand day. I felt as if I’d finally crawled out of that thick, blue-gray, melancholic blanket of winter.

Can you see Lady Liberty?

Can you see Lady Liberty?

At the pier at the end of 69th Street in Bay Ridge, a few clusters of Chinese or Mexican fisherman were trying their luck. It was a weekday, so there wasn’t a lot of people around. I meandered about the pier, finally making it to the edge, where I caught a clear view of the Statue of Liberty. Lady Lib’s oxidized green skin was a vibrant, otherworldly color on an otherwise complimentary pallete of earth tones. I took a picture to capture this symbol of our nation’s freedom, liberty and all round ability to do our own happy thing without fear of persecution or oppression, and to record her brilliant color that popped out from the landscape as if she wore that green dress just for me. Just to her right was lower Manhattan – a crowded forest of old and new giant steel and glass buildings – all pointing up, up, up. The highest, of course, was the still incomplete, new World Trade Center. The monolith and monument to global economic power towered behind Lady Liberty. Just wait, whispered the almost completed shiny giant to the little green lady, when they finish up my top floors, you and me gonna dance, sugar.

I took a picture of lower Manhattan and thought about the first time I came to New York, ten years ago – when World Trade Center was still called Ground Zero, a gaping hole in the ground surrounded by a chainlink fence. I was 28 and I thought I was old, a veteran worn down from the battle of Life. But as I stood on the pier Thursday, I saw that 28 year version of me clearly – a clueless, scared, pink-skinned baby who mistook his empty pockets for wisdom. I heard yelling, just behind me. I turned around and was relieved to find it was not another voice in my head, but some angry kid running around with a stick. Frowning as he ran about, he hit all the benches and rails with the stick, yelling every now and then. He made it all the way to the end, then turned and ran back to land, hitting, yelling all the way.

Lower Manhattan

Lower Manhattan

I decided to walk along the bay’s edge to check out the driftwood. Like the pier, the path along the bay was populated only by clusters of fishermen speaking softly in foreign tongues, their eyes glued to their lines as they twitched in the windy afternoon. Further on, I saw a jogger, but the lack of people made the place feel not just unpopulated, but deserted, and gave the foghorns of the ships a much lonelier sound. Underneath the giant Verrazano Bridge, one frieghter headed out of the bay, another headed in. They came close to each other, as if they wanted to warn each other of what lay ahead. But they just drifted by without stopping, as if they knew such warnings would always fall into the water before finding their target…so they just blow the horn, leaving the deep, slow, monosyllabic honks to represent everything they want to say to each other.

Ships in, ships out.

Ships in, ships out.

Sunlight danced across the water in a brilliant blue hue. I was shocked to have never noticed such a color before. I stopped to take a pic – a permanent momento of this other worldly blue on the water. Snap, snap. It was also low tide, and I noticed how surreal the green algae-covered rocks appeared. They are of course submerged during high tide, but like the blue sunlight, I was shocked to have never noticed such a green – a color beyond description other than alien. Snap, snap – more pictures to remind me of what New York looked like when I was 37 years old – an age when I know longer thought of Life as a battle, but more like a game with no ball, no uniforms, inconsistent officiating, and a time limit that doesn’t seem to be enforced until one of the other players never shows up again. My hands were cold after taking the pictures. The sun had lowered to a late afternoon angle. The wind gently shoved me in a homeward direction.

When I got back to my apartment, I perused the pictures I’d taken on my smartphone. But I was somewhat puzzled to find that none of the pictures looked the way they did when I took them. Manhattan and the World Trade Center didn’t look very big in the picture. They looked far away, insignificant. The Statue of Liberty didn’t even show up in any of the pictures I took. In one, if I zoomed in all the way, I saw a blurry glimpse of Lady Lib, but no one would guess the green blob to be a symbol of liberty. I was even more puzzled to find that the sunlight on the water were not electric blue but just plain, ordinary white. And finally, the hyper green rocks – that green that made me sense thriving and vibrant existences were possible outside of the known and only have to be seen once to become reality…was just run of the mill, algae-green.

It's much greener in my mind.

It’s much greener in my mind.

I moved beyond mere puzzlement and became perplexed. Could my perception of what I saw that afternoon, of what I saw in all my 10 years of New York, of ALL I’ve ever seen on Planet Earth, be fundamentally skewed? Could the color dial on the old RCA TV that is my brain be broken? Do I need to be fixed? I leaned back in my chair, scratched my head, collegiately. Then I crossed my arms to begin a session of long and deep pondering. As I did so, I felt something in my coat pocket. Hmm, what could it be? I asked myself in a deep and learned voice. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my sunglasses. Oh, that’s right, the lenses are reddish-brown, and tend make the lighter colors pop out – they tweak the greens and turn whites a soothing yet sparkling blue – and blends the background in earth tones, to give life something like a holographic vibe. The sunglasses alter my vision reality.

They’re cool sunglasses but I always feel like an idiot when I wear them, they’re just not my style. But like I said, I rarely wear them. And though the pictures I took show the facts and real colors of the day – and not what I saw – I did, nonetheless, see crazy blues and greens. They have been recorded in my mind, along with a towering glass and steel giant just waiting to bump and grind with a little green lady as she stands her ground on a little island in the bay – unafraid of what’s behind her, and clear in the hue of an undefined color as she faces the endless sea, holding her torch high over the troubled waters. That is what I saw – when I existed at that time and at that place – and is forever in my mind.

10 Years

10 Years

I still haven’t thrown anything out yet.

Be well…

Billy And Willie And The Most Fabulous Wedding

Hello Everybody,

The other night – after a dinner party – I decided to take a long walk through the Lower East Side. As I walked down the narrow streets of the old tenemant neighborhood, I realized that I could easily swing by 70 Allen Street. In the nearly 10 years that I’ve lived in New York City, I’d yet to visit 70 Allen Street – even when I lived two streets away, 4 years ago. I know, I couldn’t believe it either. But now I would get my chance!

The Lower East Side around the time of Billy the Kid's birth.

The Lower East Side in the late 1800s. A tough place to be born.

A few moments later, there I stood, at 70 Allen Street. I stared at the corner building with wonder. What’s at 70 Allen St, you ask? Nothing out of the ordinary, a company that sells ticket and ID scanners, and a furniture repair shop. But I didn’t come to 70 Allen Street to see what it is. I came to ponder over what it was, and – according to legend – 70 Allen Street was the birthplace of Billy the Kid. In 1859, Billy was born to a young Irish woman who’d come across the pond to escape devastating famine. The threat of starvation was tenacious, however, and she soon ran face to face with hunger in New York. She did whatever she could to keep young Billy and herself from starving, but finally – around 1869 – mother and child headed west, like many other starving Irish were doing at the time. America seemed to spring up from the ground – right under little Billy – as they ventured further west. After his mother died of tuberculosis in Santa Fe, Billy had to go it alone, doing what he needed to do to survive. He would turn out to be a defining ingredient in Experiment America – the outlaw, and ultimately a legend. But we all know that, it’s old news.  But who could’ve known what was to come of baby Billy when he slithered out of his mother’s womb at 70 Allen Street? Nobody probably thought much. Just another Irish baby – slap him on the ass, knock on wood and hope the back alley typhoid doesn’t get him.

A taxi horn and some profanity at the intersection brought me back into the now. I quit staring into the past and moved on. A few moments later, I stumbled onto Mulberry Street, the heart of Little Italy. Mulberry also happens to be the arms, legs, head and private parts of Little Italy, too. After the Irish headed west, the Italians came in and claimed the Lower East Side. But like the Irish, their tenure in the neighborhood played out as more and different immigrants came to America. Today, Little Italy is only Mulberry’s row of Italian restaurants which range from quaint to downright molto bello…mhwa! Two very Italian hosts of neighboring restaurants flirted with the two ladies walking in front of me.

“Hey, look, it’s two ladies,” said one.

“That’s right, two beautiful ladies,” said the other.  The ladies giggle.

“And there’s two of us,” said the first host.

“That makes two beautiful ladies, and two of us,” replied the other. The ladies giggle again.

“Numbers add up, this just might work out. Whadd’ya say ladies?”

Leetle Eetaly

Leetle Eetaly

The ladies thought about it for a split-second and giggled off into the night. The hosts weren’t disappointed. They were already awaiting the next set of beautiful ladies by the time I walked by. Sooner or later, a couple of girls are gonna go for it. It’s only a game of numbers. Across the street was an old cafe – an old Italian man sat at an outdoor table. He didn’t seem to mind the cold as he sipped his little cup of coffee and simply existed. There was a newspaper on the table but he wasn’t reading it. I doubted anything was news to this old man – he’d heard it all before, I’m sure. And he’d heard the hosts before too – been hearing them for decades now, and seen many a pretty lady walk by. The man looked like he’d be perfectly fine with dying at that moment, for it was a bella noche to do so.

From Mulberry, I turned onto Canal Street, right smack into Chinatown. The streets were dark and the markets were closed, but the smell of fish hung heavy on the air. The signs just above the storefronts couldn’t brighten the sidewalks. There was only a dull glow from above as if an acid trip was happening on the second floor of your brain as you stared into a 13-inch black and white TV in your brain’s kitchen. I came upon a group of Chinese-American teenagers whose clothing suggested they came from The Future. They talked so fast and over the top of each other, which sounded like many squirrels screaming ownership over the last nut in a tree.

The Lower East Side in its latest incarnation: Chinatown


As I waited for the walk-light with them, I was reminded that America is a living, growing thing. Like all living things, it must adapt, or die. The Lower East Side grew, adapted, changed – Irish to Italian to Chinese – but remained America throughout. It’ll be something different than Chinatown, in the future, yet won’t be any less American. Understanding that kind of evolution keeps me away from the more dangerous American ideals, such as an English speaking blue-eyed blond-haired Jesus, or righteous chopped-down cherrytree aristocratic fairytales of white goodliness that symbolize only one perspective of America. Those fast talking kids reminded me that America can only be defined through many eyes, many tongues. E pluribus unum.

The story of Billy the Kid is forever changing, too. Legend has it that he killed 21 people, though in-depth research suggests the actual number to be between 4 and 9. While he was alive, the New York presses painted him as a modern day Robin Hood. In death, he has been described as nothing more than a two bit thief, to a near a Jesus of the High Desert. But whatever he was, he seemed to pull away from it shortly before he died. It just so happened Young Billy fell in love with a Mexican girl, and when a young man finds love he begins to wear his guns a little less often.

I hopped on the R-train at Canal Street, and sat next to a group of Manhattan teens who were on their way to a liquor store in Bay Ridge that would supposedly sell them alcohol. From there, they would go meet up with a friend who had some painkillers. They were jittery from excitement over the awesome night ahead. Then they talked about guns.

“OMG,” said the one girl of the group, “I HAVE to go to a shooting range, I swear, like in the next couple of days. You guys have to take me.”

The guys performed for the girl, one-upping each other about their experiences with firearms. One boasted that his dad had two  guns – a sawed-off shotun and a pistol. The other said he shot a kid with his bb gun – twice, because he was being a douche. They all really liked guns.

***BUT WAIT! How can this be?! We are in the Northeast, for Chrissakes! We don’t want guns up here. It’s the safest damn place in the USofA and we wanna keep it that way. It’s so safe, a gay man can get married up here, if he wants.  Well, sure, there was the Newtown massacre in Connecticut, but….well…we still want gay marriage! So, no guns, yes gays. It’s places like Texas that’s gun crazy. All you have to do is watch the news. And they don’t want the gays to marry down there. So, go Northeast! Yes gay, no gun!!! Rah, rah!***

Annise Parker, Mayor of Houston, Texas.

Annise Parker, Mayor of Houston, Texas.

I would be inclined to think as such, too, based on what I gather from the news. But I have to say, Facebook cracked a big crack in the wall of Coporate Owned American Media. During Supreme Court Gay Marriage Week, I was surprised to see so many of my old friends from South Texas – my homeland – showing support for the right for gays to marry. Most were straight, yet still posted the red and pink equal sign, or some kind post stating solidarity. Turns out there’s a lot of Texans that support gay marriage. Jiminy Cricket, Houston even has an openly gay mayor! And Texas’ bright son, Willie Nelson, vocally supported gay marriage. Willie has consistantly walked the walk for human rights. Willie’s my hero and life example. Absolutely EVERYONE is equal in Willies’ America, NO. MATTER. WHAT. There’s a great saying in Texas – that, sadly, gets trumped with the hateful wealth-motivated faux-religious speak that is so loud down there – and that’s you go your way, friend, and I’ll go mine. That’s the real Texas. Granted, those gay marriage supporting friends of mine would shoot you if you tried to take away their 18-shell 9mm pistols or AR15 rifles, but gay marriage? Sure.

It’s a Texan’s natural urge to to champion the underdog. Texans only need the slightest reason to tell Authority where they can stick their unmanned drones. There’s another theory that Billy the Kid born in Texas. That makes sense, because he told Authority where to stick it right up to the point when Pat Garret shot and killed him. Billy had escaped from jail shortly before he died, and could’ve disappeared and lived on. But love was too strong. Billy wanted to marry his Mexican girl. So he came back to New Mexico, ignoring all risk. Her father did not approve and alerted Pat Garret that Billy had come back to the area. Soon, after, two shots in the dark put an end to the forbidden love.

Billy the Kid

Billy the Kid

Of course, there is no way to know the truth about who Billy the Kid was or wasn’t. But I prefer to believe he was born in obscurity in New York, that he wandered westward with his Irish mother and found his American self out there. I choose to believe he made the Western Trip – a pilgrimage into the wilderness – all the way to the setting sun if necessary – and through the toil of such a journey, prejudices are stripped away, and we become who we are supposed to be, love who they need to love, even if the law gets in the way.

The next morning, I got up and did what I always do – drink too much coffee on an empty stomach to piss off my ulcer. Of course, to add to the misery, I checked out the news. Like every morning, it told me what side I should be on, on just about every subject possible. A recent poll shows 42% of Americans think this about this. A recent poll shows 59% percent think this about that, now here’s a whole slew of commercials about pills and clothes and cleaning products that may cause tremors, impotency, psychosis and dragon tails, so be sure to ask your doctor which one is right for you, but rest assured, there IS one for you. I’m a straight white Texan, so I must be a gun lover and who’s against gay marriage, because in a recent poll…NO, dammit! Don’t tell me who I am!

Maybe I wanna see two ten-gallon hat, pointy boot wearing gay Texans get married with six-shooters on their hips. Let’s shoot down the roof after they get hitched. My friends from South Texas would be there too, loading and unloading. Bang, bang, bang. Then Willie would come in, calmly tell us we don’t need the guns no more, and we’d lay our weapons down. When everybody was unarmed, he’d light up an Austin torpedo and pass it around. The first to take a hit would be Billy the Kid, then he’d spend the rest of the night dancing with the ghost of the Mexican gal he loved enough to die for. Soon enough, we’d all be laying around, looking up at the starry sky through the holes in the roof, eating moonpies. We’d all agree with Willie that everything’s just stardust. There would be absolutely no fear, no need to load even one pistol. I’m not a fortune teller, but I’m willing to bet with less fear there’ll be less guns.

One of the Greatest Texans, with a slightly altered equality logo.

One of the Greatest Texans, with a slightly altered equality logo.

After a lengthy debate, I make one more cup of coffee, so what. But I stay away from my computer and the news. Then, my stomach doesn’t hurt so bad. I look out the window and the sun is shining. My, it’s a pretty day. And I don’t see the America that the news tells me is out there. I don’t see it toward my left. I don’t see it toward my right. Don’t see it anywhere. I just see you and me. Funny how that happens every time I turn off the news.

Be well…

Where Sleeping Giants Wander

Hello Everybody,

Thursday morning, I had to jump on the R-train into Manhattan. It was rush-hour, but I was lucky, I didn’t have a full day’s work ahead of me. I just had to paint a single wall in a friend’s apartment. He’s a good friend and a generous fellow, so I knew he would pay well and I could take the labor at my leasure, though I was sure it wouldn’t take me too long. So, there was a spring in my step as I boarded the subway car. I felt removed from sleepy, 9-to-5 America. I even found a seat. Lucky me.

Sleeping giant, on a break from banging out the shape of the dreams of the aristocrats' children, at the bottom.

Sleeping giant, on a break from banging out the shape of the dreams of the aristocrats’ children, at the bottom.

Naturally, as the subway flowed like a bead of mercury toward the drain of Manhattan, more of 9-to-5 America boarded. Just about everyone in the multi-ethnic mix – ranging from busboys to data enterers – carried the same expression. From my fortunate, easy going, sitting position, I saw many vacant stares. Tired, sure, but more so, resigned, as if they had just thought, Ok, step one, complete. Now the train. A little…more…time. Between the time that thought left them and the next thought came, they floated in the vacuum of an empty mind, one hand on the rail, moving to and fro at the subway’s whim. Subway rails are a curious thing. No one really uses them for support. Some barely have a finger on the rail. A subway rail offers the traveler an illusion of security. More so, affirmation. I am touching the rail, I am plugged in. I really am here. Please, let this not be a dream about workWhatever this is, don’t let my job be my dream. From my low angle, 9-to 5 America looked like a herd giants, corraled, fastened to the rail much like circus elephants tied to a stake in the ground by a piece of yarn behind a rickety old big top. Like the elephants, the giants could easily break free, before they reached their fate in Manhattan, which is perform Le Ballet de Gargantuan en le Teatre du American Dream. But they don’t break free, because it’s Thursday – payday – which will make the day go by faster, and tomorrow’s Friday, which is basically the weekend, when all the giants are let out of the pen and free to climb the beanstalks til their heart’s content until Monday.

Just before Manhattan, the herd of giants and I transfer to the Q-train, which runs express through lower Manhattan. Again – this must be my lucky day – I find a seat. Things is nothing but roses, I think to my self. But the Q certainly didn’t smell like roses that morning. A homeless man had set up camp in the car, and carried upon his being a very strong odor – hence the easilly attainable seat. All the giants smelled it too, but again – vacant eyes – they just held the rail. Actually, the smell wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t the standard, moist, warm smell of dirty clothes and uncleaned flesh that can easily turn the stomach. This homeless person smelled like a stockyard – a blend of ammonia soaked earth and the smell of feces after it has dried out into light carbon. This disturbed me a bit. We all stink, we all get the moist, warm funk from time to time. But no human being should smell the way that fellow did that morning. There but for the grace go I, I thought as I sat among the swaying giants. I was very lucky.

About half of the giants got off at the 34th Street stop, the other half at 42nd Street. Just like that, the subway car was almost empty. I turned to look at the homeless man. He sat, hunched over on an old suitcase held together with tape. His head and torso were covered with black trash bag, as if he had fallen asleep while trying to crawl into a body bag. He lay there, half packaged for the Great Beyond, as the only other person in the car – an androgenous Latin man or woman wearing a jogging suit – sat across from him, moving to the beat of whatever song it was that flowed through his or her pink headphones. His or her eyes were closed, but he or she didn’t seem to mind the smelly fellow. He or she just grooved, tapping his or her painted purple finger nails on his or her seat.

A wise sage, who knew?

Shhhh, he just spotted something money can’t buy.

The only other person in the car was a black construction worker, sitting to the other side of me. He was reading some kind of self-help book. Of course, I leaned closer to get a better look. The book was old – the pages were yellow and curled at their ends – and the page he was reading had several quotes on it, highlighted in yellow. One quote was by Garth Brooks – you know, Garth Brooks – which read, You get wealthy by going out there and finding something money can’t buy. Another quote was from Benjamin Franklyn, which read, America offers you the pursuit of hapiness, it doesn’t give it to you. The construction worker’s steel toes were bulging out from his boots, and his pants contained a permanent layer of sheetrock dust. His hands were rough with cracked callous, but he held the book as if it were sacred text on 3,000 year old parchment. He held it so close to his face, not to miss out on any of its wisdom. I stood up and went to the door as the train approached my stop. I stared straight ahead and caught my reflection in the window on the door. Uh, oh. I saw someone – vacant eyes, drooping mouth, gently rocking to the subway, a hand barely touching the rail. Could I possibily be a sleepy giant, too, unaware he’d been broken, tamed and trained? I shuttered to think such a thought, but subway windows don’t lie.

The painting went easy like I thought it would. After a nice Thai lunch special in Hell’s Kitchen, I walked down to the 42nd Street stop to hop on the train. The train platform was bustling with workers heading back to work from lunch. Now, their eyes were alert. They stared straight at their destination – the R, N, or Q train – as if their ship was shoving off the dock. All were determined to make it, to jump from dock to deck, clock back in to duty and punch in letters and numbers into a computer until next shore leave.

The price of searching for The Name.

The price of defining The Image.

In the middle of the platform, a busker played the banjo. People pushed about, rushed passed him as he picked his instrument with his eyes closed, smiling and belting out haunted, driving mountain tunes. His raw voice filled the tunnel as if it were a coal mine. When a train would arrive, he’d stop playing and cradle his banjo – eyes still closed, still smiling. His coat was carelessly bundled on the dirty platform. His boots were really a series of holes connected by strips of leather. He had holes in his pants, too, and vinyl was sewn onto the thighs where the banjo rested. After a train would depart, the busker resumed – his voice penetrating my flesh, one boot tapping a tambourine, the other foot pounding a kick drum that punched base notes against the old worn out suitcase on which he sat, and his arms moving so fast he looked like some kind of trailer trash Krishna. The faded tattoes on his forearms blended into some unknown image and I was certain that if I could only figure out what that image was, I would never need The Dollar again. I tried to define The Image, believe me I did. Then I caught a glimpse of his banjo case, laying out in front of him – a few dollar bills laying in it. My train arrived, and I left the busker alone to find a name for it. Practice does make perfect.

Description of current retirement plan for the sleeping giant.

Description of current retirement plan for the sleeping giant.

On Friday night, I hopped the R train and headed into Manhattan for a dinner party at my friend’s place- the same friend for whom I painted the wall. People were headed home from work. Again, I was lucky, I didn’t have to work Friday. So my eyes were wide as I observed the herd. So many people were coming home from the long workday. Their eyes weren’t vacant this time – though they did look tired. There was something else in their eyes, like an expression borne out of a slight relief. Something like, It is ok to be tired and a little relaxed on this subway because everybody else is. Soon, I will be home. Home. I didn’t see, in any of them, a pride that they helped keep America strong for one more week, or anything like it. What I saw was something better, a simple pride in their selves. They’d done it another day. I was capable – held body, heart and mind together – another day.

My friend’s wall looked great. I’d done a good job, don’t mind sayin’ it. There was a large window in the middle of the wall, and combined with the fresh paint job, it looked like a giant, live-action shadow box of The Big Apple, in which 8 million grand epics were being played out. 8 million capable giants. I did my best to partake in the fellowship of the evening – as my friends laughed and ate between me and the shadow box – because it wasn’t polite to daydream while around such good company. I was lucky to be with them. But every now and then, I gazed at shadow box and thought, Damn, what a good paint job.

Our patriotic, wise Prometheus...and don't who the other guy is or what the hell he is doing.

Our patriotic, wise Prometheus. I don’t know who the other guy is, or what the hell he is doing.

It’ll probably be a while before I see that group of friends all in one place again. Earlier in the week, I gave notice to my landlord that I’ll be letting my apartment go in April. I’m leaving New York City. First, I’ll probably head to North Carolina to do some work on a friends house in the mountains. Then to Texas for a month. Then probably to LA to work for some other friends. After that, maybe Texas again. Maybe New York. Who knows where sleepy giants will wander? Whether we’re staked to the ground or floating in space, no one really knows what’s going to happen. All I know is I’m pretty lucky. Maybe I’ll follow Garth Brooks’ lead and rope the wind, or pull a Ben Franklyn and go out into the storm and touch the lightening. After all, it’s all waiting out there for me. I just have to go get it.

Be well…

One More Layer Of Paint

Hello Everybody,

Sunset Park - Working class view of Manhattan.

Sunset Park – Working class view of Manhattan.

The other day, I was waiting for the R-train at the 36th Street stop in Brooklyn. The public schools had just let out, so the train platform was packed with kids. They would most certainly be getting off on the 45th, 53rd and 59th Street stops – I’ve witnessed this scholastic migration before. They are the children of the Latino-Asian neighborhood of Sunset Park. Many were 1st generation Americans – and many were a mix of both Chinese and Mexican ethnicity – two peoples, very far away in distance and cultural ideology, but somehow the union of the two seems to make perfect sense within the skin of one person.

But I will not refer to these kids as Chinese-Mexican Americans. I shall refer to them as Americans. It’s simpler. Besides, they were all wearing the skinny yet sagging jeans, wearing the Nike Air Jordans that are for some reason popular again. Hollister. Lucky Brand, etc. In fact, you can hardly see the Mexican and Chinese under all the American brands they were wearing, which were pobably made – ironically – in China or Mexico (To be fair, Hollister is made in Taiwan, but Luck Brand is, indeed, made in Mexico). Of course, each kid had an iphone plugged into their head. And just like other herds of afterschool kids all over the country, they were straight up hormone-frenzied and loud. Their voices echoed off the tunnel walls and into my ears. It’d been a long day and I was tired, so I stared off across the tunnel and tried to go somewhere far off in my mind.

As I attempted to escape, I noticed – across the tracks – what appeared to be many thick shards of broken pottery. At first, I thought someone had thrown a pot or vase across the tunnel. But then I looked up to see exposed concrete on the tower ceiling. Turns out a huge section of paint had peeled off and fallen to the tracks. The ceiling had been painted over so many times that the peelings were almost an inch thick. One layer after another was added to the ceiling. I thought, Gee, the ideal thing to do would’ve been to strip the ceiling, then add another layer. But that would be an undertaking too large to attempt in the subway tunnels of a city that never sleeps. Slap a coat on and move it down the line. New York City moves much too fast to stop and strip.

Teenage mating game, many layers of paint back.

Teenage mating game, many layers of paint back. Like, all the way back to the ’90s.

Behind me, one of the boys on the platform said something to one of the girls, causing her pack of bff’s to shreek loud enough to crack glass. I stared harder into the paint shards – pretended I could see each layer of paint. One layer, then another layer. One era, then another. Soon I was surrounded by Irish, Norwegian and Italian teenagers that were not just Irish, Italian, or Norwegian, but a mix of the three. Great Scott! I’d gone back in time, to when it was the kids of the Irish, Italian and Norwegian immigrants (working in the shipyards back in the early 20th century, when business was booming on Brooklyn’s side of New York Harbor) who played the New York subterranean afterschool mating game. Of course, it was only my imagination, so when the R-train arrived, I entered it completely sane and with the new horny American teenagers of Sunset park. Different era, different ethinic mix, but the same America – the boys will always say something to make the girls scream in Sunset Park.

I got home to my apartment in Bay Ridge – the neighborhood just south of Sunset Park. I picked up my guitar but ended up staring at the wall. My apartment is over 100 years old. It was one of the many apartment buildings built to house those Italian, Irish and Norwegian shipbuilders and their families.

My door, painted with years.

My door, painted with years.

It’s a great apartment, though the doorways lean one way, the floors lean another, sloppy plaster jobs are everywhere and if you poured a bottle of drano down the sink you’d probably annoint your downstairs neighbor with rusty water, destroying their confidence to ever drink from the faucet again. And, of course, layer upon layer of paint has been applied to the cielings and the walls. I thought, Gee, why don’t the owners just sand the apartments down at some point – take the time and do it right, so they don’t have to keep painting over it? Because, I answered myself – in a slightly castigating tone – this is New York. Time is money. When one goes out, another goes in. Truth was, when an owner takes the time and strips and renovates an apartment, the owner is doing so as to rent it out at market value. When that happens, it’s not as if one working class demographic moves out and another moves in. It’s more like the working class moves out to make room for the young white professional class. That is the only kind of renovation New York slows down for.

Gossamer and Bugs in sharing a rare, civil moment.

Gossamer and Bugs sharing a rare, civil moment.

I continued to stare at my wall with a kind of ex-ray vision – through the many layers of paint. Suddenly, I sat up and thought, again, Gee, is everything – the wall, the ceiling, you, me, Planet Earth, made of paint? Wait, was everything always only made paint? At that point, two things came to mind. One, was Gossamer, the hair monster in the old Looney Tunes cartoons. In one cartoon – after chasing Bugs Bunny around relentlessly – Bugs tricks Gossamer into getting a hair cut. After cutting and cutting and more cutting, all that remains of Gossamer are his white shoes. He was only hair to begin with. The second thought was of the Doobie Brothers. The Doobies started out cool, playing that slow-and-easy-on-the-8-track-get-in-the-back-seat-of-my-Dodge-Charger-and-love-the-one-you’re-with kind of blues. But a few short years go by and one day some half gray, half black haired dude is crooning – while fingering out a melody that he must’ve stolen from Captain and Tenille, on an electric organ – something about takin’ it to the streets?!?! It sounds nothing like them, but the dj says it’s the Doobie Brothers. Can that be? I guess so. The Doobie’s kept adding layer over layer to their sound, so many over a period of time that no one even noticed – until the metal hair bands came along and shinier, glitzier rockers wheeled the Doobies to the classic rock station. Just like the Doobies, New York changed. Like Gossamer, some of New York has disappeared. But when, exactly, did it go down? Just like anything else: It took a long time and then happened over night.

The Doobie Brothers. Typical, like all American mysteries - baffling at first, only realizing later that we saw it coming all along.

The Doobie Brothers. Typical, like all American mysteries – baffling at first, only realizing later that we saw it coming all along.

On Friday, I did some repair work to the bathroom of my dear friends’ – Janet and Chris – studio apartment in the East Village. Janet and Chris lived in the one room studio together for 20 years. Janet lived there for 10 years before that. They moved to a bigger place a few years ago, but they keep renewing the lease to the studio because it’s so cheap. They lend it to people now and then – they let me use it for a couple of weeks two years ago, when I needed a place. Every other apartment in the building has been renovated and rented at a much higher price to the 21st Century Work-From Home Or From A Hipster Cafe-Force. When Janet lets the lease go to her apartment, it will follow the same fate. But for now, they just needed a quick fix to make way for a fellow who will be visiting from Germany soon.

It was an easy gig, I just had to re-caulk around the bath tub, then slap a hot mix of plaster onto the ceiling. On one part of the ceiling, the paint had begun to peel, and there I was again, staring at more layers of paint. I cut away the peeled portion of the paint from the ceiling, and continued to look at it as I held it. I was holding decades of America in my hand – the two decades Chris and Janet lived there, then there was the layers of the tenants before them, during the 70’s, when the East Village was a herion infested and crime ridden dark shadow of Manhattan.

We, The People...

We, The People…

Then I looked up at the ceiling. It was so old I could easily press my hand through it, and reach into the time of the hippies who smoked mary-jane while they painted day-glo signs for whatever there was to protest. I could reach further back to the beatniks who played the bongos and took long drags off hop cigarettes, man, and and hid their reddening eyes behind cool black sunglasses, daddy-o. I could even – I was certain – go so far back and see a tired working man looking out the window with his daugher. He would be speaking Yiddish or Russian or German or Polish or wait, is it Ukranian?…to his little daughter who was crying, pointing out the window. The father smiled as he consoled her, and said, Oh no, my little malyshka, that is called an auto-mobile. I promise you it is not a dragon. Me? Oh no, I take the subway.

I felt as if I could pull the entire ceiling down – strip America down to its studs – with my bare hands. Then I could see where it was sagging, and shift things around a little so every part of the structure had equal support. Then I’d knock out all those internal walls we hide behind far too often and too easily and the only doors I’d install would be swinging doors. I’d give it a higher ceiling. It’d be an airy structure, with lots of room, lots of windows and sunlight. But if I did all that, I would then be a renovator, not a simple handy man.  That would mean I would have to buy insurance, which would mean I would have to incorporate myself as a company, which would mean the taxman would come knockin’ for more. All that red tape would take time and my plaster was hardening fast.  So I just spread it on the ceiling and let it dry. Then after sanding it, I – you guessed it – slapped a coat of paint on it, added yet another layer. There just wasn’t any time to fix it all.

Painted, strong.

Painted, strong.

Be well…

Forgetting, Hiking, Remembering.

Hello Everybody,

map_get.aspOn Saturday, I went hiking at Lake Awosting with my friends, Dan and Matt.  Lake Awosting is another mountain lake on the Shawangunk Ridge, along with Lake Minnewaska, which I wrote about in a previous Jamberoo (The Fading of the Ancient Screams  Awosting’s at a lower altitude than the other lakes, and due to a recent snowstorm, the only lake open for hiking.  So, easy decision.  Lake Awosting it was.

Dan was tasked with making the decisions for the trip – it was his idea in the first place.  His wife, Wren, was out of town and he wanted to get out of the city.  Matt’s girlfriend, Molly, went with Wren, so he was free to come along, too.  Dan rented a Zipcar, printed out the directions, plugged in the ipod.  Then we set out for the Great White North, into the clean air for a day of hiking and good old-fashioned gettin’ back to the land, man-in-the-wild kinda stuff.  Maybe even wrestle a bear.

I looked forward to the trip all week.  I’m at the point of jumping on  any opportunity I can to break free of the gravity of New York City, which has such an affect on a person that it – should one embed themselves in its caverns long enough – compresses them to a size so tiny where the only perspective attainable is:  everything’s close to me and closing in on me, everything’s fast and faster than me, everything revolves around me and I am the center of the Universe, where are my pills?  Being on a mountain – or anywhere out in the open – gives me the understanding that I’m but a tiny piece in a puzzle of incomprehensible proportions.  Not a border or corner piece or a piece with any wierd curvature, just a piece that looks like most of the others.

Matt and I on Saturday, befrore setting out into the wilderness.  Dan is parking the car.

Matt and I on Saturday, befrore setting out into the wilderness. Dan is parking the car.

But I wasn’t thinking of any of that, however, in the days leading up to the hike.  I was thinking about a fellow named Oscar Koch.  I met Oscar in 2010. He was in his 60’s.  When he was younger he wrote a little, did some acting.  Then somewhere along the way, he suffered a sever injury, leaving him partially disabled.  Sometime after that, he became morbidly obese.  Then he was homeless.  Fortunately, he ended up in supportive housing through Housing Services Inc, where Matt worked.  Matt had read a few plays of Oscar’s and asked me if I would direct a reading of one of them – one he’d been working on since 1979 – and said it would be a big deal to the big guy to see his play on the stage, even if it was just a reading.  I said yes.  I figured it would be a nice way to sweeten my karma, no big deal.  But of course, it turned out to be bigger deal than I could imagine…

All I could think about was Oscar one the way to Lake Awosting, with Matt right behind me in the backseat.  But we didn’t talk about Oscar, and after we parked the car and began our ascent to the lake on the snow covered trail, the beautiful scenery – along with my mental preparations for a bear attack – pushed the thoughts of Oscar further from my mind.  Onward we marched, playing the role of Man as the trail narrowed and the parking lot and civilization disappeared.  It was a grand time.  But the snow on the trail got deeper and deeper as we forged on – knee deep in some places.  Soon the hike had become a genuine bitch of a thing.  But we weren’t about to turn back.  Dan, Matt and I grew silent as the time between the slushing of our got longer and longer.  Sometime around then Oscar came back to my mind with gusto…

We went on this path, just add a foot of snow to your imagination.

We went on this path, just add a foot of snow to your imagination.

His play was about a community theatre troup rehearsing a play about life in the great depression.  It was one of those plays where the line between reality and make-believe gets blurry and before you know it, the actors believe they are the characters.  A young engenue really thinks she is the young sickly girl she is portraying.  A young shy actor really believes he can take her away, heal her and make her happy.  The actress playing the engenue’s wilder, older sister really believes she can run off to the city and become a star.  And an old over-acting actor really believes he is the drunk tortured Everyman of the play, the symbol of the decline of the country, a martyr.  Things get whacky and the director hopelessly tries to hold onto his sanity.  Oscar’s play wasn’t an untold story, but certain lines grabbed me, like this one from the older sister:

“It’s a great big world out there!  I can’t wait to go out in it and make myself sick.”

This wasn’t a play written by a 25 year-old ivy league graduate student at a series of cushy writer’s retreats on the shores of various lakes throughout New England over the period of two years.  What made Oscar’s play great was that it was written by a man who ventured out into that great big world, then before he knew it he was crippled, fat, homeless, and later spending his life in a tiny room in a big city solving crossword puzzles and rewriting a play he’d begun as a young man, before any of it happened to him.  What made his play better than anything a trained writer could think up and write it down to create an intellectual statement was the fact that it was exactly not that.  It wasn’t trained writing, it wasn’t thought up, it wasn’t intellectual – it was simply lived life.

One day, Oscar tried to tell me about his life and how things ended up the way they did.  But as he tried he became inarticulate, as if everything about his life was foggy except the present moment.  Finally, he gave up trying and shrugged his shoulders – which were permanently lospided due to the injury he suffered years ago – and smiled.  Of course he smiled, he had every reason to.  His play was going to be read in New York City.  I didn’t need to know the details of Oscar’s life, anyway.  I knew who he was through his play.

Explanation of Oscar's life, anyone's life.

Explanation of Oscar’s life, anyone’s life.

Toward the end of the play, the drunk father storms onto the stage and rambles out a monologue about his broken manhood in a broken country and that death is the only choice for him now.  His sweet, sickly daughter cries at his feet, begging him to stop speaking of such things.  Then suddenly, the drunk father morphs back into the actor – confusing the sick daughter.  He tells her the rehearsal is over.  She doesn’t understand and grows distressed.  Then he smiles, empathetically, and tells her it’ll all be ok – that life blows around like a storm with great triumphs and deep lows and more losses than wins, but at the end, you’re gonna look at the few people around you and tell them, you know, it wasn’t all that bad.  Then he leaves the stage, not the tragic alcoholic father caught in a social whirlwind, just the tired actor who has to get up early the next morning and go to work.  However, the young actress remains convinced she is really the sick daughter.  As the lights begin to go down, she asks where everybody is, that she’s scared and lonely.  Gradually, she grows more distressed, and panics.

“Keep the lights on!  I am not ready yet!  I’m young!  I still have so much more to do!”

Lights down, the play ends.

I cast some of my fellow actor friends in the roles and we did the reading at a theatre on 42nd street – my friend, Erika, ran the theatre and let us do the whole thing for free.  We invited some people to come and most of them did.  Just before we began, Oscar was very nervous.  He was also a bit embarrassed because he was so large he had to sit on two chairs on the edge of the stage, where the audience could see him.  But I’m sure that was fate.  I’m sure all of us in that theatre were meant to see Oscar clearly as we listened to the words of his life’s masterpiece.  The man was the play, the play was the man.  We were meant to see that the only training for storytelling is living, and writing without living is nothing more than hollow intellectualism, i.e. lies.

After the reading, Matt, Oscar and I talked in the lobby about what parts of the play could be worked on.  We made plans to meet in two weeks.

“Well, I guess I got work to do,” he said, very happily.

Matt called me two days later to tell me that Oscar was dead.  It was apparently a peaceful passing.  Matt found him in his room sitting on his bed – a crossword puzzle on his chest, pencil in his hand, as if the next word could only be found in a dream.  Don’t tell, Matt, but I could hear him crying over the phone.

“The last thing Oscar said to me,” Matt said, “was, ‘Gee, I guess I’m a playwright now.'”

Then that was it.  I hadn’t seen or spoken to Matt until this past Saturday.  Almost 3 years.  Just like that.

Example of the truth being much less dramatic.

Example of truth being much less dramatic than fear.

It was very good to see Matt again.  It was good to see Dan, too.  It’s good to see friends, anytime.  Our hike was like most hikes I’ve done.  It was hard going up, easy going down, and reaching the destination didn’t feel like the big deal I thought It’d be – just three friends sitting by a frozen lake, eating snow, speaking every now and then.  Towards the end of the hike the three of us goofed off like kids, chased each other, stumbled, laughed at ourselves.  We made it back from the wild in one piece – lived to tell the tale.  Turns out the bears were still hibernating.

We huffed and puffed in the parking lot, which lead to more laughter over the fact that damn, we’re are getting older.  We were so tired we had to drink coffee to stay awake on the way home.  But we made in to the city without passing out or slipping into dimentia.  No, we are alive and healthy, each of us possessing an abundant potential to thrive.   As Dan drove me to my place, I stared into the dashboard light, bewildered over the richness of memory – how real my memory of a guy named Oscar Koch was – sewed into my life, my story.  I was also a bit ashamed to realize that I’d forgotten about him until now.

There's Oscar,  the older fella standing in the back.  Matt is standing at the far left.  The rest are damn good  friends.

There’s Oscar, the older fella standing in the back. Matt is standing next to him on the left. The rest are more damn good friends.

Be well…

Illusions and Delusions at the Dead End

Hello Everybody,

Performing in the play "Trousers" (with Marty Brown in his boxers) in one of the city's many black box theatres.

That’s me on the left, performing in the play “Trousers” (with Marty Brown in his boxers) at iRT Theatre, one of the city’s many black box theaters.

Last Monday, I helped Fran – a theatre director – transport an old refrigerator from a storage unit to a theatre on the city’s west side.  It was a rediculously easy task –  $40 bucks to load, wheel, unload.  The only wrinkle in the job was that Fran and I had to wait about 30 minutes outside the theatre for the next break in rehearsal before we could load in.  But that wasn’t a drag at all, because Fran was very pleasant, very appreciative, and an easy one with which to shoot the bull – although she looked very tired from running around, her curly hair sprawling out in every direction.  It was another supreme effort on top of decades of piecing together one low budget theatre production after another.

“As you can tell,” said Fran, pointing to the fridge, her hair springing with the movements of her body, “it’s just a fridge.  But I just don’t have the upper-body strength anymore.  Oy, I’ve been doing this so long, this avant-guarde black box theatre stuff.  When I was young, it’s all I wanted to do.  I mean, I still love it, but now, I don’t know what else I could do.  You just think it’s gonna end up differently, you know?  But to the world out there,” she points out to the city, “I’m just the old lady that works at Trader Joe’s.”

At the rehearsal break, I wheeled the fridge down a narrow hallway, then another, then another, then into a little room that was painted black, with a jerry-rigged light grid over a small stage, and a handful of cushioned seats that barely qualified the room as a theater.  I’d been in many of these theaters across the city.  I’ve performed in many and had my owned plays produced in them.  I took a look at Fran and saw the millions of things she had to take care of – fluttering about her wild, curly hair – before the curtain went up.  There was so much to do before she could sit back and appreciate the creativity she spearheaded, and see in front of her everything that makes the loud chatter and long lines and long hours of Trader Joe’s bareable.  Then the play will close as quickly as it opened, and the hunt for another reason to make it all worth it would begin again.

Trader Joes...8 hours a day of this for Fran.

Trader Joes…8 hours a day of this for Fran.

Fran gave me the $40.  First, I adamantly refused to take the money, but Fran insisted.  Then, I half-heartedly refused it, but she insisted again.  Then I pocketed it quickly, said good-bye, swiftly made my way down one, two and three narrow hallways – out of the darkness and onto the street before I tried to refuse the money again.  What can I say, I needed $40.

I’d sneezed off and on that afternoon, and by nighttime my throat was scratchy.  By Tuesday morning I could barely hold my head up.  I had a raging cold.  No big deal, but it included shuttering chills and shortness of breath. My head felt like it was floating in some inland sea, tied to an old, unused pier, beating against the soggy algea-covered wood – softly, yet consistently.  I couldn’t focus or eat much.  I just lay in bed mostly, noting the patterns of barking by all the dogs of neighbors.  The tenent below me would jam to heavy metal at 10am every morning.  Every afternoon, the super of the apartment building next door from mine would venture out to the trash cans (my window opened toward the airshaft that my building and his shared) and separate the trash from the recycling.  Of course he had recepticals specifically for trash and for recycling, but his tenents never paid much attention.  So every afternoon the super cursed to high heaven over the fact that he worked hard to keep things in order but everybody f$%^ing sh!ts on him.  EVERYDAY F$%^ING DAY!  Sometimes his wife would help him and she would bare the brunt of his dissapointment.  But after she’d had enough of his hideous and juvenile screaming, she would quietly leave him to pick up the trash, alone.  When he finally stopped shouting, the silence would pound in my ears.  But the motor of my fridge would eventually kick on and solved that little issue.

Media-induced hypochondria.

Media-induced hypochondria.

It’s not good for me to be alone too long, especially when I’m sick.  The internet calls to me like a siren, and the helpless sailor in me can’t resist the urge to google all my symptoms.  After a few moments, I’d officially diagnosed myself with the new SARS.  I’m not a hypochondriac by nature – just by media – but it’s hard not to feel an itch if you’re reading about fleas.  To get my mind off dying alone from the newest deady epidemic, I would try to read…but when did, I though about Fran.  I tried to write…but I thought about Fran.  I tried to mindlessly bang out chords on my guitar…but I thought about Fran.  I realized I’d had Fran on my mind since Monday.  Then I thought about being fifty and working at Trader Joe’s.  You’re just sick, I said to myself, your emotions are playing tricks on you.  I felt better, but then I reminded myself, Oh, that’s right, you have the new SARS.  There is no hope, you will die, and die alone.  They won’t even find you until you’re a ripe compost heap.  But hey, you won’t live to work at Trader Joe’s!  There simply was no way out, I was going to die from the new SARS, alone – but I’d chosen this path, I chose for it all to end this way.

Friday I started feeling better.  I decided to move my bones a little.  I took a short walk, got groceries.  Then I met up with a few friends in the afternoon.  The little bit of human interaction brought out of death’s grasp and soon I made the revelation that I was on the mend.  My friend’s laughed at me after I told them about my near death from the new SARS.  I didn’t mind, their laughter told me I was ok.  Their laughter also told me they were just like me.  Later on the afternoon, I not only felt better, but started feeling good.  I had a spring in my step and I bounced home in a better world – a world where Fran wans’t just an old lady working at Trader Joe’s, but was rightfully one of the real artists of the city – doing it no matter what, telling stories in the dark spaces of the jungle, resisting the urge to follow the rumors of untold riches uptown in El Dorado.

When I got back to my place, my nieghbor James was already home.  James worked at the Brooklyn Navy shipyards.  He was out the door most mornings by 5am and got home around 4pm.  He’s not an especially big man but he has a booming voice.  I could hear him through the wall.  He was just beginning his nightly drunk – shouting gaily at his son, who I could also hear beyond the paper thin walls.

Dead end at 76th street, behind my apt.

Dead end at 76th street, behind my apt.

“My son’s a smart f$%^ing kid, man,” James told me once, out by the back entrance of our building.  He and I always enter through the back, at the dead end of 76th street in Brooklyn.  “I’m real proud of him.  He’s gonna do really well, better than me, anyway.”

Friday night was like most.  His jovial shouting transformed into spiteful yelling.  His son yelled back for a bit, then slammed the door and left.  Then James descended to the regular bull-in-a-China-shop babbling rage.  Finally, he mumbled belligerently to himself until he passed out.  Then he did it all again on Saturday.

James is a good guy.  Every now and then he comes knocking on my door to offer me booze or a joint.  After I decline both, he fakes surprise, then fake remembers that…

“Oh, that’s right, you don’t drink, do you?  Smoke either?  Me, I gotta do somethin’ to unwind.  Hey listen, I just wanna thank you for being a good neighbor.”

Brooklyn Navy Shipyard.  Some jobs require drinking.

Brooklyn Navy Shipyard. Some jobs require drinking.

I don’t hold James’ drunken tirades against him.  He works hard day in and day out, at a hard job.  Shipyards are tough places, you gotta do what you gotta do to cope.  I’m sure he’ll knock on my door again, sooner or later.  Things tend to happen over and over at dead ends.

Be well…

Slow and Easy Above the Hustle

Hello Everyone,

It's a pretty snazzy place, I must say.

It’s a pretty snazzy place, I must say.

I spent most of this past week painting an apartment on the 42nd floor of a building on the Upper East Side of New York City.  The apartment belonged to a bona-fide British Lord – his crash pad in the city.  But I didn’t have to bow in his presence, or worry about losing my head with the slightest hint of disloyalty.  The Lord was very nice and unpretentious.  In no way did he present himself like a nobleman.  He didn’t even have an accent.  He’s lived in the U.S. since he was a young man and sounds like a little more relaxed version of Cary Grant.  A nice guy – paid me in dollars, not potatoes.

But the fellow has good taste and the money to satisfy it.  The view out the huge windows was breathtaking – a god’s eye view of Manhattan.  Looking down at so many rooftop gardens and patios on the shorter yet still damn tall buildings, the homes of the less rich but still way damn rich – does something to the mind.  It slows things down.  From upon high, the traffic on the street moves slower, people down below move along the side walks like tiny bugs – a millionaire’s view of the millions below.  When you can see so much of the city in one view, the city looks like a machine, all lubed up, running smoothly and on schedule.  That high up, what’s there to worry about?  I’ll tell you what.  Finishing the huge paint job on schedule, that’s what.  I had four days to complete the job, even though the Lord told me to take my time.  He seemed absolutely certain I’d finish the job.

Of course, I paint barefooted.

Of course, I paint barefooted.

Around 2pm each day I’d pause for about fifteen minutes to eat a sandwich.  I’d sit at the windows and gaze down below.  Above the ceaseless ambient roar of the city, only the stray car horn or siren would find its way to me.  The square blocks of brick building after brick building made the city look so organized, as if everything happening down below was planned perfectly, or more so, pre-ordained.  The people-dots looked programmed to walk in the direction they were walking – their future already determined.  But – also, from so high up – I felt like I was secretly let in on a cruel joke, because I could see what’s around the corner for all the little dots down below.  They had no clue, however.  To them a mystery awaits at the next turn.  The little dots were deep down in The Hustle – helpless, at the whim of the city.  I was happy I couldn’t see any of their faces.  It would’ve been somewhat depressing to see any hope in their expressions.

On the 59th Street Bridge, the traffic moved across moved slowly – so slow, suggesting in whispers that – Getting hit by a little slow car like me on a bridge like this would only give you a little scratch.  Come on over, painter man, and run out in front of me.   But my ancestry of indentured servitude and share cropping told me different – the faster carriages and heavy machinery kill, at best cripple.  Off in the distance, I watched jet after jet take off from LaGuardia Airport.  They looked so slow upon take off, suggesting speed is not a requirement of flight.  The jets whispered to me, too – Flight is easy.  Look, if a big junky plane like me can do it, surely you can.  Give it a shot, painter man, you’re just a window pane away.  But the planes were rushing at speeds I could never achieve on my own.  If I tried, I would fall to my death.  I suddenly realized I was gaining wisdom at a fascinating pace, way up in the thin air.  I knew the nature of speed and mass, flight and death, and everything else.

Somewhere somebody is alone and it is too late.

Somewhere down there somebody is alone and it is too late.

Everytime I heard a siren, I knew it was an abulance rushing to the apartment of an old lady who fell and broke her hip, to a young kid shot on the corner of 112th street and 1st avenue, to an apartment on the Upper West Side that was on fire.  That apartment had a cat trapped inside.  The cat would not make it out alive, just as the kid on 112th would bleed out before the paramedics arrived, just as the old lady couldn’t hold on to the ghost a few more moments as the EMT’s tried to stabilize her.  I knew the fates of 8 million people below me.  All around I saw so much pain laced with loneliness.  Everyone down below was  trapped and alone – no exceptions.  If I barely raised my head, I could see clear to the horizon – tree covered hills, not buildings.  From the millionaire’s view, I could see the edge of the city, and with the view came the wisdom that the city doesn’t go on forever.  But with a slight twitch of the neck downward, my gaze was back to the city streets, where so many people were lost and knew no way out.

During the evenings, I would start to get tired and would feel the urge to speed the painting along.  It took discipline to maintain slow and steady pace.  I would also feel the pressure of the deadline and get frustrated at my progress.  On Tuesday evening, a norther blew into the city and the windows creeked and pulsed with each gust of wind.  Just a pane of glass away were the forces of nature – those forces I cannot control.  I thought about that for a while, as I ate my evening sandwich.  Was I just as helpless up here in the sky, as were the minions down below?  Is everything programmed and pre-ordained here too?  Are the millionaires part of the machine too, not running it, as I had assumed?  Was this paint job already finished on time, or had I already failed at making the deadline?  Was Shakespeare and the Hindus right, was the great drama already written and all I had to do was roll the paint?  That was a lot of questions to ask in a row, so I stopped there.  Truth was, even if I did have the magic power to see around corners, I couldn’t do a damn thing about it.  The view from up here was a ruse, I said to myself.  And knowledge of the future is a useless tool.  Paint job be damned, I said to myself – again, for I got so tired at night I would talk to myself.  Yes, be damned.  Whether this paint job is already painted or not, I will paint on.  A painter paints.  I managed to calm down, and when I did I gained a truly usefull tool – better than a crystal ball.  I gained the knowledge that The Hustle resides in the same place as Good and Evil.  Not in the world beyond the window, but in one’s self.  Therefore, The Hustle  was a force I could control.  Finally, around 10:30pm or so, I would leave the apartment.  I always took one more look out the windows.  Every night, the headlights of cars on the streets looked like the firey eyes of racehorses as they feverishly raced to the next redlight.  Hurrying up just to stop again, over and over.  New York City.

Good Flick.

Good flick.

Well, I almost came in at deadline.  I’d finished the painting, Thursday night, but still needed to clean up Friday morning.  The Lord was ok with that – didn’t chain me to the castle wall to instill fear into the other peasants.  On the subway ride home, an old black busker hopped on somewhere in lower Manhattan and sang “Stand By Me”, shaking his hatful of loose change to keep time.  There were only a few of passengers on the train, and it felt like he sang to each and every one of us.  “Stand By Me” is one of the finest songs ever written, and in my totally unhumble opinion, the only song I’ve ever heard about real love, for it captures the simplicity of real love.  A love free from romance and sex, or dark poetic torturous co-dependent clinginess that we praise in the dog eat dog reality we’ve created for ourselves, where we’ve convinced ourselves love is something we fight for, convinced ourselves that love is a quest, something bigger than it is.  “Stand By Me” isn’t about love that lasts forever or love that cuts like a knife or hurts so good or anything like that.  Ben E. King – the song’s author – knew love wasn’t a battlefield.  He knew there wasn’t a book of love, because there’s not that much to write about.  In fact, he doesn’t even use the word “love” in the song because Mr. King was given an oh, so small moment of clarity when he saw it’s humankind’s folly to even put a name on it.  When I sing “Stand By Me,” I’m not asking for your soul forever, to be one with you forever.  I’m just asking will you be with me, when…

…the sky that we look upon should tumble and fall                                                                Or the mountain should crumble to the sea…

Not to save me, or complete me, just asking if you will be with me when the forces of nature collapse.  And they will collapse.  For the Lords on high and the lost down below.

On Friday morning, I cleaned up the drops and smears of paint here and there and officially finished the job.  I had so much paint stuck in my hair I figured I might as well get a haircut.  I went to my neighborhood barber, Adam, who spends more time talking than cutting but I don’t mind.  He’s got a great personality and I get a kick out of his Russian-Brooklyn accent.

“But I moved to Turkey when I was young man, you know,” he said.  “I speak Turkish very well, too, my friend.  English?  Is hard language to learn.  If you are over 40, forgettaboutit.  Not gonna learn it well.  But you know, I hadn’t been to Turkey in 12 years.  But I go, and just like that, I speak it fluently.”

I looked at Adam through the mirror.  He was standing by me, smiling, waving his comb and scissors around, enjoying telling me about himself.  His wife was next us, speaking in Russian to the person whose hair she was cutting.  She was smiling, too.  There was another person waiting for a haircut.  They were busier than usual, but they weren’t in a hurry.  Down from the tower and back with all the other little people-dots, I realized there was always time to stand by each other in The Hustle.

Comin' at the chil'ren fast and furious.

Comin’ at the chil’ren fast and furious.

“But I was 35 when I left Turkey” Adam continued.  “So I did not forget the language.  My little girls were 9 and 11, very young.  They forgot it just like that.  They only speak English now.  They look like, sound like American girls.  Everything is so much faster for them.”

Be well…

Explaining Dreams And Making It Back To The Fire

Hello Everybody,



I’ve had two recurring dreams in my life.  Without them, I would think dreams were merely the chaos of consciousness running through the mind while it’s unplugged from the Great Outlet – kind of a wind of omniscience blowing through the ears.  But due to these recurring dreams, I have to think a little differently, sometimes to the point of torment from searching for a meaning.  But of course, there’s no real answer on dreams.  How can there be?  Dreams are located in that place where our logic crumbles.  Gravity, time, death, all these absolutes we made up through our interpretation of consciousness are mocked by the Sandman.  Prooving the meaning of dreams would be like making cookies with horse apples and chainsaws.  Horrible texture, terrible taste.

In one dream, I’m surrounded by tornadoes.  I am outside in an open field and compelled to dodge many squiggling thin vinelike tornadoes, tearing across the land all around me.  These tornadoes are too small to pick me up but are spinning so fast they would slice right through me like a hot knife through butter.  I jump, duck, flip to avoid one after another – a drunk astronaut, forced to play some highly complex version of limbo by a much more advanced alien civilization at some interplanetary outpost way left of Albuquerque.  I can barely catch my breath but I keep on dodging.  There’s no time to think of another strategy.

Touching Down on the Dreamscape.

Touching Down on the Dreamscape.

Usually there is another person in the dream, just within my vision.  Many times, it has been my mother, but it’s also been friends or other supportive people.  The last time, it was my girlfriend, Osha.  This person – whoever it is – cannot help me for reasons never made known.  They shout at me but I can’t hear what they are saying, for the wind screams loud like a frieght train.  I can’t run to them, either – another unwritten rule of the dream forbids me from doing so.  They just silently scream and point at the tornadoes.

There is always a building, not too far away.  It’s usually the house I grew up in, way down in Orange Grove, Texas, though not always.  I know that if I can make it to this place, I will be out of harm’s way.  But I begin to sink into the muddy ground below me.  I’m barely able to dodge the thin tornadoes – they burn my skin as I just miss them.   The huge tornadoes loom closer on the horizon.  Exhausted, sluggish, I sink deeper into the mud.

I begin to think I might not make it to safety.  The huge tornadoes shake the earth.  Osha – or mom, or you, or sometimes a kind stranger – are still there, floating on the edge of my vision, screaming silently, pointing at the mammoth twisters.



I forge steps through the mud with all my might, regarding the little tordadoes with abandon.  The big ones are coming!  Bringing with them the end of all things known.  They are miles wide – fat midnight black dancers waltzing drunkenly on Mother Nature as she sleeps off the ruffee they slipped her.  Closer, closer.  But I can go no further, for I am up to my hips in the mud, I can’t even move my legs.  I can’t move my arms either, for some mysterious reason.  I’m completely paralyzed.  The rain is like broken glass on my face.  The wind howls at such a high pitch yet is also thick, heavy –  it becomes both sight and sound.  Louder and louder, the howls take everything away.  Then…I wake up.

The Googleverse steers all explanations of the tornado dream to the general conclusion that they signify a lack of control in one’s life.  The fact that mine has a loved one in it, and usually occurs at the home of my childhood, may signify that I have to find closure from something or some event in my past to be able to hear the loved one’s who are there, always in my corner.  Whatever…

Friday night, I rode the N-train from Brooklyn to meet Osha in Manhattan.  Two very old-school Irish-Italian Brooklyn guys hopped on shortly after I did.  One – the more Irish of the two –  asked the other – the more Italian of the two – for directions to somewhere in Manhattan.

“Yeah, sure, you get off at yada yada, get on the yada yada…turn left at yada yada…then yada yada bing, yada yada bang, you’re there.”

“Thanks, bro.”

“Sure thing.”

“Brooklyn, born and raised, but I can’t figure out my way in Manhattan to save my life.”

What happened next is not rare but never ceases to amaze and please me.  The two strangers told the short form of their life stories to each other.  A little bit of this, a little bit of that.  Bam!  Brooklyn!  They’re lives were very similar.  Both single, both unemployed.  Irish wished he had a job, was asking around to see about one here and there.  Italian was not, however.

“My boy Obama’s takin’ care a me, bro.  $400 a week unemployment.  I had a guy hire me but he can’t gimme steady enough work for the $400 I’m already gettin.’  I tell him I’ll work off the books a bit.  I’m set bro.  I work when I want.  You know I’m used to walking on steel beams that thick (he holds hands about a 1ft. apart)…risking my life for years.  I’ll take unemployment for a while.  I mean…I’m homeless right now but so what, I got friends and they got couches.  I’m happy, that’s all that matters.”

State of the Union.

State of the Union.

“Oh, yeah,” exclaimed Irish as he pounded Italian’s fist.  “And there ain’t no money can buy that for you.”

Somewhere in lower Manhattan, a crazy black man got on the subway.  He sat next to me and smelled like he just escaped from a basement containing tons of old newspapers as old and yellow as he was.  He carried with him what many crazy people do – plastic grocery bags containing an assortment of plastic bottles, crumpled papers and other articles that are absolutely necessary to survival in his reality that the Educated Class can’t make heads or tails of, therefore refer to the contents as random junk.  He occasionally flipped the bird at no one in particular, while he stared straight passed Irish’s eyes and into his brain, as if he was looking around in it for more random junk.  His continuous monologue had its own style and was not a slave to punctuation.

“Ha…can you dig?…’Merica…’Merica!…That’s where we at…I ain’t stupid boy…’Merica!  s’my country man…I ain’t got Aids…no sir…s’america boy…my country…I mean…it’s dirty, ha ha…fo’ sho’…but, ha ha…dig it…alright…ha ha…”

What does this particular subway ride mean?  Further, what does it have in conjunction with the tornado dream?  I don’t know.  I’m just bloggin.’  But way back in the caveman days we used to huddle around fire so we could see each other at night – sought comfort in seeing those who also managed to avoid the fangs of the day’s predators.  Every night, we talked of the hunt, escaping monsters we’d yet to name, pondered that real bright thing in the sky.  Every now and then, one of us stood up by the fire and attempted to explain a strange yet oddly familiar world they visited only after they lay down in the cave and closed their eyes.  They’re explanation gave us comfort, not because it gave meaning to dreams, but because we all had them – just like we all feared the monsters.  The Irish-Italian fellow, the Italian-Irish fellow and the crazy black fellow stood at the fire – showed us they’d avoided the fangs one more day.  In the glow of the flames, it doesn’t matter if we speak of dreams or of the waking life, we simply need to show the other’s that we made it back to the fire.

It was something like this.  But not anymore.

It was something like this. But not anymore.

The other recurring dream?  I’m on the run – in a car, running up a stariway, swimming across a river, etc.  I’ve committed murder or some kind of damnable crime, and I’m running to escape judgment.  Everybody knows I’m guilty and everybody knows I’ll be caught, including me.  Judgment right on my heels as I quickly approach a cliff, a rooftop, the law waiting on the other side of the river.  In every scenario, everyone I know – all my loved ones – are helplessly watcing from the sidelines with pathetic gazes.  I’m more fearful of their gaze then the law.  Yet I keep running, because that’s the only thing I know to do.  But I quit drinking several years ago haven’t dreamt that dream since.  Now, it’s just the tornadoes.

Be Well…