Imagine This!

Some folks may not like this.  So what.

IMAGINE THIS!

I sit here, now, imagining

That nothing was or is.

That nothing ever  mattered

Nor nothing ever will.


Imagine there’s no people

Nor light, nor darkness too,

No time or anything to do.

 

Imagine if there’s never

Nor ever will be you!

Just kill yourself then, Brother

And make it all come true!

 

Oh, ohhh, ohhh, ohhh!

 

It’s just a dream that’s all

And we’re all imagined

Shadows on some wall.

A wall that’s just a shadow

At the bottom of some cave

Where no light’s ever entered

Nor nothing’s made or saved.

 

Oh, ohhh, ohhh, ohhh!

 

Imagine what you cannot do,

Nor never thought, nor never will:

No God, no stars, no planets

No one to love or kill.

 

It’s just the perfect answer

For all the things we love.

Or hate if that’s your fancy.

Below or high above.

 

No heaven high or hell below,

No safe earth in between.

Simply nothing!  That’s the riddle

And the answer, don’t you see,

The Cheshire’s smile does mean.

 

Oh, ohhh, ohhh, ohhh!

 

My song’s about now over;

Well, really not begun.

Never really warbled

And never really sung.

Like a rainstorm in the desert

Or sunshine in the night

Drowning burning devils

In new agonies of fright.

 

Ah, ahhh, ahhh, Hahhh!

 

peg 06/11/2018

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Immaculate Heart of Mary

For a long time I have wondered about her: Mary of Nazareth, Mary the Mother of God.

We were in Nazareth a couple of years ago and I saw the church built over the stream from which she drew water when a young girl, and probably helped her mother with the washing.  That stream running briskly through the church is still a healthy , and clear and clean, and happy swift flowing  thing.  It sings, one might say.

Within two hundred yards down the hillside, on a plaza near a few restaurants, next to an open square near a busy road is a square concrete building; a lumpy thing.  It’s a public building, gated and fenced.  Closed.  Inside the gate, inside the fences, there is a hollow space a few feet below the level of the ground outside.  There’s a sign outside which identifies the gated, closed, barren space as part of the City of Nazareth’s water supply.

Some water supply, filled as it was when we were there with cigarette butts, empty plastic drink cups, bottles and wrappers and the odd pigeon scraping the dust.

I payed no attention to that place when I walked up the hill to the old church to see the well where Mary, the Mother of God and my mother, too, drew water when she was a young girl.  But, I certainly gave it a long look on the way back down the slope; and since.  The day I remember vividly, and I could walk to the place with no difficulty I am sure, since scarcely a day goes by that that whole trip to The Holy Land doesn’t repeat itself in my mind.

And, I wonder.

Here’s why.

Once a week for most of the year Mariellen, my young wife, and I gather here with a few friends to pray, read and speak about matters spiritual, and how they affect our lives.  We read the “lessons” from the previous Sunday’s liturgy, read some paragraphs from a spiritual book written by a good person and reflect on where the two things meet in our minds and hearts, and souls.  We gather under the aegis of a group we all belong to called The Families of Nazareth.  (Ask me sometime!)

Anyway, part of the time spent during this meeting is used to reflect on what we have read, and share our reaction to it; sometime in the form of answers to questions we all get, questions which are really meant as hints or props to help us think; or simply what we have, in fact, had occur to us as we went along.  It’s always interesting, and often very enlightening.  We love the folks who join us.

One thing, though; there is always a question, a prompt if you will, to think about Mary, the Mother of God, as we Catholics and other “un-reformed” Christians refer to her, and how she “fits” into the scheme, the subject, the matter we happen to be considering each week.  How does Mary matter, more or less in this instance or situation?  How may her life, her character, her role in salvation history (or just plain history) make a difference for each one of us, or everyone for that matter?

Tough questions, right?  You bet.  Because almost every week, almost everyone there mumbles their way through something remembered from Mother Mary Holy Picture’s disquisitions about Mary while in the sixth grade, or simply glides over the thing with a whisper and a cough.

Me, too.

Until this morning.

My lovely wife and I were saying our prayers, early.  Well, actually we were together “doing” the Office of Readings, the first of the prayers each day in that thing called the Divine Office.

And today, the light went on.  I read this:

O Lord, my heart is not proud *
nor haughty my eyes.
I have not gone after things too great *
nor marvels beyond me.

Truly I have set my soul *
in silence and peace.
As a child has rest in its mother’s arms, *
even so my soul.

It’s from Psalm 131.  I’ve read the thing a hundred times, if not more; and mostly had a “Yadda, yadda, yadda” reaction to it.  Not today, though.

I had two reactions….

The first was this.  I watched the young girl in Nazareth long ago walking up the hill to the stream and it’s cool silver waters.  As she walked she was having that conversation with God, her Father.  Sometimes, I can remember having such conversations the better part of a century ago when I was a simple kid.  But, you know, I outgrew them. It’s only Kid stuff that grownups never need to continue.  That’s what they are: toys for the mind, that should be put away.

But, as I completed those eight lines something changed inside.  I was listening to my “Mother” speaking to me, telling em to repeat the lines…not as a prayer, but simply as a statement of fact.  And I understood, at last, who she was/is, and what she wants of me.

The second strophe spelled it out clearly for me:

I will not enter the house where I live *
nor go to the bed where I rest.
I will give no sleep to my eyes, *
to my eyelids I will give no slumber
till I find a place for the Lord, *
a dwelling for the Strong One of Jacob.

After all, isn’t it only what she did?

And, look what that led to?

Do yourself a favor and go and find the Office of Readings for today, the feast day of Mary, The Mother of God.

That’s one of the places where you can find it.  But, there’s others.  You can even find it in Latin, and about every other language there is, maybe even Eskimo.

Anyway, when you get there, pay special attention to the reading, the excerpt from The Book of Job.  It practically brought a tear to my eye.  Job’s ending is a bit like Scrooge’s ending I sometimes think.

And don’t forget the Second of the two readings, an excerpt from a sermon by a bishop named St. Laurence Justinian.  It’s all good, as they like to say these days, but the last sentence is especially good.

THE PROPER USE OF TOOLS

 

“Worse deaths there are than slaughter in the classroom, and few worse than annihilation in the womb!” Anon.

“Name some tools,” I asked myself the other day.  I stopped and looked around me.  The place was full of them.  I was merely sitting in my living room, and as I looked the number of tools I saw took up quite a bit of the space, almost I thought crowding me, to whom all of the tools belonged.  Pliant servants all they were and would be from time to time of my wants, needs, desires, whims or plans for good or ill.

It was my will, whim, decision and deed which occasioned each and every one of them being there; my needs, desires and purposes which would cause their use.  For my ends they existed.  And until I formed a need desire or purpose for them, at rest, silent and dumb would they remain until they decayed, not ever once knowing they had existed.

I do not own many tools.  I own those I need, or think I do need or might need, from time to time, and only those tools.  My home is a small place, and so I have rid myself of some of them as I had no longer a need for them.  Some tools, though, even though a need no longer exists for them, I still keep.  Call my keeping of them a sentimentality; and even though I haven’t in my life of late kept them for any practical use, they are triggers of memory, frames, if you will, of times, people, incidents in my life whose recollection I find pleasant.  For that reason, these tools are useful to have around, pleasant to be around and for me serve, still, some purpose.  Frames themselves, don’t you think, are tools, and in some way whatever the frames contain; containing, in the case of the frames on my walls and other places, and bringing to mind, in the case of what is within the frame, the memories, the experiences, the lessons of another time and place.


In a sense, almost anything can be a tool.  Are we not all familiar with the word “tool” being applied to people?  I used to work in one of the law enforcement agencies that have multiplied almost like a plague in recent years; and it was most common to refer to those men and women who, for whatever reason, chose to cooperate with us as “tools”.

And, just as almost anything can serve as a tool in an emergency, or merely a moment of need or inspiration generated by need, almost any tool designed for some use will serve almost as well in another way when the right one isn’t handy, a way one simply was never thought of;  or a case when one simply doesn’t know how to use the “proper” tool for the task or believes that they have discovered a new and sublime use for something that wasn’t a tool and now has become one.

But, until used in some way for some purpose, whether as intended, or by accident or improvisation, tools are actually little more than immobile, mute, dumb and lifeless matter.

That is what brings me by the long way to part of the reason I write this thing, this thing about tools and their use.


Tools get blamed when they are really no cause of wrong. If we stop to think about it, only a poorly made, or poorly used, tool can injure, can cause harm.  The tool is not to blame, though it has been the unwitting and really innocent cause of a mishap. But, drop a dish that shatters on the floor, and both dish and floor are subject of abuse for our carelessness, or the slippery soap, the too hot dish water. How silly would they be who then remove all their dishes, or tear up their floors, or turn off their hot water heaters after such an incident.  This never will happen outside of Bedlam; never in a sane world, you say.  And, very rightly so.

No one calls for or has called for the abolition of automobiles, the destruction of roads, the grounding of airplanes though thousands die each year in the case of autos, and every crashed airliner and loss of life from them.  No one but a madman wishes to halt commerce by the sea.  The Titanic did not sink because of some perverted decision by the vessel itself to collide with an iceberg the size of a small mountain.  There were a thousand reasons for that disaster, and all of them had to do with human beings, with us.

It was the designers, the engineers and architects who used their tools to build the ship, tools that were top of the line, cutting edge tools, and the captain and crew who used these inadequate tools to deal with sailing in dangerous waters, who brought about the tragedy.   Well, we say, such things will happen when we use things in places we shouldn’t, or misuse something nor made for use in a time or place for which it is not required, prepared or about which we should have known, but of which, for any number of reasons, we chose to ignore; simple ignorance being one of them, but pride, impudence or bull headed determination being not far away in many cases.  Or, we should say that.  Don’t you think?

But, we don’t.  Like a headstrong toddler we adopt the attitude my daughter had when she was still in diapers, the “My do it myself!” way of thought, and steam full ahead into an iceberg; dying in the doing and taking millions with us.

And, the fault wasn’t ours. It never is, you know. Is that a reason for shoulders?  So we may shrug them?  Or fingers so we may point them?  Or fists so we may shake them? Or hats?  Hats??  Hats, so we may cover our own guilt beneath them while pointing fingers and pounding fists.


Why blame a gun, a tool?  And, why organize a march of hundreds of thousands to demonstrate against tools?  It’s the top of the mark for silliness, really.  Isn’t it?  It is so silly that one is almost persuaded that a sentient being couldn’t possibly think of or take part in such a thing.  They must be being put to use by others.  They must themselves have become tools.

And, it is especially so when there are more reasons than you can throw a stick at as the cause for all of these kinds of things at schools across the land.  I’ll not go into here what may be one proximate cause; the abyssal poverty of education and lack of discipline and control at all levels in schools.

There are other causes, causes cultural and civilizational, personal, familial and philosophical.  We all know them or can guess what they are.  All one needs is to pay attention to, to think about what we have allowed into our minds and homes in type, form and presentation of entertainment, sport, culture, commentary. Begin there. All forms of media have become vehicles for programs and spectacles which might well have provided most of the material for a standard season’s spectacle in a Roman arena.  No longer do the children go to their rooms when something like that is presented. Why, the child’s room is as well-equipped as any with whatever is needed for a front row seat to anything.

In a world where men and women may no longer be, or remain (a fiction if ever there was one) men and women, where marriage is more honored in the breach than the observance, where children are raised by experts in the equivalent of cattle holding pens while Mom pursues a career, and Dad pursues Susie Secretary, where the old are put away to die when not tolerated in some back room or garret, it is the children who are left adrift, unsure and, I think, at some deep level afraid of what is becoming a life alone.  Well alone, except for “devices” and vices.

But, isn’t everyone these days defined by their devices; and most of us by our vices? Shame is a dead word. And with shame have died politeness, good humor, ease, manners and charity.

More marriages today end in divorce than are made each year, and the loneliness and soul hunger bred by that one fact alone is the cause of great woe and sadness and, yes, anger in the hearts of many; things which shape a life, and no doubt end many.  Those who because they are or were witness to such a thing avoid their own chance and begin a series of liaisons, a sort of serial marriage ceremony where a courtship never takes place, the honeymoon is all there is and everyone is simply changing partners.  They don’t even dance.  They simply hook up, like tools; a male plug in a female socket used when needed and put away…or, worn out, simply dropped like a fewmet.

It isn’t hard to pass that kind of attitude, that kind of world view, on, like passing on an infection, virus, or plague.  The newspapers and news programs are full of stories about such a way of life where people have become tools, used, used up, put away, dumped and forgotten, from the red carpets in Cannes or Hollywood to the school shutdowns.


The Walking Dead!

That should be an icon of the age.  The nation is full of them.

A few years ago, I saw one of the programs in that series about people who had died and were still dead, but in some way walking about, interested only in killing people still alive, using any means to hand to accomplish the task.  It was painful to watch, really, on a number of levels.

It’s painful to watch the zombies today who wander around, through the malls and the parks, slouching in the playgrounds singly or in packs; painful and not a little frightening.  From time to time one hears of such “packs” descending on a store, a railroad station or a bus stop, and simply destroying things or other human beings, or cleaning it out like vultures stripping a corpse.  Children.  No, once children, now zombies.

More of them are raised without fathers these days than ever before.  Fathers, who are the source of rules and law and discipline, the first teachers, are being driven to extinction.  And, if they go, so do we.

It is a fact as clear and proven as the sun in the sky at high noon that those who have killed so many in schools and classrooms throughout the country are, to a person (a zombie?), the products of fatherless homes.  They were not formed with love and patience and fatherly discipline in the image and likeness of fathers to respect and obey others and authority; to know the “right thing to do”, to grow from child to man, and not eat dirt, or scream and rant, or hate and, eventually, rampage and kill.  Poor, misshapen things, they are.  And, long before they should have been, they are dead in any of several ways; dead inside in their soul, and dead outside to the world, which, really, has ceased to care for them, and they for it.  It is a fair exchange. Why should it be any different, really?

Well, the world has stopped caring in many ways, but most importantly in this way. It has ceased to care except for the angry marchers and the loud voices of the children, assembled by the ones who created the swamps and and wallows, both physical and intellectual, in which they live, and now gather them to scream their rage and frustration as they are told to scream…like two minutes, no a day of hate from some horrible prediction from not so long ago of what now is…by their masters.  It’s a kind of un-care.  To scream for the destruction of a simple dumb tool. I find myself wondering what hats they will wear who rage in ignorance.

And, in some hole in the ground, or a dungeon deep, the latest zombie lies or will lay; un-wept for, unknown, and ignored in a zombie hell, fatherless for eternity.  The Walking Dead!


I am no kind of craftsman, engineer, or worker at anything other than the simplest tasks.  I am most definitely not a Homo Habilis.  Left to me, our ancestors would have remained as we began, scrambling up trees away from predators and picking berries from the bushes after carefully and cautiously sniffing around for dangerous creatures waiting to eat us.  As I said above, I don’t know how to make them, or repair them, but I know enough to know a tool when I see it, why it is a tool and what is its proper use.  I also know that a tool may not be for me or someone who cannot be trusted to use it well, or properly.

But, I know we had ancestors, and where they came from, and how they lived and what they did.  And more to the point, why they did it.

The use of tools, the proper use of tools must be taught, and the skill to use them properly practiced.  That’s as true for a hoe as it is for an axe at it’s handle’s end.  That’s as true for a pick axe as for a pistol; a mallet or a machine gun, a telescope or time bomb.  But a tool used incorrectly, though damage may be done to it and whatever it is ill used on is innocent of the ill use, and punishing the tool, destroying or banning its use and possession by anyone skilled in its use is, simply, stupid.

It makes no sense whatever to forbid pick axes because maniacs have sometimes cleaved the odd skull with them.  It makes even less sense to gather in crowds and shout slogans ordering officials to ban pick axes, no matter that Uncle Buck, or little Jimmy his son, were lately found to have been pick axed off this mortal coil by that madman Jim Bob Scruggle, a zombie so he thought.

If you want to march and show your disapproval of death being wielded against innocent lives by tools misused, march then against the people killed in clean (sometimes) rooms by quite sane, they will themselves be first to tell you, doctors and nurses engaged in sending hundreds of thousands to their dismembered death before they draw an independent breath; killed and sold for parts to pharmaceutical firms; a kind of proxy cannibalism.

Or, fill the streets in protest against the multi-billion-dollar traffic in pornography, a disease which, if left untreated, will eat away the souls and lives of everyone under the age of forty.  The chance of that happening, though is less than microscopic.  Too many folks named Sandy, or Bambi, or Stormy, or Jake, Jerk or just plain Joe are the willing tools of the devils behind the damage done, and billions more need it to forget how miserable life today is.

Or, finally, raise a voice against the toxic nature of education today, from nursery school to post-doctoral studies, and the death of civilization thereby; civilization and culture aborted in favor of rights and choices.  I think one of the worst forms of death is the slaughter taking place today in class rooms.

Of course the boards and unions and politicians whose lives depend on keeping the death of culture and the end of civilization a flourishing concern will wear the hats they wear, and fill the news with horrible stories about how horrible things used to be before the enlightenment, and why everyone is better off today with the good things we have, and the better things to come.  If only we let them, because they are really the only ones who know, do their damnedest.

And don’t worry so.  Take away their forceps and folks at the abortuary will find a novel use for needle nosed pliers.

My Best Friend

MY BEST FRIEND

 

When I was a kid growing up in the Bronx my best friend was Eddie.  He was so much a part of my life that I would tell my parents and my sister and brother each evening at supper what Eddie had done and what he had said during the day.  So detailed and so intense were these stories of our daily adventures and Eddie’s leading role in them that my father began to call my friend Eddie Sez’; primarily because of the wisdom I believed Eddie possessed about all thing “Kid”.

 

He came from a family of six children, four boys and two girls.  In my family we were three, two boys, and one girl.  Of course we had parents.  My father was a letter carrier, once known as a mailman, and my mother was a House Wife, once a profession, now not.

 

Eddie and the rest of his family lived in a ground floor apartment in the front of our apartment house.  It was a six story walk up, built in an age, somewhere around 1920, when anything less than ten floors was thought unnecessary to require an elevator.  Eddie’s apartment facing the front looked out on the street, Bailey Avenue, which, when I was a child, was the longest and broadest street in the civilized world, cobblestones paving its length and breadth, and trolley tracks bisecting it.  Perhaps as many as twenty times a day, cars would whiz by bound outward to the world.  And in the evening, cars would line the street at great intervals.  Some of them were even locked and their windows were rolled up.

 

On the other side of the street, looking west to the edge of the world, a plateau spread in both directions for dozens of yards before falling off down to the tracks of the Grand Central railroad, whose Northern Division ran north to the pole for all I knew, and filled the air with the sound and smoke of “industry” and “commerce”, from its long freight trains and huge black belching engines. We kids all loved playing down in the railroad yard, walking along the tracks, and on top of the third rail; throwing the stones used as ballast at rats, cats and birds and at the long lumbering freight cars on the trains moving in and out of the city almost every day.  Eddie could throw a stone further than most of the kids I hung around with.  But, he stayed away from the third rail stuff.

 

That was because Eddie’s father who we learned was named Barney, or, sometimes, “Star”, used to work for that railroad until, in the legendary past, he was injured jumping from a locomotive to the ground at the end of a long day.  Eddie told us he hit the third rail.  The injury resulted in a weakness and palsy which was with him for the rest of his life; a life he spent at the window of his living room with a pitcher of beer to hand staring out at the world going by.  He never stopped his shaking hands unless he was taking a mouthful of beer.  All the kids in the neighborhood came to know him as “Shaky”.

 

Frail and bent, Shaky would walk from his house to the corner tavern each morning, The Kingsbridge Tavern, owned by Angie, a little man whose head barely cleared the level of the bar when he stood behind ready to pour; and once there, Shaky H., for that was his name, would buy himself a quart container of beer from the tap.  He may have been Angie’s first customer every day.  And, firmly and steadily clutching the newly poured container to himself, Shaky would walk home, enter his apartment and take up his seat.  Once or twice more each day he would repeat this appointed round in all kinds of weather, faithful to the work.

 

Eddie’s mother was a tall and quiet woman.  I don’t think I ever knew her given name.  She was always Mrs. H., and is still when I think of her.  All of the women were known that way, by their married names.  They were Mrs. Lastname, even when we were grown.  And the men were Mister.  And, except that my father used Eddie’s father’s name and unless I had heard him using it in his conversations with my mother, I would never have known Barney “Star” H.’s full name.  Mrs. H., whom I cannot remember seeing outside the house, would sometimes lean out of her kitchen window and exchange the news of the day with some of the other mothers who might come outside with toddlers and children not yet in school.  The street was our playground, the curbstones our toilets, because when tiny, going back upstairs, three, four or five flights of them, was not only difficult but hazardous.  Anything could happen.

 

We lived on the same side of the house as Eddie, in the back.  Our windows faced a wooden fence, erected we kids thought, by someone who hated kids.  Because beyond that fence was a vacant lot full of weeds and wild flowers, rocks and stones and sand.  Like any vacant space to a bunch of kids, it was a perfect place to play.  And since it was a playground, the only one at all in the neighborhood, the fence never stayed up for too long a time.

 

Every day in all kinds of weather this area, which came to be known simply as The Lot, was the venue for all sorts of games; from a form of baseball, played with regular balls and bats all the way to wads of newspaper or clods of earth as balls and tree branches, sticks and hollow cardboard tubes if nothing else was handy, as bats, to the kind of ordered chaos that is known by all the kids I’ve ever known as, simply, Play.  There were names, of course, and rules, boundaries, sides and positions.  There was everything the world above us required for the danger and drudgery of “work”!  When playing with the girls, one of whose games to play was called House, boys were always “going to work”.  This involved leaving the girls and going away…somewhere.

 

We also played war.  We even had a navy of sorts in the form of two large rocks in The Lot, way over in deep left field.  One, named K-880, could be a submarine, a battleship, a troop carrier, a swift destroyer or anything one wished it to be, and sometimes more than one type of vessel.  Very rarely, it was a tank.  The other one, named Flat Rock, was always an aircraft carrier…or a place to sit and eat lunch between games.

 

On the other side of The Lot, at the crest of a small slope, was Heath Avenue.  That was where The Heathies lived.  They were ancient enemies.  One was born hating the Heathies, though not as much as one hated The Crescents, all of whom were savages and probably cannibals.  War against The Crescents, who lived near the firehouse a few blocks away, had always been going on since first the earth was cool enough to walk on.

 

I learned, as I grew older that the Heathies and Crescents were called such because they lived on Heath Avenue and on Albany Crescent.  And, I went to school with several of them.

 

I don’t remember when we actually met, Eddie and I, and became friends, but I am pretty sure it took place when we were both very young fellows, perhaps toddlers.  So, it can be said with some truth that we knew each other in fact before we were really grown to consciousness.  Eddie, when I was so very young, before school began, was a part of my life; as much I suppose as my brother and sister, my parents and certainly more than the other relatives I saw, none of whom lived near enough to walk to for a visit.  And, I grew up when walking was the primary means of locomotion in the city for folks like us; walking or the bus or trolley.

 

Eddie was older than me by almost a year, and taller, better looking and leaner.  He was also more naturally athletic, excelling at the games we played like baseball, football, stickball, and basketball, in the playground the city built when we got older.  Until that time came, though, we had other games; games of our own invention like Running Through and Best Faller and Tarzan.  These we played while forming our skill and talent for more complicated games with rules and boundaries and positions.  Rules, by the way, were great occasions for arguments which sometimes lasted longer than the game itself, and often led to simply tossing the game aside in favor of something more active than yelling.

 

Running Through was a version of football.  When there weren’t enough kids to field two decent sized teams, we would play Running Through; a game where one guy with the football would try to run through, around, over, or dig under, all the rest of us without losing the ball or breaking anything.  We all took turns running through.  And, it had the advantage of having no rules.

 

Best Faller was another game, a war game.  We played that game by attacking a “machine gun” nest occupied by The Japs or Nazis, or both.  Everyone rotated through the nest and killed the attacking GI’s usually running downhill at breakneck speed (literally).  The best faller in each attack got to attack again with the next group while the others, eliminated, sat on the sidelines and screamed.  There were no real winners.  It was simply a game where we all got dirty, and tired, and yelled while thinking about war and glory, glory and war.  Danny Valuzzi was always a gunner. He was the only guy with a real toy rifle.  The rest of us had broomsticks which were also spears, or stickball bats.

 

The city’s playground and a public school, PS 122, ended our games of Tarzan.  They filled in the lot we used for it.  And that was because it was a good twenty feet lower than the surrounding terrain.  Tarzan was played on swings of rope, dumb waiter ropes we had taken from the dumb waiters and tied to branches on the trees reaching out over the depressed ground that was Tarzan’s, a watery tangle of weeds, garter snakes, mosquitoes and salamanders, mud and most forms of urban debris.  We would swing out over this primeval mess and see how far we could go and safely fall into the muddy mess below; without drowning or breaking something.

 

We also hunted for snakes and salamanders in the good weather, bringing them home to live in the bathtub or kitchen sink…for a while.

 

Eddie was good at all the games with certain exceptions.  He didn’t like to play the kind of things we played across the street in Tarzan’s.  I also don’t remember much his presence in the hikes we took, walking up the railroad tracks to Van Cortlandt Park a couple of miles away and hunting for snakes and squirrels and frogs and other stuff that really interested kids. Snake hunting was fun, but hunting squirrels with stones we had taken from the railroad was the best fun.  I got pretty good at knocking a squirrel of a branch high in a tree.

 

But, I had to be careful to empty my pockets before entering the home.  My mother, if she found stones in them would know that I had been out, and probably far away, hunting some small animal with my friends, and, of course, walking on the railroad tracks where I could get killed at any moment.  I never gave that much thought, though.  Kids, before the age of ten or twelve probably don’t give anything much thought.  At least we didn’t.  We just did, or didn’t do what came to mind; and when we were finished with that, we did something else.

 

 

As I said, Eddie was a good athlete, an excellent pitcher, with a good fastball and a mean curve, whether throwing an old tennis ball, a “spaldeen” during stickball games, or even basketball when we played, under the watchful eye of the “Parkie”, the guy who handed out equipment and kept the brooms and stuff in the Parkie’s House just inside the entrance to the playground.

 

The Parkie also ordered us off the swings, basketball backboards, slides, wire fences and other stuff we shouldn’t be climbing on or jumping off; though he could only do that when the park was open.

 

We were growing older and becoming bolder; doing risky and dangerous things. For instance, we went swimming in the Harlem and Hudson rivers; at that time little more than open sewers.  Mothers warned us not to go swimming in those places because if we did we would surely get Polio and die or drown.  And so, we developed the habit of opening a fire hydrant and taking a cleansing bath before going home.  Of course, there were times when no amount of water would remove the brackish smell, and we got a beating.

 

I never saw Eddie in the water, anywhere.  He never swam in the Harlem, or the Hudson river; never took the bus with a bunch of us to Orchard Beach in the summer, so we could get a layer or two of skin burned off, or swam in Charlie’s Hole, little more than a mud puddle in Vanny, our name for Van Cortlandt Park.

 

But I gave it no thought.  He was my “best friend”, not my only friend.  And then something happened.

 

One day, it was just Eddie and me.  We were playing in the Foundies, an old construction site on our block that consisted of the crumbling remains of an apartment house that never got further than the basement.  My mother would have killed me if she knew I was there.  The previous summer I’d cracked my skull open falling from one of the walls, and the year before that, I’d nearly burned my big toe off playing with some railroad flares that Danny McGrath, an older kid, had and was sharing with me to celebrate July 4th.

 

Anyway, Eddie and I were doing something when we were joined by a “little kid”.  Little Kids were the ones “coming up”, the next generation, the rookies, anywhere from three to five years younger than us.  This was one of them, some boy from another apartment house on the block who wanted to play with us.  Eddie knew him and suggested we play “war” and he would be our prisoner.  Now, this usually meant that the prisoner had to do whatever we told them and try to escape.  And here things started to go bad, really scary bad.  The kid did “escape” and Eddie chased him down, brought him back to the “prison” and dumped him on the ground.  Then he told the kid to take off all his clothes so he couldn’t escape again.  The kid started to cry, and Eddie just got mad at him, took off his shirt and pants and threw them over a wall.  The kid stood there in his shoes and underpants and cried.

 

Eddie had never gotten mad, never lost his temper, never went ballistic.  I was the one who did that.

 

I was getting scared, too, because my friend was really angry with this kid, who was wailing.  “Let’s get out of here,” I said, because we were going to get in trouble.  And, getting in trouble was as bad as things could be when you were about ten years old.  Eddie listened to me and decided to leave but warned the kid not to tell anyone. Then we left.

 

Of course, it took the kid about ten minutes to get himself back together and tell his mother what and who.  Not too much longer after that my father found me out in front of our house and dragged me inside, where he took off everything I had on and beat me until he got too tired to swing the razor strap.  He didn’t speak to me for a few weeks after that.  My mother dragged me over to the kid’s house by my hair and made me apologize to him and his parents.  Then she dragged me back home and threw me into the bathroom where I would probably have stayed for a week or two if we had another bathroom in the house.

 

It was not the worst thing I have ever done, but it is the thing I remember most vividly.

 

I didn’t see Eddie for a while.  As a matter of fact, I was forbidden from hanging around with him.  That too passed, and Eddie and I re-joined the kids, picking up where we had left off.

 

We were getting older, and noticing more.  One of the things we were noticing was the presence of girls.  They had, of course been there all along, with doll carriages, and jumping ropes and other stuff.  But, up until recently we had considered them merely obstacles, things like stray cats to be run off.  Now, we didn’t mind them so much at all.  They were nice to look at, and, sometimes, even fun to talk to.

 

There was no pairing off quite yet.  But when it came, and come it did a year or so later, my friend Eddie was among the first chosen.  He was, I suppose, what could be called an “Alpha Male”.  And, the girl who picked him was every bit his match.  Her name was Barbara.  They stayed a “couple” for several years, I think; so much so that even some of the mothers began to expect they would marry some day.

 

It was not to be, though.  And, it had to have been Eddie’s fault.  As he grew older, and entered his teens he began to change, as did we all.  But there was a difference, I think, sitting now a million years away from the places and events.  Eddie did not seem to want to be the kind of kid the rest of us were, do the kind of things we did, nor play, any more, the games we played.  We saw less of him. And that began at around the time of our very short and losing war with our implacable enemy The Crescents.

 

Who can remember the reason most wars have started?  Do they need a reason, after all?  All I knew is that we were going to fight the Crescents, a big, dangerous tribe of tough guys.  On the day of the fight, which took place in a lot at the end of our block, they sent their best, about thirty fierce and “plug-ugly” guys whose knuckles dragged and weapons clanked.  We managed to muster eight guys, and the only “weapon” we had was a paddle ball paddle, like a thin plywood racquet ball paddle, only flimsier.

 

We were destroyed.  Eddie took no part in the combat.  And the only reason he gave me when I asked him was that he didn’t want to get dirty.

 

I’ve never been able to figure that out.

 

When high school came, Eddie went off to De Witt Clinton, a city school, and most of us went to one or another of the five or six thousand Catholic High Schools in the city.

 

We saw each other from time to time, and we spoke from time to time, but there was less in common than there had been; and I never could tell why it was so.  The legal age for drinking at that time in New York was 18, and with my friends I took full advantage of it.  As a matter of fact, we had been taking advantage for several years; training for the “big event” so to speak, in the same way kids have been doing it since forever I guess.  Eddie never did.  He played elsewhere at another game, a game I never learned.

 

It must have been in my senior year, waiting for graduation, when I ran into Eddie early one morning.  The sun wasn’t long up and I was headed home from Toolan’s, a bar, one of a half million in the neighborhood.  I ran into him just outside the door to our apartment; he leaving and me coming in.  We smiled and spoke briefly.  He had left school, he said, at the beginning of the year, and was looking for work somewhere.  I don’t remember what he said he was looking to do.  And, then we continued on our separate ways.

 

A few months earlier one or two of the fellows I hung around with had told me about a party they were going to.  It was at an apartment in another neighborhood, Washington Heights, a few miles south of us across the river in Manhattan.  It might as well have been in Lapland.  I stayed home.  But, afterwards they told me I had missed a great time.  The girls at the party were unlike any of the girls we knew.  And, Eddie was there, they told me.  He was especially there with one of the girls.

 

I saw him only once more after that story about the girl with whom he was at the party; the girl I later learned was carrying his child.  He looked sad, and older, much older.  I don’t remember what we said, what we talked about.  I just remember that it was the last time I saw him, already an old man.  I wish I could, but I don’t remember our last conversation, or where he went when we parted.

 

He just drifted away.

 

The last thing I heard about my best friend Eddie was that he was working as a porter and utility man in an apartment house in Washington Heights, a neighborhood in Manhattan, and had married the woman he had gotten pregnant.

 

That was more than 60 years ago.

It’s A Record!

You know, there’s probably a few thousand folks around the country thinking that; and perhaps a few hundred thousand folks around the world (God, I hope it’s only that many.) thinking the same thing.  Somewhere north of fifty is the body count, and a couple of hundred people in every hospital for miles around waiting to see if they’ll increase the count.  And, there they stand, on the corner watching, worrying, waiting, counting, and, perhaps, grimly smiling in their best “I told you so!” manner…

Some V.P. at one of the TV stations lost her job because she simply gave voice to what was going through the minds of not a few people.  “Somebody’s got to pay!  Somebody’s got to be responsible!  Why not “them”, the ones who believe in all of this stuff, anyway.  Live by the sword…”

I mean, what’s the problem?  We set a record for cripes sake!  So, we lost a few one toothed rubes.  What was it that guy said, the English one a couple of centuries ago, about Irish babies?  Same thing.  Who dies doesn’t matter.  What matters is we set a record, or, better still set a record and in some way “provide a benefit to the country”.

And, as usual, there are plenty of folks who, understandably upset at the method employed for record setting, are calling for more gun control, calling for the government to step in and prevent such things from happening again.  They did the same thing when the last record was set in Orlando a couple of years ago, and before that when some teenager in Connecticut  set the Youth Division Record in his school a couple of years ago.

Be that as it may, though, it is the truth that all of these folks died not because guns were allowed out in public and got over eager, or carried away by “record fever”; as if they were in some competition;  some Orlando versus Las Vegas thing.

No.

Put a gun down and it stays there; stays until hell freezes over.  The next gun setting a record for body count, whether it’s rubes or boobs, lawyers or liars, will be the first.

You see, that isn’t the problem.  Motive is the problem, and guns, inanimate objects, mere tools that they are, are incapable of forming a thought, however twisted it may be, or developing a motive.  Do we remove hammers from carpenters who bludgeon their wives, children or co-workers with them?  No, we remove the carpenter from the hammer, and either execute them or lock them up for life.  Hammers remain in circulation.  More are made every day, and sold to anyone with enough money to buy them.  And knives.  And bricks.  And sharp spades.

The current and latest record holder is dead, but, I will bet a ham sandwich that like them, the other two I mention above, he was as mad as the Mad Hatter; “barking mad”, frothing at the mouth mad.  And, I will bet another sandwich that absent guns, he would have done what he did with matches and kerosene, or a hammer, a bow an arrow, or, as is becoming a trend around the world, a large truck on a crowded street.

I cannot understand what drives some folks into a rictus of fear driven indignant frustration, what has them wide eyed and sputtering about the need to control guns.  Is it the desperate straits we’ll be in until the last gun is safe behind bars, or melted into something really useful, like a door stop;  and, possibly, until all present gun owners, many of whom were probably fittingly present in Las Vegas the other night, are sent to some quiet place for re-education?

Well, yeah!  And there’s the rub.  It will never happen. But, some folks won’t stop crying and trying.  Well not some, but an awful lot of folks; the brow knitted, hand wringing, teary eyed, do gooding, banner carrying, folks with a cause.

Yesterday I got myself into a discussion on a “social media site”.  You know the one.  Maybe you’re a subscriber, too, along with a couple of billion other people. Just shows you how much spare time there is in the world.

Anyway, folks were going on about guns, and how they cause all these deaths, set all these records, and no one seems to do a darn thing about it, seems to want to keep them out of the hands of screw ups all over.  They always say, “Write a law, or change one, and let the government control what guns there are, or anything else, how many there shall be, and who shall use them and when and where and how.  One of them had written, when I asked why should guns be controlled the following, and my response appears below it:

 “Umm, because people with guns who take a life seem to have more rights than their victim. Seems obvious to me…. right to own and carry a firearm gets talked about way more than the right to assemble in a public or private place without threat of violence.”

I answered this way: “I don’t own any guns, never have.

But I was issued a gun, and carried it for 33 years. On more than one occasion I was glad I had the use of it. And on many more occasions I was glad I had possession of it. It was a magnificent argument winner.

I also know quite a large number of men and women, and children, who own and use guns. Not a one of them has caused an injury or death to anyone else by gun. And there are millions of people like them.

Many, many more people are killed by automobiles each year than by guns; killed by leaping from bridges and tall buildings than by guns, killed, dare I say it, by abortionists, than by guns.

Yet we have not outlawed cars, bridges, tall buildings (or sleeping pills, or cigarettes) or abortionists.

Perhaps, what we really need to do is outlaw pre-meditation.

Then we have only to solve the problems posed by cars, bridges, buildings, pills and tobacco…and, of course the current bette noir, opiods.

Shall we outlaw knives because thousands each year are injured or die by knife? How then would we carve Tom Turkey? And pillows? Shall they be done away with to prevent the death by suffocation of demented elders or annoying spouses?

I offer a revision of the “Guns don’t kill people…” line: Guns don’t kill people, sin kills people!

Outlaw that!”

My interlocutor answered: ” Only one of the items you listed has the sole purpose of inflicting harm upon another living thing. Can you identify which one?”

How shall I answer? Do you know which of the many things exists solely to harm other persons? Cigarettes? Abortionists?

 

 

Training A Wolf: “Do you Know Knowledge?”

I read an article this morning about the state of the nation, more or less, in which the author, a former newspaper man, mentions meeting a young girl long ago, a runaway, who responded to his cautionary words about the perils of being so young and so alone in the wide world, so at the mercy of its less than honorable denizens, with, simply, “I knowed that.”

Why are runaways so damned smart, or desperate?


A long time ago in New York City my partner Richie had an informant; a tall slim fellow, more a wolf than a fox or coyote, who had moved down from deep in the wilds of Harlem to the newly target rich environment of the East Village.  It was the “Summer of Love” and a great migration of runaway fools, in spirit and intelligence more resembling sheep, or better yet, Al Capp’s “Shmoos”, than human beings, had come down from Westchester, Greenwich and other rich enclaves in and about “Near Connecticut”.  They were the acolytes and devotees of Timothy Leary; tuning in, turning on and dropping out in slums and hovels and , well, “shit holes”; once occupied by their European immigrant grandparents, and now probably owned by a few of their enterprising uncles and cousins or their business partners.

I suspect many of them never made it back home, dying in one way or another in what was then a wasteland and is now, in all probability, just a more expensive and “trendy” wasteland, with better drugs, and better dressed wolves.

The Shmoos who survived are today’s mayors, congressmen, film producers, authors, entertainers, TV hosts and editors; the rat tailed elders of the tribe.  There have been several generations of Shmoos since, many of them available for viewing nightly;  running around lighting fires and throwing things when not screaming obscenities and demanding absurdities.

We moved among them, my partner Richie and me,  in part something like Game Wardens, something like herd dogs, and, in the end totally ineffectual.  It is hard to keep the flock safe when it insists on bending it’s neck to the wolf.

Anyway, back to the Wolf from the ‘Hood.  I cannot remember his name, but Sylvester keeps presenting itself.  So, I will call him Sylvester.  He is more than likely dead.  Wolves have short lives.

Sylvester became Richie’s informant because, well, wolves are clever animals, and becoming an informant is, really, only a part time occupation.  Most of the rest of the time, one is free to be a wolf and do what a wolf does; look for sheep to eat.  We know that. The wolves know it, too.  They know it very well.  In fact, “wolves” become informants to thin the pack, and from no humanitarian motive, no feelings of charity for the sheep at all.  Sheep are merely prey.

In the course of our association with Sylvester the Wolf (he would be very proud of that name) he gave us enough information about other wolves to remove some of them from circulation for upwards of five years; which made Sylvester happy and satisfied our supervisors and several prosecutors.  But, there came a time when we needed to “straighten Sylvester out”.  He was complicating the intricate and delicate arrangement we had with him by becoming more than a “source of information”, a term we actually used to describe cooperating wolves.  He was , we learned, actually participating in “Pack” activities.

And so, we called him aside, tightening his leash so to speak, and training him to be a better wolf for us.  Part of this required us telling him about the word “conspiracy” and its meaning; that one could actually gather with other members of the pack, and learn what they planned to do with the sheep nearby, and when; but one could not actually do it.  To know when and how something was to happen, and who was going to do something was what we wanted.  To do anything that would help it take place was to be an active member of the conspiracy, and that was something neither we nor the wolf we had wanted.  After long instruction the light dawned, and Sylvester understood; as much as a wild animal was capable of understanding

“Conspiracy,” he said.  “That be when you knows knowledge!”  Well, yes, we told him; and then tell us.  He smiled a wolfish smile.  I shuddered, at the grin and what I imagined was going on in his wolfish brain.

I was not too concerned that Sylvester would be reduced to penury because he could no longer do what he “knowed” would happen with the other pack members.  He had other means, which involved other forms of sheep hunting; particularly among the young ones who “knowed that”.

After a year or so we lost track of Sylvester.  Maybe he was killed by another wolf.  It happens.

I do not mourn him.

From time to time, though, I think of him and I wonder if he is in another place and finally “knows knowledge”.  I presume the what he has learned has not been good news for him.  And, you know, I sometimes wish it hadn’t turned out the way I think it has.  Sylvester the Wolf had not a few redeeming features.  So do we all, even Shmoos.

I will reserve my opinion on mayors, congressmen, film producers, authors, entertainers, TV hosts and editors; the rat tailed elders of the herd.

Here is a link to the article I read this morning:  The Catholic Thing

 

 

The Show

Last January 6th, The Feast of the Magi, which is also known as Epiphany or Little Christmas, my wife and I are guests of some people in Coventry, Rhode Island who get together each year to celebrate the Feast Day, and the end of the Christmas season.

Little Christmas is the name we gave it when I was a kid growing up in Kingsbridge, a part of The Bronx, the only place I know aside from The British Isles which is distinguished by the definite article in its name.  I used to think Kingsbridge was a place filled with Catholics, Irish, Italians, a German or two and, even, maybe, someone not from one of those places.  I loved it for a lot of things, and remember them all.  But, my favorite memories were the smells from all the different kitchens, big ones, little ones, all kinds, ; which, I long believed, were all Catholic kitchens.  Because, even though St. John’s, which was the church and school I went to, was right next door to a Protestant Church, I never ever saw anyone enter or leave that place.  You are looking for a church to go to on a clear Sunday morning in Kingsbridge Fifty, sixty or so years ago, and you ask me or any of the guys I grew up with, and your will hear us all say, “St. John’s.” No one I knew knew of any others. Until I am about 14 I think the only kind of people there are are Catholics, and the only kind of food, no matter from where, is “Catholic” food.

Anyway, at the little thing in Coventry, a lovely name for a place, there were all kinds of folks.  We got there early because we came down from Nashua, and grabbed a hotel room nearby, so we could stay a bit longer than a half hour before having to drive home in a snowstorm.

Our host and hostess are really nice people.  She has her picture next to the word “homemaker” in the dictionary, even though she has a bunch of letters after her name, so the place was filled with lovely decorations in every room, more lights than Rockefeller Center and the smell of good old fashioned homemade, tried and true stuff wafting through the house from the kitchen and making me hungrier than a whale after a two thousand mile migration swim.

Thus it was that after the greetings and smiles and stuff, I grab a plate of good old food, pausing to let my nose enjoy itself, and wander into the room where the guys are sitting.  An old Jimmy Cagney movie, one with George Raft looking like he had his hair painted on, was playing background noise…more or less…for the conversation going on; a conversation about baseball.

We were at this place last year, so I probably sit in the same spot  where I sit now and listen to the baseball conversation; which conversation is probably the same one  as last year’s was I began to think.

I am not at all complaining, because I find such conversations fascinating; conversations which I have listened to and sometimes taken part in in places from The Kingsbridge Tavern and Toolan’s  in Marble Hill, to a place in Singapore called Raffle’s where I spent a few nights talking baseball with some cops from Australia a thousand years ago.  They are probably all the same, generally, guys talking about players and teams, averages and plays, managers and pitchers, and balls and strikes.  There’s a lot more of course, but that would fill a book.  And has.

I sat and listened for about a half hour, talking a bit with one of the wives who wandered in and probably felt like she was on Mars.  With her I do not talk about baseball,  because, frankly, I am a little afraid I might not measure up.  There are guys sitting beside me and standing around who can probably tell you the hand span of every manor league pitcher from 1898 until yesterday. My only claim to baseball history is I grew up in The City when Micky, Duke and Willy played there, and I saw Ted at bat.  What he did and when he did it, though is lost in King Solomon’s mind.

I forget what I talk to the nice lady about, but she tells me she remembers me from the year before, and I am scared, because I draw a blank, like one of those old maps filled with empty spaces and bad guesses. I practice smiling, and punctuating her conversation with eyebrow raises and smiles and “Uh, huhs” and big nods while she talks about stuff.  I get comfortable when she talks about the stuff on her plate, and what she likes about the spread.

Then she leaves and I go to the kitchen to fill my plate again.  The kitchen is a place I like.  It’s full of food.  I cook, and can ask food questions; things I know about, like herbs, and spices and sauces and stuff. There’s one or two guys there mining this or that dish and I go over to them to talk the”game”.  But, they know about what’s in front of them about as much as I know about pitching, or stealing a base.  They can use a serving spoon though.

The hostess is there too, making sure no one lacks for anything, and she gives me a short tour of the “field”.  I am happy for this, and try to ask a few questions about the things I see and how they got to be what they are.  She is happy to answer, and for a few minutes we go on about ingredients, and what was handed down from who, and  timing and staging.  I feel like myself again, warming to the topic.  But, then, the front door opens and another family tumbles in.  the Woman of the House goes off to welcome them. I am alone among the pots and bowls and dishes; alone but for those two guys from the other room, now talking batting averages.  They don’t even know I am there.

I look deep into the big bowl of mulled cider and see a darker mulled me looking back.  Then I nod and wander out.  You know, I think to myself as I wander into the parlor, which is nearly empty, and survey the Christmas Village spread across the top of the piano, I would love to have been a chef in a big deal place.  I look down at the little town and remember those times I fed a crowd; when I made it to The Show.

There were a couple of times like when we had about a hundred over for burgers, dogs and games at the Upper Biscayne Clubhouse.  They were great fun.  But I remember, back in the ’80s, when I cooked a meal for a couple of hundred people a couple of times.  It was a Seder celebration back when bunches of Catholics were getting in touch with their Jewish roots.  I am on the Parish Council then, and since I have such fun doing a couple of big deals at the house, I think it would be even more fun to throw open the doors at the parish.

I make a connection with the banquet manager at the Park Plaza in Boston, and he introduces me to the Executive Chef.  It is a highlight of my life when I meet him, and I regret I did not get his John Henry on a hambone or something.  What I do get is twelve boned legs of lamb that look like beach balls, and the fixins’.  All of this is gratis when I tell my friend upstairs in his banquet office it is for a church dinner.

It is from a top shelf hotel, so it is all top shelf stuff!  I do not think to ask him for the china, silver and glassware but I wonder what would have happened.  I mean they probably have freight cars full of that stuff.  On the way home, back to the parish with a trunk full of the goods I feel sorry for it because it’s going on plastic.

The first thing I find out is that we never cook all of that stuff in the one chicken oven at the Parish.  We need something on the order of a Bessemer furnace.  God rest her soul, my friend Barbara Keegan, who should have been, could have been, a D.I. at Quantico, orders up the kitchen at Bishop Guertin High school, and we are good to go.

The day, when it comes, goes off without a hitch; well without too many of them.  Barbra, now straightening out heaven’s kitchens, is on the lamb.  I am up at the parish polishing the plastic, setting the tables, preparing.  When the time comes I drive down there and remove six legs, place them in the back of the car and deliver them, like six pizzas, to the gathering wandering Israelites.

It is not too shabby, if memory serves.  Some folks even eat the bitter herbs.

But, I find out one thing.  Ham is a big deal in New England for Easter dinner.  There are quite a lot of folks who never eat Lamb.  This I cannot figure in a religion whose Savior is referred to as The Lamb of God.

My apple pie disappears, though.   And the Charoset which I make at home the night before.  I keep two of the beach balls and give four away.  Easter dinner is  big deal at our house that year.

I try the same thing once more, but, fewer people show up.  The next year someone suggests ham, or even turkey.

And, I ask to be traded.

The photo above is of my grandson, Joe, getting ready to steal second.  He’s twenty-one, soon, and a damned good cook.

 

 

https://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=VQnKB4-kQGI