Category Archives: A Sad Fact

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

 

 

 

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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 Last Delivery

When my father cashed in his chips on April 26, 1969 the responsibilities for the proper conduct of his obsequies fell upon my dead brother Tom (MP 56, Fordham 67), who was very much alive at the time, and my humble self.  And so, the next day we appeared at Williams Funeral Home, not too far from Joe’s Fish Market, and just across Broadway from the RKO Marble Hill accompanied by our grieving mother and sister to learn what could be done to honor a devoted letter carrier.

The funeral director, whose name I never can remember, but whose manner I shall not forget, sat behind his desk, which seemed about the size of a carrier’s flight deck.  It was the most slick and shiny piece of furniture there has ever been and was empty of everything except a black phone, his folded arms, long fingers knitted together so as to make me think of a bed of snakes, just below the inverted reflection of his face in the highly polished wood; that face a practiced and professional mask of compassionate sympathy, welcoming us in a properly consoling manner; both in reflection and in fact.

  “We accept cash or check,” were what I remember most his consolations.  That and the soothing words, “Payment is due within ten days, or late charges go into effect,” did much to ease the pain of loss.

My mother, stoically silent, merely nodded, opened the purse she held on her lap, produced a pile of bills and counted out the full amount.   “We would like to see the coffin,” my brother said, standing.  “You have a showroom, of course?”

With no more than the merest gentle smile, your man rose and gestured that we follow him, from his carpeted office through the door and down the carpeted corridor to a doubled door opening into a large room filled with beautiful examples of funerary magnificence.

To be sure, I was awed.  He gestured in such a manner that gave us to understand any of these was ours for the asking.  Thus invited, we strolled among les Objets des Morts, whispering comments and questions until we had narrowed our choices to two.  My dear sister spoke for the first time.  I know this sounds unusual for those who know her, but nevertheless…  She spoke and said, ” Are these the right size? “

For the first of several times during the next few days the, until then, composed, controlled, supremely confident gentleman, our very own Virgil I had come to think, appeared to lose himself in surprise.  “No one has ever asked that question,” he answered with the tiniest waver in his voice.  My mother, smelling blood, smiled ever so briefly and said,”We are.”  I thought I saw him stumble backwards, slightly.  My brother was nearest him, now, and said, “Our father was above average in height, though slimmed some by the disease which finally took him from us.  He suffered greatly in this life, and we would be grieved to know we were the cause of any further suffering for him on his “Last Journey”.” Turning to me, Tom added, “Peter, here, is closest to our father’s height.  We would like to see in which of these Dad would look his best.”

“Of course he’ll take off his shoes.”  The gentleman had raised only this objection after a nervous cough and a frantic look around, whether for help or a way out I have never known.

And so, barefooted since I wanted to feel the satin lining on my feet, I climbed in and lay down in the coffins feeling a bit like that little girl in the story.  The first one was too small by several inches, and I thought of my poor father spending only God knows how many years awaiting the Parousia with cramped aching feet.  But the second was just right, and upon my testimony, we all chose it for Dad.  He, or what is left of him, lies there still, waiting comfortably.

There were several details left to be attended to, so we returned to the office.  The next matter was the preparation and publication of an obituary for the deceased as our Master of the Rites informed us.  In response to Tom’s question he explained just what the charges would be in each of the several papers and offered himself as amanuensis in its production.  He removed a blank piece of paper from within one of the desk drawers and, smiling, paused expectantly.

My mother asked if this was included in the fee just paid.  Sadly, it was not; a piece of information which caught us short for the merest moment.  We were not people of means, and had little set aside for the honors which might have done my father justice.  His early death caught us unprepared. Then my brother offered what I think was a brilliant solution.  He said, “Why not: Ed Gallaher, dead!”

After he had found himself; only a short while, really, our guide gave us some bad news.  “There is a minimum charge.”

It was my sister, then, who suggested a solution.  We would approach my father’s favorite barkeep, Angie of The Kingsbridge Tavern on the corner of our block.  He was always good.  We’ll just add it to Dad’s tab, now in the low four figures.  And that was the end of that!

The last matter of business for the afternoon involved the number of cars for mourners, and, of course the hearse and flower car.  We would do this all without flowers, my mother said, since it was too early for dandelions she added, soto voce.  That left us with the matter of a hearse, and the positioning of cars.

And, here, I spoke up.  “My father’s last wish was to have a Mailman’s Funeral.”  He had been writing something on  piece of paper when I said this, and he slowly put down the pencil.  Looking directly at me he spoke, a little tremulously, “What do you mean?”

I guessed he had never heard of such a thing, so I explained that my father’s body would be carried from the funeral home on the day of the Funeral Mass by six pallbearers in full dress Letter Carrier’s uniforms placed in a mail truck and driven to the church.  Behind it we would all walk, led by the Mailman’s Marching Band.  The Mail Truck, to be driven by my father’s longtime mailman friend and partner, whose name I only remember as Ralphie Boy, would be further decorated with two brand new leather mailbags, one mounted inside out on each each door to signify that inside a dead letter carrier lay.  Further, a gold ribbon bearing the word “Cancelled” in black letters would be draped across the hood of the truck

“Really?” He said.  ” If they are available,” I answered.  “That would be good,” my mother interrupted.  “With the money we save on your hearse, we won’t need Angie.”

And so it was. Or could have been.  The fellow was kind enough to say he would absorb the obituary costs if we allowed him to take Dad to church in his hearse.  Such a deal we couldn’t get in a store as Moe the tailor used to say.

We took it.  He couldn’t stand, so we shook his hand and left.

There are other stories to tell about Dad’s wake.  But, I’ll save them.

Dead and Dying: Something for Lent

This is about two things; what used to happen and what I think is happening.

I was very young when I attended my first wake; young enough so that all I remember of it is that I was in a forest of legs, legs with faces somewhere up there in the distance, and voices flying overhead.  They were making words, I knew, but I couldn’t make sense of them.  It seemed as if everyone was simply saying, “Noise!”  Everyone, that is except old ladies on chairs with sad and tired faces who were saying soft things in whispers as they moved the beads through their hands.  I looked at them with the open and intense stare of the young child, the child who hasn’t yet learned discretion and dissembling.  They looked at me in the same way; their eyes unshielded by age.

Perhaps my most specific memory of that evening is of seeing a massive pair of shoes at the bottom of a staircase.  They were the shoes of my Grand Uncle Bill Fanning, brother of my grandmother, my father’s mother Catherine Fanning Gallaher from Leighlin Bridge, Carlow, Ireland.

At some point during that evening of legs and loud talk, everything grew quiet, and all over the place people got shorter in the legs.  They were on their knees, and saying words I knew were prayers because I had heard them from all the other people, the older ones I lived with.  We prayed for an eternity, following the lead of the man in front, Father Someone.  And, when the prayers were over, we left and went home on the subway.  I slept. It was quieter.

I do not know whose wake I was at.  I only remember legs, big shoes and noise.  It may have been Uncle Bill’s, since I never saw him after that, and Grandma, who was given to prayer several times a day, became more involved in her “office”.  She wanted her brother in heaven, and it was the best of things to do; to pray him all the help she thought he needed.  Never giving up

She never did.  Besides her brother,  she had a big family back across the water, and a sister here, too with five sons, and they all needed praying for.

Several years after that incident I attended my first Funeral Mass.  My mother’s mother, whom I loved, had died.  I knew she was sick because I’d overheard conversations at night in the kitchen, and my mother on the phone to her sister.  Then I was told to dress one cold gray morning for Mass. Nanny was being buried.  I rode in the back of the long black car between my mother and my aunt.  My sister may have been in the car with me, or she may have been staying at home with our neighbors.  I cannot remember.  My brother was there.

I cried.

The only thing I remember about the Mass beyond my first feelings of loss and sadness was the silence, broken occasionally by mournful music, as if the organ was weeping too; and the people singing sad songs for me and my family and my grandmother in the coffin in the front.  Everyone was in black, and everyone was sad, too.  Everyone prayed.  I even saw rosary beads in the hands of the men who moved then one at a time as they slowly went through the silent mysteries, silently.  What I remember most is the deep echoing silence in the church.  I used to think that church was huge, and that when silent the whole world was silent, too. Like that day.  My mother told me to pray for my grandmother, and always to remember her when I prayed.

I have no memories beyond the silence and sadness, being urged to pray for Nanny to help her to heaven, and my tears.

Georgie Masters mother hung herself one afternoon and died tied to the curtain rod in their bathroom.  Georgie and his sister Eileen stayed with us for three days.  Then on the third day, their father came to get them to take them to St. John’s, the big church, for the funeral.  We rode along with them behind the hearse carrying a lady I didn’t know much about. Because it was the way of it, I prayed for her silently in the silent car, and in the silent church where a pin drop would sound like a cannon’s roar, I thought.  Silent except for the quiet whispers of prayers being said for Mrs. Masters, that her Purgatory not be long, and that God be good to her.

We walked back from that Mass to our house.  Mr. Masters held my hand when we crossed Broadway underneath the El.  His hand was warm, and bigger than my father’s.  He had a long black overcoat one and wore a black hat.  We got back home and George and Eileen left with their father.  I could take you today, with my eyes closed, to the spot where I stood in the hallway of our apartment as they left the house.  I still pray for Mrs. Masters, but I suspect the prayers are put in someone else’s account.  She was a woman in pain.

I have been to perhaps a dozen funerals of men, police officers and federal agents, who have died in the line of duty, and one or two priests, too, called home after long years of work in the vineyard.  In the former cases, hundreds, at times thousands of their brothers lined the streets outside, and stood silently until the funeral ended.  In the latter, the loudest noise at the beginning and end was the tolling of a single bell.  A single bell.  A reminder to pray, to remember, to pray.

Their names, now, I can’t remember. What is with me still, though, are the days and places, the long blue lines outside, the robed priests about the altar inside and the silence, reverent, respectful silence.  These, like works in a gallery, frame my prayers, some of whom I knew well, some not at all.  But all I keep in my prayers, years on, like my grandmother at her beads.

We provide the music at funerals in one of the parishes here in town.  Some of the people, not a few in fact, who find out what we do recoil at knowing that’s how we spend some of our time.  “Eeewww!  Funerals!”  “How does that make you feel?”  “It must be dreadful.”   These are the kind of things we often hear from folks we tell about our work.

Well, sometimes…  But, then, there are other things.

Not too long ago we worked at the funeral of a person, a woman who I am told was a nice lady.  Well, no one wants to speak ill..  And I will not, myself.

As with most funerals we attend and provide music for, so was this one peopled with a number of people who appeared to me as if they had just wandered in off the street, or had indeed come to a funeral, but had no idea at all what exactly that meant, or why it was taking place.

I mean, in the latter case those folks might have been thinking  something like this about that: “Duh, Jimmy, she’s dead isn’t she; a bunch of ash in the little gray pot Uncle Bilge just brought in?  What’s the point?”  And indeed it may have been,and probably is,the prevailing frame of mind for some who “happen by” these things; little more than a quiet place to check for messages; or to catch up with someone not seen since the last party.

“Yeah, I feel sad Uncle Bob is dead.  But, look, I ain’t worked since I got the news he was dying last week.  I was gonna visit but, like, I was too busy.  Besides, we were comped at the new casino in Revere for two days.  Yeah, outta sight!.  Don’t matter, really.  He’s dead now.  Just a minute, I gotta check this message.  By the way, you going out with me and Davey on Friday, The Rotten Tomatoes are playing at The Scalded Duck.  They got this new beer they’re promoting that tastes like sour apples with a pickle nose and burnt shirt finish.”

Most of them, the bereaved we used to call them, on this morning stood at the front, at the foot of the altar in a sloppy group talking loudly while we sang some prologues before Mass. (Yes it is still a Mass, folks, though it is more often referred to as a service, as if what was inside the box or the coffin was a device to be worked on by the Gook Squad or a car needing a tune up.)

They chattered the things one chatters before a funeral these days: About how long it has been since they’ve seen each other.  About, whether or not Auntie May is as crazy as she dresses these days.  “Did you see that thing she’s wearing?”  About how the Red Sox or the Bruins or the Patriots are doing.  New cars.  Old cars.  Vacations and, recently, tattoos, or “ink” or “tats” as they seem now to be called.  There were some in evidence on the legs and bare arms of the younger women who attended; though none were on their faces…yet.

Not long after that, we were called to provide music for a young man who had died suddenly.  He left two or three young children behind, I do not remember the total number, along with his girlfriend, as she was styled in the obituary.  He was lauded as a wonderful father to the children, who played with them, and was always good for a laugh, leaving them happy they had seen him.

His mourners included a number of fellows who appeared in their “colors”, filling two rows at the back of the church, and reminding me of bears in a cage.

A few weeks before this, maybe a month, I heard, his brother had died.  Suddenly, as the saying goes.

Yesterday we were present for the final rites of an old woman, mother, grandmother and, I think great-grandmother, and several days ago it was another old man.  Dark clothes filled the pews, and quiet.  Only one or two children were among each congregation of mourners gathered to say farewell.

This morning another old man who died quietly at home, followed by a bundle of relatives, dark and quiet, was wheeled in his casket to the altar for the final rites.

I find myself wondering about the things I see from my post up in the choir loft, and what is happening, and I cannot really think that what is happening is good.

Myself?  I am I know no better than anyone below me, probably worse off than most.  But, being present at twenty or thirty of these “celebrations” each year has not convinced me that I am.

And, is that a bad thing? At least, I find it “wonderfully focuses the mind.”   We of course have life.  We forget the other three things.

In Paradisum

Horses, Hubris and Economics 101

This morning I read a short essay written by a fellow I know, Joseph Pearce.  He is a very decent fellow and, I like to think, a friend.  Not only that, he is smart; smart enough to know when folks aren’t.  Also, he is kind enough to let them know the truth about themselves.  He’s classy enough, too, to do it in such a classy way that only the dummy will know who he or she is.  One hopes that brings about the necessary reform.  But, dummies can be stubborn.

I read his article, titled What Is Economics, which appears in an online journal called The Imaginative Conservative and I think of an old friend of mine who is dead nearly one year, now.  So, at least he is not old any longer.  He is as Rod Stewart sings, forever young, I pray

My friend was named Charlie.   Joseph Pearce’s article brings to my mind  some things about Charlie which I thought at the time were dumb things for him to do.  Alas, I was no Joseph Pearce, then, and I simply watched my friend.  Nor am I now, and would probably do the same thing, watch. Besides, it is too late.  It also makes me think about some things, big things, which I began thinking about a few years ago.  But more about that below.  For now, Charlie

We were friends from an early age.  Close friends, I would say, but not so close as we would call each other best friends or bosom buddies, or stuff like that.  We lived about a block or so away from each other on Bailey Avenue in The Bronx.  Charlie was, what can I say, an intense kind of guy, not quite driven, not possessed, but simply intense. Maybe, thinking about it, he was more a mule than a bulldog.  But he had bulldogian notions.   I won’t say he had no sense of humor, but, though he could get a joke, he couldn’t tell one.  He had a kind of sense of purpose instead.   It’s odd he would find a companion in me, who has lived an Un-Purposed Life for three quarters of a century.

We “knocked around:” with the other guys our age on the block, doing the things the other guys on the block, and guys all over the city, did back then; which included getting into trouble, too.  And, then, we started growing up.

One day he asked me to write a poem for him; to write a poem for a girl from Brooklyn he had met at a dance, a girl he wanted to impress.  Now, we lived in the Bronx, which at that time could as well have been in another galaxy, and this girl of another species entirely.  She was, I think, an Italian girl; so she really was a member of another species.  But, Charlie was determined, even if getting to Brooklyn took about as long as it took The Owl and The Pussycat to get to The Land Where the Bong Trees Grow; which I understand is a nice place.  I hope to visit it someday.  I will probably find out I have already been there.  A lot.

Well, I wrote the poem.  Charlie began a weekly odyssey to Brooklyn under the tunneled streets and under the tunneled river, and under God knows where else.  He surfaced from time to time back among us and often asked for the loan of a buck or two for his trips to a Strange Land.  We gave of our surplus to supply his want.  What are friends for?  One day Charlie announced that he had found a better way, he would need our help no longer to visit his Brooklyn doll.  He had found the horses, and happy days were here again!

I am not going into all the details, but you know them already, don’t you.  We were in college then, me at Manhattan College. which was foolish enough to give me a scholarship, and Charlie at Fordham University.  He studied accounting and I studied English, a language I already knew, so I figure I do not have to do anything, a thing I still know how to do about better than anyone else.  I know how to do it certainly better than anything else I know how to do, which anyone will tell you is not much.

Charlie spends most of his time at school in Accounting classes learning how to develop a system to beat the horses, which have become a nearly full time occupation, and we begin to lose contact, to drift apart and finally lose sight of each other as the horizon intervenes.  Before that happens, he tells me that he is doing this by using statistics, which I do not now understand, and never will, but which he say is very very necessary for winning horse races and figuring whether it will rain in July , or whether it will be good to buy or sell almost anything. It’s part of Economics, he says.

I do not understand.

There is a term that is used in the NYPD to describe people who gamble for a living.  They are called a Degenerate Gambler; and I used to see the initials DG next to a lot of guys when I riffed through the police records looking for one bad guy or another, one clown or another in whom I took a professional interest.  I do not know if Charlie ever earned his DG patch.  Gosh, I hope not.  He was a man, for all that, and deserved better

But I remember, though, the several times before the sea between us was too wide, when he showed my his “books” the ledger he had on just about every horse at every track in the country.  He was sure he would develop a foolproof system.  He would have been the first if he had; which he didn’t.  But, I was impressed with his dogged devotion to the task, and the fire of the true believer in his eyes.

I asked him what of all these columns and numbers was most important for success.  “It’s all statistics,” he answered.  “Like batting averages?”  Batting averages were about the only thing I knew about statistics then, and still know now.  I listened to statistics about horses, and jockey weight, and the weather on race days, and stuff like that which Charlie said mattered while I drank his beer.  Then, I left.

While in college I was tempted to take a course in psychology, but shied away when I was told by the catalogue I needed to take a course in statistics.  I think that my experience with my friend may have had something to do with that also.  Anyway, Mr. Pearce’s article makes a point about economics, and whence the discipline comes; about which I had known nothing.  He binds it to philosophy, a thing which it definitely doesn’t resemble today.  I mean, philosophy requires more than “doing the numbers”, and is about more than that, the truth, for one thing.  But, Economics is, I kind of think, statistics dressed up.  Simple statistics can as the saying goes, lie; or lead one to that, a lie.  And so can Economics, which someone once told me is sort of “Anyone’s guess.”

Here is the other thing I am thinking about because of Mr. Pearce’s article.  The other night I watch President Trump talk to Congress and the rest of us.  You all know what he says by now, and think what you think about what he says. I don’t pay too much attention to that.  But one little part interests me.  That’s the part where he says they get rid of NAFTA, and they are going after this Pacific thing where we all get in a circle and deal straight up.

I say “Yippee!” to myself when I hear that.  And you know why?  It’s because economists and politicians, and millionaire business men, and one world maniacs think that there’s nothing better in the world than free trade.  They think this so fervently that they don’t see Detroit becoming a desert, and drugs becoming a number one commodity in places where folks once could make an honest living making shirts, shoes, pants, desks, chairs and what all from Maine to Mississippi.

And that was because the market analysis told them everyone would rise on the rising tide of free trade.  Well except the ones who couldn’t swim.  Swimmers love a rising tide.  little folks drown, or go on welfare, or to war, in the mud.  Turns out that NAFTA really was anyone’s guess.

Statistics don’t care, and Economics don’t either.  What the hell, there’s always welfare and surplus peanut butter.

You gotta get close to folks.  The corner store’s the best.