Category Archives: Gone All Gone

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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WHITE HEAT

One of my enduring movie memories is of the last scene of White Heat, a Cagney crime epic about an evil little monster; a guy who doesn’t care about anything except getting his, whatever he may think his is, or ought to be his, no matter how he gets it.  I grew up with, went to school with, worked with and arrested guys like the Cagney character.  Is Trua Mor!  The world is full of them.  They come in all sizes and shapes, appearing in the oddest of places, at the strangest of times; and professing, quite often, their friendship and good will.

The Cagney character was not like that.  You knew him for what he was, a bad fellow through and through.  But, it was a piece of fiction, that thing, and Cagney was playing the villain.

I haven’t much more memory of the film than the scene of Cagney atop a huge gas tank screaming out, “Look, Ma, I’m on top of the world!”  He empties his gun into it, and then the thing goes off.  The film ends.  And, I suppose, the world is a much better place.  At least, that’s what we are supposed to conclude.

If my memory is correct, his mother was a foul thing, too, who supported the beast she had borne in all he did. Yes, some mothers are like that, in so many different ways.

This was what I was thinking of while reading an article that appeared today, yesterday, last month, it doesn’t matter, really, in the New York Times.  That rag’s like Poor Johnny One-Note; and Cagney’s character type, an obviously sick and twisted man, rarely appears in it’s many pages; at least not so crudely displayed.  Nevertheless, it appeared to me as I read what I read.  How odd, I remember thinking, I should be thinking of an evil thing destroying himself and the world he was atop.

How odd.

The “gala” in question, which occasions what follows, was something at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City called Heavenly Bodies – Fashion and The Catholic Imagination

Anyway, Ross Douthat wrote the article that The Times printed. He’s a Catholic, and a kind of conservative fellow, if you have never heard of him before; so you would be right in thinking that the article I read was about some bad things being done by good people, and them finally getting a clue that what they were doing was, well, as my Aunt Violet, may she rest in peace, would say, not in good taste.

You would be wrong.  Dreher doesn’t hit them with a forty gun broadside, as he might have. Maybe it’s because he’s writing a piece for the New York Times.  You know the folks who run that thing, and the kind of folks who read it.  They’re like the thing itself, paper, fragile, thin, good mannered and delicate. But, very good for wrapping gifts, or fish; both paper and people.

He does throw a tomato…sort of.  Here, you read it, and tell me what you think.

Cardinal Dolan (Big Tim) was at the “Gala” Dreher writes about, along with a bunch of other swells and usual suspects fiddling while Rome burned right before their eyes.  You can bet Timmy was as hearty and ebullient as ever.  So too was the famous Jesuit James Martin, the twitterer of note, there, mixing with the swells at the orgy.  I imagine him as a butterfly before the flame.  I’ll bet he’s a good dancer, and a “safe” one, too.  He’d probably make a bundle on a cruise ship in the Carib; Mass in the morning and a fox trot with the old babes at night; all good clean fun, ad majoram Dei gloriam, don’t you know.

One other guy had a few words about the whole bloody thing, this Ross Douthat guy who does not write for the NYT.  His reaction to the whole matter is here.

He’s not as sweet on Catholic chic as his colleague, and definitely not as sweet as  the Jesuit journal America, whose reporter gave the event a Vogue treatment.  Of course, what would you want?  It was fashion, really, and culture!  And, fashion and culture in this instance and many another of similar meaning and purpose resemble, for me at least, and a lot of guys I grew up with, nothing so much as Necrotizing Fasciitis.  Faith? Religion? Prayer?

Well, not here.  Not now. Well, possibly with the possible exception of and exclamation about the color of the fabric, the silhouette of the gown, the eyes of the model and how such things got started way long ago; and, well, were really from another more simple age.  So, maybe never.


Many years ago I attended an exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in DC.  There was a rare appearance of some painting or other by a Dutch Master, the real painter not the cigar.  Thousands of people lined up to see the thing.  And after a long wait, they did.  So did I, from a distance like the song says.  It was in a big room, and far away; a little thing surrounded by the true believers in beauty, and art and stuff.

I looked, but mostly at the “swells”, and left.  There was a low, almost prayerful murmur from them, and some ever so reverent pushing to get near the “icon”.  But, it was near noon, and I was hungry, and I knew this crowd wasn’t breaking for lunch soon, or possibly anytime when they could huddle, massively, reverently, before a little painting of a young girl, and whisper prayerfully about beauty, talent and genius.

Back in the corridor I struck out for the cafeteria, walking almost alone in that general direction, following my nose, a few other folks, and wondering about what I had just seen, and why I let things like this make me want to throw rotten eggs.  Along the way something caught my eye.  It was behind glass, a small piece just to my left.  I stopped because it was unusual, a cup, a chalice to be exact; a gold chalice covered with jewels.  It was beautiful..  According to the sign it was the chalice of the Abbot Suger, he of the Abbey of Sant Denis over in France.  You’re not sure you recognize the name?  Here, let me help.


Abbot Suger comes to us via 12th century France.  He is responsible for the beginning of Gothic architecture, was Regent of France for a few years when the king, a guy he went to school with at the Abbe of St. Denis, just outside Paris, where he was named the abbot and started the Gothic style while remodling the crumbled old abbey church.  Along with that, he instituted a number of clerical and monastic reforms, bringing them back to a better observance and understanding of what their work as clerics was all about, and why it mattered.  Stuff I have no doubt the Cardinal and the dancing Jesuit I mention above are, no doubt, much better able to discuss than I will ever be.

I thought about Suger, his chalice imprisoned now in a little niche in a museum filled with trinkets, baubles, stuff and well dressed gawkers.  I felt sorry, really, for that lovely chalice behind the glass then, somewhat in the same way that sorrow came over me when reading about the “dress up” at the other museum in New York.  And, I wondered most recently if that fellow whose sacramental blood that imprisoned chalice once held would have schmoozed with all the “big players”, or would he have done something like he did in His “Father’s House” long ago.

I have been thinking about that chalice imprisoned behind glass in a cell along a corridor in Washington; thinking about it and crowds swirling around a tiny painting only yards away, and the other crowds, the ones playing “dress up”, and smiling, glad handing Cardinals, and slithering priests in a well organized and very, very expensive mockery of the good, true and beautiful; all of it in the name of that most frivolous and ephemeral and essentially useless thing: Fashion.


Back to Cagney and gas tanks, and suicidal explosions…  I can’t get over the fact that there is a connection in my mind among the White Heat scene, the violent, spectacular suicide…the anti-hero’s chosen reward, the pinnacle of his career…the humbling imprisonment in what is literally a hole in the wall of a sacred work of art from the age which gave birth to the beauty of Catholic worship, and the beauty of gothic art and architecture….and the parody of faith, art, and worship at that “thing” in the museum.  

One museum reduces a beautiful instrument of faith to an afterthought, a comma in its story of civilization, when it is actually the vessel of salvation, more precious for its use, and beauty, more sacred to memory than every museum in every place.  

The other fills itself with fools, and their foolish pastimes.

Well, there are museums, and there are museums.  In one sense they might be thought of as very classy garbage dumps, or attics where are stored things like the cup Grandma Squonk kept her uppers in every night.  That’s right alongside Uncle George’s old Victrola, and the bell clapper from Berry Lane Methodist; all that was left after the fire.

And, then there is the other kind: daring, edgy, popular, filled with all of the things that have altered and illuminated, or will, the tired, the bored and the blind; things like a jeroboam of urine containing a Crucifix, or “The Holy Virgin Mary” , the real title of an ugly eight fool tall horror covered in elephant dung worth somewhere in the millions.  

Of things like this are such evenings made which capture the presence and approval of our high and popular clergy, all the right people and the madding crowd ever in search of something new, something fascinating.

No wonder, then, the churches are empty, while the dance floor is filled, while the cocktails never run dry; nor does the wine steward need ever worry.

Perhaps the only true thing is found in the fiction of the film, the only honest thing. There we learn again the rewards of frivolity, of “chic” and eventually of sin and evil; in the end death, always.

Memento mori. Vita brevis breviter in brevi finietur.

ps: By the way, one can get a pretty good knockoff of the chalice for $62.73 from Walmart.  I might just send one to His Eminence Timmy, The Cardinal Archbishop of The Big Apple. He could use it while doing that thing Catholics do.

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

The Day All Good Things Happen

Today, a friend remarks, is the day all the good things happen.

Well, not today. Not this day, the day after death with no resurrection  No redemption  No return from the plunge over the edge.

Mark this Sunday down in your books, Pilgrims. It is the day when the wound was re-opened; the deep wound of 9-11, thought closed until torn open and pulled apart in Boston, where the boast was we were strong. The wound that, I think, has finally reached the heart of these Untied (at last) States; where the weapon has been aimed from evil’s center for long years.

I remember the flags years ago flying from little staffs on pickup trucks and motorcycles, the flags of hurt and unity, gone in weeks, except for the tattered rags of flag fabric fluttering from the bridges over freeways. And, of course I remember the many Boston strong hats and t-shirts; all the self affirming gear. It did and doesn’t do a damn thing except attract the hyenas and the vultures who love the smell of death and fatten on carrion.

What to do?

What, dear God, to do?

Some say we should support the police men, wave to them, smile at them, pat them on the back.  That seems to me like little more than pouring a glass of water on a volcano, punching a tornado.  Others cry havoc and let slip, at last, the dogs of war.  I understand that.  My own blood is up, and I really do wish to hurt, and know whom I wish to hurt.  Aah, but then…

My first reaction was unutterable rage; still smoldering, against the evil madness among us, a rage which finds its justification in the actions of stupid men and women in offices and places of power real or imagined, in the words and the policies of  the self-absorbed bloodsucking servants of influence and privilege, and the opportunistic liars and demagogues in the public square, who pander to and feed pain; who fan the flames of, and warm themselves in, the fires of hate.  And, then, what?

And, then, deep sorrow.

That lasts, today.

The day all good things happen.

A Modest Proposal: Don’t Elect Em, Buy Em

(They’re All for Sale, Anyway)

This ain’t politics, really. It’s economics.

Here’s a question.  Well, here’s a couple of questions.

What do you do with folks who live in places like this: places with people who jump at the chance for something to remind them of their “obligations”; who like Homeless Jesus statues in front of the churches in their rich neighborhoods to embarrass themselves and the high rollers and big spenders they live among when they come in their Caddies and Rollses and long dark Lincolns to be seen in church once or twice a year?  Homeless Jesus statues are even better than pictures of starving babies, or real bums on benches.  They never ask for money, or a meal.

These folks, they’ll feel “compunctive” for an hour or so, until they get back to the Club, The Bent Elbow  or The Green Albatross, for a few befores and a half dozen afters, and an hour or two with Big Jim Cornerstone, home from Upstate for the weekend talking over deals and the “help” they need; and maybe pushing an envelope across the table with a nod and a mention that help’s a two way street.  And, Jim nods and says, “I got your back in the Committee, Billy, my boy!” before he leaves.

Was that a stagger or a swagger on Jim going out the door to his car?

What do you do with a pol who goes on the payroll of a big deal company making drugs that have to be “regulated”, and picks up a trip or two from a company that wants to build a power line and needs to go to a nice resort in Arizona or some place to find out how the power line will impact her neighborhood back in Upper Michigan?  At $500.00 a night, plus the round trip up front with all the swells, and points.

What do you do when stuff like that happens…on both sides of the aisle?  Even in Philly, of all places; it being the home of brotherly love and all?

What do you do about an AG who finds out about all of this and then says there was nothing wrong?  Do you think the AG got a call from someone who said unprintable stuff and suddenly discovered that he’s an AG up a tree with no way down, alone in a desert with no water, in the middle of an ocean on a leaky boat without an oar?

No pol I suppose is ever going to feel bad about a thousand a month they get, regular, from XYZ MFG., you think?  They’ll never feel bad about their vote on XYZ’s plan to fast track the new factory they want to build between the VA Hospital and High School, because, well, that’ll bring 300 new jobs to town.

And, the runoff will add 300 tons of dirt a day to the Neversocruddy River.

You think a pol will ever say, you think that ANY pol has ever said, to themselves, “This ain’t really mine.  I only take it so’s I can stay in office and help the fools (oops, folks) who voted me in, and keep that jerk Bruntkowski from ruining the district and the state if he ever gets enough money to beat me.”  And then they stuff it in their pocket, or hand it to Tommy the Bag, and have another snort and light a cigar and smile and say, “Don’t worry. ”  Just like Big Jim from Upstate.

You think?

Here’s something to think about.  How about buying a few of our own?  I got an idea for a kind of Buyer’s Club.  I think this is real Poly Sci, not that other stuff that they charge you a couple of hundred “G’s” for in college, and you learn how to hold coats for real pols, and hand them stuff they never thought of sayin’ to say to the squares at the Town Meeting.

I’ll start small, someone from the School Board who’ll go for a Ham sandwich. But, he’ll be mine, and will say no to stupid stuff, of which there is a lot…like Common Core and uni-sex bathrooms…in schools all over the place.   I don’t care what he thinks.  As a matter of fact, if he’s a real pol, he don’t care what he thinks.  He may not even think at all; to want to think, or to be able to think.  I only need him to raise he hand at the right time and shut up the rest of the time.

You can’t convince me that Joe Biden thinks or even can think, or that guy from Indiana who was a Veep a couple of dozen years ago was able to think.  Reid can think?  Boehner?  Pelosi?  Gimme a break.  They’re owned, and they love it.   The difference between them and Tip O’Neill or LBJ is that they were sold, Tip and LBJ shopped themselves.

None of those pols in that Philly story think about anything except the next envelope, or the next free ride, and what stupid people like you and me who ain’t got any green to spread around have to put up with in the back of the bus, with our kids in a school with one bathroom for everyone next to a smelly factory.

So, I’m going shopping today for a pol who’ll be mine for twenty bucks.  I’ll put an add on E-bay.  We get 500,000 guys doing the same thing, and suddenly we got a “Movement”  I got a good name for it.  I’m gonna call it “Representative Democracy”  Because, what we got now ain’t.  If it ever was.

Unless of course you’re a Fortune 500 deal.

Happy Easter!

On A Day Like Today

On a day like today with the snow falling like a thick cotton curtain,
and no wind at all to send snow like a frozen slap across the face of you,
to send snow in tall waves against the buildings, rattling windows, shaking fire escapes,
to send snow in white torrents down the roads, great white rapids down roads,
to send snow into the alleys, shooting down the alleys like water from a hydrant,
to send snow pouring over the rooftops in cascades of powder,

On a day like today every kid I knew on my block,
every kid home from school on the rare days of no school,
every kid would be out by now in the falling and the fallen snow at nine in the morning,
every kid dressed in the uniform of the day against snow and cold,
every kid in galoshes and gloves, and hat and coat,
every kid knee deep plowing a path through powder,
in a competition to be the first to plow a path through the powder
in a rush to be the first on a sleigh down a hill deep in powder,
in a contest to build the biggest, the fattest, the best snowman,
in a war with the kids on the next block inside their fort
making snow balls by the hundred, hiding behind cars, splatting
old ladies, old men, old dogs, passing cars, trolleys and trains,
every kid runny nosed, and red faced,  and wet from head to toe and freezing;
but not coming in from the snow falling like a curtain from the sky.

Every kid was out because Mom had sent us out,
out because Mom had been out when she was a kid,
out because all the others were out and it was no fun
staying home on a day like today with the snow
falling like a thick cotton curtain from the slate colored sky.

Today is a day like today on my block.
No kids are out doing what kids used to do in the snow
on my block when I was a kid, and the only thing I hear
is the snarl of snow throwers, and the only thing I see
except the men pushing them are the birds at my feeder,
the juncos from up north who winter in New Hampshire.

The Only Thing I See

The Only Thing I See

Heroes and Villains

P1000204

 

I ran into this guy last week when we were down in Florida, near Venice, at this place called Our Lady of Perpetual Help Center for Prayer and Spirituality. We were there for a retreat, and a week long steam bath.   He was a few years older than me, I guess, with an Irish face and a New York accent.  You can’t hide either of those things, and when I saw him, a little bent from the waist, about five degrees from straight up, I figured him for my age or a few years older.

He and his wife sat down next to me and mine at breakfast that first day.  He said, “Hello.”  I said, “What part of the city are you from?”  “I’m from all over,” he replied.  “I lived in Manhattan, The Bronx, Queens, and even Jersey City.  But, I’m from Brooklyn.  That’s where I grew up.”  “You left out Staten Island,” I told him.  “No bridge back then?”  “There was that thing in Jersey, but I forget its name.  Too much  trouble.”  I wasn’t sure if he meant the name of the bridge or was making a comment on getting to Staten Island before they built the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.  But I knew what he was saying.  I mean Staten Island?  And, you gotta  go through Elizabeth to get there?

It was my turn, then, so I told him I grew up in the Bronx, in Kingsbridge, and swam in the Harlem River when doing that was more hazardous than walking across the Grand Canyon on a tightrope.  He understood.   “You a Yankee fan?” he asked after we had been talking for a few minutes, and I told him I had gone to a few games in the Stadium when I was a kid.  “Not now though,” I said, “all the Yankees I was a fan of are dead.  Besides, you have to mortgage the farm to go to a major league game these days.”

That got us talking about The City, the three teams that played there and the guys who played on them.  I’ve got to admit that his memory was much better than mine.  He was a Dodger fan, and remembered meeting the players on subways going to work, talking to them just like regular guys outside the park after the games and being treated with genuine respect; no star behavior, no bodyguards, no tattoos, no bling, no babes.  More often than not there was a family waiting for the Old Man to come home from work..

I mentioned that some folks I know still carry a rock in their bags for O’Malley for leaving Brooklyn, and he told me he blames Robert Moses for that; Moses who told O’Malley he’d build a new ball park for the Bums…in Flushing Meadow.  This I hadn’t known.  “Yeah,” he said, ” and O’Malley said that he wasn’t moving the Brooklyn Dodgers to Queens.” “There would have been riots in Brooklyn if that had happened,” he said.  “Now there’s just despair,” I said, and he nodded.  We were quiet a while, remembering.

Then he turned to me and spoke a little bit of history.  Coney Island, the beach on a summer day, was dotted with knots of men, sometimes as many as 50 in a group, gathered together. “Tourists” for a day from places like Jersey City or Hoboken coming to the beach would see these groups and wonder what was happening, a fight, a card game, something else?  No, nothing of the kind.  They were fans gathered around the guys who had their transistor radios…something new back in the late ’50’s… down at the beach and tuned into the Dodgers game.  No one listened to anything else, he told me.  Guys would stand around listening to the play by play and seeing everything like they were at the park.

He still missed them himself, he said, even after all this time.

The Yankees?  He told me that he could never think of himself as being a Yankee fan, even if they played good ball, even if they were decent guys.  They were a team for rich people, not regular guys.  He said that he was still angry that the Yankees would tie up players in their farm organization, places like Kansas City, for years; players who would have started on any other team in the league.  That’s how they got to be in the shape they were.  Then he remembered again the players on the subway or the bus, guys who were earning ten, maybe fifteen thousand dollars a year while DiMaggio was making $100,000.00.  “It wasn’t right,” he said, “it didn’t feel right to root for guys, for a team like that.”

An interesting conversation, indeed.

A couple of day later, while I was thinking about this, and Brooklyn, the Dodgers, Moses, O’Malley, the Yankees and money, I was reminded of a conversation I had a few years ago with a fellow who was a Massachusetts Parole Officer.  We were looking for a fugitive I wanted to talk to.  This guy had grown up in West Boston, the neighborhood that included old Scollay Square.  That’s where the New City Hall is now, an excrescence in concrete, a bad dream of a building squatting in a barren brick clad emptiness.  What has to be the world’s largest municipal parking garage is there too, twelve stories and two blocks of chunky grayness, a few post-Communist style government office hulks, and other architectural adventures.  He told me that forty years later folks are still trying to get the state to recognize the damage it caused  when they destroyed the homes and demolished the people.

“We still have reunions,” he said quietly as we drove past the block where he used to live.

A few years later when my mother-in-law was in the hospital we stayed in the flat faced block long Holiday Inn that took its place; built over the bones of homes and memories.  There were forty or so free channels available on the TV in the room, and, if I wanted to, I could watch “adult” movies for a few dollars more.