Tag Archives: Truth

THE PROPER USE OF TOOLS

 

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Walking Dead!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

 

 

 

SUNDAY

I am upstairs in this new place we have down by the river, upstairs earlier today when the morning is almost the afternoon.  We are at home for about two hours after the eight o’clock Mass where we provide the musical entertainment, and after that, we stop off at the house of Tom Bolton, a retired state trooper, who lives a few doors down from us with his wife Dee, and their two dogs, Lillian who is a well mannered Chocolate Lab approaching a dignified age, and Garda Siochana, a youngster who is learning her manners, slowly, very slowly.  She just goes by the name of Garda, though.  Tom’s son, who is also Tom Bolton, named her.  It is probably because he is a Sergeant on the Nashua P.D., a pretty sharp cop who teaches at a local college and up at the State Police Academy. That, and the fact that they are Irish. Garda Siochana is the official Irish name of their national police force.

We bring them communion after Mass every Sunday because Tom has a motorcycle accident about ten years ago which almost kills him and leaves him not able to ride a motorcycle any more in addition to not being able to do much of anything else, including pee standing up.  Motorcycles will do that to a person. It is a fact that my sister, Stephanie, does not come to my wedding in St. Patrick’s Cathedral to Sheila Marie Teresa Welby back on a nice summer day in July in New York City, at 11:00 sharp in the morning, because she is in the surgical ward at Bellevue Hospital.  This is because she gets the big toe on her right foot cut off in the drive chain of the motorcycle owned by a friend of mine as they are about to come home from an evening celebrating that she will get the exclusive use of the bedroom that her brothers have now left.

We get the phone call near midnight, and my parents rush down to the hospital in a cab.  I stay at home and keep vigil with my friend Tom Sheridan, and fill a garbage can with empty beer cans.  Next day, after the ceremony and the reception, we begin our honeymoon with a visit to my sister in the hospital where Sheila delivers a piece of wedding cake and gives  her the bouquet.  And, as a direct result of that, I like to think, Stephanie marries Frank Morse a few years later who is a policeman in New York City, but is not attached to the motorcycle squad.

My friend Billy Chase, who we call Charming Billy, because he was just that, and has two blue eyes that don’t hurt the impression; two blue eyes like a soft summer sky, or a robin’s egg, and a voice like the feel of a cool silk pillow case on your cheek, was a cop for a few years in Watertown, which is a town next to Boston.  It has an arsenal that becomes a mall; an updated example of swords becoming plowshares.  One afternoon we are sitting in a car watching something that is supposed to happen not happen, and telling each other stories.  This is a thing to do to pass the time, after you have discussed everything else. He tells me that when he is a rookie cop in Watertown he is riding with an older guy one night when a call comes in about a motorcycle which loses a fight with a telephone pole, and would they like to go over and make sure the pole is all right because nothing else is.  And, when they get there they see that the motorcycle is scrap, and so is the guy who was riding it.  Only the motorcycle has all of its parts, but the guy is missing one of his.  The part missing is his head!  And, every thing for a few yards all around is covered in the guy’s blood like a fire hydrant blew its top.

“Go find the head,” the old cop says to my friend. “I’ll stay here for the fire department, ambulance and the wrecker.”  So Billy says he gets out of the car and goes off looking for the head which he does not find where he thought it would be.  It is not anywhere in front of the headless guy for a few dozen yards, or on either side for a few yards this way or that way.  He walks past his partner who throws him a questioning, “What’s up?” look from his seat in the car where he is sipping his coffee.  Is a head that hard to find?  And he starts looking down the street on both sides for the missing head.

Which head he finally locates about a hundred feet away on the other side of the street.  Off the road.  Under some guy’s boxwood hedge.  Still wearing the helmet.  “I found it” he yells.  His partner motions him back to the motorcycle.  When he gets there they talk, and wait.  One guy sitting in the car drinking coffee.  Billy leaning against it outside the car.  The head is where it landed.  The engine arrives and they leave, soon.  No fire, no need.  The ambulance comes next and two guys get out.

“Most of him is there,” Billy says pointing to the mess partly on the bike and partly not, staining the street and sidewalk.  They walk a couple of feet.   Make a few remarks.  Then one of them says, “Where’s the head?”  Billy,says, while he points down the block, “Back there about fifty feet under the hedge.”

The guy says, “Fly ball?”  Billy looks at him.  “Was it a fly ball or did it take a hop?  Any brains or blood on the road along the way?”  Billy says no.  The guy’s partner says, “He fouled out, then.”  The four guys laugh. The sanitation guys show up shortly and hose down the street after the dead guy and his head are bagged and taken to the ME for a medical ruling of death by fouling out.

Billy tells me this story again at least twenty years ago while we are drinking in a bar one night during some bullshit conference in Newport, which like most conferences is really an excuse to get drunk with your friends in a place where you are close enough to walk to a comfortable place to sleep.  Only this time he has added the detail about the cause of death.  Stories have a life of their own, I think.

When I am upstairs after bringing communion to Tom Bolton who, I swear to God, had his head sown back on his shoulders. I’ve seen the scar, and the tattoo he had put on his neck, a zipper.  I think of the story again.

I get the book I went up to get and come back down here to read it.  “Damon Runyon: A Life” by Jimmy Breslin.  I always like a story by either of these guys.  They were like farmers with the facts.

I never asked what happened to the helmet.