Friday Prose: The Brooklyn I Knew

dear friends, i thought i might use Friday to revive some of the stories i wrote in prose, before embarking on this poetic journey of mine.

i wrote these to to be read concurrently, each story informs the next, and the events seem unrelated until the end. it’s how it unfolded, as i lived it back in the 60′ and 70′ in Bushwick, Brooklyn. two of these are very early reposts, the last story was never posted and is quite long so it will be posted in two or three parts.

please don’t feel compelled to read these on your busy Friday morning, feel free to if you want to read them at all to take them into the weekend. thank you and i hope you enjoy them.

if you need to catch up….
I Was a Poor, Pimpled, Uncool Sulker.
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thCA0DQTR5


The Parking Space

I would always listen for the click, the turn of the key and what resulted next, the sound that crashed and echoed for miles off the close canyon walls of this neighborhood every morning was the unique roar of American auto manufacturing in it’s heyday, the 425 cubic inch muscle car horsepower rumble that put me right square in the mouth of a mechanical lion, as it roared from deep within it’s empty belly.

Rhhhhuuuurrrmmmm, rhuuurrmm, rhhhhuuuurrrmmmm!

each time he gently pressured the accelerator to get the oil flowing slowly through all eight cylinders. He would sit in the car for the ten or so minutes it took for the engine to calm itself down. With the hood up and his driver’s door opened wide into the street, one foot planted on the asphalt and his beefy hand cupping the chrome eight ball that topped the shifter, Tony waited. He listened intently with his right ear cocked towards the dashboard glancing occasionaly at the rear view mirror for any sign of white, oil burning exhaust.

Sitting in the vinyl black bucket seat, Tony listened and waited for the engine to start it’s eventual purr as nonchalantly as you and I would blink our eyes, as though starting up a car this way at 7:15 in the morning was the most natural thing in the world.

He was oblivious, or at least it seemed that way.

Tony never looked around as he slowly went through his rehearsed routine, never met anyone’s gaze and he was never, ever in a hurry. The old women with their heads down, their worn faces covered by black kerchiefs busy scrubbing stains off the sidewalks, were equally nonplussed. I couldn’t vouch for the rest of the neighborhood who were woken up this way every single morning, whether they liked it or not.

Work days, Saturdays or Sundays were all the same to Tony.

And that’s just how it was.

It never crossed my mind to cover my ears, though I probably should have, the decibel level was that toxic. And it didn’t take long for this thirteen year old to fall in love with the sight, sound and smell of that black ’67 Chevy Nova, the chromed engine and the smell of the exhaust. I rushed through my bowl of Frosted Flakes every morning just to make sure I was there in my usual spot, when Tony turned the key.

My dad owned a Texaco station and was a master mechanic, so I’d seen my fair share of cars growing up but this car was no ordinary mother go to the marketmobile or dad’s everyday, train station driver.

No, not even close, not by a long shot.

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This car was infinite black and the mirror finish in the triple lacquered paint was so perfect, I could see my pimpled reflection from the top of the stoop where I sat. On the hood were two chrome circles, with small horseshoe clasps for little padlocks that were meticulously unlocked, without leaving even a partial fingerprint on the dustless, black paint finish. In the low morning sun, looking into the engine compartment once the hood was raised, was like stealing a peek of a solar eclipse.

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People might have and very quietly mumbled curses under their breath as Tony carefully let the hood down and drove away, but they didn’t let anyone but trusted family members hear the complaint because the word on the street whispered, that Tony was connected. He knew a guy who knew a guy, who’s brother was a made man. The quiet rumours then morphed into street corner legend, an unverifiable truth that Tony himself was a made man, attached somehow and no one knew exactly how, to the Mob.

And in this tight knit, everyone could see and hear what you were doing when you did it neighborhood, aye fhugettaboutit, that’s all you really needed to know to stay healthy and vertical.

Everyday and all day, that coveted parking space ramained empty, until Tony arrived back home from whatever it was that he did. No one ever parked there, even as you could see every parking space taken as far as your eyes could focus, along the up and down streets that were choked with parked cars.

That spot remained reserved and it was right in front of my stoop.

One hapless visitor from Queens unfamiliar with the rules, made the mistake of waving off all the warnings, arrogantly parking his Pontiac sedan where it should never have been. The informed knew what would happen and word got around the neighborhood pretty quick. It always did. We were all silent witnesses by late afternoon as crowds gathered throughout the day, bunched on stoops and poking out of windows. We waited for the roar to be heard from blocks away, the echoes of that engine that always signaled Tony’s return.

He drove up, stopped and returned a few short minutes later.

He parked his car right in the middle of the street, doors swung open and men piled out in wool knit shirts and shiny black shoes. Out of the trunk came bats, crowbars and sledge hammers and they proceeded to pummel that Pontiac into a shattered steel and glass corpse, as Tony sat waiting in his black bucket seat.

The Pontiac was unrecognizeable, rendered undriveable.

When they were finally finished, they all silently slithered back into Tony’s black ’67 Chevy Nova, rhhhhuuuurrrmmmm, and just very slowly drove away, leaving a message for the neighborhood to consider. That violent display, finally and undeniably verified all the whispered rumours about Tony, and during the next decade that i lived on that block, no one ever dared park there again.

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Written April 2012, edited March 2013

everyday

this poem is meant to be read with the music as a soundtrack::::enjoy:::::
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so
i never knew this
about myself
i only learned it by
sharing my life with you

that
i’m built for the everyday
those little things we do
that i used to
think were boring

when
i was alone and lonely
and i would see couples
smiling through
their daily routines

like
being at the
supermarket buying groceries
was the greatest
thing in the world

and
making dinner together
was enough
to set their
world on fire

’cause
it seems no matter
what they did together
it was enough
to make their day

and
now here i am
feeling the exact same thing
when the diamonds wake wide in your eyes
and your sun shines my way

’cause
i want to know
every little thing
about you,
not less

like
the shade of subtle lipstick
coloring your
lips that kiss me
for no apparent reason

and
what French lotion
softens the skin on your hands
that tiptoe every
angle of this lanky frame

and
where did you buy
that retro nightshirt
that shows
every…ahem…soft curve of you?

’cause
there’s not a thing
that i don’t see
when it comes
to seeing you

when
the light dims low and
your diamond eyes reflect moon shadow
it’s time to
nuzzle every scent of your hair
envelope little you
in my long embrace drifting
in peaceful dreams knowing that
everyday i open these eyes
there is you

and
there’s not a thing
that i don’t love
when it comes to loving you
because i just am, just built for you

‘it’s only a name’…Haiku

do you like your name?
the one someone chose for you,
spent months debating

whether they liked it?
the one you had to accept…
your identity…

that reflection
in your mirror everyday…
‘it’s only a name’

so what’s the big deal?
it’s a big deal to a kid!
you were a kid once

don’t you remember?
mom, you know i loved you but
what were you thinking?

a name to spite him?
you know i didn’t like him
i hate to agree,

but i think he was
right, right for the only time
when it came to me.

John, Paul or Michael
Michael, the name i should be
would have been better

than the name i’m not.
mom, you know i loved you but
‘it’s only a name?’

Friday Prose: The Brooklyn I Knew

dear friends, i thought i might use Friday to revive some of the stories i wrote in prose, before embarking on this poetic journey of mine. my eyes have difficulty reading prose these days, my own included and i find myself curiously detached from these stories i once felt so invested in. (i’m not sure why that is )

i wrote these to to be read concurrently, each story informs the next, and the events seem unrelated until the end. it’s how it unfolded, as i lived it back in the 60′ and 70′ in Bushwick, Brooklyn. two of these are very early reposts, the last story was never posted and is quite long so it will be posted in two parts.

please don’t feel compelled to read these on your busy Friday morning, feel free to if you want to read them at all to take them into the weekend. thank you and i hope you enjoy them.
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thCA0DQTR5
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I Was a Poor, Pimpled, Uncool Sulker.
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My new neighborhood bore no resemblance to the manicured fenceless grassed yards, single family house 2 cars in every driveway, ethnicity free Long Island town where I spent the first 12 years of my life. There were languages here and English spoken thick with Italian and German accents by old, crabby grey haired woman in black mourning dresses and rolled down black stockings who promptly at 7am bent at the hip, were scrubbing their stoops and sidewalks in front of their buildings.

Everyday and all day delivery trucks roared down the narrow one way, steamy asphalt streets blaring their big horns, belching exhaust and rustling litter along the curbs, barely missing kids darting between parked cars chasing balls and playing tag. Young mothers pushed big wheeled baby carriages and old ladies lugged shopping carts, choking the already narrow sidewalks. Heavy doors slammed behind people slithering past other people bunched on stairways listening to songs scratched out on small transistor radios.

Like a gargoyle I watched all the comings and goings, the backwards and forwards of incessant car and human traffic, scared of everything that moved. Unfortunately for me, absolutely nothing stood still on this unfamiliar Brooklyn street, this continuous canyon wall of four story buildings that swallowed whatever thankful breeze there might have been, choking everything but the noise, the noise that never stopped.

This was not a particularly human friendly environment, there were no trees along the straight line of streets that you could view for miles.

Not a single one.

The small concrete ‘yards’ that fronted the four story, continously connected buildings on either side of the stoop were just wide enough for four steel garbage cans, the other side was empty. That empty space was handy when it snowed but not for much else except wind blown leaves and garbage, it was walled off from the sidewalk by thick, foreboding wrought iron black painted fencing. Each building had their own scrolled designs, each topped by tri corner spears that if you accidently rubbed the palm of your hand against a tip you’d get a nasty scrape for your stupidity, as intended. The stoops were lined on either side by wrought iron railings, uncomfortably wide for a kids hand.
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My tomboy sister found this out the hard way, slipping off one the railings monkey climbing, losing her balance she was impaled on one of the spears. Folded and in shocked silence she lay there motionless as adults came to help but the aid proved difficult, the fences were over four feet high and it was impossible to remove her without causing further damage. Some wooden milk crates were found, placed front and back to gain leverage and she was eventually lifted off.

She was lucky, she needed only a few stitches to repair the three inch tear in her belly.

I was a poor pimpled uncool sulker at 13, an emotionally mixed up mess of a kid spending the first weeks after school ended that year in ’68, sitting alone on the top step of the 10 foot high stoop to my building at 232 Jefferson Street scrunched in the shadowed corner of the doorway, day after airless day. I sat in the same spot and in the same position, long arms looped around my legs, acned face resting between my knees just hoping that no one would notice and praying hard to be ignored.

I sat, shaken to the core scared; yeah, divorce does that to a kid.

From my perspective the best place to take all this in was from my third floor window. It felt safe there hidden behind the flimsy white curtains and the view from that vantage point allowed me to eventually recognize daily patterns, things people did each day. I was thankful perched there, thankful that at least something began to make some sense because so much had changed so quickly for this kid.

Divorce is a tragically shared family trauma and my mom, desperate for some privacy of her own in our cramped railroad style apartment filled with cheap mismatched Salvation Army furniture, decided that I needed to be outside, you know to soak up some sun and meet some other nice kids my age.

So of course I sat there on the stoop alone for weeks.
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Written April 2012, edited March 2013

night water stillness…Haiku

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the best time of day,

when I’m really awake is

when i hear the rest

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of the world asleep.

and here on this lake tonight,

trees along this cove

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are deep in their dreams.

the leaves whispered their good night’s

and vowed to rustle

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again tomorrow,

when the lake breeze comes ashore.

do fish ever sleep?

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i don’t hear them now

in this three a. m. quiet…

splashing the surface

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filling their bellies

with bugs skimming the water.

they’ll be awake soon…

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but at this moment

when the only sound I hear

are these words i write,

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i count my blessings

and thank the universe for

night water stillness.

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tomatoes, holly creek 007.

reaching cheerful shores

and we are finally here
returning once again to the lake of memories.
the houseboat secured, knots tied to
those four familiar, barkless trees worn smooth, standing
on steep jagged shore of the cove we call our own.
signaling another summer warming to its inevitable end,
another year a family tradition fulfilled. our
simple food, and spirits shared with
an ever expanding family of friends, like a rippling
through calm waters, radiating, a
rolling slow motion of fingers reaching
cheerful shores. smiles and our laughter filter through
the cabins, reside at tables, float
lazily like brightly colored rafts in clean water. and
even us, who have taken this trek year after year, unapologetically
join the newly invited, still marvel at the serenity here, the endless loop of
siience that never begins and sees no end….. and can still
gasp at the Blue Heron flying weightless and
closer than it did last year,
preening just for us on
a narrow and slick stretch of pebbles
in this year of high water.

and could
this first night end any better?
huddled under the canopy sheltered
from the sudden downpour, flashlights illuminating
a spontaneous waterfall cascading down
the steeply sloped, stone bank
us all giggling like kids.

when Scout and i finally snug
in our cozy step down cabin,
stroking her hair drifting her to sleep
the gentle rhythm of love’s deep breathing
the only sound in this endless loop of silence