‘such a pretty pretty boy!’

dear friends…a short story in three parts,
while i continue working on the 3 co write poems.
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‘such a pretty pretty boy!’
part 1
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I would soon find out as my back glued tight against the living room wall, right next to the tall bird cage where a too close crowd waited in narrow eyed but hushed anticipation, I had the best seat in the house.

‘Oh, you’re such a pretty boy. Pretty Boy… Pretty Boy…
you’re such a pretty pretty boy!’

In her familiar sing song melody, my mom chirped her song to our blue and white, precocious and quite talkative parakeet Pretty Boy. I’d heard him repeat the words plenty of times, his head bobbing and weaving as he scuttled from side to side along his wooden perch. That a bird could talk as clearly as Pretty Boy did, was an endless source of fascination to this 5 year old.

‘Pretty Boy..Pretty Boy…such a pretty pretty boy!’

On queue and just as mom had promised, Pretty Boy rattled off his happy monologue to the delight of everyone,

‘Ohhhh’
‘Isn’t that cute?’
‘I’ve never heard a bird talk like that!’

With all the oohs and ahhs from the crowd and staring at his little round mirror, Pretty Boy was very animated and quite taken with himself,

‘Pretty Boy..Pretty Boy…such a pretty pretty boy!’

“Does he say anything else?’

And mom who was beaming now,

“Oh sure, he says lots of things!’

This was no easy crowd to please. It was the first time all my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents on my father’s Italian side of our family had en masse descended upon our suddenly smallish house,
and smiling seemed to be a foreign concept to them.

Leaning forward and stacked three deep in a semi circle around the cage…and me, I was suffocating and beginning to hyper ventilate. I needed to escape but there was simply no escaping this wall of largish, olive skinned humans with their dark eyes and darker hair. It was my first experience of a claustrophobia I still suffer from today.

Then suddenly, unprompted and as if on queue to save me, Pretty Boy still preening from the attention squawked an unmistakeable string of,

“God damn shit…God damn shit…God damn shit!’

I’d never seen so many people move simultaneously like this group did, as if the epicenter of an 8.2 earthquake shuddered just below our little dining room jolting everyone backwards and off the floor. And no one jumped higher than my wide hipped grandmother. She landed with such a thud, her low black heels left divots in the pine floor.

I caught my breath as there was instantly more air to breath, but I was certainly the only person experiencing any sense of relief in the sudden vacuum of silence, in that improbable, unforeseeable and unforgettable moment. And with the best seat in the house, I watched the ensuing family drama all unfold.

‘such a pretty pretty boy!’ pt.2

I stood there as confused as a kid could be.

My uncles rushed to the aid of my grandfather while he struggled in vain to steady the still listing ship that was my grandmother’s bulky frame; like asking a stalk of corn to brace a tipping fire hydrant.

The science of leverage was awkwardly defining itself in real time.

He was all of 6’4″, kind and gentle as any person you’d ever meet, she was a wide stump of a woman with an iced grey, evil dead eyed stare that could bend an I-beam and bring concrete to tears. And when she narrowed that laser like gaze occasionally turning her brand of affection towards me, the overly potent mixture of her rose scented perfume and stinging pain screaming from my cheek as she twisted it with a little too much pleasure….well, this kid learned early to keep a safe distance from that thumb and forefinger.

With the men shoring up the aft, pocketbooks snapped open and out came the doily edged hankies dotting the sweat now appearing on my grandmother’s brow and rouged cheeks. Dumfounded, I watched as my aunts dutifully smoothed away the upset in her rose printed sundress, surrounding her like handmaidens to a queen. I still didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. On the receiving end of my father’s own icy dead eyed stare, mom was admonishing Pretty Boy but she seemed as confused as I was. Neither of us had ever heard Pretty Boy say those words before.

I had no clue know what they even meant.

And there we all stood, suspended in an uncomfortable void of inaction, afraid to move or say a single word hoping this unpleasant catastrophe had finally subsided, hoping we could move on to the buffet to fill our bellies and forget it ever happened.

“God damn shit…God damn shit…God damn shit!’

Pretty Boy, still bobbing and weaving along his perch and clear as day suddenly pierced the silence and proudly squawked another string of expletives to the crowd. But if the huge gasp that heaved deep from my grandmother’s innards were any clue as to how this all would end, you would have thought those three words like three poisoned arrows…. were aimed directly at her.

Unsteady again as one hand reached instinctively for the rosary beads in one of her two side pockets while the other found a gaudy gold crucifix on the heavy chain around her neck, up rolled her eyeballs as my grandmother began to breathlessly recite a mournful monologue of Hail Mary’s and Our Father’s in her native Italian. She held the crucifix in such a white knuckle grip pointing it at Pretty Boy as if Lucifer himself, sat on that perch cloaked in blue and white feathers.

Oh, it was quite the dramatic scene as she turned on her heels and thumped towards the door with my poor grandfather behind her gesticulating, endlessly apologizing with that familiar expression
on his face,

whattamigonnado,’youknowhowsheis, howdidiendupwiththiswoman’

the helplessness that was forever creased in his forehead.

This act mercifully came to its conclusion as the rest of the family followed the mighty matriarch, heads down and mumbling as they corralled their children and shuffled out the door.

It was the last time any of them would ever visit our house.
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Being the early riser it was my chore to remove the cover from Pretty Boy’s cage. I’d fill his seed and water containers and begin his daily chatter while teaching him some of my own sing song phrases.

‘Here comes the sun…here comes the sun….here comes the sun’,

lifted from the title of my favorite Richie Haven’s song playing constantly on the AM radio station that summer of ’67. Leaning close to the cage, I would let my waist length hair sift through the cage until it covered his head. Nibbling the ends a little. he waited for me to lift his veil of hair and repeat,

‘Here comes the sun …here comes the sun…here comes the sun.’

Our silly version of peekaboo. But Pretty Boy wasn’t waiting for me on the familiar perch near his little mirror that morning.

‘such a pretty pretty boy’ Conclusion

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for Mom
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And for that entire summer Pretty Boy’s empty cage remained where it had always been, aside one of the two near floor to ceiling, lead glass windows at the rear of our narrow railroad apartment.

The low sills provided an easy view of the wall of four story tenements and scruffy yards, and easier access to the wrought iron fire escapes dangling off the rear of every building. This view, even on the sunniest of days in monotone brown tar shingles, the imposing black painted, zigzagging iron bars and early shadows left little to be hopeful about; like the Escher engraving of the steps to nowhere.

Divorce changes lives in a hurry. But this neighborhood we moved to, tucked away in a forgotten corner of Brooklyn was lifetimes removed from the wide open and manicured green lawns and the single family life we once lived.

The dimming memories felt like someone else’s lucky dreams.

Yet looking back now, sitting on that window sill visiting with Pretty Boy is where I spent much of my time when I was home. Studying the blue intricate beauty of his feathers was such a refreshing anomaly to eyes aching for color, his endless banter one of the few cheerful constants in my already unsteady life. So it really shouldn’t have surprised me that seeing those blue feathers lying so still and quiet, nestled amongst the thin strips of Daily News lining the tray of his cage was enough to bring this 15 year old man boy to tears.

But it did. I struggled to keep my crying quiet, trying to decipher the unwelcome silence from his cage, wrestling with another inexplicable, here one day not here the next, loss. Yet another loss I was unprepared to absorb.

Mom and I sat at the kitchen table and reminisced about Pretty Boy, reminding each other of memories we had forgotten while she breathed in long slow drags of BelAir smokes and longer purposeful chugs of her favorite Schaefer beer. Cradling Pretty Boy in her hands, her chest rising in deep exhales and her lips trembling a little she recalled that fateful day Pretty Boy came home.

Back in the day, in the Long Island town of Hempstead where we lived then, all the shopping centers had a Woolworth store, nicknamed the five and dime. It was a huge place that had miles of aisles filled with toys, cards, tape, ribbons and all the handy little daily items, and right in the middle of the store was their popular pet department.

Mom and I always made a bee line there to see the rabbits, hamsters and turtles and take in the songs and squawks of the yellow canaries and various colored parakeets for sale. All these cute, first kid pets had a high turnover rate, but mom had her eye on one blue parakeet that lingered for months. And despite his cheerleading, the salesman could never convince anyone to take this one bird home.

Pretty Boy was not a very pretty bird, despite his eventual name.

Smaller than the other birds his age, he was missing feathers and wore a pronounced scar on the white crown of his forehead. So mom, ever the devoted animal lover and champion of underdogs decided that day this unloved orphan was coming home with us. The salesman was so ecstatic, he discounted everything we needed to bring him home.

The sales receipt read Parakeet…..99 cents.

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It was only 10am as I watched the ashtray overflow with spent buts and another can of Schaefer bit the dust too. It became clear as I got older that Mom had quite the potty mouth. Pretty Boy only repeated what he heard, a loyal confidant when no one else was there to listen.

I heard a few, very choice words about my grandmother that morning.

Time has a way of dulling the sharp edges of our pain, and karma…well, it has it’s own mysterious timetable administering our just rewards. My grandmother was a hateful woman whose own psychosis and prejudice eventually alienated most of her sons too, there were very few tears shed from the few people that attended her funeral when she died.

It was hard not to notice that familiar warm spark return to her sienna brown eyes the more mom and I talked, that free spirited Irish spunk that was so much of her charm, and despite all she would eventually overcome in a life that never resembled her early romantic dreams, she always retained an empathy for all things living. Mom was a survivor, she persevered, she always did the right thing as best she could.

I’m grateful for inheriting the very best of who she was.

I watched her meticulously wrap Pretty Boy’s blue body in Saran Wrap, tearing thin strips of Daily News to line the cardboard match box he would be buried in. We would have a proper funeral for our little friend. And as she finished taping the edges with her usual care, she looked up mischievously making sure she caught my eye and whispered,

‘God damn shit…God damn shit… God damn shit.’

We both howled with laughter at the image of Pretty Boy thankfully chasing the wicked witch out of our lives that day, shaking our heads in awe that a little .99 bird had so much say in so many lives.

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As much as this piece was intended to be written about Pretty Boy, the deeper I delved into the writing I realized the story was as much about my mom. So it only seemed fitting on this of all days, unplanned as it was to devote this conclusion to her. Somethings work out the way they should, somewhere mom is reading this story about our Pretty Boy, and

somewhere she’s flashing that impish grin….

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Happy Mother’s Day to all moms today!

The Bridge of Time and Promise

dear friends.. i felt the need to write some prose while i worked on the co write poems i mentioned in my last post, the song was chosen not for the title or video but for the close your eyes experience.
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The Bridge of Time and Promise
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Chaos was the default setting in my family. The earliest memory of my uncertain future, was me sitting in the sturdy chrome legged high chair that provided a perfect mezzanine level view of the kitchen table. From the relative safety of that private perch sitting plush as a prince behind my oversized formica tray, I could hear and see everything.

It was a cruel foreshadowing of how I would eventually view the world.

Wednesday meant spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, and not ’50’s style Americanized Chef Boyardee spaghetti either. No, not in our house. I can remember watching for hours while my mom made the meatballs, prepared the ingredients and slow cooked the deep red fragrant sauce on the stove. With her large spoon disappearing into the open topped aluminum pressure cooker to take a sip then dolloping some into my plastic bowl, I was a red saucy mess by dinnertime

Though I was much too young and preoccupied as curious kids are,
to understand exactly what all the words I heard actually meant, I knew something was amiss that night. Kids learn by repetition and it wasn’t until my personal spaghetti feast was suddenly interrupted by a very loud thwack followed by my father yelling at the top of his lungs, did I realize the words ‘not good enough’ was…uhm, not good.

From what I could gather, his ‘not good enough wife’ had once again tried to cook a ‘not good enough sauce’, not like his mother would make it and said sauce and spaghetti ended up on the ceiling in so furious a motion, my mom and I sat in stunned mouth agape awe.

Lost in my kid reverie of seeing something new for the very first time,
I don’t recall hearing the plate crash down on the table but the white porcelain shards were everywhere. The inevitable commotion and chaos trailed quickly down the hallway without so much as a glance from me, I just couldn’t take my eyes off that Rorschach red splatter on the low ceiling.

So there I sat in our little kitchen alone in my high chair, howling with laughter as one by one a spaghetti strand would peel away from the ceiling only to flutter and plop on the linoleum floor.

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Apparently the spaghetti was cooked to perfection, al dente pasta will cling if you toss a strand on the ceiling; an old school trick I learned from my few years as a chef. The recipe is memorized now I’ve made it so many times though I wish just once, mom could have slow cooked
it for her grandchild. Shining that red saucy face grin, my daughter has been happily wearing that sauce since she was in her own high chair.

Mom deserved to live that memory… the world and our lives are less that she didn’t but the regret has tempered with time, and knowing mom would have been tickled that her recipe was still being savored.

And there is solace in knowing the weight of her life has lifted some,

that the generational abuse in our family finally ended with me…

a promise I whispered in my daughter’s ear

the miracle night she was born.

in whatever I have or may succeed,

I find joy in the vast and

tranquil oceans of her innocence.

and my life’s full reward

witnessing the budding dreams

of clean and open sky…

of song and flights of angels soaring…

of pure… in her adolescent eyes.
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as the Universe intended.
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shoots and wings, thresholds and thank you’s

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i woke today to an earlier light,

slicing sun… between wooden blinds.

Spring soil…it shifts and yearns

in shy murmurs… of shoots and wings.

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how the wind is alive

with the long forgotten calls

of weary immigrant birds,

floating currents… returning home.

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and maybe… my day is here

to shed this curfew of skin and doubt,

finally… free myself forward

shutter eyes that lurk behind my head.

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let my instinct… map a ready sky,

a fragile trust and mysterious as flight.

let unfurl… these inadvertent wings

and surrender my will to each unknown.

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there is stubborn in my bones

a rain worn feather remains as resolute,

and how much fear… i’ve let fly

oh, sweet wing of creation… take me home.
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thresholds
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When I began this little blog a year ago, I had such meager and modest expectations that anyone would pay any attention to what was being written here, let alone take the time to leave a comment because of something I happened to write.

I wrote short stories then, a memoir of sorts, recollections of a kid from a troubled family living in a poor and forsaken neighborhood in Brooklyn. And that’s all I had plans to write until I just happened to see a link to a poetry site on someone’s blog. It was the first week of April, and just happened to be the first week of National Poetry Month.

I still can’t explain what compelled me to submit a poem, I’d only written one until then just a few months earlier. But I did, flying by the seat of my proverbial pants, against every fear and anxiety I wrote renewal. I was so heartened and overwhelmed by the response, I wrote another.

And the rest, as they say is history.

But I believe our history is a living thing, and so very humbly here I am… 150 poems later. This past week this little blog surpassed 16,000 page views and recorded its 5000th comment and on days like this when I sit back and reflect on this profound improbability, I have to clunk myself in the head with the heal of my hand in a “I shoulda’ had a V8′ moment to make sure this isn’t a dream.

Me, who feared poetry all his life… is now obsessed with its writing.
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shoots and wings
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And now I think it’s time to ‘unfurl these inadvertent wings’, cast aside the fear and doubt and accept the gifts that are being presented. In the coming weeks and months I’ll be busy with some collaborations and personal projects I wanted to tell you about.

A dear friend and most talented writer Bianca (B.G. Bowers) is dedicating her blog for the entire month of April to invited guest poets and challenges. She has very graciously asked me to participate, and I was honored to accept. On April 20th my poems will be featured and I’m really excited at the prospect. Thank you again Bianca.

In the next few weeks, 3 poets who are held in very high regard for personal and important reasons, and I will be working on co written poems. The themes of each of these poems are so dramatically different, the challenges will likely take us all to places we haven’t been before. With the enormous energy and talent these poets possess, I have no doubt co writing these poems will be an exciting and rewarding creative experience and I thank them all for this opportunity.

When you have a chance please visit
Melanie (Wordifull) Chloe (Sirena Tales) and teardropsofink

And lastly, many of you might remember that this past summer I was invited to apply for residency to the Ragdale Artist Retreat. Considering the prestigious alumni that have and still spend time there, it is an honor for me to even be considered. I’ve hesitated to apply because the one requisite the board asks you to have, is a worthy goal, something you can or want to achieve while you are there. I didn’t…until now.

In a recent comment thread with my wonderful new poet friend Nomzi (Nomzi Kumalo), she mentioned that she’d like to have a collection or a book of some of her favorite poems of mine. And of course I gave her my standard ‘oh I’ve never had the dream or desire to be published’ response. She hasn’t been the first friend to tell me this…

well… I finally got the courage to ask ‘why not a book?’

So I will apply now and whether I get accepted to Ragdale or not, a book will be self published in the coming months. I do have a tentative title ‘poems of Hope from a wounded heart‘, and dear Chloe has so graciously accepted to write an introduction. Thank you Nomzi for the spark and thank you Chloe for being generous with your valuable time. Love and Hugs to you both!
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thank you all
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And of course none of this would have or could have happened without all of you, who have read this poetry of mine and written so many profoundly heartfelt and encouraging comments. And a very special thanks to Melissa Hassard and the 20 Lines a Day community.

What an incredible gift this Circle of Encouragement is!

so ty, ty, ty, from the bottom of this very grateful heart.

Love and Hugs to you all!

little ladybug…..Haiku

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little ladybug
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‘little ladybug
there’s nothing to fear from me,
i mean you no harm.’

‘my mom taught me well
to respect all living things,
she had a big heart.’

…i miss her a lot…
‘we had a praying mantis
come to our window

for one whole summer,
and eat lettuce she fed it…
i would watch in awe

as it ate each leaf…
i can’t remember the name
that i chose for it,’

…where has the time gone…?
‘but i remember the eyes
moving all around….’
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‘little ladybug,
you can stop being scared now.
i was just reaching

for my ice cold glass
of delicious lemonade,
and it’s homemade too!

can you continue
to do your little dance on
the rim of my glass?

when you raise your wings,
is it the sugar you like?
or are you in love?

little ladybug,
i’ll just pour another one
’cause we have plenty.’

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my encounter with little ladybug happened on the farm,
while i was sitting by myself at the picnic table.

the praying mantis came to our kitchen window everyday
for an entire summer. i was six and my mom would lift
me onto the counter, so i could watch it eat.

Sunday Prose…A Rabbit Rides a Fixie

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‘Hey, what’s goin’ on boys?

and the chorus responded
simultaneously,

‘Rabbt!’

‘Did everyone get a slice of that
Wall Street press release last night?
I got 12, 31 runs for the day.’

‘Whoa, 31? That beats me, I don’t know
how you keep doing it Rabbit.’

John always had a knowing wry smile, and a lot to say just behind what he didn’t tell you. I liked him and we broke the code a few times talking about stuff, real stuff. He was educated and even had a Masters but for some reason his life became unraveled and he fell through the cracks.

‘Watch out for those cabbies Rabbit.’

A smallish guy, John was a longtimer, an easy conversationalist and very steady, never got too high or too low, never complained or made mistakes either and he always arrived at the coffee shop before anyone else.

I don’t remember him ever taking a day off.

This was important to all of us superstitious types which meant all eight of our clique, because it was with John that we began our daily ritual just before walking up the stairs to the dispatch office, just after downing all our rocket fuel, of placing our palms on the image of his well worn shirt for good luck.

‘Thanks John, see ya’ tomorrow morning,
and keep outta’ those potholes!’

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We would gather every week day morning under the tattered forest green and white trimmed canvas awning of the corner coffee shop, the classic shop keeper’s awning that was rolled down each day by hand announcing the store open for business. The street level take out window would slowly squeek open, and one by one we click click clicked over to get our coffee and donuts, the caffiene jolt and white sugar rocket fuel excuse for a nutritious breakfast.

As if hurtling at 30 mph through the choked arteries that passed for streets in Manhattan, as if being clipped into your pedals squeezing through shoulder width lanes of erratically moving trucks and cars, as if suddenly stopping your brakeless fixed gear bike and saving your life avoiding a dive bombing cabbie gunning his beat up yellow cab directly at you, as if all this wasn’t enough of a high alert, fight or flight crackling adrenaline current to sustain us through the day.

No, we didn’t really need
the rocket fuel at all.
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What we needed was the 7:30 pre work ‘us against them’ comaraderie, we needed to take a head count and bodily injury check, we needed to outdo each other’s ‘damn i’m lucky i’m alive’ steaming asphalt street war horror stories of the day before, we needed to confirm a hierarchy by comparing completed tickets and how many extra pay, triple rush runs we did, we needed to bitch about the office creeps who would treat us bike messengers like crap, as if there was a speedier way to get someone a super urgent letter in Manhattan in the pre fax days of 1988.

Believe me, there wasn’t. Nothing was faster than a triple rush driven, fearless guy on a bike navigating through the impossibly crowded and often lawless jungle of Manhattan.

We knew it and so did the resentful office creeps who despised being so dependent on sweat soaked social misfits wearing skin tight black biking shorts arriving suddenly at their desk, knowing that in a good week we cleared more in our paycheck than they did. In 1988, $600-$700 a week could buy you an awful lot of rocket fuel, a decent living as long as you stayed alert and alive.

The group of us that met each morning were the top earners in our office, we were a tight bunch of 8 youngish guys, all skilled cyclists and most of us raced in club races in Central Park on the weekends, myself included. We all had our story, a reason why we were bike messengers instead of following more socially acceptable career paths, instead of utilizing the diplomas most of us had earned and I learned quickly there was an unspoken code that those stories were just never spoken about, an impenetrable male bravado veneer shielding any and all percieved vulnerability. I willingly complied.

I also learned, after being invited into
this elite clique after my first day, that
those invitations were rare. In the two
years I spent riding my black fixie no one
else was asked in, but then again, no one
else had a first day of work like I did either.
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On a day when over half our crew didn’t or couldn’t make it to work, on a day that you were better off and safer at home, on a day that the wind blew blizzrd like heavy wet snow flakes sideways into your eyes, on my birthday in late January, I trundled up the one flight of stairs with my snow encrusted bike to the dispatchers desk and reported for work.

It was a ridiculous day to be on a bike, but after spending the entire day struggling to even see where I was going, I completed all the runs I was given. They were late, but they were completed.

My reputation was cemented that snowy day.

I was in.

‘This is Rabbit, what do ‘ya got for me?’

‘Holy crap! You finished all the runs I gave you alreasdy?’

‘Yeah, yeah, yeah! C’mon, what do you got?’

‘Jesus!…ok, come in, I’m giving you 12 rush press releases for Wall Street.’

By midsummer, after throwing myself headlong and headfirst into this new job, this new life threatening daily adventure, and throwing every caution I ever had to the place dark in my mind where such things go to be ignored, I had consistently and stubbornly become the top earner.

I was no longer who I thought I was, no longer who I was running from, an identity slipping slowly, imperceptively into a fading numb anonymity.

I was just Rabbit, a nickname
made official by my dispatcher
which meant everyone had to use it.

And that suited me just fine.
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And as I listened to the dire warnings about the oncoming snowstorm that January morning, as I stared numbly from my second floor window in the Brooklyn Heights duplex where I lived, as I considered what it would take to ride over the Brooklyn Bridge to get to the office on 24th and Broadway, I consciously made a decision most people in their right mind wouldn’t.

But I was on a mission, a journey to erase what I couldn’t face, to forget what I didn’t want to remember….so down the two flights of stairs and out the heavy oak doors and down the brownstone stoop I walked.

The snow was blowing so heavy and hard, I could barely see the arch at the mouth of Prospect Park just across the street, undeterred I rode off with my brand new bright red messenger bag slung over my shoulders and a pocket full change for phones, the public phones that littered almost every corner then.

A lifeline for a quarter.
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to be continued….

everyday….. Of Kitchens & Promises

everyday will be a random
posting of daily events or
memories of my daily life
that don’t translate
well into poetry

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I should have known when she spent an entire summer weekend dutifully making notations in pencil on the back of every page of a very neat black clasped, inch thck manuscript. Curious, I inquired, thinking it was something she had written. As she slowly wrapped her left arm around the stack of paper, protective like any good editor and gathering it closer as she lay flat on the pull out futon, answering in a very quiet but deliberate voice,

‘It’s Anna’s autobiography, she asked me to read it and take notes.’

I sat there in my favorite writing chair in the room we shared when she sleeps over, mouth slightly ajar and more than a little dumbfounded. Cbear, my daughter was 12 last year.

I guess I should have known then.

Maybe it should have dawned on me a few months later when she had her choice of languages to study, after testing into one of the better high schools that includes a new advanced 7th and 8th grade college prep program.

‘I decided to continue Chinese. The United States and China wiil be doing a joint space venture someday and I want to be there.’

Spoken so matter of factly, I could only stammer,

‘Uh…sure, that makes a lot of sense Cbear.’

We had spoken about the possibility of her learning French and how it might inspire her writing, poetry and the blossoming creative side of her personality. She’s been learning Chinese for 5 years now, about as long as she’s expressed the burning desire to be an astro-physicist. Stephen Hawking is one of her favorite reads.

It should have dawned on me, right then and there.

I mean, how dense of a father can I be to not realize that my little girl is growing up in leaps and bounds so profound I am continually playing catchup, constantly trying to assimilate and absorb this not so sudden reality? Any comparison, any attempt to relate to how I was at her age has long ago become obsolete becaue there is none.

It feels as though I’m flying by the seat of my parental pants, trying to grasp a shooting star.

And it’s not that I’m attempting to hold her back, that would be as selfish and unfair as it would be impossible but….I just keep wondering where these 13 years went, I worry that her childhood is going by too quickly.

I wonder if she feels the same whooooosh! of time that I do.

Cbear lives with her mom and as a child of a divorce is about as well adjusted as you could expect a kid to be. There are the inevitable day to day details I really regret missing over the years with our every Wednesday, every other weekend sleepover arrangement, but when we’re together we talk about stuff, real stuff.

She and I have always talked, our conversations began when she was very young as my way to resolve conflict, when she occasionally misbehaved and needed some guidance and direction. It was very purposeful, a night and day difference in how conflict was so called ‘resolved’ when I was a kid, the back of the hand injustice I was given as guidance by my parents.

And if there ever was a conversation that
crystalized just how grown up this 13 year
old daughter of mine is now, it is the one
we had a few weeks ago standing in the
kitchen of our apartment after school.
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Soon after moving into Scout’s apartment, we did an assesment of what we now owned together. With both of us being good cooks fond of our own special pots and utensils, the large but poorly designed kitchen that held promise, needed a complete redesign. I cooked professionally for 4 years, and being borderline OCD I designed it to resemble a restaurant kitchen, lots of stainless steel, almost everything exposed, organized and easily accesible.

Every utensil, pot, saute pan and dish had its own place.

I took the entire kitchen down to the studs on the walls and floors and started from scratch, doing most of the work myself. The project took about 6 months, and there were days we wondered if we had bitten off more than we could chew.

But now all these years later, our kitchen like kitchens in most people’s homes is the hub of ours too, the place where the day to day life of our family begins and ends, where lists are made, food is shared and conversations had. Ours is not a sit down kitchen with a table, but it is very comfortable with a large counter where we sit and eat, work on laptops, and chatter about our day.

And if you’ve been to other people’s homes for a dinner or party, the kitchen is usually where all the adults eventually find themselves, the magnet of proximity to food and beverages is just too appealing. So in retrospect, it was fitting that Cbear and I had this converstaion in our kitchen that night.

I knew the minute she began talking this was no ordinary conversation, turning off the burners on the stove I turned around to face her eye to eye, heart to heart because what she was telling me needed every bit of my attention and careful consideration. We spoke for about an hour, I listened a lot, I asked questions and she was as direct and truthful and matter of fact as I’ve ever known her to be. After I took her head in my hands, kissed her forehead as I always do, we hugged for a long time before she returned to her bedroom to resume her homework.

I stood there for a long while letting the warmth and wonder of the moment wash over me, shaking my head some, tearing up a little too. I thought about the first time this person, this now young adult and I first met, in the delivery room after the horribly traumatic ordeal of the emergency C section had subsided, where it was very touch and go for both her and her mom, when the nurse finally handed me this tiny bundle of blankets with a baby inside, how tiny this new life felt in my large hands and the truly beautific smile the nurse had on her face as she told me my daughter and her mom were healthy.

I can recognize that tranquil, clear eyed matter of fact innocence now, it was there when I looked in her hazel eyes that night, as i kissed her forehead for the first time and just before the nurse came back to take her to her mom, the promise I whispered in her little ear, that the injustice I experienced as a kid by hand and from the mouths of my parents, would never be experienced by her. Ever. It would end with me.

And I stood there a while longer, eventually turning on the burners again to resume dinner for us both thinking about promises, that we don’t hear or read much about them these days, these days of instantly unfriending someone, where divorce is so commonplace that more than half of Cbear’s schoolmates are living in single parent households, where commitment and devotion seem like such an ancient concept.

I made two promises early in my life, one I broke staying five years longer than I should have in my frst marriage, a marriage that had become loveless, and in hindsight a promise made to fix what my parents broke, my childlike attempt to repair my own family.

I kept the promise I made to Cbear, easily the most important thing I’ve ever accomplished in this life and the woooosh! of time brought me such a profound and divine humility and gratitude that she wanted our living arangements to change,
that she wanted to spend more time with her dad.

We decided a week here and a week with her mom would be best for all of us, and during the first week we were talking about stuff again. I’ve been revealing a little about my life to her when I was sure she was ready. We were looking at old photos of her when she was a baby and I told her of the promise I made to her that night as I held her for the first time.

And I could see it was she who was listening quite intently this time, and when I finished she looked at me eye to eye, heart to heart and said,

‘Thank you dad’,

and we hugged for a long time, right there in the kitchen.
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everyday….Bucket of Glads

Friday Prose….. My Conversation with the Sensai

As a kid it wasn’t often that I got to see my father, in fact it was rare. Silently shaved and showered, he even managed to shut the aluminum storm door without the inevitable rattle, start up his ’62 white Coupe DeVille which was parked in the driveway just beyond my bedroom window and leave well before daybreak. The roar of that huge engine never did wake me up, somehow it shifted into park every night without notice too.

With so few happy experiences of the time he was home, it wasn’t long before I just expected his absence, even secretly hoping for it at the foot of my bed during my nightly prayer.

Although it was never adequately explained (precious little was) why he was never home and what he did while he was away, the clues were there. Grease stained workboots occupied several brown, speckled linoleum treads on the basement stairway, the constant low rumbling of the washing machine and my mom dutifully trudging basket after basket of oliveish green pants and shirts up the steep back stairs, hanging them to dry on the clothesline in our backyard. Sometimes she would ask me to keep her company and hand her the wooden, spring loaded clothespins; I would have ten at the ready, one clipped to each finger.

My finger would always find the stitched,
red star patch on the shirts, and i would
trace the outline of the stars as they hung
in the warm breeze.. for some odd reason I
really loved that bright red star.

thCAW8DYAN

There are sounds we came to expect as kids, living on our perfect suburban street; an occasional bark from a neighbor’s dog, other kids giggling or the thwack of a baseball bat. The best sound at the end of a hot summer afternoon was the instantly recognizable, come and get it chime and loud generator of the Carvel soft serve ice cream truck, or the blinging bells of The Good Humor Man, which immediately set off an instant kid pandemonium. The sound of vehicles was distinctive and loud in the relative quiet we lived in, and subject to an intuitive body reaction in us kids.

If you heard your dad’s car engine stop in your driveway, you knew it was time to go home for dinner, the Carvel chime meant you had to find your mom, in a desperate run against time and plead for a quarter for that chocolate-vanilla swirl cone.

What ended up in our driveway just after lunch one day, was a vehicle and engine sound that none of us kids recognized. The loud sputtering pierced the Saturday afternoon silence as it sped down the street and stopped short with a screech, announcing itself with a high pitched Beeep, Beeep, Beeep! We all stopped playing, rushed over and out of the doorless vehicle jumped, of all people, my father, who none of my friends had ever seen, wearing the familiar green pants and shirt with the red star patch, smiling like I’d never seen him smile before.

This vehicle was a classic Army issue, Willy’s Jeep painted flat black with no top, no doors or windows except the greasy windshield, torn bucket seats and a stick shift between them and I was told to get in. So I did and instantly became the envy of all my friends and as we lurched out of the driveway, my dad pretended not to notice my mom as she stood screaming at him from the side stoop.

I spent the last weeks of that summer at my dad’s Texaco station, wiping windshields, having my head patted as I pumped gas inhaling the intoxicating gas fumes and listening for the ding…ding… as every dollar rolled by on the pump gauge.

I collected money and got plenty dirty and
if there is a heaven, I’ve already been there.

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The timing of what happened after I resumed school is unclear, but I do remember not seeing my dad for a long time. His sudden, unannounced reappearance on Christmas Eve one year, a holiday my mom revered and he dismissed, loaded with presents and luggage did not turn out quite as he planned, when at the doorway behind him stood a short man wearing an ill fitting suit and carrying a single travel case.

He was introduced to us as Sensei Ushiro, and he bowed profusely as he shook our hands and was escorted to the basement where we were told he would be living, indefinitely.

Predictably, all hell broke loose.

I learned years later that after my few weeks spent at the Texaco station it was sold, and with the proceeds and a plan, my dad moved himself to Okinawa, Japan. There he studied Karate and Judo with some of the masters of the two disciplines earning himself a half brown belt, which in those days under those teachers was no small accomplishment. He convinced Sensei Ushiro to return to the states with him to open a school, a dojo where the discipline could be properly taught by a master, Sensei Ushiro and himself.

Despite his many flaws my dad was decades ahead of his time, the school became known quickly as the epicenter of the sport and garnered some headlines too. I was eventually convinced and coerced to join the school because according to my dad, I was too sensitive, too tentative, afraid of everything that moved. Of course in his delusional, diagnosed violent schizophrenic mind, it hadn’t occurred to him that it was him that I was afraid of, it was his irrational outbursts of anger and violence that was the source of everything I feared. His new chiseled, physical stature and prowess was a source of great pride to him.

For us, the fact that he could now kill a human being with a well placed thumb to a temple, was not anything to celebrate.

It came time to put my Karate training to the test, in a tournament held at the school and attended by hundreds. I hated going to the school every Saturday, I hated the physical contact that often resulted in people getting seriously hurt. I learned well though, I was athletically giftted and when I had my live match in the middle of the dojo with a kid who had become my friend, I broke his nose and he crumpled to the floor, unconscious. The crowd erupted in cheers as I bowed down in respect as is the custom, but I stood over him in shock, nauseated.

I remember the tears streaming down my cheeks as I accepted the half green belt and my trophy. I quit the next day.

I’ve only hit one other person since then. He was one of two twin bullies who terrorized the Brooklyn neighborhood I eventually moved to. The person they happened to be ridiculing that day was my younger sister, taunting the way she spoke. Of course they couldn’t know that it was a minor miracle that she spoke at all, she was deaf. My mom, in a stroke of brilliance and devotion, found the only school in the state, maybe the country whose teachers were committed to teaching deaf children to speak, as well as use sign language.

He was twice my weight, thick necked and stout and as I stepped between him and my sister, he came at me. Always better at protecting others than I was myself, and only a few years removed from my Karate training, I intuitively struck him right in the heart and he went down in a heap and turned blue. I felt pretty sick about that too, even though it was justified at the time.

But at least the bullying from the twins, ended that day.
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Our homelife eventually settled down, and the familiar pattern of my father’s absence was again the norm. The Sensei was home more often and much of his time was spent with me, in my bedroom. It was my sanctuary, the place I felt safe and it was crammed with anything to do with war. I was a Civil War and World War II afficianado, devouring every book I could get my hands on, every plastic model I could build and paint, every plastic soldier army I could amass. There were battle enactments permanently set up on the floor, planes hung from the ceiling, and all my life like plastic rifles and gear was conspicuously displayed.

The Sensei would sit silent and cross legged on the floor, his back perfectly straight in a classic lotus position while the battles raged. Many times I’d look up only to find his eyes closed, as the sound effects of every gun, tank and plane were mimicked by me, the sounds I’d heard again and again on the endlessly aired, black and white war movies on TV. He would occasionally speak a few sentences, ask me why I enjoyed playing war games so much, but his broken English would inhibit his conversation.

One of my favorite soldiers was a Marine armed with a flame thrower, he was dark green, taller than the rest and had the large tank strapped to his back. The Whhoooosh! of the flames shooting out from the nozzle, was my favorite sound effect. My flame thrower Marine was also the secret weapon I used, when I wanted to kill as many Japanese soldiers as I could.

Whooosh! Whooosh! as scores of Japanese soldiers fell victim to the flames, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to see the Sensei standing raising both his hands as if to say stop, so I did. He began removing his shirt, then his pants and socks. He stood there for a long moment, then bent down and picked up the flame throwing marine and pointed at his body. I sat there with my mouth open shocked at what his skin looked like, even now it would be near impossible for me to describe the sinewy scars that covered every inch of his exposed skin.

He spoke in a hushed tone as he explained to me, that he was one of the last Japanese soldiers to be taken out of the caves on Okinawa near the end of World War II. He opened my Encyclopedia Brittanica to the pages describing what happened, so I would fully understand. He showed me his feet that barely had toes, and his hands that barely had fingers.

I can still remember the feel of his leathery hands cupping my face, consoling me as I cried.

Sensei Ushiro was the fiercest man in the dojo, a true warrior, a black belt master in the discipline and art of self defense. When he performed his Katas or forms, he grasped the wooden staff and sword with virtually no fingers. The incredible, frightening ferocity that he swung those weapons made a Whooshing! sound, that if you were in the vicinity, would scare you out of your shoes. To watch him perform was like witnessing a miracle.

And to this day, Sensei Ueshiro remains the most serene human, I have ever met.

everyday……….Bucket of Glads

everyday will be a random
posting of daily events or
memories of my daily life
that don’t translate
well into poetry
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‘How are you feeling, Cbear?’

‘Not so well, I’m just getting so tired.’

“Hhmm…..yeah, you feel a little warm. Why don’t you put your homework aside for now and we’ll hang out and watch some ‘Office?’

And as I suspected this suggestion was accepted like a person in water much too deep, reaching with outstretched hands for a life preserver. Relieved, she gathered all her papers and textbooks and set them in a perfectly aligned pile on the coffee table, (she’s neat that way) and in a quick second had the remote in her hand sliding through The Office episodes on Netflix.

She was getting sick, I could see it in the drawn, grey look on her face; after 13 years I can recognize her signs immediately

‘Ya Know, that usually happens to me when the seasons change, I end up getting sick too.

‘Really?’

‘Yup…I’m not sick now but I am sleeping an awful lot lately, so which episode are we watching?’

The Office, along with Sherlock are Cbear’s current viewing obsession. She’s seen and can recite in remarkable recall and minute detail the what, why and who in each show of all the eight seasons she’s watched. So I assumed my comfy horizontal position on my favorite couch and she curled up on hers, and we did what we’ve always done, we just hung out together.

When she was much younger and when this habit of ours began, it was Spongebob that was the must see show for both of us. I realized then, that she was like me in so many ways, that she needed alone time to recharge and lots of it.

She arrives Wednesday’s and every other Friday for her weekend sleepovers and in this second home of hers, Saturday quickly became our designated ‘go away world we need to be alone now’ day. It still is.

And in my second home, enscosed on my couch which is placed at the far end of our huge apartment, beneath a gently curved wall of three enormous, west facing windows, I can see clear through the long narrow hallway, to the back end of this third floor condo. That last bedroom became Scout’s office and the door to the rear deck and parking lot is almost visible, from where my head is.

I’ll admit to dozing off occasionaly, especially during the late afternoon hour of 4pm, and it’s through this sleepy haze that I heard the commotion the dogs make before Scout even opens the door, before she trundles up the the three flights of stairs, before she’s even closed the door to our Honda Element, there they are at attention, yelping at the door.

So I turned my head to look down the hall, to eventually say hi and in the dimly lit, shadowy hallway I heard the dogs both jumping up and down, flanking Scout and I expected to see her small framed silhouette as i usually would.

But I didn’t.

All I could see was the shadowy outline of an enormous bunch of stems, so tall they were almost brushing against the low hallway ceiling. And then through and from behind this almost dense hedge of flowers came the multi syllabic bullet word train moving at speeds so fast, I’m not able to decipher her words in real time,

‘syytbg jgjjg ghg ghdffweii stelcbg fhg fyksmdb gjguu!!! ggfm ghh
sdelvbt htsk fgopnj fhhfhjkd vf erhrlsjs!!! tylklkch gfnh tysgvcaw ng ftakdbg!!! bxkirytf bnjg fgwllfg gkk kuoioko gsrtkm gjj gjjhkuihj!!!…..

and if I’ve learned anything in the almost 12 years Scout and I have been together, it’s not to try and halt this train midstream. This is her speaking in, ‘I’m so happy and excited I did something new and I brought you something and I have so many stories to tell you!’ voice, it’s better to just let it whooshwhiz!!! by, like a commuter standing on the platform and ask questions later.

So I get up and meet her in the kitchen, just as she gets there,

‘ddgfonnvj gjh ryydvhmmebbnh htyf nsrrdf gfjhj
ghysk nghf iiyhhfgwl mbjg ghakkrnvb ghgdr hjly
Well…Doyoulikethem!!!????

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click to enlarge
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‘Well yes, of course.
I love them but wha….’

‘You need to arrange them
in a vase, like you always do’

And as she was saying this, she lifted two reusable shopping bags I didn’t realize she was holding, onto the counter and let them down with a thud, a very heavy thud. All I could do is shake my head in disbelief and be reminded why her second nickname is Ant.

‘Uh… Scout, I think you’re looking at the vase, we don’t have anything close to the size of that bucket.’

Now…you need to realize that Scout is a shade over 5’3, the gladiolas were almost 3′ tall, and there were almost 2 dozen of these dense heavy stems in a plastic bucket filled 3/4 of the way to the top, with water.

‘I stopped at T’s and gave her a dozen, V downstairs got a dozen too. There’s all kinds of fruit for Cbear, Cbear come and eat some of this fruit!’

She began unloading the bags, and piled onto the counter was an enormous variety of fresh fruit from Michigan and a cardboard flat of homemade jams in glass mason jars (keep thinking heavy) from a booth at the Farmer’s Market she visited that morning. All of this stuff was carried up 3 flights of stairs, by herself! ( ant ) finally arriving in the kitchen with a smile and breathless, ready with stories to recite.

Hearing fresh fruit being mentioned, Cbear came in to the kitchen and assembled herself a healthy snack, perfect food for the cold she was coming down with.

‘Yum!, why didn’t you call us to help?’

So as it turns out, the booth that Scout visited wss manned by a parent who, over the many years Scout taught her son violin, had become a good friend. She sold Scout the flowers and fruits, at an end of the day discount. She is also an influential member on a board of directors, that founded and runs an artist’s retreat. Some time ago Scout gave her the link to this blog and I guess they talked about me applying for one of their grants to stay there, free, and do nothing but write.

The residencies begin at 2 weeks up to a few months, and the only requirement beyond a serious commitment to create, is joining in the communal dinner every night.

‘You need to do this, you need to apply right away!’

‘It sounds unbelievable, but how are we…’

‘Just apply, I don’t know. You just need to apply!’

Now…please understand, this is the same person who help put the pieces of my broken life back together, the same person who told me years ago that I should be writing and did not let up, until I began. And at every obstacle we’ve encountered, and we’ve had some significant one’s, her response has always the same,

‘I don’t know, but we’ll figure it out!….’

About.com
Ants are capable of carrying objects 50 times their own body weight with their mandibles. Ants use their diminutive size to their advantage. Relative to their size, their muscles are thicker than those of larger animals or even humans. This ratio enables them to produce more force and carry larger objects. If we had muscles in the proportions of ants, we’d be able to heave a Hyundai over our heads!

Or Honda Elements or a bucket of Glads or the one’s they love.