Chapter 3: Our Hero Changes His Names And His Careers

Our hero, whom we now know was oftentimes called the Pinch Hitter of the longwinded home-run, petunia-scented sentences that soon enough disappeared behind Heaven’s Rickety Gate, along with many a conjured stadium where they grew and flew with the imaginary breezes he created with his sharpened, wooden bats and the quick twist of his manly macho torso (of which he was inordinately proud, inordinate, he thought, only because on a recent Wednesday afternoon in summertime his bathroom mirror cracked as the result of so many close-inclined visitations by one or the other of P.H.’s muscled shoulders.)

Of course, he was named P.H. by the haughty, as yet only semi-successful, self-published, yet ever-struggling in their own minds to become accomplished artists, artists especially of The Fast Food Fanciers Who Love Their Minds and So Let Their Bodies Go movement nowadays popular in the Pine Barren campsites that pepper South Jersey.

Linguistic artists, all — they said they were, anyway – that is to say that they repeated such praiseworthy mantras only after healthy, gulped doses of poisonous wine, and while gathered among others of their skillful acquaintance who shared their general level of inebriation and sober incompetence, incompetence borne of imitation, that imitation itself borne of too many critique group competitions. “If you’d follow my rules, the current rules that is, for constructing not just sentences, but also for creating the overall arc of your story, well then you’re bound to become just as popular as I am, no more and no less, of course.”

After hearing too many of these self-absorbed and arrogant training sessions – he was after all P.H. of the flappy eared variety, so no important, or even self-important opinions of the self-appointed experts escaped the range of his hearing.

After hearing all of that and more, P.H., exhausted and sickened by such behavior, sat down on a bench in the woods.

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There, surrounded by the side of Nature that excludes the chickety chick chatter of vacuous human beings scraping gravel from the bottom of a birdcage, our hero decided for a time to rename himself AVT, perhaps because that was a name his mother gave him. An evil woman, she was, who beat him while naked, with straps, sticks, and pancake turners; and who bit him with her rat-sharp teeth until she broke skin and drew streams of blood.

One such chewy tooth time that he remembers as if it might happen again tomorrow involved his never guilty beast of a mother who sat across the pink Formica table from his young self. She growled and roared, and thus explained in grumbled and fractured excuses for words that she despised Baby AVT, that she wished she’d never got fat and painful with his crawling carcass.

And then, as if to emphasize and conclude this hateful eulogy prepared ahead of the proper ceremony, she bared her fangs, grabbed his hand, and ripped into the tender web between thumb and index finger.

Baby AVT stared at his bloodied hand and thought to himself, “Oh good, Dad will come home after his day of hard labor and finally, at last he will see evidence of how she wounds me on the outside.” The inner wounds, figured our future hero of the baseball field, the stage and the page, might well take years to pound into his cowardly father’s head.

But she, the wolf beast, continually rubbed Noxzema Cream on his wound. Whenever AVT surreptitiously wiped off the burning white ointment, his Mother, who was meant never to care for children, slapped another sloppy slab back onto the wound. Blood continued to run, turning the cream into whipped strawberry pudding

Dad came home, yanked off and dumped creosote-stained overalls down the cellar steps,  then walked into the kitchen where beast and hero sat.

“He fell and scratched himself on our cement sidewalk. I’m treating him with a healing cream.”

A scant glance between cowardly Dad and his little boy. Tears poured down and burned our baby hero’s cheeks. Please, Dad, he said in silence, through the breath that heaved and twisted like a tornado inside his chest.

“Good thing your Mother was here to help you, son,” he said.

Dad would repeat similar sentences throughout his lifetime, and so throughout AVT’s young life of torture. Young AVT, like so many others, was robbed of his childhood. But not just neglected by a runaway parent or parents. No, his child was not neglected and not, dear God, not “abused.” That word, “abused” has been employed so many times throughout the years since baseball hero AVT grew old and stubborn, and determined never to forgive the wolf, that it has been softened into an almost acceptable form of criminality.

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A somewhat younger adult version of AVT, hero of the imaginary baseball field that replaced for a while the torture of his putative childhood years, responded to an impulse to become responsible for his own fate — that notion, itself a contradiction — applied for and gained employment in a chic coffee shop that sported a hidden dirty kitchen. He worked there hard and loyal for perhaps the better part of a derelict month. But while he labored there, his flappy, linguistically inclined ears heard the pips and pops of puffed-up conversations more than they heard the percolations of twice-brewed coffee. He grinned at customer and colleague alike, but his smiles – even he realized – were empty of empathy. So, before his manager, kind Caroline Varelli, whom he wanted to fuck — with love, of course, always at the center of his urge — before Caroline could damage what remained of his feelings by firing him, he quit.

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***

For a few months afterward, AVT visited a lush hillside in California. Cool water that appeared to be blue when the sunlight struck its surface at an exact angle.

AVT enjoyed the solitude there, but California never was his home. Hillsides were a foreign anomaly when compared to the flatland landscape of South Jersey. And so, after a few bored weeks, AVT changed his name a second time. In actual fact, he reassumed the name he’d always known belonged to him, that of Tex Buffalino. Tex took up residence far from the overblown beauty of California. He came to live inside a muddy, Jersey marsh, protected by the reeds, plenty of food growing and roaming for the taking.

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And instead of flapping and flopping around with pretty women who could not appreciate his earshot linguistic talents, Tex Buffalino wed a muskrat, his closest and most loyal friend.

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Chapter 4 might arrive . . .

Chapter 2: Our Hero Craves The Outdoors

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AVT speaks with flowers, and they answer him.

We met our hero, the depressed, imaginary baseball player with a receding hairline, in the last chapter of this end-of-life saga, the chapter titled “The Final Game.” This same man, who sometimes hits home run sentences that fall on backyard brown grass, or onto oily asphalt alleyways, decided that today he would venture outdoors. The dull pattern of swirled flowers on his bedroom’s wallpaper has entered and pasted itself onto the inner walls of his skull, so that his thoughts flittered through the mad bouquets and there confused themselves with the faint aroma of purple petunias that he remembered from his childhood.

His long-ago next door neighbor, Irma Kaiser, grew petunias all along the borderline between her pink house and his almost unpainted one. Mrs. Kaiser’s white hair was powdered with a topical dye of faded blue. Our hero loved her for that, and for the stewed tomatoes she sometimes brought to his mother’s madhouse, there to share with our hero and his three tortured brothers. A slab of butter placed in the center of a steaming, bubbling bowl of homegrown Jersey tomatoes, and the boys enjoyed a few minutes of neighbor-induced recess until the next motherly hysterical fit and consequent beatings. Our now old hero’s mother despised him by the time he was a few months old. Blood was spilled over the years, always the blood of a baseball hero. He has, however, learned to cope with the resultant anger, and as well to use the experience to see the same kind of pain in other people’s eyes, and so perhaps to offer them a small measure of relief.

So now back to this twenty-first century morning. Our hero rose from his mess of a bed and promised himself that he would that morning venture outdoors. Outdoors, yes, but only to places where he might avoid all but the distant chattering noise that crowds of people always produce, as if to reassure themselves that they were yet alive and never to die.

Problem was — and there must always arise a problem early on in any adventure story; this the experts tell me, although I usually ignore them — but the problem, or point of conflict if you prefer — was that our hero writer-baseball player — sometimes revealed as sporting the acronym AVT and oftentimes photographed wearing a few chains of gold around his Sicilian neck — owns a pair of winged earflaps, his left ear pointing east, while his right ear points west. These perverse directional ears own flaps and lobes that move like radio-controlled satellites toward the most secretive, whispered conversation taking place inside a booth buried in a distant corner of any chic nightclub. A heightened sense of hearing is what his physician, Dr. God, calls this malady whenever he speaks to AVT. He says so, no doubt, just to make AVT feel a wee bit better about dying of kidney failure brought on by a lifetime of both venial and mortal sins. When hero AVT was young, spry, dark and intelligibly talkative — an oral poet of the first order — so many young ladies exclaimed while in his presence that he was a man with a silver tongue. Yes, back then he entertained scores of women while ensconced in just such elegant nightclub restaurants. Most of these almost amorous encounters quick transformed themselves into arguments about the suspicious speeches AVT’s soft-skinned, strong-hearted women found they had to endure.

Coffee was his fuel that fearful day.

Coffee was his fuel that fearful day.

Whatever AVT heard from across the cliched crowded room, he endeavored to strike up a counter argument to the unaware, chattering crowd. “Did you hear her say that all men are lying jerks? Well, sure enough, my sweet love, I admit to a white lie now and then. But I do not represent all men.” Next, our hero would lean across the curved table and slide his arm around his delicious guest’s shoulder. Needless to say — or is it more than obvious that the saying is unnecesary?– our hero hardly ever made it into bed with his feminine companion. Instead, he remained horny and all alone to take care of his craven need in the deepest dark of night. Poor baseball bat swinging hero. A sin, indeed, to have to swing his own bat before the game had begun.

Yet, AVT made such a lonesome state a matter of logical necessity to himself, and thus he devised a steely defense for remaining alone throughout most of the randiest chapters of his life. “Who needs their perfumed comfort inside my comfortable bed?” he told himself, “When I am by nature forced to listen to so much nonsensical repetition, to hear in tedious detail so many foolhardy plans conceived by old men and grey women who will most likely never see their plans come to fruition, at least not so for the majority of the ancient men who acted as if they might live forever. No matter their couplings, man to woman, woman to woman, man to man; the march toward presumed eternity showed itself as a fierce impulse living inside the hearts of old people who were soon to suffer a malady similar to our hero’s own.”

Another example of such futile silliness oftentimes struck his flappy ears. Two people selling new houses in order to purchase even newer castles, castles for only themselves, yet castles large enough to accommodate a platoon of soldiers. Still, said our hero to himself, so much empty space is perfect space for only the loneliest people. Could it be possible that others suffer as much loneliness as he?

As he left one such posh eating establishment back in November of 2014, he strolled alone through a park that featured a gazebo at its center. There positioned on a gazebo bench lay two young boys, their half-naked bodies twisted round each other, lovers entwined as the romantic poets might have it. Our hero witnessed so much giggling, kissing and fondling by the young boys, boys who would one day become hairier men, men who one day would come to see how much romance changes and soon enough becomes a matter of practical, financial arrangements. “Ah, but let the young take their turns,” he told himself. Our hero, being an undeveloped poet, a wannabe in fact, this night found himself rejected once again, alone and wandering, pondering his fate; and so he decided that he was a liberal thinker. “Only liberal thinkers suffer and write with such suffering at the heart of their prose,” he mumbled to no one but himself.

Of course, when nighttime tears threatened to roll down and scald his whiskered cheeks, our hero, bat swinger and wannabe poet AVT attempted to exhume his dreams of last night and through them regain courage, but not so much courage that he could toss aside his doubt regarding his masculinity.

His hot tears came in spite of his tightened effort to appear as a man who always could endure. He cried because he recalled his most painful paragraph from yesterday’s chapter:

Real men write action stories that shine a fluorescent light on the confused mess of random thoughts and ideas that our bat-swinging hero occasionally commits to computer disk, then prints to paper, then sometimes dares to show to just a few people whom he considers artists. Perhaps, he oftentimes tells himself, perhaps someone, someday afterward, some real man will come upon a recorded explanation of my sad career. Maybe he will decide that my flirtation with the keyboard was an expenditure of time worth quite a bit more than my affair with the umpires who whisked away my orange dust from the home plate I never reached.

Can I ever create Chapter Three?

Ciao,

AVT

Chapter1: The Final Game

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UNNECCESSARY, BUT BRIEF PREFACE

I am depressed these days. I am pressed down, compressed and shrunken by force of the weight that lives inside my mind. Doctors’ reports can, and I suspect oftentimes do, ruin a man’s spirit. This year’s rising holiday wind offers me no reason for gratitude, and even less reason for celebration.

I feel lonely, but not because I am alone. Loneliness hides itself inside a crowd of people. I do not want the company of even a small crowd. Crowds of friends require explanations, and explanations dampen otherwise shared good spirits.

I feel lonely, yes, and yet I want and need to be alone. Alone in order to digest the news of the latest failures of my body. Alone to peruse the bindings of the thousands of books I’ll own no time to read. Alone in order to allow my weakened body to rest upon my bed and inside the memories I own of healthier days.

And yet, and yet, and still again, my urge to write remains strong, even at this time, although my ability to write fast becomes as feeble as my limbs.

And so . . .

THE BEGINNING OF A NON-STORY

Please do not expect any of the usual pinch hitter’s timid eloquence that oftentimes lingers here, snuggled within the comfort of the fiddling first paragraph, wavering from one prosaic, syllabic foot to the other more poetic one, nervous about standing on deck, unsure about how next to swing his pen or his bat in order to please this evening’s audience.

If, that is, if perchance such an audience should fill even a few seats of this amphitheater stadium. If the imaginary they should occupy those plastic seats in order to fulfill their expectations for either child-like fun, or for the sight of blood that gladiators are sure to shed.

He, our forever amateur pinch hitter, is, of course, in time forced by a summer’s sandy wind that his mind kicks roundabout to tickle his neck, and coerced again by the throaty rumble of a crowd that’s visible only to him, either to move his body up toward batting position, or else to run from the field and back into the dugout he last night created with the tunnel of blankets on his bed.

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Today, however, he is commanded in one direction. He is not in control of his own actions. For whatever nonsensical reasons, a god whom he doubts exists has ordered him to create a plan, a plan that will see this game through to its yet unimagined ending. Most of this divine spirit’s reasons for playing feel to our hero needful and therefore weak. Still, for all of that and maybe more, he decides to push his body and his mind closer to the masked umpire who will judge his ability to mumble and mangle manly words and then to swing his wooden bat with the power of a professional.

He, this unsteady player, is my hero; and so he is, by way of his own imagination, your hopeful home run hitter. Hopeful, yes. He tells himself that he still somewhere inside entertains hope, although Death, he knows, is about to defy all hope for him.

Today, however, today if he fails to show that he is a player, a professional, a writer, a muscled man worth someone’s – anyone’s – time and attention; if he fails, then he realizes that dissatisfied fans will leave the stadium before the ninth inning even begins, much less ends. This game, after all, is of his own design. He wants, with a child’s sense of desperation, to see the end of the ninth. He wants to hear and smell his own breath as he slides into and dies at home plate.

And so, perhaps because of the doubts that live at ocean’s bottom, beneath the salty water that he imagines is drowning his soul as he swallows its poison, the hero hesitates beside the plate. He pulls the brim of his plastic hat, first up and backward, just far enough to display his receding hairline – as if to suck sympathy from his court of fans. Next, he yanks his cap forward and down, far enough to cover his eyes; this move is a secretive gesture that he long ago copied from players more macho than himself. Easier to dream with one’s eyes closed tight, to dream that today he is a real man.

Real men write action stories that shine a fluorescent light on the confused mess of random thoughts and ideas that our bat-swinging hero occasionally commits to computer disk, then prints to paper, then sometimes dares to show to just a few people whom he considers artists. Perhaps, he oftentimes tells himself, perhaps someone, someday afterward, some real man will come upon a recorded explanation of my sad career. Maybe he will decide that my flirtation with the keyboard was an expenditure of time worth quite a bit more than my affair with the umpires who whisked away my orange dust from the home plate I never reached.

Now watch your hero and mine with an eye and a prayer toward poetic perfection. Watch as he commits first a few preparatory swings that slap the hot wind, and then as he lets loose with his most honest swing. The bat, he oftentimes spoke of his bat to the few curious interviewers whom he conjured inside his more pleasant nightmares, that bat — a wooden bat because he long ago became an old man who favored the old-fashioned – was only a tool. The stories he wrote, as well as those he failed to write, were the hardballs he hit or missed.

Now, again, watch our self-created player. He hesitates. He backs away from the plate, hangs his head forward, then tilts it backward, far enough to ask the clouds a question. Ask yourselves, “Is he a macho hero? Why does he pray to the clouds that only he perceives? Can this man commit? Will he swing? Will his swing connect, or sail through the breeze? Will we hear the snap of wind and crack of pinewood that provokes a rush of adrenalin, a rush that encourages us for a second to believe that we will live forever?

We, we who are he, watch, as our folklore hero hangs on the edge of a cliff that never surrenders sand, there eventually to fall and die. We watch as he fakes bravery and curls his wooden bat behind his right shoulder and then swings it all way around toward the back of his left side. The snap and crack arrive, because he and God planned it that way.

While still ninety feet from first base, after realizing that he’s swung and struck his first impactful word, he hesitates again. He looks up toward the sky, as if to search and follow that word, to see how high and far the one word spins, until that word hits and clicks itself together with another, and then another, until altogether the sentence rises higher yet, and at last falls over the home run fence.

The crowd roars, as crowds are wont to do.

And then the crowd disappears, along with the umpire and the rest of the stadium.

Our hero, that evening, returns to his bed. He climbs, then curls into and inside his blanket tunnels. And there he gives his final interview.

And there he returns to truer memories of better days, days when he trusted that more were to come.

And there he plans to lie beside his long-ago relatives.

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Ciao,

AVT

Dust To Dust: Regrets

LcarpetTo all but an elite group of artists and wannabe artists who live not far from me, the floral pattern that decorates this text might be the soft-brushed, abstract vision of a rush toward Heaven and Hell. A sorting out of winners and losers, with streams of blood staining both the angels and the devils.

I consider that no one ever wins this imaginary battle. Yet, the fire-inspired homilies that speak with spirit to such divisions among us incite rushes of adrenalin that lead to fervor and then create a group-sculpted, fear-infused slimy creature that crawls up one’s legs, tickles the crotch in just the right spot, instigates the hips to dance as if ready for lust, and then slithers through eyes, ears and nostrils, to accomplish its ultimate goal of seeping into each member of the congregation’s frightened brain. “We believe!”

“Call our beliefs fear-based if you will. Yes, we feared there existed no supreme, ineffable Dr. God. But now we know that he is handsome to some, while to others she is pure (ooooh, a virgin!), yes, pure, and tempting by way of her purity. Still, she is never to be touched by whatever now touches us as we congregate, gyrate and undulate. Yes, now we believe.”

And, I, AVT, suspect that WE is good wherever WE is based on love (and a helping of lust sounds delicious). As well, I know that WE belief systems can, and do, sometimes turn toward evil. WE can quick become an immoveable monolith composed of brainwashed drones.

All of the paragraphs that preceded this one were written without edit. The writers’ cognoscenti who live “out there,” a regular cabal of all that is literary (including candlelit, clandestine caucuses held inside deep, dark caves), would have me delete that kind of foreplay. But I won’t this time, because it might be entertaining for any folks who read this to criticize, deconstruct, or even demolish that unnecessary prologue.

SIDE NOTE # 1: Many writers, published and not, will recognize that feathery battle graphic (above) for what it is. Perhaps they’ll tell us.

One famous author, in particular, a man we all love for his dedication not just to writing books that might well save lives, but dedication also to touring the globe (and beyond?) to hear from and talk with the young people of whom he writes. This author once told us that he wrote a great chunk of his first – now famous – novel quite near to where this tapestry lives. Speak up, sir.

Me141104This afternoon, I sit in the same hallowed hall where once sat poets of high renown. A friend drove me here, and left me to scribble notes that go nowhere but where my mind travels. I am not able to travel on my own anymore; so thank you friend; you are a dear, dear human being.

You might conclude from the photo that adorns this bit of text that this old and scruffy version of AVT, though persistent in the sense that he visits this Poets Hall of Fame in hopes of breathing in a whiff of their creative perfume, is well beyond his black beret days. You would be right to draw that conclusion. I am an old man with a good brain but without the kind of imagination necessary to create a story that doesn’t involve me.

Speaking of that stranger, me, AVT:

Yesterday I visited my new General Practitioner (GP). He is thorough. He is approachable if not warm. He is direct.

I beg your indulgence while I repeat myself. A little more than a year ago, I underwent major surgery. The surgery had nothing to do with my spine, but as a result of this surgery my spine was further damaged. A few of you who read me know the nature of my operation. The doctors were good. Doctor God stood guard. My life was extended.

But extended for what purpose? The pain, physical and mental, has never let up since being “saved.”

Yesterday, my GP looked at my latest blood test results and told me that my kidneys are failing, and that I’m an eventual – if not sooner – candidate for dialysis (two or three times a week, five hours each time). Doctor GP will soon send me to a nephrologist.

To me, that kind of life is no life at all. No, sir, not even for you, Doctor God. Not for anyone will I live like that. I’ve come close once. I know what close feels like. No. I will not “live” like that. I’d rather die writing. All alone and writing.

But I must first fill my eyes with the sun, moon and sky.

So today I decided to beg a ride from someone who dropped me off and then allowed me a few hours of precious solitude.

As a youngster, I stayed to myself so other children wouldn’t see my scars (they did anyway). As a young man, I taught myself to “be sociable” (i.e. ask people questions, then listen to their answers). I think I developed fair social skills over the course of many years.

slo02But at the end of any social gathering, even in the company of people I love so much as to consider them family, I can just about wait to leave and when back home, enter my den of solitude. (Pseudo-Superman becomes Clark-The-Dark Kent.)

Yet, whenever I am alone, I try my best to look toward the pretty parts of this world of which I’ve been a member.

So, along the short walk from my friend’s car to The Poets Hall of Fame, I snapped a few photographs, photographs that added some color to my sometimes dark-shadowed life.

I’ve never been able to meditate. I’ve tried several to many recommended methods. But each method suggested that I toss away my thoughts in favor of being present in the “here and now.” That’s a nonsense notion to me. I am always in the here and now, even when I’m busy recounting or regretting my past. After all, I don’t time travel back to the 1950s and while there occupy myself with regrets I don’t yet know about. Oh, poofadiddle!

My cameras – I’ve owned many over the course of my lifetime – allow me to focus on the present moment.

So perhaps you’ll enjoy, along with me, some of the prettiness that surrounds all of us when we look for it.

Time is indeed limited, but for the short length of one human being’s life, the sun, the moon, the stars and the breezes that cleanse all wounds are limitless.

slo01When I was young, I didn’t know the brutal limits imposed on beauty and on a lifetime. Inside that ignorance live all of my regrets.

Ciao, my friends,

AVT

Forgive My Rambling. I Am A Gnarly Oak.

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I’m going to ramble here today. I’ll switch subjects often, which is likely considered even more of a sin for a writer than switching points of view in a way that confuses readers.

But then, I’ve always been more of a rambler than a writer. Writers make up stories. I just talk with a keyboard. Most of what I scribble is not fiction. Twirled and rearranged to suit a more balanced overall structure, yes. But it’s all me inside here, trying to escape the bounds of tangled branches and insufficient words.

I will ramble and twirl, yes. But I will not, however, apologize for my sometimes unpopular opinions. In late life, I discovered the value of being unpopular. Polite people have — and need to express — their opinions, even their unpopular ones, but they might best do so without employing mealy-mouthed prefaces, or subterranean apologies.

The gnarled oak trees you see decorating this loose excuse for an article never apologize for becoming bent over, never close their knotted holes in shame as they grasp for each other’s company, only to become entangled and unsteady in their final years. If I watch and listen to those twisted oak trees, I take away the lesson they offer. We are brothers.

So if I confuse or upset you, please stop reading. You might even next leave me a comment, telling me that my rambling style today turned you toward the kitchen, there to make Italian meatballs fit for throwing at me. I’d feel uplifted and uber-grateful even for such a garlicky comment. I’d attempt, of course, to catch those meatballs to eat for a late-night snack. Sicilians do not waste food, we eat it. Just as Sicilians do not get mad, we get even.

At least then I wouldn’t feel so all alone. You see . . .

I’ve been confined to my bed most of the time these past few weeks. I’m not complaining, just stating facts. My bed is comfortable.

My spine is slowly crumbling. The vertebrae began to fall apart some years ago. I lived a risky, foolish life, one that led toward misery and failure.

My risks cost me greatly. Among other parts of my body that I destroyed, I caused my already osteoporotic bones to deteriorate fast. Major surgery a little over a year ago meant that the surgeons had to split me wide open and pull my rib cage till some of my vertebrae began to weep, crackle and fall in upon themselves. This left me shorter even than I was before the surgery. Consequently, I avoid the company of those friends I love. Difficult enough to look up to them in a figurative sense (most are far better writers than I). But looking up to them by craning and cracking my cervical bones seems just too much to bear.

So, rambling back to the nature and purpose of beds; many other people are today and tonight sleeping on cardboard beds laid down in smelly alleyways. If I owned an extra bed, I’d give it to someone who needed a softer spot on which to sleep and there to dream of ways to help himself out of Hell. There are plenty of people who want to leave Hell and would do so with some help (not just cash). There are homeless people who want to and would rise again if given a proper lift. There are, as well, mental patients on the streets, there because our mental care facilities are too few, too inefficient, overwhelmed and ineffective when faced with the large population of people who suffer mental diseases.

But I’m not here today to argue in favor of the nonsensical suspicion that all people who sleep on cardboard beds laid down in malodorous alleys, want to improve their situations. For some, owning a home is considered a needless burden. I understand that idea. I hate having to call repairmen and then to pay them exorbitant rates. For the love of Mike, I wish I could hit a nail straight into a board, or connect two pipes together so the total drainage system wouldn’t leak. But I’m not masculine that way. Most women I’ve known – I’m heterosexual, not that that fact matters much at my age – they expect a male partner to be at least an amateur repairman. I can repair computers, but the last time I tried to hammer a nail, instead I hit my left index finger. I broke the last phalange of that finger. She now points westward, no matter the direction the rest of my body travels.

Side Note Interruption  #1: (I told you I’d ramble): While growing up – and dodging the beatings my mother dispensed each and every day – I oftentimes heard my dad, when he was frustrated with my crazy mother, utter the phrase, “FuhDuhLuvUh Mike!” A few days ago, for whatever mysterious reason, I wondered, Who the hell was Mike? I ran a simple search and discovered where Dad acquired the phrase. Interesting bit of history. You might want to run that same search. Or not.

So, rambling back to the homeless person’s plight; whatever a homeless person’s sad circumstance, I admit that I’m just the kind of old fart who wants a roof over his head anytime snow or rain might wet my wrinkled face or seep down my shirt collar, there to freeze my sagging tits. Old age has turned me soft. I lived a bad man’s life, one filled with events that encouraged and made my body highly susceptible to infections.

As well, I witnessed miracles. When I was young, I camped with only a pup tent and a sleeping bag somewhere on the Outer Banks off of Carolina’s coast. While there, I once watched the sun rise in the east, over the watery bed of an imaginary horizon formed at the non-existent edge of the tumultuous Atlantic Ocean. Today, I miss The Atlantic. I wish someday to own good enough health to return, maybe even to end my life there.

The major surgery I underwent a little over a year ago, extended my life for however long a period of time the uplifting, yet tremulous and doubtful, notion of a merciful god who guided my surgeons’ hands and now guides my depressed spirit decides to allow. That merciful god has in my mind completed medical school, served his time in internship Hell, and has then earned the full title of Doctor. Doctor God.

Doctor God roams somewhere within the fog-brained cloud of side effects my brain incurs by swallowing my prescribed pills each morning and evening. Together Doctor God and those now digested medications demand that I rise from my mattress, forget the pain induced by my crumbling spine and the weave of nerve cells that remain caught between pieces of bone. Together they demand that I rise and hobble toward the bathroom in order to save myself the kind of embarrassment usually reserved for babies’ diapers. I touch walls and bookshelves that help me keep my balance while I walk first to the toilet and then back to my bed. Holding on and touching, I feel almost as if my gait were sure and steady. Thank you bookshelves. Thank you steady walls.

Back sitting in bed, I try to re-read portions of books I once loved, but I give up when a series of pages disappoints me. Occasionally I pull my laptop up to a pillow that rests on my own lap, and like today, I tap tap tap here, or I scribble onto a scrap of paper. I scribble or tap whatever thoughts arise from my drug-stimulated nightmares (i.e. prescribed drugs only).

Side Note Interruption #2: This day lives near the end of an election season in the USA. So I posted the following few paragraphs on one of today’s favorite Social Networks just this morning. Many folks seem to consider voting a “civic duty.” In my mind, jury duty is a civic duty, because refusal to take part in a jury pool is against the law. But voting? Not so. At least not yet. It is my right as a USA citizen to vote. But it is, as well, my right not to vote. Below, I suggest that in today’s oligarchic political climate, voting has little effect on the direction our country’s leaders choose to travel, dragging us citizens behind them.

I understand and respect those many who hold different opinions. Below are mine.

NoVoteI Didn’t Vote, And I Will Not

IGNORE THIS POST if mention of political realities offends you. My intention is to state my beliefs during this election season in the USA. Up until recent times, I prefaced every statement I made in order to please those who might be offended by my sometimes unpopular opinions. Now that I’m old, I’ve learned that being unpopular is sometimes okay. Needless apologies (if I’ve done someone wrong, I apologize) strip a person of dignity. The silent sycophant gathers around himself people with whom he cannot be honest.

Rather than reading further, you may either pass this post by, yell a flag-waving retort, “unfriend” my rebel self, or look at the photo of me at 2 years of age. I was, even back then, a rebel.

I did not vote this year, and I *will* not. I reserve my right, as a USA citizen, not to vote. The USA, the country I love, has become a corporate oligarchy. The cash these mega-corporations wield in congress supersedes our votes.

Many years ago, another time arose in this country, a time when a citizen’s voice in opposition to our government’s policies had *no* effect on the decisions our rulers made. I should say *many* citizens’ voices.

A war expanded, and so more people were maimed and died. A war that had nothing to do with protecting our borders, but had much to do with protecting our economic interests and the international balance of power. I was young and strong enough back then to participate in the actions necessary to restore power to the people. We — many of our groups’ members were veterans of the unjustified war we sought to end — we went to the streets. We challenged authority in a direct way. We had more of an effect there than inside the voting booths. J. Edgar’s shiny-shoed foot soldiers kept a file on me and on many of my friends.

I am today too old, too weak, and far too ill to challenge authority in such a bold and physical way, but many other citizens are healthy enough and willing enough. The Occupy movement was just a beginning.

Meanwhile, I refuse to take part in what has become a charade. Let them vote, say the CEOs and the politicians who depend on their money to remain in office. Voting will no doubt make them feel better and therefore feel encouraged to forget about the topsy-turvy nature of our economy.

Love back atcha all,

AVT

AVTat2

AVT didn’t dare move from that chair for fear of a beating.

Photos: Oso Flaco Lake, Nipomo, CA

Just north of Guadalupe, California, lies one of the most scenic natural areas all along California’s coast, Oso Flaco Lake.  To get there, three miles north of Guadalupe, turn west onto Oso Flaco Lake Road, this road will dead end at the parking area for this hidden State Park.

The lake has been called Oso Flaco, meaning “skinny bear,” ever since 1769 when Gaspar de Portola’s expedition passed through. The reason for this is attributed to a fateful meal shared by the explorers. The group saw, shot and subsequently ate a skinny bear they had seen on the shores of the lake. By the next day, several of the men had died. The tale goes that the native people, the Chumash, had fed the bear tainted meat which when consumed would cause the animals to sicken enough for them to be unable to compete for resources. With the inability to feed came the inevitable wasting that would have led to our ‘skinny bear’. It would appear though that the bear’s flesh had enough residual toxins to have also dispatched our ill fated explorers to a quicker demise.

Above text is from Oso Flaco Lake CA State Park website: CLICK HERE.

All photographs shown below were taken by Anthony V. Toscano.

I enter a new world, and let my old one stay behind.

Enter a new world and leave your old world behind.

A bridge lifts my body, and my spirit rises.

Allow a bridge to lift your body and raise your spirits.

Fresh water promises to wash away the thoughts that plague my mind.

Feel fresh water wash away what plagues your mind.

Tule reeds going green, a promise of coming summer.

Watch tule reeds’ promise of another verdant summer.

Through sand dunes, toward Pacific ocean's endless expanse

Trek through a sandy forest and toward the sea.

A challenge . . . I walk on.

Meet a challenge, to climb or to turn back. Walk on.

Balboa's dream is my reward.

Balboa’s dream is your reward.

 

Photos: Chumash Park, Pismo Beach, CA

This 38-acre natural park includes wetlands, willows, oaks and associated habitat and is popular with walkers and dog lovers. The park has recently been developed with a trail system, tot lot, and restrooms.

Above text is from City of Pismo Beach, CA website: CLICK HERE.

All photographs shown below were taken by Anthony V. Toscano.

chumash01

On entering, I feel peacefulness settling inside my chest.

 

chumash02

Shadows dapple the ground. Branches join to calm the heart.

 

The trail becomes an invitation.

The trail becomes an invitation.

 

Trees embrace, and we begin to dance.

Trees embrace, and we begin to dance.

 

I took the road, Robert.

I took the road, Robert.

 

chumash06

Hot and dry; and bleeding life.

 

The urge to lose one's way continues.

The urge to lose one’s way continues.

 

 

Down Too Long To Fall

Stanford Hospital Main Entrance

Stanford Hospital Main Entrance

If I were a convincing liar, I’d tell you that I went on vacation back in December 2012. I’d recall my non-stop flight from Philadelphia, PA to Rome, and then a railway trip southward, and at the last a ferry ride across the strait that led me to Messina, Sicily, home of my ancestors. I might tell you some of the stories I wrote while sitting in my whicker wheelchair, letting the sun turn my skin Sicilian Gold, as I watched the sweet-scented mandarin oranges and the sun-salted olives growing.

My companion, Rosita, who wore Messina’s coat of arms on her apron, brought me fresh-squeezed lemonade each morning. On each Thursday afternoon, at 2:30 PM, my kind Rosita placed a blanket –warmed atop a summer rock — over my legs and pushed me to the university founded by Ignatius Loyola. There I studied the history of this very town, the wars, the couplings that made our blood darker and more stubborn than that of mainland Italians, and of course the earthquakes that saw our structures crumble and our people insist on rebuilding. Insistence remains one of our traits, that and a quick temper that oftentimes leads to war within our own famiglias.

But no one would believe that delicious fairytale, not any more than any one of my few readers ever believes the lies I tell in my fiction.

No. The lie won’t do. If I fib, I risk losing my next – that is my first – self-publishing contract with Crushedsyllables.com. Bram Cloaker’s assistant, Alfred Gorithm, discovers false memoirs after the first series of ones and zeros click leftward through his gullet. He then and there spits out the offending passages, and dumps the lot into the “Send To Oprah For Review” pile.

The truth is – should you lean toward the notion that Truth lies somewhere dwelling within the human heart – that I became dreadfully ill four years ago. By Christmas 2012, friends and lawyers began talking with me about getting my things in order.

“Things? What things must I focus upon? Isn’t focus on death itself sufficient?

In any event, I haven’t many things to set in order.

  1. Several score of first-edition books that will never sell on FootBook, where mediocre repetition –and lurid self-aggrandizement — reign.
  2. A few computers that I keep more well-oiled than I keep myself.
  3. Twenty identical pairs of over-washed under drawers, of various colors to match those of my frayed sweatpants.
  4. A silver coin or two.
  5. An ancient cat who poops wherever she pleases.
  6. A rain-wrinkled overcoat for those frequent misty days, when I draw the hood close and hobble toward the nearby bay, incognito and alone with my dark, poetic thoughts.

And yes, I possess a stack or two of yellowed manuscript pages, and a long run of secrets buried here and there in digitized form. A journal, it is. Break the Cloud code, Gene, should I depart before the cosmic forces whisk you away. I pray that you outlast me. I’ve lost too many friends and relatives since I’ve gone bent and creaky. The losses hurt more than any physical pain I suffer. I know you don’t believe in man’s description of Heaven, but dammit, I wish someday I could meet you there. Together we have a long story to write for the angels’ reading pleasure.

Still, the conversations about my soon-to-be end — though muffled, distant and gray as such conversations tend to be– held my stunned attention perforce. This was Anthony these people were addressing. It was Anthony,  dammit, that they were trying to prepare and entice for sake of their inheritances and the second coming of their ersatz tears. The same Anthony that I named myself each morning as I came awake and shuffled toward the toilet. The thought arose that perhaps I should change my name, give myself a moniker like Tex Buffalino. Become a cowpoke born on the marshes that abound in South Jersey. And yet, only those who believe in magic would understand Tex.

NEWSFLASH: AVT, reclusive writer of no renown, found on Cloud # 427, there giving hell to Hemingway for leaving a mess behind.

“Your Advance Directive. Please sign here if you agree.” She held out a gold-plated pen. I’m sure I signed. A lawyer, yes she was – and my unappealing color at the time being more high-yellow than robust Sicilian brown meant I couldn’t flirt – but damn she was a knockout. A chick, a doll, a really tough broad. See, I might not have felt free to say those words, but now that my life was nearing its end, I could think them and smile without fear of repercussion. God would understand. After all, I’m sure He told Peter to open the gates for Bogart, Cagney and Edward G.

So I stiffened — my posture, that is — and I signed. I’m not sure that I hit the right line, but she seemed pleased. That much still mattered to me. Dirty old man. Sin in thought, word, and deed. Oh dear Lord, let me pray away my memories of lust-filled evenings.

By this time my stomach fluids were agitated, my body’s dew points became fragrant with the smell of rotting autumn leaves, and my mind heard voices as if they were echoes speaking through a desert wind.

Stanford Main Entrance

Stanford Hospital Main Entrance

Three and a half years later . . .

The call came at about 6:00 AM on Thursday, July 4, 2013. A four to five hour drive from where I live to the hospital, where a team of doctors would spent six hours splitting open my body and giving me a complete tune-up, including the installation of a new carburetor. The risks were numerous.

If you’ve been through major surgery, then you already know the routine. I woke up in the ICU, several tubes inserted into odd regions of my body: one into each side of my neck, two into my right side for drainage purposes, and one up my private part (a shriveled penis, once potent and proud, now given to embarrassment). I was unable to talk because another tube ran up my nose, so I wrote through the morphine and to the nurses.

“Where am I?”

“Stanford Medical Center.”

“What’s the day and date?”

“Saturday, July 6, 2013.”

I’d lost two days forever. That’s the first thought that came to mind. Only afterward did I think to tell myself, Anthony, your body is messed up, but you’re still alive.

And the beautiful nurses, male and female, ran that highly regarded hospital. I fell into helpless love with them all. Watching the mad runs they made from one ailing patient to the next, covering us in warm blankets, washing our sweaty and stinky bodies, medicating us when called to do so; all of that caused me to gulp down several smiles in spite of my discomfort. I made a point to say thank you to each angel. If by chance a nurse is reading this, know that I admire the way you work so hard and yet maintain a positive attitude and share a sense of camaraderie with your colleagues.

Three months later . . .

I’m home, but most days I’m bedridden. Physical pain and depression, along with a healthy dose of self-pity, froze my writer’s mind. I became at first rusty, then blocked and finally convinced that my writing owned no purpose. So why not just sleep?

The problem – beyond the pain, physical and mental – was that as I slept I continued to create intriguing dreams, recollections, specific memories of places and atmospheres. Most often these memories were of my Sicilian family. I knew that I had to write through my brush with death before I could tell you stories about mi famiglia.

La Famiglia Toscano

La Famiglia Toscano

La Famiglia Toscano: Introduction

So here, today, I begin the saga of my famiglia. There they are, in that sepia-colored, old photograph. They stand erect. Their expressions are formal and serious. A family photo taken in 1924 was a grand, expensive and formal occasion, an assurance that this famiglia would be remembered after every member died.

My dad is the young boy front and center. Notice that his father, my grandpop, places a hand on each of his only son’s shoulders. I, like my dad, was born the oldest son. And so on our shoulders one day would sit the kingdom’s responsibilities. Number One Promise was that we sons would take our parents’ places at the table once our parents passed on.

The blond-haired girl on the right is my dad’s sister, Carmella, who died of consumption not long after this photo was taken. As an adult, my dad and I visited Carmella’s gravestone many times  Each time brought tears to Dad’s eyes as we prayed. I suspect that Dad never came to understand why and how his well-loved sister could waste away and disappear.

Grandpop Antonio Toscano looks austere, maybe even severe in this photograph. He had to show that he was the masculine head of a household. He did issue orders to his family, but in a soft voice; and no order was ever mean.

His wife, Sarah, was all about work. She spent the majority of her time each day cooking on a wood stove. Chickens walked the alleyway along the house’s left side. She boiled the hens’ eggs, snapped the necks of a few, plucked them in a tub-sized sink, and boiled them for soup and sauce.

I and my then two brothers, in private, giggled over the size of her breasts. We watched as she leaned over the railing that surrounded the house’s top level porch. She was there to wave goodbye and to throw us kisses. And I suppose that we were so young that the possibility of lasting hurt never entered our minds as we waved back at Grandmom’s watermelons that had fed six children.

So, because the doctors and nurses gave me a second shot at life, maybe I’ll someday make my fairytale come true. I’ll take that non-stop flight, and make that railway trip southward from Rome, and at the last take a ferry ride across the strait that will lead me to Messina, Sicily, home of my ancestors. I’ll write stories while sitting in my whicker wheelchair, letting the sun turn my skin Sicilian Gold, as I watch the sweet-scented mandarin oranges and the sun-salted olives growing.

I’m sure to find somewhere close by a companion named Rosita. I’ve seen her smile in my dreams. I’ll give her an apron that declares Messina’s coat of arms. I’ll beg her to bring me fresh-squeezed lemonade each morning. And on Thursday afternoons, at 2:30 PM, I’ll ask kind Rosita to place a blanket –warmed atop a summer rock — over my legs and push me to the university founded by Ignatius Loyola. There I’ll study the history of that very town, the wars, the couplings that made our blood darker and more stubborn than that of mainland Italians, and of course we’ll review the earthquakes that saw our structures crumble and our people insist on rebuilding. Insistence remains one of our traits, that and a quick temper that oftentimes leads to war within our own famiglias.

More to come . . .

I Once Dreamed of Becoming A Dancer

Dancer500

A young man’s dreams look forward to what he imagines might become his future. He creates scenarios with equal energy and effort while he’s awake and while he sleeps. His dreams are malleable and oftentimes buoyed by a joyful sensation. His imagination knows nothing about death.

An old man’s dreams become the cherished memories of his earlier faith in infinity and eternity, a faith he lost in gradual fashion, as the wind tore off one flower at a time from his face, then bent his stem toward the soil that once fed him, and near the end began to insist that his roots must be ripped away from planet Earth.

Oblivion seems a sad place, and so we invoke fairy tales that describe an afterlife. A giant’s castle inside a cloud, atop a beanstalk. The giant falls, as fell Lucifer.

I am that old man now. I own neither future nor faith. My face no longer blooms with color and fragrance. The weight of life bends me forward; my gait is slow and hesitant. My roots begin to loosen their grip. Today I rage, along with Dylan, against the dying light. Yet, I wonder if I’ll go gentle or go gutted by a struggle against the pain of disappointment. Those who say we must surrender are hopeful fools. The truth is that we are surrendered.

I was once that young man charged with boundless dreams, most of which — as survival demands — had to be perforce abandoned. So many pleasant scripts, now no more than yellowed pages littering the archives inside my mind.

One such vision I created placed me center stage, dancing.

I owned a gift, a talent, and a flair for floating across a dance floor.

On the afternoon of Friday, July 6, 1979, I snatched my carry-on luggage from the compartment above the seat I’d occupied for six hours, walked through a snaking canvas tunnel, and met two friends inside the airport lobby.

I’d purchased a one-way ticket from Philly to LA.

My friends entertained me for a couple of hours, then drove me to the apartment where I’d sleep for the next two months, while the signed tenant traveled through parts of Europe.

I was born beside the Atlantic Ocean. I grew up with the aromas of salt and sand embedded in my nostrils. The air of land’s end filled my lungs with nourishment more important than oxygen.

So on that Friday evening, I unpacked my suitcase, found a clever place to hide most of the seven hundred dollars I owned, showered, and dressed my body in what I imagined to be LA Chic. (My polyester Guido outfit failed the laid-back LA test, but no matter.)

Splashed with an abundant amount of Polo cologne, as all East Coast Guidos are bound by unspoken oath to splash, not dab, I ran from the apartment, followed the street-sign arrow that pointed west, and walked a few miles until I reached the grand Pacific.

Venice Beach.

That night, tangerine sunset sky enriched with smog, I tapped the nearest shoulder and asked, “Where around here do people go when they feel like dancing?” In order to be understood I had to repeat my question several times. I spoke East Coast Rapid in nasal tones acquired in New Jersey.

I found the dancehall. I paid the cover charge. As was my habit back then, first I sat and watched. I searched for the best female dancer, one with whom I knew I could fly.

And yes, I flew. I twirled and I curled. I sensed and followed both the prominent and the offbeat rhythm. I lost myself in meditation, the only kind of meditation that I ever could accomplish. Today I wonder how many Buddhists know how to dance.

And yes again, the crowd backed away, formed a circle around us, cheered us on and clapped out the joy we shared.

The old man I am today dances only when he closes his eyes and entertains his memories. His legs lost their onetime flexibility. The stem leans, and the roots ache.

And yes one more time, this old man feels blue when he considers the fact that back then he lacked the confidence to pursue his dancing dream.

4TsGifts600

Merry Christmas To All,
And To All A Good Flight

A Summer Song

Only my closest friends from back in the Good Old Days recall my amateur career as a minor musician and a major crooner.

When I was a child I sang as a way of traveling away from misery and toward hope. I remember one hot summer’s day back in the early 1950s.

I lived in a cramped – tight is perhaps a better word – house, in a small New Jersey seaside town. One of those places that began as a farming community, to the west of the Atlantic Ocean, in the 1920s, then grew with the “Boom,” that followed World War II. New Jersey was indeed, in those days, The Garden State.

My Garden State,

I’ll sing your praises evermore.

I want to live and die in dear old Jersey,

On the blue Atlantic shore.

I sang those lyrics while riding on a bus from Atlantic City to New York. A school class trip. I was in the third grade. Mrs. Henry called me up to the front of that bus and handed me the microphone. I never suffered the sin of humility, so I belted out the song in the sugar-sprung soprano tone of a young child’s innocent voice.

My star rose from there, then died as all stars must. I do not regret the flight.

Believe me, please, when I tell you that those glory days were not all about the oppression of women by way of girdles and forced kitchen labor. Nor did our reality feel like black-and-white, Eisenhower claustrophobia. Most of us – adults and children alike – envisioned the future as ours to create.

That dream may well have died an ignominious death, but its birth was all blue sky and orange sunrises.

My dad was a laborer. So it seemed were most men who were our neighbors. Dad’s parents, as well as my mother’s, came from the old country. They came to work, and work became their way of life.

My mother wore house dresses. She rose from bed before the sun appeared, cooked for Dad, me and my three brothers, washed clothes in a ringer machine (when I grew old enough, I helped by cranking the wet stuff through those ringers). Mother hung those clothes to dry – in spring and summer outside on the rope that ran on pulleys, in autumn and winter in the dark basement we called a cellar – then prepared coffee in a metal percolator, stained rich brown around its edges, on top of the stove.

Chores completed, the parade of visiting neighbors began. Neighbors, and one’s relationships with them, were a small town’s life’s blood. Of course, as a small boy I did not realize that our neighborhood would on a future day be named a microcosm of the American Melting Pot. Looking backward – a habit that as an old man with thoughts of mortality always on my mind, I much enjoy – I can now see the mix of nationalities and ethnic groups we were.

Facing my house, to its left side, lived Elvia Genoa (yes, I’ve changed names, not to protect anyone other than myself). Elvia was Jewish, although I didn’t know this. Neither did I comprehend what being Jewish might have meant. Elvia’s husband, Jackie, was Greek. My prejudiced Dad – Sicilian in the fullest sense — continually whispered warnings about how the Greeks would smile to your face while they “stabbed you in the back.”

But then so did, said my dad, the Calabrese and the Genoese carry hidden stilettos. And the typical Napolitano “had his nose in the air.”

The Sicilian people could be trusted. Of course. I’m proof of that dictum.

Still, Jackie Genoa ran his own business, which fact made him a king of sorts, and Jackie’s fine reputation made Elvia the neighborhood queen.

Jackie’s Tires was painted in bold letters across each side of his orange panel truck. (He purchased a new panel truck each September).

Jackie and Elvia had the avenue’s only in-ground swimming pool. An invitation to a summertime barbecue beside that pool lent a neighbor prestige. A member of the Royal Court.

Remember, please, that the Boom meant hard work that paid off in terms of upward mobility. The harder one worked, the higher one soared.

Years later, as a university undergraduate, I drove my old Ford Falcon down Ohio Avenue — beside the rusty, disused railroad tracks — into Atlantic City. To my left I noticed the faded gray sign that read Jackie Genoa’s Tires. That sign was perched atop a three-walled wooden shack, paint long gone to blue shadow. Through what would have been the fourth wall I could see piles and piles of old, bald tires (the type that back then required inflated tubes). Those piles held up what remained of the abandoned structure.

I asked my Dad what was what. Turns out that Jackie’s real business enterprise was that of a bookie, a numbers runner at the Atlantic City Racecourse (by then a disappeared arena).

Dad never made it big. He remained a laborer all his life. Never reached the rank of supervisor. Rejected time and time again for membership in any labor union.

Part of the reason for Dad’s “failure” was his refusal to run with the bookies and other smalltime Mafia “employees.” (Atlantic City really was the Mafia Capital of the northeast corridor. Johnnie Fontaine in the movie The Godfather was in reality Frank Sinatra. His “debt” involved an annual performance at the 500 Club in AC. Across from the Trailways Bus Station. Upstairs, above the showroom, was a house of ill repute, owned and operated by fat Nikki D’Amico.).

Back to our view of the front of my cramped house. To its right side lived Irma and Wilhelm Reichman. German farmers, direct from their old country. During the summer season, Mr. Reichman sat silent on his porch, apparently trying to cool off (no such thing as air conditioners for working stiffs in Our Town).

And I mean silent. I’d oftentimes walk by his house and wave to him. He never, to my recollection, waved back. One day I asked my mother if she could explain why Mr. Reichman never spoke. “People have their reasons,” was all she said.

Again, many years later, I came to understand that our German neighbors had fled Hitler and in the process lost their farmland. To compensate, however, Mr. Reichman turned half his backyard into a mini-farm, what we today would likely name an “organic” farm. Cow manure trucked in for fertilizer once a year. White powder (alkaline?) when the soil went fallow. Mr. Reichman raised the best tomatoes, melons, lettuce and corn in town. And he shared his bounty with us.

In a silent sort of way.

Mr. Reichman’s wife, Irma, owned a sweet gurgle of a voice. Her hair was tinted powder blue. Her housedresses sported quiet flower patterns. She wore aprons when she cooked. My favorite meal of hers was a bubbling pot of stewed tomatoes, generous dabs of butter melting on the top.

My mother considered that there existed only two kinds of food in the world, Italian and American. She frowned on American Food, so when Mrs. Reichman carried a pot of American Stewed Tomatoes to our house on a summer morning, I ate fast before she left for home again. Otherwise my mother would have tossed my treasure down the drain. Tomatoes’ only purpose in life, said Mother, was for making red gravy (not “tomato sauce”).

I’d like to believe that Irma Reichman knew what my mother thought of her cooking and so stayed at our house for a third cup of by then bitter percolated coffee, just so I could enjoy her recipe.

I could go on about the neighborhood. Maybe someday I will do so. Then again, maybe not. After all, this website of mine is all about abandoned dreams.

As well, I could – and probably should – return to edit this fractured article. Its phrasing and overall arrangement is far from my best in the field of amateur poetics.

But if I edit, then I’ll never publish anything here today.

And I’ve been struggling to write these past few months.

And anyway, I promised – in a roundabout way – to talk about my career as a musician and singer.

I remember that summer morning.

My mother’s life was a mental universe of confusion, and so I fell victim to her insanity. That’s life, and that part of my life exists in the past, although remnants will forever remain.

That morning, after chores were finished for the day, she slapped me hard across the right side of my face. I cannot remember my infraction. But I remember the burning sensation on my cheek, the needless shame and the redness of another bruise.

I walked slowly down our avenue. I headed toward Mrs. Santerian’s green-shingled house around the block, there to purchase a cardboard basket of her fresh-grown strawberries.

The heat inside my flesh became intensified by the heat of the summer sun.

I needed and wanted to weep, but instead I sang a song in the sugar-sprung soprano tone of a young child’s innocent voice.

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