Life Topics

The Sweetness of Summers gone by.

From the time I was 4 or 5 until I was 17, we spent summers in Breezy Point — bungalows and then the Surf Club.

We’d travel down to the club from Flatbush in the morning — around 10 a.m. or so — and Mom would park the Chevy Malibu station wagon in an area that, 30 years before that, had been oceanfront, before the Army Corps of Engineers built the jetties.

This was in the ’60s.

We’d unload the car, schlep everything up to the cabana and begin the walk to the beach at the tip of the Rockaway Peninsula where the club was located. That required a long and painful haul across a large gravel parking lot past the oceanfront cabanas and down to the beach.

Watching kids like us hoofing it on the gravel without shoes or flip-flops probably brought to mind Buddhists walking on hot coals. By summer’s end, it would be tough to pierce the soles of our feet with nine-inch nails; the calluses became that dense.

Then, the beach was ours. Sometimes the moms would join us later in the day, and at other times they were content to stay back, fix lunch for us and enjoy themselves a mid-week martini or two.

When we rented a bungalow, we’d play on the deck until the time when Dad’s ferry was due to arrive at the dock at Kennedy’s Bar & Grill on the bay.

He’d take the BMT from the city to Sheepshead Bay, then hop on the ferry for the 10-minute ride. My sister and I would hook our dog to the handle of our wood Red Flyer and have him drag us and the wagon the two blocks to the pier.

In those days, there was a little shack at the end of the pier. My older cousin and his friends would dive from its roof just as the ferry pulled in, and the dads who were on it would toss coins for the boys.

Around 5, if we were still at the Surf Club, the call would go out, the moms would pack up the cars and away we’d go back to Flatbush. We’d pass the old Fort on the ocean that in ’62 saw its long-range cannons, which once protected New York Harbor, removed and replaced with Cold War missiles.

The Chevy could fit nine — 12 when the cousins were around. It was fitted with a seat belt: my mom’s arm thrown across our bodies when some “. . . idiot!” would wander into our lane.

The rear-facing seat, which would be frowned upon now, helped us make the most awful gestures and faces a 9-year-old could at friends and their mothers as they followed the same path back to Brooklyn.

And the rusted hole in the Chevy’s floor was large enough that when we’d drive across the Marine Park Bridge — never the Gil Hodges, its rightful name, even though he was a neighbor on E. 32nd St. — you could see the blue-green waters of the bay below between the grates.

Sand in every crevice of our bodies and the car, we rode: past the golf course, past the seafood house, past McBurney’s Boat Yard at Ave. U where a Chinese “junk” and the Viking long boat from those Leif cigar commercials were moored.

All summer long, it was bliss.

Then there would come a night when, instead of pulling up into our driveway, we’d look up from the back of the car and see that the moms were parking at the Ideal Department Store on Flatbush Ave.

My heart would sink. All our hearts would.

It meant that we, along with many, many other sad souls, would be going into Ideal to get measured for our Catholic school uniforms.

It meant two crisp, white, polyester shirts with “OLHC” (Our Lady Help of Christians) embroidered in a crest on the pocket of the shirt.

It meant being poked, prodded and pinned by Abie the tailor, with a mouthful of pins.

It meant two pairs of hot, itchy, Navy blue pants with a baby-blue piping down the side of the legs of the pants.

It meant a tight pair of shoes. It meant thick wool socks.

It meant summer was over.

 

Life Topics

Oh… We Had Such Fun!

It was Sunday – a very hot Sunday and the neighborhood was quiet. The heat created a veil – almost void of air or sound.

The only noise came from air conditioners humming and whirring and the dripping condensation that plinked as it landed on the covers of metal garbage cans.

Those who could afford to, left for weekend homes at the shore. Those who couldn’t, stayed inside those apartments cooled through the grace of the air conditioners.

And those who could do neither initially sought and then abandoned the stoops, when the sun left no doubt as to its intention.

Carrie woke and the headache started. She pulled the sheets over her head. But the sun was without mercy and shone brightly through a bedroom window that was curtainless, despite her best intentions. She peeled the sheet back from her head and closed an eye to focus on the clock – 2:30p.m.

“Damn!”

She said it loudly and then cringed when the sound of her own voice increased the throbbing in her temples. She felt for the phone on the night table. A peculiar sensation began to erupt in her stomach. She looked over the edge of the bed and saw the telephone cord stretched from a leg of the night table to the closet.

Carrie gently rolled from the bed to the floor and pulled at the cord for the receiver. She placed it in its cradle, got a signal and dialed. “Hello?”

“Marion? Hi. It’s Carrie. Is Linda still there?”

“No, Carrie. She left at seven. She said she tried to call you but the phone was busy for quite a while.”

“Shit! I must have knocked it over during the night. Shit!”

“Weren’t you supposed to go to the Cape with her today?”

 

“Yeah,” she said, twirling a piece of hair. “What’s it like out, Marion?”

“Well, it’s about a hundred and seven degrees and two hundred percent humidity.”

“Great. That’s just fucking great. What are you doing today?”

“Jeff and I are headed out the door to go to his parents’ pool. Wanna come?”

A picture of Jeff Haber’s naked body exiting her bedroom door on an evening not too long ago flashed through her memory. Then her stomach erupted again.

“No thanks, Marion. I’ll talk to you.”

Carrie dropped the phone and dashed for the bathroom but didn’t quite make it.

After she cleaned up, she showered for almost a half-hour forcing herself through a run of ice-cold water. She stepped out of the shower and lit a cigarette but her wet fingers tore the filter off and she tossed it in the toilet. She began to sweat.

She wiped the moisture from the mirror and stared at her eyes. She followed a path of burst – blood vessels in her blue-green eyes, stretching the wrinkles of skin at the corners with her fingers. She rubbed at the dark bags under her eyes that a few years ago would have vanished quickly. These days they remained.

“If this is what you look like at thirty-one,” she said to her reflection, “what the hell is forty gonna be like?”

She shook her head to loosen the tangles in her wet hair and brushed it back with her fingers. She wrapped herself in a towel, and took a half-gallon of orange juice from the refrigerator in the kitchen. She drained it in two gulps.

Carrie tried calling some friends but no one was home. She told the last answering machine she spoke with to go to hell. She could always do a laundry, she decided, and dressed in shorts and an old T-shirt of her father’s. It became a monumental task.

She gathered blouses from doorknobs, underwear from backs of chairs, bras from corners of the living room and sheets from the bedroom. She grabbed towels, jeans and shorts and bent over to retrieve a pair of socks from under her bed. But she became nauseous and gave up.

On top of her dresser were nearly half a dozen pairs of sunglasses and she picked a pair that covered not only her eyes but blocked peripheral light as well. Her head throbbed and she sat down in a living room chair. There was a loud crack and Carrie pulled a CD, still sealed in plastic, from under herself. But, it felt better to sit down and when she heard the keys she’d been holding hit the floor, she realized she’d fallen asleep in the chair. She stood up and made her way to the door.

The heat hit her when she stepped into the hallway. Carrie put her laundry bag down to lock her door and felt herself sweating. She stood on the front steps of her building.

Her vision wavered as she looked up and down the block trying to remember where she had parked her car. The heat was rising from the asphalt and was visible. She remembered driving up Hudson the previous evening and then thought it might have been Greenwich. She started in that direction but, stopped. It was useless.
She couldn’t remember. She slung the laundry bag over her shoulder and walked towards the laundromat on Leonard St.

There were two other people there; a customer and the manager who watched a small black and white television, aluminum foil on the antenna, propped up on a cash register. The other customer seemed to be washing all his worldly possessions.

Carrie was curious as to the whereabouts of his shoes until she saw him reach into a dryer and pullout a pair of sneakers. She watched as he loaded a machine and then saw him flinch when he touched the rubber soles slightly reshaped by the heat of the dryer. There was a strong odor that followed him and it stayed in the laundromat long after he left.

Carrie pushed the coins into the slot and watched as the machine filled with water. She had a half-hour before the cycle would finish and was certain death would come to her from heat prostration if she stayed much longer. She walked out and looked across the street.

Walker’s, the tavern on the corner was more than familiar and she knew it had the best air-conditioning in the city. She crossed the street and walked in. It took her eyes a second to focus in the bar’s darkness.

“Hey, Carrie!”

She looked at the bartender pulling at the tap. It was her friend Catherine’s younger brother.

“Hello, Andrew,” she said. He leaned across the bar and kissed her on the cheek.
“Word has it you closed McFeeley’s last night,” he said.

“True, true, my dear fellow, but I had some help.” Carrie hung her head in mock shame.

“That’s what I heard,” he said as he turned on a blender.

“And fouled up my trip to the Cape for the weekend in the process.”

“The Cape? Oh, la di da.”

“Exactly, dahling.”

“Where on the Cape?” Andrew asked. “Chatham.”

“Nice. And you missed your ride, am I right?”

“You’re mighty perceptive for such a young feller, Andrew. And my old bomb just won’t make it.”

“Well, there’s got to be a ton of traffic by now. Who’s up there?”

“Oh, Linda and Chris and some people from the office.”

“And would ‘some people from the office’ include a certain Charlie Stewart? Would it, Carrie. Huh, would it, would it?” Andrew said as he screwed up his face.

“Well, Mr. Adams, I’d have to get up pretty early to put one over you, wouldn’t I?

“Biggest bunch of stiffs I’ve come across in a while,” Andrew snarled. “In my humble opinion, you’re not missing a thing, Carrie. What are you gonna have?”

“I probably shouldn’t have anything, but I’ll start off with a bloody Mary, Andrew.”

Carrie sipped her drink while most of the patrons watched the baseball game on the television. The cool air and the drink made her feel better. She looked at her watch to keep track of the progress of her laundry and checked her change on the bar for quarters.

The game was not of much interest and she wished she had brought a newspaper or a book to kill the time.

What a waste, she thought. She’d been looking forward to getting away for weeks. Andrew was wrong. The people at the Cape were good company, something she needed a tremendous amount of, just now.

And, there would have been Charlie. Charlie of the sandy hair and pleasant voice. Charlie for whom she’d go anywhere and do anything. This even surprised her when she thought about it. They’d met at the White Horse Tavern when Greg Hayes brought him down one evening.

 

 

“How long have you been in television, Charlie?” she asked as sat next to him at dinner.

“Since I got laid-off at The Post,” Charlie said as he took a bite of his hamburger. “And I’m only sticking around until I can get back into print.”

“A print reporter at heart, Carrie. Much higher standards of ethics than those of us in television,” Greg said facetiously.

Charlie walked her home that evening and they strolled through the construction sites along the river.

“All my life I wanted to come to New York,” he told her.

“And all my life I’ve been trying to get out, “Carrie said. “Where are you from originally, Charlie?”

“Gloucester.”

“And you left that for here?”

That night, he walked her home and kissed her goodnight. He took her number, but he hadn’t called. Carrie looked around the bar and remembered where she was. How long you can keep this up, she asked herself as she twirled the stem of the glass in her fingers. How many more hangovers? How many one-nighters?

“Not much interest in the game?” asked someone next to her.

“What?” she asked turning on her stool.

“It seems like you’re not much of a baseball fan.”

He was older than Carrie and she thought she recognized him from the neighborhood. He was balding in front and the T-shirt he wore had seen too many washings. Its printing had advertised something at one time but now was unrecognizable.

“No,” she said doing her best to discourage him. “I’m just killing time while my laundry gets done.” She looked at her watch. “Excuse me,” she said and grabbed her change from the bar. “Schmuck”, she grumbled to herself.

“Leaving, Carrie?” Andrew asked.

“I’ve got to check on my laundry, Andrew. See you in a few.”

The door to her machine was open and the manager was mopping up the floor. She watched for a second until he noticed her.

“Is there a problem?” she asked. “Where are my clothes?”

“Yeah, there’s a problem. How much soap did you put in there? The freaking thing started to leak all over the place!”

“Hey, listen. I put in the correct amount, okay? I’m a real pro at this by now, so don’t get so nasty.”

“Let me tell you something, missy,” he said as he walked towards her. You kids come in here and screw these machines up all the time. These are heavy-duty, commercial units and they just don’t flood for no reason, all right? Your clothes are over there in the bin,” he said and went back to his mopping.

Carrie was secretly delighted by the kid part, but she kept a straight face. She started to put her soapy clothes in another machine.

“Whoa, whoa! See what I mean?” the manager screamed.

“You can’t just toss them in another like that. They’ve got too much water and soap in them. You gotta rinse them off and dry them first.”

“For Chrissakes, mister! What am I supposed to do? Take them home and wash them by hand?” Carrie asked.

“Lady, all I know is you can’t put them in like that or I’ll have two busted machines instead of the one I got right now.”

Carrie picked up the load in one heap and threw them in a dryer. She jammed four quarters in the machine and left.
When she got back to the bar more people had come in.

The only seat available was next to the faded T-shirt. He seemed pleasant enough when she sat down, and after a two more bloody-Marys, she began to enjoy his company.

“…and you went into television right after college?” he asked.

 

 

“No, I taught seventh grade for a while but that didn’t pay the bills. So, a friend arranged an interview and now, eight years later, I’m in production. Pretty funny, huh?”

His name was Jack, she thought and he was in food distribution or something like that. Carrie wasn’t sure because, as the afternoon went on, she found herself talking away like a runaway train. It felt good just to have the company.

“Oh, Jesus!”

“What, Carrie? What?” Jack asked. “The laundry! My clothes! Oh, Jesus!”

Carrie jumped up from the stool too quickly and knocked a glass to the floor. “Andrew. I’m sorry.” She felt the room spin slightly and found it impossible to focus on her watch.

Carrie ran out the door and down to the laundry but stopped short of the entrance when she saw that the lights were out.

“Damn it!” she screamed. “DAMN IT!”

When she turned around, Jack was standing behind her.

“Can’t you pick it up tomorrow?” he asked.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she told him.

“Carrie, come over to my place for a second. Sit down, have a beer or something. I’d like to continue our conversation.”
Jack took her hand and they walked down the avenue towards the river.

“This is it,” Jack announced. Carrie looked up at a door to an old loft building. He held it open for her. As they walked into his apartment, she noticed the neatness immediately. Everything was in order. There was a huge bookcase and the books were arranged by size. There was not a trace of dust anywhere; not a dirty dish in the kitchen sink. In fact, it was too neat, almost obsessive.

“What can I get you? Some wine? A beer?” Jack asked.

“A beer’s fine,” she said.

“Just a beer?” he asked, steering her towards a chair.

“Yes,” Carrie said. “That would be fine.”

 

Music seemed to come from the walls. A Bach concerto she remembered from college filled the room and she closed her eyes. The beer and the apartment were nice and cool. The conversation came easily and she began to reminisce. But, suddenly she grew sad and tears gathered in the corners of her eyes.

“I don’t mean to fuck up so much. It’s like things are out of control sometimes,” she said.

Jack brought her another beer and sat beside her. He put his arms around her and stroked her hair.

“I used to be right on top of things. You can ask anybody,” she told him.

Jack kissed her cheek and moved his hand under her shirt.

“Sometimes I feel like I’ve gotten off a train in a strange town and I don’t know why I’m here or if I know anyone around.”

“That’s okay, Carrie,” Jack whispered. “It’s okay.”

Carrie looked at him. She sipped on her beer and then stared at it. “I really wanted to go away today. I have to get away from this fucking city. It’s driving me crazy. I mean look at me.” She put the beer down and slid it away.

“Sssh, Carrie. Relax,” Jack said. He moved his hand under her bra and massaged her breast.

“Don’t do that, Jack,” she said and pulled at his hand. But he began to fumble with the clasp in front.

“Stop it, Jack!” she yelled as she tried to stand up.

“It’s okay, Carrie. Really, it’s okay,” Jack told her.

“No, it’s not okay,” she said and tried again to stand up.

“I said, RELAX, Carrie and I mean it!”

When she tried to pull away, he grabbed at her shirt and it ripped. Carrie pulled away but he grabbed her around the waist.

“Let go!” she screamed.

“Hey, Carrie, you’re not leaving here until I say so,” he told her. Carrie screamed and brought her knee up into his groin.

 

 

“Bitch,” he yelled and he smacked her across the face.

Carrie fell and Jack tried to pick her up. She swung wildly and scratched at his face. She could hear voices in the hallway.

“Jack?” someone called and knocked on the door. “Jack, is everything all right?”

“Get the fuck away from here,” he bellowed.

“Help me!” Carrie screamed. “Get the police!”

“Hey, Jack,” came the voice again and then a pounding at the door. Jack walked to the door and unlocked it. Carrie could hear him speaking with someone on the other side. She stood up. She ran and pushed passed him. She slipped on the stairs, falling on the marble in the hallway.

“Miss? Hey, miss? Are you all right?” someone yelled after her but Carrie didn’t stop.

Her vision was clouded and her head spun. Carrie ran from the building and didn’t stop until she was out of breath. She leaned against a lightpost and shook her head. She looked around to see where she was. She he heard thunder and looked up to see huge, black clouds roll across the sun.

She tried to read the street sign but her eye was swelling. She looked at her torn shirt. Then she heard Jack yelling and she ran towards Hudson St.

The rain began to fall; drop by enormous drop. The white shirts of passersby became spotted with rain. Mothers with strollers began a trot down the avenue. People looked up and blinked against the rain that fell into their eyes. They carried newspapers and plastic bags over their heads.

Then the skies opened and the rain had its way.

The sound of it was overwhelming. Carrie ran to find cover and stumbled at the sound of a thunderclap.

She headed for the awning of a vegetable store but the space beneath was taken by people, bicycles and strollers. She continued running and tripped over a box, sending herself and a torrent of carrots spilling into small river rushing past the gutter.

Water from a puddle splashed onto her face as people ran past her. Someone stopped and offered her a hand but she shook them off.

 

She sat up and tasted blood in her mouth. Her knees were scraped and her hair hung in tangles in front of her eyes.

Carrie stood up and limped home. The key wouldn’t fit in the lock and she kicked the metal front of her door. She continued kicking until she became exhausted. She leaned against the door and slid to the floor. She held her head in her hands and banged her head against the door.

“What’s wrong with me?” she screamed.

She got up and tried the key again. It turned. She slammed the door behind her and let the cool, cool breeze from the air conditioner wash over her. There was something on the floor and she bent to pick it up.

It was a piece of paper, folded twice.

She glanced down to the signature at the bottom of the page and saw that it was Charlie’s.

 

The End

 

Life Topics

Shelter in Place

I recommend that you get rescued.  That is, when looking for a dog, let them rescue you.  Sure, there are boutique and purebred dogs that need homes, no doubt.  But, no one abandoned them.  Shelter dogs are waiting for days, weeks, or months for the right person to save.  And if you’re in the market, there is plenty of supply for your demand.

We adopted McDermott (McD) from a shelter over two years ago after the loss of my “once in a lifetime dog” Scout.  I have to admit that I was too quick to get a new dog.  It just didn’t feel right being home without the jingling of dog tags, and a 60 lb. hound sitting in my lap.  I scoured the internet trying to fill a void, an ache, a loss that couldn’t be relieved.  But, I pushed forward looking and imagining what this new dog would be like.

He was a terror.  McD was putting on a hard sell when we met him.  Playing with the other dogs, and running over to lick us; how could we not fall in love?  I held back tears when asked if he was the right dog, because I couldn’t get Scout out of my mind.  That should have been a red flag.   I should have put the brakes on right there and then.  But I didn’t.

After bruises, bite marks, chewed up socks, torn pillows, ripped sweatshirts, mangled baseball hats, and half-eaten flip flops – we did fall in love.  McD has now matured enough so that his destruction has waned.  We did try training, but I was untrainable, so that failed.  However, now he has reached a maturity level, where there are less and less “surprises” when we get home.  We made a solid commitment to rescue this dog, and we weathered the storm.

Time and tolerance has made this adoption work.  I  love McD almost as much as I loved Scout. He needed a home, and we gave him one, where he could get into lots of trouble.  We had thoughts along the way of giving him back because of his unruly behavior.  But, it was up to us to teach him how to be a good dog.  Failure was not an option.

So, adopt a shelter dog.  Shelters are busting at the seams with amazing dogs, who just need
your love and patience.  They need you to teach them what it’s like to be in a loving home.  A place where they can get into a little trouble and not be sent away.  You may be pushed to your limit, but just dig deeper finding the strength to look forward to a new day.  I know I did, and it’s paid off.

I love McD to pieces, and he fits comfortably in my lap.

 

 

Life Topics

Like a Fresh Bloom

I wanted the picture to be a promise.

A symbol of love that smells like a fresh bloom.  Time fades in the background.
A place that didn’t really matter anyway.

It sits on my desk and whispers stories I’ve never heard.  Was she ever that young?  Those hands didn’t belong to her, aged, wrinkled and riddled with veins and spots at the end.

The picture ties me to her other life.  A life without me. Eyes that look hopeful but cautious, not fully knowing anything.  Soon to be a bride, then a mother, my grandmother.

Promise me we’ll see each other again.

Promise.

Life Topics

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Life Topics

Si

I was in a Saturday morning rush and had to go to the ATM machine. Of course, there were two cars ahead of me, so I daydreamed a little, while trying to be patient.  Grabbing my card from my wallet, I mumbled what I had to get done, and tried the Vulcan mind meld to hurry up the other cars.

Finally!  My turn was here and I had to be quick.  Now, I go to the ATM
a lot, so I know the button routines by heart, or at least I thought I did.
Pulling close to the machine, I inserted my card and held my finger
over the touchpad to be at the ready.  The first screen asks if you
want instructions in English or Spanish.  Well, my finger was over
the wrong button, and I hit Spanish by accident.

Holy Shit.  Do I have to start over, and waste time?…or was it time
to learn Spanish?  My fingers have muscle memory and usually
know what comes next.  But, I was so thrown off by the mysterious
text on the buttons that I drew a blank.  I had to decipher what
my options were.  I know the word Si, so that was a start.

I had to trace my steps to figure out what screen I was on
until I could make out the withdrawal button, upper left
side.  Bingo!  I hit the right one.  A screen with numbers
popped up.  I was doing good, I know how to read numbers.
I plugged in $30 and hit enter (or whatever the word is in
Spanish), and my mission was complete.

For a minute, I was half expecting Pesos to come out of the machine.
Luckily that wasn’t the case.  I drove away feeling really stupid, but
glad I got my money and didn’t start a new transaction after my
error.  I would have lost 2 minutes of valuable time that I didn’t
have.  Or, suck it up, like I did, and pretend to be Spanish speaking.

Either way, I got my money.

qué tengas un buen día

Life Topics

Wiped

I deleted someone’s video card by accident the other day.  I felt horrible; actually drenched with guilt.  How could I have done that?… I questioned.  Someone’s work just gone without explanation.  How will I explain this to them?  I was trying to be efficient, I downloaded the clips I needed and just wiped the card clean.  I was concerned.  Did I do this on purpose?  Was it just unexplained human error?

Maybe I was wiped.  Tired.  Overworked. Wiped out like the video card.  Can a person’s brain be too full?  Am I doing too much?   Are we so bogged down, that we can only see what is right in front of us?  I felt like at the moment, my work was more important; at least subconsciously.   I had a mission, a checklist of things I had to get done.  And, I got it done.  Good for me.  But, there are others to think about.  And I didn’t think…at least not for more than a moment.

Job, kids, spouses, etc. keep us on our toes.  Juggle or fail.  Avoid getting wiped out, or the rest of the dominos fall.  Well, I caused someone else’s dominos to fall.  And, for that I am sorry.  I don’t know to what extent I effected them, but their work was gone and I was the reason.

I was forgiven, when I confessed my error.  But, I know it was just because I’ve been wiped out.  I couldn’t honestly explain that to her without being achingly vulnerable.  I matter-of-factly stated what happened and waited for a response.  I hated myself for being so detached, when inside I felt horrible.  She accepted the situation and moved forward.

I’m trying to make it rain in my personal life, my professional life and everything in between.  There’s no room for error, especially when the error effects others.  I have to avoid being wiped.  Being tired or complacent reeks of failure, a situation I have to avoid.  Keeping others in mind is as important as the breath that I take, and I have to remember that.

I have learned from my mistakes.