Adoption a.k.a. I Want to Hold Your Hand

Adoption requires, among other things, a background check. A background check requires, among other things, finger prints. To get your fingers printed you need to go to a precinct house. And so our story begins.

I left work a bit before lunch anticipating a noontime rush for fingerprinting at the police station. I no longer know why that made sense to me but at the time it seemed as obvious as the line at the deli counter. I was working in the Bronx and the 50th Precinct was within walking distance just beyond the bank. That was fortuitous as you need to have a certified check to pay for fingerprinting, at least if you haven’t been caught doing something illegal. I’m not certain but I do believe if you’ve been caught engaging in law breaking activities, fingerprinting is offered free of charge.

I arrived just before twelve, self satisfied with the accuracy of my prediction. There was no one ahead of me needing fingerprinting. “Great, I beat the rush” I thought. As it turns out, police stations share very little in common with retail establishments and the crowd never did materialize. I walked to the desk. It is not exactly like a hotel check in and it is not so much like a grocery checkout but it does suggest these things. I explain that I need my fingers printed and the desk…. Sergeant? tells me that I need to call in advance to see if anyone is available to do that. I explain casually, so as not to alarm anyone, that my wife called and was told that I could stop by between ten and two and it wouldn’t be a problem. Of course even as I am saying this I know it is futile to disagree with a cop. They don’t give an inch and frankly I don’t think they can afford to. Part of an officer’s job is the projection of power which is achieved through control and confidence. Haggling is not the big stick in the police repertoire.

The officer responds that I will have to call. I maintain my pleasantness, which is no chore as I like cops anyway, and say “OK, can I borrow a pen and do you know the number off hand?” She is a not unpleasant looking blonde with a medium large frame and strong breasts. She has a mole in the left crease of her nose and I am having a little trouble maintaining my friendly face while trying not to stare at it. Ordinarily I am not given to staring but for some reason, in her case, I am willing to make an exception.  Rather then give me a pen (a show of weakness?) she takes the manila envelope I’m holding, with the fingerprinting sheets inside and begins to write the phone number on it.

Somehow the envelope is right side up and as she finishes writing the phone number I see something subtle happen. It is ever so slight but I see it before she speaks. It is a relaxation of the muscles in her shoulders and arms and I know she has seen the return address. Of course she has, because these kinds of details are fascinating to everyone but especially to those who make there living gathering clues. She looks up at me and says “Is this for adoption?” I respond that it is and she tells me to wait a moment and she’ll get her partner to fingerprint me. She goes over to his desk and leans over and says a few words in his ear. He looks up and gives me a friendly nod. She returns and tells me that he’ll take care of it but it might take him a little while because he’s in the middle of something.

It doesn’t. Within a very few minutes he’s processing the papers, taking the check for seventeen dollars (fifteen for the first set and a buck for each of the following two) and rolling out the ink as if he were going to print a wood block. He tells me that there are automatic fingerprinting machines or scanners or some such thing but they have not made it up to the Bronx yet. We chat amiably and I am aware of the intimacy of all this. Fingerprinting is choreographed hand holding and since this is not the first step toward incarceration it is relaxed and friendly and instructive.

While he is fingerprinting me I hear someone talking to the desk sergeant. She is back at the desk and no more than eight feet away. It is a man and he has come to get his fingers printed. It is obviously for immigration reasons and she tells him that he will need to call in advance to make sure that someone is available. There is no one available today. I am reminded once again that it is good to be me. We finish up and they let me go into the officers bathroom to wash up, unescorted. When I return my cop has finished filling out the forms and I thank him and he shakes my hand and wishes me good luck. I return to the desk sergeant and thank her very much and she says she hopes it works out. I assure her that it will. Her tone is both respectful and genuine; her look is caring. I think she must be a mother. As I walk back to work I feel like a different person inside and I admit to myself that their approval feels good. Not just good but that in some way my wife and I are undertaking a thing which they approve of and that we are good in their eyes and that we are in some way bonded in their company; the company of do gooders.

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Saturday Morning Cartoons

Hey Drew,

Let’s Pretend that it’s story time

And I’ll tell a tale to you.

I’ll tell you a story of make believe

And all your dreams will come true.

And when the story’s over

And when we reach the end.

We’ll live happily ever after, Where?

In the land of Let’s Pretend.

I guess you can see where I’m heading with this.

That guy, Gene London, early 60’s, singing to us on the television on saturday mornings from Cartoon Corners General Store was telling us that there is a better place than where we are. And you know what kids? It’s in your mind, man. The part that is really impressive man, is how we will live happily ever after in the Land of Let’s Pretend, after the story is over man. After! We are goin’ out there man and we are not coming back man and it’s gonna rule man! I shit you not Drew, that guy was a stone cold freak. No wonder we loved him.

You know the story. In the not too distant past a kid joined the family business, was apprenticed to an acquaintance or simply sold to a stranger. Life was simpler then. Our generation was, to a greater degree than ever before, free of those constraints. Consequently, of course, we were also free of that iron fisted guidance. But television abhors a vacuum and guidance appeared in the form of televised animated role models. And if you take a second look at the messages we were getting man, they are a glorious trail mix of fruits, nuts and seedy characters. The old wicked was a new viable alternative lifestyle.

In the old days man, in the old days the old allegories hammered home the old values. You see, the message of fables and fairytales was that if you stepped out of line you were dead meat. Killed, cooked and cannibalized by an unforgiving natural order. And we remember those stories but it didn’t end there with us. We bridged the past perfect and the future shock. Fractured Fairytales was our New Testament and it revealed to us that the past wasn’t so perfect and the shock was more like a delightful buzz.

We were the link between the Brothers Grimm and Warner Brothers. From Mother Goose to Merry Melodies from Mothra to Hanna Barbera we watched it all. We were the passive aggressive receptors in a psych-o-social mind fuck.

Huckleberry Hound, Drew. Huckle fuckin’ Berry Hound! Need I say more? That dog had his paws deep in the shit, noooo doubt!

Underdog, man. When Sweet Polly’s in trouble I am not slow! The rest of you can go scratch yer ass cause Polly wants more than a cracker, you know what I mean man? Bird is the word man. Bird..is..the..word!

Casper the Friendly Ghost? Great. Really great. You tune in to turn on to a little scare me time, a little adrenaline rush and what have we here man? What a little apple polishing, boot licking, brown nosing, goody two-shoes! No wonder he’s a ghost. I’d pop a cap in his ass myself. And you know he’s such a transparent suckup. Really makes you think twice about being a good guy. I mean, if he’s a member of the crew your hangin’ with, you need to get yourself a wolf pack and go wilding.

Bugs Bunny, amigo! Come on!! Now there is a hometown homeboy! There isn’t a soul alive or dead who doesn’t love Bugs Bunny. Cross dressing, Fudd kissing, carrot obsessed, sarcastic flamboyant bitch. A role model for millions man. Undeniable!

Mickey Mouse? Nice guy. Kind of a chameleon. Trying to be all things to all people. Genial, with a castrato’s voice. I think I liked him best when he dressed like Bing Crosby. Cool yet wholesome. No undercurrents. Minnie was pleasant enough; a female without allure or any sexuality what-so-ever, which is saying something. They were like warm broth. A pair of role models we might choose for our parents but for ourselves? No way man! Ain’t happenin’!! They didn’t know how to have a good time. To them fun was exciting and a little scary. No man, for us it was Goofy, man. Fuckin Goofy! The dude didn’t know how to have anything but a good time. Goofy was the man, dog! He could have the best time ever just trying to figure out his own shadow. I can just hear my old man saying ” who would look up to a character named Goofy?” Silly question, right? The answer is “Me! You! Everyone”! When we were kids you had to have a nickname. To this day my three best friends are, Dink, Funk and Zonker. Say no more, por favor.

Road Runner? I don’t know man. Everyone I know would rather be Wile E. Coyote. Wile E. was the Don Quixote of murderous stalkers. I’m convinced he pointed the way for a generation of punk bands and paparazzi.

Popeye? Smoking, cursing, muttering, substance abusing, twisted freak of a snap case.  I’ve had all I can stands and I can’t stands no more. What’s not to love?

Foghorn Leghorn, Drew! Freakin’ Foghorn freakin’ Leghorn. Without a doubt among the most imitated of all characters. Drew, we were all emulating a chicken! And not just any chicken. A stuttering, conniving, lazy, shit stirring common domestic fowl (Gallus gallus) with delusions of grandeur. Who could resist?

Mr. Magoo? Forest Gump meets Foster Brooks. There’s a little Mr. Magoo in every stoner I ever met.

The Pink Panther? Pretty much self explanatory.

Woody Woodpecker. A name is like a picture without the image. Woody was playing in the same league as Beaver Cleaver, Peter Parker, Pat McGroin, Ashur du Smelbad, and I.P. Daly. Also the theme music was a big hit for Kay Kyser’s band in 1948. The band featured the cornetist comedian Merwyn Bogue whose stage name was Ish Kabibble. True fact, man.

When I was a kid I had a best friend. So did you and everyone else. The same held true for cartoons, right? It was match.com with a no divorce guarantee. Chip ‘n Dale, Heckle and Jeckle, Tom and Jerry, Beany and Cecil, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Fred and Barney, Sylvester and Tweety, Sherman and Mr. Peabody. Secret Squirrel and Morocco Mole, Tennessee Tuxedo and Chumly, Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy (“Auggie my son, my son”! was that Jimmy Durante?) Libby the Lion and Hardy Har Har. Yogi and Boo Boo, Touché Turtle and Dum Dum, and the legendary Quick Draw McGraw and Baba Looey. I’ll do the thinnin’  around here Baba and don’t! you! for! get! it! Nobody ever loved a dim bulb better than we did.

Who’s to say who we’d be without the likes of Clutch Cargo (featuring real lips), the weirdo marionettes of Fireball XL5 and Thunderbirds and the final morph to H.R. Pufnstuf and The Banana Splits. These last two may have been live action shows fronting B grade toons but they were hosted by fully costumed, foam filled, fun furred, day-glow stoners. Gene London on acid. Two hits! By this time the kiddy gloves were off and the smoking jacket was on. I mean really man, H.R. Pufnstuf? That is, without a doubt, the name of a head shop somewhere!

Refocus man, refocus. What was the question? That always happens man. I get off, on these tangents, and the next thing you know I’m at the refrigerator door looking for a snack and, oh yeah, Saturday Morning Cartoons. So look, there are big issues here man. Big issues. Like was Crazy Cat really that crazy or was he just a product of his environment? For that matter was Felix the Cat really happy or was he just putting on a brave face. The facts of fiction are inscrutable man. And why so many cats and dogs? And mice too. Speedy Gonzalez had a totally positive mental attitude sure but I think it was the amphetamines. When he comes down he’s gonna be a high speed train wreck.

Top Cat; lazy, scheming, fancy-pants hoodlum. Gang leader of a ragtag band of miscreants. As if all that wasn’t enviable enough he had an awesome theme song. When I was growing up you had to have your own sound track because every character had their own sound track. And T.C. had street style. So we needed street style. In my school that meant you had to have your own walk. And a walk sticks. All these influences stuck. People I know can tell it’s me walking down the street before they can identify my face. The walk is so distinctive that it arrives before I do. I am aware that’s probably not a good thing.

Obviously Mighty Mouse was mightier than the Mighty Manfred, sidekick to Tom Terrific but Manfred was the man that Fred wasn’t. Fred, sidekick to Super Chicken, who wasn’t all that super but did take his Super Sauce Elixir in a martini glass, had to be reminded that he knew the job was dangerous when he took it. But then, that’s why we all picked up the martini glass in the first place, right?

Look, I could go on and on but all I’m trying to say is that George Jetson’s dog is Astro and Astro Boy is a robot who wants to be a real boy and Pinnochio is a wooden toy who wants to be a real boy too. Not a big issue for Pinnochio because he lives in a world with magic which is really a bullshit plot device. There is no magic in the future so Astro boy, who can live forever, will be disappointed forever. Dude needs to adjust his expectations. Meanwhile, Tobor the 8th Man was just Robot the 8th Man spelled backwards but he had no desire to move beyond his station in life. He was basically Iron Man without the man, man. Lacking desire maybe he should have been Tobor the 8th. Done! Give him the benefit of the doubt? I don’t think so. Takes us into murky territory. Makes the connection to Henry the 8th, I am, I am, as in I am Sam. Sam I am.

I Am. Two words. Three letters. The most powerful statement in any language. Self determining. Self referential. Bottom line? Deputy Dawg was not a real officer of the law, bro. You know, that’s all I’m trying to say.

I Hear Voices

I have this friend. We’ll call her Melissa Stern because that is her name.

Melissa Stern is a sculptor and a brave, or perhaps foolhardy, one because she has allowed others to tamper with her work. I am one of those people so perhaps temerarious would have been a better word but I don’t know how to use it in a sentence.

One of the reasons people become artists is that it gives them ultimate control of the universe; even if it is only the universe of their work. It is a godlike responsibility because, as Uncle Ben would tell the youthful Peter Parker shortly before being offed by a criminal; “With great power comes great responsibility.” As we all know, Peter’s initial indifference to crime, even as Spiderman, caused him to decline the chance to stop a fleeing thief. His apathy caught up with him later the same day when the same criminal killed his Uncle Ben during a burglary. Oh,The Irony!

Melissa Stern, in her role as god, has created woman and man. Seems stereotypical doesn’t it. A requisite skill; indispensable for any deity’s curriculum vitae.

~~~~~~

“Ok, have a seat. Let’s take a look at your resumé. Stars in the sky; Good. Animals of the land; very nice. The giraffes are an especially nice touch. Fish of the sea; check, Plants; good, a lot of hidden drama there. Very nice. You do nice work. So, let’s see your people.”

 

“Hmm?”

 

“What do you mean you don’t do people?”

 

     “What are we talking about here!? It’s not ethical!? It messes up a perfect system!? What!? What’s the issue!?”

 

“I see. They’re not part of your idiom.”


“Ok, ok, well look, it’s been a pleasure. If anything comes up we’ll give you a call.”

 

~~~~~~

Melissa Stern’s people have the disconcerting quality of looking on the outside, the way people are on the inside. Conflicted, misunderstood, innocent. 

Stern has put together a collaborative, interactive exhibit. She asked some writers to choose a sculpture and write a monologue from the sculpture’s perspective. Reckless on her part; like inviting another deity into your universe on a per diem basis but admirable nevertheless. An act of faith. I am fortunate because I am her friend and because she allowed me to choose the piece about the death of her father, Bernie.

The monologues were recorded and each sculpture has been tagged with a QR Code so a smart phone can play the reading while you look at the work. Viewers can also add their own comments that are then available for playback.

I wrote the monologue from the perspective of the Willy Loman character schlepping across the girls head.

*

She was Juliet. I was not Romeo.

 

More like Odin the wanderer.

 

I was no hero but to her. 

 

At dawn, I would perform my morning ritual and then … disappear. She thought it was magic. I thought it was my job. I didn’t know what else to do. Then, at dusk, I would reappear to rescue her from the night.

 

Magic!

 

She was beautiful. Not like scary beautiful. More like beautiful girl who liked me, beautiful. I couldn’t stop looking at her. She was an innocent. And for a time, we had each other. “Forever!” she would say.

 

We had hopes. Like everybody else. Special and mundane. I hoped she would be happy; she hoped for the moon. We lived in tenements and apartments all over this town. We cooked and did laundry; and went to see movies and theater and music. Moving. Restless. Together under all those different roofs.

 

The magic was between us. She thought that would be enough. I knew it wasn’t. I was the grown-up. I could never bring myself to tell her. I didn’t want to break her heart. I knew it would break, in its own time, of its own fragility. And when it broke, I knew that I would be one of the pieces; brittle and sharp.

 

A fragment is made new by its incompleteness. A shard is not an urn. It is a new memento of something old. Once broken it can never be called broken again. I preferred it that way.

 

Of course I had to leave. It was the only way. The only way I knew. So many years getting up. So many years washing my face; like an act of purification. Dressing, collecting my .. self, walking out the door. Out. Ever out.

 

I had to leave. It was the only way I knew.

 

*

For the reading by Michael Samuel Kaplan follow the link below

 http://melissa-stern.com/gallery/imagegallery.php?subdir=The_Talking_Cure&numb=2

Tick Tock Diner

Time, so they say, is irreversible. The Past, so they say, is different from the future.

Time does not stand still.

I went to college for seven years. Even so, I am at least a couple of years away from a Bachelor’s Degree. My freshman year was three of the best years of my life. The same could be said of my sophomore year. So much for the vaunted rules of time.

One of those sophomore years was spent at the University of New Hampshire. I lived in a house with 15 other people. We each had our own room of a divided up old Victorian. We shared three bathrooms and two kitchens; one on the ground floor and one on the third floor.

The ground floor kitchen had several refrigerators. We each had a section of refrigerator but my friend Dave likes to tell it that when I was hungry I would, in his words, forage through them all. Forage is his word now. I can’t think it or say it without making a mental note of him.

For the record and in the interest of fairness my friend Dave disputes many, if not most, of the facts in this story. However, since I am the writer, I would like it known that Dave is a notoriously unreliable, not to mention uncooperative, witness. Furthermore, during this time, Dave was a degenerate drunk, an unrepentant sybarite and a known communist sympathizer. And it is This Reporter’s Opinion that he also practiced….. WITCH-CRAFT!

That said, I don’t recall if I treated all those refrigerators as my savannah but it’s entirely possible. I still eat that way when left to my own devices. I’m less of a hunter-gatherer and more of a scavenger. An opportunistic eater one might say.

Apparently I was able to avoid drawing predators, in the form of angry housemates, by employing a survival mechanism that I like to call Nibble and Move. Pretty self explanatory and altogether successful when coupled with the track covering behavior of fluffing the refrigerated leftovers to camouflage my covert snacking.

The upper kitchen was outside of my natural habitat but not outside of my interest. I used that kitchen to boil road kill that my Anthropology Professor had buried for a season. You know, to get the last furry bits off. He was making a skeleton collection of local fauna. I don’t know what I was thinking but I’m afraid I thought it was a good idea. His name was Howard Hecker.

When Howard and I first met he said ”Mednick eh. Are you related to the poet Mednick?” I answered that I thought it was possible but probably not. Then he asked if I knew Hecker flour and of course I did. Even back then, barely nineteen, I occasionally baked bread. “Yeah” he would say, “I’m not related to them either.”

One of the fellows who lived in the house was named Robert Armstrong. “All American Boy”, my mother would always say when hearing his name. Surprisingly, his was not the most memorable name. That belonged to the birdlike and serious Cat Sleep. A definite top floor turret dweller, she lived in the round room. She was serious, industrious and motivated. A genuinely diligent student, she would make any professor proud. We shared nothing in common.

Over Christmas break, Robert Armstrong, “All American Boy”, had moved out and now lived at another house out in the boonies between Dover, where I lived and Durham, the town where the University was and I presume still is. That house was called Shaky Acres and every full moon was occasioned by a Full Moon Boogie, after the song of the same name by Jeff Beck. I can no longer remember how many of those Full Moon Boogies I attended but whatever the number I can only recall one. And of that one I remember nothing. I don’t think it was because I’d had too much to drink, although chances are pretty good that I was drunk, but only that so much time has passed.

Everyone thinks about time. The great distance between then and now. Where does it go? Whatever happened to my dearest what’s her name that I loved so well? How did I become here? How did I get here is a question of time as much as circumstance but adds the fleshy dimension of history and the question of free will.

History is the accumulation of events. Events exert pressure on subsequent events.

Pressure subverts free will.

My friend Mike is a city planner or would be if he weren’t working for the MTA. There was no work in city planning and after years of trying he settled for the MTA and a steady meal ticket. Mike’s family came from Ireland in the 1840’s, driven by the potato famine. After passing through New York harbor they joined the push west to Ohio and opportunity. And then on to Illinois. Failed farmers they joined the California gold rush. And then north. And then back east to Chicago. Finally settling down in New York, the very place they had departed more than one hundred years earlier. A trip of generations in search of a bite to eat.

Were they really making choices or were they pushed along by the force of history? Is it free will to follow a trail of survival? Are any of us exercising anything more meaningful than the choice between low fat and skim, caf and decaf? It’s the past. The past propels us forward. Again and again we steer blind but experienced, into the headwinds of the oncoming present, looking for calm and a cessation of hunger.