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The Philadelphia Story

or

From Here To Eternity

or

Crosstown Traffic

 

Within a day or two after my father’s death I knew I would be called upon to say some words, give a speech, tell a story, embellish a memory; what have you. It was becoming clear that we; my sister, my brother and myself, would be required to have some sort of event to honor a man who was widely popular and dearly loved and admired by so many, but whose years long decline had sapped us of a certain amount of energy that did not appear to be readily at hand.

Still, good form dictates.

We are not a religious bunch and there was no thought among us of a service or burial beyond a vague idea of spreading his ashes across Barnegat Bay at some distance from the shore and also from the present.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 I’m on the phone with my cousin, daughter to my father’s deceased sister. I can hear her waiting for me to pick up the thread she’s laying down. She’s waffling about; triangulating somewhere between asking, suggesting and prodding;

“Perhaps an opportunity for people to stand and recount memories”

My cousin is a traditionalist and she’s gently inquiring about a service. I knew it was important to her and by extension probably a lot of people because she was speaking very softly and very slowly. I know that trick. I speak like that to my teenagers when they need to be reminded, again, of something they already know, instead of shouting which is what I really want to do. I’ve tried shouting and frankly it doesn’t work any better than whispering but whispering is a lot less strenuous.

My siblings and I are not so very different from one another and in this instance we found ourselves in the all too familiar situation of being asked to conform to social norms while actively and obviously trying to dodge expectations.

However, like so many before us, we were overtaken by developments. We would be pressed to take up this set of social responsibilities while attending to the other, equally pressing responsibility of corralling the disorderly living situation our father had left behind. It would add a little extra twist of the knife to publically recount a memory, while privately sorting through the more earthly belongings of his underwear drawer, his refrigerator, his medical supplies and his collection of everyday objects.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Choosing and delivering a story promised to be among the least pleasant of all the chores ahead of us and not only because there were so many stories, as befits the life of a 91 year old but because, at least for me, choosing involves a quiet mind and a sifting of memory, categorizing a hierarchy that demands review and judgment and a level of concentration that was guaranteed to dredge up strong feelings at a time when what was needed was a strong back.

And then there was the problem of where?

My sister, in a stroke of her usual genius put forward the idea of a plush cocktail party with hors-d’oeuvres in a private room at a swanky Philadelphia watering hole.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My brother Dave (Davy I call him, Artie he calls me) and I were clearing out our father’s rented apartment, throwing Brooks Brothers clothing into trash bags for later sorting, carting out boxes of books and frame upon frame of artwork and all the furniture it takes to furnish a life.

Dave’s pickup was loaded, my mini-van was loaded and we exited the parking lot headed towards my father’s building; a large photographic studio on the other side of Center City Philadelphia officially dubbed Seymour Mednick Studio but, to my knowledge, never referred to as anything other than The Studio.

For those not familiar with the layout of Philadelphia, the center of Center City is the crossroads of Philadelphia’s two great streets; Market Street and Broad Street. Atop this intersection, like a permanent roadblock, sits the outrageously rococo edifice of City Hall. Local cabbies have been known to call it “A fine example of Spartan architecture.”

The thoughtful placement of City Hall squarely at the intersection of these twin Main Streets has essentially turned the heart of the city into a traffic circle minus the circle part: Not quite a square but certainly not a circle, I believe the proper name is a squircle. The reality surrounding an item or an idea that is neither wholly one thing nor wholly another is that the result usually encompasses the worst traits of both. This would be a corollary of Murphy’s Law. The placement of City Hall makes the center of Center City an island, unattainable except as a Mecca for the supplicant approaching on foot looking for anointment and a backroom deal after risking life and limb to cross the torrential traffic of the City Hall squircle.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I was following behind Dave from the deceased’s rental apartment and as we started down the hill of 21st street headed south it was suddenly clear to me that I was driving the story that I would tell and that my brother’s truck was setting the course for the direction the story would take. It all opened before me in a way that some stories do; whole from the first word.

The only variable was – what route would Dave take to The Studio; mine, our father’s or some third route of his own. My brother is a pragmatist so predictably enough he took the same route I always take:

21st Street to Pine Street

Left on Pine Street to 11Th Street

Left on 11Th Street to Spruce Street

Left on Spruce Street to Camac Street

Left on Camac Street

Done

Easy. Obvious. No thought involved. 4 left turns.

Easier still because it skirts the snarl of traffic by staying to the periphery of the Center City vortex.

One might truthfully call it the path of least resistance:

 

Unless my father was in the car

 

Our way was not our father’s way.

After my father stopped driving I would drive him to The Studio, the center of his world from the mid 1970’s on. Initially I planned to take this same 4 square route. But as we drove down 21st St., crossing the Ben Franklin Parkway my father would growl, half panicked

“That’s NOT the way to go”

as if I had turned up a one way street heading into oncoming expressway traffic.

 

“Go left! GO LEFT !!!

 

My father’s route was as follows and you don’t need to know the map of Philadelphia to follow the genius of his thinking or what it said about the man.

From the beginning:

21st Street to the Ben Franklin Parkway

Left on the Parkway to Logan Square, which is a circle but never mind that

Around Logan Square

Continue on the Parkway until 16th Street where you will make a soft left onto Arch Street

A quick 1 block on Arch and a right onto 15th Street because after 15th Street, Arch Street changes direction and you really will be heading up a one way street into oncoming traffic.

Head south on North 15th Street and jog left to follow traffic around the City Hall squircle onto South Penn Square

Stay left on South Penn so you don’t get swept into the right fork onto South Broad Street but then a hard jog right, avoiding incoming northbound Broad Street traffic and slide onto Juniper Street which at this point is really just the rightmost dedicated lane of South Penn. Juniper Street here looks like it’s going to run directly through the doors of the old Wanamaker Building.

Juniper Street, basically an alley, now makes a hard 90 degree right turn, heading south past McGillin’s Olde Ale House.

Take Juniper Street to Locust Street

Left on Locust Street to 12th Street

Right on 12th Street to Spruce Street

Right on Spruce Street to Camac Street

Left on Camac Street and voila; if you haven’t hit someone or been side-swiped, there you are.

If you are not from here and you take this route, there is little chance you will arrive at all.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Was my father’s route shorter in either time or distance? Possibly; but that was not the point. My old man was competitive. He wanted to circle the center; in the case of Philadelphia, the unattainable center, orbiting the pole star of City Hall. His route took him headlong into the snarling chaos at the center where he engaged the competition, jockeying for position with innate skill and the risk taker’s tool kit of speed and guile and an insider’s knowledge. He didn’t want to travel the outskirts where to win was to prove nothing. His whole life he had something to prove and in every endeavor, down to the last, he strove for excellence and he played to win

The Last Drop

I got to work early today. Like every work day for the last 30 years. I gave a moment to the sunrise; like every day. Same sun, same sky, same time, same same. All that familiarity but with a nod to the obvious; with an infinity of variables, including me, no two sunrises are exactly the same.

I went into a coffee shop in Philadelphia not long ago; The Last Drop. Flurries were falling lightly and melting on contact; the last snow of the season. Each crystal unrepeatable and every crystal on its way to becoming an anonymous speck of water.

The barista at The Last Drop is a solid first tier hipster. Tall and at home in his geeky glasses with the dark rectangular frames, a thrift shop vest and a nerdy look we used to call mebst.

I order a cappuccino, same as every time I go in there. I love cappuccino. The flavor and textures of course but equally I love all the choreographed motions; the tamping, the jamming, the swirling, the pouring; the reassuring repetitive motion of it all.

The hipster barista steams the milk and swirls it in the little frothing pitcher before making the final pour. He does this stuttering little flourish at the end of the pour that creates a sepia image of a flowering plant embedded in the cappuccino foam; his signature.

My wife and I were at a party the other night. We’re too young to be hippies and too old to be hipsters. The party was a celebration of life, as all parties are but the more so as it came in the wake of two deaths; the husband of an elderly woman and the husband of a young woman.

Afterwards my wife and I were talking about life and death and how each one is different and utterly unique even as it shares in its description all of the same elements.

A snowflake or a fingerprint; a signature, a sunrise or the image at the top of my cappuccino; each is an individual composed of that peculiar unknowable moment that is infinitely repeatable and eternally unfamiliar.

Emo for Dave Groom

I waken to the sound of distant church bells peeling across dew sparkled meadows.
I tap my phone to quiet its alarm.

Monday
April 2nd
4:30 am

Shower.

Go down stairs to fetch work clothes from the dryer.

Coming back up stairs, I note the particular lightness of my own footsteps. I think to myself, I am unusually quiet this morning. No ….., I am unusually aware of my own quiet this morning. The softness of my footstep. The lightness of my breath. For a moment I seem foreign to myself. An object observed and observing; a satellite running a self diagnostic routine.

In the kitchen, I put on water for coffee.

I cut an everything bagel, put it in the toaster and brush my hand across the counter, sweeping seeds and crumbs into the sink.

I check my phone for today’s forecast to decide on how many layers to wear and I see that it is raining outside. I see the rain as an icon on my phone without even bothering to confirm it with a glance out the window.

I pack my lunch.

With paper cup coffee in hand I turn out the lights and head out the front door to work. It is 5:05 and still dark.

Everything about this morning is just about identical to every other morning. Every action, every motion, every consideration, as if preordained.

However

As I leave the house and lock the door, I turn around and it’s snowing.

It’s warm; almost 40 degrees but it’s snowing and for no discernible reason I feel upset. It is similar, I imagine, to a surprise meeting of an old sweetheart and the discovery that forgotten ties can still bind.

My expectations have been overturned and I am confronted by this scene which is not only unexpected but also, in its way, both melancholy and beautiful. Somehow I am better able to see it because I wasn’t expecting to see it.

I have my hat in hand but I don’t put it on; I want my head unprotected and immersed in the storm; all awake to the slow motion rioting of fat snowflakes gently falling through the sphere of a street light’s influence. It is a predawn panorama of snow and spring flowers, budding trees, parked cars and dark sleeping row homes.

There is no other sound but the ambient noise of the city. The muffling effect of the snow spreads in every direction. The light kiss of each flake as it lands on my cheeks and neck feels personal. I can hear the light crackle of the flakes as they land on last fall’s dried leaves; the ones that refused to let go, still clinging to their native branch.

Mingled with the snow is a very slight ozone perfume, the kind that comes with spring showers. The struggle of winter is all but over.

I walk to the subway with my head tipped skyward, intent on watching the snow as it passes through each consecutive orb of lamp light. The falling and swirling from a rising breeze lays an acid lace over all.

I am at the entry tunnel to my subway station and I dutifully enter …but no, it’s too abrupt. I’m not of a mind this morning to surrender so easily. I turn back into the storm. Outside again, I look over the wall that forms the trench of the Prospect Expressway. The breeze has diminished and the listless flakes are falling down, expending themselves on the pavement. A truck speeds by and the snow is drawn to the passing vacuum. Flakes race and swirl in a momentary attempt to give chase; evidence to the thickness of air. And I am left in the wake to wonder as the snow resumes its steady downfall.

I can hear my train arriving and once again I turn towards the station entry, fully aware that as I  cross this latest boundary another end is at hand. The subway takes me under the East River. Somewhere in this tunnel is a line; the border between Brooklyn and Manhattan; between then and now.

I step off the train, the doors close and the train rolls on without me. As I exit Whitehall Station I meet with my own forecast.

It’s almost dawn and rain is falling like a sad goodbye.

At The Same Moment

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It was a dark and stormy night.

Pulling into Slip 3 Manhattan, aboard the Staten Island Ferry, I cast my eyes north towards the Brooklyn Bridge. I have worked these waters as a Dockbuilder for almost 30 years, always aware that even as new projects are going up, there is always some small part that is being washed out to sea.

Just upriver of the Ferry is the Battery Maritime Building, home of the Governors Island Ferry. On the offshore end of the Governors Island Ferry slip, stenciled in large red block letters are the words:

“At The Same Moment”

Visitors often ask me what those words mean:

“At The Same Moment”

and I equally often think to myself that I must look like someone with an answer. Maybe it’s the hard weather squint of my eyes that gives me the look of a man with purpose and certain knowledge, when in fact it is the look of a man who needs glasses.

But the fact is, I do feel as though I have an answer, not only because I have given this question some thought but also because I am one of those people who always has an answer regardless of my familiarity with, or even an opinion on, the subject at hand.

Now the answer, as I see it, is that “At The Same Moment”, is simply an invitation to make a comparison. To look for that tingly romantic attraction between two seemingly unrelated events; unrelated except that they share a moment which, on second thought, may be among the most intimate of all relationships.

~:~

The call came that Aunt Clare’s time was drawing to a close. This would be the Aunt Clare who tried to enroll me in Hebrew School, allegedly as a gift; the same Aunt Clare who gave me The Joys of Yiddish (hardcover), again apparently as a gift; and the same Aunt Clare who, in a last attempt at converting a young Jew to Judaism and evidently as a gift, gave me the Encyclopedia of Jewish Humor (trade paperback).

I think she was trying to tell me something. Something about being a Jew, with all of the imaginary advantages that confers and the big head-start I already had if only………. if only……………… if only.

I of course was noncompliant and she of course was misguided.

Regarding the Hebrew school incident I recall the question being put to me as follows:

My Dad: Hey Art, would you like to go to Hebrew school? Aunt Clare said she would pay for it.
Me: What does it mean? (No!)

My Dad: Well Art, it means going to school an extra day a week
Me: Why would I want to do that? (No!)

My Dad: Well you see Art, yak yak yak yak heritage, yackety-yak yak yak.
Me: No thanks. (Hell no!)

I don’t think Aunt Clare was pleased by my colossal lack of interest, to say nothing of my father’s startling lack of salesmanship, yet paradoxically I count this as an endearing Aunt Clare moment.

~:~

So now it’s after work; it has already been a long day. I am driving down the NJ turnpike in the driving rain, switching lanes and changing radio stations on my way to a room full of anxious Jews; as if there were some other kind.

My mind is in Staten Island thinking about the job. My mind is in Brooklyn thinking about my wife and younger sons; in Manhattan thinking about my eldest son; in Philadelphia thinking about my father and on my final destination, Jenkintown, PA.

I stop at the Molly Pitcher rest area for coffee. Molly, who fought in the Revolutionary war, would doubtless be pleased that her service to the country has paid off in the unrivaled selection of fast food joints at her rest area, beating out her rival rest areas that are named after famous writers and presidents and lesser knowns like Thomas Edison who invented something or other and Vince Lombardi who was famous for his gap-toothed smile and was apparently involved in sports.

Inside at the Starbucks the exhausted “Barista”, who looks less like an Italian coffee wizard and more like an outcast from a Bayonne asbestos factory points his finger skyward and asks “What kind?”, as if to remind me that God hears all and judges all. The chalkboard menu over his head has forty choices in sizes akin to small, medium, large, grande and obese. My blank expression somehow conveys large coffee, black. I turn to go and find myself in a chaotic, afterwork crowd of tired zombies. They recognize me as one of their own as they head towards the fast food flesh.

Back on the turnpike, the hum and monotony of the road has my mind wandering like Ulysses. My thoughts return to Brooklyn and settle for a moment on the family dog Jozey; an animal adored beyond words on one side of our front door and universally reviled on the other side. Logic dictates some cause and effect relationship. I can only account for it by concluding that something is dreadfully wrong with the front door and determine to have it replaced as soon as suitable door and contractor can be obtained.

Exit 6 seamlessly merges the NJ Turnpike with the PA Turnpike. I must have paid ten thousand dollars in tolls going back and forth over these roads to birthdays, weddings, holidays and funerals.

In my experience the only real difference between the four is that at a funeral, the one being celebrated doesn’t expect a gift. Oh and of course the one being celebrated also isn’t present. And in its own way, that’s great. You get to make crass comments and tell embarrassing stories about the deceased without the usual consequences. There’s always plenty to eat and drink and there are lots of laughs but maybe all of this says more about my relatives than it does about the actual occasion.

I exit the PA Turnpike onto Route 611, a four lane road with that meandering, non-grid directionality that marks it as a likely animal track, becoming a Native American path called the Naraticong trail, becoming a section of a colonial road known as the King’s Highway, a section of that becoming York Road in the early 18th century, the section of which I am now driving becoming Old York Road, later on becoming a route on the Swift Sure Stagecoach Line for those in a hurry to get out of Philadelphia.

It’s disconcerting how much becoming is involved in getting to a final destination which, in any event, never turns out to be final at all.

I’m driving through the long rolling hills of this local highway but secretly, simultaneously, I am driving through two landscapes. There is the scene in front of me and the one behind my eyes; past and present occupying my mind in place of nervous anticipation and a pressing need to take a leak.

Everything has changed since I was a kid but in a way everything is the same. My eyes see the full color of the moment but my memory sees in the washed out, nostalgic hues of old Life Magazine photographs; umbers, ochers and grays.

That shopping center used to be a farm. Fifty acres of corn; now fifty acres of parking. There used to be a Hot Shoppes restaurant over there but people stopped eating like that. Then it became a Barnes & Noble bookstore but people stopped reading like that. Now it’s a CVS pharmacy. That sprawling mixed use building used to be a single gigantic department store, Strawbridge & Clothier. That thrift shop was a slot car track and before that it was an appliance store; I guess it’s a bad location. Target used to be Sears. The stores are different but the buildings are mostly the same; the signs and surfaces are flashier but beneath it all basic commerce endures.

Willow Grove Park Mall, there off to the right, used to be Willow Grove Park (“Life is a lark, at Willow Grove Park”), an ancient amusement park with a roller coaster, amusements and kiddy rides; the kind of thing that belongs at the shore or out in the countryside to be discovered while out on a Sunday drive, popular music squeezing out of the AM radio, your dad wearing a hat and your mom a dress, every boy sporting a crew cut and every girl a ponytail. For years after Willow Grove Park closed it sat there idle behind a locked chain link fence, as if waiting, the roller coaster like some long-tailed caged dinosaur, too dumb to know that it was already extinct.

I have been looking through some census data because …..well… I don’t actually have an answer as to why I have been looking through census data. In fact, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know why because it’s likely to have my wife giving me that worried look or that other look she gives me which says “You are going on medication at the first sign of dementia or it’s off to the home with you mister!”

But what is clear from the census is that this suburban town has been losing population every decade since the 1970’s. I left in the 70’s. I’m pretty sure that my leaving didn’t ignite a white flight wave of migration away from suburbs and back to cities by the very children of those young families that migrated in a white flight wave of migration away from the cities to the suburbs but there is nothing like a big old serving of raw data to make you ruminate over the shifting patterns of life and for myself, the impending loss of one more local resident in the person of Aunt Clare.

I arrive in the dark, in this town of my youth, a northern suburb of Philadelphia, where I used to ride my bike, break into abandoned houses, bowl and play pinball at Thunderbird Lanes, see matinees at the Art Deco, Hiway Theater, eat at the sandwich counter at the Rexall drugs and shoplift from the Woolworths. It only now occurs to me that all of these places were old even when I was young.

I pull into the lot of Aunt Clare’s apartment building. The building is the sole residential structure in what some developer must have imagined was the first of many, surrounding a parking lot so expansive that it seems to have been paved in giddy anticipation of a coming boom that never materialized. Her building stands alone at one end of this asphalt carpet.

I park away from the building and sit for a few moments collecting my thoughts and consciously slowing down from 70 mph to 35 mph to motionless in this lamp lit landscape that is utterly still; inertia still pulling me forward. The present folds in, trying to catch up to the past.

I’m thinking to myself that this is a somewhat unfamiliar situation with somewhat unfamiliar people. I know them and I’m very fond of them but after all, I left town 30 years ago. I’ve been back but things are changing and the older I get the more accelerated those changes have become. I don’t know exactly where I stand or even what I’m expected to do. My caffeinated reptilian brain is sending messages and all I can think is that this just doesn’t seem like the kind of situation you want to walk into with a full bladder.

I step out of the car, into the dim light of the parking lot, into the rain and I pee on the asphalt. I wish I could say that in Yiddish. And though I’ve heard it said that Aunt Clare spoke Yiddish like it was French it’s too late to ask her for a translation. It’s also too late to ask her who all those people in all those sepia family photographs are. It is, altogether, just too late.

Between the blacktop below and the black sky above; between the spring rain outside and the deathwatch inside, I close the distance between my car and the lobby. I look up and note the sign; this place is called The Plaza. The name suggests to me that the developers were maybe a little less like giddy and a little more like inebriated.

Lobby, elevator, hallway, door, open, enter.

Sure enough, I arrive at what appears to be Aunt Clare taking her last breath. This wouldn’t be the Aunt Clare I know. The Aunt Clare I know is always late. Always. If you want Aunt Clare to come to dinner, you’d better invite her to lunch.

I know a lot of dead people but I know little about death and dying so when I am assured Aunt Clare has only hours to live I assume that we’re all on the same page about it. Everyone present, nurses, hospice care, relatives and friends are all in agreement with the notable exception of Aunt Clare, but we don’t know that yet and we take up positions.

A pod of whales protectively circles the vulnerable cows and pups and likewise we start ambling in and out of the bedroom where Aunt Clare, unconscious in the arms of her daughters, is toying with infinity.

Everyone is on edge. Aunt Clare is extremely frail; intervals of 30 seconds or more between clusters of heavy breathing has everyone holding their breath along with her. Like the breathing, our waiting is a state of hyperbolic anticipation but that’s not a state that can be maintained for long. Small talk breaks out, escalates into conversation with forays into nervous laughter and finally the all out assault of genuine laughter. Laughter makes everyone hungry; it’s time to feed the troops and as if on cue the food arrives. Since this is America it arrives in the form of high quality take-out. Reinforcements arrive in the persons of cousins and kids and spouses and significant others.

Normalcy breaks out for a time but Aunt Clare, as the hostess, needs attending to and the cycle begins anew. Hours wear on and then days. My father, Aunt Clare’s 89 year old baby brother, is suffering greatly. He hates sad movies, scary movies, suspense, romance and dystopian movies and anything epic. He just doesn’t have the patience for epic and everything else is upsetting. Clearly this isn’t playing to his strengths which at this point are few and dwindling by the hour.

His anxiety is on the rise along with everyone else’s and as exhaustion sets in it invades the room; a poison gas that displaces oxygen and restraint which is not a great metaphor for a Jew. Too much fact, too little simile.

There is a question hovering in the stale air.

My father blurts out “What are we learning from this?” which is a close approximation of what he is trying to say. And then, “Isn’t there something we can do for her?” Loaded with pain meds and cradled in the loving arms of her daughters, caressed by friends, it’s hard to think of what more can be done except the obvious. It’s the obvious he’s talking about.

There. It’s been said. And in a way, it’s best that he said it. At 89 and soon to be the last of his generation, he’s the only one in the room that can say it. It absolves the rest of us of our own thoughts. Unfortunately the answer is no. Short of applying a pillow this is going to take as much time as it is going to take.

As remarkable, and I suppose as inevitable, as is my father’s plea for mercy is the response from my cousin, one of Aunt Clare’s daughters.

In an amazing show of grace, using only a few words but with excellent articulation, so there should be no misunderstanding, she gently but firmly explains that everything that can be done, is being done.

It’s the articulation that settles the matter and only a crazy person could misunderstand the message. I look to the old man and he is old, but he understands and now I understand too…..

My cousin and my dad are each the baby of the family. Aunt Clare and I are each the middle child. Aunt Clare is the middle child mother, being mothered by her daughter, the baby of her family. My father is the baby of the family being mothered by his son who is the middle child of his family.
In my meager way I am supporting my cousin who is supporting Aunt Clare who had supported my father as a child, who had supported me as a child, by taking the burden of support off of my cousin so she doesn’t have to mother her uncle.

This is making me queazy.

But support is popping up all over the room in opposition to the polar void of our bleak prospects. There is no hope but there is the matter of comfort to balance the antimatter of despair.

Support is a funny thing; if it’s there it will get used and it will be there so long as it is used, pretty much following the laws of supply and demand. And with so many people in the apartment there is plenty of supply to go around. So much so that in the ebb and flow of things, the supply of support in the room has, for the moment, so far exceeded demand that it has erupted into random acts of affection. I have just come from the kitchen and magnetically hugged my cousin’s adult daughter. It was wordless and mutually consented to. It may be the first time that I’ve hugged this person with such affection or even been able to properly acknowledge our attachment and I couldn’t be happier to be in this place at this moment. Furthermore, it is the first time I’ve really seen this person interacting with her loved one and I now see that while Aunt Clare is dying in the bedroom, there is something blossoming in the living room right in front of me

My other young cousin’s girlfriend is there. We’ve met before but I haven’t a clue who she is. Sometimes I feel like an outsider in this family but then I suppose she feels the same way. Something about this web of support where everyone is both holding up and being held up. Somehow the ice is broken and it turns out she’s totally great and now we’re fast friends. Fast friends but true friends.

The whole thing is like the food pyramid of emotional support. I better bring up a picture of that thing because I know for a fact that it’s changed a couple of times in the last 50 years and let’s face it I, like the rest of the world, never paid any attention to it anyway.

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I’m a low level player so I should probably be on the ground floor with breakfast cereal; sweet but not especially nourishing. And I’m not disputing it but I do feel that, with a little effort, I could step up to fresh produce though that’s probably just my pride at work. Don’t get me wrong, I’m okay being grouped in with tag lines like “Magically Delicious” or “Breakfast of Champions” and waffle is one of my favorite words; just so long as I’m not in with the kosher dills and gherkins or any of the health foods like dried fruit or cashews. I just don’t relish the idea of being thought of as pickled, shriveled or nuts.

What isn’t in dispute is that Aunt Clare is at the apex, the pointy end of the pyramid, the one being supported. Let’s see, potato chips, cookies, candy, soda and mayonnaise. That’s a food group? I mean, I kind of get the first four but doesn’t mayo belong in the condiment group or whatever group tuna salad and coleslaw belong to?

And what’s with chocolate being in with the candy? Sure candy is candy but chocolate is food.

Below Aunt Clare must be her daughters. They are the ones who are really doing the heavy lifting so it’s only proper that they should be in with the Surf n’ Turf. Then come spouse and adult children and the various significant others. The third generation, the adult grandchildren should probably be in with the salad or stir-fry. Everyone has a place and everyone has a food group. Okay, so far so good. But wait, that isn’t right because one of the kids is a medical person administering Aunt Clare’s meds and explaining what’s going on and why Aunt Clare’s breath holding is up over 50 seconds. In my mind he should be promoted to the smoked fish platter at the very least.

So we’ve covered a lot of food and a lot of people in their food group / supportive roles but ……. Hey!! Wait a second!! Where the hell is pizza? Or should I be saying, Who the hell is pizza? Now I’m getting confused. And not for nothing but why isn’t beer on this list? And the raw bar assortment. Where is the bourbon, fried chicken and John Coltrane? Doesn’t anyone over at Consolidated Food Pyramids LLC understand how dinner works? I can’t eat like this!! And I’ll bet you can’t either but that’s not the point. The point is that the food pyramid metaphor has completely fallen apart and I don’t have a plan B.

Okay so we’re nothing like the food pyramid. I can accept that but we are like something and the longer we mill around the more that something becomes apparent. Whether she is unwilling or unable to leave just yet, Aunt Clare has created this scene wherein all manner of people are hangin’ around and getting to know each other better.

I think we need some kind of Link Diagram (a phrase I may have just now coined) that will incorporate the system structure, pattern of behavior and events, to understand what’s going on here but I think it can be adequately defined by the shorthand term – Family.

And as a family we are relying on the basic tools that any Jews worth their schmaltz possess; We may not know where we are and we may not know where we are going but we know how to keep moving forward. We may be surrounded by tragedy and we may be in the midst of heartbreak, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a laugh to be had. And just because we’re not hungry doesn’t mean we’re not going to eat.

All in all, I think Aunt Clare would have been well pleased with that.

Cross Country

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The AAU Cross Country Nationals were held in Rock Hill, South Carolina this year. My little guy, Coleman, is 8 years old and he qualified in his age group, the Sub-Bantams. I think that means little chickens and I try not to read anything more into it than that. Cole runs Indoor Track, Outdoor Track and Cross Country. He’s always been fast and annoyingly energetic but track has given him confidence, discipline, a team he loves and a place to belong. He identifies with his group, which can be a two edged sword but the coaches are adamant about supporting the sport through respect for all runners regardless of team affiliation.

Cole has qualified for The Nationals before but we never went to anything beyond the Regional Championships. It isn’t the kind of thing we can really afford but at the same time, he’s been running track for about a year and a half and this is his last go ’round as a Little Chicken. He loves it and we’re very proud of him; we just felt like he deserved it and once he moves on to Bantam, being on the younger end of that group, he may not qualify again for some time. We booked the flight, a car rental and the hotel. The whole team has a block of rooms at the Rock Hill, Holiday Inn, and we’re all set to go.

Why is it that just when you think you’ve got things pretty well figured out, that’s just about the time when they fall apart?

Two days before the flight we get a message on our answering machine. The message is from Randy, the manager of the Rock Hill, Holiday Inn. Randy says our 99 dollar room was booked wrong and do we still want it for 227 dollars. This is not good. It was a stretch to go in the first place. The added expense makes the whole thing suddenly seem like a bad idea. And by the way, what do they mean it was booked wrong? We called Holiday Inn’s 800 number and booked it more than a month ago. They gave us the room! They told us the price! It’s not like we haggled over it and they reluctantly accepted our ridiculously low offer. And why, a single day after the booking deadline, after mind you, not before but after, has this become an issue? I call the hotel and what sounds like a female parakeet with a southern drawl answers. I explain the message and she says she’s sorry but the manager has gone home for the night but we can call back in the morning. I can see our hotel room, with it’s plush kingsize bed and free continental breakfast, dissolving in front of my eyes and I launch:

“Look lady, you need to call the manager and he needs to call me and explain why
I am holding an 8-1/2 x 11 sheet of paper, complete with confirmation number
and price, that you are about to sell to the highest bidder. Now listen to me!
I do not want to get down there and find my room gone.
Do you understand me?”

~

“Yes sir, I’ll call him! Thank you for calling the Rock Hill, Holiday Inn.”

~

I email the coach and he says he’ll follow up. The next day I get his email; the hotel manager is immovable and the booking agent is claiming ignorance of the whole thing.

One way or the other, I always believe a claim of ignorance.

I don’t hear from the hotel manager or anyone else before the flight and I have to say I’m worried. I feel like my only chance is to have a face to face with this guy but in my heart I know it will be useless. There is money on the line and I have no leverage whatsoever.

The night before leaving I have a dinner date in Philadelphia with The Fungi Social Club, about whom I may write at a later date. I make my way to Philly and stop at my mom’s. I don’t write much about my mom. What can a person say about their mom that won’t end up sounding schmaltzy or maudlin or get everyone at the bar crying in their beer. Better to acknowledge the lady respectfully and move on. Everyone, or at least every son, knows what I mean. But setting all that aside for a moment, it is worth mentioning that my mom has a better Scotch collection than your mom.

I was sampling some of that collection and recounting my Lilliputian woes because moms always like that kind of thing; they always take your side and occasionally they even have good advice. This wasn’t going to be one of those occasions. Her logic was that Southerners are well mannered people and therefore I should basically throw myself on the mercy of a court that still seems to be licking wounds suffered during the Civil War and its apparently endless aftermath.

I have often wondered about that; how The Civil War seems to be a defining part of Southern identity, especially when compared with The North. I’ve worked with a lot of guys from The South and invariably there is a Confederate flag somewhere in the mix, often tattooed directly upon their person. In The North it is a non issue on every level. It is not on anyone’s mind in the slightest. Except as an academic matter, it is a fully forgotten event. No grudge is borne, no resentment nursed, no offense taken. There is no gloating or self satisfaction regarding the war. There are no meaningful reminders; nothing to jog the collective memory but even if there were, nobody cares. It is not part of how Northerners define themselves for the very simple reason that Northerners don’t define themselves as Northerners. Only Southerners do that.

There are monuments of course; there are always monuments. But Civil War monuments are few and discreet and really kind of anonymous. Monuments are meant to evoke history but in fact they seem to isolate and entomb it. Stone is noble and there is stately grandeur in the Beaux Arts and NeoClassic architecture typical of the period but that’s all you get. On the actual subject at hand, The Civil War, the stone is mute; bloodless; amnesic even.

Just to go that extra mile, because I’m an extra mile kind of guy, I have returned to my old neighborhood. For a time, I lived on West 89th street. At the end of the block, in Riverside Park, is Soldiers and Sailors Monument. Every time I walked the dog I would go look at it; try to imagine a past when it was new. When the war was still a memory within easy reach. Nothing.

Now I’m here in Morningside Heights, 122nd and Riverside Drive, to stand in front of Grant’s Tomb, just to check for residual emotions and I’m getting nothing. It doesn’t help that in 1865 my people were busy being persecuted in Eastern Europe but still, I’m an empathetic person and I have a good understanding of history; I’ve done my reading. Also, I’m a middle child; I see everyone’s point of view and they are all equal before me. I have no trouble putting myself in your shoes or anyone else’s shoes; the more so if you’re sporting an 11 1/2 wide, in which case we’re as good as siblings. When confronted with history I can usually force an emotion but then, I get choked up over the pastoral section of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture too. But honestly, Grant’s Tomb elicits nothing. A total blank. I mean, who the hell is buried here anyway?

Ok, so back in Philly I wandered off to my dinner, which included a Scotch tasting, a wine sampling and an excellent bottle of Port. I shall forever be grateful that the last bus back to New York was a 9 o’clock. Had it been an 11 o’clock, I may well be there even to this very day. An evening like that can so easily slip down that slope that can only end in Tequila and regret. I made my farewells to my fellow club members and scooted back to the safety of Brooklyn and the promise of an afternoon flight into an uncertain set of accommodations.

I spent a mostly sleepless night rehearsing the coming confrontation with the front desk. I tapped around the internet looking for a Bed & Breakfast in the Rock Hill area figuring that this event alone would probably use up almost every available hotel room. I was encouraged to find some beautiful spots at a fraction of the cost of my anonymous room; if that room was still even mine. The only real advantage of staying at the hotel is mixing with the other kids and parents on the team. It may not seem like much but really it is a very rich part of the whole experience.

The next day Cole and I made it out to LaGuardia without running into traffic. The plane ride was smooth and uneventful and my hangover was well within the nausea control limits recommended by the F.A.A.

So far, so good.

With the ultra-friendly chatterbox Dean, at the wheel of the Dollar Rent a Car bus, we headed out to the aptly named Rental Car Road. As a person who gets lost almost every time I get behind the wheel, I appreciate that kind of simplicity. I would recommend a trip to the Charlotte Airport based solely on the chance of getting a ride from Dean. He is too good to pass up just because you have no reason to be there. Personable doesn’t even begin to describe this cat. With the looks of an aging Rock-a-Billy star and a kind of affable southern charm, he strikes me as a man who, in another time, would have been a riverboat gambler. And not just any old riverboat gambler. A real cardsharp. The kind they used to hang. He would have worked the Proud Mary or the Natchez or the Mississippi Queen. And you know what? I would have considered it an honor to lose my paycheck to him. Dean seems to me to be an inhabitant of the new south but a product of the old. Not only that but he’s super helpful and inquisitive beyond anything that can be covered in a 4 minute bus ride. I want to tip Dean just for being Dean. As I reread these last sentences I have to wonder if I have an unusually low threshold for what constitutes acceptable entertainment. Whatever the case, this trip is starting out well even as we are heading towards the OK Corral of booking conflicts. We step out of Dean’s chariot and into the Dollar Rent-a-Car office:

“Welcome to Dollar Rent-a-Car. How are you today?”

~

“I’m good. How you doin’ ?”

~

“I’m fantastic!”

~

And you know what? She is fantastic! Her name is Shelae and she is an attractive black woman in her early thirties with an attitude so positive, so genuinely upbeat, that she makes me feel ok about renting a compact car. As if it really isn’t a reflection on my personal prosperity, not to mention my manhood. But I have my son, my smile and my strong chin; I can get by on that.

“How can I help you today?”

~

“Yeah, me and my friend are here to pick up our rental.”

~

At first she’s confused; maybe she’s thinking I’m schizophrenic. Then she leans over the high counter and spends a few moments exchanging pleasantries with Cole. She makes a nice attempt to seduce me into some unneeded insurance and points us towards the area where the compacts are. I ask her to repeat the directions because without a doubt I am going to get lost in the parking lot. Shelae cheerfully escorts us out to the compacts. She’s a sweetheart. I feel bad about not buying the extra insurance. I don’t need it but I feel like it would have made her even happier, if that’s possible. I’m starting to sense a trend here. Something about southern hospitality and being pleasantly separated from one’s money.

We’re in the lot now and there are no compact cars:

“Oh well.” says Shelae. “Take any car you like.”

~

I’m really beginning to like it here.

So let’s see. There isn’t a lot of choice. I can either take a Nissan Something-or-Other or a Dodge muscle car. Come to think of it, I guess there’s really no choice at all. We exit the lot, I put the pedal to the metal, skid around a corner and off into the North Carolina afternoon with squeals of terror and delight coming from the back seat.

We shoot down I-77 and cross into South Carolina. Over the border, I-77 becomes The Billy Graham Parkway. For an urban sophisticate, that’s creepy. It’s creepy for me too. A quick station seek on the radio reveals about nine stations. Most of them are religious gobbledygook, one is political gobbledygook and the remainder are playing the top 7 songs of their respective genres in lightning fast rotation. It looks like the genteel hand of civility is fixed to a strong arm of conformity. This does not appear to be an environment of competing ideas. Lots of black and white; not a whole lotta grey.

Exit 79 off of I-77, a left, pass a giant shopping center, two lights and another left, to the back of another giant shopping center and there it is, the Holiday Inn. The hotel looks the same as the surrounding car dealerships, the Sears, the chain stores, the chain restaurants and every other retail outlet I’ve seen thus far. I know that as far as I may travel in this state, every town will be dominated by a shopping center and every shopping center will be identical. I believe they call this Low Risk Architecture; not because it can’t offend anyone, or inspire anyone for that matter, but because it is built so economically that even a total business failure isn’t going to cost anyone a whole lot of money. Pour a concrete slab, throw up the prefab stucco walls, fill it with cool stuff from China, man it with low wage workers, open the doors and complain about how your culture is disappearing. Or, as I like to say, “Aim Low.”

Ok, so we enter the lobby and I see a young guy at the reception desk. His name tag says Randy. Randy is the manager. From my perspective, Randy has been the point man for the hotel in this debacle. Everyone who has tried to correct this situation, the booking agent, the coach, whoever all else, have had to deal with Randy but I haven’t actually talked with him yet. Randy is just finishing talking with a very large and clearly irate black man. I can see the hopelessness of my situation but Cole is by my side and I have to both spare him any anxiety about this, his first big trip, and get him to the bathroom because he’s turning yellow.

I am all smiles and urgency. I ask where the bathroom is and ever so nonchalantly slide our reservation across the desk. Who knows, maybe we’ll slip through the corporate cracks.

When we return, there is a local cop standing by the desk. I think the big black guy rattled Randy and he’s decided to call in reinforcements; a little bit of cavalry. Better to have and not need, than need and not have. Turning to me, Randy says there’s a problem. So much for corporate cracks. The details of the conversation are not interesting but the bottom line is that he, as the local representative of Holiday Inn, can not honor this reservation which was made by them, the Corporate Holiday Inn.

I’m calm and make my case; he recounts the recorded conversation of my wife and the Holiday Inn 800 number operator. Our mistake was not booking through the local, graft approved, booking agent. How that bears on the 800 number folks I can’t say; either can Randy. He parses the language but his case is weak, or would be if he weren’t holding the magnetically encoded key card to my room. I ask him if I’m the only one who is having this problem and he says no; not by a long shot. He’s had cancellations and arguments all day and most of the guests have yet to arrive.

My assessment of the man and the situation is rolling over and in all fairness I need to adjust my expectations. He’s not a bad guy but he’s been put in a bad position by a system that doesn’t integrate the local booking process with the national booking process. Throw in a wildcard third party like the booking agent and it’s time to call the sheriff. Randy’s kind of been left holding the bag by an uncaring machine whose executives would never dream of staying in one of their own hotels. I see him as just another little guy. Unfortunately, I’m littler still. Our conversation has been cordial but has come to an impasse.

Randy offers me the room at $227 a night and assures me that this is the discounted price. For that kind of money I could have stayed on Times Square but then, we’re not on Times Square. When handed this defeat I turn to the only option I have left and wouldn’t you know, it’s my mom.

You see, I’ve lived in New York City for half my life and I have found that New Yorkers have a very fine sense of injustice and are hair trigger adamant about their rights. When you live in an eat or be eaten environment it only makes sense to bite first but it can be cause for misunderstanding. However today, with my mother’s gentle guidance, and the good manners and quiet nature borne of my native Philadelphia, I have not bitten. Dean and Shelae have prepared me for this:

“Would you still like the room?”

~

I do not let slip any anger or resentment. He has won the battle and it’s time to move on. My tone is all good humor; our conflict, no more than a game of checkers:

“Well, we’re not gonna chase all over town looking for a room. Sure, I’ll take it.”

~

Randy prints up the papers, I sign them and he hands me the key card. That’s when I make my move; after the surrender of Fort Sumter. But here’s the thing, it wasn’t premeditated; it just came out:

“Hey man, is there anything you can do for me so that I won’t feel so bad about this?”

~

Randy takes a moment and I can see he’s honestly reflecting. Then he says:

“You know, you’ve been so nice about this, how about dinner for both of you.
And drinks. As much as you want.”

~

He hands me his card with instructions to the restaurant staff. It reads:

:

—Dinners free. Drinks free. Everything free—

~

“Wow, that’s great! Thank you so much. Honestly. It makes a big difference.”

~

“And full breakfast too. As long as you’re here.”

~

“Wonderful! Thank you so much!”

~

“I’ll tell you what. Let me change the price of the room.”

~

He tears up the contract and I get a much more reasonable rate. Coupled with dinner, drinks and breakfast, I’m shaking his hand across the fortification of the the front desk and we’re pals. Truly and honestly.

Randy notes that we are in a room with a single king size bed and he offers to upgrade us at no charge.

I say:

“Look Randy, unless this is the honeymoon suite and you need it, you’ve already been really good to us.

Really, we’re fine. Thank you.”

~

So I sign the new contract, he hands me the keycard and the last thing he says is:

“I gave you free Internet too. The code is inside your key envelope.”

——

When we get to our room I have to laugh. It was all so easy. Like the song says:

As easy as

ABC123

Which, perhaps not coincidentally, happens to be the access code to the Internet.

~

A little while later Cole and I are sitting down to dinner and the influx of guests has begun. Arguments are breaking out even as a second cop arrives. I have a nice piece of fish with lightly sautéed vegetables. Cole has a hamburger as big as his head. I am sipping a craft beer and Cole is working on a lemonade. We have a low angle view of the devolving state of affairs at the desk. The booking agent, wherever he may be, has outdone himself. Rooms have been changed, without notice, to other cheaper hotels but the booked price remains the same. Rooms have been given away without warning; tensions are escalating.

“Overbooked?!”

The word is spat like an obscenity; an outrageous question; an inconceivable statement. Voices are being raised and fingers are being pointed. It’s a profit taking frenzy and poor Randy has been left to fend for himself. He’s doing his best but he’s been surrounded. I find myself witness to one individual’s capacity for stubbornness as he fights off one assault after another. I am reminded again of Southern pride and Southern sensitivities. His professionalism and dedication to the cause of hospitality, whose motto could easily be:

The Customer Is Always Right In All Matters That Don’t Concern Money

are the only things that can explain his not yielding to a demand for unconditional surrender. That and the fact that he’s probably the only one here who is actually armed. Bottom line: Corporate policy sucks and the booking agent has clearly screwed everyone; communication between the elements is non existent and the situation is simultaneously unraveling in both an ad hoc and post hoc manner, which I guess is kind of an accomplishment.

I feel bad about it and especially bad for Randy but the parties have engaged and there is no turning back. Fresh skirmishes are breaking out all over the lobby; North and South are locked in a struggle, the scope of which neither understands and the forces of which are out of either’s control. Forces at a distance, powerful and determined, have set events in motion. Once again the result is conflict, played out at a local level between individuals who don’t understand each other. One party cannot let go of the past and the other does not recognize the past even when it is staring him in the face, asking for a credit card.

Cole and I were the sole exception. We the meek, we the pacifists, we the noncombatants. The generosity of our host was not just our good fortune. It was a peace offering to god, before the onset of hostilities; our dinner, a sacrifice cast upon the waters in hopes that the inevitable conflict could somehow be avoided. Of course, nothing inevitable can be avoided.

Later, after the money is shed like blood, the rivals will retreat to the bar. There, they will nurse their wounds, have a nice snack and wonder at the conflicts unfolding on the wide screen TV and at the ever present possibility of man biting man.

Time Is On Your Side

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Hey Drew,

Well it’s just about a year since you died; figured I’d give you an update. In some ways it seems like a lot has happened and in some ways it seems like nothing has happened at all.

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

But before I proceed, please forgive me for calling you dead. I mean, you are dead but it’s not my intention to be judgmental. I don’t consider it a shortcoming on your part and in no way am I suggesting that it makes you any less lovable; only less animated; at least on this side of the great divide. There are euphemisms for the dead and I like euphemisms as much as the next tiddlywink but not for the purpose of soft pedaling an idea. It does a certain injustice to the subject. An injustice I can usually accomplish without anything more than my own faulty powers of description.

So what’s new. Well, since you died, there have been a bunch of movies. Of courses there have. But I haven’t seen any of them. You have time. Me? No way! Not since the kids started arriving 16 years ago.

The ads make the movies look good and that’ll get you wondering about those ads. It’s usually a single image, a still taken from the movie; a single frame. It represents the first and possibly only sales impression plastered on a subway wall or roadside billboard. These days, the average blockbuster runs about two hours. When you figure 24 frames per second,1440 frames per minute and 86,400 frames per hour, we’re talking somewhere in the neighborhood of 173,000 frames to cull for that one frame that successfully captures and compresses the film into a single ad-worthy photo. One shot that tells the entire story. That’s a lot of pressure on one image and the person who picks it. That could explain why they almost always go with the shot of the hot babe holding an Uzi. Nothing succeeds like success, am I right? Of course I am because it’s not my saying.

But I digress. The movies, or at least the ads, look good; action adventures, historical dramas, romantic comedies but the fact is Drew, you haven’t really missed out. You seen one you’ve seen ’em all. You saw High Plains Drifter; after that everything is redundant. Production values are way up of course but the stories are the same as the ones they were telling in the Paleolithic. The only real difference is in good grooming and teeth. Teeth never looked so good and doesn’t it kind of make you curious about what those actors’ skulls will look like after the autopsy? I know I’m curious so I figure everyone else is too.

What else? The kids are growing but when does that change? I guess there’s a certain point where they stop growing and you start shrinking but now that I have a teenager I feel like the shrinking has already begun. I may be the same height but it’s obvious that I’m getting smaller in his eyes.

I remember asking my mom a question when I was young; maybe 8 or 9. She said she didn’t know the answer and go look it up in the encyclopedia. You remember those things? Volume after volume of unread information. Clad in a cover of authority and utterly uninviting. The only cool part was the acetate see-through human body pages. Pull back the page with skin and there’s the muscles, turn the page and there’s the organs, turn the page and there’s the veins and nerves and last, the bones; the scaffolding for the whole bloodless affair. As I recall those pages were sexless but I’m going to have to go to the thrift store and look that up to confirm.

When my mom said she didn’t know the answer to my question, it was a shock. I don’t believe I had ever asked her a question that she couldn’t answer. That was probably, for me, the moment my parents started to diminish in size.

In retrospect I suppose the real shock is that it took me so long to ask a hard question. My shortcoming I’m sure but once I got around to it, it really put the pin in the bubble of parental omnipotence. Naturally I’ve never forgiven them. Come to think of it, it was probably my father. To this day my mom pretty much has a reasonable answer for any question shy of,

Why does a push broom work better when you pull it?

Don’t get me wrong, my dad has answers too, it’s just that none of them are plausible. With him it’s best to stick to the tried and true. Questions about photography, classical music, art before 1945 and his secret rice salad recipe; a recipe that is so secret that even he doesn’t know what it is but if he ever remembers where he hid the damn thing, look out! Your gonna love it!

What else can I tell you? The forces of reason continue to be heavily outnumbered by the forces of stupidity. I’m sure the same applies where you are but here we have laws against duct taping reactionaries to the hood of your Chrysler. I would say that people are more selfish than ever but I haven’t been around forever so I can’t state that with any kind of authority.

The weather has been unusually bad or unusually good depending on your preference for that sort of thing.

On that subject, one really big advance is that now the weather channels are naming storms that are not of hurricane or even tropical strength. For instance, right at this very moment I am at work and we are in the teeth of a light flurry called Saturn, after the Roman god of agriculture one would presume. We’re in our third day of this thing having already suffered through a day of intermittent drizzle followed by a day of humidity and expectation.

To say that it is ridiculous is to ridiculously undervalue the word ridiculous; to rob it of its awesome power of absurdity. I mean, what next? Shall we name fog? Yeah, let’s do that! Let’s name fog. We can name it Mel, after the Blue Fog himself, Mel Tormé. Or the overheated tempest in the teapot of Mel Gibson’s skull.

Let’s give people numbers and let’s give weather a first name.

In fact, we already give people numbers and we attach emotions to colors, so why not give weather a first name, you know, get on more familiar terms with it. Maybe even make friends. Treat it as a pet with all the goods and the bads.

~o~

Good evening this is your Channel 4 weather team.

I’m Brad Nailor and here’s our weather gal, Anita Kiss.

What’s happening out there Anita?

~

Well Brad, Once Upon a Time in the West, we would have been

Walking in a Winter Wonderland at this time of year.

But an atmospheric disturbance named Rascal is bringing a storm of

sunshine, moderate temperatures and gentle breezes throughout the Rockies today.

Such a good one, Rascal. So good, Atta boy.

~

That’s very clever Anita, but out here, East of Eden, Ohio, The Weather Outside is Frightful

and The Philadelphia Story is no better.  With gail force winds blowing North by Northwest,

the tail end of Superstorm Fluffy has been shitting all over the Coastal States and

pissing rain on the Central States resulting in a lot of hopelessly damaged floor coverings.

Meanwhile the front end of this same storm has been chewing the arms off of sofas

all across the South.

Bad Fluffy! Bad!

~o~

In the wide world of sports, everyone is  running back and forth and throwing things or kicking things or hitting things. Sometimes all of the above and occasionally it even happens during the game. The common denominator seems to be court time and penalties. Avoiding jail and paying fines for a near infinite variety of indiscretions; firearms, drug possession, adultery, assault. Unsportsmanlike conduct no doubt but all the evidence suggests that Drunk & Disorderly should have its own league.

In other entertainment news, the alternate reality of Television is better than its ever been and still it’s a complete waste of time. I would guess that time is not a big issue in the great beyond but here people treat their brief portion of it as if it was time in its entirety. I’ll bet where you are people wake up dead all the time and totally surprised.

As for politics, it is beyond imagining that it would hold any interest for you. For that matter it doesn’t hold any interest for me either. I know the difference between right and wrong and that means political news and punditry are superfluous. I may be alone among the living in that view but I’m certain it puts me in good company among the dead.

You were always an avid fan of music but unfortunately nobody makes music anymore. Of course, that statement isn’t true but sometimes it seems like it’s true. There is good music being made you just can’t tell by listening to it.

Jimi Hendrix came out with his 978th record this year. And in science, there are some theories brewing about what existed before the Big Bang. I don’t see how either one of those events is explainable. Asking what happened before time is about the same as asking what happens after time is done. I think you’re in a better position to answer that question than the rest of us.

One thing is for certain; Time the topic, unlike time itself, is a recurring theme. Growing kids, aging parents and a ” to do” list that won’t get done, conspire to keep a person busier than any grand design could possibly have intended. My “to do” list, even just around the house, is so much longer than my bucket list that I’m considering doing the latter first, just to get it out of the way. With any luck I’ll then die and avoid the chores altogether. Not a great plan but certainly a good plan.

In the year or so since you died, about 60 million other people have also died. In that same amount of time over 60 million new cars came off of assembly lines. I’m not sure what to make of that.

The same year saw an increase in world population of about 75 million and they don’t make Twinkies anymore. I’m not sure what to make of that either.

Look, I could go on quite a bit but honestly, you haven’t missed a thing. This holds particularly true because you’re dead but even if you weren’t, the world is still the world and it shall ever be thus.

In that respect I imagine that your average day in the land of the dead shares some basic similarities with your average day in the land of the living. One day is pretty much like the next; some laughing and some shouting, a lot of waiting around. An unaccountable urge to be productive and an equally unexplainable feeling that things that don’t matter could have turned out better but since they don’t matter it’s not a big deal.

I don’t believe in heaven or hell or god or satan or any of that other silly nonsense but I do believe that just because you’re dead doesn’t mean you have nothing left to give. In a way I guess that explains the Jimi Hendrix record and also this little bit of wordplay in your honor, which brings me back around again to you. The world is the same except for the corner you inhabited and in that regard the only thing that changed when you died is that your corner of the world misses you.

The Wedding Toast

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____________________________________________________________________________________

From:  themesanddeviations.com                                                                                             Hide 

______________________________________________________________________

To: freecyclenewyorkcity@yahoogroups.com

______________________________________________________________________

[FCNYC] OFFER: Wedding Toast; Brooklyn, 11218

April 2, 2013  5:27 AM.                                                                                   Mark

______________________________________________________________________

Offering a Wedding Toast in very good condition. Barely used. Just once and it was no one you know.

It is spring. The wedding season is upon us. Love is in the air and your best friend has thoughtlessly asked you to provide the toast. Fear not! I am offering this ever so slightly used toast. Please feel free to edit, change names etc., as needs be. If you are really backed up I can give the toast personally in exchange for yummy hors d’oeuvres.

 

~~~~~~~~~

 

Good evening everyone, I’d like to say a few words about the happy couple but, sorry to say, I am not a man of few words.

 

I hope you are all….uh  drunk. If not, now may be a good time to reconsider your sobriety and to help you along let’s start with a toast. Yes, I know what your thinking. You’re thinking that a toast hardly ever starts with a toast but I say damn the rule makers and their beady little eyes with the whites all……….white. So let us start with a toast to..to..uh… pretty flowers.

 

You know it’s not every day that I get asked to stand up and make an ass of myself. I mean, ordinarily I do it without any prompting at all. I just volunteer for the position.

 

Now, when I think of Jean and Clem, I think the same things that everyone else thinks. My but they’re tall……. And pretty…… And smell nice. But that’s not the half of it. They are also good and decent people. And that is a rare enough quality to deserve……. another toast!

 

While this is not a World Wrestling Federation sanctioned event, at least not yet, it seems to me that Love is like wrestling. In fact, when love is really good it actually is wrestling.

 

So let’s have a look at the contestants. In this corner, weighing in at a feathery, oh, I don’t know, 11 pounds we have “The Cat Woman” Lean Jean Shin.

 

Let’s take a look at her. A person could look at Jean for a long time and it would be time well spent. Fiercely loyal, obsessively organized and ridiculously responsible she is not a contestant to be toyed with.

 

Blessed with a voice like blue fog and a mind like a train whistle she can easily overwhelm the unprepared opponent. In the ring she has a sure sense of where she is, if not necessarily how she got there.

 

Of course like any woman Jean exudes a quiet reserve that promises swift punishment for any infraction of the ever changing rulebook.

But hey, that is a good quality in a wife and a great quality in a mother.

 

In the other corner weighing in at a respectable oh, I don’t know, 19 pounds, we have that crazy cocktail himself “The Mighty Mixer”, Duke Clement.

 

Fiercely loyal, somewhat organized and occasionally responsible he is clearly a challenger to be toyed with. When I think of Clem a lot of things come to mind but wrestling isn’t one of them.

 

Blessed with a mind like cotton candy and a voice like Barry White on helium, Clem charms his opponents, leaving them hopelessly confused but strangely cheerful. In the ring Clem has no idea where he is but hey, it looks like a good place to throw a party.

 

Like most men, Clem doesn’t know where the hell the rule book is or even how to read it.

But hey, that is a good quality in a husband and a great quality in a father.

 

So these are the contestants. This match, this union, of brains and beauty, love and companionship promises us the most important thing that life has to offer:

 

Entertainment

 

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