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.

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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Once Upon A Time

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I had a brief conversation with a gentleman on the subway stairs this morning. I was walking down to the lower level platform where the D, N and R trains stop. He was walking up to the 9th Avenue Bridge platform where the F and G trains stop. He wanted to know what train I had just gotten off of; the one he had just missed.

“G?”

“Yeah, G.”

I guess I could have just said “G” and been done with it but I must have been feeling chatty. I had the same question for him.

“R?”

“No, D.”

I could tell things were really warming up between us. But the fact is, I knew the relationship had no future. We were simply heading in different directions.

If you are not from here you may think that this was an exchange between two people, in a city of millions, who will never see each other again. But that isn’t really the case. Traveling very early in the morning, well before dawn, catching the same train every day, you do tend to see the same faces. Actually you rarely notice the faces but you know these are the same people, day to day.

Down on the platform I take a seat on a bench. Same seat, same bench, every day. I sit on that bench for about five minutes before the R train comes and during that time, most mornings, a not unattractive middle aged Hispanic woman walks by. She’s heading to the other end of the platform because that’s where her stairway will be when she exits the train at her stop. It’s a subway thing and if you don’t live in a city with a subway it may not have occurred to you but there you have it.

I don’t know the Hispanic woman’s name and I never will but she always smiles at me and silently mouths, “Good Morning.” I smile and nod back. It’s our little ritual. We’ve been doing it for about 3 years; maybe 4.

One time, on the ride home in the afternoon, I realized I was standing right next to her. We were sharing a pole; the train was crowded. The situation fairly demanded an acknowledgement. It was awkward but ignoring people on the subway is a skill learned early and practiced often.

I thought for a moment that I might say, “So, how was your day?” but we haven’t been formally introduced. In the subway, as in the supermarket, formal introductions are not strictly de rigueur but still, one has to properly read the situation. There are some people who will just break the ice and say “Hello.” Sometimes I’m that person; sometimes not.

But the fact is, I don’t know this lady and I don’t want to know this lady. I’m sure she’s perfectly nice, she’s got a pleasing little something going on in her walk and I know she likes to smile. But I don’t care what’s going on in her life and I don’t want to pretend to care what’s going on in her life. We already have a fully formed relationship. Perfect as a glass marble. Why ruin it with an introduction?

The R train comes; the doors open; I step in. It is the last car on the train; third door from the rear. When I exit I will be at the stairway that takes me to the escalator that puts me in front of the Staten Island Ferry. I sit in the seat by the door that has just been vacated by an overweight Hispanic man. Same as every day.

Across from me is a man who wears pre-washed jeans, a wine colored shirt and work boots that have never seen a day of what I would call work. If it’s cold out he will be wearing a jean jacket that matches his pants. A few stops later a tall woman will get on and she will sit with him and hold his hand. They don’t talk but they are contented in each others company. She is taller than he is and unattractively built but he adores her. He’s a little simple. She likes it that way. She wears a mix of blacks and grays. The colors of their outfits never vary. Season to season the clothes change but not the color scheme. I would guess they shop at Sears.

We will get off at the same stop, Whitehall Street. She will get on the escalator first. He will be one step back and therefore one step down, accentuating their difference in height. He will drum his fingers a few times on her lower back. Every single day. They are creatures of habit, as are we all. We are all headed to Lower Manhattan and I assume they work in the same building; a corporate cafeteria I’m thinking. They are both in their middle fifties. I think they probably met later in life; perhaps each is living with and caring for an elderly parent. It’s just a story I tell myself but it fits the evidence, scanty as it is. They recognize me because all of us that exit together recognize each other. I don’t know why they aren’t coming from the same place. I could easily ask them, but why? My explanation is as meaningful as theirs because I don’t have a pony in their race. And while truth is often stranger than fiction, sure knowledge lacks mystery.

And mystery is the dark matter that propels it all.

I used to have this girlfriend. We were in college together in New Hampshire. Back then, she was the love of my life because she was my first love. Her name was Carole and she was excellent in every way and through the good fortune of youth and my own inadequacies I was spared a life with her. We lived in a divided up old Victorian with 16 bedrooms. One person per room, except at night when a room might be empty and another room might have double occupancy. I’m still friend’s with one of our housemates, Dave. I think it’s my friendship with Dave that reminds me of Carole.

After I left college, Carole and I drifted without direction; further apart and further away until the distance was just too great to bother with. I was 19 and working in a factory. I quit and went traveling around the country. I did that a lot in my youth. I would just get in the car and go. My car or someone else’s, it didn’t matter. Backpack, sleeping bag, camp-stove. Sleep in state parks, bath in town pools, see my country, keep an eye out for local pies.

Heading east, I woke up one morning in a town park on the outskirts of Kansas City, Kansas. I was making my way towards Philadelphia to begin art school; my wanderings having run out of time. I sat over my camp-stove, boiling water for hot chocolate and instant oatmeal, studying the map and considering my options; fast and boring interstates or slow and interesting back roads? It was a Saturday morning. I needed to be in school first thing Tuesday. I only had 3 days but my search for the best route kept pulling me north.

I think detours begin somewhere in the chest. The heart, the lungs, the throat. That’s where you feel detours developing. Then up into the brain for calculating purposes; back down into the chest; double check with the brain. Decide.

Fueled only by beer, sandwiches and desire I drove straight through to Durham, New Hampshire; about 1500 miles. It took something like 28 hours but I wanted to see Carole. I missed her. I stayed for a day and then I left for school. I never saw her again  but I never forgot her either.

Years later, I moved to New York City and eventually, through Dave, I found out that Carole had also moved to New York. Carole is a redhead and every now and then, when I would see a redhead, I would think of her and look for her face in the crowd. I found her name in the phone book and it felt strange. Something we’d started had, to my mind, never been properly completed.

I had always wondered what ever happened to her. I don’t know why but isn’t that always the case? Don’t we always wonder what ever happened to the people who inspired so much emotion? Especially those relationships that  have no clear ending.

More years passed but eventually we did meet up though I don’t recall how that happened. I credit Dave but he calls it blame and doesn’t want any part of it. Carole and I met at a bar and she told me about herself. She asked if I was seeing anyone and I said that I was seeing Heather. She asked if I thought I would marry Heather and I said yes, I thought I probably would. That was only slightly dishonest because, although we were not yet engaged, I have always known that, given the chance, I would marry Heather. I would marry her yesterday; I would marry her tomorrow.

At length, I realized that Carole and I shared nothing in common but our history.

I want to say that this meeting with Carole satisfied the question of what ever happened to her, but in a way it really didn’t. I realized that the reason I hadn’t known, was the very reason that we hadn’t stayed together. I simply hadn’t cared enough and neither had she. The question of what had become of her was so much more interesting than any possible answer that it ended my curiosity about pretty much everyone I ever lost touch with. In a way it was a gift because it freed me to move forward without regret or regard for the past.

In retrospect, I guess the real question wasn’t, What ever happened to her? The real question was, What ever happened to us? but the same answers apply. People like to assign blame for this sort of thing but assigning blame is a pointless exercise. It didn’t work out. That’s all. We were simply heading in different directions.

These days I only think of Carole when I see Dave and only by force of habit. It’s the dried flower of memory. The softness is gone. The scent, with all its associations is gone. Its fertility and promise are gone. But still, it is a flower, worthy of a moments recognition; a reminder that once upon a time, something innocent held an impossible mystery.

 

Duct Tape

 mousey

A man, A mouse, A dog, A house

 

About a week ago I saw a mouse in the kitchen. Actually, the dog and I both saw it. The mouse ran out from under the stove, zipped across the floor and under the dish washer. The dog looked up from her food dish and tracked the intruder with her eyes. Then she looked up at me to confirm that we had seen something. Satisfied with whatever she saw in my face she put her head back down in her bowl.

 

I got out a bunch of glue traps and figured I’d have it all wrapped up by morning. Morning came; nothing. And the next and the next. Ok, so these critters come in from the garden now and then; it’s been another unusually warm winter so maybe it slipped back under the door and returned to the wilds of Brooklyn. Having mentally set the mouse outside for the moment, I am left to wonder: How long do we call something unusual that seems to happen every year?

 

Days pass and last night my little guy and I are in the living room, sitting on the couch, working on his math homework. He takes a break to get a snack which is something he does about every twenty minutes, pretty much ’round the clock. He returns from the kitchen and says:

 

“Dad, there’s a lizard in the kitchen.”

 

My little guy is kind of known for attaching the wrong word to things but I suppose it is in the realm of possibility that someone’s lizard has wandered in. Still, it seems like an unlikely coincidence. I ask him where he saw it, just to confirm what I already know.

 

“It’s right under the thing with the numbers.”

 

There is only one thing with numbers in the kitchen and it’s the stove clock. Uh oh! That doesn’t confirm what I know. I’m still thinking floor. I can feel the paradigm shifting; it’s making me a little bit queasy. The laissez-faire approach isn’t going to work. I’m going to have to kill something.

 

“There’s a lizard in the kitchen? Is it possible he saw a lizard?”

 

Oop, it’s The Wife. Her paradigm is shifting all over the place.

 

This needs to be handled gingerly. She hates rodents of any kind. She also hates lizards. And amphibians. She’s not altogether too fond of birds either. Or fish. Insects, of course. Come to think of it, she’s shown a diminishing interest in children and the vast majority of adults too. She likes me and the dog. The dog and I are about on an even footing; we are locked in a battle for her affection. If I’m the bearer of bad news the wife is gonna freak and the dog is gonna rule, at least for a minute. Thankfully I can pretty much count on the dog to soil the rug at regular intervals but let’s face it, this is also a test of my manliness. And while ordinarily I am an excellent test taker, manliness may not be my strongest subject. Forced to choose sides along the hunter-gatherer divide, I would much rather gather. You don’t even need to force me; I like it better there. It’s like treasure hunting for snacks. Sure I could hunt for my meat if I had to but the fact is, I prefer to do my hunting with a fork. At Peter Luger’s or Spark’s; Smith & Wollensky or The Capital Grille; Five Guys Burgers & Fries or even a nice, store bought pemmican. The only thing I’m really able to kill with any efficiency is time. But that’s not gonna put Chateaubriand on the table or rid me of Stuart Little here.

 

I’m a product of urban civilization; highly evolved with a specialized skill-set but subject to bouts of the heebie-jeebies. Now it’s time to bring that skill-set to bear on this mouse. My specialty is heavy construction and I’m not sure how cranes, gas powered tools and concrete are going to help me sort this out but I feel certain they will.

 

“Okay pal, show me where you saw the lizard.”

 

Off to the kitchen and …… look at that; there’s a mouse on the stove top. We make eye contact and he’s into the heat vent for the oven, directly below the clock. Oh, this is gonna be a snap. Out with the glue traps again, I surround the vents and fire up the oven. In a few minutes the heat will drive the mouse out of the vents onto the traps and voila, mouse on the half shell. Until then I get back to parsing word problems with my young Einstein.

 

Okay, so let’s see:

 

Sheena needs to bake 55 cookies for her sleepover. She has already baked 21 cookies.

How long before Sheena realizes that cookies are loaded with refined sugar

and saturated fats and that diabetes is epidemic in her demographic?

 

It’s the new, New Math. I’m just here for moral support.

 

I return to the kitchen a little while later to collect my prey and there he is scampering across the counter seeking cover behind the fruit bowl. How is that possible? Really, it isn’t. It’s Inconceivable! He was completely surrounded by space age adhesive. I don’t have time to figure it out. He’s cornered and cowering and therefore at his most dangerous. His lightening speed, his barely discernible claws and somewhat bucked teeth are nothing to mess around with. I know! I saw that first Alien movie. Ferocious things come in small packages that come blasting out of your chest cavity. He’s capable of anything and I need to carefully guard my internal organs and major arteries as well as be ready for a screaming retreat if he turns and attacks.

 

And that’s the problem. What I want to do is stand up on a chair and shriek like a little girl. Mice give me the willies. I think it’s the hairless tail. But I’m gonna be no ones hero up on that chair. So what I’m gonna do is release the inner predator. Ok, I’ve released the inner predator and he doesn’t want to come out. Mice give him the willies too. I’m gonna have to go in there and drag his sorry predatory ass out and apply a little shame and encouragement. That done, I am now ready for battle. In his corner, a half ounce of mouse. Possibly ferocious. You can never tell, you know? In my corner, 155 pounds of Hebrew National Bologna. Unquestionably loyal. Questionably brave. Ferocious? I guess you never know until you’re cornered but all the evidence points somewhere west of fearsome; closer I think, to squeamish and reckless. You work with what you’ve got.

 

I rearrange the glue traps at the end of the counter, blocking his way back to the stove. I rustle the fruit bowl and he’s off again and…. I don’t believe it! He has somehow made it tiptoeing at high speed (my goodness they’re fast) across the traps on their plastic rims? Is that what I saw? Unbelievable! Inconceivable!

 

He crosses the stove to the counter on the far side and squeezes into the alcove that holds the microwave. I remember when microwaves first came out. If I had one of those beauties, before the shielding was more or less perfected, I could have turned the microwave to high and nuked him like one of those little pink potatoes. Just another drawback of man’s mastery over nature I suppose. 

 

The important thing is, he’s cornered. The problem is I can’t get at him. Once again I surround the area with glue traps but I’m losing confidence. I need to flush him out and force him onto a trap. But if I walk away I know he will somehow make good his escape. Time to call in my helpmate. By now she’s upstairs in bed with the dog warming her feet. I call her cell phone from my cell phone so as not to arouse suspicion or curiosity from the kids. I don’t need them to see either possible outcome. The one where I waste the City Mouse of storybook fame or the one where the helpless little creature kicks my ass.

 

Hi Honey. Are you two cozy up there?

That’s nice.

Could you please bring me

 

The Duct Tape and Some Bleach

 

Oh Yeah!

 

Gonna bring down some Trench Warfare on his furry little ass!

 

In my one hand, I am armed with Duct Tape; the indispensable tool of homeowners, jerry-riggers and paranoid survivalists (is there any other kind?) the world over.

 

In my other hand, household bleach. Sodium Hypochlorite (NaClO) 5.25%, the A-list antimicrobial pesticide and corrosive. Gas Attack! Cruel but effective.

 

I tape the sides of the microwave to the wall, I tape the bottom to the counter, I cover the top. There is a single opening, with a large glue trap in front of it. Pop the top on the bleach, a half cup down behind the microwave and there he is dancing across the glue trap on his extended little claws. He’s on the counter, clear of the trap. He sees me and jets right back the way he came, picking ninja style, like he’s walking on water. Worse yet, like he’s walking on pavement. It’s Inconceivable. If I so much as look at one of those traps it sticks to my elbow.

 

On reflection, these many days later, it occurs to me that this little creature, with its awesome will to survive and its Fred Astaire like dance moves, might have made a fine little pet. But that is today. Last week my course was set. I was determined to follow it through to its hopefully bloodless conclusion.

 

For House & Family!

 

To paraphrase an old saying, if you can’t bring the mouse to the trap, you must bring the trap to the mouse. I seal the entire microwave to the surrounding wall and counter after dumping more bleach. It’s unconditional warfare now. People used to do this to each other so there’s a lot of historical evidence as to its efficaciousness.

 

Ok so that’s a wrap. I wash up and go to bed figuring to dispose of the mortal remains before I go to work and before anyone gets up tomorrow morning.

 

~O~

 

Rise and shine and let’s go see the carnage. Pull the tape, slowly pull the microwave out of its niche; it’s creepy, you know. Dead things are creepy. And mice give me the willies. I am facing down a case of the creeping willies here.

 

What is this? No mouse? Just an empty bag of Gummi-bears? You know, I was wondering where those got off to. So this is where the kids hide the evidence. Only the evidence isn’t so empty. Theres a live tail sticking out. It’s Inconceivable!

 

Thats it! I’ve had enough! I cover the bag with a bleach soaked dish cloth and an oven mitt to prevent escape and I start punching. This is maddening! It’s an outrage! I’m all juiced up with disgust and regret but the inner predator is out and he’s pissed.

 

I want it to be over but nothing is going to be easy about this one. No tidy package to slip into a bag and forget about. This will be a killing. In cold blood. Blunt force trauma. I’m shooting for the stars. Infinity and beyond.

 

I’d like to tell you it ended there but it didn’t. I went for the broom stick. Like an overhand pool cue I jab at the offending mass with the handle. One mouse in the corner pocket.

 

I read somewhere that mice have no bones. The whole thing is built on cartilage. But nowhere have I read that they have no internal organs. I pull back the dish cloth and I’m detecting life. It’s Inconceivable! I’m beginning to think that word does not mean what I think it means.

 

With my bare hands, I wrap the whole thing up in the bleach soaked dishcloth and pick up where I started off. Duct tape. I wrap the whole thing up like a homemade baseball and I am done. That was brutal. I kicked a rat to death at work not long ago but this was more hand to hand. More intimate.

 

Later, from work, I texted my wife:

 

The Mousey has left the Housey

 

 She wrote back:

 

Thanks!

 

Somehow “Thanks” does not seem like thanks enough. I think I have Post Traumatic Mouse Disorder. I’m still a little amped up.

 

I text her back:

 

It was a mighty battle

 

Her return text:

 

My Hero!

 

Ah, sweet victory!

 

Move over Rover.

The man of the house is coming home. 

Day #7 – Courtus Interruptus

And so it ends, not with a Bang but with a Powwow. True to form, we The Jury, are told to be in no later than 9:15 so that we may get closing arguments out of the way before the scheduled 10:30 fire drill. By 10:00 it seems clear that something isn’t going on. Even John, our Court Officer, seems to have abandoned us. I guess it’s about 11:00 by the time we’re called.

Another juror has fallen by the wayside. It seems her nails had dried and her makeup was finally right and so she decided to go to Boston with her boyfriend for the weekend. She had a lovely face and a voice like a sharp tool. I’m glad for her departure because her entire opinion was going to be based on her low regard for The Angry Fat Girl. It’s almost like I care; not for the plaintiffs or the lawyers or even The Judge, though we did exchange a friendly glance during the preceding day’s session. It’s the concept. It’s flawed (wow is it flawed) but it’s decent. And not decent like it’s just ok; decent like it’s endearing.

At any rate, John, our Court Officer, does finally come around and leads us to The Court. He enters and closes the door. We are left in the hall for awhile during which time we decide that our case is very likely being settled out of court even as we stand there. Well not exactly stand there. Actually we shuffle back up the hall a few paces to the next courtroom. The door is open and we are taking a kind of professional interest in the proceedings. At length, John, our Court Officer, opens the door, gets the go ahead from The Judge and we file in.

The plaintiffs lawyer has his briefcase on the table and nobody has any papers out. It’s obvious that it is over. The Judge asks us if we want the good news or the bad news first. We all say “The good news” except for the twenty one year old juror who would prefer the bad news first. I’m sure this has meaning but there is no time to deliberate on it. The good news is that the parties have come to an agreement. The bad news is that we won’t be able to deliberate on this and thus bring it to conclusion. I must confess that up until this very moment, that bit of bad news would have fallen under my definition of good news. But that was a moment ago, and now, now I am inclined to agree.

More good news, she tells us, is that we have been an exceptionally fine jury. I believe this to be a transparent fabrication told to 99 percent of all juries. Still, it’s nice to have avoided the One Percenters. There is some levity as she notes that another juror has dropped out and I tell her that only the good looking ones are left. And then the really good news. Both lawyers want to meet with us to ask questions. Even the Court Secretary wants to be there. This is great because it will give us the opportunity to ask some questions of our own as well as decompress somewhat from this pressurized atmosphere. Not surprisingly The Angry Fat Girl speaks first. The shocker is that she asks us if she comes off too strong. I am equally shocked to find the group generally voicing support for her but then, we aren’t cruel. We let her know gently that this is the case but I doubt that it makes much impression. This is her nature; let it be. That said, in this new air, she actually seems likable and we are glad for her company. JFK Jr. asks the same question and gets a modestly more approving answer.

Then we cover some real meat. Tactics, and how certain ones work though they are transparent and others don’t, even when they are well cloaked. Who has credibility and why. Why some evidence was introduced and why some experts weren’t. The atmosphere can only be described as jovial. I tell The Court Secretary that it is a shortcoming of the system that jurors are not informed of the rules of examination and cross examination. It makes it more difficult to understand the tactics which are being used and it prevents jurors from mining out deliberate omissions.

JFK Jr. then closes in on several of the members and in a low, almost intimate tone asks again about how we viewed his performance. I see him more clearly now, not just as a professional polishing his delivery, but as an unwholesome contagion trading on his good looks and easy manner. However, his vanity is a useable tool and I use it for leverage. I ask him if he knows the other lawyers. He says that he has just met them but that the Spiky Haired Lawyer has already asked him to take a case. It’s almost too easy. I tell him to pass on this message. “Stop with the coat buttoning thing. It doesn’t work.”

Day #6 – St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

A Juror dropped out today. His kid was sick and there was no one else to look after the little tyke. That was the story; as generic as it was unconvincing. This has the happy consequence of bringing into the mix the one other person in the jury-room I feel like I can actually communicate with. He was the First Alternate; one of three backup jurors assigned for just this kind of occasion. He works in the field of Corrections. His name is George and I only mention it because the Religious Lady inflects his name the way “Weezy” did on the Jeffersons. To get it just right you have to tuck your chin in to your chest, make your cheek muscles tight and thrust out your lower lip. Were these two married, it would be ample grounds for divorce.

The Religious Lady is an odd one. She reads her religious paperback but her true love is gossip. Any gossip. All gossip. She is dark, small and rather uptight in a loose way. It’s not easy to explain. She is a stereotype of sorts. She has patterned herself as an Evangelical emulating a Protestant who is satirizing a Baptist. She is full of manic energy and quick to judge; the more so if a condemnation is within easy reach. And yet she will change her tune at the very slightest sign of rational thinking. I’ve been trying to figure it out in terms of race because these issues are clearly at play as evidenced by her several hair styles. These hairstyles suggest that she is a fan of early Jane Fonda movies. Barbarella comes to mind. She wears a crucifix that has the stars and stripes waving diagonally through it. A clear conflict of the separation of church and state.

This morning we are sitting in the jury-room. One of our comrades is two hours late and so we tell stories, read and snack. Sometimes we are laughing and shouting and sometimes the time passes quietly. I’ve read two hundred pages of my book since court started. Finally we move into the courtroom and sit down. We are immediately dismissed for an early lunch because the Religious Lady has a doctor’s appointment. We are to return in one and a half hours.

The woman who was two hours late offers to drive the Religious Lady to her appointment to make sure that everything goes smoothly for the rest of the day. They arrive back from that appointment almost three hours later. It is mid afternoon and we have yet to do a thing. It feels like the group is falling apart around the issue of time. Meanwhile, across the hall another jury-room is alive with laughter and shouting and there are fast food wrappers everywhere. They are nearly out of control and their Court Officer openly keeps company with them. On the other hand, they have been here for seven weeks. I think they would make an interesting case study in group sensory deprivation.

We do finally get into court and we actually have an Expert Witness for the defense. He is eloquent and credible. In a matter of thirty minutes The Angry Fat Girl, with the help of an actual Doctor of Radiology, has completely turned the tide around. Again! The painstakingly assembled sand castle built by JFK Jr. is swept out to sea. You can feel it in the room like an ocean breeze after days of fly infested land breezes. It is somewhat thrilling. The Angry Fat Girl is wearing a heart bracelet and locket and I think to myself, “Somebody loves her.” Then I note the wedding ring on her finger, which I had noted the lack of up until this point, and I feel like maybe they are only props; a way to ingratiate herself to us. It is beyond explanation but because today is Valentines Day I indulge the idea that someone does love her.

The cross examination by JFK Jr. is all about undermining the credibility of the Expert Witness. But as the lawyer for the Injured Van Driver, I have to say, he needs acting lessons. He ends up looking mean and petty. Both he and The Angry Fat Girl use the tactic of saying things that are sure to be stricken from the record but nevertheless are heard by The Jury. The idea is to plant the seed in your brain, never mind how. I am all the way back around to where I started, which is basically to send the plaintiff home with enough money to buy a lotto ticket, but I know the rest of The Jury will not go there. At the end of the day, The Judge admonishes us, as she does every day, not to discuss the case, even with each other until the very end.

As we leave the building, George and I discuss it intensely. We walk together for five blocks; I am lobbying him and I know it. He is not fully convinced. I will give some and so will he. We are ready to take this up tomorrow after closing arguments. George and I take our leave and as I walk home alone, I realize that the plaintiff’s lawyer, JFK Jr., never brought in a live Radiologist to support his Chiropractor’s claim. The reason is obvious; he wanted the Chiropractor to be the one to interpret the MRI, not a Radiologist. If he had produced the Radiologist who wrote the report, it would have given the defense a chance to cross examine. There are some very specific rules about how to ask questions and what can be asked depending if you are examining or cross examining. The Jury doesn’t get clued in on these rules but given a little time you can figure them out. Once you know the rules, you can unravel the tactics and the tactics are everything. It is very much like chess but, given this case and these players, it looks a whole lot more like Scrabble for Juniors.

Day #5 – Can I Get A Witness

John is our Court Officer. He is assigned to us, or rather, we are assigned to him. His function is to escort us from our jury-room to The Court. John tells us when it is ok to enter The Court, and then he escorts us back to the jury-room. He lets The Judge know when we have all arrived. This is rather more involved than one might think. We, as a group, are never on time. We have an assigned hour when we are due in the morning and also when we are due back from breaks. The Judge tells us these times as we exit the courtroom and John, our Court Officer, reminds us again before we leave the courthouse. It is to no avail. We are never on time.

Because time is such an abstract concept in general, and especially so in court, this should come as no surprise. In fact it doesn’t come as a surprise. Like all the other court officers, John, our Court Officer, has all our home numbers and cell numbers. He calls us when we are more than thirty minutes late. That he doesn’t call when any one of us is ten or fifteen or even twenty minutes late only reinforces the sense that time here is not of the essence. In fact, it hardly even enters into the equation.

In the beginning, John, our Court Officer, had to lead us around keeping careful tabs on one and all because the place is a labyrinth of courts and offices. We’ve been here long enough now to know that once we leave our jury-room it is a simple right, right, stairs, left, left, right, left, right, left to get to the courtroom. John, our Court Officer, always reminds us of bathroom opportunities. There are a very limited number of things for him to say to us and no doubt he is only allowed to say those few things. His delivery is flat. He wears his uniform, coat unbuttoned, in a way that makes them look like pajamas. His face is uneventful, his boredom is infinite. He wanders away during court or dozes off in the observation area of the courtroom.

This morning John, our Court Officer, gathered his ducks and led us to the courtroom. John always enters first and tells The Judge we are here and asks if he should let us in. This morning, he should not let us in and John, our Court Officer, steps into The Court and closes the door. We are left to stand in the hall alone. Something is going on. We try to listen to The Judge through the door but it is difficult because the next courtroom down has its door open and a lawyer is doing his summation. In a loud voice, full of disgust and accusation, he is talking about the Plaintiff’s Testicles. Also about painful urination, unsatisfactory intercourse and the plaintiff’s admission that he lies under certain conditions. This guy is making headway no doubt about it. When he accuses the plaintiff of lying, even about his lying, I am completely convinced. It takes me hours to unravel that one but of course by that time The Jury had already rendered its verdict and anyway a little showmanship is always appreciated. We pretend to be repulsed as we turn our ears to this other court but it is no use. The shouting behind our own door has become audible, almost legible. Yep, something’s going on and Her Honor has lost her composure.

Then it’s quiet and John, our Court Officer, opens the door and tells us to enter the court. We file in and take our assigned seats. Her Honor has her “Gosh, it’s nice to see you!” smile on. She tells us that she can’t tell us the Robert Burns poem again because she’s already told it to us but that, unfortunately, the same reason applies. The doctor for the defense has failed to show up again. I look over to The Angry Fat Girl and she smiles like she’s holding down a furball. And that’s when I see it. At first I misidentify it because it’s so large. She must have been desperate or something. It is one more sign from a loud person who doesn’t believe she is being heard.

John, our Court Officer, escorts us back to our room. Alone with each other again I say to the group “Either she’s been working on her car or it’s Ash Wednesday.” The juror who has the tote bag emblazoned with:

“The Family That Prays Together Stays Together”

beats me with her newspaper.