Archive for August, 2007

Squatty’s place

Posted in Uncategorized on August 29, 2007 by wally426

29-08-2007  New York, NY

Angelo Coschignano was born May 4th, 1925. According to historical weather records, it was a cold blustery spring day on Long Island. Atypical conditions considering the warmth Angelo would end up bringing others through his travels in life. That day, the league of nations had a large conference in Paris concerning arms control in Europe and the inhumane use of mustard gas during the great war…. After a hard fought rally in the 6th inning to tie the score, the Brooklyn Robins lost to the Boston Braves 6-5 when a bloop single by Bill Marriot fell in front of Zack Wheat in the top of the 9th inning. Exactly two months earlier, Calvin Coolidge gave his inaugural address on the East portico of the capitol building. He promised continuing prosperity for the country, even though it would all come crashing down less than five years later.

My great-grandmother (Nonny) had come from Italy ten years before her first son was born. Her and my great-grandfather (who everyone loveably called Chief) had a small but sustainable farm in Huntington, Long Island. On this two acre plot, Nonny took pride in the beans, tomatoes, basil, oregano, potatoes, that she grew to feed the family. Her and Chief had eight children together, but only five would make it through the depression and second world war. Those early days hit the Coschignano family hard, but the good times were still plentiful.

I really didn’t know much about how experiences during his youth had shaped my grandfather’s character. I imagined he was similar to the man I know now – Outgoing, loveable, kind… a casanova. In actuality, he might have been the shyest of the eight kids, keeping very close to his mother most of the time. He was the epitome of a mamma’s boy, all of the other kids said he was like Nonny’s ‘pet’. That didn’t stop him from entertaining his siblings with mischievous antics. My aunt Fran remembered him constantly jumping over the piping hot coal stove to get a rise out of the other kids. Even though he exhibited the prankster mentality we all know now, he was one of the hardest workers in the town. My aunt Margie remembered watching him work, his giant hands dwarfing the bean pods he picked all day, sweat and dirt covering his hands and face. He called her his ‘little helper’ when they were young, and that hasn’t changed through the years. Chief liked a jug of beer when he came home from work, and my grandfather was always sure to spend the extra quarter to bring one home with him after a day toiling in the fields. Every once and awhile, the old man would fall asleep on the table and gramps would sneak a few gulps from the beer jug. I can see that exchange clear as day – Chief asleep next to the old gas lamp, face tarred black after a long day of paving roads, my grandfather’s silhouette creeping along the wooden walls, hoping not to disturb his father’s slumber… makes me smile just thinking about it.

Even though everyone in the family worked hard, my great-grandparents still had to rely on help to sustain their large family. Angelo would often accompany his mother down to the local Salvation Army to get clothing for his siblings. He couldn’t stand it. Aunt Margie recalls him telling Nonny “Ma, one day when we grow up we’ll never have to do this again“. He didn’t want his family to struggle, and he would work until his fingers bled in order to make that dream a reality. While my grandfather was curious about many things, he wasn’t exactly the most diligent student. I’m sure you all remember stories about the “opportunity class” with Ms. Malfena at the Roosevelt school, he must have done his part in adding a few grey hairs to her scalp! Realizing the educational path wasn’t paying dividends, he continued doing what most men did back then. He held a job as a roofer, picked beans on some of the larger farms, and joined the volunteer fire department (with whom he served proudly for 35 years). By the time the second world war rolled around, he was working for the government as a riveter. Some heard his boss often boast that he had “the best riveter in WWII” in Angelo. It wasn’t so much that he had to work, he felt he needed to work in order to give the name Coschignano the credibility it deserved. There was a fire that burned inside him as a result… he remembered all of the days his family had to toil just to put food on the table, picking through old dirty clothes with his mother at the thrift store, cold nights on the farm when the only heat came from the old coal stove he used to jump over as a child, autumns they would bottle all of the sauce and kill a pig with hopes of lasting through the winter…

The relationship Angelo had with his brother, Peter, was something special. Family is what it is, but the bond these two brothers shared was unbreakable. Peter had followed gramps’ lead most of his life, working the fields, getting into mischief around town, even going on double dates together. Margie recalled one girl they had both taken out on a date. When Peter found out he was outraged, and got into a shouting match with Angelo on the staircase. Things got physical, and Peter shoved his brother down the stairs. It was the only fight they would ever have, and they never spoke of it again. The first time Peter broke his brother’s lead, he joined the army and was deployed to Europe. Gramps and aunt Frana helped support the cause at home doing the riveting, and were always anxiously awaiting word from their little brother. Word came in July of 1944, Peter had been killed during the D-day invasion at Normandy, they never found his body. Angelo was beyond words. He joined the service and was quickly deployed to France, not far from where his brother had taken his last breath. Little did gramps know that his sister, Louise, had taken a bus down to Washington to petition the government. As he was the only son remaining in the family, he should have never been deployed. He was back home shortly afterwards, the sodden French earth still clinging to his Army boots. Nonny didn’t ask much of her children, but she needed to have her only son back home. It would be sixty years before gramps would set foot on French soil again.

In the years after the war, my grandfather slowly came out of his shell and became the man I know today, Mr. Casanova. With all those years of hard labor, he developed tremendous physical strength and stamina. Gramps began playing baseball at an early age, and quickly became known around town as one of the best catchers on Long Island. As his family had always called him square head (for obvious reasons), that eventually morphed into ‘Squatty’ when he started catching. As his skills progressed, Angelo went down to Florida to play on the Yankee farm team, but was back home within a year because he spent too much time ‘socializing’. It wasn’t too long after gramps returned that he settled down with my grandmother and became the proud father of three beautiful daughters. Realizing that he couldn’t support his family roofing and volunteering, he decided to take out a loan from the bank to open a restaurant in Northport. He already knew most of the people in the town, so it wasn’t a surprise that his new tavern was a huge success.

The money rolled in, along with the good times. More importantly, the memories Squatty’s place provided for his grandchildren were some of the fondest. I remember the smell of that place, a mixture of thousands of cigarettes and spilt beer soaking into the wood. The old creaking staircase going into the cold basement. The infamous pictures of the blondes playing tennis and golf whilst scratching their bottoms. Tony luck’s one-eyed gaze and hollow laugh echoing through the bar in the early afternoon. Roasting a suckling pig in the huge oven.. my cousins and I loved picking at its face when it was done cooking. Gramps had finally made his dream a reality, and that satisfaction was all I ever saw when I looked at the old man’s face. I never knew the anxious young man that existed during the depression, the young man who wanted so much for his family to have no wants in this world. By the time the grandchildren came around, he couldn’t have been happier or wealthier. As much as he loved making money, he enjoyed giving to those in need even more. There isn’t a person in this world that my grandfather wouldn’t give the shirt off his back to, he remains one of the most selfless people I’ve ever met. To his family members, his grandchildren, the old drunks that lived above the restaurant, the waitresses who skimmed off a few dollars from the register, he would never turn the other cheek to someone in need. To look for an example of the word generous, you need to look no further than Angelo ‘Squatty’ Coschignano, my grandfather. He never forgot his roots, and that passion to give still oozes from every inch of his being. If you’ve known him even for an instant, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

A shadow in the city

Posted in Uncategorized on August 27, 2007 by wally426

27-08-2007  New York, NY

The first week back at work held its fair share of mixed emotions. There was the overwhelmingly good feeling of familiarity with my old files. After months of toiling over and massaging them into presentable form, they became a family of inanimate objects, no less dear to my heart than close friends. With them came the long hours, bringing back the black lifeless gaze those close friends sometimes had to offer. While the hours were long and arduous, I actually enjoyed the evenings alone at the office. Not only is it a chance to work in peace, but the contrast between 5:00 and 7:00 is startling. This place that was once buzzing with phones, voices, clicks, coughs, and shouts morphs into a quiet humming machine. Out of the window, the sun drops behind the skyline, the dark shadows of the skyscrapers melt into the night, and the obnoxious glow of Times Square perpetuates the sleepless sidewalks.

I finally saw a few apartments as well! My broker took me through the once thriving area of Flatbush, Brooklyn. This was a place that was once the heart of the borough during its blue collar glory days. As I ascended the subway steps on Newkirk and Nostrand, it was easy to see how far the old neighborhood had fallen from glory. While most of the apartments were not in the best areas, there was one building that stuck out from the rest. It remained a shining art-deco jewel tucked into it’s dark surroundings. The apartments were immaculate, renovated, and most seemed to retain their original details in hardwood floors, crown moldings, arched doorways, and high ceilings throughout. I was impressed to say the least, and will strongly consider the one bedroom I saw as a possible long-term investment. It’s amazing to think that only two weeks ago, I was looking at renting a place halfway around the world, now I’m back in my hometown looking to settle down for a few years… how crazy life can be.

I had my first handball game with Greg Saturday morning as well, what a glorious return to the courts it was! I beat him in straight sets despite the heat that sapped our energy after only an hour of play. My shirt was completely translucent afterwards, lord knows what the people on the subway thought… even the rats ran away when they saw swamp thing descend into the murky depths of the second avenue station. That night we had a nice bbq at my brother’s place. It was good to lounge outside, eat some meat on the grill, play some ping-pong, and enjoy the company of my wonderful little rugrat nephews. After the kids went to bed, Vic, Mitch and I had a cigar out on the porch. We talked through the night and enjoyed the summer breeze, it was a beautiful moment…

Hard to kill

Posted in Uncategorized on August 20, 2007 by wally426

20-08-2007 New York, NY

As I usually heed to the requests of my family members (Ista), I’ll continue the blog for all those who care to keep track.

It’s definitely been a whirlwind of an experience being back in the states. The long plane ride back across the Pacific was more restless than the one I had coming over to Sing. Perhaps it was the anticipation of what the people I cared about most would think of my decision to come back home? After all of the going away parties, good wishes, and tears, here I was coming back home after two weeks. Regardless of that, stepping off the plane onto US soil made my heart leap. If it wasn’t New Jersey soil, I would have kissed the ground. Aside from seeing the ear-to-ear grin on my father’s face, the best part of returning that Friday was going directly to the Jets pre-season game afterwards. Here I was, after circumnavigating the world in two weeks, back at the meadowlands watching my beloved gang green in the cold swirling New Jersey mist. It was truly surreal. Even though the weather was rather inclement, George took a cab over that night and we sat in the backyard drinking some fine 18 year-old scotch. The night progressed and the bottle dissapeared as we spoke of life’s twists and turns, how dramatic they could be. My mother woke the next morning to find the dog sandwiched between my arms on the couch.

The following day I spent some time with my brother and his fam. It was great to see the kids again, Nicholas and I had a blast running around the backyard. The sun set over the Port Washington skyline, laughter came in hollow echoes from inside the house, I was home again. It was as if a warm blanket had been wrapped around me after spending days floundering in icy seas. Krista picked me up later that night and we headed into the city to enjoy whatever festivities Saturday had in store. We caught up on all of the happenings that had befallen us the past two weeks. My grandfather’s condition occupied much of the conversation, it’s been a rough go for the fam with him laid up in rehab. Luckily, we’ve been able to forge a serious bond the past few months and can now lean on each other in times of need. Krista’s no longer the crazy little cousin I once knew, she’s blossomed into a beautiful, smart, driven woman. We drank into the night, friends came out of the woodwork, and I stumbled home as the sun gradually peaked above the horizon. The jet lag gods were winning once again, and I couldn’t have been happier.

Last Thursday my father, brother and I took a trip upstate to spend a day in the Catskills. We spent all day climbing through the lush green forest, scrambling up rocks and making small talk. That evening, we set up camp near the mighty neversink river, it was an awesome spot. After a hearty meal of hamburgers and spicy chicken sausage, we settled in shortly after the sun sunk below the mountains. I let my father and brother have the tent and I wrapped myself up in a tarp, looking forward to a nice long sleep under the stars. It wasn’t more than a minute after settling in that the first roll of thunder moaned across the night sky. Regardless, the tarp would surely protect me from the rain that came, or so I thought. A few minutes later, the heavens opened. Water came splashing in over my shoulder and under my legs, lightning bolts crashed what seemed like every second, illuminating the puddle that was wreaking havoc on my once tranquil slumber. I grabbed the car keys and ran through the stormy night. Every time lightning flashed, I would imagine every creature or madman that haunted the daydreams of my youth appearing before my eyes. Water cascaded from the mountainsides, taking with it rocks, plants, and tree limbs. I scrambled up a cliff towards the car between flashes of light, covered with mud and scratches from passing thorns. Finally I made it to the car and passed out listening to the tinkering raindrops on the metal rooftop. I haven’t slept that soundly in months, the jet lag gods had been defeated for the last time.

Waiting for the summer rain

Posted in Uncategorized on August 9, 2007 by wally426

09-08-07 Singapore, Singapore

Wow, I just realized the date is consecutive… pretty cool.

I awoke yesterday morning knowing that I would be leaving this magical and enchanting land. Unfortunately, the working situation out here seems somewhat helpless for a person in my position. I wouldn’t be able to get things done being that rank is such a big factor in accomplishing anything out here. It seems paradoxical, what makes Sing so great is it’s remoteness compared to the rest of commercialized Asia, yet this very aspect hinders the progression of the most simple tasks. It’s maddening. After work yesterday, I decided to go for another long run through the park. I was greeted on my walk home by Harry the bat, who is always flying in circles near the apartment. Upon entering the park, a completely new cast of characters were present. A group of old men were doing synchronized bending excercizes, kids were spinning each other on the big metal wheel (Vic, remember that night at Peck park with Nate and Travis, spinning each other around until we were half sick?), a woman practiced her balancing on a metal bar in the sandbox, businessmen walked hastily through smoking their cigarettes and talking on their cell phones. I decided to take a detour through one of the darker trails. There was hardly any light, as the vines and moss had grown over the flickering street lamps. The old forest crept around me once again. You could feel it breathing, humming like a huge machine. Rats scurried across the broken paths, bats flew overhead. Suddenly I was a tiger. My footsteps, once heavy, were now silent, smooth, calculating. My eyes widened to reveal the forest around me, my mouth opened to taste the mist, the dew, the old musty dirt. Even though it was quiet, my mind was awash in a cacophony of thoughts. My brain became a ship in heavy seas, heaving with the rolling white waves. Running brings you to the center of thought, all emotions come to the surface. Each experience is different but all are cathartic. I came out of the jungle path, my mind’s MP3 player put on The End at some point during the run. I had visions of Colonel Kurtz, sweat dripping from his forehead, sitting heavy and alone in his jungle palace. It’s amazing what the ghosts in these jungles can do to someone. There’s definitely a certain pull to them that cannot be described, only experienced. The old jungles are warm and frighteneing all at once. Albeit only for a short time, I’m glad I was able to understand them. I’ll take the ghosts with me back home, to the place I know best, with the people I love most. How fitting that I’ll be leaving after independence day, one last hurrah for my second home, a home I hope to see again before my soul leaves this Earth. See you all soon…

I would’ve liked to have seen Montana

Posted in Uncategorized on August 7, 2007 by wally426

07-08-2007  Singapore, Singapore

Life in another city has slowly developed into a routine. The cursed alarm beeps at some ungodly hour, half stumble into the shower, apply the neccesary toiletries, iron the shirt and pants, some special K and bananas for breakfast, and out the door to catch the subway. It’s always nice to see the locals doing their morning excercizes. There are huge gatherings in the park at dawn, masses of people do their thai chi, fulan gong, feng shui or whatever wholistic rituals the choose to perform. It’s so peaceful watching them move mothodically through the morning mist, a memory I will hold onto during the mad dash to the subway. After getting out of the depths, I need to walk through a series of malls to get to my office (which is located in another mall). It’s amazing how many air conditioned ivory walkways encompass the downtown area, designers and fast food franchises of the world line each side. In my office, the air con is constantly on full blast, most people wear coats to work! It’s amazing frost doesn’t cover my goatee at day’s end. I always enjoy getting water from the pantry, it smells overwhlemingly like campfire in that one area. In an instant, I’m back in the Adirondack woods, feeling the breeze off Pharaoh lake, stoking a roaring fire out on the jagged penisnula. Who knows what chemicals conjure that smell in the pantry, but they bring some solace during the most hectic parts of the day. After work, I can go home and excercize a bit. Yesterday, I worked on my feeble chest at the gym and swam some laps in the pool. It’s an olympic-sized pool that nobody ever uses during the evening, so I don’t bump into anyone while doing my crooked doggy paddle. In the apartment, they gave me a rice cooker, my new favorite kitchen tool. For the past few nights, it’s been rice, rice, and more rice for dinner. It will be amazing if I visit ‘the office’ once this week. Rice time is always followed up by a nice tiger lager, which reminds me a bit of colt 45 double malt. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do the same amount of damage as my favorite malt liquor, but it would still do Billy Dee proud. There was a decent preseason football match on last night, Feyenoord took on Liverpool, quite the spirited game for preseason which ended in a 1-1 tie. I’ll still long to see our beloved green and white when the season rolls around next month. The days of bitterly cold tailgates, jungle juice, steaks, Ralphie’s shrimp, catches with Knuckles, and the roar of the crowd will be sorely missed. As long as we beat the living hell out of Cleveland on December 9th, I’ll consider the season a success. The ball never lies Pace, remember that…

Dusk in the park

Posted in Uncategorized on August 6, 2007 by wally426

06-08-2007 Singapore, Singapore

I step out into dusk, the warm glow of the setting sun encompasses the buildings. Those Chinese are still banging their gongs, marching down the main street with their huge flying paper dragons and yellow shirts, I cut through the procession and make my way to the park. The laps begin, and I run… past the old Chinese woman walking backwards and clapping her hands, past the women playing badminton, past the school kids lazily kicking soccer balls, past the lovers strolling casually – making the moments last before going home for dinner, past the crazy Indonesian man with two teeth stretching on the stairs, past the little child catching leaves in the pond, past the swingsets with laughing kids, their parents smiling with them. I can smell a thousand days of heat coming off the pavement, an old smell that I had known only once before at my great-grandmother’s house in Florida, catching lizards in the backyard by the huge banyan trees. The cicadas sing their eternal serenade in the background, the swingsets whine in the hazy light, a soft pink settles on everything as the sun drops below the horizon. Lap #5, the sweat rolls down my temples and soaks my shirt, the heat crawls down my back, it’s oppressive. The man with two teeth smiles as I pass, his teeth are long and yellow, two sticks of butter glowing like streetlamps. Lap #8, my feet feel like they’re burning, and the running is over. As I walk back to the apartment, the forest around me seems to creep, leaves brush against my back, covering themselves in sweat. The forest seems so kind, so alive, dark, ancient, comforting. A cold shower is in store, followed by a long sleep, with dreams of ice cubes, water hoses, and cool overflowing pools in summer’s dead heat.

“…I heard retards like the zoo”

Posted in Uncategorized on August 5, 2007 by wally426

05-08-2007 Singapore, Singapore

I’m just going to skip over Friday, as there was nothing positive to mention aside from me getting drunk in the apartment and running around trying to slide on the slippery floor in my socks and underwear. Any of you have a problem with that, go sh!t in a hat. It was good clean fun. 

Yesterday was one that I’d been anticipating for quite some time. In every book I read about this country, each one raved about the zoo. Needless to say I was like a four-year old who’d eaten one of those huge chocolate easter bunnies, excited wasn’t the word. After attempting to clean up some work items in the morning, it was off to see the animals. The zoo was reflective of everything else in this country – clean, efficient, and organized. They even had people running around constantly cleaning up the poo in each exhibit. It seemed as though the animals were perfectionists as well, doing everything they’d been told to do at the right time. Put a polar bear from the Brooklyn Zoo in there, and he’d be wiping the floor with little Singaporean children. The most amazing aspect of this place was that many of the animals were free-ranging. The whole time you’re walking around, monkeys and birds are flying around overhead. Every so often, a howler monkey or chimp would swing down from the trees, just a few feet from your face. As you’ll see from the pics, these made for some great shots. Favorite moment at the zoo: I’m waiting for the underworld show to start, sitting in the front row, and one of the manatees sees it fit to relieve itself in the pool, dropping a deuce that would make even Victor envious. All of a sudden an announcement comes over the speakers “all those seated in the first three rows are in the splash zone!!!” The four Brits who’d been joking about the size, shape, and overall nastiness of the excrement cleared out quicker than cheetahs. Luckily, the penguins started racing around the pool and the foul piece of turd was pushed elsewhere. After taking some pictures with the orangutans, I left the zoo and went over to the night safari. In this park, they use low-frequency lights so that the animals aren’t disturbed. They continue doing their normal savage routines while people watch them in silence, it’s amazing. The first stop was the animal show. This consisted of 200 people in an amphitheatre with owls, otters, hyenas, and wild cats running around the aisles. I guess the highlight was when they brought out a 14 ft. reticulated python (which took five people to hold). The MC needed a volunteer and , even though I didn’t raise my hand, she pulled me on stage. They proceeded to lay this gargantuan beast on my shoulders, and it proceeded to wrap itself tightly around the rest of my body. The thing’s head was as big as my hand, I know this because I had to hold its goddamn slithering face while it tried to squeeze the life out of me. To top it off, the beast sticks the end of her tail right between my legs, so I had a big green boner in front of the whole audience. The rest of the night, I had random people slapping me on the back calling me snake man, pygmy bastards. The tram ride was great. It brings you into an enclosed free-ranging area *queue Jurassic park theme* where animals walk right by the open-air tram. The larger animals have some kind of chip that will ensure they’re half fried if they cross into the tram’s path. The Asian lions were so magestic, one even saw fit to let out a few lion barks as the tram went by, it was intense. I would have liked to have seen that python I held try and take on a lion, it might be a good match? I got back to the apartment late and crashed after a nice meal of chicken, rice and some weird fishy meatball that they threw into my take home box as a ‘bonus’. That ‘bonus’ ended up putting me on the can for a half-hour before I went to bed. I was woken up at some ungodly hour by chanting and gongs banging outside. I guess the Chinese contingent across the canal had some celebration going on, so they saw to it that everybody within a five mile radius was celebrating too. It brought me back to my days of living at 123 College Avenue in Ohio. Once a year, all of the high school bands in the county would march down our block and over to the football stadium for homecoming. Problem was, they’d practice outside of our goddamn window at 7:30 Saturday morning after we’d been out drinking the night before. Each bang of the drum, each atonal horn would resonate and make our heads ache ten times more than they were already aching. Robbo, bless his soul, would bring out his electric guitar, open the window, turn his amp up full blast and play enter sandman as loud as possible to quiet the little bastards. It always managed to get the point across. I could have used you this morning, Pace, I was ready to kick those f*ckers right in the river…