Archive for September, 2007

Luna de Miel

Posted in Uncategorized on September 25, 2007 by wally426

25-09-2007  New York, New York

Last night’s run was stupendous. The air wasn’t heavy with smog and humidity and the traffic wasn’t clogging the streets. I took a detour from my usual route and hit the track by Queensboro college. I found it looked completely different from when I had been there last – a tackle football game back on new year’s day in 2000. The dirt, glass and rocks which used to litter the football field had been replaced with spongy turf made from recycled tires. We didn’t have a football team at my high school, so we would organize pickup games on the weekends with kids from other areas from Queens. They were often ‘spirited’ matches that held their fair share of trash talking, hard hitting and blood. I remember one game we played in the snow… we thought it would serve as good padding to the field’s glass teeth. By the game’s end, the snow had been faded from deep red to light pink in some places, everyone there had earned their battle scars. That day on Queensboro field I had a head-on collision with an opposing player. The skin from between his eyes to the top of his forehead had split wide open, my left eyebrow was gushing. I tied a t-shirt around the gash, but too many other players had gotten injured so we discontinued the game. The last thing I wanted to do was go to the hospital, so I tried hiding the wound from my mother when I got home… it was the first thing she saw. So much had changed in the neighborhood since that cold new year’s day, I truly felt my age when I ran back onto that field. The moon rose big and yellow, a huge honey dipper coming up above the gaudy rowhouses. As I ran around the track, I noticed the deafening noise of chirping in the dark trees. Out in the gloom around Alley Park lake, a symphony of hundreds of birds rolled across the field, it was magnificent. While the birds engaged in their evening social activities, the kids raced their bikes around the track, their parents yelled at them to come home, the smells of cooked fish and garlic wafted across the field. As much as I knocked Queens after moving here, it really is a good place to grow up. While the sense of community doesn’t apply here as it does in Brooklyn (I’ve seen maybe two block parties here since I moved back in 1995), it’s a much safer place to grow up and enjoy the innocence of youth.

I pictured the place I might live within the next few months, the art-deco apartment in Flatbush. It’s an absolutely gorgeous place, but I would constantly be worried about getting mugged by some punks with nothing better to do. After Living in Queens for twelve years, I completely forgot about what it was like to live in fear. My biggest problem after moving to my new neighborhood became falling asleep. I was used to car alarms, barking dogs, and screaming while going to sleep… To me, the silence out there was the equivalent of someone banging two pots by my ears. When my mother and I lived alone in Brooklyn, terrible thoughts would run through my head if she was more than a minute late coming home from work. The schools she worked were situated in some of the city’s worst ghettos – Bedford Stuyvesant, East New York, Brownsville. Now I’m looking to go back to the place I love, the place I have inked on my left arm, the place where fear was once a part of my life.

At the same time, I’m hoping to make a difference in the community I live in. A few weeks ago I joined the Flatbush Development Committee. Maybe it sounds like one of my crazy pipe dreams, but joining the FDC will be the first step towards taking an active role in making that difference. If direct involvement gives me a chance to help know the people who live in my community, to give back more than paying a mortgage, it might go a long way in securing the safety of Flatbush residents (myself included). Then again, the lesson Monsignor Murphy learned will always be in the back of my mind. Murphy was a staple in the downtown Brooklyn community and ran the St. Charles Borromeo church on 21 Sidney Place. My surrogate mother, Maria, was an active member of St. Charles’ board and would take me to meetings in the rectory basement when I was a child. Walking into the place, I would be overcome by the smell of frankinsence, damp concrete, and fresh paint… The meetings would sometimes go on for hours. I would sit under the table and quietly untie people’s shoes while Murphy and the board members discussed what should be done with donations. At the end of the meetings, Msgr. Murphy would stroll away down Sidney Place with his big black overcoat blowing in the wind. One day while bringing donations from the church to the rectory, he was robbed by a couple of teenage kids. Murphy only gave up the donations after a swing of the bat crushed his skull. He died in the hospital less than a month later. Bottom line… people can do good things in bad places, but kindness doesn’t make you invincible within that realm. Considering the price and overall asthetic of the apartment/building, I might be willing to live with the neighborhood, but won’t ever forget the lesson Monsignor Murphy taught those who knew him.

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Wolfskin boots and clove cigarettes

Posted in Uncategorized on September 18, 2007 by wally426

17-09-2007  Queens, New York

The smoke began to billow from under the hood, spilling out through the car’s vents and burning my lungs. I pulled over and stepped out into the pouring rain, finding a nice little fire roasting the inside of my 1992 Chevy Lumina. What else could I do but laugh? It was the morning of the second day of gramps’ wake and I was still tipsy from a long night of drinking with the cousins. My hair smelled like the orange perfume that oozes from every piece of furniture in my grandmother’s house. I stood for awhile and let the rain drops hit my face, hoping they’d wake me from this strange dream I’d been having the past few weeks. I popped the hood, took handfuls of rainwater from the gutter and threw them onto the smoldering engine. The smoke eventually cleared and I drove the remaining few blocks back home, laughing to myself the whole time… what else could I do?

With no car, the commute to and from work turned into a completely different animal. It reminded me of the summer days when I first began working at Lehman. Back then, the commute was even longer, with a bus, two trains and a ferry to take from Queens to Jersey City. I thought about how much had changed since that time… the ferry trip across the Hudson was always my favorite, with the setting sun bouncing millions of light beams from the two towers across the water. It was a magnificent sight that still comes through so vividly, maybe even more now that our skyline has changed indefinitely.

As the commute stands now, I leave the office and descend to the R train beneath the building on 49th st. There the bedraggled businessman and wide-eyed tourists from Times Square mingle, the breath of rotting garbage from the restaurants above burns the nostrils with a sour scent. The R train finally comes. 59th street is the last stop in Manhattan, all of the fashionistas and socialites hop off and the Queensfolk remain on the train. My eyes try to stay open, but the rhythmic rocking of the train lulls them closed… my head gradually loses it’s fight to stay upright, its sudden bob downward causes my eyes to open again. Each time this happens, I awake to find the old Chinese woman staring at me across the car. Her eyes dart away, embarrassed by the blatant voyeurism she’s been exhibiting during the ride. I can’t blame her, curiosity always propels us to watch someone sleeping on the subway. Here, we can get a glimpse of someone we don’t know in the most vulnerable state. We get to know if they snore, if a small bit a spittle forms on their lower lip, what part of the body twitches as they fade into their dreams. As I finish up the subway leg of the journey, the setting sun illuminates the dull apartment buildings in an orange hue. Shea stadium glistens and Flushing bay actually looks serene despite the old rusting factories by its docks. I exit the train on Main street and hop on the Q26 bus which takes me within a block of my house. Looking out of the window, I see the endless noodle shops on Roosevelt Ave, the homeless men settling down for an evening drink on the sidewalk, the empty overgrown playgrounds, the old Italian women relaxing on their porches. Where else could someone experience such diversity on a simple commute home from work? Whenever you want to pay attention to the city, it will teach you some of the most valuable lessons you could ever learn. The reality of all classes, cultures, and races intersects here on a daily basis. Aside from family and friends, it’s all I need to get through any tough situations that might befall myself or those who mean the most to me. Thinking about being overseas right now gives me the chills, it’s really great to be home again…

Spectral wonders

Posted in Uncategorized on September 14, 2007 by wally426

13-09-2007 New York, New York

 This morning’s run brought with it the first signs of autumn. The air was crisp and completely devoid of humidity. Crickets chirped quietly, remembering the nights when the air was heavy and thick, the mist hanging above sweaty blades of grass. Leaves seemed to wilt, their sharp green gradually turning,  ready to begin their waltz with death in an explosion of color. With the death of the leaves comes a time when people gradually retire to indoor life. It’s an introspective period in which we can gather all of summer’s experiences and re-evaluate where our lives our going. Perhaps we still retain lingering feelings of heading back to school as kids? If there’s one feeling that’s universal with most children, it’s that anxiety of going to school the first day. Those old dusty butterflies reappear at the very thought of buying new supplies and hopping on the bus/subway to begin another year. Some think of spring as a period of renaissance, but autumn seems more deserving of that title. Life may go into hibernation, but thoughts seem to abound when there aren’t as many activities to occupy your free time…

My grandfather passed away early Saturday morning after fighting off an infection that had ravaged his body and mind the past two months. Even though he was barely conscious on Friday evening, he still managed to grab my hand as death began to pull him away. The next morning after I found out the news, I honored an early morning handball date that was made a few days prior. It turned out to be incredibly cathartic, and I managed to deliver two consecutive losses to a guy who had previously been undefeated this summer. I saw my hand had turned black where gramps had been clenching a few hours earlier and felt he had been with me during the whole game. Despite the situation, my mother gave me the okay to head out to the Jets home opener against the Patriots on Sunday. The tailgate was a huge success, and I came out of the stadium severely impaired. As my father drove me home, I had a craving for my grandfather’s meatballs. I remembered him instructing me on the intricacies of making them down at his place in Florida. There were so many fond moments in that kitchen, so many good meals, so many laughs. I can still hear his voice, all he needed was a ruler to smack me on the fingers as he taught… Don’t put too much parseley in thea! Wipe ya fingas afta ya mix the meat! What da hell ya doin with the cheese!!??…  I barreled through the door to my house and began throwing ingrdients into a bowl… basil, parseley, Locatelli cheese, eggs, milk-soaked bread, veal, pork, beef, bread crumbs… my mother came in and saw what a drunken mess I was and began to yell. We both started bickering but were soon hugging and crying in the middle of the kitchen, still incredibly unsure about why he was gone. It was amazing that this seemingly indestructable man could be whisked away from us in a matter of weeks, we had always said that he was pickled and would live 120 years. In all the times I tried to cook the meatballs, they never turned out like his, but this time they were a spot-on match. Later my mother and I would joke that the missing ingredient was my intoxicated state, as the old man was usually half in the bag while he was making them…

I went out to the funeral home early the next day, about fifteen minutes earlier than everyone else, unsure of how I’d react to seeing him laying in a coffin. Hesitantly, I walked into the room to see my grandfather’s body. Looking at his face hit me like a ton of bricks, it was so rigid and clay-like, like one of those figures at the wax museum. The hands that had gripped mine so hard just a few days ago were now relaxed, crossed, no longer trembling with disease. He was finally at peace, and I sobbed thinking of the fact that I would never hear his voice again. Time heals all wounds… I know all of this sadness will be forgotten and all that will remain are memories of the good times. It’s tough losing a grandfather, it’s even harder losing a friend. The family members who were close to him lost both, and it seems to hurt twice as much.