The Stranger at the Other End of Front Street


I can feel the soft cool breeze blowing through my room from the Susquehanna River behind me.  I am sitting at a small desk writing this post.  My wife is sleeping deeply on the bed to my right.  I am facing Front Street.  The trucks speed past the town on the Southern Tier Expressway (Future I 86, so the signs say).  I am in Owego, New York, the town where I was born and raised.

But something is wrong.  Something doesn’t feel right.  I am not in my home.  I am going to sleep tonight in a strange bed, in a house, the inside of which, I have never seen before this afternoon.  For what may be the third time in my long life, I am going to lay down in a place that does not belong to my family…right here in Owego.

How did I get here?

I remember closing the front door of my home at 420 Front Street, walking down our sidewalk and turning left, toward town.  I started that journey many years ago.  I can still recall the little details…the little fragments of recollections that most people would dismiss as inconsequential.  But I remember.  Yes, I remember.

The first house I pass is a large red brick structure where Lester and Madeline Sparks live.  I just got through playing in their backyard.  My brother just hit a softball through Lester’s window.  Lester managed the old J.C.Penney’s store on Lake Street. His wife was a nurse.  I look to my right and see John Street…the sweet street that led to Harvey’s grocery store where my lawn-mowing nickels were spent on Mars bars or a Baby Ruth.  The street where the Gavin’s lived.  The street where Craig and Ricky Phelps lived.  I played my childhood away with them.  Further up John Street was George Forsyth’s house.  At the corner of John and Main, lived “Duggie” Dugan.

I continue my walk up Front.  I pass the house where “Clyde” my childhood playmate who told whoppers lived for a few years.  There was the old Taylor house.  Victorian…tall windows…abandonded…and most definitely haunted.  Across the street is the reclusive daughter of A. Loring, the Naturalist.  John Gorman the Lawyer lived a door or two away.  I pass the house where a woman MD practiced medicine.  She had a roll-top desk stuffed with papers and samples.  I pass the black iron railings of Dr. Amouck’s house…the best lawn-mowing job to be had in town.  He paid five whole dollars!  I pass a yellow house where Candy S. lived.  Then came the “Old Ladies Home”, the Riverview Rest Home where the short-tempered man who voiced one of the dwarfs for Disney stayed.

I cross the street and continue.  I’m older by a few years.  I chase my dog King back home.  He followed me to school one day.  “Go home, King,” I would yell.  Once I decided to run to St. Patrick’s.  I was late for class and I didn’t want to get yelled at by Sister Vincent.  I closed my eyes and ran like the wind.  I ran like the wind into a large Elm tree.  I went home, bleeding copiously from my lips and nose.  I never run with my eyes closed anymore.

I pass St. Patrick’s.  I went there for eight years and was taught to be a good Catholic.  I went into the world of ‘heathens’ (Protestants) in 1961, when I entered high school.  At St. Pat’s I fell in love with a tiny third grade girl with short dark hair.  She sat near the adorable blonde, Angie.    There was Ray Stella.  There was his sister, Rita.  Toni Montgomery sat close.  Linda Dramus and Lenny Schmidt.  Jimmy Merrill often walked home with me.  Nearby was Pete Gillette.  Pete came late into our 8th grade.  His father, Dr. Gillette was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 1960, so he took his family on a motor trip around the U. S.  Across from the school was a large tree with a stone bench.  It faced the river.  I sat with Mary on the stone on bright nights and watched the moonlight shimmer on the waves of the Susquehanna.  The tree and the stone are gone now.  Mary lives far away.  I’ve seen other couples on the stone bench, they didn’t realize it belonged to two other people…but I said nothing.  Near the bench was the first Owego museum that I can recall.

I’m older now and I’m going to a dance at the Elks.  First I must pass Dr. Nichols office.  He made house calls.  He took my brother’s appendix out.  He gave me my Polio vaccine.

I’m getting near Pete Gillette’s house.  The music of The Kingsmen blared from the Elks whenever someone opened the door.

I’m older and I stop into the bar that is now John Barleycorn.  I have a legal drink.  I continue up Front Street.  The buildings are changing from plastic and aluminum facades to brightly painted shops called River Row.  I look across the street and see the Dean Phillips Hardware store.  It transforms into the River Row Bookstore.  It carries copies of my first novel.

I’m older.  I cross over to the Court House Square.  I read the names of my classmates who died in Viet Nam.  I sat in front of Gary Fawcett in home room.  [Years ago I found his name on the Wall in Washington, D.C.].

I pass the Parkview Hotel.  An old brothel, I once read.  The ladies would be there for the Irish railroad workers from across the river putting down the tracks of the Lackawanna RR.  I had dinner there after the calling hours were over for my mother, at Esty & Monroe Funeral Home.

I pass the Historical Society.  I once gave two public lectures there (with slides) in a series called “The World Comes to Tioga County.”  I think I was well received.

It’s been a long journey from the other end of Front Street.  Once I passed this house [The Pumpelly House B & B] to continue to the very end and have a play date with Emerice Perry.  I wonder if she remembers my being there at her house?

I may have brought my daughter, Erin and later my son, Brian, Trick or Treating at this end of the street.  I always wanted to see what the other houses in town were like.

Now I know.

I came in tonight.  I climbed the curved staircase.  I feel the river air and see the curtains move slightly.  I hear the breeze and it seems to be telling me something…but I can’t quite hear it.

Wait, they’re not stories…they are memories.  They’re memories, aren’t they?  Or are they dreams?  I honestly can’t tell you that some memories I have of my life in Owego were real…making it a true memory, or something I dreamed one night 26 years ago?  I am troubled, sometimes, when I have a distinct recollection of an event, or a person, or a house or a kiss that it may exist only in my mind and not in reality.

I’ve spent time wondering about memory and reality and dreams.  Maybe it’s time in my life to just let it all fade?  Maybe I should pack them up and toss them into the muddy waters off the Court Street Bridge?  I could then start with a clean slate.  I could walk down Lake Street, sit at Sa Sa Na Loft’s grave on Cemetery Hill and see the village like a tourist.  Like someone who never lived, loved, danced, sang and cried here.  I could sit on steps of the Coburn Library and not be confronted by a thousand images of my youth.  [When I walk into the library, I can still smell the crayons that the nun used when she would bring us (was it 3rd grade?) for art class.]

Pretend that it really doesn’t matter…

No, I can’t really do that, because it does matter…to me.


Coney Island With Princess Pat and Eddie


I was on the stage of the Sideshow at Coney Island and I was standing on the thighs of a woman who was lying on a bed of real nails.  Her name was Princess Pat.  I’ll get back to her.

I’m in New York City.  We came for a few doctor appointments.

It was Tuesday morning.  Mariam had to be at her office in Mount Sinai Hospital for a meeting.  I had no appointments.  I had already been to the Corner Bookstore on Madison Avenue.  There was only one logical thing for me to do on this last full day in the City.  I needed to go to Coney Island.

I took the #1 Local to 59th St. and changed to the D Train.  The last stop on the line for the D was Coney Island/Surf Avenue.  I bought a copy of the Daily News, found a seat by the window and settled in for the hour-long trip.  “Wild West Gun Battle” screamed the headlines.  I skipped to page 11 and began to devour the 19 1/2 line article about Susan Lucci selling her Hampton estate.  That’s news that’s really fit to print.

I looked around at the other passengers in the same car with me.  There were several baby strollers, a large green & orange shopping bag stuck out into the aisle.  A few seats in front of me, a 30-something woman was listening to her iPod.  She crossed her leg and I noticed a tattoo on her right leg, just above the ankle bone.  From where I sat it looked like the image of a fat lady (pink) bending over to look at the bathroom scales (black).  I think I need a new pair of glasses.

While crossing the East River I got a nice view of the Brooklyn Bridge.  Funny.  I thought it had been destroyed in several Bond movies a few years ago.

Soon we were plunged into darkness.  The train stopped.  I’m always a little uneasy when that happens.  In one movie, a monster chews through the train, car by car, while it sat in a tunnel.  I played a quick solitaire game on my iPhone then opened my book to read while we sat in the dark tube.  The train jolted…so hard I had to reread a sentence.

Daylight!  We emerged between thick foliage, maple trees and stone walls.  The large granite blocks, turned black by the decades of bad air, had a thick covering of ivy that nearly obscured the graffiti.  Almost.  Along the bottom of the chain-link fence were mounds of leaves, plastic bottles, glass bottles, cardboard boxes and styrofoam cups with Greek Deli logos on them.  I spotted a perfectly good soccer ball.

Soon after the “9 Avenue” stop, we were a real El.  I could look down on the gray painted tar on the roof tops of the three-story buildings.  Small backyards held small blue plastic swimming pools large enough to hold two kids.  I passed a business whose sign read: “Quality Used Police Cars.”  So, that’s where they went.

As we slowed for a stop ahead, a building with worn-out bricks began to pass by.  When the train stopped, I saw I was only about 40 feet away from a woman leaning out her window.  The drapes behind her were deep red.  A few wine bottles acted like vases and held a couple of flowers in each one.  The woman looked forlorn.  She looked bored.  She looked lonely.  Her eyes lifted from the street below and she looked at the train.  She looked at the car opposite her.  She looked at my window.  She looked me in the eye.  I held her gaze.  We looked at each other until the train jerked into motion.  I put my hand to the glass and wiggled my fingers in a slight wave.  Her head turned as she watched me move away.  Her right hand-made a hint of a motion.  That was her wave to me saying “good-bye, mister, we’ll never ever meet or see each other again.”

We passed by schools with soccer fields that were as flat as a landing tarmac at JFK airport.  They were faded green and plastic lawns of fake grass.

I saw the old and very tall Parachute Jump ride in the distance.  We were almost at the last stop.  Coney Island/Surf Avenue.


A few minutes later, I was buying tickets for the Sideshow at the Coney Island Museum.  This is probably one of the last of the old-time “Freak Shows” in the country.  I went in and sat on a bleacher seat next to a young couple.   It was showtime.  More people came in and took seats.  Then the acts began.  I’ll skip over the Little Person who pounded a nail into his nose.  I’ll not mention the Electric Chair act when a member of the audience gets “zapped” and is able to light up a fluorescent build (I know how it’s done).  No, I’ll skip by the man in the wheel chair, born with legs the size of my forearms, who could play the slide electric guitar as good as most metal bands I’ve heard.  I’ll get to the real action now.

I was called to the stage (along with another man) to assist Princess Pat.  Her act?  She would lay down on a bed of nails and the other guy and I would stand on her.  She asked if I would check the nature of the nails.  They were real.  She stretched out.  An assistant told us that on the count of three, he would help us lift up to stand on her.  The other guy stood on her rib cage.  I stood on her thighs.  She did it.  I took a bow.  Sat down and had a sip of water.  The show ended.  I headed for the beach.

At Ruby’s Bar on the Boardwalk (since 1934) I had a hot dog and sat inside to plan this very blog.  The juke played:

“Oh, What a Night” followed by “Bad Moon Rising” by CCR, followed by Sinatra, “When I was 17, it was a very good year…”

Funny.  I thought my 17th year was pretty good too.  I was in love and I was innocent of nasty adult things.  “…in the autumn of my years…”  I thought about that too.

I went down to the sand and unrolled my mat.  I lay back and looked at the scattered clouds.  Children shouted.  I gripped the sand and tried to feel the weight of the millions of bodies that used that very same patch of sand for decades or centuries.  I remember seeing a photograph taken in the 1940’s showing the entire beach covered with people.  You couldn’t see the sand.  Only people.  Even now, I think about a million bodies on this stretch of surf.  I astounds me.

Back on the Boardwalk I began making my way back through the old Luna Park.

Just as I reached the ramp that led down from the Walk, I heard a woman yell “Eddie!”

I stopped.  She yelled “Eddie” again.  I began to go back in time and wondered how many women over the decades had stood up there and yelled for her “Eddie”.  If it was 70 years ago, Eddie would probably be a GI back safe from Germany or France and his girl or wife perhaps had lost sight of him in the crowd…and didn’t want to lose him again.  If it was 50 years ago, Eddie was a Viet Nam vet.

I looked around for this Eddie.  I didn’t see anyone respond.  I couldn’t wait to see the Eddie of July 29, 2014.

I had the D Train to catch.





On the sand…


Princess Pat

The Resurrection of Forgotten Love

A mossy trail

In my youth, I loved with an intensity that burned hot and blinding-white, like a strip of Phosphorus.  It consumed me and took control of my personal and private self.  All my waking moments were devoted to devising ways to make this love, love me in return.  In this vain attempt, I failed.  How can you hold water in your hand?  How can you trap and cage the wind?  You want to grip and hold tightly to a fist of pure white sand grains, but they slip through your fingers no matter how hard your fingers lock.

So, I buried this love.  The object of my soul’s desire did not die or was scattered to the wind.  No, I simply buried it, not six feet underground in damp and fertile earth, but deep within my heart.

Science tells us that the heart has four chambers.  I found a fifth.  And, into this secret ventricle, I placed my love and locked the door…if hearts have doors.

“Open the doors of your heart.” It’s a phrase I’ve heard often, so there must be doors there, down there, beneath my sternum.

The object of my love had no idea that I had put her away for what I thought was all time.

I lived my life then.  I lived it as full as my timid personality would allow.  I didn’t jump out of airplanes.  I never went to war.  I didn’t drive 90 mph down a dead-end street.  No, but I sat on lonely Alaskan glaciers.  I was lost in the Alaskan wilderness.  I thought I loved an Alaskan woman, but love isn’t found in the doorway of an apartment building on South Franklin Street in Juneau.  I climbed the peaks of New York State and swam naked in icy waters of a stream that would turn into the Hudson River.  I got lost in the Adirondack forest at night.  I thought I loved an Adirondack woman, but as it turned out, she never knew I existed or ever looked upon my face.  I’ve walked the footpaths of England.  I napped on Roman roads that were surely haunted by the Legions stuck in rainy cold Britain.  I thought I loved an English woman, but I left her at an airport…never to see her again.

I stood in a hotel lobby in Bejing and, half hidden behind a pillar, I stared at the most classically beautiful woman I have ever seen.  Would I trade my immortal soul for an hour with her?  Yes, I thought I would.  But I didn’t.  She never looked at me.

I’ve been married and I had children.  I have a grandson.  I have found love in these people.  The fact that a little child standing on a beach is carrying my DNA is a simple fact that astounds me a thousand times over.

The resurrection of my forgotten love began one night as I lay in a hospital bed in Manhattan.  A needle stuck in my neck was pumping chemo into my body.  I began to wonder if I was finally facing my greatest fear.

I survived the leukemia.  And, I sit on my deck looking out at the lake after a winter that seemed as cold as one of the circles of Dante’s Hell.  I feel the resurrection…not in watching dormant seeds turn into tomatoes or larvae become blood-sucking black flies.  I see and feel it in the world and people around me.

It’s life that I have loved and then forgotten.

But, not in the fact that I’m alive at this moment, typing this.

It’s the knowledge that I have lived, was given the chance to live, make mistakes, cry, laugh and mourn.

To me, it’s not “being in the moment”, because the moment passes and it’s exhausting trying to keep up.  It’s knowing I walked the road that was presented to me on the evening of May 31, 1947.  I had no concept of roads then, but as I grew older and my heart was broken by those I have loved and lost, I began to see this path, and to know my road was still mine alone.



Talent Night at the County Fair: July, 2014


An I-beam blocked our view from our first choice of seats.  We went back down and back up.  Great view!  A mud horse track separated the half-filled grandstand from the stage.  The stage was named for the Waste Removal Company that takes the trash from most of the homes of Clinton Co., NY.

It had rained earlier in the afternoon, but the sky was clearing nicely.  The west wind began to turn slightly chilly…enough to force me to dig for my fleece vest.  A fleece vest!?  In mid-July?  This was the North Country.  On the wall of the backstage were billboards from Pepsi and Budweiser.  Beyond the stage I could see the Green Mountains of Vermont.  In between, unseen, was Lake Champlain.

On stage the dozen contestants sat on folding chairs.  I could barely make them out in the dim lighting.  I could see a guitar act was in my future, though.  With any luck, maybe a Dylan song.  I squinted to see the young woman holding the guitar between her knees.  Nope.  Even her parents are too young to know who Dylan is.

The two emcees were ‘personalities’ from the local TV station.  One was the news anchor and the other was the weekend weatherman.  I wondered how much he made to tell us that it was cold, is cold and will be cold until Saturday afternoon…when it will be a little less cold.

First up was the 12-year-old and under group.  Six girls.  The backup music was provided by two guys at a sound table under a brown canvas tarp mid-way across the horse track.  A rainbow appeared above the stage.

I got as comfortable as I could and began to listen to these young girls sing (one did an Irish Step Dance).  Then they were followed by the adults.

I let the music fill the old wooden stands.  I heard the voices sing songs I mostly didn’t know.  I listened to the occasional lines:

“Let it be…”

“Before he cheats…”

“Sway with me…”

“Rain blowing in your face…”

“Surround me when the night gets cold…”

The voices were tentative, shy, strong, weak, off-key, quiet and loud.  But like all music, good and not so good, it transported me.  I left my body on the bench and my mind began to soar.

I soared over the rows of fresh-cut hay of the field beyond the horse track, up and over Plattsburgh, across Lake Champlain, over the Green Mountains, passed the rainbow that had appeared in the clouds overhead, toward New Hampshire, Boston and the Atlantic Ocean.  I was vaguely aware of the shy voices of the little girls, the strong “give-me-your-best-shot” confidence of the adult women, the strong baritones of the men, the gentle folk song on the guitar.

This was young untested talent.  Virgin talent.  Bold talent.  And some of it was nearly free of talent…but it came from twelve people who had the stuffing to get up in front of their friends and family and neighbors and try.  They tried with their hearts because they wanted someone, anyone to listen to what they felt they had.  This was their moment in the blue lights.  This was their chance to prove to themselves that whatever it is they want, they were going to try to get it.

The first little girl who sang, came in last.  She walked down the ramp of the stage and slowly across the dirt horse track…the widest horse track she had walked across in her eight or nine years on earth.

She was wiping her cheeks.  My heart broke.

“Please God,” I said to myself. “Don’t let her think she failed, is a failure, will be a failure…is not now or ever going to be good enough.”

She’s lying in her bed now, thinking about how she came in last.  What will she do in the morning?

“Please God, give her the strength to get out of bed and begin singing again.”

Me?  I’m sitting at my laptop trying to describe to you how she sent me out over the Ocean.

I think her creative energy was bound up with my fate.  If she had faltered in mid-song…turned around and walked away…I would have fallen into the sea.




The Carny



27 Years Ago Today



To recall something that happened over a quarter of a century ago, in detail…minute detail, is a remarkable gift.  Sometimes, I can’t recall who won the World Series a month after the last pitch.  Who ran for Vice-President two elections ago?  How old am I?

I have to stop and think about many of these things.

But, there are some things that happen in one’s life that work like a strong acid, etching a memory in the glass of your cortex that records every detail.  Like a Daguerrotype, you can look at the image of a person or action frozen for all time on a silver coated sheet of paper.

That’s the way the morning of July 14, 1987 played out for me.  That was the day my son, Brian, was born.  He was a surprise, in a way, he wasn’t expected until weeks later.  He hit the delivery room scale a little under 5 lbs.  He was put into an incubator.

I was already the father of a daughter.  When Erin was born, I was kept in the waiting room, pacing back and forth like a ‘nervous expectant father’ character in a 1950’s TV show.  There was no nurse to chat with me.  Soon the doctor came in and announced that “she” was here.  But I, the father, was left to wonder and worry in a room with a table of outdated Good Housekeeping magazines.

Not so in 1987.  I had gone to the rest room to splash my face which had been sweating on a vinyl chair where I had spent the night.  When I returned to the room, Nancy was gone.  An Orderly threw a pile of scrubs at me and said to put them on ASAP and follow him.  I was struggling to fit the booties on as I hopped down the hallway.

In the Delivery Room, Nancy was already in position.  Our Obstetrician hadn’t arrived yet, so a Resident handled the actual delivery.  I saw the whole event.  I stood and watched as his head pushed through.  Then, plop, he was out…into the doctors hands.  All slimy, bloody and very tiny.  The nurses took over and wiped him, snipped and swaddled him.

Meanwhile our Obstetrician arrived in time to do the stitching (and later the billing).  The doctor looked up at me and said: “Well, what do you think?”

I couldn’t respond.  I looked at Nancy.  She seemed spent and sleepy.  I looked over at Brian, all 4 lbs and something of him.  I still couldn’t speak.

“Well, what do you think?” the doctor asked again.

I still had no words to express myself.

I walked over to the window and looked down at the parking lot…and tears flowed down my cheeks.

I had just witnessed one of life’s most amazing and significant events.  The emergence of a new life.

I knew then and I know now that what I had just seen was not ‘unique’ in a global sense.  The scene was being replayed in every corner of the planet, without regard to day-light or dark, desert or jungle, plush pure sheets in expensive clinics or mud-caked floors in Bolivian huts.  This was the famous “circle of life” that everyone has sung and wrote about for thousands of years.

The real difference here was that my eyes had seen my son’s first seconds in the world he will occupy until his life span is completed.  I was there at the starting line when the gun was fired.  I was there when he hit the ground running.  I was there when the first flash of light hit his cornea, the first touch of a human hand, the first slight breeze, the first dry space, the first head-above-the-water out of the pool of embryonic fluid, the first pinch of pain, the first touch of fabric on his skin and his first inhalation of the mixture of 78% Nitrogen and 21% Oxygen that was to be his ‘air’ for a lifetime.

Then, the rest was easy.  He grew before my eyes, from a being whose sole focus was MILK to someone who then had thoughts, ideas, words, needs and questions.

Over the years, we walked together, ate, argued, laughed and grew to know each other as adults do.

There is much I need to show him.  Places I need to take him.

I’ll always be his teacher just like I’ll always be his father.

Happy Birthday, Brian, from someone who first met you 27 years ago today.

Brian and Kirsten 5

My Right Chest, My Ringtone and a Cemetery


Just this afternoon, I found myself in a cemetery.  For those who are keen on details, it was Saint Alphonsus Cemetery in Tupper Lake, NY.  The skies were blue with patchy cumulus clouds; a departure from the thunderstorms we’ve been experiencing.  I love to stroll in cemeteries.  Usually, they are quiet places excellent for the necessary contemplation of Life and Death issues that we all should ponder every so often.  I had my favorite little notebook, a Moleskin, in my left shirt pocket.  I keep this book handy to copy interesting epitaphs, if I should happen upon one.  In my right shirt pocket was my iPhone (red protective case for those of you who are keen on details).  I had on an baseball cap.  I had already sprayed myself with my homemade bug repellant (see recipe below).  The gnats seemed to love the repellant.  I guess it’s an approach/avoidance kind of thing with those little bugs.

The tune “In The Mood” was running through my brain.  That’s because we had gone to the Lake Placid Center for the Arts last night to see and hear the Glenn Miller Orchestra.  I love big band music and the thoughts I was having last evening could make for a really cool blog.  Hmmm?  And, the female vocalist? Forget about it.  She came on stage like a sweet blend of Mae West, Jessica Rabbit and Betty Grable.  I was so intent on listening to her lovely voice and looking at her cherry-red lipstick, that I failed to notice the slit up her ankle-length gown.  They had to tell me about it later.

During the concert, I had turned off the ringer of my iPhone.  It was set on vibrate.

My wife had come along for the ride to Tupper Lake because she wanted to get some fresh air.  I mean we have plenty of air, fresh and otherwise at our house at Rainbow Lake, but she just wanted to go on a drive.  She took a short walk toward the Civil War section and then settled in the car to to escape the gnats.

So, there I was walking over a slight rise in the cemetery.  The lawn was freshly mowed and the scent of newly cut grass filled my olfactory system.  When I passed the headstone for Florence Rounds, my right chest began to flutter.  That’s it, I was sure I was having the “Big One” as Redd Foxx used to say.  For a moment, I thought that a cemetery is the perfect place to have the old ticker stop ticking.  After all, you’re right where you should be.  I asked God for the forgiveness for my few sins and put my hand to my right chest.  Then I remembered that my heart was actually on the left part of my chest.  So this wasn’t the Big One.  This was the vibrating iPhone.  It was Mariam calling me to think about getting home.  I said okay…just a few more stones to look at in an effort to find a collectible epitaph.  I switched my phone back to ringer mode and put it back in my right shirt pocket.

Quickly, I was lost in my reverie again.  I passed Anna Huntington and then Daisy Peets. Both ladies were about my age when they were called home, so to speak.

I was in a rather isolated part of the cemetery.  My cell phone went off again.  This time my ringtone kicked on.

I had downloaded Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” from iTunes about a year ago.  So, here I was standing in a lonely part of a cemetery and I’m hearing: “How does it feel?  How does it feel?”

My vivid imagination, for the briefest moment, had me feeling that it was the question sung by all those deceased people, some forgotten, some remembered, to me.  They wanted to know how it felt to be the one who was alive.  Maybe they forgot the sun and the rain, the clouds and the snow, the laughter and the tears, the joy and the sorrow of being alive.

“It feels pretty good,” I said, as I headed back to my car.

I was in the mood.


[Make Your Own Bug Dope]  This was put out by a friend of mine on Facebook several years ago.  I forgot who posted it, but thanks!

Get a 16 oz Spray Bottle

Mix: 15 Drops of Lavender Oil with 3-4 Tbsp Vanilla Extract and 1/4 cup of Lemon Juice.  Shake well.  Spray. Enjoy.

The Moonflower


The heavenly fragrance of moon flower permeates the air in the whole garden.

–The Flower Expert website

In the summer of 1965 I was busy preparing to leave my home, family and friends and go off to college.  Actually, only part of what I just said is true.  I was going away to college, that’s true.  But I was not busy preparing for it.  No, I was busy trying to hold on to my old life.  Once you go away to college, that’s it.  Nothing is ever the same…ever again.  I instinctively knew that so I did things to delay my departure…from my home, from Owego and from my youth.

That Spring, I cleared out the debris that had accumulated in a narrow patch of soil between the front porch and a sidewalk that went along the side of the house that faced the RR tracks.  That would be the east facing side of 420 Front St.  That was the side that gave me a clear look at the home of my childhood friend, Jimmy Merrill.

I broke up the cleared soil and planted a row of seeds.  I planted Moonflower seeds from a packet I had bought at J.J.Newberry’s on Lake St.  I had never grown a Moonflower before, but the picture on the packet looked beautiful.  And who couldn’t fall under the spell of anything called a Moonflower.  I carefully read the label and it described how Moonflowers were climbers.  So, I attached a dozen lengths of string from the ground up to the board beneath the front porch roof.  I watered the seeds and then went out with my girlfriend, Mary, to Shangra-La Speedway to watch the stock car races.  Or, we would walk up to the monument of Sa-sa-na-Loft and sit on the bench that overlooked the town.  We couldn’t see my house because of the trees, but we could make out the white back wall of her house on E. Temple St.  I could see the Court House and the yellow busses near the high school.  We watched the trains that passed through town just below where we sat.  I watched as the trains rode over the Tunnel of Love, splashed in white paint, at the bend in Paige Street.  I’ve written before how important that tunnel was.  I stole more than one kiss in that damp passageway.  I can’t speak for Mary, but I was proud when PE & MAW appeared one day on the dingy wall.  It was accompanied by a heart and an arrow.

I kept an eye on the Moonflowers.  They sprouted, just when the packet said they would, and they began to climb the string I had put in place for them.

We went to the Tioga County Fair.  I didn’t win a Teddy Bear for her, but we rode the Ferris Wheel and the Merry-go-round.

There was a small swinging seat on the side of our front porch, just beside the railing that was slowly being covered by the leaves of the Moonflower.  I remember the two of us sitting on the swing while the sky grew black as ink over Cemetery Hill and a spectacular thunderstorm broke out, complete with hail, lightning and the closest thunder you could imagine.  But we were dry and cozy on the swing and the Moonflowers got a healthy drink of water.

We canoed on the Susquehanna, often paddling up to Hiawatha Island, owned at the time by the family of one of my best friends, Pete Gillette. (That was the last summer I ever saw Pete).

As the days drifted into mid-August, I knew my days at home were quickly winding down.  Arrangements had been made for me to get a ride to Louisiana (where I was going to attend college) with Cathy Brown and her family.  Cathy would later become Mrs. Craig Phelps (another of my closest friends who lived across the street).  Even later, Cathy would lose her son and then “Doc” himself.  I miss him terribly.

I never knew if Craig could see the Moonflowers from his house.  It would have been easy if he knew where to look.

The vines of the flowers continued to climb.  My day of departure was coming.  It became a race.  I packed.  The Moonflowers grew.  They grew up fast, like I felt my high school years had done.  My school days flashed by me in minutes, not years.

The days finally arrived.  The Brown’s were going to pick me up in a few hours.  I went out onto the front porch.  The buds were ready to open any minute, it seemed.

I left Owego never seeing the Moonflowers bloom.

A few months later, my relationship with my girl friend ended.  I never got to see the bloom of that flower, either.

The following summer, I found out that all the things I worried about, did indeed come true.  Nothing was ever, ever the same again.

I never planted Moonflowers after the summer of 1965.




Waving My Way Out Of Purgatory


I’m absolutely convinced that I’m going to Purgatory. I know for certain that I’m going to Purgatory. Even my high school girlfriend told me I was going to Purgatory.

“Why am I going there?” I would ask her.

“Because.” She would reply. “I saw the way you looked at me just now.”

“But I didn’t do anything,” I said.

“You didn’t have to,” she replied. “You thought about it. That’s sinful.”

I’ve even had non-Catholic friends who don’t believe in Purgatory tell me that’s where I’m going. A Rabbi once said to me:

“You’re going to Purgatory.”

“Why?” I asked. “You don’t even accept that as part of your faith. Why?”

“Just because,” was all he said.

I wasn’t going to win, so after several years of being informed of this, I knew I was going to Purgatory.

Not for all eternity, just for several hundred million years. Heaven and Hell are those places where you spend “till the end of time”, which is a kind of play on words because, theologically speaking, time does not exist in those places; therefore, there can be no end …to something that doesn’t exist.

Some things can seem eternal in this world, which does have time, like a Miley Cyrus CD, yodeling, bagpipe music and two hours of outtakes and bloopers from Duck Dynasty. These things will never really end. You just have to do the best you can.

But, I’m all about something very different here.

Theologically speaking, Heaven can be gained at the moment of death if you’ve lived a perfect sin-free life, like Mother Theresa, or Bono.

There’s no need to wash up before this dinner.

At the other end of the spectrum, theologically speaking is Hell. This place is reserved for the truly evil people who will spend the rest of…whatever. We’re talking about individuals who have done unspeakable things to other human beings. People like Hitler, Mengele, Goebbels, Jeffery Dahmer, Bernie Madoff and the person who selects the background music at Wal-Mart. (Sometimes I include Leona Helmsley on this list, but I’m still making a final decision.) Again, no need to shower before dressing for Hell.

Which brings me to Purgatory.

Theologically speaking, this is the “holding pattern” for those who aren’t in Hitler’s league or in Pope John Paul II’s dugout. It’s a time of cleansing. The little insignificant sins and transgressions need to be cauterised off your soul. These sort of actions include telling people that Loni Anderson is your wife, you’ve summited Mount Everest by holding your breath, you’ve gone over Niagara Falls with nothing but a Mylar balloon that says “Happy Birthday, Grandpa!” or telling your wife you’d like to pick up the latest Playboy “to read the fiction piece by Hemingway”.

Now, I’m fully aware that officially, the Roman Catholic Church has distanced itself from the concept of Purgatory, theologically, that is. After Vatican II, they dropped it faster than you can say “St. Christopher”.

Well, I’m sorry, but I’m not buying it. It makes all the sense in the world that you can’t go directly to The Big Creator, without first straightening your tie and spitting on your shoes.

My game plan to override this Toll Booth is rooted in the Middle Ages. This was a time when rational thought and critical thinking skills were at their highest. All one needed was to build a chapel, a convent, an Abbey or simply donate a monthly sum to the local parish, and the years you were destined to spend cleaning up for heaven would be shaved off. These were called Indulgences. Another, and cheaper, method was to pray. Not just any prayer, but certain prayers would carry an Indulgence of, say, 500 days trimmed from Purgatory. I even remember seeing how much trade-in value certain prayers carried printed in my missal. I was an altar boy so I had time do some head math and then find a pew where I could erase my Purgatory time caused by my behavior on a Friday night date.

But, I don’t have my prayer-book now, so what’s a guilty and terrified guy to do?

It’s simple. The answer presents itself to me every day.

Random acts of kindness. These must be the modern means of gaining Indulgences.

So, now when I drive into town, I’m always on the lookout for cars that are stuck in traffic on side streets. I slow and wave them in. Sometimes this causes a back up behind me, especially when the car is unable to make a move because of on-coming cars in the opposite lane. But, hey, I can wait.

I slow for pedestrians who need to cross the street. I sometimes even stop and wait for them. This can be a problem when they didn’t intend to cross the street in the first place; they were just standing on the curb taking to someone.

I make them cross the street anyway.

I’d like to think that the traffic in my town moves more smoothly since I began my efforts to trim my Purgatory time.

One thing I haven’t been able to figure out is exactly how much time (in years, days?) do I get off for my noble and selfless road behavior. I’ve asked priests this question and they just stare back at me and then move slowly away.

In the end, theological speaking, it really doesn’t matter what the algorithm is. I’ll be doing less time in the waiting room, less time waiting for the light.

Less time behind the velvet ropes that will allow me to enter the Big Night Club.

The rest of you who weren’t smart like me and planned for the future beyond your usual funeral highlights, will simply have to bide your next 400,000,000 million years.