Two Candles

I’m sitting outside in our small garden. I’m trying to read a novel written by Hakan Nesser.  He writes great nordic noir mysteries.

It’s a warm night.  I bought two new candles to illuminate the dusk in the garden.  We had a friend over and ordered Chinese. I had my fried rice and dumplings. My little radio, in the living room was tuned to WQXR and I was listening, faintly heard,  from the garden, a Gregorian Chant.

We talked. I read a few poems from a new book from Barnes & Noble.  I had my friend listen to Bob Dylan’s acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize on my iPhone.

By the time we finished, the candles were melted into the holders. I paid $2.47 (+tax) for each candle….at the end of  the evening’s dinner and conversation, both candles were gone.

What does that say about candles? Friendship? Dinner conversation?

Candles, some of them, burn quickly….like life.

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Remorse And A Frozen Bottle Of Poland Springs: My Dinner With Chuck

Perhaps some of you remember a rather obscure film from several decades ago called My Dinner with Andre.  It was a really intense movie about two guys who have a conversation over dinner on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

A two-hour movie about two guys talking over dinner…’nap time’, you may think…but the film was brilliant (and nobody gets blown up or vaporized and there are no zombies).

What follows are a few recollections of My Dinner with Chuck:

~~~

beaconbeerchuck

I was sipping a Greenpoint IPA at the Beacon Bar on Broadway and 74th St.  I looked at my iPhone…twenty minutes to the end of happy hour.  I was waiting for my old friend, Chuck, from my home town, Owego, NY.  I saw him last at our 50th class reunion in September of 2015.  Before that, perhaps we crossed paths at a less significant reunion (although I believe all class reunions are significant life events)…I couldn’t remember.  The bottom line is that I haven’t really had time to speak with my friend in fifty years!

He lives in one of the Carolinas now…as do many of my class mates who moved to the south and mid-south to escape the rigors of New York State winters. His son (who lives in New Jersey) had scored tickets to the biggest hit on Broadway right now...Hamilton.

It was a matinée and Chuck said he’d love to meet up with me while I was in the City.  He had lived in the “hood” back in the 1970’s, so he knew the Beacon Theater and the adjacent bar.

I took another sip on the IPA.  I looked into a mirror on the column in front of me.  I see two guys walk in.  Heavy set…like Mafia hit men.  It was Chuck and his son.

We moved to a small table and chatted until my wife joined us a few minutes later.  Chuck looked great for his age and his son looked a Hollywood actor…like a young Jude Law.  Funny, but his son is a lawyer (Jude Law?? get it?).

Chuck’s son made a call and soon a female friend of his appeared.  She was a dentist.  I tried to show her my infected back molar but my wife stopped me from peeling my lip back too far.

The lawyer and the dentist went off and the three of us went to pick up a half-dozen slices of pizzas from a nearby joint.  We went back to our apartment and had a dinner of pizza and beer.  It wasn’t My Dinner with Andre, but we talked about so many things from so many years ago.  We discussed one important detail: who was the prettiest girl in the class of “65…we decided it was…(do you think I’m an idiot to tell you?…that’s our secret).  We never sang the Alma Mater but we recalled and exchanged memories that we had both forgotten…each in our own way.  We laughed and had several hours and several really good slices of pizza.

Chuck kept saying how great it was to get together…I agreed.

His son called and said he was busy for the night. Luckily for Chuck, we had an extra bed in the downstairs room.

We stuffed two pillows and found a duvet.  We sat at the top of a very scary spiral staircase and talked before I sent him down stairs for a good nights sleep.

chuckandme

I went into the fridge and found a bottle of frozen Poland Springs in the freezer.  I figured it would thaw in about twenty minutes and Chuck would have nice sips of ice water before he fell asleep.

Later, I sat up in bed…I had given my fine old friend a block of ice…it wasn’t going to thaw for an hour.  I felt guilty. I felt I let my friend down on one basic of hospitality…a drink of cool water.  A few minutes later I put my head back on my pillow and hoped he get up on time and connect with his son and get back to New Jersey.

He did.  He emailed a thank you note but didn’t mention the frozen bottle of water.

Will I ever do anything really right?  I fell asleep think of the way he described how delicious the cantaloupes were back when we were in high school.

Memories…old friends…these are the things that drive me to sit and write this at 1:30 in the morning.

A Farewell Letter To Jimmy

merrillandmeburlington

Hey, Jimmy…I can’t bring myself to call you James.  For most of my life you’ve been Jimmy, so there it is.  Mariam and I were in Burlington just this past weekend.  As I wandered up and down Church Street I kept wondering where the restaurant was that we met for the first time in over 50 years.  Mariam said she remembered which block it was on.  I wondered how you were doing…

I was remembering the old days in Owego.  Craig Phelps was probably the nearest neighbor (he lived across the street from me, remember?). But you were the next closest.  Your house was just across the RR tracks and hard by the Brick Pond.  Boy, did we have fun exploring the Pond in those days when only  a handful of kids knew about it?  You and I spent endless hours in our backyards playing “cowboys & indians” and army games with my brother and ‘Doc’ Phelps.  That was quite a time.  It was the time of our lives when few troubling things touched us.

Innocent children.  Innocent young boys playing in fields near the Susquehanna.  Fields of fair games and fair play.  Fields of Youth.

We were rarely ever apart in our years at St. Patrick’s School.  It was in OFA…high school…that we drifted apart.  We hung in different circles of friends.

Then one day (was it 1964? 1963?) you brought over an album for me to listen to.  We sat on our sofa at 420 Front Street and I heard the voice of Bob Dylan for the first time.  I was a Dion fan.  I didn’t get Bob at all.  I said: “This guy can’t sing”.  It was about a year later when I heard “Like a Rolling Stone” on a radio station when I was driving back from working at Carroll’s Hamburgers in Vestal.

I got it.  You gave it to me.

Later, we sat on the steps of my house and you talked about this thing happening in Viet Nam.  I was too wrapped up in my girlfriend and plans for college to fully understand…in 1965…what was happening.

You enlisted and you served with honor and I heard you got a medal of some kind for bravery.

Jimmy, you fell below the radar after high school and I did not hear anything about you until I was asked to try to locate you for the 50th Reunion in September of 2015.  Things happened and I was able to find your phone number.  I called and we met for lunch in Burlington.  Such a great time we had…remember?  We recalled the old days and caught up on how “not well” you were.

I wrote a blog about our lunch.  It was quite popular among our Owego friends.

Then, this morning, I get some news on Facebook about you.  News that made me weep for a time as I reflected on our history.

We’ll never explore the Brick Pond again, Jimmy.  We’ll never play war games in our backyards.  Ever again.

Wait, that’s not true…I’ll always remember the times we had and the growing up we did together.  I’ll recall those childhood games again and again to keep your memory alive.  I’ll walk around the Brick Pond again…in your honor.

RIP, my good, gentle and great old buddy.  I’m gonna miss you…….You are the friend I’ve known the longest…in my life.

pat-and-jimmie

 

Dear Moxie…

Moxie

So long, honey baby

Where I’m bound, I cannot tell

But goodbye’s too good a word

So I’ll just say “Fare thee well…”

–Bob Dylan “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right

Dear Moxie,

We’ve been through a lot in our short life together, Moxie.  But there comes a time when the best thing to do is to face the reality and know when a relationship has run its course.  I can’t say that our life together has been without discord, without anger, without frustration and without mistakes.  I can honestly say that I made most of the effort to make things workout…it was you, in the end, that failed me one too many times.  It was you who left me sitting in my car, in the rain, in the snow, at a strange crossroads in the middle of a strange and lonely landscape or left me in my car, angled halfway into a “one-way” street…and I was going the wrong way.  It was you, Moxie.  It was you.  I coudda been a contender, but you left me with no direction home, even when home was a cheap motel in Rutland, Vermont, or an RV park in Austin, Texas.

I know you tried your best…with what you had to work with.  I fully understand that you always thought you were following directions from the Heavens, and in your own way, you were.

It was a strange threesome, me, my wife and you.  When we first started bringing you into our lives, I, as a male, thought I heard a certain hint of seduction in your voice when you told us what to do.  But, over the years, that sultry quality has given way to a more mechanical, robotic voice…Moxie, you lost your passion.

Maybe it was the name you resented?

When we first had you in the seat between us…when we would leave our home for a long strange trip, we didn’t know what to call you.  You didn’t come with a name.  You were a voice without a soul behind it.  I wanted to give you a little bit of a tawdry history, make you a scarlet woman, a gypsy wanderer…so we came up with Moxie.

All Moxies are a little sassy.  No one names their librarian-to-be daughter, Moxie.  They named her Grace or Rose or Helen.  But, you were always a Moxie to us.

But, as I said, all things must pass.  Please don’t take this as an insult, but there are newer models available.  Sleeker and more savvy.  More feminine with a sexy voice to match.  More power.  Faster (although, in your day, you were plenty fast), but we need our new model with more memory and more color…more glamor, more bang for the buck and more bells and whistles for a man-of-the-road like me, who can fall into white-line fever at the drop of a toll token.

We don’t even have a name for our new model, yet.  But, it won’t be Moxie, so don’t worry.  You’ll always be Moxie to us…the only Moxie to have shared our lives.

I know someday, if things go south for us and time get tough, I’ll go back to looking for company in the honky-tonk  saloons, dive bars and all the gin joints in the world.  I may find myself on a ripped plastic covered bar stool next to you.  We may pass each other as I leave a juke joint and you’re just going in.  We’ll bump shoulders.  I’ll look down.  Will you speak to me?  Will the day ever come when you forget our relationship?  Will you be telling someone else where to go?  where to turn?  where to park?

I know this will sound harsh and cold and heartless, but your replacement has already made it to our RV bed.  It’s ready to go and seems eager to talk to us and lead us on new adventures along the highways and byways of our aging life.

Thanks for the miles you traveled with us, Moxie.  There’ll always be a place in our cigarette lighter to get a charge if you ever need it.

All you ever have to do is be a good gps to one man, one time, and you’ll make to the end of the road, babe.  I’d like to be able to exist without your services,  travelers relied on maps for centuries before satellites…but’s it’s a new complicated world out there.  It’s freedom I’d like to have.  After all, they say that ‘freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose’, but we all know that it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

Don’t think of this as the end.  Think of it as a well deserved rest.

Good bye and good luck, Moxie.  Sorry it had to end this way.

All our love and memories,

Pat and Mariam.

GarminUnitNew

 

A Silent Eulogy: Late But Heartfelt

B:WFlowerSteve

Is it possible that a eulogy can take forty-one years to deliver?

The dreaded answer is yes.  I know because I spoke that eulogy…silently, silently so that only I heard the words.  It was a rambling prayer over a heart-breaking death.  I knew the young man who had died.  In truth, I was with him when he passed away, away into the unknown world that we all dread…whether we admit it or not.

He is interred in the soil of his hometown in sunny and warm Louisiana.  His soul departed on a snowy trail, on a cold night in the mountains of the Adirondacks.

I’ve talked to him, about him and prayed for him for four decades.  Our conversations weren’t all one-sided.  I felt his presence.  I felt his answers.  I’ve felt his forgiving words when I find those occasional moments, when the moon is rising and the air is crisp and the snow is five inches deep…just like it was that night in November of 1974.

Once before, many years ago, I stood over his grave.  I remember that day.  It was unbearably hot in the southern sun.  I thought then of how I was so near him in such an opposition of environments…from when we last walked side by side.  Now, I’ve returned with time heavy in my arms and dried wildflowers of the North Country in my hands.  Now, the temperature is at a mid-point…from that night to this day.  It’s 55 degrees.  There are pine cones on the ground…not a flake of snow within five hundred miles.

Yes, I’ve talked to him and relived our friendship when I stop to recall memories, those sweet and terrible memories.  I’ve spoken to a few people about him, but I have never, until now, written a word about my friend.

I’ve waited too long and kept too many recollections lock away in my heart and brain.  I need to share these with you.

We met in a hallway at the college I attended in Louisiana, or perhaps we met at the Pizza Inn where we worked evenings to earn a few extra dollars.  I have never encountered a more curious individual.  He picked my brain for hours about what life in the North was like.  At the Pizza Inn, we were often left with the task of closing for the night.  But, we wouldn’t simply clean-up and lock-up.  No, after the lights were turned off, and before the ovens were shut down for the night, we would make a pizza, the likes of which was never seen on the menu.  We’d lock the front door and find a booth in the back dining area.  And there, by the light of a single candle (we didn’t want to attract the police who would be checking the locks on the doors of the businesses along the avenue), we would drink beer, eat pizza and talk for hours.  We’d argue.  We’d laugh. We discussed the philosophy of life.  We talked about women.  We talked about racism. (He was the farthest thing from a ‘redneck’ I ever encountered in my years in the 1960’s South.)  More than once, when we left for our cars, the eastern skies were getting light.

Time flew for us when we had important matters to ruminate about.

A few years later, after I graduated and moved back to New York State, we kept up our friendship through letters.  We had a chess game in progress for months, sending moves to each other on post cards.  I don’t remember whose turn it was when our game ended so abruptly.

He was curious about life outside of the South so he moved to Binghamton, where I was living.  He got a job.  I moved to Pennsylvania to begin a career of teaching.  He wanted to join me on a hiking trip to the Adirondacks over the Thanksgiving break of 1974.  I said yes.  I wish I hadn’t.

I will place this humble bouquet against the headstone.  My wife will stand at my side.

I will say a prayer for him to a God who I feel has been too quiet for too long.

My private prayer for the dead will start with his name.

I will say: “Hey, Steve.  It’s been a long time.  Sorry I’m so late.”

O, Southern sun, shine warmly here,

O, Southern winds, blow gently here,

Green sod above, lie light, lie light,

Good night , dear heart, good night, good night.

[This is not Steve’s epitaph, but it could and should be.  I found in on a gravestone of a nine-year old boy named Addison Foster, Jr. in the City Cemetery of Natchez, Mississippi]

HandAt Steve's grave

To Let: Site # 143/ A Farewell To The Sunshine State

Site#143

[As I write this post, Site #143 is occupied]

On December 30, 2015, around noon, the radio in our red Ford Escape will begin to emit static.  It will crackle and hiss as my favorite country music station fades in strength.  Fort Myers will be receding, falling away into the south…into the muggy soupy haze.  The traffic on I-75 will be roaring past us.  The final songs are playing.  I hear the lines:

“Lookin’ in every trailer park for her red pick-up truck…”

and,

“If you’re gonna cheat on me, don’t cheat in our hometown…”

then,

“There’s a tiger inside of those tight fittin’ jeans…”

I think I hear,

“Tell it like it used to be, when you were still in love with me, before you got so used to me, and wanted someone new…”

Wait, a signal burst from the station,

“Billy gave up his wife and children…just to satisfy your 14 carat mind.”

and, just as the faint sounds of the best country music station in Florida fades into the ionosphere,

“You never called me ‘darlin’, darlin’…you never even called me by my name.”

“Before you got so used to me…”  It’s not that we are “used” to Florida, its just that the calendar will turn over in a few dozen hours to 2016 and we have places to see.  Former sharecroppers shacks in the southern cotton and soy bean fields and places in the western deserts.  We’re trading the Royal Palm trees for the Saguaro.  If you open your Rand McNally and look at the U.S. map, we will be riding along the belly of this great and varied country.  Landscapes will change…but the heart of this traveler will be setting a course toward the sunsets.

Our days and nights in Florida are at an end.  A night in Fort McCoy, another in Tallahassee and then we begin making our way through the heart of the deep south.  Mobile, Natchez and Vicksburg.  There are campsites waiting for us.  I have important personal business in Monroe, Louisiana…I hope it’s not hot and glaring in the sun when I sit beside that headstone in the cemetery in Monroe.  Then Shreveport and onto Dallas.  Mariam will fly back to New York City for several days of business-related meetings.  I’ll stay back…back in Texas where I will plug away on my novel.  I’ll sleep alone in the Lone Star state.  How much trouble can I get into while scribbling away in Arlington.

What are we leaving behind us?  So many things, mostly pleasant and a few not so.  The heat and humidity, unusual this year, will not be missed by me.  (But, I do enjoy going outside without wearing fleece.)

BigCypressNWR

[Big Cypress Wildlife Refuge]

We’re leaving our friends in Jupiter, Brad and Linda, who were so gracious a few weekends ago on the Atlantic coast.

We’re leaving my high school classmate, Katy (and her husband) who prepared a wonderful lunch for us in Zephyrhills.  Katy is my proof-reader.  We’re leaving my teaching colleague, Dianna (and her husband) who showed us the sunny side of St. Petersburg.  Dianna is a transplanted Connecticut yankee.  Good luck in the Florida heat, Dianna.  Teach those children well.

We’re leaving the sublime beauty and stark nature of the Big Cypress and Everglades Parks.

SawGrass

[Sawgrass]

The malls, the walls, the sand and the alligators.  The seashells of Sanibel.  The sunsets over the Gulf.  My learning to sail with Russell and sailing teacher, Randen.

MeSailingDay2

I will miss the Bike Bistro, where I bought a mug and had Mariam’s broken spokes repaired. (The free ball-point pens were orange-colored).  Farewell to Paulette and Emily who provided me with the best iced coffee on the hottest of days. They were more than baristas, they became my friends.

MeJava2

Java2

[Paulette (left) is a gifted artist & Emily (right) has a dog-siting business. They are the top two baristas in Fort Myers]

Gone will be the pink flamingo yard ornaments, adult tricycles, golf carts and circling Turkey Vultures.

Flamingos

Out of my life, like a cool breeze on a hot day, will pass the best public libraries this side of 42nd Street.

I will no longer drive along San Carlos Boulevard and tip my cap at the strippers who are all standing in front of Fantasy’s, waving to the passers-by.

New adventures are awaiting us on the roads to the West.

If you’ve read between the lines of my posts, you may have noticed that this writer is a restless soul.  I feel unspeakably lonely sometimes, even when Mariam and friends are near.  It’s my dark side.  My nightly companion is a melancholy that can’t be described easily.  Have you ever dreaded something and welcomed that thing in equal portions?  Love and hate.  Approach and avoidance.  The beautiful and the obscene.  The sacred and the profane.

Clearly, almost certainly, it’s the air sign of mine.  Gemini.  The twins.  Perhaps that explains my dual nature.

But, I think I can be fixed, like an old Chevy with faded paint that’s not running on all cylinders.  Yes, I think I’ve found the place that could be my Fountain of Youth.  I stumbled on this ghost town while googling the Mohave Desert.  I’ve never been there, but I know it exists.  It will be an unusual place and it bears the oddest of names.  It’s in the California desert.  It’s alongside the dunes and sage and cacti of the Southwest.  I’m not going to tell you (yet) where this place is located.  You will need to stay in touch.

Keep reading my posts.  I have so much more to share.

Good-bye Site #143.  It’s been a great two months.  Perhaps we can do this again sometime.  I’ll buy the wine and pay for the room if you sing that song I love…

Moon&Palm

A Day For A Splash Of Rum

Sailing

The Ancient Mariner is home from his lonely voyage.  He’s waiting beside the tavern door to tell his tale.  The Old Man is back from the Sea…did he win the fight with the great fish?

The story of my journey to being a sailor is over…for now.  I have completed the final task which was to set sail into the Gulf of Mexico, without the instructor on board.  It was just Russell, the other student, and me.  It was up to us to go out and return without incident.  Experienced sailors will shrug at this, and I can not speak for Russell, but it was a large step for this novice, this beginner, this “mariner-to-be”.

The forecast called for rain and moderate winds.  As I was preparing the boat, an official looking man on the dock said:

“Keep your eye to the west.  There’s a front approaching and a strong possibility of lightning.”

We had been trained for “man overboard” drills, but nothing was ever said about lightning.  I looked around and saw only the small cabin as any protection from preventing me from acting as a lightening rod.

One strike from the gray clouds overhead would have put an end to my story rather quickly.

We motored out into the channel and followed the markers to the open water.  I kept my eyes on the darkening skies to the west.  Mariam was video-taping the departure.  As she fell from view when we turned, I regretted not telling her to drive out to the tip of the island and walk to the beach…walk to the beach and watch Russell and I raise the main sail, the jib and sail away.  No, she wouldn’t see me kill the motor and raise the sail into the wind for the first time, and let the wind take me.  There will be no photograph of that moment.  No video to show to a bored friend.  No tangible evidence that moment happened.  It will exist only in my own mind.  Russell will have his recollections, but only I will have that chance to see and feel that moment, again and again in my memory.  The instant I cut myself free from the land and became part of another world.

This was the moment I’ve been waiting for…sometimes with some anxiety, sometimes with excitement.

We headed up wind on a close haul.  We tacked.  We jibed.  We came about and relaxed…we talked.  I watched the sky grow darker to the west.  The blue sea turned to lime-green.  The wind eased.

The front moved slowly toward us.  It got darker…more ominous.

“I think we should think about heading back,” I suggested, still thinking about lightning.  “How do you feel about it?”

“I’m not one to enjoy sailing in a downpour,” said Russell.

We brought down the main sail and furled in the jib.

We motored back in a heavy rain.  I was soaked by the time we reached the mooring.  Mariam was there, safe and dry under her umbrella.

It was over.  We had completed our trip…a little shy of two hours.  Another instructor from Off Shore Sailing was on hand to help us put the boat back together with everything tied and secure.  She didn’t want to be out there in the rain.

“This is a day to be home and sipping a mug of tea…with a splash of rum in it,” she said.

Yes, this was a day for a dash of rum.