Love at the Beacon Bar

mariamchristmas

I spend most of my time alone…here in New York City, a city of 8.4 million people.  Sometimes I get very lonely and sometimes I feel forgotten.  None of this is Mariam’s fault.  She works very hard at Mount Sinai…slowly but steadily toward total retirement which should happen sometime after the middle of May.  Sometime around my birthday.  The birthday when I will turn 70!

Mariam and I have a routine of sorts.  We often meet at the Beacon Bar which is a four minutes walk for me, if the lights are in my favor.  I will have glass or two of Greenpoint IPA and Mariam will have a Chardonnay…all this before Happy Hour is over at 6 pm.

Last evening, just as the prices were about to rise and after we had spoken to a few of our new friends, Mariam turned to me and said something that was unexpected…and desperately needed.

Okay, it’s a few days after Valentine’s Day.  And this year we agreed not to exchange Hallmark cards (and she doesn’t really care for chocolates).  We knew how we felt about one another…we’ve been through a lot.  She saved my life when I was diagnosed with leukemia in 2003 by finding the best hematologist in the City.

So, what did she say to me?  What did she say that still rings in my ears and especially in my heart?

She turned to me and said:

“I love you, you know.  My heart is full of you.”  I looked at her somewhat mute.  I mumbled that I loved her as well, but I didn’t have that special phrasing that makes a special moment so endearing…and so lasting.

I had never heard it said quite like that before.  There is no Hallmark card that could take the place of that short statement.  No $30.00 dozen of red roses from the corner deli (the heads will sag in two days) that could have smelled better that the scent of words of love…like the ones Mariam said to me…yesterday afternoon, the day after Valentines Day.

Some sentiments don’t need a day on the calendar to guide you.  The special ones come from the moment.  The heart is the only guide you will ever need.

rodeoyuma

Day And Night At The County Fair–August, 2015

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It was my third visit to the Franklin County Fair.  I came on Senior’s Night when the admission is a mere $2.00 for older gents like me.  It was crowded with North Country folks of all sizes, shapes, and ages.  Teenage girls clung to the arms of their ‘guy’.  Wounded vets were pushed in wheelchairs by their caregivers.  Old farmers, old as the fields they just hayed or plucked corn from, walked silently around with their silent wives.  This may well have been their fifty-sixth Fair…they’d seen it all.  Gone were the ‘girlie’ shows.  No need for the old men to finger a dollar in their overalls anymore.  No need for the wives to push them past the glittering enticing lights, while they looked back over their shoulders at the three strippers on a narrow stage.  No need for them to wonder about their faded beauty.  Gone were the freak shows in the tents on the margins of the midway, on the margins of the bright lights–the deformed and the odd lived out their lives on the edges of a society that stared into their world for a quarter.

No, the new County Fairs were squeaky clean, except for the rigged games where a guy could lose $17.00 throwing darts at balloons that wouldn’t pop.  Eventually, just to keep ’em coming back, the carny would let the guy win a Teddy bear worth $1.50.  The kid would promptly hand it to his sweetie…hoping it would help him rack up the points in her young heart.

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I sat and ate a Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich that would test the limits of my immune system.  My friend wanted an ice cream…I wanted an ice cream too.  I paid $5.00 for a chocolate caramel mix in a small plastic container.  [I knew I had to stop eating anything more than a salad every two days for the next two weeks to lose the weight in time for my 50th high school reunion.]  Cotton candy stands were everywhere.  If you didn’t like Coke, you were out of luck.  As I stood eating my ice cream, I turned around to see a tent filled with South American clothing and jewelery.  A young man with bronze skin and black hair sat behind the counter playing the pan flute.  He was playing Let It Be.

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The giant wheels of lights put you in a daze.  The mountains of cheap plastic toys (?) were everywhere.

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I ducked inside the 4-H building.  There was a stand of real vegetables with ribbons.  Someone grew food on a farm somewhere nearby…and it won first place in a contest.  How do you judge yellow string beans?  What do you look for?  I pondered these things.  I bought a tee-shirt from the maple sugar booth that read: Big Or Small: We Tap Them All.  

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The loud-speaker announced the start of the parade that was to pass in front of the grandstand.  I hurried to a spot by the fence to get a good look at the troop of DEC Forest Ranger Police who helped in the search for the two guys that broke out of Clinton County Correctional Facility in June.  The Dairy Queen went past me riding a small John Deere.  Her court followed on foot, their flip-flops kicking up dust in the dirt track.  The Queen looked straight at me and waved.  Boys and girls with fresh faces and neatly cut hair followed along with sheep, cows that needed milking, (the udders looked bloated to me) and goats, horses and pony or two.

DairyQueen

We found a seat in the bleachers and settled in for the Franklin County Has Talent Show.

CottonCandyGirl

A little ten-year-old in a white ankle length dress sang about having a broken heart.  She was standing in the spotlight’s glare.  Tiny and white.

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Girls danced to tunes I never heard.  A guy played a mean fiddle.  A teenager in a red dress that dragged the stage just above her bare feet sang beautifully.  Her song, “I’ve Got Nothing” came from her heart…one can tell when a singer means the words she vocalizes.  But, she is so young.  What does she know of love?  What mistakes has she made?  Can a fourteen-year-old heart really be broken?

I began to think back on my own life.  I was getting close to an answer when someone let go of a helium balloon about ten rows in front of me.  Even in the evening light, I could see the white sphere drift slowly up and hit the inside of the roof.  It bounced about in the breeze.  I saw several more.  One was blue.  Another red like the girl’s dress.

I looked back at the stage and thought about the brave little hearts that stood in bad lighting on a vast stage, in front of hundreds of strangers, and sang about your pain, or your joy or your dreams.  I could never muster the guts necessary when I was twelve to do what these kids were doing.

Risks.  They were taking a risk.  A dangerous risk.  They were risking their self-esteem.  I’ve had these same thoughts and wrote these same words two years ago–at the same County Fair.

I looked back up at the balloons.  When, I wondered, would they lose enough helium through the micro-pores of latex and begin to weigh more than the air that held them aloft?  I knew they would slowly fall like big wet snow flakes in the northern winter.  They would end up in the seats, snagged on a fence or on the ground being walked on and ground into the boards.  Sloppy bits of latex with a string and a bow attached.

Is this what will happen to the hearts of the girls and boys on stage, on this night in August, if they lose the competition?  Slow deflation, of a gas or an emotion, from a balloon or a fragile and tiny ego, can bring down the strongest of us all.

I sent out a ‘prayer’.  I hoped their dreams were made of a metal, yet unknown, that would carry their song, their heartbeats, their dreams and their hopes up, beyond the clouds and into the stratosphere.

My thoughts went back to the young man with the pan flute and the words:

Let It Be.

Forever and a Day

 RomanticLove

Absolutely nothing lasts forever.

Nothing lasts forever.

There may be some things that last forever.

One thing lasts forever.

You’re waiting for me in the cafe.  The place beside the old church and next to the cemetery.  The only place in the city where I can sit next to the fire and feel warm…on a night like this.  We have so much to talk about.  It’s been so many years since we’ve had a chance to sit and think of the days gone by.

You’re waiting in the cafe–I just can’t remember how to get there.

I was very young and you had an uncanny ability to determine when my diaper would be wet.  You would change it for me.  I couldn’t talk to you.  You just knew when it was time.  You held my hand when I could barely walk.  I never said a word.  You cooked my food for a thousand dinners.  You sent me off to First Grade with a clean, freshly ironed hanky in my pocket.  No matter what my grades were, you dutifully signed my report card.  On those many nights when I couldn’t sleep, too many times for a child to fear closing his eyes, you would allow me to sit with you and we would eat crackers with chives and cheese.  The black and white television blinking away in the dark living room.

You were in third grade when I looked over at you–two rows away–and watched while you tried to open an ink bottle.  You pressed it hard against your green school shift.  You’re bangs fell away from your forehead.  Years later, you allowed me my first kiss.  Still later you wore my corsage on your taffeta prom dress.  Then you would find someone else and you broke my fragile teenage heart.

I was curious about the color of your hair beneath your stiff white habit.  Your black rosary hung from your black belt around your black dress–your habit.  You taught us to be kind.  You taught us to feel guilty.  And once, you told me: “Don’t ever be afraid to say no.”  It’s taken me many years to really understand what you meant.

I lit your cigarettes.  I bought you drinks.  I slept in your bed.  We made love under three quilts when the winter was cold and dark.  We sweated on the sheets in August when it was bright afternoon and hot.

I kissed you only once.  I kissed you many times.  I kissed you in my daydreams when you were thirty feet away on the Boardwalk.  Your hair was blonde, then black and red and brown and straight and wavy.  Your eyes were blue, gray, brown, hazel and green.  You were older.  Then you were younger.

You walked down the aisle of a church to meet me at the altar.  We were happy, sad, angry, contented, miserable, joyful and jealous.

We came and went through each others lives.  My hair slowly turned from brown to white.  Your’s from jet black to salt and pepper.  You sang to me.  I couldn’t carry a tune.  We sipped ale in England and wine in France.  We walked on muddy glacier ice in Alaska.  You watched me watching the topless twenty-somethings on a beach in Jamaica.  You never missed a trick.

You said you loved me when I didn’t think I would ever be loved again.  You saved my life, not with a toss of a rope but with a phone call.

You’re waiting in the cafe.  I’m trying to hurry.  I can hardly walk.  When we sit next to each other you will somehow know if I have wet my trousers again.

Is this a hallway or a street in Paris?  I can’t remember.

But, all those memories are so sharp and clear, like everything happened yesterday, or this morning.

You will still be waiting for me, won’t you?  I remember what I said so many, many years ago:

“Nothing lasts forever.”

I was wrong.  Love lasts forever.  We love each other, don’t we?  Still?

Love last forever.  Forever and a day.

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Let It Be

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I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea

Sometimes I turn, theres someone there, other times its only me…

                                                        –Bob Dylan “Every Grain of Sand”

Parents, send your children to bed (or the media room).  Men, if your wives are of a delicate nature, take them away from your laptop.

I am going to expose myself, my soul, fears and hopes in this, my 200th blog post on WordPress.  Yet again, I will fall into the bitter pit of memories—some bad and some good.  That has become my blog “theme”, I guess; trading in on old dusty thoughts, lovers long gone and the cracks in my heart.  Here I am again, standing in the rain at the corner of Bittersweet and Nostalgia.  It always rains here.  There’s no atmosphere without some discomfort.  It could be rain, snow or tears.  Doesn’t really matter, though.  I turn my collar against the wind and go back to the Hi-Ho Motel to wait for the next train for El Paso.  Then I remember.  There’s probably no more trains to anywhere anymore except some open-pit coal mine providing good clean green energy for us all.  No more whistles that broke the heart of Hank Williams or Box Car Willie.  Now, it’s the next Short Line coach to Toledo.

Last year, on the RV trip to Orting, Washington, I did hear the occasional train whistle.  But the long line of flat-cars never stopped.  They only slowed down to obey the speed limit as the tracks crossed empty streets and country roads.

Yes, there’s no authentic atmosphere without some discomfort.  No one lives in a world of warmth and protection (except, hopefully, children) without living through periods of self-doubt and a tablespoon of dread.  I once had a great deal of faith that got me through the night terrors, but after heart-breaking losses, deaths and illnesses, I often feel like I live in a city populated by millions…alone.

I fall in love quickly and easily and that is a serious fault.  That has led to too many broken hearts in my chest cavity.  When a very close friend died in my arms (he had lived all of twenty-three years), I realized that there really isn’t a lot of time for us, on the earth, to wait for the most perfect choices.  So, I made decisions based on the old trusty phrase: Carpe diem.

But, as usual, I digress.

It’s change that obsesses me now.  Yes, our house could burn down tonight…that’s a big change.  But, it’s the slow insidious change that happens to you during life that frightens me.  I was born on May 31, 1947.  That is 67 years and 6 months ago.  I never was a victim of amnesia.  I was never abducted by aliens (that I recall).  But, I look at a childhood photograph of myself and then quickly stare into a mirror.  I have changed.  But I haven’t gone anywhere to undergo this change.  I can’t say it happened when I wasn’t looking, because I always looked.  I look different and I think different (I used to be a Conservative, for God’s sake).  And, all this happened without a break in the flow of my life!  All the changes I see happened during a day to night to day flow that was never broken.  The lines on my face came slowly, never overnight.

There are years I lived and yet somehow missed.  Students I loved, taught and counseled…I can see their 6th grade faces but do not remember their names.  Women I have slept with are memories now…not out of disrespect…just the passage of time.  I was numb with shock when I heard that one of my long-ago lovers is now dead.  I know that this is trivial and self-serving to many of you, my friends, who have lost a spouse or future partner.  I can only speak to my own experiences.

Somehow, it would make more sense to me if all these changes happened one night.  I’d wake up and be middle-aged.  But, it didn’t.  It happened as I was looking—but I never noticed a thing until one day…

“Hey, that’s life.”  This is what is going through the minds of many of you who are reading this.

I taught with someone many years ago.  Her husband died part way into the school year.  She was the Head of the Middle School and it fell on her to give the graduation speech that would send the 8th grade girls onto the high school.  One sentence will remain with me forever.  She said: “Change is inevitable.  Growth is optional.”

I stood there with the other faculty members.  I cried.  I knew what she had been through even though I had not lost anyone in my life…yet.

What she said was absolutely true.  I knew that then, but I was into my early 40’s and had no idea what was in store for me in a few short years.

I guess I catch on slowly—just like when your hair starts to turn gray.

It’s never overnight.

ME AND MY BROTHERS—AGING SLOWLY

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[Circa 1954]

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[Circa 1970’s]

birch tree 3

[Circa late 1970’s]

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[Circa early 1990’s]

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.

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The Ball: A Fable

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So you want to hear a story, is that right?

Yes.

Okay, then I’ll tell a story to you…even you, over there in the corner.  Come closer.

The boys did as they were told.

A story?  Well, if you don’t mind I’d rather call it a Fable.  That is if you don’t really mind.  Fables are more interesting.  They’re more…scary.  They’re sometimes more difficult to understand because they often have a “moral” at the end.

Moral?

Yes, a kind of lesson that you are to take away from the Fable.

You mean like don’t go into gingerbread houses where old witches live?

Something like that.

So tell us a Fable!

Once upon a time, long ago and in a distant land, a boy was born.  When he was very very young, his parents gave him a ball.  In some stories the ball is made of pure gold.  In my telling, the gold is not the important thing.  This boy’s ball was silver.  But, really, it doesn’t matter what the ball was made from.  It’s what the ball meant to the boy.  His parents told him that the ball was made of all the special little things inside the boy that made him happy…gave him pleasure…gave him assurances that this world was the best of all possible worlds and that Right and Goodness will always prevail over the Evil, Decay and Sadness that lurks all around.

When the boy played with the ball, he always felt warm and happy inside.  On days when the ball was difficult to find, the boy was sad and bewildered.  But, the ball hardly ever left the boy’s side.

He grew up and became a handsome, strong man and true.  He met a beautiful young woman.  The boy fell deeply in love with her and when the time was right, they married.  Their life together was full of joy and happiness.  All their dreams and plans they made when they courted, began to come true.  The boy (now a man) felt the pure inner peace of mind and heart that only few young men experience.

One night…one profound night of bitter and evil luck, the man dropped the ball.  It broken into 10,000 shards of crystal.  There was no hope to ever reconstruct the ball.  It was broken.  It was gone.

Beginning on that very night, the man began to feel that his life was less than whole.  That his happiness was to be short-lived.  His view of the world took on a dark hue.  He never was again able to find the joy and pleasure in the simple things of life.

His spirit of discovery and curiosity began to wither and die.  He rarely laughed.  He began to seek out pleasure where no God-fearing man should go.  He longed for the joy of youth.  He despised himself for losing it and the ball.

He spent the rest of his life seeking the ball.  He tried to recover what he had lost.  But it was not to happen.

Did he die young?

No, he lived to be quite old.  But he never stopped looking for that ball.

And, all this time, his beloved wife was declining as well.  She too took on the sadness of someone who loses something they love.  But, it was not losing her husband that gave her the dark feelings.  On their deathbeds, they confessed to each other.  The young man knew why he suffered but he never understood why his wife did as well.

You see, children, she was given a ball when she was young.  She broke the ball by accident about the time the man broke his.  And, together they spent most of their lives looking for that ball.  The ball they never found.

That’s the moral?

I guess so.  Do you all have your secret little ball tucked away safely?  If you do, take care not to break it.  Because, as long as you possess that ball, you won’t see the things that make you unhappy.  Your curiosity and wonder of life will remain with you always.

 

The Lock Bridges of Paris

Many have called Paris the “City of Lovers”.

The Seine River is like the Aorta of Paris.  It carries the life-blood of the city past and under some of the most important buildings and architecture this sublimely beautiful city possesses.  It’s color is that of some shade of green, not unpleasant, that defies description.  By night, the river is choked with long dinner cruise boats.  There is the occasional working barge filled with sand or gravel.

The flowing water bonds the city in many ways.  I have found that the bridges or ponts are especially fascinating.  In the evenings, couples will pause while crossing the water to hold and kiss beneath a classical sculpture.  The car traffic can be heavy on many of the ponts because they connect the Right Bank with the Left Bank.  The bridges are vital.  The bridges are alive with life.  The bridges are the protectors of the romance that fills the hearts of Parisians and visitors alike.  If you are with someone close to your heart, the green waters of the Seine and the exquisite bridges will help in spinning a web around your two hearts that is both pure and sensual at the same time.

According to Wikipedia, there are thirty-seven bridges that cross the Seine in the city center.  Several of these bridges have become symbolic of love and commitment.  These are the lock bridges.  I’ve been able to discover three such ponts.  They are the Pont de l’Archeveche, the Pont Neuf and the Pont des Arts.

I chose to declare my affection on a section of the Pont Neuf.  This is how it works:

A couple purchases a lock and keys.  They write their names, the date and perhaps a message with an indelible marker.  Then they snap the lock onto a piece of the iron grating.  The final step to seal their commitment is to throw the keys into the Seine.

This practice to place a lock on a bridge is done in a fair number of cities around the world.  The origins are believed to date from the First World War.  The government has tried to stop the practice, but the locks keep getting snapped into place.  The few sections I saw contained thousands of locks…each with something written on the brass or stainless steel casing.

I walked slowly past the tokens of love and began to read the names and dates.  Some were simple: Andre and Marion, Aug. 22, 1990. Love Always.

I read.  I wondered.  I imagined the hearts and souls that were on display in front of me.  I closed my eyes and tried to connect with these people who felt that love had to be locked to a bridge and the key tossed away.  There’s no getting the key back and no way to unlock the declaration that was made.

Some names were both male or both female.  Two gay fellows celebrating their affection.  Two women locking their hearts together.  Ordinary couples were represented all along the railing.  But, what did I not know about the names?  What was I not aware of about these hundreds of bonded hearts?  Were a few placed after the death of a partner?  Were they prayers written, like you often see in churches, that asked God to heal and cure a soul-mate?  Were any locks put there by one person, who tossed the keys into the water, hoping against hope for an end to the unrequited nature of their love?  Were some from children for their parents? Or, parents for their children.  What did the writing not say? I will wait for you until you are free!  Until the divorce or the parole or the execution?  Were any placed there after a particularly steamy night of passion…on a one-night stand?  Were any put there by someone being unfaithful to another?

Or, were some just hopeful wishes…placed by a lonely, broken and unhealed heart…who went home to an empty apartment and an empty life?

For me, it was an intensely emotional feeling being near the locks.  I imagine it is something like running your fingers over a name carved into the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington.  Just to feel the letters of the name is to feel the person.

Merely to touch the locks or even read them is like a prayer for those who had enough faith to place them and enough strength to toss the keys into the green waters of the Seine.

Love by proxy.

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