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

RidesNight

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.

popcornStand

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.

Candyapples

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

Plasticstuff

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.  

BlueRibbons

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.

GirlTalent

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.

CoupleInArmsSitting

 

 

 

 

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

birch tree 1

[Circa 1954]

birch tree 2

[Circa 1970’s]

birch tree 3

[Circa late 1970’s]

Birch tree 4

[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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The Garden of Earthly Deletes

DeleteKey

Her email: I’m sorry about what happened.  Will you forgive me?  Can you forgive me?  Will you let me come back?

My response: No, after what u said before.  If that’s the way u want things to be then don’t come home..stay with u r mom!!

Her email: Please let’s try to work things out.  I love u.

I thought of her and her broken heart…broken so many times by so many guys.

My response: That sounds like total BS to me…but maybe we can meet at the usual place…just to talk. 

My finger wavered over the SEND key.  I hesitated.  My mind was muddy from the back-and-forth emotions of the last few hours.  I moved my hand toward the DELETE key. I thought about her feelings of remorse for a nano-second and then I punched it like I was squashing a malarial Anopheles mosquito.  I was angry at what she had said to me.  A moment passed.  I wasn’t angry anymore.  I wanted to take back the email and reword it into a plea to stay with me.  But I knew it was too late.  Once that rectangular key is pressed, what was, isn’t anymore.  It was like an erasure of a dry marker on a white board.  This momentary spike of anger I felt had vanished.

Like the final email, I had erased her.  I regretted what I had done.  I failed to stem the bleeding from her soul.  I failed her.

I sat and thought about the situation for an hour.  Then I sat down and wrote a message saying I was sorry I told her to go live with her mom.  I pushed SEND this time.  After getting a cold beer from the fridge, I sat back down at the laptop.  I read in disbelief that the email had bounced back to me.  She had closed her account.  She was unavailable.  She was gone.  I had just deleted her from my life.  She always said it would probably end like this…that I would get her out of my life, that I would erase her.  That I would delete her.  She somehow knew this was coming for a year now.  And I played into her vortex of negativity.

That damn DELETE key.  How does that work, anyway?  How can you delete something?  Where does it go?  I know it exists as pulses of digital bits, but somewhere in the server’s main frame, it must still live.

It’s one of the most basic laws of science: one cannot create or destroy matter.  And, the electrons of the digital bits that make up a simple email message, are made of matter.

So, where is that email now?  Right now at this precise second?  Where are the zillions of deleted messages?

I once read that computers can’t really erase them from existence.  What I read is that in deleting, you simply remove the address.  But the information is still out there…somewhere.  A good hacker could get them back, but I didn’t know any hackers, good or bad.

So I did the only thing I could think of doing.  I took a walk.

I wandered all over the sleeping city until the eastern sky turned pink.  It was then that I spotted the long stone wall.  I had never seen this before.  I walked up to the only door, a great wooden entrance like one would find in a castle.  I looked up.  The sky was turning blue above the twenty-foot wall of grey granite rocks.

I pushed on the door and it opened.  I stepped over the threshold.  All around me was the most amazing and beautiful garden I had ever seen.  How did this place exist without me knowing about it?  I walked along the stone-slab path.  A full minute passed before I realized that there were dozens of words hanging from the branches and flower pedals.  No, not a dozen…hundreds, thousands.  Then it all came into focus in the clear morning air.  Every plant in the garden was festooned with strings of words.  They were not on paper or tape.  They were words that formed sentences held together with some kind of invisible force.  I took one and read it:

So, wat r we doin tmrro nite??? 

I read more.  Each one was full of errors and misspoken sentiments.  Some were meaningless.  Some were pornographic.  Some were declarations of undying love.  And, some were rejections of love.  The messages of sadness and hate and anger hung like dead snakes.  They all hung like that, dead black and serpentine.

I’m not a genius by any means, but I knew that these were deleted messages.  This is where they went to spend eternity.

Everything in the garden was broken.  I could see broken engagements, hearts, marriages, affairs, souls, plans, dreams, nightmares and prayers.  Pleas to God for a healing.  But deleted when the loved one dies anyway.

All those deletes.

The little garden had morphed while my back was turned.  When I looked around, the trees and shrubs now stretched beyond the horizon.  The city had disappeared and I found myself standing in the midst of countless plants, like Dorothy’s field of poppies, that covered one rolling hill after another.  They all were festooned with deleted messages.  Uncountable in number, each message was something not sent to someone over the internet.  Most of them bore the sad, lonely and forlorn aura of a mistake made and then regretted.

But, wouldn’t a simple email correct the mistake?,  you may ask.  Well, I was proof that sometimes that does not happen so easily.  In days of old, if you put a letter into a mailbox and let it drop, it was a done deal and irretrievable.  If you then traveled to the home of the person you had sent the regretful mail, you may be confronted with an empty house.  Or, if you tried to dial-up someone to repair a wound you caused, you could be met with: “I’m sorry, that number is no longer in service”.

It all came down to the same problem.  How could one ever stop a bullet once the trigger was pulled?  How could one run to overtake an arrow that was shot, straight and true, before it struck the target?

I wanted her back and the best hope was here in the garden of deletes.  But, the task was impossible and I knew it.

Or was it?

I noticed a section of the garden where it seemed to be raining, raining new deletes. They fell onto the trees like black strips of strange snow.  If my deleted message were anywhere, wouldn’t it be where the incoming was coming in?

I walked over to that part of the garden.  I began reading the messages.  Some were paragraphs and some were chapters and some were even entire books.  I was looking for only a sentence.  But there was no way I could find it here.  I had to find another way to dress her wound.

I turned around to look for the exit.  I took a step.  There it was, hanging right before my eyes.  Without even thinking, I grabbed it and ran for the garden door.  The vast endless fields had shrunken to the little patch of flowers and trees that I had seen when I first entered.  I crumbled the message into a tight ball and threw it over the wall.  It was a mighty throw but the message made it out.  I squinted as I watched as it hit the top of the wall and bounced out.

I had successfully saved my deleted message from this garden of eternal regrets.

As I walked through the doorway, I found myself on my own street.  I lived nearby.  Putting my hands in my pockets, I walked in the direction of home.

I heard the squeal of rubber tires and the bump of a car as it hit the curb near me and came to an abrupt stop.  I turned.  There she was, clawing at the front door of her car.  She flung it open and ran straight into my arms.

“My email was slow today,” she said.  “I got your reply.  So you’ll give me another chance?  You will, won’t you?  I so love you.”

I put my arm over her shoulder and we walked back to my place, our place, as if nothing had happened.

 

 

 

A Brief History of Chains and Chainmaking

Broad_chain_closeup

I am holding a very special letter in my hand right now.

But, first…

Whether we realize it or not, chains play a very important part in our lives.  Indeed, chains have, throughout history, helped to hold the very fabric of our changing civilization together.  For example, I was astounded to learn that the metal chain was first used as early as 225 BCE.  How the archeo-technologists were able to achieve the high temperatures needed for smelting iron and forging the links is a mystery to me.  I know that the use of bellows in these primitive blast-furnaces helped to drive up the temperature to extraordinary degrees, but it remains a puzzle as to how it was all accomplished.  In my daily reading of the Old and New Testament, I cannot recall a single reference to the use of a metal chain.  Ropes, yes, but not a chain as we know it.

The manner in which we use chains is also something that we seem to have completely overlooked.  There are chains in parks, gardens, ships, dog leashes and doors, but these are only about 1 percent of the total usage.  I have included a special list of various chain uses later in this essay.

The first patent taken out for a chain cable was by Phillip White, a blacksmith from Northumbria, England.  The “smithy” was the mainstay of chain making until new technology rendered it obsolete in the 1970’s.  So, here we have an unbroken link of this very useful item from 225 BCE until the latter days of the 20th century.  Chains of course are still manufactured, but giant amorphous machines and furnaces have left the old blacksmith to hand making decorative chains for sale in gift shops and craft fairs.

Another little known aspect of this very interesting industry is the role that women have played.  In the Midlands of England, which was the industrial heart of the country, women were often the forgers of mid-weight chain cables.  One such woman, a legend in her time, was Lucy Woodall.  She apprenticed for the Samuel Woodhouse & Sons of Cradley Heath.  She was 13 years old at the time and would work 12 hour shifts.  After her retirement in the 1970’s, she went on to do “podging” on rugs for charity.  Lucy died in 1979 after suffering years with arthritis. I will present here a partial list of the uses of chains:

Chainsaws, lifting chain-linked Lewis, chain drives, curb chain, door chain, key chain, lavatory chain, leg-iron chains (fetters), chain link fences anchor chains and even as musical percussion instruments heard in such works as Janacek’s From the House of the Dead.

Chains have made their way into our cultural world in other ways.  The First Gulf War had a theme song…it was Unchained Melody.  And, who among us will not feel our heart-break or a tear fall when Janis Joplin sings the blues in Ball and Chain?

Here are a few examples of the intricate and decorative designs found in some chains:

284px-Single-jack-chain      357px-Double_jack_chain     800px-Singapore_chain

 

A single jack chain                   A double jack chain                                   A particularly pretty Singapore chain

One afternoon in 1910, a woman chain maker by the name of Lydia Bare, sat on a bench to take a much-needed break.  Her rest was necessary as she was only 15 years old and had not yet gotten used to the long hours of standing and pounding her hammer.  She looked at the mound of coiled chains that represented her efforts of three days of labor.  Her mind drifted to thoughts of her sister, Molly Reagan, who was living in New York City.  She had not seen her beloved sister in several years…since Molly married Michael Reagan and them emigrated to America.  Lydia and her sister, Molly were not natives of England.  Neither was Michael.  They were all Irish.  The prospect of steady work forced them to leave Ireland and move to England.  She saw the loops of iron, hundreds of them, all linked and seemingly endless and unbroken.  She thought of writing a letter to Molly.

Lydia began to feel very sad about her life without her beloved sister.  She looked around her and saw the grime and dust that was her workplace for 12 hours everyday.  It disgusted her.  She looked at her hands remembering how soft and lovely and white they were when she was a little girl.  Now she was seeing calloused, scarred, burnt, red and puffed hands of a middle-aged woman.  Who will ever marry me?, she wondered.  Who will find me attractive?  What man would want to kiss the roughness of these hands?

Just then, a group of factory managers began to crowd in the doorway of her shop.  They were on their months tour of the various buildings of the vast mill grounds.

Lydia rose and returned to the anvil.

So, what have we here?  One of the men pointed at the coil of chains that Lydia had been producing.

She stared at the pile of iron rings.  A bad taste was filling her mouth.

These are the chains I forged here during my life, she answered.  The men smiled and filed out.  The last man glanced back from the doorway at Lydia and thought: so pretty, I wonder what her ankles look like.

Chain Lady

The only known photograph of Lydia Bare (ca 1900)

A year later, Lydia mailed her sister a long letter.  In it she described her life and her dreams.  Would it be possible, she asked at the end of the five-page letter, to come to New York and stay with her and Michael for a short time until she could find a job and a small flat to live?  Jokingly, she asked Molly if there were many Yanks who would like a nice a nice and obedient Irish lass for a wife?  As she wrote that line, Lydia thought of how much lotion she would have to use to soften her ugly hands.  At least I have an acceptable face, she thought.

Molly wrote a letter back to Lydia after holding the letter close to her heart for nearly a year.  Yes, there are too many Yank menfolk, she said, and too few women of marrying age.  Michael and I will think about this for a bit.

Michael and Molly held onto the letter for another year or so.  They held onto it when Molly took ill.  The letter went with Molly to the hospital on Blackwell’s Island when she was told by the doctors that she had contracted consumption.  Lydia’s letter was kept in a special decorated teak wood box that stayed on a table beside whatever bed she was sleeping in.  The box with the letter was in her hands when she died.

Michael took the box and a small trunk of things that were special to the life he had shared with his much-loved Molly.  He gave the box to a distant cousin for safekeeping and then walked downtown.  Thirty-five minutes later his dead body was found wedged against a pier below the Brooklyn Bridge.

Lydia waited for a reply for years.  She never learned of the fate of her sister.  She gave up hope of ever emigrating to America and finding a strapping Yank husband.  She married an iron worker from the same mill company where she worked.  He had a love for the bottle but not for poor Lydia.  One evening he beat her to death with an iron rod.  The kind of rod that would someday be turned into a chain.

The cousin, Barry, looked through the box and then tied it tightly in leather straps.  He never read the letter from Lydia.

In 1930, Barry’s son, Paul takes possession of the box upon his father’s death.  Paul loved old things and he began to read the letters that Molly had collected.  He came upon Lydia’s letter and thought it was very special in the way it described a long ago life of two girls in Ireland.  He put the letter into a new envelope and, with a note, mailed it to his fiancé, Mary, who lived on a farm in Pennsylvania.  Mary read the letter and decided to stop delaying her marriage.  She and Paul were united in Matrimony in 1936.  They had four boys, the youngest being Colin.  That’s me.

Upon the passing of my father, it was left to me to go through his papers.  In an old teak wood box, still held together with leather straps, I found Lydia’s letter.

I saw it as a kind of chain letter.  It had survived many changes of hands.  No one broke the chain, not really.

That’s the letter I’m holding in my hand at this moment.  Good luck delivered it to me.

The letter reads in part:

Dear Molly, This letter is like a chain, it may have a beginning, that is me, but where it will end is something not known to us.  The links in this letter are like those of a chain, intertwined and forged close by my own hand in the furnace of heat mixed with drops of my very own sweat.  How unladylike a thing to say.  I believe that it would be unlucky if this letter were lost or destroyed.  That would be like having a ship’s anchor chain break.  The unfettered vessel would then drift away, into a storm, and eventually sink.  It is my most dearest wish that anyone who holds or reads this letter to never, never sink…for sinking is death.  Save, hide, recopy and cherish this letter and make sure it moves on through our family…so that all who are a part of the chain will live.  This letter has the weight of iron but the freedom of winged flight.  Hold on to these words of mine and you will fly.

I pondered over who to leave the letter to upon my own death.  I have a grandson, so perhaps my daughter is the one to own it.  But my son will likely be a father someday.

The choices lay coiled, like a long iron chain in a small shop in the Midlands of England.

 

[Sources: Wikipedia and “Chains and Chainmaking” by Charles Fogg.  1981 Shire Publications Ltd.]

The Confessional: A Short Story

MontrealConfessional

An elaborate carved oak confessional sat in a corner of a large and beautiful church. It was the Church of Our Lady of the World in Montreal, the center of Catholic French Canada.

There were several confessionals in this cavernous house of worship.  The congregation, holding onto the older ways of the Roman Church, still frequented the booths to obtain absolution for their sins, perceived or otherwise.  The old French priests sat in the center portion, and on busy sinful days, would lean first one way than another to hear two confessors, one at a time.  He would slide open a small wooden grated screen and lean toward the sinner.

The interaction, perhaps in French, went something like this:

The penitent: “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It has been (giving a time) since my last confession”.

The Confessor: “Go ahead”.

After the litany of transgressions was spoken, the priest would offer a few words of advice or encouragement.  He would then absolve the sins, in the Name of God the Father, God the Son and The Holy Ghost.  Then came the penance; which was often a few prayers, or, if the sin was great, a deed or command from the priest to go out and make things right.

“Go, and sin no more”, was often the departing words from the priest.

The confessional hours were Wednesday’s from 4:00 until 5:30pm and on Saturday from 2:00 until 5:00pm.  For especially troubled souls, a private appointment could be made with any of the priests available.

Hugh Ballard sat in a corner of a pew, in the apse section of the church.  He was alone save for a few praying and troubled souls that shunned the nave and wished to keep to the more deserted corners of the great church.  This is the place that Hugh liked the most.  He was mostly alone with his thoughts.  He also had a direct view of a certain elaborate carved oak confessional.  From his place at the end of the pew, he would wait until 5:05pm, every Wednesday, when she would walk down the right aisle of the nave and enter the confessional.

Hugh had first seen her several months ago when he was making an attempt to translate the Latin quotes that were written high on the wall above the altar.

Winter had set into Montreal.  The cold blasts of wind from the St. Lawrence River drove people indoors, to the shops along the Rue Sainte-Catherine; the bookstores, the bistros and the churches.  Montreal had more than it’s share of houses of worship.

She caught his eye as she walked down the side aisle toward the confessional.  Her mid-thigh coat was a bitter lime color trimmed with faux rabbit and her black woolen tights fitted nicely into mid-calf boots of fleece-lined leather.  But it was her hair, an enticing blend of auburn and chestnut, moderately curled, that blended with the tassels of her wool nordic style cap that caught his eyes and kept them on her for too many minutes, too many minutes to qualify as a glance…but long enough to be called a stare.  Her overly long scarf hid her chin and neck. Hugh estimated that she stood 5’3″ in her socks.  Hugh was 6’2″.  She would fit nicely under his arms in a passionate hug.

On more that one occasion, their eyes met.  Once, when she left the confessional, he caught her glancing over at him as he sat and read in his chosen pew.

Hugh had very dark brown hair that curled behind his ears.  He often skipped shaving,  giving him a slight air of an artist or graduate student.  His eyes were hazel and, to most women, worth the time for an endless gaze.  But, at 5:04pm on Wednesdays,  his eyes were scanning the front door for her appearance.  At first, he would sit about half-way down the nave pews, and when he sensed her walking down the aisle, he would cross himself and get up to leave.  This move would put him almost face to face with her.  He would use the two or three seconds to look into her eyes, study her cheeks and hear her take a breath.  Being a man of quick thinking, he would time his inhales so that he could smell her…her lack of perfume…just her.  He detected a faint body heat from her walking in her warm coat.  That faint body heat often carried with it her scent.  The scent that separates one person from another, however subtle.  And to Hugh, her scent was pleasing beyond explanation.

Once or twice their eyes caught each other.

He also had a fraction of a second during this moment when he could see her hair from only inches from his eyes.  However, after several of these attempts of proximity, Hugh began to feel that he was taking a risk.  He needed to see her from another location…from a corner where she would not notice him.  That very last thing he wanted was to have her think that he was stalking her.

No, that could never happen.

So on each Wednesday, he would find a place to pray…that is to watch her.

As she turned the corner by the confessional was a marble column that contained Holy Water.  She would dip her fingers into the clear liquid and cross herself before pulling back the heavy velvet curtain and going in to tell the Confessor her failings…her sins.

Hugh began to keep time of her sessions.  She would stay 24 minutes each time.  Hugh, who had not been to confession in many years, thought that was a long time to tell someone your sins.  Then he began to wonder.  What could this beautiful, pure, virginal soul have to confess?  What sins could she have committed?  Was she an embezzler?  A diamond thief?  An art thief?  Surely, none of her sins could have been of the flesh, she was too pure a soul for that sort of thing.

It didn’t take many Wednesdays before Hugh fell in love with the girl.  He had no idea of how to approach her.  What would, or could he say to her?  It was at these times that he lost faith in himself.  No woman as angelic as she would ever so much as give him the time of day.  Hugh was certain that his existence was nothing to her.  He may as well have lived in the backwaters of the Amazon River.

But, his curiosity grew as to what she was telling the Confessor.  So he devised a plan.  This was a despicable plan and he was ashamed of himself for even considering it.  He went ahead and considered it anyway.  He would listen in on her confession.  After all, it was the only way.  Even if he caught the priest in a small alley behind the church in the blackest hours of the night and put his hands on his neck, the old man would never break the Seal of Confession.

Hugh went to a large Radio Shack and began to ask questions.  Eventually, he found out about a small “spyware” shop several miles south of town, in a warehouse district close to the Vermont border.  He purchased a small mic that would transmit voices to the tiny ear set of his smart phone.  Next, he went to a cheap stationery store and bought some patches of goo that was meant to stick posters on walls.  It was guaranteed to hold 15 pounds.

Perfect.

A few days later, he sat and read a book in the apse pews.  He waited until the tourists left.  The church wardens were busy moving people out in preparation for the evening Mass.  A wide column blocked anyone’s view of him and the confessional.  He stood close by as if he were studying a plaque on the wall.  Then, after a quick check around him, he pulled back the velvet curtain and, leaning over, pressed the goo and mic to the underside of the small elbow shelf below the screen that separated the sinner from the Confessor.

“May I help you?”

Hugh quickly backed out and stood facing a young priest.  He hadn’t seen this guy when he checked seconds earlier.

“I…I think I had dropped my wedding ring on the floor,” Hugh lied.

They both pulled back the curtain and looked on the carpet.  No ring.

“Sorry, guess it slipped off elsewhere.”

Hugh was out of the side door just as he heard the chiming bells that told the small congregation that Mass was about to begin.

On the next Wednesday, Hugh was sitting somewhat more distant from the confessional.  He quietly pushed his ear phone in and pulled his hair over it so people would not think he was listening to some punk group in this house of worship.

He turned his phone on and muted the tones.  He could hear the rustling of a books pages.  Earlier, he watched as the elderly Confessor entered the center booth and prepared for the parade of sinners.  He was probably reading his Office, a certain number of prayers that priests were required to read every day.

Then he saw her coming down the side aisle.  It was a mild day and her coat was unbuttoned, revealing a plaid shirt.   Her small breasts, hidden from view all winter, were now slightly visible under her shirt.  He tried to imagine them on her slight body.

She dipped her fingers into the Holy Water and crossed herself as usual, but not before glancing at him and holding the contact longer than usual.  She turned and entered the booth.

Hugh became suddenly uneasy.  What if she had seen too much of him each Wednesday?  What if she suspected him of stalking her?  He knew he wasn’t.  He knew he loved her…but from afar.

“Bless me Father, for I have sinned,” she began.

“Yes, my child?”

“You see, Father, I have certain feelings for a certain man…and I don’t even know his name.  I think he follows me around the church sometimes.  I know he’s here in this church tonight.”

Hugh’s panic grew.

“Do you think he’s following you to do harm to you?  Shall I call 911?”

Hugh’s phone was equipped with a chip that could tell him if another cell phone was being activated.  He heard the signal!  The Confessor had taken his cell and turned it on.

It was all over.  Hugh walk quickly to the side door and broke into a sprint.  Halfway through the park that surrounded the church he yanked the ear phone out and threw his cell into a trash can.  He leaned over to cover it with a discarded meal.  Perhaps this would give him precious time to get many blocks away when the police searched the cans.  He ran like his life depended on it.  He ran until he found himself lost in the tiny side streets of Old Montreal near the river.

“Oh, no, Father.  No.  No.  You see I have come to love him, even though we’ve never spoken.  I am taken by this man.  I want this man, Father.  I want him to take me and make the maddest of love to me.  Please, Father, help me find the right words to say to him.”

“You see, my Confessor, all my other little sins are nothing I feel the need to ask forgiveness for.  I have come today to confess the deepest of and darkest of sins….Lust.”