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Monthly Archives: November 2011


Photo Source: John Burns

Lum De Lum De Lai-ai CLAP! CLAP!
Lum De Lum De Lai-ai CLAP! CLCLAPAP!

“Okay, cut it!” John Cummings yanked the needle off the record with a piercing squeal of scratched rubber and rage. “You Miracles ain’t exactly delivering miracles with those hand claps. What’s the matter with you all?”

It was four hours before the start of the New Clinton High School Spring Thing Talent Show, and Smokin’ John and The Clintoneers were not on the same page. John, senior and group leader, couldn’t believe that his four sophomore and junior cohorts were messing up hand claps. On a lip-synch performance. He sat down on George Kraig’s couch, pulled out a Marlboro and stomped out the match in the shag carpet.

George, as John knew he would, flew into a nervous hissy fit at this, screaming, as John knew he would, “You can’t smoke in here! My parents will be home in two and a half hours!”

John mouthed the old routine along with George before lowering the boom.

“First of all, your parents ain’t gonna notice smoke cloud number one, the way they suck ‘em down. Second of all, your mom wouldn’t be able to smell her own ass burning over that cheap-ass five and dime perfume she douses herself with. Third of all, SHUT UP AND GET THOSE HAND CLAPS DOWN!”

John got up, put the needle back on the record, and the Clintoneers sweat through their last hacks at dancing like Smokey’s Miracles to “Mickey’s Monkey” before the show.

They had been getting their moves down for a few weeks. John, George, B.J. Lemay, Mike Rogers and Clint Conway all loved old rock ‘n roll, and they could be found every Saturday afternoon at 4:00 watching American Bandstand and taking notes. They worshiped the Philadelphia sound of Gamble and Huff, Billy Paul, Teddy Pendergrass and the OJays, and the Motown sound of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Smokey & The Miracles. They were white teenagers with greasy, long rock ‘n roll hair, but they wanted to be Negro and dress sharp.

That presented a slight problem in Maine circa 1974. Buying suits meant a trip to Porteous or Sears in Portland, and there wasn’t much soul available off the rack. George, who was known for the occasional idea that was so oddball it almost made sense, tried to get around this by spray painting his powder blue tux black. It was a good idea in theory, but he almost knocked himself out on Krylon fumes in the unventilated garage, and the suit never fully dried out, thus ruining a tux and several good shirts.

They eventually found a slightly mismatched tux ensemble, but there was still the problem of deciding whether to “play” instruments or not. Clint had a new Fender Precision Bass, and B.J. had a snare drum. But George’s only instrument was a 1956 Silvertone guitar that his dad ordered from the Sears and Roebuck catalog when he was in high school. This was not a brand new Fender or Gibson. The action on the Silvertone was so bad that the strings were several inches off the neck, the neck was bowed, the finish was faded and chipped and, worst of all, one of the pickups dangled out of the body. Sure, it didn’t matter, since they wouldn’t actually be playing. But it stirred quite a fierce debate within the inner circle of the Clintoneers.

John didn’t want anything to do with that mangy guitar. But he also didn’t want to rock the boat too badly, because George’s parents had the best hi-fi of all of them. Knowing that George may walk if he got too hurt now, John stepped away from that argument. The Silvertone was in the show.

They finished their last practice, got dressed and started to pack up. George’s mom had a few of her new records out, and he packed those up along with the Smokey Robinson record. Side One, Track Five. He even put a little note on the record with Scotch tape so the janitor, who was running the record player, would know what to play.

The Clintoneers were scheduled dead last. They sat through bell ringers, cloggers, yodelers and a kid playing the Glockenspiel. As the Glockenspiel act took the stage, George handed the janitor, Mr. Farmer, the record with the note. He nervously blurted out, “Side One, Track Five!”

Mr. Farmer gave George a condescending sneer and said, “Last time we all have to hear your crazy ‘yeah-yeah’ junk music tonight!”

George was already about to vomit from nerves, and this little vote of non-confidence didn’t help much. He grabbed his Silvertone to strap it on, and almost dropped the guitar in the process. John gave George a little smack in the back of the head, and suddenly they were on stage and ready to go.

John mouthed Smokey’s intro, “Alright, is everybody ready?!? Alright, now here we go! Ah-one! Ah-two! Ah-one-two-three-four!” as Principal Torrance introduced them to wild screams. Showtime! Mr. Farmer dropped the needle, and after a second of pause the gym filled up.

With the sounds of The Carpenters.

Side One, Track Five of The Carpenters: “For All We Know.”

The band looked over at Mr. Farmer in shock. He was playing the wrong record! Holy shit!

John had to make up his mind whether he was going to sink or swim. As the sound of Carpenters oboes filled the gym, he looked stage right at Mr. Farmer, and noticed his smirk. Either he knew it was the wrong record and had played it anyway, or he didn’t know and didn’t care. Regardless, they would be dancing to The Carpenters, rather than Smokey Robinson.

He took a glance over at George, to see what how he was handling it. George was visibly terrified, so he didn’t look any different than he would of if Mr. Farmer had played the right record. But now aNOTHER dilemma flashed before John’s eyes: did he really want to ride out his senior year being the pansy boy that sang The Carpenters at the talent show?

SHIT!

The oboes stopped, and the record kept going. John gathered his dignity and tried to channel Dennis Yost from The Classics IV singing “Traces” or Chuck Negron from Three Dog Night singing “Easy To Be Hard”: sensitive, but tough.

Just as he was about to channel his inner Karen Carpenter, John noticed that the house lights were coming up and the gym was emptying out. At that point, he knew it was going to be a train-wreck regardless, so he started mouthing along. Loooooveeeee, look at the two of us….(aHEM, he choked a little bit of embarrassment) straaaangers…in so… he looked back over at Mr. Farmer, who was visibly cackling. After a few seconds John realized he had missed the rest of the verse. Then he looked back over at George.

From the beginning, George was a wreck, but when he realized that he may have accidentally handed over his mom’s Carpenters record along with the Miracles…and maaaybe the note might have slipped off….well, he knew it was going to be a train-wreck regardless. George kind of hated John anyway, so he decided to go with it and ride out the storm under the surface.

Besides, he had his Silvertone to play! After the first verse, as the oboes came back in, George suddenly remembered seeing Jimmy Page playing “Stairway to Heaven” and pointing his Gibson toward the heavens. He suddenly leapt to the front of the stage, yanked his battered old mutt of a guitar toward the sky and started rocking the oboe lines. Laaaaaa (STRUM!) la-la-lah-la-laaaa (Pete Townshend windmill!) la-la-lah-la-laaa (Chuck Berry Duck-walk!) la-la-lah-la-laaaa… Then he looked back over at John.

The gym was nearly deserted by the time John reached Mr. Farmer at the record player, ripped the needle off with a piercing squeal of rubber and rage and started walking back toward George. George could see the look of unrestrained rage, and he knew he was done for.

“YOU DIPSHIT!” John yelled. He broke the Carpenters record in half, threw the pieces over George’s head and socked George in the gut. John walked off and George slid into a fetal position on the stage, gasping for the wind that was no longer in his stomach. George, more mortified than he had ever been in his life, waved to the five people left in the gym, and tried to gasp “I’m alright!” But by that point, nobody cared.

The gym was empty, the Clintoneers had disbanded and the rest of a long, awkward semester lay ahead of them. Mr. Farmer walked over to George, still lying prone on the stage, and said, still cackling, “Told you that was the end of your yeah-yeah junk!” and walked away. Eventually George got up, picked up his guitar and called his mom for a ride.

John walked home. Five miles in the cold he didn’t even feel from the heat of his rage. As he made his way along the quiet stretch of suburban 163, a car passed. The driver rolled down the window to throw out a cigarette butt, which hit John on the chest. The car radio was playing The Carpenters.

Band practice was cancelled the next day.

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We had the Plymouth then, and it was full of AM magic as we set out on golden cold Thanksgiving mornings. The Beatles The Long And Winding Road, Carly Simon Nobody Does It Better (a song I always associate for some reason with the NFL and Alcoa – “We Can’t Wait Until Tomorrow!” commercials), Nicolette Larson Lotta Love, Peaches & Herb Reunited and, as we got closer to New York, the perfect disco funk of Herb Alpert Rise. This is the sonic cloth of memory, always associated with Thanksgiving and drives to visit my grandmother in Brooklyn.

My brother and I were good travelers, content to listen to the radio, color and sight-see. Nothing was ever more thrilling than the little things: the Portland skyline, looking just slightly like New York; the pilgrim-hat-with-arrow logo on the Massachusetts Turnpike signs; reading the grids on the turnpike toll tickets; a water tower, a factory smokestack…all captivating.

I was always fascinated by the minutiae of travel. The McDonalds signs in Massachusetts were different from the ones in Maine. There were no billboards in Maine, so I had plenty of reading material starting in New Hampshire. The style of the road signs and streetlamps was different from state to state. The traffic lights in New York City were yellow, unlike in Maine. I am still enthralled by these regional differences, and it all started on the road to grandmother’s apartment.

Mom and dad had a red and black plaid Thermos full of steaming coffee, and they always had a Wash ‘n Dri towelette ready. They appeased us with Happy Meals, and the miles passed by uneventfully. 95 through Maine and New Hampshire, 495 to the Mass Pike, 84 to Hartford. Then, finally, one of the highlights of the trip: the West Rock Tunnel, just outside of New Haven.

The sign instructed motorists to remove their sunglasses for the tunnel, so my mom always did, never mind that she was always a passenger. And then we’d be in the tube, and it seemed like it lasted for hours. The tunnel itself was and is beautiful: the granite wall and arches, the soft red glow from taillights and the streetlamps on the ceiling. And the tunnel meant almost there… Almost New York.

Finally we would arrive. My grandmother lived in a building called The Bay Shore in the Bay Ridge neighborhood (yes, Saturday Night Fever was filmed there). I’ll never be able to articulate the smell in the lobby of that building, but whatever it was, it smelled like home. The tile in the lobby was black and white octagon, and it was always dark. Grandmother’s apartment had huge French doors, glass doorknobs, pre-war wooden frame windows with yellowed shades and cloth pulls. I remember waiting for the tubes in her TV set to warm up, and vintage radios and her paintings, many of which hang in our house to this day.

From our bedroom window, we could see laundry hanging on clotheslines with pulleys, and the apartments across the courtyard had keystone arches. And hovering above it all, close enough to touch, was the Verrazano. I knew the bridge from Saturday Night Fever, but I really knew it from watching the lights dance across the unimaginable span right before my eyes.

I don’t remember Thanksgiving dinner. I remember the etched gold of grandmother’s Manhattan glass, and little else. But I remember the drives, the sounds and the feelings. I remember the air smelling different than Maine, full of more and different kinds of foods, car exhaust, the piles of garbage and the smoke of buildings abandoned to arson at the height of the financial crisis, and the tides of the Narrows. And I remember being thankful, even then, for the sensory snapshots that have lasted a lifetime.

Photo Sources:
West Rock Tunnel: Bridge and Tunnel Club (I encourage you to check this page for the full tunnel approach experience!)

Brooklyn Queens Expressway: Danny Lyon

Bay Ridge: Dinanda Nooney

Verrazano Narrows Bridge: http://skyscraperpage.com/


Photo Source: Vivian Maier

I used to hate Thanksgiving. Used to be all alone, nobody to see, nothing to do but get a turkey sandwich at some sleazy diner, no family to go home to… well, I have family, downstate, but they don’t want nothing to do with me, you dig? And that’s ‘cause of the troubles I got in a few years ago. I don’t blame ‘em. I mean, I was in bad shape. But that’s another story.

Anyway, like say I used to hate Thanksgiving, and being all alone. But wait’ll you hear about my Thanksgiving THIS year!

So I got on at the Greek’s place a few months ago. Mostly washing dishes, but some line cooking here and there. That kind of thing. I’m doing good, checking in with my PO, taking my prescriptions, showing up early at the Greek’s and staying late…doing my best, you know? The Greek likes me well enough, and he gives me a little extra here and there, lets me work a little longer when he can…and every so often he spots me a little something from the kitchen. That’s the last thing I’d ever want, and it kills me to be in that position. But the Greek, he insists, and I ain’t too proud to take a little help if I need it.

I got a room in a four-flat at Milwaukee and Halsted, right by the Blue Line. I got a borrowed bed and a borrowed chair, a record player, a hot plate and that’s it. It ain’t much, and the neighborhood is rough. But it’s all mine, and I’m keeping up. It ain’t one of them towers on Lake Shore Drive, but next to where I was, I’m doing good.

So it’s the day before Thanksgiving. I’ve been mopping dishes for the Greek during the breakfast rush, and the lunch rush is on the way. I’m about to do some mopping around my sink when the Greek comes over, and he tells me he’s giving me the rest of the day off, and all of Thanksgiving off, AND the day after Thanksgiving off! With pay! I tell the Greek I can’t do that, but of course I know he ain’t going to take no for an answer, so I say thank you, the both of us smiling like a couple of clowns, and I get ready to grab my bag and go home.

When I reach into my bag, I see the Greek has already loaded it up with a couple of cans of tuna, some bread and some mayo, a couple of jars of milk and fixings enough to make two turkey sandwiches and some stuffing for Thanksgiving. And at the bottom he’s thrown in a ten dollar bill. I’m feeling so good when I see all this I almost start crying. The Greek, he sure has been good to me. I go over, pump his hand like mad and say thank you over and over again. He tells me I deserve so much more, doing such a good job and being such a good kid. By the time I let go of his hand, I got a tear streaming down both cheeks, and I gotta turn around and run out because I’m too embarrassed to stay around.

So I get outside, and it’s terrifically cold. You know how those Chicago winters are. But I’m feeling so good from the Greek I don’t even feel it. I just feel warm all over, even without a coat. I could have gotten on the el, but for whatever reason I felt like walking. I’ve got my bag, and now its way heavier than it was, thanks to the Greek, so I sit down on a stoop for a few minutes to rest.

And I’m sitting there, and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, this kitten comes over to me. I’m just sitting there, and the kitten comes from out of nowhere, and looks up at me and starts mewing at me in this squeaky little voice. Like it’s trying to tell me something. I reach out to pet it, and the kitten starts rubbing its head on my finger, then it starts rubbing its head against my leg. You believe that?

I picked the kitten up, put it on my lap and gave it a scritch on the head. And the kitten turned a circle, flopped into a little ball and started purring like crazy. Like it liked me! It was just a little gray thing, so cute and happy. I got up, carefully holding the kitten, and started looking around for someone to ask about the kitten.

“I think she likes you!”

The super of the building I was resting at came down the steps. “I seen that kitten come around here for two days now. I ain’t seen no signs about her around the neighborhood or anything. Looks like she’s a feral. Whyn’t you take her home?”

I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing.

“Really? You really think I should?”

“Sure, why not! She needs a good home. And she’s taken to you! Hold on just a second…”

The super turned around, went back into the building and returned with a leash.

“I got this ‘case I had to take her to the shelter. But this is even better than that.”

The super clipped on the leash, and the kitten was mine.

Once again, I started crying. I thanked the super, we exchanged Happy Thanksgivings and I kept walking home. I got to my flat, opened my bag, took out one of the cans of tuna the Greek gave me, opened it and threw a little down on my lap for the kitten. She was so tiny! I picked her up, held her and decided her name was Mittens. Because of the little bits of white on her paws. I set Mittens down and she started eating tuna like she had never eaten before. So I got a bit more, put it down and she kept going.

I had a little myself, and I poured a little milk out on a plate on the floor. Mittens lapped that up, then I poured some more and she lapped that up. Then she jumped back on my lap, flopped into a ball and started purring like crazy and licking my hand with her little sandpaper tongue. And she was with me for all three days of my Thanksgiving vacation, and I cried the whole time I was so happy; happy to have so much and to have a friend to share it with.

I made two turkey sandwiches and warmed up stuffing on my hot plate and had milk for Thanksgiving. I ate Thanksgiving dinner with Mittens, and for the first time in a few years I wasn’t alone on Thanksgiving…

Originally Published 08/01/2011

Photo Source: Jessica Beebe

The Captain’s Lady looked good for Saratoga. A pure thoroughbred, he was small and lithe, just under 15 hands. But he was incredibly powerful, with a huge kick and endurance. And he had that look, that gleam that belongs to champions. He was ready for the Travers, and after that, next year, Churchill Downs loomed.

The morning before the long drive to New York dawned in peach and gold, with a fog hanging low over the rolling fields of the Hill and Dale farm, twenty miles outside of Lexington. The Captain’s Lady was being put through his final paces on the track while his owner Skip Stewart and trainer Gus Galloway leaned on the fence and looked on. The pride of their stable was already getting 7-1 for the Midsummer Derby, and he looked unstoppable.

Gus held up his stopwatch, and he and Skip both shook their heads. “I think we’ve got a winner here,” Gus said. The horse stopped and Gus gave him a good pat on the head and neck before starting the walk back to the stable, the white spires gleaming in the dew of morning. Time to pack and make preparations for the trip.

It was afternoon before anyone noticed that The Captain’s Lady was missing. His stable door was open, and the hay on the floor was kicked up, like there had been a struggle. Word traveled the farm immediately and panic ensued. “Son of a BITCH!” Skip screamed, picking up his cell to call the cops. As he was about to dial, his phone buzzed with an incoming text. It was a picture of The Captain’s Lady, muzzled, with a note around his neck reading “YOU LOSE!” Skip checked the number: Chelsea, Massachusetts. Right away Skip knew this was the work of his greatest rival.

There was no love lost between Skip Stewart and Buzz Landry. The former Boston hedge fund managers had gone in on their first thoroughbred together, and both retired for the life of a Kentucky squire together. Things went quickly south when Skip discovered that Buzz was reaching into their prize purses and grabbing a lot extra. Their friendship blew up and disintegrated, and the rivalry was on as Skip purchased Hill and Dale and, five miles down the road, Buzz purchased Flying Feet Farm.

With the physical evidence at the scene, including a dropped Massachusetts license, the cellphone ransom picture, sent on a traceable phone, the GPS trail and continual phone calls to Boston by the driver of the getaway trailer, this wasn’t exactly the crime of the century. Buzz had hired a low-level slugger from Boston, named as Rico Da Capo in the police report, to come down and “borrow” The Captain’s Lady for a few hours, just to scare his enemy, but he didn’t bargain on such a bargain-basement job. Buzz had been on a three-week Early Times bender, and this was the sad denouement.

When the units screamed into the driveway of Flying Feet Farm, Buzz Landry was passed out on the emerald green lawn, in nothing but a fedora and a pair of white briefs, surrounded by bottles of Early Times and his cell, which showed 37 incoming calls from Chelsea, Massachusetts. He surrendered without much trouble, and took the ride to the station, slurring at the top of his lungs about revenge with fiery whiskey breath spraying the shield of the cop car. He had a terrific headache sitting in the cell. Detox and charges of Grand Theft Horsey at the same time will put a crimp on a race weekend.

The Captain’s Lady, freed from his ordeal and pissed off about it, won the Travers by fifteen lengths, paying out an astonishing 12-1. Skip Stewart cherished this purse most of all. Buzz Landry didn’t see any of it.

Originally Published 11/14/2011

Photo Source: Peter Marlow

“God, should we? That’s a lot of driving, either way. I don’t want to wear you out.” Mick was at the wheel, at the intersection of 287 and 200 and the decision between Great Falls or Butte. He and Hannah, flush with an inheritance from her grandmother and winging their way across the map, had started the day nearly eight hours earlier in Moses Lake, WA, and were debating continuing on to Great Falls and then back to Glacier, or pushing on to Miles City and, the next day, Little Big Horn, North Dakota, the Badlands and the Continental Divide. Butte to Miles City looked on the atlas to be about another six hours, as did Butte to Kalispell. Either way, another half day on the road.

Hannah ran her hand up and down Mick’s forearm. She was so happy to be able to give him this trip, to see his kid-with-a-new-toy exuberance, to traverse landscape so ingrained in her DNA from growing up in Missoula. She was so happy to give all this she would have driven on to Boston if Mick had wanted to. “I’m game for whatever you are, hon. It’s your midlife crisis! And how often are we going to have a chance to do this?”

Mick thought about it, playing eenie-meenie with all the places he had dreamed of while growing up in Boston and devouring every book he could find about Custer, Louis & Clark and the West in general. Going to college and then staying in Seattle was probably, subliminally, partly due to proximity to the land of the pioneers. And now here he was, living it, breathing it…

Losing gram was, obviously, not the best way to make money. But Hannah hadn’t seen her in over twenty years, and she was, frankly, shocked to even be remembered. She and Mick were finally doing okay, finally self-sufficient with her photography and his film production, after all those years getting their souls sucked in corporate Cubes and building the dream nights and weekends. She knew how hard Mick had worked to make it happen, how much he sacrificed and how freaked out he was about money and about pushing 40. So she was going to surprise him with an extremely modest mid-life crisis trip anyway. Having that inheritance payoff gave them serious extra flexibility. It was the greatest gift she had ever received and the greatest gift she could ever give.

It seemed like ages that they sat at that intersection, staring at the vast prairie ahead. Mick was lost in thought. He saw himself at ten, reading through all 26 leather-bound volumes of the Time Life “The Old West” set; at eighteen, skipping class at U Dub to soak in the history of Pioneer Square and Underground Seattle; at twenty-three, practically memorizing Ken Burns: Lewis & Clark and Thomas Jefferson; and now, almost forty, finally clean, an in-demand film producer, and scared shitless about missing out on life, never seeing all those landmarks he had envisioned all those years…And now it was happening, and he could pick-and-choose what to see. Turn left, and it’s Glacier. Turn right, and it’s Little Big Horn and Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Heads, I win. Tails, you lose. Jesus…

The Montana landscape was other-worldly, spectral and incomprehensible. Nothing but prairie and mountain, wheat and rock. At least on this side it was, having passed through the Bitterroots and the surprisingly verdant western flank earlier. They had lunch at a Perkins in Missoula, with a hot wind coming down from a mountain monogrammed with a big “M”. And Mick and Hannah both realized how out of place they were for not sporting a cowboy hat. It was a totally different world, and they both dived into the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to subsume themselves into the foreign and recontextualize their lives and work after the fact. They would never be the same, and they were so much the better for it.

Mick was almost scared to continue either way, being so overwhelmed at the fact that his lifelong dreams were finally being realized. He was thankful every day, but today, with his rock and better half at his side, his newfound sobriety, his independence after all those years of bending over for the man….it was almost too much. So many convergences at one intersection in the middle of fucking nowhere Montana! And he won no matter which way they went.

“So, Tiger, what do you think?” Hanna smiled over at Mick with all the love and support in the world. This was a new world for Mick, and he was never happier. “Well,” he said “let’s see where the road goes!” He turned the car and they headed for the next dream-come-true…

Originally Published 11/09/2011

Photo Source: Christopher Anderson

Jesus, why is it always so much FUCKing harder to get a cab when it’s raining? And the only thing you want in the world is to go home and hide?

Well, almost the only thing. Shit. Shit, Shit, SHIT. Why?!? Why do I keep fucking up? WHY DO I KEEP BLOWING IT?!?

Black sheets of rain. Rain and black. BLACK. Five cabs in a row passing by, splashing waves of noxious water and sodden leaves. Perfect.

THERE’S my nightcap! Not gonna get one with her tonight, me and my big FUCKing mouth. Christ. Everything was going great, and then BAM, I had to blow it. Like always. All the talents in the world and I had to get the talent for saying something fucking STUPID.

And where’s the kind of cab that STOPS?!?

I’ll never hear from her again. And I’ll blow it again the next time, with the next girl, and the next time with the next girl because I can’t stop saying stupid shit at the WORST time. I just…I don’t mean it! I’m a good guy! I just don’t know how everybody else in the world knows how to be CONFIDENT enough to not TRY TO HARD. SHE WAS INTERESTED! And I had to try too hard and I BLEW it! SHIT! SHIT! SHIT!!!

A pile of dried maple leaves had collected under an awning, all looking like puzzle pieces lying about on the sidewalk, ready to be put together.

Why do I do it to myself? Why do I always feel like an unconnected puzzle piece? Never to fit in. Why do I continually live this self-fulfilling prophecy?

Why can’t I just get a cab to STOP, go home and never try again? It’s so much easier. Keep the circle small…just my closest family, occasionally, maybe one or two friends who “get” me…no maintenance, no hurt…

No connection…

No connection…NO HURT…

Originally Published 11/11/2011

Photo Source: Marion Post Wolcott

The snow started gently around 10:00 AM and ended gently around 5:00 PM. In between it was a heavy, driving white-out snow, the kind that meant business. I spent the day stoking the fire and listening to reports on the radio. Mother made cider donuts on the stove, and we found a program of Christmas music.

It was fairly quick work to clear the driveway, as our neighbor, Tom Stoddard, came along with his tractor and Walter snow plow. We invited Tom in for supper, but he refused and set off to plow out the rest of the world. Had a quick supper of franks and beans, fed the cattle, then set out for town, as we were out of liquor, lard and stationary. The roads were passable, thanks to Tom, and I had no problems making the short drive.

After getting provisions, I decided to show myself the town. There is something of an evening in a small New England town after a day of snow that stirs me like nothing else. The temperature drops and the night turns bitter cold, the nostrils burn, the moon pops out and the fresh snow twinkles like diamonds against the lights of storefronts, street lamps and automobiles. Passers-by, freshly liberated from the day of imprisonment, carry gay greetings and good tidings, and the world, so troubled by the happenings on the war front, seems as right as it should be again.

I walked along the main street, back and forth, seeing the sights and greatly enjoying the new world. These are the things I keep for myself: the crunch of the fresh snow under my feet, the soft glow of candles and the smell of balsam, the joy of being out and about after such a long day of being snowbound, the muted sound of autos and the feel of peace on earth during these dark days… These are the things I treasure.

I came home, mixed martinis and listened to Bing on the Kraft Music Hall. A perfect New England winters evening after a perfect New England winters day.

Originally Published 11/03/2011

Photo Source: Ida Wyman

“Madame, for your patronage and your exQUIsite beauty, in consideration of ten cents on top of the fifteen for your key, that I may purchase a cup of coffee, I will sing you on your way this fine morning! Two bits only! An exceptional value!”

They called him The Tudor, an’ the reason why varied dependin’ on who you talked to, an’ what time day it was, see? Some say it was ‘cause he was secretly rich an’ lived in Tudor City, o’er by the Chrysler Buildin’. An’ some say it was ‘cause he got hit by a Ford Tudor a time or two, or even three, again dependin’ on who you talked to, an’ what time day it was. The likely story was the car story, since The Tudor been known to Ride the White Horse, an’ bein’ old and frail, his reflexes wasn’t any hot even when we wasn’t on a White Horse bender. But who knows about these things?

Anyway, they called him The Tudor, an’ he was out e’ry morn’, come rain or come shine, makin’ keys, shinin’ shoes an’ singin’ for tips. He had a high talkin’ voice, almost like a girl. But son of a buck if that old guy couldn’t sing in the most beeUTEEful bass you ever heard! An’ he knew all them old songs, like Oh Danny Boy an’ The Sidewalks of New York an’ all. The Tudor could sing like nobody’s bidness, an’ he could charm your pants off an’ then sell ‘em back to you!

If you only believed half of what you heard, you could say he was full’a it. He was married forty some years, or so they said. ‘Course ain’t nobody seen his wife, jus’ like ain’t nobody knows where The Tudor REALLY come from. He jus’ showed up with his key makin’ tools an’ his shine kit an’ his hat an’ a song. An’ that’s how I like to think of him.

I worked the north corner of 44th an’ Lex, sellin’ my papers, an’ The Tudor worked the south side. It was a logical arrangement for those commuters heading south to Gran’ Central, see? First you get a paper, then you sit down to read it while you’re gettin’ a shine, or a key made. Perfect, right? Anyways, we had that unspoken arrangement for years.

Come to think of it, I don’ know as we ever did really speak. But we had a certain unspoken bond, you might say. Just a nod ‘cross the street e’ry day. An’ I heard that voice’a his echo all up an’ down Lex, an’ somehow the day just seemed a little better with a song from The Tudor.

Last I saw The Tudor, he was snowin’ the pants off’a that woman he was tryin’ to get coffee money from. She gave him the two bits, an’ he started singin’ “Will You Love Me in December (as You Do in May)?” Which, you’ll ‘member, was written by our former mayor Jimmy Walker. Anyway, he started singin’ that crazy old song, beauteeful as a phonograph, an’ that woman jus’ beamed. 100 watts, at least. Then she was off, headed west on 44th toward Park, an’ I had run outta papers, so’s I went home for the day.

Never saw The Tudor after that, an’ I got no idear what became of him. Some say he went home sick himself an’ never got out of bed. Some say he retired to Miami an’ was livin’ the good life with some dame half his age. Who knows about these things? Dependin’ on who you talked to, an’ what time day it was, anything could’a happened to The Tudor. But I’m glad I was there for his gran’ finale.

Originally Published 10/31/2011

Photo Source: Alissa Dinneen

“Christ, you remember those old one-piece mask and pajama costumes?” Alton asked Rachel, breaking into a giggle. “The ones our parents used to get at…”

“K-MART!!!” Rachel and Alton said at the same time, breaking into hysterics. “Yeah,” Rachel continued, patting Alton on the forearm,“what were they thinking with those?”

“I’m amazed none of us burned alive in those goddamn things! They were as much of a fire hazard as the Pinto was!”

Alton and Rachel were taking advantage of the open bar at the reception. He had gone to high school up north with Brad Collins, the new groom, and she worked with Beth Dunn, the new Mrs. Collins. They both snuck glances at each other during the ceremony, squinting as the Halloween sun went down over the lake, and they ended up seated at the same table.

It was supposed to be a costume wedding, celebrating Brad and Beth’s love of Halloween, but they figured most of their guests would lame out, so it ended up being business casual. The wedding and reception were at the Sedaguncook Lodge on Lake Dirigo, the dinner was steak and salmon and the specialty of the house was the 10-31 Pumpkin Martini. After a few beers and wine with dinner, tongues loosened, Alton and Rachel slid over next to each other and started talking about Halloween past.

Alton pulled out his iPhone and pulled up a picture of himself, age 5, in 1979, wearing a Spider Man costume. “I remember cutting my face on the damn plastic, and I almost choked on the rubber band! Can you imagine?”

Rachel, holding her martini at an alarming angle, put an arm around Alton’s shoulder, laughing hysterically at the photo on the screen and the story. “Oh my God! That happened to me too! I was Snow White that year!”

The evening went on, the drinks flowed and Alton and Rachel talked well into the small hours, walking down to the lake in the icy chill, holding hands, laughing. They met again for breakfast, exchanged e-mails and agreed to meet again later that week. And they both drove home thinking “greatest wedding ever” and loving Halloween more than ever…

Originally Published 10/27/2011

Photo Source: Vivian Maier

There it was, there in the window. Joe McGillicuddy passed by the display in the department store window daily, and had for years, always dreaming of what it would be like to walk in someday and walk out with such a wonderful gift. Something to have, hold and treasure. Something that meant everything and would be his forever.

He dreamed the dream every day for all those years. He even tried to put a little aside, but it seemed like something always came along and screwed the deal. And Joe always was left just standing outside the window, staring, dreaming and wishing, like a kid outside the ice cream parlor watching all the other kids who got dough for ice cream from their parents. None for him.

Joe knew that things weren’t important, and that love and being loved were the real treasures in life. But gee whiz, when you’re all alone sometimes things are all you’ve got. And the treasure in the window was all he had, all he wanted, and always just out of reach.

He lived in a room, worked odd jobs, didn’t have any callers, didn’t really trust that anyone could care about an old, broken down fella like him. All he had was his dreams and that window display. And the all-consuming want, not just of the treasure, but of the comfort and security everyone else seemed to have and he didn’t know how to get.

All Joe knew was alone. Alone and wanting. Somehow that was comforting, knowing that want was his, the suit he wore alone. But he would trade it in a heartbeat for belonging, and having treasures belong to him.

Joe McGillicuddy took a last look at the window display, feeling the ache of unfulfilled desires and the weight of his life. He had managed to scrounge up enough for a bottle of skull-pop, which he purchased on the way back to his room. He crawled into his bed, sensing the mid-day sun behind the blinds and ended another unfulfilled day.

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