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Image Source: Tom Hubbard, EPA Documerica Project

Summer Sundays were never long enough. Never enough hours of sunlight for all our games. Gee, do kids even know how to play outside today?

After lunch we’d be out on the street, playing stickball until dark. Every week, all summer, all Sunday. And it was the greatest time ever.

We always played on my block. The Mirabelli’s stoop was first, the manhole cover was second, the Lazzeri’s stoop was third and home was the pothole that got patched over. The mound was in between the stoops. There were fire escapes on buildings on both sides of the street, and they could cause some crazy bounces. You had to be ready for anything if you were playing the outfield.

Our parents would get together on a stoop, or maybe set up a little table on the sidewalk. They’d play cards, maybe a little bocce, and enjoy the day with us, but on their own. They didn’t need to hover over us, ‘cause we were right there playing on the street.

We would all be our favorite players. Whenever I pitched, I was always Tom Seaver. I loved Seaver’s delivery, that bow-and-arrow release of the ball, the back knee almost on the mound while pushing off the front leg. Batting I was always Charlie Hustle, Pete Rose. Compact and coiled, a perfectly level whip of a swing, power to all fields. Rose was a joy to watch and fun to be. A neighborhood treasure.

We had some TV; three channels and we always watched the Saturday Game of the Week so we could play all day Sunday. Oh, I loved those endless days. Except for those late summer Sundays during the school year. I always hated that feeling of the weekend ending, and I always wanted the games to go on forever. But they always ended and Monday always came around…

I guess it’s all computers and twitting and texts today, and kids don’t give a damn about baseball anymore. Too many teams and they all play at night. And I’m not saying it’s all bad today. Just different.

But give me a stick and a glove and a full Sunday of pop flies bouncing off the fire escape any day. They don’t know what they’re missing, these kids.

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Image Source: Larry Clark

I don’t remember anything whatever from leaving the house until it happened. That is all gone. I remember a squeal, and spinning. I was smoking a cigarette, and I remember it flying off into the back seat. I remember fearing that something would catch fire. This thought occurred while I was staring at the dome light and feeling the car hurtling into a violent spin.

And then…nothing.

Silence. An odd, peaceful silence, as though a pillow was wrapped around my head. Then sounds, muted and gauzy, started to come into focus. Gravel. A tire spinning. The sound of water running.

I opened my eyes, and the brightness of the sky made me sick to my stomach. I saw James, fuzzy and dark, standing outside the car. Then I noticed light dancing across a hole and a thousand cracks in the windshield.

The light was beautiful, shimmering like a diamond. I smelled beer and cigarettes, and saw it was coming from James outside the car. I smelled gasoline and tasted something metallic, like a penny.

I noticed the blood on my dress, and I wondered where it came from. Then I saw blood on the cracks in the glass, and saw that some of my hair was stuck in a crack. I suppose you could say that this snapped me out of my spell.

I put a hand to my forehead, and it was covered in blood. Why, I never screamed louder in my life when I realized that I was bleeding so! I saw myself in the rear view mirror, and all the blood terrified me. But it also partly fascinated me. I kept staring at my own reflection, screaming. This must have gone on for several moments, but it seemed forever. Then the sound of a siren way off in the distance started getting louder and louder…

They say the road was slick, and James was driving too fast. Funny how fast it all occurs. In a matter of seconds, your life changes forever with one slight miscalculation.

###
Thanks to everyone who stopped by to check my guest-post yesterday. And thanks to the Bluebird for hosting me!

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Image Source: Thomas Hoepker

It was hard to avoid The Gimp. You wouldn’t believe how good that damn cripple got around town, and hell if I know how he did it. Ain’t seen nothing like it.

He had a little board with roller skates, and he managed to paddle his way around with his change cup. And Lord, did he ever get around! You’d go to Dolly’s in the morning for a cup of coffee and he’d be out front. Later that night you’d go to the pictures and he’d be out front before the show. The Gimp got around better than most people get around with two good legs.

There were lots of stories. The Gimp got hit by a train. He took shrapnel in the war. A jealous wife chopped ‘em off. No one really knew. The Gimp was kind of an outsider, and nobody took the time to get to know him. They clapped when he did a handstand or some other trick, dropped a few coins in his cup and moved on, and that was that.

Well, I wondered about The Gimp, so one day I offered to buy him a cup of coffee and a slice of pie. And wouldn’t you know, he was just a peach of a fella.

His name was Ward Denton, and he came from Cleveland. He found work in the mill, but then he got burned on both legs in an accident on the job. Both legs got infected, and they had to take them. Ward started drinking pretty bad, his wife left and he lost the house.

He didn’t have nothing left, but I never talked to no one more sunny about their prospects. He had cleaned himself up and was doing okay with the spare change. He got by, sleeping with relatives and at the charity hospital occasionally. And he was hopeful about finding some kind of work again, someday, somehow.

Ward Denton didn’t blame nobody for his troubles, and he didn’t spend time moaning about what he had done to himself. He just picked himself up and got back to business. He lost his legs, so he taught himself to crawl. He lost his way to make a living, so he did what he could. He lost his home and family, so he taught himself how to do a handstand and sing for his supper.

Just goes to show: sometimes it’s hard to avoid a fella every day, and you think you know him. But if you take the time to ask, the real story might be even better that all the talk around town.

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Image Source: Neil Perkin

The line went dead, and the wind and soul exploded out of Bill’s stomach. He stood in the booth, listening to the dial tone, not believing. Not accepting. She couldn’t have just done that.

Couldn’t have.

He dropped another coin in the slot and dialed her number again.

daah-daah-daaaaahh – The number you have dialed, five five five one two one two, has been disconnected. No further information is available about five fiv…

SLAM! GodDAMNitall!

She couldn’t mean it, though. She’ll call back and apologize. In a day or two, after she gets her head back. NO she won’t She’ll feel bad…maybe not bad enough to take me back hah!…but bad enough to apologize for her tone…her words… WRONG Maybe after she calls back we can be friends again…NOT going to happen, and after we’re friends again…

Outside the booth, a man in a hat and overcoat darkened by rain tapped his watch. Bill slowly became aware of the lines of people waiting for phones. The foot traffic of the station ebbed and flowed past, smoothing the staccato beep of a phone off the cradle.

He stared at the receiver in his hand, listening to the sound of the disconnect getting louder and louder.
That beep – the sound of heartbreak – would stay with him through the days and weeks of delusions and mental bargaining to come. He slammed the receiver back on the cradle, flung open the doors of the booth and headed toward the tracks, unrequited, lost and alone.

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Image Source: Saul Leiter

Funny, ain’t it? I been staring at this framing for years, an’ I never really thought nothin’ of it. It ain’t much to look at, an’ it ain’t in no tour guides, so why would I think anything of it? It’s just a door frame, an’ I ain’t got the time or the inclination to go ‘round starin’ at door frames, if you know what I’m sayin’.

But one day, outta nowhere, I saw that frame, an’ I noticed all them patterns in it, from all them cracks. And son of a buck if it wasn’t all of a sudden one of the most beau-tee-ful things I ever did see! I can’t tell you why or how I saw it: I just saw it. I saw the patterns, an’ all of a sudden that door frame looked like one of them paintings up at the museum by the park. Can you imagine that?

Well, I don’t know nothin’ about art, or much of anything else, for that matter. But seeing all them cracks, it really made me think. I started wondering how they all got there, like from gettin’ hit by briefcases an’ purses an’ delivery boxes an’ all like that, an’ maybe from the building settling.

An’ some of the patterns were perfect an’ looked kinda like stuff, like faces an’ like that. An’ some of the patterns were broken an’ went nowhere. Just like life. Lots of bums goin’ nowhere, but overall it’s beau-tee-ful an’ perfect.

It ain’t much of a discovery in the grand scheme, nothing like curing polio. And I ain’t turning into some kinda pixie that goes around starin’ at every door frame in town an’ talkin’ about what I see. But it was kinda nice to be able to see that frame a little different, like to see it up close. Sometimes seeing things a little different makes all the difference.
 
 
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Subway

8:29 PM
April 11

Gee, you get so damn lonesome in this town sometimes. New York is no place to be if you’re alone. It’s no picnic if you’ve got somebody either, but if you’re alone, and kind of shy and awkward, and maybe a little homely, being here makes it that much worse. Your loneliness is on full display every day. The streets laugh at you. The guy with the beautiful girl, he looks down on you. And that feeling of being all alone, it follows you everywhere. Late at night on a subway car, early in the morning on a bus crossing Central Park, walking through the tunnels of skyscraper shadows, in a corner booth in a bar…you’re alone everywhere, and New York never lets you forget it. It’s hard. Boy is it hard. Sometimes I walk down these stairs to the station and I feel like I’ll never stop climbing down. I’ll just keep going, by myself, and I’ll never have a friend or anyone that cares about me. And everybody else in the city will pass me by, and they’ll all have somebody and they’ll all look back and laugh at little old lonely me and I’ll just keep climbing down, all alone, never reaching the station, never finding anyone that cares about little old lonely me. No one will ever notice, and no one will ever know how much it hurts sometimes. How hard it is to be alone in this town. Little old lonely me.

Nobody cares.
Nobody notices.
Nobody would notice,
if I weren’t around…

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On Thanksgiving Day 1988, unbeknownst to all of us, one of the cats pissed on the stove. Sometimes a smell indelibly sears itself onto your memory bank, and that incident, fairly and unfairly, confirmed the fact that my grandmother was a disaster in the kitchen. It’s not like she put the cat on the burner herself. But her cooking was atrocious, and the cat burner fiasco definitively created a Pavlovian connection between grandmother and food.

Her specialty, as it were, was pork chops and biscuits. Specifically, Shake ‘n Bake pork chops. She always managed to find these tough little chops that were mostly bone, and the Shake ‘n Bake coating would slide off in a greasy sheet. The biscuits were made from scratch, possibly out of rocks. Nary a hint of flake in these things.

Many nights my brother and friends and I would make a show of eating, and then bring dinner outside for games of Pork Chop Toss and Biscuit Shooting. The house down the hill was maybe 300 yards away, and with a good flick of the wrist and a good crust on the snow, a pork chop could make it a long way toward the property line. And a biscuit could take two BBs at close range and barely even flinch.

All was almost lost, but not all: gram made the most amazing donuts from scratch.

On frigid winter mornings, we would come downstairs and find her covered in flour and stirring a fresh batch in boiling Crisco. They were spectacular! Unless, and until, you bit into a “prize” donut and found yourself choking on a nice big clump of gray hair. Those mornings we quickly turned to heaping bowls of Boo-Berries or Fruity Pebbles, saving the remaining donuts for bird feed and target practice.

She tried, and I loved her for the effort. And we certainly didn’t go without. But the woman was an absolute nightmare around the stove, with or without the noxious fumes of burning cat urine.

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