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Monthly Archives: June 2012

A well-stacked wood pile is a thing of beauty: a jigsaw puzzle, a study in geometry and aerodynamics. As an old Maine saying goes, the idea is to leave enough space between logs so the mouse can get through, but not the cat chasing the mouse. It is a proud Yankee art form, choosing and placing the logs, and the finished pile is a rustic monument to hard work, tradition and ingenuity.

The wood for the upcoming winter is hauled out of the forest, split and stacked in late spring. Saturdays are spent swinging an ax, or using a splitter, and the air fills with the perfume of sawdust. One puts in the effort as the blooming season begins, and the payoff is gotten as the bloom dies for the year.

Summer is the time for seasoning. The hottest months whisper the intoxicating smell of wood smoke and the coldest nights of winter. This is the essence of life in Maine: each season brings hints and intimations of the coming seasons.

The summer goes on, and the wood pile stands its ground, at work in sure silence. The hot breezes that rustle the hay pass through the logs, pulling the moisture out of the wood. In high summer, the wood pile cools the soul with visions of chill nights spent in a stupor next to the wood stove.

Finally the wood has seasoned. The autumn has arrived. Saturdays are spent disassembling the pile and reassembling it in the wood shed. The first logs, perfectly dried and ready, go into the stove, starting the warming season.

Firewood is born in spring and matures in summer. It hints of the autumn harvest and cozy winter evenings. It is of its time, and of the seasons to come. The wood pile is quintessential Maine and New England: timeless art, practical utility and harbinger of the seasons to come.

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Image Source: Vivian Maier

I guess it ain’t too nice to say, but there’s already talk goin’ round Mulroney’s about how long The Grunt gonna be able to keep this one. Like say the last time I mentioned him, he ain’t exactly the most respectable or reliable type. But I’m holdin’ out hope.

I heard about this room to let ‘round the bar. Sven The Scrub – we call him that because he’s just over from Oslo an’ he’s scrubbin’ the floors of Mulroney’s – was gonna take it, but I talked him into lettin’ The Grunt have it, out of seniority and all like that. It was perfect for the old guy: a basement level job, meanin’ he only had to worry ‘bout climbin’ down three steps, not up five flights of steps. An’ the rent was enough that even The Grunt, who does nuthin’ but grunt work around a bar for drink money, could make it. Maybe with a little help, but he could make it.

An’ I – an’ I think I speak for everyone that ever sat ‘round that bar – was willin’ to help. A presence at the bar like The Grunt, you take care of him. Sure, he come back from the Great War all shell-shocked, an’ he aint’ been the same since. But we all know him, an’ we know he’s got a heart of gold.

In fact, because of all the talk – an’ The Grunt he don’t know this, so don’t go sayin’ nothin’ – we got a collection goin’ round for a few months rent. So maybe nuthin’ happens but The Grunt come into Mulroney’s an’ does odd jobs an’ sings for his supper. An’ maybe he blows a race or two at Saratoga. Well, if that’s all that happens, he’s got it nice in his new apartment for a while, an’ we got stories for the whole time, so it’s worth it to us, see? A guy like The Grunt, you wanna keep him ‘round, an’ you wanna take care of him much as you can.

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Image Source: Fred Herzog

I swear, sometimes I think I’m gonna lose my nut. It’s….it’s all too much sometimes. Always something telling ya where to park, where to not park, what kind soft drink to buy, what kind coffee, where to get jewelry, how to pay for the jewelry on credit installments…I can hardly take it sometimes.

I got a room at the Empire, an’ sometimes if I have to go out I feel like I ain’t gonna make it back in one piece. Like one of them billboards is gonna come to life and shove a Coca Cola down my throat, or a giant neon coffee cup is gonna tip over and spill scalding coffee all over my head.

Car horns honking all day an’ night, people yelling, sirens screaming…

If I do get back to my room, I jump under the covers an’ bury my head under the pillow an’ try to block it all out. But it gets so damn loud in my head that the noise never gets blocked out. An’ what I hear in my head…I, uh…well, I get some bad thoughts in there sometimes.

I just don’t understand this world, is all. I don’t get along so well with so many other people an’ so much noise an’ all the signs an’ the city hitting me over the head…I just…just…like, I wish I could move out an’…

I don’t even know anymore. I just want somewhere quiet, you know? Someplace quiet and sort of pretty, where I can hear myself think and I’m not tripping over piles of rotting garbage and smelling a cesspool every block. An’ someplace where I don’t have to be around too many people.

People hurt. People hurt me. Always laughing behind my back and trying to sell me dress shirts and cigarettes and Chevrolets and saying nasty things under their breath… Too much pain. Too much noise. Too much…too much, ya know?

I’m not made for this place. I just want to get out.

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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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The death of a friend carves a cruel path of mild destruction. It’s not the full-on ransacking that comes with the loss of one with whom you share blood and DNA. But it’s pretty damn bad.

The internal inventory feels entirely too skewed to the first-person. I wish I could have visited, I wish I had gotten that care package out in time. These thoughts aren’t inherently selfish, but somehow it feels that way.

Then there is the technological archiving and excavation process. I can’t bear the thought of deleting e-mails and texts. But do I need to keep her phone number? Am I pissing on the grave if I free up a little Random Access Memory that will never be used again?

With the end, present tense turns to past tense. She would love this song! necessarily becomes she would have loved this song!. A slight hiccup of thought, and a 180 degree turn of direction.

The hell of it all is that I never actually met Turquoise Taylor Grant, who left us peacefully Tuesday morning, at the age of 45, in Ventura, CA after a two-year battle with liver cancer. But because we have many mutual friends across the various sub-sets of my life, we met online and became close.

My wife spent a weekend in San Jose with The Turq in a subset of online friends.

My friend Lynette shared an Acme Theater stage with The Turq and my late friend Mikey Dee, in my Boston rock subset, long before I met any of the above.

Eventually one is always six-degrees away from someone, and I was fortunate to be six-degrees or less from Turquoise on many levels.

Watching her battle the tumors from 3,000 miles was difficult. I often felt like Washington Roebling, bedridden with caissons disease, supervising the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge by telescope from his apartment window. I wanted to BE there. (And back we go to that first-person survivors guilt: I wish I could have done more. Um, what could I “do”, being 3,000 miles away and, oh-by-the-way, not a cancer specialist?)

But this is the wonder of technology and friendship: I was able to be there, via binary stream, with a laugh and a bit of encouragement. Not much, but not bad. (And she made two years. Not a bad ass-kicking of the original prognosis.)

And I’ll always have our collaborations-to-be. Once we were reminiscing about the TCBY frozen yogurt stand at the Downtown Crossing subway station in Boston, and how it always smelled of urine. This lead to one of us ordering a Piss-tachio cone, and this became the name of the band we were going to form. Our first album would be titled Urine This Too!. The Turq had some pipes, and our set-list was entirely of her choosing: Deep Purple’s “Hush”, Al Wilson’s “Show And Tell” and Heart’s “Barracuda”. I believe velvet pants and pimp hats may have been involved.

Or the New Year’s Eve morning when we started tossing Maine dialect back-and-forth phonetically, and by the time I left the office we had the beginning of a play about a young kid working in a textile mill with a pregnant girlfriend and another pregnant girlfriend.

This is the detritus of a life ended far too early. I am forever touched by what we had, but in the early aftermath I can’t get over the feeling of being cheated. All the world (and I) cheated of her smile and spirit. All the world (and I) cheated of present tense and future shenanigans.

I never met Turquoise Taylor Grant, but she touched my spirit deeply, and I am numb and depleted from her physical loss. A mild ransacking, but nevertheless.