Archive

Monthly Archives: January 2013

Chop Suey
Image Source: The Daily

“I am FINISHED with this! Do NOT call on me again!”

Hilda Beauregard’s words exploded through the slop house as she stormed away from the table, leaving Harvey Navin alone and mortified. He could feel her words clench and pierce his heart, like a vice grip with talons. He could feel every damn eye in the joint boring in on him, and he could hear the snickers and titters, and the fumbling of silverware and plates as some diners relished the scene like a bullfight and others wished they could be somewhere – ANYwhere – else, away from such an embarrassing moment.

Harvey felt himself turn a blazing red, desperate to say something – ANYthing – to defend himself and deflect the bore of a room full of eyes penetrating his broken soul. But all he could do was sputter, “she had to catch a jet airplane!” and cackle like a witch. He knew that this awful line just made it worse, so he immediately clapped his hands and yelled, “Waiter! A menu, please!” Never mind that there were two plates of half-eaten Chop Suey on the table. A waiter brought a menu over, and Harvey buried his face in it.

So this is it. Dumped like a hot anvil in a lousy dime-store Chinatown slop house. Nice going, chump!

Harvey stirred the noodles around on his plate. He fought like hell to hold back, but a tear escaped his welled-up eye and ran slowly down his cheek, like a rivulet of rain through a sand dune.

Well, old pal, you haven’t amounted to much, have you? You weren’t much of a student. You weren’t much of a soldier. You aren’t much of a salesman. And now you’ve gone and spooked off your best gal. A fine job you’ve done! And look at you, sobbing in front of the world like a coward! No wonder you’re such a bum!”

Harvey made a mountain of Chop Suey with the fork in his right hand while he fingered the bead in his left hand.

He was an average student at best in high school, always shy and awkward, and he welcomed the chance to drop out. At 17, in May, 1943, Harvey lied about his age and enlisted. He was shipped off to boot camp, and soon found out that his new world wasn’t much better than his old world.

Harvey Navin was never going to be an All-American at anything. He played no sports in school, and he often struggled in boot camp, wilting under the barking commands of his drill sergeant. His fellow enlistees never let him forget it when his clumsiness cost them extra laps. Harvey was part of a battalion that helped capture the Reichstag, but that glory paled in comparison to all the death and dismemberment he had seen. He was never able to put the carnage of war behind him.

After he came home from the war, Harvey flopped around for a bit, finally landing a job as a salesman for an appliance company. But the war stayed with him, and he never really got his confidence back, not that he had any confidence anyway. Harvey tried to be positive in every meeting, but he often found himself distracted, suddenly remembering a past embarrassment: the time he mispronounced a word in class; the time he tripped on a log while running an obstacle course; the time he almost fell off the deck of his ship halfway across the Atlantic. Sometimes he remembered the war: the stench of death; the shrapnel-mangled bodies lying in the mud; the spray of blood as a battalion-mate’s head exploded from artillery fire right before his eyes.

Once the embarrassing memory came, Harvey felt all the eyes in the world pierce his broken soul and heard the snickers and titters all over again. Once the war memory came, he felt his heartbeat race and his breathing get heavy. Once the memory came, it was all over: Harvey started stammering and sweating, and his sales pitch fell apart. He felt the pressure and half expected every day at the office to be his last. His boss, Mr. Greenberg, gave as many chances as he could, but Harvey could feel his time running out.

Harvey was surprised to find that he was fingering the bead as he sat at the table, and even more surprised that it was out of its ampoule. The bead. That’s what his battalion called the cyanide pills given to German soldiers in case of capture and torture. One bite and it was all over. Himmler and Göring both went out on a one-course cyanide dinner, in fact. Harvey’s battalion killed several high-level German soldiers, all of whom had the pills on their person, and they all pocketed the beads. It was their little souvenir from the Fall of the Third Reich.

Harvey sat at the table, fingering the bead in his trembling left hand, thinking of all he had been through in his short life and thinking of the way Hilda had just destroyed him.

Gee-whiz, I was just trying to be sweet. Who knew she would get so sore like that? Boy, a fella gets a little nervous and says a few things not quite right and…

“Daddy, you MISSED it! She said she was FINISHED with this an’ told him not to call on her again! An’ then she WALKED OUT!”

The boy was pointing right at Harvey, and the father swatted his hand down. “Son, it’s not polite to point and say things like that” he said.

But it was too late. Once again, every damn eye in that stinking slop house was boring in on the broken soul of Harvey Navin. Once again, he heard all the snickers and titters. Once again he felt every embarrassment he ever felt in his whole goddamn short life, and once again he felt all the horrors of the war, fresh and vivid like a never-ending nightmare.

Jesus…JESUS! GodDAMNit all, you lousy BUM!

Harvey sat at the table, feeling the tears pour, feeling his heartbeat race, struggling to breathe. Trembling and sweating, he tried to take sip of ice water, but the water spilled all over his chin and shirtfront and lap.

GodDAMNit!

He scanned the restaurant and caught a woman look at him, then quickly turn away.

She thinks you’re a bum too!

He heard someone say, “gee, glad I’m not him.”

Yeah, and he thinks you’re a bum too!

The father of the boy who called him out quickly gathered his family and rushed them out.

And THEY all think you’re a bum! ALL OF THEM!!!

Harvey Navin sat alone at a corner table of a Chinatown slop house, crying, trembling uncontrollably, covered in ice water, broken. He thought of all he had been through in his short life: all the horror and death and humiliation; all the snickers and titters, like the soundtrack of his life; all the eyes of the world boring in on his broken soul. He saw it all play before his eyes, like a newsreel before the pictures.

And suddenly there was calm.

Suddenly Harvey felt calm and content. Suddenly a wave of tranquility washed over his soul and he went with it. For the first time in his whole goddamn short life Harvey felt confident. Finally happy. Just for a moment, but it was just enough. He managed to place the bead on his mountain of Chop Suey and took a bite, finally at peace now that the war was, at long last, over.

Like!
http://www.facebook.com/BrianWestbyeWrites

Follow!
@BrianWestbye

IMG

734706_561363710559604_1428936373_n

One thing about death: it really illuminates life.

Experiencing death far before its time really makes one realize how much life means – the life of the deceased, the impact they had, our lives and our place in it. The things that matter and the things that don’t. Death makes life completely relevant and meaningful, and all we can hope to do is heed the lessons and live our life like we mean it.

So, Tony and Rick Cimato. Tony and I were classmates from eight grade through high school. We were in band and jazz band together (see here and here for horror stories), and because my psychotic girlfriend-at-the-time dated him in fourth grade or something, she dumped me for Tony before dumping him for me. Rick was a few years behind.

Tony and I were friends, but not super close. Nothing personal at all; that’s just how it was. We hung out after school a few times, but we weren’t best friends for life. We graduated in 1991. I couldn’t get away from high school fast enough, so I settled into college and moved the hell on. Twenty years passed and I started reconsidering and reconnecting with old classmates on Facebook, including Tony.

As of 2011 at least, Tony was in the hospital with a degenerative neurological condition. I felt horrible about his situation, but it was great reconnecting with him over our virtual backyards, and I know that we both had some big laughs catching up and looking back.

I kind of remembered Rick, but I got to know him a bit better when he friended me a few months ago, and I was really happy to see that he had landed in a great place: tending bar in Manhattan, in a band that was getting some buzz, awesome looking girlfriend…Rick looked real happy, and that’s all you can hope for old friends.

On the Sunday before Christmas, Rick posted that he, his girlfriend Ashley and brother Nick were in Freeport sucking down oysters and bloodys and partaking in Christmas merriment. On the day after Christmas the news slowly spread like a horrible rumor over Facebook: in the early hours of that day, on the Wilbur Cross Parkway in Connecticut – a road I know very well from my own childhood – a 22-year-old driving north in the southbound lane hit Rick head-on. Rick Cimato, age 37, was killed, as was the other driver. Ashley and Nick survived with injuries.

Somewhere in the background, like another horrible rumor, it was learned that Tony was in ICU. But it didn’t really register: the horror, pain and disbelief that overcame our town – our community – at the news of Rick’s senseless death was all-prevalent and all-consuming.

Two days after the passing of Rick Cimato, on the morning of Friday the 28th, the news slowly spread like a horrible rumor over Facebook: Tony Cimato, age 38, succumbed after his long battle.

Two brothers dead in two days. Two friends. Too much to handle.

In the aftermath, memories of Tony and Rick came in great loving floods. Both brothers had Facebook Memorial Pages set up (Tony and Rick), and our community came together to laugh, love and heal together. I was able to relive Tony’s Madonna obsession, his killer dance in the 1990 Spring Fling Talent Show and his infectious laugh and spirit. I got to see what a huge heart Rick had, how far he had come (his band, Thinning the Heard, had an album produced by Steve Albini! The same guy who produced The Pixies, The Breeders and Nirvana, fachrissakes!) and how far he had left to go. I went to the memorial service last Wednesday, and although it was brutally hard emotionally, it was also incredibly comforting and healing to see so many people and such an outpouring of love. Death illuminates life, and the lives of Tony and Rick Cimato left an incredible impression.

I never visited Tony: not because I was unwilling, but just because that’s how it ended up. Day job, commute, domestic maintenance, trying to find time to write…the vicissitudes of life and all. Still, they were both my friends, and their losses have shocked me to the core.

This isn’t supposed to happen.

Classmates – kids my age – aren’t supposed to die. Twenty years passed before I had any contact with anyone I went to high school with. All my old classmates are supposed to exist in a vacuum. We’re all supposed to have full 80s hair, bad acne, no kids or careers, and we’re all supposed to be interested in little beyond finding someone to buy a couple of 40s for us so we can head to the gravel pit. We’re not supposed to have bad backs, male-pattern baldness, kids in high school and positions of importance in the school administration.

And we’re NOT supposed to die in car accidents or have ultimately fatal neurological conditions.

I am well-versed in horribly premature death (as we’ve seen here and here). I understand the grieving and healing process all too well. But it’s entirely different when there is a quarter-century of collective history involved.

In the picture above of the 1989/1990 Lisbon ME High School Jazz Band, alto-sax player Tony Cimato, drummer Tarsha Ramich and myself are, for whatever reason, holding a rock in our mulletastic rocker glory. Seemed like a good idea at the time, I guess. Earlier this year, I got the word that Tarsha had passed away in Florida. I grieved and grappled with the same issues – we weren’t close and had only recently reconnected on Facebook as well, but I still mourned and grieved. Now Tony is gone, and I am the last one holding the rock.

I’m not quite channeling Val Kilmer’s Jim Morrison and mumbling to myself how these things always come in threes. But I am more than a bit freaked out and much more aware of the fragility of life.

I ache for the Cimato family. I ache for life, and two lives ended far too early. And all I can do is carry on and live my life like I mean it. Because it’s all I have.

Like!
http://www.facebook.com/BrianWestbyeWrites

Follow!
@BrianWestbye

Fifteen years ago today…

brian westbye


Image Source: PTLDME

The Ice Storm.

String those three words together around anybody who lived through it and watch the cringes and shudders. It was catastrophic, deadly, destruction on a scale previously unimaginable. It came on suddenly on a balmy day in January 1998, and it threw our world into primitive chaos for weeks afterwards. You had to live through it to believe it.

I was in Boston, trying to get home to Maine for a few days. January 5th was warm, with a light rain. There were rumblings that it would get colder, especially up north, and ice might be a factor. Little did we know.

I talked to my dad before getting on the bus, and he suggested I get to Portland, get a room and he would pick me up when he could: things were getting bad up north as the temperature started to drop. The entire…

View original post 491 more words