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Hancock
Image Source: Secret Boston

I have spent countless hours during lunch and after work in Copley Square, around the corner from the blast sight, malingering on the steps of the Boston Public Library with my journal and smoke perpetually in hand.

I have walked past – and across – the Finish Line of the Boston Marathon on Boylston St. more times than I remember, heart racing with excitement and pride.

I have whiled away many afternoons at the old Samuel Adams Brewpub (oh, don’t go looking for it: it’s not there anymore) in the lobby of the Lenox Hotel, at the finish line, being twenty four and wondering how I would ever earn a living or find a girl.

I have lingered at my bench in the Square, facing the new and old John Hancock towers and H.H. Richardson’s magnificent Trinity Church. This has always been my spot to find tranquility and center myself against the pain in my head.

I have sat at my desk on the 56th floor of the new Hancock Tower during the summer of 1999, when I was working a shitty go-nowhere data entry job, scanning the sweep of Beacon Hill, the dome of the State House – the gold of which was inlayed by Paul Revere himself – and the Harbor, soaking in the history and dreaming of making my own Boston history.

Several nights after the World changed forever for the first time, we walked seven miles from my apartment in Somerville to Copley Square, where we sat by the fountain in front of the church, lit candles and reflected on national tragedy. And we came together as Bostonians, as Americans, and grieved and healed.

Boston made me. Copley Square formed and informed me. My streets, Boylston and Dartmouth, were so tragically scarred forever today.

But there will be healing and rebirth. Boston is great at that.

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marla-hooch-e1310409663610
Image Source: Bite

Carrying on a relationship with somebody you have no business being in a relationship with takes some doing, especially when your “better half” lives two states away. It’s an exercise in low self-esteem, lack of communication skills, apathy, frustration and stupidity. Masochism at its finest. Fortunately, I had practice.

Autumn 1997: I was twenty five and working the graveyard in Maine, having crawled back to my parents briefly, having run out of work and money in Boston. The first time I saw “Carla”, on my first night on the job, I immediately thought of Ernie Capadino (Jon Lovitz) describing second baseman Marla Hooch (Megan Cavanaugh) in A League of Their Own: “You know General Omar Bradley? Well, there’s too strong a resemblance!” At the end of that first shift I discovered, much to my horror that I was making out with Carla/Marla in her car. Once committed, we were now stuck. For the next year and eight months.

Twenty months was also the amount of time I spent with The Psychotic Ex. As I said, I had practice. I didn’t have a girlfriend in high school until my senior year. “Anne” arrived fresh from the Midwest in September, and we got on at first. Then she dumped me for a classmate. Then we got back together. Then she dumped me for aNOTHer classmate. Then finally, over Christmas break, we got together for “real.” She was a total nutter, and I should have pressed charges many times over. Her greatest hits included: breaking into my house and stealing my guitar for ransom, stabbing me in the forearm with a steak knife and multiple instances of almost driving off the road in a “suicide” attempt with me in the car, to say nothing of the daily garden variety emotional blackmail, threats and invitations to join her and her other boyfriend(s) for bowling and pizza. BUT, I didn’t want to hurt her, so I took it. And took it. Until I couldn’t anymore.

At twenty five I found myself straddling an interesting line between extreme lack of self-esteem (hi, Anne!) and extreme self-importance: the kind of polar opposites that only serve to reinforce each other. I inhaled college radio during my high school days in the ‘80s. WRBC Bates and WBOR Bowdoin were lifelines, and I fell in love with indie bands such as The Ramones, Hüsker Dü, Agent Orange, The Smithereens, The Feelies and The Pixies. In college, my love of Beat poets Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsburg grew, and I discovered Robert Creeley and the brilliant authors Hubert Selby Jr. and Charles Bukowski. Selby’s short-stories resonated, and I could relate to Buke’s drunken madman bum protagonist Henry Chinaski. And nobody else knew of any of my bands and books. At twenty five I figured nobody would want to go out with me, but if anyone ever did, I’d take them to school.

I knew things were doomed with Carla when I saw the Spice Girls poster in her bedroom.

The Spice Girls, fachrissakes?!? I held my tongue at this mainstream outrage, but it was unsettling. Little did I know that this would be the first glimpse of the incompatibility iceberg right ahead. Speaking of which, the next summer we saw Titanic together. She LOVED it, and with that I knew definitively that we had no business being together and that eventually – a year later, as it turns out – I would have to move on.

It wasn’t all bad. I returned to Boston in February 1998, and with that Carla came down usually every other weekend. We took long walks all over town, ate and drank and hung out with my roommates. We both knew that we were completely incompatible, but neither of us knew how to pull the trigger and admit it. So we continued on as…friends with occasional benefits? A couple by default? Other? Something like that.

I never took any steps to find something else, despite the distance. But we both felt the distance. By the summer of 1999, Carla admitted she was feeling a bit restless, and that she sometimes felt bisexual urges.

JACKPOT!!!

My self-importance kicked into high gear, and I channeled George Costanza of Seinfeld fame. “Wow, babe,” I said over the phone in my most benevolent encouraging voice. “Maybe that’s something you should look into. I mean, I wouldn’t want to hold you back from being you.” Nope. No, I wouldn’t. We had a trip planned: I was FINALLY going to Cooperstown, NY, and the Baseball Hall of Fame. A trip I had been waiting for my entire life. We talked about the trip and her nascent curiosity and hung up, and for the first time in a loooong time I went to bed optimistic.

The morning of the trip finally arrived, and Carla took Trailways down to Boston. I could tell right away that something was off. She was even more distant than usual, and more emotional. We had a few stress factors that morning. Typical stuff for irresponsible mid 20-somethings: my paycheck was delayed, leaving us short of funds, and there was an issue picking up our rental car. Eventually it all became too much, and the truth came out: Carla started crying like mad and confessed that she couldn’t decide between me, her girlfriend or her other boyfriend.

WOW! What a trifecta! I was GIDDY inside!

We sat under a tree by, I think, the old Bread & Circus store on Westland Ave, and hugged and talked. And we agreed to give it a rest so she could figure things out. I assured Carla I wasn’t mad at her, and I understood and didn’t want to get in the way. (True enough) And she got back on Trailways to Portland.

I picked up a 12-Pack of Samuel Adams and headed back to my apartment to mourn the loss of a trip to Cooperstown and to celebrate the easiest, most gutless breakup of my life and the beginning of the next chapter.

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Congress
Image Source: Maine Street Photography

She passes by every morning, dragging my heart with her. Always between 8:15 and 8:17, always crossing Congress a block down so that she disappears until she gets to my corner. And when she crosses I always move to the front window so I can see her disappear down the block. Always…always.

Shadows fall and she passes in and out of the sun. In and out, like the 90 seconds she’s in my life every morning, before she’s gone again. I’m the shadow above her, always watching and hoping, maybe this will be the day she looks up and notices and gives me the courage to come down and introduce myself. Maybe today. Maybe…

I want to sleep with her every night for the rest of my life, but I can’t stand the thought of saying hello. Maybe today she’ll look up and give me the courage. Maybe today…maybe…

But she won’t and I won’t.

Unless today is the day that I do. Unless…maybe…

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Layers
Image Source: The Edmontonian

I love winter, and I embrace it. I can’t afford to go skiing anymore, but even so I love all the outdoor fun that comes from a good, deep blanket of New England snow and sharp cold: tobogganing, ice fishing, pond hockey, you name it. As a Maine man, I also love the romance of winter and the pride of merely surviving day-to-day in extreme conditions.

From November on, I love the absence of light. The sun leaves the sky by 4:00 PM and to me there is nothing cozier than returning home and settling into the night immediately. The back roads are covered in a fog of wood smoke, the most intoxicating smell in the world. These are the days of stews and pies and baked bean suppers, and finding comfort wherever we can. When the snow flies, we Mainers fly into action, and shoveling and plowing snow and sawing and stacking wood become activities ingrained into motor memory. It takes a special character to survive and thrive in a Maine winter, and we pride ourselves on having this fortitude of spirit and intestine.

One of the most critical aspects of surviving a Maine winter is dressing for the occasion, and that means layering. From November through April, my standard wardrobe is t-shirt and a sweater, or t-shirt and a flannel, and often I go t-shirt, long-sleeve Henley and flannel. And frequently I throw on a pair of Long Johns for extra warmth below the equator.

Layering is a time-honored Maine winter tradition. Ironically, I learned the lesson in Florida on a day of national tragedy.

January 28, 1986: I was in seventh grade at Hendricks Methodist in Jacksonville. I was not Methodist, nor anything else: my family went to church as often as we flew first class, which is to say never. I had run into some major bullying issues in public school during my first three years in Jax (as we saw in the five-part series that started here), so my parents thought private school might be a good fit. Good idea, not so great results. But I digress.

Eight days earlier, my science class, led by Ms. Harm, had taken a field trip to Kennedy Space Center in anticipation of the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger and the First Teacher in Space, New Hampshire’s own Christa McAuliffe. It was a brilliant, chilly day, and I had Led Zeppelin IV for my Walkman. We devoured all the exhibits and went crazy in the gift shop, and as we were herded back to the bus, there it was. The great ship was on the giant transport tractor, making the slow journey to the launch pad. Challenger and her booster rockets practically glowed against the brown/orange of the fuel tank. It was a magnificent site, and we all felt a sense of pride in the upcoming mission.

Eight days later, as the Challenger launched on her doomed flight, one of my “chums” spilled a full carton of chocolate milk all over my lap. The humiliation of my entire table laughing at me as my crotch and legs were doused was bad enough, but there was also a practical problem: my jeans were soaked and it was literally freezing out. What the hell was I going to do to stay warm?

I must have thought of my days tobogganing at the farm and my trusty Long Johns, because I went to my locker, grabbed my gym sweats and put them on, then pulled my jeans back on. I reeked like stale chocolate milk and humiliation. But I was warm.

The layout of Hendricks was definitely unconventional. There were rows of classroom buildings, almost like cabanas or military barracks, with outdoor paths in between wending through palm trees and evergreens with Spanish moss. I remember sitting in Ms. Harm’s science class, warm with my sweats on under my jeans, when she said, “The Challenger has exploded, and there were no survivors.” My class gasped and cried, and we all went outside. And 160 miles to the south, we saw the smoke in the sky: the Y-shaped cloud of death with the huge ball of fire in the middle where the shuttle blew up and the rockets separated. I stood there in the cold, stinking like sour chocolate milk, but layered in warmth, gazing at the smoke in the sky and realizing that the world had just changed inalterably forever.

Later at home I watched President Reagan’s “Touch the Face of God” speech in a fresh pair of pants. I remember the sky outside the Oval Office and how much it reminded me of winter sunsets in Maine (as we’ve seen here, this was a common occurrence for me back then). In spite of the horrors of the day, I remember dreaming of being back at the farm, back home in Maine. I dreamed of those 4:00 PM sunsets and cozy early evenings and wood smoke and sitting by the wood stove, safe and warm, and playing in the snow in the glorious winter cold.

And I remember thinking that when we moved back home, whenever that was, I would spend the rest of my winters layered and happy.

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The Awakening (Part I)
Image Source: JoseMa Orsini

Dawn broke gently, casting charcoal blocks of light against the ink-black ceiling and walls. It was early May, the world in half-bloom, the semester nearly over. An overcast Sunday morning, with spits of rain and fog and birds and lilacs in the air. A beautiful morning to be alive.

Tom Moody lay in bed watching the gray light creep further and further into the room. He had been awake for hours, replaying a night that seemed to start an eternity ago and inhaling the pillow next to him to try to hold on to Corey.

Tom thought of the Galaxy Effect and the time when he coined the phrase. He and his brother Rick, five and eight respectively, awoke at 4:45 AM one Labor Day weekend morning for a flight back home from their grandparent’s and summer vacation. Rick said in the driveway, “Look, there’s Venus!” And Tom thought of that moment at 8:00 PM, 2,000 miles later, and he couldn’t possibly fathom that it had happened on the same day. It seemed like a galaxy ago. Thus, the Galaxy Effect, and he was feeling it thinking of the mere hours it had been since Corey was in this same bed with him.

As he lay in bed in the advancing dawn, Tom thought of Saturday night and how Corey’s boyfriend, his best friend Hank, had been short with her, and how he had left the club early after threatening to smack her one. He thought of Corey at the bar, alone and vulnerable, and how crazy he had been for her for so long. And he thought of how he had found enough of a pair to tell her, and how she had reciprocated in kind and how they had ended up at his off-campus apartment.

He thought of their time together, mutual lust overflowing in…not reckless, but contained…abandon, both of them knowing that this was just an interlude: a break in routine…and that all was fleeting but perfect.

He thought of Corey lying next to him, recovering, radio playing low, and her retreat back to Hank. He thought of her final kiss: firm, on closed lips, a definitive “if I weren’t with this guy, then…” statement.

He thought of her closing the bedroom door and slinking out of his off-campus apartment, back to her man, while he lay there sleepless and restless, the night and the past barreling through his mind like a film montage.

He thought of the gray blocks of light on the ceiling. The Gray Hour. Gray in the middle of everything. Black and White, Night and Day, Good and Evil. A world with a best friend and his girlfriend, and a world of recrimination and acrimony after the truth inevitably comes out.

But right now was the gray middle. The past was the night, and the inevitable future was the morning yet to come. Tom Moody laid back in bed, inhaling the pillow next to him like it was the night before and relishing a moment of consummation that he had been craving for years. The radio played low, and it all became the soundtrack to a magical evening in a spring of rebirth.

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Michigan Ave
Image Source: Old Chicago

Jes US, I’m gonna be stuck in this shit all NIGHT! Ace Bennett pounded the steering wheel in frustration and junk-sickness as traffic slowed to nothing and Michigan Ave turned into a parking lot. He was supposed to meet Gumbo’s runner Two-Bit at the corner of Division and Milwaukee to pick up the goods. But right now it looked like he wasn’t going anywhere soon.

God DAMNit! It goddamn figures! It was a blistering hot Chicago night, with storm clouds threatening to blow in off the lake. Ace had all the windows rolled down, and a thick fog of heat and humidity, exhaust fumes and static electricity settled into the car like a sopping blanket. Those storms were coming soon, and they would be fierce. He lit a Merit and turned on the radio, which was tuned to WGN 720. Paul Harvey, blathering on with the Rest of the Story.

Something felt off about this entire trip. Sometimes there is an intangible feeling of something being wrong, a vague feeling that the cosmos aren’t quite aligned and bad things will result. Ace had had this feeling before, and it always meant something unpleasant, like the sudden death of a relative or friend. And here it was again.

Two-Bit had a reputation around Division and Milwaukee as a tough enforcer with a hair-trigger temper. He did the grunt work for Gumbo: shaking down Loop bankers who were behind on the vig, breaking up the local tavern if the owner didn’t agree to pay protection, that kind of thing. Two-Bit’s boss Gumbo was known as The King of Division Street, and nothing moved in or out of Cabrini-Green, the most notorious housing project in Chicago, without his say-so. Drugs, guns, sex…Gumbo owned it all. And Ace had just ripped him off.

Or so they said. After the last time Ace bought, Two-Bit tracked him down and said that he was ten bucks short on the deal. Ace didn’t think that was the case: why would he short-change a crazy street hood like Two-Bit? Besides, Two-Bit counted out the money rather quickly, and he didn’t say anything at the time. But knowing Two-Bit’s reputation, and having bought from him a few times, and having seen Gumbo himself once, he didn’t feel like making a federal case over ten bucks. Ace agreed to bring the missing ten-spot to the buy today. No big deal.

The sky overhead grew black with the coming storm and the tops of the Wrigley Building, Marina City and the Tribune Tower took on a silver glow as the light faded and the lightning picked up. Ace felt crazy paranoid, partly because he was coming down and partly because of the situation. He thought he saw Two-Bit at a phone booth way further up Michigan Ave, but it could have been anybody. He thought he saw Gumbo himself in a coffee shop on the Near North side of the river, but why would Gumbo be this far off his turf? Ace worked like crazy to bring back rational thought to his addled brain. He lit another Merit, rolled up the windows against the first drips of rain and turned up the radio. Paul Harvey gave way to highlights of the Cubs win over Philly that afternoon at Wrigley, with Jack Brickhouse’s call from WGN-TV.

Strike from Hooton, and the inning is over!…Whew, boy!…A drive by Bill Madlock!…What a catch by Rick Monday!…Hey-hey!

The first deafening clap of thunder hit.

“Hell of a game today, my man!”

Ace let out a yelp as he saw Gumbo sitting in the passenger seat. He felt something cold and hard under his right ear and realized it was a pistol held by Two-Bit in the back seat.

The rain pelted the roof of the car like thousands of marbles thrown full-blast on a concrete floor. The storm was almost directly overhead: less than a second between blinding bolts of lightning and the deafening claps of thunder.

Ace breathed deep through the greatest terror he had ever known. “H..hu..hi, guys” he said. “Fancy m-meeting you here.”

Gumbo did not look amused.

“My man Two-Bit say you rip him off,” he said. “That true?”

“N-n-no, Gumbo, I wouldn’t do t-th-thaa…”

“White boy lyin’, boss!” Two-Bit said, shoving the barrel harder against Ace’s ear.

“I sw—swe-swear, I didn’t mean to,” Ace said. “Swear! H-h-here, take all m-my money, here’s my wallet.”

Gumbo grabbed his wallet and shoved it in his pocket. Thunder cracked as the deluge continued and time slowed to an agonizing eternity.

“You didn’t mean to?” Gumbo said. “The fuck you mean you didn’t mean to? Two-Bit say you rip him off, you rip the man off! Don’t make a shit bit of diff’rence you didn’t mean to.”

Ace shook his head and started crying, the tears shimmering as the lightning flashed in the cloudburst. “I s-swe-swear, I wouldn’t. It was a mistake…”

“Ain’t no mistake, white motherfucker!” Two-Bit said. His rage was a palpable entity, like a bull waiting for the gate to open to start bucking.

“I s-s-SWEAR TO GOD!”

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” Gumbo said, shaking his head sadly. “Sheeeeiiiiitttttt, now look what we have here. Fine, high class honky like yo’self reduced to this? Yo life ain’t nothin’ but Cubs games, spendin’ Daddy’s money at the mall an’ swimmin’ in all that fine Oak Park pussy, an’ you gotta come into the big city an’ rip off my poor oppressed man Two-Bit here? You ain’t got enough in life, you gotta take a hard-workin’ Neeegro like Two-Bit for ten motherfuckin’ dollar? That what you think of us?”

“G-gu-gumbo, I SWEAR I wouldn’t have…”

“Man, you jus’ ain’ got no respect, do you, white boy?” Two-Bit grabbed Ace around the neck and shoved the barrel in even harder against Ace’s ear. “Ought to show you a thing or two ‘bout what it mean when you mean to do something.”

“That it?” Gumbo said. “We need to teach you a thing or two about respect, white boy? We need to teach you what it mean when you mean to do something?”

Ace, paralyzed by fear, just shook his head sideways. Gumbo looked back at Two-Bit.

“Only way he learn, boss.” Two-Bit said.

Gumbo nodded. “Do it.”

Ace let out a blood-curdling scream as Two-Bit aimed the .44 at his lower body. As the last intense clap of thunder rolled, Two-Bit pulled off two shots. Ace slumped forward against the steering wheel as Gumbo and Two-Bit got out of the car, while the rain slacked off, and the deal was over.

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40 Healthy Married for Ten Years Homeowner for Eight Years Same Job for Nine Years Same Department for Ten Years Blessed with My Family and Friends Fortunate Clinically Depressed ADD OCD Social Anxiety Meds Struggles Overcomes Confused Lost Alone Not Alone Father of Two Cats Lover of Life Traveler Student of the Arts Big Heart Good Intentions Heart on Sleeve Foot in Mouth Ruminates Spirals Recovers Rational Objective Creative Writer Musician Passionate Afraid Worrier Optimist Big Lug Goof Cares Wants to Help Wants to Save the World Reader Dreamer Schemer Baseball Vinyl Black French Roast Urban Urbane Deep Shallow Trying Like Hell Hardcore Me   Like! http://www.facebook.com/BrianWestbyeWrites Follow! @BrianWestbye