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Image Source: Michelle F. on Foursquare

I have a foot in sand at the edge of the water. I feel the suck as the wave laps and pulls back out to the deep. The sand is wet but firm, cool after the sun has started its descent. Green lights slowly flicker on the distant pier, and the sound of gulls and breakers is all-encompassing and all-compelling. The day-job is non-existent and my blood pressure is flatline.

My wife and I share the sunset (from the wrong coast, of course) and the knowledge of years and experience. We are on Crescent Beach in St. Augustine, just south of my formative years in Jacksonville, on our ninth anniversary getaway trip. We have a 7:30 reservation for a Spanish/Cuban bacchanal at the Columbia Restaurant in St. Augustine, but right now we’re lingering, taking in the moment, hoping to throw this unforgettable moment to the sand and hold it in place forever.

We were wed in Seattle, where my wife is from, on June 21, 2003, and returned to our Maine home after a one-night honeymoon at Mount Rainier (where we spent the night in separate twin beds). On our first anniversary we happened to be visiting a friend in Brooklyn, and we spent the day at Coney Island and then bar-hopping across the East Village and Brooklyn. Precedent set, we decided to be Somewhere Else for every anniversary. This plan has brought us to coastal Maine, Montreal, Washington D.C., San Diego and back to New York. And now, back to Florida.

The above scene is how I envision our ninth anniversary unfolding as I write this on the Sunday before. It’s a moment that we’ll remember forever for us. And it’s also a triumph for me as I continue the re-write of my life. Eight years removed from the sands of Brooklyn, I am now toe-deep in the sands of my past, reclaiming the trauma of my pre-teen years and reclaiming this patch of earth for us.

However today unfolds, I am eternally fortunate to be spending it with my soul-partner and best friend. Happy ninth, love. The best is yet to come.

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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: Lisa M. Robinson

I came here often after I kilt her. Maybe I was hopin’ the snow would purify my mind, or cleanse the blood. I don’t know that it did, but it sure was a pretty place to sit ’n think.

I don’t know why she done it to me. I always treated her decent, gave her money ’n took care of everything. An’ she done gone steppin’ out on me. Sure, maybe I deserved it, always drankin’ and steppin’ out myself. But I never laid a hand on her or nothin’. Besides, a woman is suppose’ to stand by her man, right?

This is a hard land, with hard people. Nothin’ but snow and nothin’ for miles around. Barren lands and barren minds. Takes a certain kind to be able to stand up to it. And maybe she want that kind.
But settin’ here, lookin’ at all that snow, it sure makes a man think. Ain’t nothin’ but pure, unbroken white. Undisturbed, like a man should be. One set of tracks in that snow, and the whole landscape is out of balance. Kind of like our relationship. She brought that other set of footprints in, and everything done went haywire.

Sure, I shouldn’t’a done it. But a man don’t like havin’ his balance thrown off.

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Image Source: Ramonesworld

It feels like a math equation where one of the figures is off somewhere. I run the numbers in my head, and it doesn’t add up. Does not compute. Joey Ramone has been dead for eleven years? Impossible!

Singer Joey Ramone, real name Jeff Hyman, died of lymphoma eleven years ago on Sunday. Bassist Dee Dee Ramone (Doug Colvin) OD’d in 2002 and guitarist Johnnny Ramone (John Cummings) died of prostate cancer in 2004. 75% of one of the most influential bands in my life and lifetime is deceased. Not possible, not for a band that was such a life force for so many outsiders such as myself. Does. Not. Compute.

Memory lies, but mine tells me that I first saw The Ramones play “Rock & Roll High School” on Sha Na Na in 1978, when I was five or six. I have seen film of this show since, so I know it’s plausible. I definitely remember knowing that they played “Blitzkrieg Bop” on the National Lampoon’s Vacation soundtrack. And by the early to mid ‘80s I was obsessed, soaking up whatever I could about this band of punk rock Beatles from Forest Hills, Queens.

I was first attracted to the look. Four mean-looking New Yorkers, all named Ramone (even though they weren’t related and actually hated each other’s guts), with Joey’s Anglo-Queens bleat in the middle. This wasn’t Glen Campbell or David Cassidy! The Ramones weren’t nice. They weren’t clean and polished and safe for mama. They were rebellious antimatter, and I was immediately hooked.

Next I started laughing. Hysterically. The lyrics! Sure, at eight or nine I couldn’t quite grasp a line like “now I guess I’ll have to tell ‘em, that I got no cerebellum.” But I sure as hell got “Beat on the brat with a base – ball bat,” and the image of Joey – 6’ 6” and maybe 120 lbs, most of that hair and rose colored granny glasses – beating the crap out of a crying kid with a Louisville Slugger appealed to my nascent sense of gallows humor. Later on I could plug my own life into song titles like “Outsider,” “I Wanna Be Well” and, of course, “I Wanna Be Sedated.”

But really, it’s the music. Raw, fast, aggressive punk, yes, but few bands wore their influences so obviously on their collective sleeves. Take a listen to “I Remember You” and tell me that it couldn’t have been The Who or Herman’s Hermits. “Oh Oh, I Love Her So” is straight-up Jan and Dean/Beach Boys homage, as is “Rockaway Beach.” And was there ever a greater lyrical ode to teenage puppy love than “I met her at the Burger King, we fell in love by the soda machine?” Swoon.

The Ramones were there for me during my pre-teen years. They were there all through high school. They were there all through my college years. They were one of the great constants my life has ever known, even though the quality of their records was maddeningly inconsistent. And a little piece of me still expects a new album and tour every two years.

I don’t normally get all meepy choked up over celebrity death. Not that I don’t care, but in most cases the celeb in question is just too remote from my own world. Too foreign for me to connect with. The Ramones were different. They weren’t beautiful, they were fucked up! They were a bunch of glue-sniffing, mentally shaky outcasts, and they taught me that it was okay to be a less-than-beautiful, fucked up outcast myself, and to write about it.

The Ramones were ME. How can the figurehead of that life force be dead? For eleven years now? Does not compute.

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En Route by Westbye
En Route, a photo by Westbye on Flickr.

We always flew Delta when I was a kid. The Old Man was a travel agent, and we made the pilgrimage to Disney at least once a year. These trips were the start of a life-long love of travel, adventure, going someplace else and coming home, and this romance is for keeps.

Our trips began at PWM; Portland International Jetport. “International Jetport” conjures up images of Jetsons-esque space flight (or at least early ‘60s post-modern optimism) around the world, like the swoops of latitude on the old Pan Am logo. In fact, “international” means maybe one flight per day to Montreal, and the airjetport was, until very recently, an extremely small, extremely dated relic. Sit in the Staples parking lot next door for five minutes and you may see take-offs from JetBlue, DSL and a Cessna taking a father-and-son hobbyist team to the north Maine woods for a camping trip. Still, it was and is my home point of departure, and I’d umpteen million times rather be at PWM than Hopkins in Cleveland.

The ticket counters were always a haze of impending adventure and cigarette smoke. I’d hand over my bag to a sky cap in a blazing red blazer, and we’d hit the escalator. There was a restaurant at the top level called Jonah’s Place, and the J was a fish hook. Clever. On the other side was a news stand, and then the terminal, with endless rows of vinyl seats embroidered with the Delta logo. We were on our way.

It was mostly 727s back then. I liked the planes with the symmetrical Delta logo on the tail-fin, the navy and red widget forming a perfect triangle like on the front of the plane and all signage. But I really liked the ones with the more angular widget, with the bottom apex of the blue about ¾ of the way over to the right side of the fin. This logo was much sleeker, and suggested that our plane may get us there much faster.

Regardless of logo angle or plane speed, the cabin décor was seemingly always 1970s gold. The seats were a gold and red, a scheme I would imagine Marco Polo would have approved. I always got a Coke, a set of pilots wings and a pencil, and I could amuse myself for hours reading the safety placards and the vomit bag.

We almost always had a layover at Hartsfield in Atlanta, and in addition to all the wares featuring the logo of the Atlanta Braves and this new-fangled (Ted) Turner Broadcasting System, there was a guy in the terminal selling a Styrofoam plane called the Super Looper. He would throw the plane while giving a spiel like Vince from ShamWow, and the plane would do a loop and return to him. It was equal parts boomerang, model plane and infomercial, and it was magic.

Eventually we would get to Disney, and those trips were always great. But I remember getting there as much as I do being there. I was fortunate to have these trips during my formative years, when life-long loves and habits and associations are made. An airport means the beginning of an adventure. A plane means escape. A logo means a brand you trust, in spite of drastic changes to the company and the industry. (There were no frequent flyer miles then, but I now have maybe enough to get from PWM to LaGuardia.) I’ll never have a free lunch and peanuts on a plane again, but Delta still means flying to Disney and getting free pilots wings and going to that magical, mystical somewhere else.

And I still look for the Super Looper Guy every time I’m changing planes at Hartsfield…


Image Source: Library of Congress

“So they call this all Back of the Yards neighborhood now. Know what they called it when I was your age? Union Stockyard, was called. Where we sittin’ right now, would have been ankle deep in hog blood or suddenly caught between two locomotive cars!”

Joe Lutkowski and his grandson-to-be Rich Goldman were sitting on Joe’s porch drinking Old Style and thumbing through photo albums. Except for a few Sox games, Rich had never been to the South Side, and Joe didn’t get out too far too often lately. But the two families had spent a wonderful day together gallivanting around Chicago and getting to know each other. It was a beautiful night and the Goldman’s had gathered at the Lutkowski’s for cake and ice cream. Rich flipped to a picture of train tracks and industrial buildings.

“Tell me about this one,” Rich said.

“Ah!” Joe said. “This is where I worked! Was brakeman for Chicago & North Western Railroad. Lined switches and made sure signals worked. Twenty years, worked at 40th Street yards, until they shut whole thing down in early 70s. Trains I worked on carried pigs away from slaughterhouses. Was stink like you wouldn’t believe!”

“I can’t imagine!” Rich said. “So this entire neighborhood was train tracks and slaughterhouses?”

“Ja, was all train yard and stock yard,” Joe said. “Hog butcher of world, Chicago was! Hard to imagine now, but was all different. You know Millennium Park downtown?”

“Yeah, with the Frank Gehry bandstand and the Cloud Gate statue!” Rich said.

“Ja,” Joe said. “Was Illinois Central tracks for years, then nothing. Abandoned tracks. Big change all over Chicago!”

“I barely remember the tracks being there,” Rich said. “I can’t picture trains actually going back and forth through the park!”

“Was different time!” Joe said. “I don’t mean bad now, but was different.”

“Hi, grandpa!” Joe’s granddaughter Casey came out on the porch and gave him a big kiss. “Have you scared my man away yet?”

“We get along just fine, ha?!” Joe said, holding up his beer for a clink with Rich’s. “Am showing Chicago I knew when I was young. Is boring story from crazy old man, ja?!”

“I’m loving it,” Rich said, holding up his beer for a clink with Joe’s. “Tell me more…”

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Image Source: Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao

It was a dime a dream and a dozen to be had on those young nights, when we didn’t have anything to worry about and holding hands on the coaster was enough for the rest of our lives. Stifling F Train to Stillwell Ave and to Surf Ave and magical salt-breeze relief, and days that would stretch out with no end, until the night came and the lights danced and hearts soared.

Riding the wheel, Cyclone spins, scalding sand of the boardwalk too much to take. We shared ice cream cones and Cokes and hot dogs and laughs and dime store dreams, and the day and the city and the beach and the world was ours.

At the top of the tracks we gasped, the Verrazano and the Manhattan towers close enough to grab and keep and the force of gravity about to take away our breath. Back on solid ground we hugged for stability and for love, the kind that only the young can know.

We dipped our toes in the protean sea, crystalline blue far ashore, churning green at our feet, and dove in, and hosed off and sweat suntan lotion. We rolled in the sand and nuzzled and whispered vows of love and meant them and the next day and the next year and the next decade didn’t exist.

We had everything and gave away nothing. We were young and in love at the seashore.

It was all we knew and all we needed and all I want…


Image Source: Meredith Kleiber

I’m doing okay, you know? I ain’t no millionaire, but I’m working steady, staying out of trouble. I can take care of my daughter, at least, and that’s everything to me.

It’s not a job where you want to look down, that’s for sure! I’m not too scared, but I don’t spend too much time sightseeing, either. Some of the rookies, it really gets to them their first few times up. But you get used to it.

And it’s really interesting. Working this high up, you get to see all the big-wigs at work, ya know? Some of them, they got offices like you wouldn’t believe. All gold and crazy paintings and signed baseballs and jerseys and everything. I can’t imagine working in an office like that!

I see lots of people playing computer games and stuff at work. And once I saw a guy and his secretary…well, let’s just say they were really enjoying their lunch.

I like my office, though. It’s a little cooler on the hot days this high up, and I get a little spray from the water blowing in the breeze. Sucks when you get a breeze full of soapy water, but it’s still better than being cooped inside an office.

I’m not much for bragging, but since you asked, I’m pulling in around $100 a day, depending on the building. That’s middle of the road pay. I’d like to stay on ‘till I can pull in around $250 a day, just so I can put a little more aside for my daughter. I only get to see her every other weekend, but she’s why I’m up here, you know?

When I first started out, I used to use a bosun’s chair, but I gave it up. Those things are scary! It’s like riding a swing set 400 feet up! I like being on the scaffolding crew. We all go up together, get on together, lower ourselves together. And it’s a lot more secure. You gotta watch out for soapy spots, but I’ll take that over the feeling of swinging by myself that high up.

So like I said, I’m definitely not going to be retiring anytime soon. But I’m doing okay. Covering my rent, taking care of my baby, got a little left over to grab a few rounds after work…it’s not bad. I’m definitely in the 99%. But I’m doing okay.


Image Source: Justinsomnia

“This is the strangest week of the year,” Hannah said.

Mick sat down next to her with another round of tea. They were in their apartment on Capitol Hill in Seattle, transfixed by the white and gold glow of a fake tree and recovering from a post-Christmas teriyaki orgy. An iTunes mix of Christmas music from Glen Miller, Benny Goodman, Ella, Frank and Bing played and all was right with the world.

“What do you mean?” Mick said, leaning into her shoulder.

“I mean, it’s just….weird!” Hannah said. “Christmas was yesterday! It’s over! But we still have all the decorations up, and the tree, and we’re still listening to Christmas songs and watching Christmas movies and everything. Doesn’t it feel kind of…I don’t know, sort of wrong, somehow?”

Mick stared at the tree. “Yeah, right?” he said. “It is kind of strange. Not bad, but strange. Maybe a little…anticlimactic?”

Hannah thought about Mick’s choice of phrase, and gave him a gentle sock on the arm. “Yes! That’s it! I mean, there’s nothing left! No more Christmas! But it’s still perfect to have the tree up and watch Rankin Bass Christmas movies and all. For another week, and then it’s totally all over.”

“And there really isn’t any corollary throughout the rest of the year,” Mick said. “It would be like blasting off fireworks every night until July 11th or something.”

“Exactly!” Hannah said. “And I’m not complaining, of course. I friggin’ LOVE Christmas and I never want it to end, so I’m going to live the hell out of it this week. But really….” She held up her hands in a what the hell? gesture. “It’s like a cancelled sitcom being brought back for another five episodes!”

It had been clear enough to see the Olympics to the northwest and Mt. Rainier and the Cascades to the southeast most of the day, but the gray murk had rolled back in over the afternoon. It wasn’t the leaden snow sky they were used to growing up in Montana and Boston respectively, but Hannah and Mick were both able to envision snow squalls and muted Christmas lights and candles as they sat by the tree, both silently holding on to Christmas as a day, as a concept and as a spectral presence from their childhoods. Christmas again. They had another week to keep Christmas, and they couldn’t wait.

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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/