THINKING PAST AND PRESENT

The concept of the drive-thru is beautiful in its simplicity. First for burgers, then donuts, carwash, and now in our clean cars, we sit for precious (monetized) minutes waiting for a macchiato – extra sweet.

~~~

I was a mad-hungry freshman, rubbing last night’s party from my irritated eyes. The fall of 1969: Saturday morning, leaving McDonald’s with my breakfast, I stood on the paper-strewn corner kicking aside shredded protestations for peace. I waited for the light to change, barely noticing the air until I opened my mouth and stuck out my greedy tongue for a salty-sweet hit of those fries. I didn’t get it. Just a bitter sampling of leftover mace, telling me that this was the intersection that ended a peace march the day before. Mace had been successful in dispersing the peace-mongers.

 It would be years before I would connect our drive-thru lives to the forces behind the mace – that clung to the air that angered me for not tasting like fries.  

Converting my guilt to shame.

~~~

Six months into Covid – it is a Saturday morning and I’m driving mad and unmasked to the store. According to county health officials, this epidemic was going to be a long haul. I live in a blue state but in a red county where obedient people listen to a president (who likely failed chemistry) wax poetic and pathetic about science. I turn into the shopping center parking lot, halted by the line of cars patiently waiting for a turn at the Dunkin-Donuts window. Not me! I pull out of line, opting to circumnavigate the deserted K-Mart building, creating a lateral line of attack on my destination. I wait for a few shoppers to withdraw, increasing my chances of surviving what I’m sure will be a pandemic—four people exit. The coast is clear – I don my mask and make a beeline to the front door, where I grab a cart. I breathe shallow dizzying breaths – as I study the store’s arrangement. I am cautious as I approach the domestics on the left, where, after a brief reconnaissance, I make my way out of the Finger Lakes, grabbing a few bottles of good whites. I stand for a moment in the archway leading to the reds. I know the need for urgency but linger anyway at the mercy of ratings. I am deaf to the sounds of my bacchanalian brain stuttering at the sight of French, Italian, Portugal, South African, Spain, and Venezuelan reds– mesmerizing blood-shot pinwheels in a firefight – hand-to-hand combat for space in my cart.

In my obedience to Doctor Fauci’s biblical warning that this plague will be a long haul, I fill my cart – my private Arc – two bottles of each.

~~~

My Spectrum service is broken – I mean down, not working, caput, fin, nothing. For almost ten days, I’ve watched a platoon of Spectrum trucks trace and retrace the road in front of my house to no effect. My hope for a temporary outage had sprung eternal. But now I see the drive-bys as a ploy –like a Russian May-Day parade – a show of strength offering hope where, only a few know, there is none. The outage has been long enough for me to finish Johnathan Foer’s beautiful five-hundred-page tome on love and Judaism. And long enough for me to fear my unread emails growing to legion; so many requests for my dollars to save dogs, cats, goats, donkeys, and sometimes people. Should I worry?

Spectrum seems not to worry. The billing department is sanguine, telling me I will be reimbursed ten dollars for every four hours I’ve been without service. For the first week, Spectrum outage was never, like it is now, continuous. It was more like three-hours of outage interrupted by twenty minutes of service. Even if I had the internet’s stupefying privilege of a misinformed populace right now, I could see the hand of capitalism slapping me in the face with “free enterprise.” I am free, I’ve surmised, to go without or pay dearly. I know where I, the consumer, stand. I even know where I’ll fall if I tumble down my stairs. I may or may not survive Spectrum or my fall – who knows? My cellphone won’t – having been rendered useless in an emergency because of this Spectrum outage. 

MAYBE

It has occurred to me

That 

I may not live long enough

To love my neighbor

Indeed

We may all perish if we don’t learn (quickly)

To love one another

And maybe this is the deficiency – like the dinosaurs

That will bring about our extinction

THE LIFE LIMITED

tracks

Not the express train –

The uneventful

Quick-trip to decay

 

We’re on the Limited;

Confined within limits

On life’s platform

Night watching

Brief recognition vanishing outlines

Illuminated windows, They stare ahead

Silhouetted profiles against flashing light

Glimpsing the gold coins of

The Paradise Express

 

We remain for the day

As we see ourselves

Age and wisdom

In separate cars

On that same track

Tearing through

A landscape of

Scattered grace

 

KITE SEASON

kite

Happiness builds a fast fire
Underfoot the running child
In fields wild with flowers
Laughing, some unknown joy,
That life will be good

Happiness forces arms open
New experience
Embracing daring
Nothing but youth

Before receding to the corners
Beaten back by the collected ticks
A clock and a heart weary
Holding happiness at bay

Then comes
The thumping hush
That muscle upon which
Nothing is lost

Rolling and dipping
Tethered calmly against
Winds of age & change:

Happiness,
Flying its own kite

GO THERE!

%22A View in Piagentina (Una veduta in Piagentina) 1863

We live so long – hopefully long enough

To know life is enough

All we should want

The rest is fearing
The opinions of others

We are old enough to resist
The urge

Know there is great pleasure in GO!
It is not the There
But the trip

The memories will come years later (if at all)
With its uneven ruler
To defend life’s
Crooked calculus

This Much I Know is True: My Last Day of 2013

images-3On this last day of 2013 I am weary of new year’s resolutions – you know those promises we make to ourselves that have a shelf-life of twenty minutes – sixty if I’m lucky. I awoke this morning considering the flexibility of certainty – the same type of certainty that has always been ascribed to death and taxes.

What follows are the few things that have proven true – for me in 2013.

What I know:

I know that I expect decency in ostensibly educated people and am sorely disappointed when  decency becomes a foreign country these individuals are afraid to visit. And one would think that after a few years of this forehead-slapping frustration I would know better but…

I know that truth is an illusive landscape that when strung together with imaginative prose can provide cascades of honesty regarding the human condition. I’m sure it’s called good fiction and until I am told differently I’ll go with that.

I know that memory can be resistant to logic. A sweltering  heat can rise from this terrain erasing any tragedy in the offing. Reality is the thief; the mugger in the dark, “hand over your memories and no one gets hurt.”

I know that as tragedy strikes good friends, I am left  in awe of the strength that can reside in the human heart. A heart so rent with grief that one fears for the possessor of this roughed-up organ. But no, it is as if internal forces dedicated to battle appear overnight  to slay grief in its cradle.   

I know I will never sing as well as I’d like to. I have a lovely, talented friend from high school who possesses a beautiful, forceful voice. She has sung her way around the world and now for reasons (she believes) stronger than her voice she says she will not sing again. This makes me sad. I am one who has had many dreams of opening my mouth and having some beautiful, if not tuneful, music exit.  I used to like the idea of karaoke  but I’m afraid of being seen as part of the legion of the sad, unfulfilled and lonely lip-synchers  moaning about lost loves, chances, and continence.

I know that youth is what sticks even when we go unrecognized at our reunions.

I know that a good memory can be a serious design flaw

I know now that some song lyrics mean different things depending on the amount wine ingested. 

I know that some songs only make sense after three glasses of wine which is too bad when two glasses is all one can tolerate.

I know there are drinks (famous writers/drinkers of hard liquor have told me) one can order by fingers –  like ordering two fingers of desire to open one’s emotional house, a brief and tragic three dimensional cut-a-way: here I am at my desk, that’s me tossing and turning in my stone sleep, there I am turned away from prying eyes – my face unrecognizable – even by those who love me. Wine is my vehicle of choice as I search under the weight of desire?

I know that living in the past can be an addiction; the monkey on one’s back that pushes us beyond mirrors and reality; that cruel beast that wraps his hand around the slender stem of that third glass of moscato – too sweet to do any good.

And lastly –

I know too that, even as it seems our souls are sewn from the same cloth, they are held together with a mere thread of memories; a heartbreaking slight-of-hand that can bind us to decency or doom.

Have a wonderfully truthful 2014

WHAT THE GODS KNEW

olympians

No “why?” of  golden age

At peace with my life-sustaining

Looped desires on fixed stage

No things to want remaining

Labored fact, age doth bring

Leaves Chronus parsing truth

Calypso discovered not a thing

So danced a dance uncouth

Bacchus, saw life at its brink

Threw up one hand in despair

The other offering the drink

To Aphrodite goddess fair

SO,

Mount Goddess’ sacred doom

No matter the hue and cry

Answer found not in any room

The fact: we all must die

In the Wee Hour of Life

cropped-lake-from-porch1.jpg

My father-in-law,

Lucidity, blinking and broken

Declares his life a night,

a forgotten dimension.

So fast,  where

Did it go?

He is still outside

The forest of human

Travel

Following the script

Of human hand

That began in sand and

Grit

 A hand that sent him to war

To love

To fatherhood

To the hearts of those

Who would wash his sluggish body

Wrinkled, tissue depleted

Immobilized by an angry destiny

And landscapes of untold design

And still he wonders why –

The three letter

Through the looking-glass question

Whose answer awaits in the forest

Where the path – trodden slight –

Will call – he is moving there

To that forest where flowering

Dogwood bloom in wait

For his steps light and inoffensive

Like he

A child in this fractal world

Enfolding unto himself the same

As we’ve always known

Even as he is resorbed

By nature – that path

He will trod, swaddled in linen

Looking ahead in painless

Expectation

My Son: In His Own Sweet Way

cropped-mother-and-son-09.jpg

 ~ I wonder what my son will think

When he is old and gray

Will he remember fiends from night

Or the sunshine  from his days

~ I did what every parent wants

To raise strong and healthy kids

I am so afraid my labor’s lost

When I see him on the skids

~ Silly now, or so it seems

That imaginary age

When child puts away childish things

To turn the adult-like page

~ But there are days I get a peek

And see the son I wrought

He takes this life as serious lesson

That magically can be taught

~ Now most days I get a peek

Of the smile I used to coax

I know there’s sunshine in his heart

As it issues from his throat

~ It remains a joy to relax and bask

In these times I want to hold

But I should know as well as another

Nothing stays that’s gold

~ So I wonder what he will think

When I am old and gray

Will he remember terrorist nights

Or his sunny fields of play

 ~ I wonder too if he will see

The chimera, remora-like pain

Riding his parents’ loving  hearts

In that symbiotic train

A Sweet Lesson On Patience: A Facebook Gift

Every morning I am gifted with many photographs from the FB realm.  I remark on the beauty of each and move on with my day.  But, today, I am stopped in my tracks at a photo and story. The following photo and text are not mine and I have no certainty as to their veracity but – there is a lesson for all of us in this poignant  story.

A NYC Taxi driver wrote: 

I arrived at the address and honked the horn. After waiting a few minutes I honked again. Since this was going to be my last ride of my shift I thought about just driving away, but instead I put the car in park and walked up to the door and knocked.. ‘Just a minute’, answered a frail, elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across … the floor.

After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 90’s stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940’s movie. By her side was a small nylon suitcase. The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets. There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware.

‘Would you carry my bag out to the car?’ she said. I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman. She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the curb.

She kept thanking me for my kindness. ‘It’s nothing’, I told her.. ‘I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother to be treated.’

‘Oh, you’re such a good boy, she said. When we got in the cab, she gave me an address and then asked, ‘Could you drive through downtown?’

‘It’s not the shortest way,’ I answered quickly..

‘Oh, I don’t mind,’ she said. ‘I’m in no hurry. I’m on my way to a hospice.

I looked in the rear-view mirror. Her eyes were glistening. ‘I don’t have any family left,’ she continued in a soft voice. ‘The doctor says I don’t have very long.’ I quietly reached over and shut off the meter. ‘What route would you like me to take?’ I asked.

For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl. Sometimes she’d ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.

As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, ‘I’m tired.Let’s go now’. We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico. Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her.

I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair.

‘How much do I owe you?’ She asked, reaching into her purse.

‘Nothing,’ I said

‘You have to make a living,’ she answered.

‘There are other passengers,’ I responded.

Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug. She held onto me tightly.

‘You gave an old woman a little moment of joy,’ she said. ‘Thank you.’

I squeezed her hand, and then walked into the dim morning light. Behind me, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life..

I didn’t pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly lost in thought. For the rest of that day, I could hardly talk. What if that woman had gotten an angry driver,or one who was impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away?

On a quick review, I don’t think that I have done anything more important in my life.

We’re conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments. But great moments often catch us unaware-beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one.