Roger Dodger

If you’re lucky, life will provide you with many colorful and complex characters. One’s who, despite their flaws, weaknesses, and complexities, provide you with the warmth of their love, stories, and experiences. For me, my childhood would provide me with countless adventures, characters, and stories to share for years to come. Thanks to a less than storybook youth and a knack for remembering even the most minute details. I’ve been given a portal to many of the people and exchanges I had throughout those very impressionable years.

Of all the colorful characters I met, regarded as friends and became part of my extended family. Some of the brightest loomed just around the corner at the local watering hole. It’s where I went from ordering my steak and burgers well done to medium-rare. Where I learned that calamari was just a better way of saying breaded squid, it’s where I met one of the bar’s regulars Roger Dodger.

Roger had dirty blond hair, piercing blue eyes, and when I come to think about it, looked a lot like a younger William Devane. I’m not sure of exactly when we met, but he soon became a familiar face and someone I looked forward to seeing when my dad’s girlfriend opened the bar, or I was returning from my nearby little league game. At the time, I loved coming into the bar for a cheeseburger and fries or a plate of calamari. I’d always sit next to Roger and talk about baseball while stuffing my face with whatever was on the menu.

At the time, I was crazy about baseball and had gone from being a back alley slugger to my first year in little league. With Shea Stadium standing over the junkyards and fly by night auto repair yards just a short distance away, I quickly latched on to Flushing’s lovable losers The Mets. Though Roger and I both loved the game, Roger was a dye in the wool Dodger fan who attended his share of Brooklyn Dodgers games as a kid. He’d joyfully reference players with names like Newcombe, Pee Wee, and Duke. Players, who though retired, were considered legends of their time. The mere mention of such icons brought much glee and color to our conversations; Essential ingredients to ad to my young and still very impressionable psyche.

One day while enjoying a spirited discussion about the game. I decided to take a detour by asking about what he did for a living. “I have a truck route where I deliver beverages to local bars and restaurants.” Looking back, it made sense. While I never did see a vehicle, uniform, or hand truck. Considering the timing of many of our encounters, I didn’t see any reason to question.

Roger-1Fast forward a few years, and while visiting my dad, we happened to watch the movie ‘Goodfellas.’ While it instantly became my favorite movie of all time. I saw many similarities between the characters and the people I grew up around. It opened the door to conversations we had never had before. It wasn’t long before Roger came up. I remember referring to Roger, commenting that he was one of the kindest people I had met during that period. My Father followed with a big exhale of laughter. “Yeah, he loved you, which might be the only reason he never murdered me.” Strangely enough, it turns out that Roger was also a hit-man who fulfilled contracts for both the Irish and Italian mobs. My dad, who was always a great storyteller, was kind enough to detail his methods and some of the places he’d dispose of the bodies. When all was said and done, he had made quite a name for himself before meeting his demise. And though the thought of unknowingly trusting a contract killer with your time might seem fucked up. It was all a part of what I always considered a pretty normal childhood. And though Roger might have raised some hell in his time. I’ll always look back on my days with him, our conversations, and how he always treated me as positive. I was lucky to learn early in life that things aren’t necessarily black & white. Maybe, just maybe, it goes to show that every man, woman, and child has a purpose and a place in this crazy, sometimes upside-down world.

Looking Back into the Future of the Blog

Earlier this morning, I took some time to revisit some prior posts on the blog. Initially, I wanted to check to see if anything needed editing or, if thoroughly embarrassing or inappropriate, deleted. As I quickly found myself going back to my years as a Jersey City resident, I was happy to see that the overall tone of my posts was overwhelmingly positive. Getting to see my life, travels, and experiences documented through words and images reinforced my belief that starting this blog more than ten years ago served as much more than an opportunity to share m passion for photography.

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Blogging allowed me to communicate my thoughts while sharing my work. Perhaps the most unexpected gain has been finding consistency, and being able to backtrack and see my progress has been rewarding, though there’s always plenty of room for improvement and growth. I feel that it’s more than worth the effort and time. I created and built this blog on my love of photography, art, and life itself. I’ve learned a lot more than I’ve taught, and I hope to continue to learn more about myself and life before sharing my ups, downs, and experiences with the people who dare to read and follow. Here’s to the future, present, and even the past.

The Road Ahead

Somewhere between awareness of my symptoms and diagnosing them came knowledge and acceptance that things might get a lot worse before they ever or never get better. While a pretty hard pill to swallow, (No pun intended.) I feel lucky that I have such a fantastic support system in my wife, family, friends, and doctors. However, there is one thing in particular that has become harder and Road Ahead (1 of 1)harder to accept as time goes by. That is, people always checking in on me and asking how I’m doing. Arguing with and fighting over her being too helpful or over-attentive. As time goes by, I feel myself becoming more resistant to help, while closing myself off to others. I also notice that it doesn’t take much to light my fuse or lose my temper. Whether it be snap reactions or just getting angry over things I can’t control, I’ve come to fear of becoming a cranky old son of a bitch than an optimistic one. As I move towards a new year and a new decade, I hope to move forward by taking somewhat of a step back to the practices I approached and learned from in the past. Simple things, such as meditation, breathing techniques, eating, and exercise, could all help while bringing improvements to my attitude, as well as my life. Hopefully, these little things can help in bringing me the peace of mind and mindfulness I so desperately seek.

 

Closure; He Died in a Crack House.

As much as I love and respect my mother. There’s no denying the fact that she’s attracted to and maintained some somewhat toxic relationships throughout the years. So much so, that I’ve come to believe she not only welcomes much of it. I’m starting to wonder if she, in part, creates, if not fosters, some of that toxicity. This brings me to a recent conversation with her, in which she told me that her second husband (aside from my Dad, she was married several times.) and my one-time stepfather had died in a crack house.

Though my earliest memories of him have faded, the night they fought throughout the evening. As the hours passed, I lay in my bed, holding my breath and wishing it would somehow end. By 11:00 pm, the walls were shaking, and objects on the shelves above my head began to fall. Knowing full well that he might kill my mom, I jumped out of my bed, grabbed my aluminum bat, burst into their bedroom, and unleashed every curse word in my ever-expanding vocabulary. “Get off my Mom, you @$%* before I…” The mere sight of an enraged seven-year-old in feet pajamas and a baseball bat seemed to stop him from whatever he was doing and open a time frame for the police to arrive. A few hours after being forced to leave, he climbed up the fire escape and tried to get in through the bedroom window. Despite that nightmarish event, one that I can still recall in detail all these years later, she married the fucking loser.

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Over the years, my mother would sprinkle in little tidbits and stories she would acquire while talking to ex-friends and ex-wives of him, his brothers, and family. Each time, my mother would get a scolding or short-tempered lecture on why she needed to cut those ties to the past or altogether remove me from consideration when she decided to mention anything even remotely connected to that family or time in our lives.
Though their marriage lasted less than three years, he and his family would inject enough mental abuse to last decades after they had extracted from our lives — the addiction to drugs and mental illness he shared with his brothers and parents. The stories his Father would regal in over dinner. One of robbing defenseless victims, he was entrusted with escorting in his ambulance. Often referencing a gold watch or diamond ring he had stolen to enhance his skin crawling boasts.
How he, himself, would force my mother to sit in the backseat due to his daughter’s bullshit claim of feeling car sick when seated in the back. A daughter he would later do drugs with and would, herself, become a lifelong drug addict. Her athletic older brother, whom I looked up to until he attempted to molest me. The bedside table where my stepfather kept his stash of pharmaceuticals. The only drawer my mother did not dare open or question. By the third grade, I was given the first hand on the many shades of drug abuse, dependency, and addiction.
When they first began dating, Joey was hauling garbage for the sanitation department. A good job working for the city. Shortly after, I’m not sure if it was before or after they were married, he developed a back problem, went on disability, and became a stay at home psychopath. I think it’s worth noting that the weights and the weight bench that occupied the dining room never got dusty as he continued his regiment of weight lifting and bench pressing until the day he received his divorce papers. I give my mother a lot of credit for finding the strength and courage to do so.

In closing, a few days into writing this piece, I had two nightmares about him coming back and attempting to work his way back into our lives to kill my mother. Being older, a lot wiser and stronger, we were able to ward off his plan and expose him as the idiot he always was.

Heroes of Another Kind.

Having positive role models and heroes are very important when growing up and forming your moral compass. As one who didn’t have very many adult male role models to look up to. I often found leadership and guidance in older friends. Looking back to my childhood, I was fortunate in that I had many older friends to look up to and depend on for the guidance and reassuring that a stoop session or kick in the ass that a not much older, but somehow wiser head could offer.
This morning I was informed that my old friend Jimmy had passed due to a heart attack.

Though I had only reconnected about ten years ago at his fortieth birthday celebration and shortly after at his brother Frank’s funeral, I felt that getting to see both of them and thank both of them for the guidance and support they often provided. While neither Jimmy or Frank understood or remembered the times they went the extra mile to keep me out of the line of fire. I remembered every instance and episode with detail.

I initially met Jimmy and Frank on the corner of ninety-third street and thirty-fifth avenue on the steps that led to Blessed Sacrament Church.
It was where we’d meet to catch the school bus that would deliver us to day camp in nearby Whitestone. Though it would be a few months before the start of the third grade and my inevitable transfer to Blessed Sacrament School. Though at the time, a typical classroom of school was often a Kickstarter when it came to friendship. I credit Marvel Comics and Stan Lee as the common interest that ignited our first, second, and third conversations. Those comic book trading sessions led to a long-lasting friendship that would follow through elementary, high school, and beyond.

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No matter the situation. Whether it be a fistfight with a family member of the C.C. Boys or a random street fight, Frank or Jimmy would always be there for crowd control or to make sure it remained a fair fight. A few years later, after being hospitalized with a brain tumor, Frank traveled from Queens to New York City, where I was hospitalized to see if I needed anything. I never shared that with anyone, but it meant a lot to me.

So, with a considerable amount of respect, I say goodbye to another childhood friend and urge anyone who has or had someone that, in one way or another, had a positive influence on you. Find them and thank them though they might not remember. It will more likely have a positive effect on both parties. Thanks again, Frank. Thanks, Jimmy. You both left a positive footprint in my life.

More about Frank

Fight Club

When I went to my dad for advice on how to handle a bully and some of the kids in my first-grade class who had taken it upon themselves to make my time in the schoolyard as miserable as possible, I would have never guessed the lessons I would get or the path it put me on.
While one can imagine a parent taking their kid to school the next day to speak to the school principal or even confront the kids involved.,
My father took a completely different route by taking me down to the garage and introduced me to the heavy bag and boxing.
Within a few weeks, I had mastered the art of the jab, hook, uppercut, and the cross. Most importantly, I learned about balance and why striking my opponent when he was off-balance was so important. Now, this might seem like a lot for a kid who was still in the second grade, but I loved it absorbed everything I learned from my dad like a sponge. I loved working out with him and emulating his moves. When he bought me my first pair of black Everlast gloves, it felt as if I graduated to another level. Fight Cub-1
From there on, whenever someone messed with me, they got a face full of knuckles and rarely ever fucked with me again. By the end of the second grade, I got to know the principles office pretty well while learning that no matter who started the fight, the one with the bruises and bloody nose rarely ever got blamed.
About a year later, my dad gave me more lessons I’d never forgotten. They included pressure points such as the nose, throat, and chest. He would always tell me, “If they can’t breathe, they can’t fight.” and “Seeing their blood puts fear in their hearts.” “If you want to end a fight quickly, bloody up their nose.” All these lessons would help me face my bullies. At the same time, I gained a great love and respect for the sport of boxing while continuing my dream to compete and win the golden gloves and eventually become middleweight. I carefully followed fighters like Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Sean O’ Grady, Hector “Macho” Camacho and Ray “Boom, Boom” Mancini, to name a few.
I think it’s worth noting that while I had a very short fuse and quick temper, I never started or went looking for a fight. With all the fistfights I had in that five or six-year period, I often teared up after leaving one victorious. Weeping and wondering why he decided to push me so far. I once sent a friend to the hospital for two days with broken nose vessels. I got into a lot of trouble with sister Mary Patrick for that one and a warning that another fight would get me expelled. Though the threat of being expelled had me wanting to change my ways, I was more preoccupied with the thought of apologizing to the kids’ mom and doing everything I could to regain that kid’s friendship. Not many people saw that side of me, but it was there. I’d also like to credit an older kid named Ronnie, who handed me my first ass-kicking while roughhousing in one of the nearby ball fields. It serves as a reminder that everyone takes a beating now and then. It was an event that stayed with me throughout my lifetime and plagued me until we reconciled decades later. During that exchange, he explained that he never meant to hurt me, but I was like a raging bull, coming at him like a locomotive. Thinking back, I probably deserved the pounding I got. It taught me a lot about raising my fists in anger and thinking before taking action. All these years later, I still remember and appreciate what my father taught me. I still work on the heavy bag, attempt to operate the speed bag and use the footwork to give me a sense of balance.

Haunted Memories

By the time I was seven, I was finally enjoying some of the freedom I so craved. With my parents about to divorce, I bounced from my mother to my father and on to my grandmother. Being that my parents had worked different shifts,’ my mom was a 9-5 secretary and my dad working as 3-11 since I was born. I spent most of my early years with my baby sitter and her family of two boys and an older sister. By the age of seven, I became schooled in many of the pockets and corners of my neighborhood. While there were several parks and ball fields within reach, you might think I’d be found climbing monkey bars or holding onto a swing as I launched into the air.

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Two things I did enjoy from time to time. However, the sudden need for housing and the new and bursting real estate market provided all the excitement a kid could want or even handle. The first one just happened to be on the way home from school. With there would be a bunch of kids, many I called friends or knew from the neighborhood already hanging out inside just outside of the wood panels and fences marked “No Trespassing.” There would always be an irresistible draw to join in and maybe journey farther within than the older kids.

On one particularly memorable day, some of the older kids started to throw a football around. Perhaps since they were older or I never quite got into throwing the pigskin around, I started heading home. Matthew went long on a pass and fell about two floors to the rubble below. I still remember the moment, the complete shock that left everyone’s expression in a frozen state. I had seen people die on TV and the movies before, but this was very, very different. I still remember the blood, the concrete pieces in his hair, and around his face and that frozen look that said: “I won’t be coming back in the squeal.” The next day, the news of Matthew’s accident reported over the school’s loudspeaker. Though he had not died immediately, he remained vegetated until his heart gave out a few days later. Strangely enough, I always felt his mom. The secretary at the school we attended and the two I later went to, knew I was there when that horrible accident happened. And while I didn’t understand why she was always so hard on me then. These days, I wish there was something I could have said or done something to comfort her during that time.