The Fight that Never was.

Surviving a brain tumor might seem paramount to many. Surviving high school is something many never live to tell. However, for myself, the challenges that often followed were often traumatizing. It was often the changes and adjustments I’d have to make later that proved to be the toughest. Though we’re talking a lifetime ago, I still remember that follow up visit to my doctor when the surgeries and treatment were done. I recall going through the ordeal with him while going over some C-A-T scans and being told how lucky I was to have survived. Then came to bad news about how I needed to restrain from the sports loved, which meant no more baseball, hockey, soccer, and above all, fighting, explaining that even one blow to the head could kill me. What else was a kid to do? Wear a fitted helmet for the rest of my life? Maybe an iron robot suit. I might have sucked at basketball and football., but damn, I still loved boxing, had a nasty left hook, and had made the all-star team with my little local league the year before.
High school turned out to be quite a challenge. While I wisely chose a school close to my home that had its share of older friends that looked out for me in varying degrees, I soon found new people who, for whatever reason, designated me as a target.
Just as the bell rang and I could see our teacher Mr. G steps away from the door. I made my move leaping from my desk, gripping the front of his and flipped it over with him in it. “No, Motherfucker, we’re going to do this right now.” the combination of the look on the kid’s face and the alarm in which our teacher entered the class served as proof of perfect timing during the most desperate of times. Though my hastily devised plan didn’t give me the protection that cooling my jets during a lasting after school would have. It scared the fight out of my opponent. Like my mother always told me and my father would go on to add. “If you think you can’t win, make them think you’re crazy and capable of anything.” The Fight-1.jpg
While no further words exchanged between myself and my aggressor, his previous call to meet him after school spread throughout the hallways, cafeteria, and gymnasium long before the final bell concluding the school day rang.
Though the walk from the school doors to the buses and trains blocks away were never lonely ones. It felt as if the entire school was heading in the same direction and ultimate destination that was the IHOP parking lot where the fight was to take place.  As the crowd grew and began to create a physical circle, my older friend Jimmy took his school ring off and placed it on mine. ‘Put this in his eye. You got this.’ I remember taking some deep breathes and mentally devising a plan based loosely around the countless other fights I had before. Only this time, my focus was more on survival than winning.
While I can’t recall if I thought of what that doctor had told me about what the chances of a blow to head killing me were, but I’m pretty sure it crossed my mind. As the minutes passed and the crowd began to disperse, it became apparent that this clown wasn’t going to show. Perhaps he forgot, maybe I convinced him that I was, indeed, crazy. I guess I’ll never know though we would cross paths the next day and many other times during our tenure at Monsignor Mc Clancy. We would never again speak. Though others might confront the aggressor, knowing full well that he would have probably hand me my ass, I took that little victory and kept it packed away for another day. Just as I appreciate my Dad for teaching me how to fight my mother’s lesson of making your opponent think you’re crazy and capable of anything might have been my saving grace. Thanks, Mom.

Unknown Substances

Though my mom and step dad’s move to a New Jersey suburb was partially due to an attempt to provide a better and perhaps, safer environment for us, it also offered windows to many other unforeseen dangers. One being, somewhat unsupervised weekend back in Queens where I originated. With my dad having moved to Staten Island to be live with his soon to be wife, it was up to my grandmother to not only host me but act as a parental force.

My grandmother, God rest her soul, was an angel in every way imaginable, yet with all her intelligence and grace she embodied, she lacked when it came to her role as a disciplinary figure. A weakness that gave me the free reign I sought on the weekends as a sixteen-year-old looking to find his freedom by sampling everything on the menu.

On one particular night, I met up with two good friends in search of alcohol and whatever else we could find. I remember the night air being cool but not cold, leaving us warm enough to cover a lot of ground and stay out late. Being the lightweight, I always was when it came to drinking. I had a heavy buzz after just three beers. So much so, that by the time we reached our final destination at the local public school steps, I was eager to sit down and share a blunt with someone I had met before but didn’t know that well.

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Noted, though I never got into hard drugs or even smoking cigarettes, I did enjoy marijuana and the occasional joint and enjoyed the harmless buzz it provided. Doing so with someone I didn’t know, and trust was an epically bad idea, one that I would quickly regret.

Though what happened on the ten-block walk from the schoolyard is clouded by a combination of alcohol and drug intake, I completely flipped out and recalled being slammed on the concrete after attacking one of my friends. The next thing I remember is getting dumped on the steps in front of my grandmother’s apartment. Within a few minutes, I was able to find my keys and make my way inside.

Imagine the surprise and flat out shock when my father stood waiting at the top of the stairs. “Sorry, dad. I’m pretty fucked up.” I slurred. “I can tell,” he remarked. “Go take a shower and get some sleep.” “We’ll discuss this in the morning.” By then, his soon to be wife would often throw him out when he broke curfew and came home drunk from the bar. It only seemed natural to run back to his mom’s place.

There was a short period between making my way from the living room, through the kitchen and onto the bathroom where I must have blacked out. My father tells me he heard a loud crash. When he found me, he tells me I had collapsed before I had made it to the shower. He often remarks on how my entire body had turned gray, which made him think I might be dead. My father had made some phone calls to some of the people I might have seen that night. I recall being flanked by two of my close friends with my father standing in the doorway.

The night finished with me sending a barrage of curse words and insults at my father. “Fuck you!” “What are you looking at?” “You’ve never done anything for me.” “You knew we were struggling. Why didn’t you ever pay child support.” Mean, vile things that I have apologized for and will always regret. When I woke up the next morning, I remember my legs feeling weak and needing time to find my balance. Dad and I had a long talk, during which I apologized. I remember him laughing and saying, “You had a rough night. I hope you learned your lesson.” Before taking me out for breakfast, he added, “I don’t see any reason to bring this up with your mom.” If he had, my punishment, constant lecturing, and threats of not paying for rehab would have lasted much longer than one night of incredibly bad decisions and judgment on my part. In the end, I learned that the joint I smoked contained PCP. A drug that I’m sure some of my friends could handle. As for someone who never did more than smoke a little grass, it wrecked me.

“United By” A new feature coming to this blog.

Due in large to the recent calls for social distancing and the fact many states have called for a primary lockdown, I’ve had more free time than I know what to do with. I’ve regularly found myself going through images I took of bands I went out to see in basements, bars, venues, and concert halls. In doing so, I’ve come to the conclusion that I might not ever be able to do much with more with them than I already have. So instead of just calling it a day and closing the door on that chapter in my life,

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Photo taken by Bruno Bruyes of NY Newsday. Image appeared on cover of first issue of Lamplighter Magazine.

I can take some of my favorites and use them to start an addition to my blog. Being that I took my first music image at my sixteenth birthday party and have worked in film, chrome, and digital with numerous cameras and lenses over the years. Finding enough photos to post might keep me busy while refreshing my memories regarding the shows I attended and just why I decided to bring a camera. The hardest part thus far was deciding whether to post images chronologically or in some sort of spirited randomness. In the end, I decided to randomly post pictures and stories from the two or so decades I was actively shooting. Considering the number of shows I’ve attended and acts I’ve photographed, I’ve got plenty of ammunition to keep things going. Along with the images and anecdotes, I hope to include links where, if interested, you can find more information about the artists. Until then.

Laying low while dusting off some old favorites.

The recent fears of a pandemic and warnings that suggest social distancing have got us trying to stay sane as we continue to spend more and more time in lockdown. As shaking hands and sharing germs with strangers has come to a screaming halt, I’ve found more and more time to read books, listen to records, and rekindle my interest in old hobbies. When I went downtown to Pike street to pick up some refilled medication. I got a real chill, seeing what a ghost town the often lively area has become. I’ll tell you, shit doesn’t get more real than this.

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Forgery; Another thing they probably don’t teach in the boy scouts.

I always hated parent/teacher nights, and though I have few memories of my first two years at Our Lady of Fatima, my memories of the next six at Blessed Sacrament are still pretty clear. While moving to a new neighborhood and moving on to a new school was a welcome change. It did come with some unique pressures and expectations. You see, due to my parents working conflicting hours and the fact that their marriage was over by the time I was halfway through the first grade, my grandmother, who was a member of the church and lived just a short four blocks away. Always seemed to get the call when there was trouble.

Fast forward a few years, and I went from being told to sit in the corner and face the wall to being getting selected to join the smart kids in what was called ‘Group 1″. While this was a step up academically, there also added responsibilities and expectations to get better grades while performing at a higher level. While I could hold my own in social studies (aka History) and Language Arts (aka English) Science and Math would create challenges that would plague me throughout the years. While my grandmother, a mathematical genius in her own right, Her tutoring and reassuring did little to conquer anxieties that were manifested in the classroom by a towering and mean Sister Michael Marie. While none of the priests, sisters, or brothers of the Catholic Diocese were what you would consider kind, Sister Michael Marie seemed to have an unusually large bug up her ass. One that made her particularly venomous and quick-tempered. Looking back, she had to be about six feet seven with the build of an NFL linebacker. Rumor has it that she only joined the sisterhood she had tried out for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Jets before being turned down due to the vast quantities of male hormone supplements in her nether regions.

Somehow though, going from class to class, teacher to teacher had a better than expected outcome. Most teachers noted that I was a good student who could benefit from working harder and being a little less of a wise ass. There were a couple who indicated that my impulsive nature and self-control issues were my most significant obstacles; nothing my mother didn’t have prior knowledge to. Forgery (1 of 1)

I would have probably gotten an extra scoop of ice cream or even sprinkles that night if it were not for that last visit to my Math teacher Sister Michael Marie. When my mom explained that the kids were scared of her, Sister Michael Marie growled back, “No, they aren’t.” Luckily, they always kept fire extinguishers within reach, considering I saw her breath fire that night. It was then, when I looked at my mother as if to say “She’s all yours.” before deciding to wait in the hallway,

As tempers quelled and the meeting progressed, my mother and Sister Michael Marie discussed my case whee my teacher ultimately agreed to send me home with a weekly report card detailing the weeks’ tests, quizzes, and my shortcomings. My mother would read, sign, and trust me with its return before deciding on any form of punishment or torture. After two weeks of scorn from Sister Michael Marie and scolding from my mother, I knew I had to take things into my own hands. Though I had no training or prior experience with forgery, I began to study my mother’s handwriting and signature carefully. Within a week, I had it down to a science, from the loops and swoops to the artful curve in the “M’. I still recall the detail I put into signing that first report and the entranceway of the building I would pass before entering the schoolyard. Luckily, that Math wench never caught on. When my mom asked why she wasn’t getting any more weekly reports, I would innocently shrug it off and say, “I guess she forgot.” Though there was some mention of her calling the school to reinstate the reports that had magically ceased to show up, that call would never take place. With the help and angelic patience of my grandmothers’ tutoring, I managed to raise my disgraceful F to a somewhat acceptable D. For years to come. I would use the skills I learned in the fifth grade to offset the punishment and explaining that I would surely follow a letter sent from school reporting falling grades, behavioral issues, or flat out suspension. At the same time, I was never proud of the more deviant behavior I displayed during my adolescence. I like to think of some of my misdoings as survival techniques.

 

Youthful Transgressions

While I’m not sure where it all started, I have this vivid memory of being chased and caught for shoplifting by the local grocery store owner. I couldn’t have been more than six at the time, but I remember it so clearly, that I can vividly remember the coat I was wearing and how after being run down. Only to be dragged by my collar to my house, where some furious knocking at the door awoke my father, who still had about two hours of sleep left before getting ready for his 3:00 – 11:00 shift with the bus company. It was the most trouble I had ever been in up until that time, and it sure scared the shit out of me, but for whatever reason, it didn’t deter me from any future shenanigans.

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Now, before I go any further, I want to state in my defense that I wasn’t some problem child wrecking havoc throughout my neighborhood. It wasn’t one of those ‘lock your doors and board up your windows.’ Here comes that troublemaker, kind of scenarios. I was one of those kids who carried groceries, held the door for my elders, and called adults “ma’am” or “sir.” Then, Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope came out, and the merchandising helped turn me into a kleptomaniac. And while I take full responsibility for becoming a conniving thief, I give a lot of credit to the marketing department at Kenner for turning a generation of kids into zombie-like consumers.

At least try to rewind to a time when there was a particular toy of toys so brilliantly marketed that they had children thinking of one thing and one thing only.For us, there was no Toy’s R Us within reach. They were way out in Long Island. Which, for us, was like a foreign nation. We were latch essential kids with parents who lived from check to check — struggling to pay the bills while putting food on the table. There were birthdays and Christmas. You were pretty much on your own the rest of the year, and during at least one of those occasions, you got socks and a sweater you hated.

Luckily, I was a pretty resourceful kid with a handful of friends who’s knack for finding trouble often found me. With a shopping center within striking distance and a five and dime type store that featured two aisles of toys, we had all the incentive we would need. At the time, I still had my army green snorkel winter coat from the winter before. Perhaps, due to wear or my custom tailoring to allow my front pockets to reach to the back of the coat, allowing me to stuff my somewhat bulky jacket full of whatever action figures I could manage.

Over the years, my friends and I managed to come away with quite a haul. As the stores became savvier when it came to dealing with shoplifters and keeping an eye out for unsupervised children, our methods changed and wavered. And though I’m sure we played only a minor part when it came to the changes in both displaying items and including barcode strips. At the time, we often credited ourselves for forcing the change. Looking back, we were much too young to comprehend the consequences of our actions. It was merely us against that older man who managed the store. Outwitting him seemed to be jus just as, if not more satisfying, as leaving the store with the best toy on the shelf. The rewards went far beyond whatever we might have stolen, the risk, the pumping of the blood, and the uptick of the heartbeat that created the rush.

 

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.

 

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

Setting Goals for 2020

Though I’ve never been one to make new year’s resolutions, this year I decided to set some goals for myself. While I feel that some of these goals are quite ambitious, I think that they’re both realistic and attainable. One of those goals will be to focus more time on my writing, with a focus on non-fiction and, in particular, highlighting my early life and experiences. In recent weeks, Written-1I’ve focused much of my free time writing and trying to relearn the essential grammar skills I learned in school. Though my editor at Jersey Beat and my half-brother both teach at different levels and both volunteered to edit my work, I don’t feel it’s right to burden them with more work than they already have. Aside from my books and lessons I’ve learned, I’m considering hiring a writing coach, or at least utilizing some of the services available online.
In the end, it might be worth noting that my interest in creative writing preceded my passion for photography. For one who thrived on creativity, yet somehow suffered when not nourished by such. Writing and photography served as balance, allowing me to lean towards one while the other stagnated mentally. Short story long, I feel that some, if not many of my own stories need to be written and told while memory still serves.