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.
Every teenager dreams of the day they get their driver’s license. It’s a right of passage that ranks up there with ones’ losing their virginity and the first time you got drunk. For me, getting my license and buying my first car with the money I had earned working at the Willowbrook Mall’s Bowery Lighting was like crossing the finishing line of a race while carrying a monkey on your back.
At the time, my most recent experience driving had included taking my mother’s car out while she and my stepdad vacationed in Puerto Rico and being told by my driving instructor to “Slow the fuck down.”
My first car cost me four hundred dollars. A two-tone blue 77′ Ford Maverick with an Eight-Track player. It wasn’t the Mustang I had my eyes on, the one that was eventually wrecked when an errant tire coming off Route-23 landed on its hood and went through its windshield, but it was mine.
I was so excited about pulling into the school’s parking lot while some rock anthem blasted over the speakers. Then my overprotective mother stepped in like a cop with an ax to grind and told me that, partly due to the distance of my high school and my lack of experience driving, I’d be taking the school bus or hitching a ride with a more experienced driver.
Though there was nothing, I could do or say to right this blockade to my inherent right of passage. I would find a way to get around this carnage of justice during the weekends. Having made many friends in a short time, I lived in Jersey. I had a few who lived within my mom’s imagined loop of territories I could travel.
Being that I had already spent much of my free time at a nearby friend’s home, we made an agreement that he would cover me if she’d ever call. Being that this was before the invention of cell phones and pagers, I kind of wonder how that would work if she ever did choose to call. “Oh, James said he had to drop a deuce. I’ll tell him to call you after, well, you know.”
Or “Oh, he just left to pick up some beer.” Luckily, she never did call.
On the weekends that I did manage to take that Ford for a spin, I often found myself racing down Route 3 South towards the Lincoln Tunnel and straight into Manhattan. The 9th avenue and Canal street traffic was, at least for me, the best education a young driver could ever get. The lanes seemed slimmer, the congestion multiplied, and the yellow taxies that darted in and out as if they were in a pinball machine. It’s a wonder I lived, let alone avoided any significant pileups.
Nine months later, upon graduation from high school, I would use that same car and the driving skills I had learned, to move back to Queens, where I would continue to drive that two-tone blue tank for another two or three years. Looking back, I might have wanted fully to declare my independence, if not chosen a safer outlet for my need for speed. Yet, my teen years were the best time to fight for my freedom.
As someone who grew up, lived, worked and went to school in the boroughs of New York City, I thought I’d seen it all. From the dark days of a crime-ridden city, the crack epidemic, and two terrorist attacks, one that shook the towers in 1993 and another that brought them down in 2011. However, moving to Seattle has reintroduced me to some of those somewhat dark times. On the day this picture was taken, we had witnessed much of what Seattle has succumbed to. The homeless camps and tent cities on the sides of the highway, the mentally ill clashing with random passerby’s, and people are shooting up on the sidewalks, allies, and in public bathrooms. While I can’t help but feel for these people and their suffering. I can’t help but feel the atmosphere created by the politicians and appointed authorities foster it. Ax much as I’ve loved and appreciated my almost three years here. I can’t help but wonder when the powers that be will get off their duffs and find real solutions that can be put to work to help these people while saving their own city and state. Only time will tell.
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 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.
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, I’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.
Through the years, my wife has become a second set of eyes. There have been countless times when she’s requested I take shots from her minds eye and even removed my camera from my neck strap and literally taken things into her own hands. Only to frustratingly hand the camera back to me when here shot doesn’t live up to her vision. Today just happened to be one of those days. When she stopped me to show me the buds of a certain plant. She removed the camera from my neck and attempted to take her best shot. For whatever reason, she seemed befuddled as to why the auto focus wasn’t working. As I began to explain macro photo to her and suggested she try manual focus, she grew frustrated, handed the camera back to me and mumbled “Im not a photographer. You do it.” So, I did. Not bad considering I only had a 28-105 lens handy.
If you let it, life can teach you a lot of things. Some of the most important things I learned were about empathy and how much of the happiness we enjoy comes from helping others. No one is perfect and we all carry scars we often wear for all to see. There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes, as long as you learn and grow from them. I’ve yet to meet anyone who hasn’t made a few. Even the strongest take a beating every now and then. I know this from my own experience.
I learned to defend myself and fight at a very young age and with all the broken noses and black eyes I delivered as a kid, It was the first beating I took, that stands out the most. I’ve had my share of battles outside of the schoolyards and streets. We all have. What’s most important is that we never give up or settle. In the end, it’s how we treated others. If there ever comes a time when we’ll be judged or remembered. It will most likely hinge on how we overcame life’s obstacles and how we treated others. In the end, I hope to leave a positive footprint on those I have encountered.