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.

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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Driving Lessons

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.

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Please note that this image was taken from the internet.

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.

My First Time

Everyone remembers their first time. The fumbling, stumbling, the feeling of flesh on flesh. The smell and taste of that halcyon moment and that final thrust before… Well, you know. Well, kids, have I got a very different story for you.
Though I’d never considered my Dad to be an alcoholic or a drunk. I have never seen any man consume as much as he did. With the corner bar being his main place of business and social life, sitting along with him drinking my coke, enjoying a cheeseburger and waiting for my chosen song to come on the jukebox seemed normal. During that time my Father dated and even lived with a couple of female bartenders there. The one that stands out for me the most was a voluptuous redhead who had a slight southern drawl, a pension for big trucks and the most beautiful breasts I’ve ever laid my eyes on.

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Lynn, like many of the women and people my Father dated or did business with, was very kind to me. For many reasons, I enjoyed her company and just being around her. Before she moved in with my Dad, I recall spending time at her studio apartment. Her neighbor, whom, by the way, I never met. Had a bookcase filled with issues of Baseball Digest going back to it the 70’s. I would look on with awe like a lovesick teenager, lusting for knowledge and stories about the players I idolized.
Since their divorce when I was seven. My parents had agreed to a sort of joint custody that gave my Father weekend custody; Something that, for the most part, worked out for all parties. Though unorthodox in many ways, I was left unsupervised during the day, leaving me open to many adventures I’ll leave for another post. From sundown, however, It was an altogether different pallet of colors, shapes, and sizes. While a movie and dinner were frequent outings. We would more than often stop at one of the local bars and waterholes for a few hours before heading home to watch a movie or a rerun of either The Honeymooners or The Twilight Zone.
Though my bedroom was adjacent to theirs. I would sometimes fall asleep right in their bed. On one occasion, I woke up next to Lynn’s naked body. To say it was a life-changing experience would be the understatement of all time. As I lie there paralyzed by a fear that she might wake up and think I crawled in sneakily with evil intention. Motionless, considering it was the first time I ever came any closer than rifling through the Penthouse, Club and Playboy’s located in the bedside table my dad kept a loaded pistol. While I lied there frozen by fear. I managed to move my hands down further enough to start tugging and pulling until I achieved my first erection. Though I didn’t actually, for lack of a better term spill the beans. I was quite proud of myself. Just seconds later I was able to slide out of the bed undetected and tiptoe my way out of the room undetected.
I never mentioned it to anyone or written about it before. As a kid still navigating his way through the fifth grade, it was a bit awkward, At the time, I had just started developing a somewhat crazed interest in girls, but hadn’t kissed one. As mentioned, the level of my experience and knowledge at the time was limited to what I had seen in the pages of adult magazines and what I had been told by older friends who knew nothing. And while I would eventually muster the courage to talk to girls and even date them, that little moment always stuck with me as something paramount and tangible.

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

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.