Earlier today I took a short, yet rewarding trip to Gas Works Park . As I entered, the early afternoon sun was almost blinding (Definitely not the best time of day for taking picture.) Just ahead of me was a large hill where a number of families were enjoying one of the most beautiful days Seattle had seen in months. The sight of a Father and son flying a kite refreshed a moment from my childhood that, though I may not have recalled in more then thirty five years, had a profound effect on me and my respect for my Mother.
Now, I haven’t flown a kite since I was around ten. However, something about what I was suddenly paying close attention to brought back a very important day in my life. I remember it being Mother’s Day and my Mom wasn’t too happy about spending the day with her highly dysfunctional in laws in Corona, Queens. So, instead of spending the day cooped up with Ella, Al and the rest of mentally challenged. She excused herself and me escaping to nearby Flushing Meadow Park where we were able to clear our minds, enjoy the fresh Flushing air and learn to fly a kite. Picture, if you will an uncoordinated Mother and her clumsy son not only trying to get that just purchased kite in the air, but trying to keep it there and look as if we had even the slightest idea what we were doing. I can assure you, it was not a pretty site. Regardless, we had a lot of fun.
And though we tend to look back on that short, yet agonizing time and the negative hold it had on our lives. There were still many little moments that are still worth looking back on. Ones that brought us closer together, made us stronger and still make us laugh so many years later. I’m grateful to have so many stories and memories to share with her. Proud to say that with all the things we’ve been through. We can still enjoy one anothers silliness. Thank you Mom. Thank you for making me the man I am today and the man I hope to be in the future. Happy Mother’s Day. Love, your son.
I’m lucky enough to have a Mom and a Dad who are both healthy and alive. And while I seldom give my Mother a break about her considerably bad taste in music. Both have played a major part in influencing and supporting my never ending obsession for so long. While I’ve learned to avoid conversations about religion, politics or any sociological topics. A good bull session about music is a great way to pass the time while helping to avoid any bloodletting during any visit or phone call. Though his love of the blues and New Orleans jazz can never be questioned. A conversation regarding Tom Waits, Frank Zappa or the Night Tripper, Dr. John (Gris-Gris) can go on for days. Some of my earliest memories revolve around sitting among my parents combined record collections. Strange how it remains one of the very few memories of my parents being together. Sitting within a pile of my parents record collection. No more than four, maybe five years old. Completely freaked out by the cover art of records like Leon Russell’s “Stop All That Jazz” Frank Zappa’s “200 Motels” or Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”. Album covers that told stories I might not be quite ready to read. One’s that might have me checking the closet or under the bed that night. A few years later, as my ear for music began to form. My Dad would sit me down and play Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton’s Blues Breakers, and for me, the most painful torture a nine year old can suffer, Frank Zappa’s 79′ release “Joe’s Garage.” Years later though, many of the records and artists my parents introduced me to reside in my own record collection. Artists such as Frank Zappa, Hendrix and especially Tom Waits get countless play on the turntable and all my other modes of music enjoyment. I pick up just about every Leon Russell and Frank Zappa I see and being drawn to record based on it’s cover art remains crucial to many of my crate digging adventures. Still, I can recall sitting in my pajamas among those piles of records, How each cover either told a story or inspired me to create one,
As I was going through years of medical records that included but were not limited to CAT Scans, M.R.I.’s, and visits to the emergency room. I began to feel overwhelmed and somewhat depressed. While I understand that medical, W-2’s and tax returns don’t tell the true story of the lives we’ve lived and led. Seeing much of your experiences and struggles on tax return or hospital discharge can be quite the mind fuck. So when I found this envelope resting within years of hundreds of files deemed “important”. It was the life preserver that kept me afloat emotionally. While I often beat my chest about my disdain for living in the past and preserving memories by constantly reliving them. I am quite an archivist.
I have a couple of books filled with everything from published articles to concert ticket stubs to notes passed to me in the eighth grade from my first big crush. My decision to keep or discard often come down to how these things made me feel originally or their importance to a specific time or experience. For christ’s sake, I still have the hollow point bullet my Dad gave me when I was a kid. I’m pretty sure there was a life lesson attached, but for the life of me. Neither myself nor my Father can remember. In no way am I a hoarder. I’m quite neat and organized. Often taking time to purge the less important things. Still, I’m often amazed by the amount of moments I’ve managed to save.
Some of my earliest memories of baseball involve the Major League Baseball’s 1977 expansion that brought us the Toronto Blu4 Jays and the Seattle Mariners. Though it would be another three years before the Great American Pastime would take hold of my imagination. It served as a gateway drug to what would become a lifetime obsession.
Just as I recall those dark day that plagued the Mariners in the late 70’s and much of the 80’s. I can also look to the hope that came when the NY Yankees sent a young outfielder by the name of Jay Buhner west. The hope the 90’s brought with players like Ken Griffey JR., Edgar Martinez, Tino Martinez, Randy Johnson and Alex Rodriguez.
I was in Japan when Ichiro Suzuki played his first games for The Mariners in 2001. Getting to see his first games, at bats and center field wizardry from his place of birth was, to say the very least, outer worldly. Still after more than forty years of existence. The Seattle Mariners continuously sport the ugliest uniforms in all of baseball while never appearing in a world series. Not even the 2001 team that won 116 games.
Regardless, the fans here are great and I really enjoyed the games I attended in 2017. Getting to know the players names while getting a feel for the stadium. As the 2018 season has just opened. I’m already watching the schedule to buy tickets when the Mets and Yankees come to town. Just as I enjoyed growing up in the shadow of Shea Stadium as a kid. I feel very lucky to be living just a short drive from Safeco Field and the Seattle Mariners. GO Team.
It began with the best intentions. The days and weeks since my Neurology follow up had me feeling angry, lost and somewhat hopeless. I had mistakenly opened up to my doctor, therapist and wife that I had briefly thought of suicide, or commented on how I wished the original death notice I received when I was twelve would have ended me instead of prolonging my suffering through related issues. Falling down and not having the control you once had on your life it not easy to get used to. With that said and fully expressed, I had felt a positive shift in recent days that mad me feel as if I had turned a corner. I had all but stopped worrying about what I couldn’t do any more and started thinking about what I could. My intention was to share with my wife that the fear and negativity were behind me. That, whatever it took, I was going to be open minded and more constructive.
As I began to speak to her, I made a point to use the word “Positive”. This exchange was going to let her know that I was leaving behind the negativity and look at all the positives and embrace whatever changes might come. Before I even knew what was happening. Before she even had a chance to reply. She buried her head in my chest and began crying uncontrollably. I did my best to make her laugh and smile “Hey, there’s nothing to cry about. This is all about looking at things with a positive mindset.” “Come on, there’s no crying,” “I’m not crying.” She sniffled, as she reached for the nearby box of tissues. All I wanted to do was tell her how lucky I was to have two parents that loved me and a wife who, despite all my obvious faults, adored me. Still, she kept her head buried in my chest. Unconvincingly trying to conceal the fact that she had become overwhelmed with tears. “I have to pee.” She announced as she quickly made her way to the bathroom. Concerned for what she was feeling, I followed. More than anything, I wanted to comfort her. To let her know that it was okay to cry. Even with the door closed. I could hear her blowing her nose and washing the tears from her eyes. I entered and hugged her. Assuring her that, maybe for the first time since that hospital visit. That everything was going to be okay. That she could cry all she wanted to as long as she didn’t feel the need to hide it from me. “I was trying to tell you that I turned a corner and how I was feeling more positive about things.” “Why are you crying?” Still red in the face and filled with tears. She said something I never thought I’d ever hear. “Because it’s not your fault.” “You didn’t do anything wrong.” I have to say, it was humbling.
Throughout our entire marriage and even when we were dating. She was always the strong one. The rock, the ying to my yang, or whatever you call it. Being on the other side of the coin. The one to say “Don’t worry. No matter what happens, everything is going to be alright.” It was hard, but I feel it was long overdue. Whatever may come, I hope I can always be there for her when she needs it. Considering how much she’s done for me in reinforcing my health and assuring my happiness. I’ve got my work cut out for me.
As I sat in the neurologist’s office going over recent tests we hoped would shed some light on my worsening speech patterns and balance issues, I tried to control my emotions as I felt myself choking up. As he shared the results and his conclusive diagnosis. I found myself struggling to hold back the tears and the snot bubble that was massing in my right nostril, Suddenly, as I felt my wife’s hand tighten on mine. I turned to her lovingly only to notice the tears rolling down her cheek.
The answers we had been hoping for were not there. This was a month that featured X-Rays on my shunt. An MRI and CAT Scan on my brain and enough blood work to make a vampire foam at the mouth. It turned out that my symptoms had nothing to do with a recently discovered meningioma brain tumor residing on the opposite side of the brain where my original pineal tumor (The one doctors deemed as terminal. Giving me a month to live at the ripe age of twelve.) had remained or my 2008 stroke that was brought on by a build up from the radiation I originally received to shrink said tumor. Issues that could be easily understood, treated and easily removed.
Instead, what they found was a rare, often genetic neurological disorder known as FAhr’s Syndrome. A disorder that has no cure or standard treatment. One that progresses over time, but won’t kill you. After the doctor went over each test with visual descriptions, he turned to us and said, “I wish I had better news for you.” A term which is easily translated to “Sorry, but you’re fucked.” Having amassed a stockpile of sarcasm and dark humor over the years, I asked, “If I drop you a few extra dollars for your next trip to the local strip club, would you prescribe a toxic cocktail that can put an end to my misery?” Instead of agreeing to my request, I was referred to physical and speech therapists. Complete with a follow up date and the name/number of a social worker.I was all but dismissed. The worst part of it all, at least for me, was seeing my wife cry. We’ve been through a lot together (My 2002 shunt replacement, 2008 stroke, my struggles and sleepless nights due to an ongoing struggle with Gastroesophageal reflux disease as well as my numerous trips to the Emergency Room.) and she’s been at my side during every bump in the road. She’s a loving, supporting and very strong woman. Yet, I’ve only seen her cry twice in all our years together. Both being times when I was hospitalized or being diagnosed with some kind of bullshit.
While it’s hard for me to properly articulate what I’m about to say. Life has taught me that there’s nothing I can’t handle. I’ve seen a lot and I’ve been through more. We are all a lot stronger than we ever give ourselves credit for. Though in my case, hearing stories from friends and loved ones who were around to witness some of the things I went through was more than I could take. More than I would ever want to burden anyone with. I don’t know if I ever told anybody this, but I often feel a tremendous sense of guilt for what I put them through. In getting the news of the next gift from God. I finally shared my thoughts of how I wished the original 10/11/1982 diagnosis of “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing we can do. Your son will most likely be dead within the month.” Would have been fulfilled. Because, somehow, their saving me led to a lifetime of related bullshit that I couldn’t shield the people I loved from.
While my rant was not received well by family, friends, or my doctor. It was something I had been feeling and wanted to be honest about. In retrospect. I’ve lived a charmed life. One that’s granted me love, happiness and enough positive experiences to look look forward to and back on for years to come. All the negatives are just bumps along an otherwise smooth road.
I have a long history of bad dreams regarding my childhood, the places I’d been, the characters in my life and some of the crazy things I had seen and experienced. Thankfully, I reached a place in my life (a good one.) that’s given me a sense of closure that’s allowed me to look back upon those times with a sense of humor. While writing about many of those experiences has helped immensely when it came to that closure. It’s given me something I never could have expected. That being able to sharpen my memory and bring a greater sense of detail to my writing. Time and perhaps forgiveness has given me the strength and to a great extent, a chance to look back, laugh and share some of these stories with a sense of detachment that allows me to write as if I was penning fiction. Instead of waking in the middle of the night due to a nightmare. I wake refreshed with a fluent memories of an experience I haven’t thought of in decades.
One involving my Mother leaving me in the care of a very nice woman who managed or possibly owned a dry cleaners, While I can only recall being left there once. She was a very nice lady whose storefront was highlighted by a supersized fish tank that housed some rather colorful coy. I mean, I can’t think of a better place to leave your kids. “In before 9:00. Ready by 5:00.” had to have its origins.
The other, and perhaps the head scratcher of the two, came when left in the care of my father. Considering my parents worked shifts that almost insured they’d rarely see one another. (My Mother worked the regular 9-5 as a secretary in Manhattan. While my Dad’s city job as a bus driver had him on a 3-11 schedule. As far back as I could remember, my Dad was doing a lot of side jobs making money here and there doing work for bookies and loan sharks. While there were countless times when I could tag along to the bar (Cheese burger & fries, a plate of calamari and a couple of cokes. Armed with a handful of quarters for the jukebox. The hours would just slip away.) Or the local O.T.B. (Off Track Betting for those not old enough to remember.) Where I could sit and watch the races on closed circuit tv or run to the corner hot dog guy for a mustard, sauerkraut and onions Sabrett.
Through the years though, there were a number of occasions where my Dad couldn’t take me along with him on his rounds and had to get creative. The local gas station on the corner of 83rd st. and Astoria Blvd. just happened to be one. Though there were three filling stations within a two block radius of my Pop’s house. My Dad must have known the owner of this particular one. During the hours and occasions I was left in his care. I don’t recall any strange goings on. There was the office (or reception area) with a gumball machine. I spent time watching the mechanics work on cars. I can recall thinking how cool the collection of tools looked on the peg board. Those roller carts that allowed them to magically disappear under the cars and oh, those awesome car lifters that would raise the cars off the ground magically. The people there always looked after me, kept me entertained and safe from the constant traffic that flowed from La Guardia Airport into Astoria Blvd.
From a very young age, I had come to love visiting junk yards whether it be for a spare car or motorcycle part. Or to tag along with my Dad when he went to collect money for the bookies or sharks, By four or five, I had come to love the smell of gasoline.
Years later though, after hijacking my Aunts copy of The Daily News. I was somewhat surprised to see that the same gentleman my Father trusted to care for me was being arraigned on charges of extortion, arson and kidnapping. It was just one of many instances when someone I knew and trusted showed up in the local news paper or led off the days TV News report. It was just a part of growing up. People doing what they felt they needed to do to get from point A to point B taught me a lot about life and the many grey areas that you find along the road.