I Love Books

I Love Books (1 of 1)There are few things I love doing as much as spending endless hours in a good book store or a library. Aside from loving to read all sides of history and true crime, I often find myself drawn to biographies and any author known for his knack for gritty storytelling. Like with most things I tend to love, I have this habit of taking on more than I can handle, or in this case, read. Add to it a touch of ADHD, and I can now count seven
books that I’ve yet to complete reading. Only time and the continually shrinking space I keep compromising will have me using my library card or my kindle more often. Until then. And most likely long after, I’ll remain a book nerd.

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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.

 

Someone to Watch Over Me

Some of my earliest memories involve the time I spent at two of the gas stations that sat on Astoria Blvd. adjacent to La Guardia Airport. Though I recall having a regular sitter from the time I was in diapers until I entered the second grade. There were times, perhaps the weekend, when other arrangements would be made. Being that the gas station was less than a block away and my dad knew the owners and employees pretty well, asking them to keep an eye on me, although I was only four, seemed like a no brainer.

Though the times I spent in their care were few, I watched in amazement as the hours spent watching the mechanics placed cars on lifts and raised them with ease, as if they were spirited magicians. I couldn’t help but think if you can find the reason why a car isn’t performing at expected and fix it. They can probably solve most of the ills of the world. Having seen the engines and the transmissions of numerous automobiles at such a young age was fascinating. From these early experiences, I developed a love for the smell of gas, tires, and passion for pegboards. Those under the car roller boards and the way they magically disappeared underneath the car, absorbing the mechanic. Not releasing him until the engine purred like a kitten, forget about it. Though, in retrospect, a short time at a very young age. The experience gave me an appreciation and respect for blue-collar workers. The kind that knew how to fix things when they were broke and thoroughly wash their hands after a hard day’s work.

Years later, I think I was sixteen. I was reading my grand aunt’s copy of the Daily News when I came across a detailed story about that same owner’s indictment for numerous counts of arson, kidnapping, and attempted murder. Though somewhat shocking, by then, I had gotten used to hearing, reading, or seeing familiar faces in the news. I think it helped me in developing into an adult, shaping my understanding of what’s wrong and right and, ultimately, making decisions that would keep me on a moral path.Waztch (1 of 1)

Looking back, I wouldn’t change anything regarding my own experience. The men who were trusted to watch over me were always kind, making sure I didn’t get hurt or run into traffic. As kids, we often have built-in sensors that let us know when something’s not right. Maybe I wasn’t the most intuitive kid, but I never foresee any time when they would commit such horrid acts.

Stories that involve the time I spent at two of the gas stations that sat on Astoria Blvd. adjacent to La Guardia Airport. Though I recall having a regular sitter from the time I was in diapers until I entered the second grade. There were times, perhaps the weekend, when other arrangements would be made. Being that the gas station was less than a block away and my dad knew the owners and employees pretty well, asking them to keep an eye on me, although I was only four, seemed like a no brainer.

Though the times I spent in their care were few, I watched in amazement as the hours spent watching the mechanics placed cars on lifts and raised them with ease, as if they were spirited magicians. I couldn’t help but think if you can find the reason why a car isn’t performing at expected and fix it. They can probably solve most of the ills of the world. Having seen the engines and the transmissions of numerous automobiles at such a young age was fascinating. From these early experiences, I developed a love for the smell of gas, tires, and passion for pegboards. Those under the car roller boards and the way they magically disappeared underneath the car, absorbing the mechanic. Not releasing him until the engine purred like a kitten, forget about it. Though, in retrospect, a short time at a very young age. The experience gave me an appreciation and respect for blue-collar workers. The kind that knew how to fix things when they were broke and thoroughly wash their hands after a hard day’s work.

Years later, I think I was sixteen. I was reading my grand aunt’s copy of the Daily News when I came across a detailed story about that same owner’s indictment for numerous counts of arson, kidnapping, and attempted murder. Though somewhat shocking, by then, I had gotten used to hearing, reading, or seeing familiar faces in the news. I think it helped me in developing into an adult, shaping my understanding of what’s wrong and right and, ultimately, making decisions that would keep me on a moral path.

Looking back, I wouldn’t change anything. The men who were trusted to watch over me were always kind, making sure I didn’t get hurt or run into traffic. As kids, we often have built-in sensors that let us know when something’s not right. Maybe I wasn’t the most intuitive kid, but I could never foresee any time when they would commit such horrid acts.

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.

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.

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