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.

More about Frank

Fight Club

When I went to my dad for advice on how to handle a bully and some of the kids in my first-grade class who had taken it upon themselves to make my time in the schoolyard as miserable as possible, I would have never guessed the lessons I would get or the path it put me on.
While one can imagine a parent taking their kid to school the next day to speak to the school principal or even confront the kids involved.,
My father took a completely different route by taking me down to the garage and introduced me to the heavy bag and boxing.
Within a few weeks, I had mastered the art of the jab, hook, uppercut, and the cross. Most importantly, I learned about balance and why striking my opponent when he was off-balance was so important. Now, this might seem like a lot for a kid who was still in the second grade, but I loved it absorbed everything I learned from my dad like a sponge. I loved working out with him and emulating his moves. When he bought me my first pair of black Everlast gloves, it felt as if I graduated to another level. Fight Cub-1
From there on, whenever someone messed with me, they got a face full of knuckles and rarely ever fucked with me again. By the end of the second grade, I got to know the principles office pretty well while learning that no matter who started the fight, the one with the bruises and bloody nose rarely ever got blamed.
About a year later, my dad gave me more lessons I’d never forgotten. They included pressure points such as the nose, throat, and chest. He would always tell me, “If they can’t breathe, they can’t fight.” and “Seeing their blood puts fear in their hearts.” “If you want to end a fight quickly, bloody up their nose.” All these lessons would help me face my bullies. At the same time, I gained a great love and respect for the sport of boxing while continuing my dream to compete and win the golden gloves and eventually become middleweight. I carefully followed fighters like Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Sean O’ Grady, Hector “Macho” Camacho and Ray “Boom, Boom” Mancini, to name a few.
I think it’s worth noting that while I had a very short fuse and quick temper, I never started or went looking for a fight. With all the fistfights I had in that five or six-year period, I often teared up after leaving one victorious. Weeping and wondering why he decided to push me so far. I once sent a friend to the hospital for two days with broken nose vessels. I got into a lot of trouble with sister Mary Patrick for that one and a warning that another fight would get me expelled. Though the threat of being expelled had me wanting to change my ways, I was more preoccupied with the thought of apologizing to the kids’ mom and doing everything I could to regain that kid’s friendship. Not many people saw that side of me, but it was there. I’d also like to credit an older kid named Ronnie, who handed me my first ass-kicking while roughhousing in one of the nearby ball fields. It serves as a reminder that everyone takes a beating now and then. It was an event that stayed with me throughout my lifetime and plagued me until we reconciled decades later. During that exchange, he explained that he never meant to hurt me, but I was like a raging bull, coming at him like a locomotive. Thinking back, I probably deserved the pounding I got. It taught me a lot about raising my fists in anger and thinking before taking action. All these years later, I still remember and appreciate what my father taught me. I still work on the heavy bag, attempt to operate the speed bag and use the footwork to give me a sense of balance.

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.

Return to Anacortes

When we first visited the town of Anacortes, it was just a pit stop for breakfast at Dad’s Diner on our way to an area called Deception Pass.
Considering our breakfast outweighed that of our time navigating the rather touristy cliffs that followed. We made a promise to revisit the dinner and explore it’s town one day — Ana-1this Saturday, with no other plans or intentions. We filled our coffee mugs and embarked on a two-hour journey that would reward us with generous plates of bacon, sausage, eggs, potatoes, and mouthwatering biscuits. Wait, I failed to mention the copious amounts of coffee. After loading up on cholesterol, calories, and tasty goodies, we braved the cold to explore a town that’s rich in history and character. While we were able to explore many of the shops, Pelican Bay books were by far the most memorable. We were having grown up and lived most of my life in the city, probably led to my love and appreciation for smaller towns, neighborhoods, and their downtown hubs. Each has its personality, character, and unique history. And while it might be a while before we return. My wife and I look forward to exploring the area in warmer temperatures.

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“Are You a Photographer?”

I was sitting in Columbus Park enjoying the fall colors when a familiar face approached with her dog. As she stopped to say hello and perhaps follow her dogs lead to see if I had any treats in my bag. When she saw my camera and my exceptionally large lensCamera-1 she asked “Oh, are you a photographer?” I paused and might have even stalled before answering  “I used to be.” Explaining that I used to work as  a photographer and did a lot of studio photography back east. It was the first time we talked outside of the confines and time frame of our elevator or hallway and I did my very best to hold my own. Though I don’t work in a studio anymore and don’t really advertise my services the way I used to, due to my heath. I’m rather pleased to know that those issues have done nothing to diminish the passion and drive I always had for photography and what inspires me on a daily basis. So, looking back to that random question. If asked again, I’d most likle reply, “Why Yes, I am.”

Leave a Positive Footprint

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 oftFootprint-1en 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.