Surviving a brain tumor might seem paramount to many. Surviving high school is something many never live to tell. However, for myself, the challenges that often followed were often traumatizing. It was often the changes and adjustments I’d have to make later that proved to be the toughest. Though we’re talking a lifetime ago, I still remember that follow up visit to my doctor when the surgeries and treatment were done. I recall going through the ordeal with him while going over some C-A-T scans and being told how lucky I was to have survived. Then came to bad news about how I needed to restrain from the sports loved, which meant no more baseball, hockey, soccer, and above all, fighting, explaining that even one blow to the head could kill me. What else was a kid to do? Wear a fitted helmet for the rest of my life? Maybe an iron robot suit. I might have sucked at basketball and football., but damn, I still loved boxing, had a nasty left hook, and had made the all-star team with my little local league the year before.
High school turned out to be quite a challenge. While I wisely chose a school close to my home that had its share of older friends that looked out for me in varying degrees, I soon found new people who, for whatever reason, designated me as a target.
Just as the bell rang and I could see our teacher Mr. G steps away from the door. I made my move leaping from my desk, gripping the front of his and flipped it over with him in it. “No, Motherfucker, we’re going to do this right now.” the combination of the look on the kid’s face and the alarm in which our teacher entered the class served as proof of perfect timing during the most desperate of times. Though my hastily devised plan didn’t give me the protection that cooling my jets during a lasting after school would have. It scared the fight out of my opponent. Like my mother always told me and my father would go on to add. “If you think you can’t win, make them think you’re crazy and capable of anything.”
While no further words exchanged between myself and my aggressor, his previous call to meet him after school spread throughout the hallways, cafeteria, and gymnasium long before the final bell concluding the school day rang.
Though the walk from the school doors to the buses and trains blocks away were never lonely ones. It felt as if the entire school was heading in the same direction and ultimate destination that was the IHOP parking lot where the fight was to take place. As the crowd grew and began to create a physical circle, my older friend Jimmy took his school ring off and placed it on mine. ‘Put this in his eye. You got this.’ I remember taking some deep breathes and mentally devising a plan based loosely around the countless other fights I had before. Only this time, my focus was more on survival than winning.
While I can’t recall if I thought of what that doctor had told me about what the chances of a blow to head killing me were, but I’m pretty sure it crossed my mind. As the minutes passed and the crowd began to disperse, it became apparent that this clown wasn’t going to show. Perhaps he forgot, maybe I convinced him that I was, indeed, crazy. I guess I’ll never know though we would cross paths the next day and many other times during our tenure at Monsignor Mc Clancy. We would never again speak. Though others might confront the aggressor, knowing full well that he would have probably hand me my ass, I took that little victory and kept it packed away for another day. Just as I appreciate my Dad for teaching me how to fight my mother’s lesson of making your opponent think you’re crazy and capable of anything might have been my saving grace. Thanks, Mom.
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.
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.
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.
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.