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.

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.

Unfinished Buisness; Part II

Just for the hell of it. I decided to revisit twelve year old me and rewrite the article I mentioned in my last post “Unfinished Business” What I wrote below was taken from the school newspaper article I mentioned, a journal I kept at the time as well as memories that still remain fresh all these years later.

Several weeks ago, I began experiencing severe headaches. It all started during school hours and became such a distraction that I was often excused to go down to the Principals office to request they call home to have someone pick up and take me home. Being that I’ve built somewhat of a reputation as a trouble maker.  I was initially scolded and told to stop slacking off and get my ass back to class. Days passed and as the headaches became more sever, my trips to the principals office increased. Despite all of the warning signs, health concerns took a back seat and I was sent to see a school shrink. I was asked questions like “Is there anything or anyone bothering you?” “Is everything okay at home?” You know, text book questions one would ask. “No, man. I’m just experiencing crippling headaches. Can I go home now?”

Within a couple of days I was in a doctors office. His assertion was I had been experiencing intense migraine headaches.Rex-1 Something that could easily be tamed by medication, which he described. In the days that followed, my condition worsened, I wasn’t making it to school and due to my parents conflicting work schedules. I was staying with my grandmother. By then. I was not capable of eating and could not handle any light, whatsoever. I vividly recall the overpowering light that emanated from my grandmothers 12′ inch B&W TV being more than my eyes could take. Quickly, (I’m talking about a matter of days.) I began hallucinating. (Here was this kid who sucked at fifth grade Math hallucinating ratios most kids don’t know of until grad school,) That’s when I remember being taken to the emergency room.

Upon arrival, I remember being taken in pretty quickly. (No three hour wait to have his temperature taken, given a few aspirin before being sent home with a bill resembling a school loan for this kid.) A CAT scan taken that night revealed a rather large pineal tumor on the middle of my brain. From there I was quickly admitted to the hospital where I had emergency surgery that was meant to keep me alive. Though I was not told at the time, my parents were gently told to make funeral arrangements. The date was October 11th and by all projections, I would be dead before I got to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner….

To be continued…or not.

 

 

Once Upon a Time…

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.

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