Whole ‘Nother Story 

 

IMG_20170522_120954~2

My baby used to make the best orange cinnamon bread. And she couldn’t cook or bake all that well besides. I mean, sure, she made passable stuff, edible meals, frittatas and a Moroccan chicken dish that was tasty, but overall, no great shakes, nothing no one else couldn’t do with a cookbook and a no-stick pan, pearls and a little white, cotton apron with blue fleur de lis on it.  But that orange cinnamon bread, whew, and at first I thought, orange cinnamon bread!? Then I took a bite, then another, and another. Sweet and warm slices unspooling all sticky in my lucky hands on their way to my eager mouth. I heard she still makes it. Just not for me.  But, Time assuages bitterness if you let and Age can give you magnanimity if you do it right. So, I hope it’s true and she still does bake. And the pearls and the apron? Well, that’s a whole ‘nother story.

Journal Entries Written On the Back of Cancelled Checks

20180226_161222

$58.41 /Payable to Duke Power Company

1/12/93-

Things to do – Revised! :

  1. Learn Spanish
  2. Learn “Tattle O’ Day” on the guitar
  3. Learn to disappear in Mexico singing “Tattle O’Day” in Spanish

$150 / Payable to Citi Bank

2/23/93-

Ignorance is the disrespect of human decency.

$21.95 /Payable to Mario’s House of Pizza

3/12/94-

There wasn’t a lot to go on. Her eyes went hither and thither, hither and yon, hotter than Hades. I was contemplating overcomplicating a block of wood sitting in the middle of my living room when the thought came to me: “Measure twice, cut once.” I decided to make a zither out of the block of the wood. One of us would need a soundtrack. It would need to be airy, ephemeral and quenching in the profound protracted evanescence of her eyes.

Emigrants & Immigrants: My Paternal Grandparents

 

20171117_090755

Paweł Banas and his father watched from behind a tree. It wasn’t his family’s land, it wasn’t his family’s lake but they were his family’s ducks, if ducks could belong to anyone. And when he and his father saw the Russian soldiers shooting them he knew it was time to leave for America.

There wasn’t an eligible bachelor left in Sandomierz that Mary Szata had not refused. As punishment for her recalcitrant ways her landed family sent her abroad to the newish world of America. There she lived the rest of her days, missing Poland terribly.

How they came to be man and wife I don’t know.  Perhaps, there are documents, fading as I type this, that detail their union. Their last surviving child, my aunt Mary, is 95 years old, at an age when, as my cousin said, “memories become more a source for comfort than facts.”

I wonder why I am so interested in people I never met. Yet, I’ve always been like that. Am I looking for comfort in facts and memories or to elide them in stories?

What is a memory, but an emigrant, an immigrant traveling from somewhere or another to somewhere else or another in the great, domestic, international, dialectic clash of thesis and antithesis, the here and the there to form the now which, sooner, or later, if its lucky, lives forever, or as long as well can tell, in memory?  What did the soldiers do with the dead ducks? Did my great-grandparents regret exiling their daughter?

I don’t know. I could make up a story from those two sentences and argue fiction is greater than truth, but it might be best to let them wander like the Truth. Sooner or later, Truth finds a home.

Tornado Witchcraft

doll head

She was one of those who practiced “Tornado Witchcraft”. And by that it’s meant that she had a beauty that spun you around into the ground like bronze die-cut rotini pasta into a sand dune. A sand dune authored by Kobo Abe if you get my drift.

And that’s when a mesmerizing wind would whistle faintly, warmly, first through the trees outside the tall windows then seep through porous chinks between bricks of an old soul and tiny grains pelted your face like kisses, whip up the whirl and scrub the length of history.  White magic conferred by her eyes, her stories, and through her hips onto your hands resting on them.

Yet it was reciprocal magic like a circle beginning where it ends; neither of you knew what to do with each other, busy perning into Tierra firma.

Currency

IMG_8054.JPG

Ever go to give a bum or panhandler a quick buck to ease your soul and go easy on yourself and forget you got no cash or worse, only have a $5 or higher? And by that time he’s been eyeballing every move from the median strip because that’s what he has to do. And he’s seen you lift up your right ass cheek because that’s where you keep your wallet and he starts your way then quickly eases his gait not wanting to seem too eager with one eye on the light. And you pull it out. And you open it up.

Leather wallets and money each have their own smell; dusty, stale and used. It’s from being handled, passed around and stuffed under our asses. What do we call beggars, panhandlers, these days? Bastards? Bums?  Or  “This Guy” as in “Jesus Christ, look at This Guy”? I’ve heard people say they never give them money, it’s like feeding a stray cat, it only encourages them and why hell they make about 60k a year. All untaxed. Nice work if you can get it.

I don’t think most people have what it takes to act in that drama every day. Sleeping outside is fun until you have to. And even if it is an act, do you have the guts to do it, the unbowed stamina, and the enduring courage?

I think of Nutmeg during these encounters. Nutmeg is one of my rescue dogs. Every time we pass a sewer trough that runs into a little tunnel she has to stop, go over and sniff it. She sleeps under the futon, hidden by the overhanging blanket, while my other dog, Addie, always sleeps up top. My boys and I say Nutmeg must have found shelter in the storm drains when she was a stray.  On our walks she stops and sniffs every one we pass. She’s either remembering or casing them. Nutmeg is not human and humans are not dogs. They are both living creatures, though.

All I had was a $5. But I had committed. I was all in. I couldn’t finger my phone for the latest score, bombing or breach of civility nor could I gaze off into the distance beyond behind my sunglasses on this cloudy day. He thanked me for rolling down my window. I wondered how long my car horn would sound before someone pulled my head off of the steering wheel as a bullet cooled in my left temple. Thank you, sir, he said accepting my tithe, and handed me a small, orange piece of paper with writing on it.  It read: IF YOU HAVE FAMILY PROBLEMS, PROBLEMS WITH DRUGS or ALCOHOL THEN COME!!! FIRST CALL ON JESUS, THEN CALL US. I didn’t smell it. It would be dusty, stale and  used soon enough.

Glurping

20180418_174240

I was searching for the skips of stones across the water. Not the water. Not the stone. Not the sound. Not the splash that spins off of either, either.  The skips. I was searching for the skips. I was searching for the skips in and of themselves.  And not the skips that are skipping now nor the skips that will be skipping in the future, the skips to come. I was looking for the skips of the past. Not in the past. Of the past. What happened to them? Where did they go? Where are they now?

One skip would suffice. Plural skips aside, knowing that one skip may not, and in all reality, or whatever we deigned to term, call, be or accept as reality, be representative of all skips, one skip was all I sought. From back then.

The skip eludes the senses.  It can dodge ontological inquiries but can’t evade the mind. Specifically, my mind. The thought struck me to perform this in a controlled environment.  At night. Pitch black dark night when all other senses would be rendered mute, moot or senseless, too.  So I went to the river after the rains had ended and the shad had run and flung the flattest stones I could find and listened for the skip, as if they were echoes, successive generations that carried in them the skip like a long nose, a chortle, a drinking habit, and then I wondered. What did a stone sound like dropping to the river bed?  As if finding them asleep in the silt I could stir them wake and say, tell me, tell me about the skips of the past?

I felt the arm pull back, the feet brace firm in the muddy bank, heard the exhalation as the arm whipped and then the sonority of the whole world concentrated in that moment. The emptiness of that moment was the skip. In and of itself. And I realized this was the sound. The sound of me at 2:35 am where George Washington crossed the Delaware River.  And then it was gone. Glurping down to the silt of the river’s bed. But who knows? Who really knows what a stone falling through the water to the bottom of a river really sounds like? Not me.

I do know that memory is silence. Memory is a stone. Falling down to the bed of a river. Glurp.

 

Waking Up at the End of the World

IMG_8046

None of us start out with grand ambitions, we back-fill that memory like a wave crashing the beach, surf eddying around our ankles until the sand gets sucked out from under our heels and we totter. The water is not blue. Jellyfish take a long time to die. Sharks never swim in the shallow pools until they do.

 

I was here, on the beach at 52nd and Surf, at the end of the world, hung over, waking up next to what at first appeared to be a dead Mexican. But then his cheeks puffed out and he whimpered into the sand. I smelled my hands for blood but only inhaled a faint aroma of buffalo sauce that inspired no recollection.

Acting on a hunch I reached into the pocket of my neighbor’s jeans and BINGO! Found a packet of Alka-Seltzer tablets. And my car keys. I took another look at the prostrate Mexican and searched for a name.  Empty. Empty as my pockets.  Empty as my head save for the screeching of seagulls hovering above us like they were auditioning to be vultures. Everyone wants to be someone else it seems.

 

Suddenly it felt like the day was resting, in all its damnable weight, across my eyebrows.  I was either having a stroke or a religious experience without the patience to witness either come to fruition. I had heard that if you fed a seagull Alka-Seltzer their stomach would explode. So, bereft of water, and refusing, even at this late stage to drink my own tears, I tore open the packet, whistled as if calling an old favorite dog to the barn, and looking up into the screeching miasma of seagulls that was chopping up the daylight into flashes and explosions of heated air, then tossed the tablet towards the heavens and cowered for cover next to the Mexican. And waited. For the deluge.

 

When it hit me: maybe Henry? Henry was my cousin but he had that swarthy complexion, “Gypsy blood,” my mother claimed, in contrast to our paler, blonde inflected pallor.  At least I hoped it was him. If it wasn’t, I was truly screwed.  I practiced my Spanish, which consisted of insults and made up holy days, just in case.  The gulls swarmed.