Grief can make you do crazy things, silly things. Grief feels like your whole psyche is seizing, like an athlete dehydrating during a race. It can also, in hindsight, make you see something in yourself that you might not be too proud of.
My father passed away two years ago. And it took every day of those two years for me to be able to type those words, say those words, and not tear-up thinking those words. That’s the grieving process, or so I’m told. Part of the process that I was most resistant to, was the idea that things would get better. I didn’t want them to get better, I wanted to honor my dad by being unable to smile and laugh and to miss him with every tick of the clock.
During the two weeks of planning services and walking around my hometown like a zombie, I had a melt-down with my family that I was powerless to stop. If a transcript existed it would be hilarious. I was having a reaction to the mention of a group of poets who might want to share their words during my father’s viewing.
After retiring from the New York Times, my dad found it tough to adjust, and was in some ways rescued by a local group of poets who met and called themselves The Red Wheelbarrow, in honor of the famous doctor poet William Carlos Williams, who lived and practiced in my hometown of Rutherford, New Jersey. My dad became a leader in many ways and found an up-tick of productivity in his writing when most people settle down. He published poems in their annual release and published his own book of poems, Zerilda’s Chair.
“You know, maybe they could say a few things.” my brother said.
“WHAT? NO FUCKIN’ WAY. I DON’T WANT TO HEAR SOMEBODY’S POEM ABOUT THEIR GENITALS. THOSE MOTHERFUCKERS DON’T KNOW HOW TO EDIT AND IT’LL TURN INTO A COFFEE HOUSE AT MY DAD’S WAKE. NO FUCKING WAY.”
Or something to that affect. I was reeling and sad, I wanted to cast myself as the person to bring the house to tears with my eulogy. Our local catholic church would not allow lay people to speak and only scripture could be read. I was angry that no one from the family would be able to use their own words.
The truth is, that, I, the professional public speaker, would not have been able to compose myself, and it was really a moot point. But, the idea that these poets would get the floor made me crazy. It was misplaced emotion to say the least.
I’m not much of a poetry fan. I love Shakespeare and I like the quotes people post from famous poets, but I don’t wrap myself in verse very often. I liked my dad’s poetry, because it was free verse and sounded like talking. I had never read anyone else’s poems in their anthologies. For that I’m sorry.
I’m also sorry that I had ill will for a group of people who helped my father find a place in the world after retirement. A group that still invites my mother to their functions and treat her like a first lady of poetry, since he’s been gone. I want to thank them all. I want to thank them for, in the words of my brother, saving my father’s life, giving him a purpose, an audience, and a community.
Long Live The Rutherford Wheelbarrow Poets. Thank you for being there for my family, and thank you for your words. For what are we without our words? We are silent, and poets don’t go out like that, they have something to say and they leave behind their words to help us navigate the rough waters of life. A lesson I am grateful to have learned.
Do you suffer from buyer’s remorse the minute you part with more than forty dollars? I do. I’ve complained on this site before about my travails with refrigeration. Trying to keep cold cuts cold when you have to buy your own fridge took its toll on me.
I have voluntarily made a deal with the coolant devil, again. During our recent heatwave I was sweating through my clothes atop my bed at about 8PM, I kicked up my feet like a nine year old, grabbed my keys and exited my apartment saying, “Fuck this”. Ten minutes later I’m at Best Buy about to knock a guy out who appears to have snagged the last air conditioning. I found a few more in an aisle that had video game cartridges and waved a guy over and said, “I need to buy this”
Not being the handiest and having started so late in the evening I had to wait till the morning to install the AC. Since then I have had it pegged at 70 or 71. I am currently bracing for the utility bill and will let you know how that goes. In the mean time I am blissfully cool and dry in my tiny crib cranking 11,000 BTU’s and blocking out the credit card bill on my desk.
I was lucky growing up. I didn’t have any major allergies. I had a hyper-active gag-reflex and couldn’t swallow pills, so every medicine I took had to be liquified, but other than a constrictive esophagus or larynx (which people mispronounce as larnyx, which cracks me up), I didn’t suffer much grief medicinally or dietarily.
My best friend’s mom had a severe nut allergy, which I was aware of, from an early age, but paid very little attention to, and she is still striving and surviving. I don’t remember ever having a peanut butter and jelly sandwich over at their house, but I don’t remember having to be hosed down if I had one at my house and came over to visit. I vaguely remember holiday walnuts, and nut crackers, and being pissed-off after all that work when the walnut tasted like shit.
Maybe I am mis-remembering, like a politician, but I think we just went about our business and she avoided nuts. I have heard from a few teacher friends of mine that nuts are banned from entire campuses. Meaning a ziplock bag full of pistachio’s, in your sack lunch, is banned. This makes sense in pre-school and some grade school, but at a high school?
I’m a jerk who doesn’t know how bad, and how rapid, and how life threatening such an allergy is, so forgive my ignorance and insensitivity, but banning a nut from the entire campus seems like an over-play. Especially when some schools have metal detectors at their entrances.
Allergies are nothing to trifle with and I know things can go bad in a hurry, and I know schools should be safe havens of learning, but the beach is a beautiful place and we have to teach kids to avoid stepping on jellyfish and needles, let’s just be sure that someday we’re teaching them to take care of themselves. Like my friend’s mom, who learned the hard way, once, but managed to keep her life nut free, since.
We are a paranoid people, or at least I am. Maybe it’s justified these days with all the mayhem we see in the news. Maybe it’s a survival instinct.
Mistrust can spread like an airborne disease. Try this next time you’re out at a bar. Watch a sole diner, and say to your companion, “I think that guy is gonna dine and dash.” From that seed of distrust your companion will watch and notice things that aren’t there. The guy is shifty, every time he goes to the bathroom it’s to do drugs, when he exits to smoke your companion will start to stress out, “He’s making his move, holy shit, you were right.” Of course the guy comes back and pays and it was all a silly little experiment.
This stuff happens even with the best of friends. How many times have you had this dialogue, “Can I borrow your weed-wacker?” you ask. Your buddy says, “Yeah, but I’m gonna need it back.”
I’m gonna need it back. Of course, that was implicit in my choice of wording when I said “can I borrow”. Why is my buddy making me feel like I want to gank his weed-wacker? I haven’t stolen from him before, I just want to edge-up my hypothetical lawn, and he wants a deposit.
It is this subtle stomach ache of mistrust that we were raised on. I was always sure the cabdriver would drive off with my new purchase in the trunk, when I lived in New York. What would he want with a monitor for an outdated computer, but you know the feeling.
To be truthful, I still hold a grudge about a book I loaned out a year ago, and I never gave my buddy his Otis Redding CD back, so I guess I’m arguing against my own point, but can we at least leave out that nagging, twerpy, and accusatory phrase, “I’m gonna need it back.”
I left New York less than a month after 9/11 and it was a hard departure. It was too late to abort my plan to move to Los Angeles, but I wanted to stay in New York and was less than sure LA would jibe with a sensibility I had cultivated for as long as I could remember.
My true aim and dream, if I really boiled it down, was to be a New Yorker. It was made more acute by the fact that I grew up 9 miles outside of the city, in New Jersey. My transformation was complete when I heckled a car with Garden State plates, and told them to, “go back to Jersey” when they splashed slush on my boots making a turn in a crosswalk. A Jersey New Yorker is like a reformed smoker, they’re unbearable in their new identity (non-smoking zealot, or former Jersey boy) and have to let everyone know about their transformation.
It was more than knowing the trains, and which car to get on depending on your stop, it was more than a mostly black wardrobe and a messenger bag. It was more than knowing people and places. It was the feeling that living in New York meant your arrival in the world. The feeling of freedom even when you hadn’t driven a car for 3 years. Walking to a movie, complaining about having to visit someone on the Upper East Side. Clubs with ethnically mixed crowds. New York was my start a tab town, Soho owns much of my credit card debt. I’m still paying interest on a roasted duck club sandwich and 3 Brooklyn lagers.
It’s not the smell of falafel, or exhaust from a bus that gets my sense memory going. It’s not even the epic “Empire State of Mind” by Alicia Keys and Jay-Z. A song so good it needs to replace Sinatra at the end of a Yankee game. I know I would need to duck a punch if I had the platform for that sentiment to be heard by more than a few.
It’s a song by a couple of Brits with a Philly pedigree, and it came out just after my western migration. It’s “Say Yes”, by Floetry. It’s a sexy song about getting it on, it doesn’t reference New York, but it feels like the way I want to remember my time there. It’s a cab ride on a wet street on your way to a girl’s place. It’s a snapshot of being able to smoke and drink in a downtown bar doing your best to look interesting, it’s digging in the closet looking for cleats when softball season is close. It’s brunch with the folks. It’s taking off the Jersey plates and putting on the Empire State’s.
Even if doesn’t conjure any of that for you, I think it’s original intent to arouse and be sexy is enough to recommend it. Have a listen.