Hashtag throwback Thursday. It has been 64 days since the presidential election of 2016. The transition from an inclusive, thoughtful and decent president to his opposite is difficult to watch, but I continue to hold onto hope. This is vital now. It is important to reach out to those who feel lost and are vulnerable, to say, in any way you can, I am here and I see you. It is hard sometimes to see you and so I want to say that, I want to say that for me it is hard sometimes to see you but I continue to try. I am with you and I am here for you. I want to throw it back to my youth on the east side of Buffalo, New York. I want to throw it back to the how little I saw while looking in my youth. The rust of the cars. The bald tires. The frayed flags. Here is my dog again in a photograph I had forgotten. Here is Sasha. And then here is Puddin looking for my mother to come home from work. Here they are waiting in love. I am conflating the dogs of my youth without trying. My wife quotes to me, “old men miss many dogs” and it nestles in my heart with its truthfulness. This is what old men do, and this is what old women do. They miss many dogs. The dogs themselves, each in their own way, stopping time like a photograph- sectioning off moments of our lives. How did I fail to see the struggle in my own home against the economic weight of life, of the car salesman’s adding and subtracting on scratch paper against the bills that would come and continue to come. Electric. Mortgage. Car. Clothes. And those unexpected bills, the hockey stick slash to the skin that colored the snow red and my subsequent need for stitches. I search through the photographs and look beyond the frames for a clue, but find none and realize the luck of a good childhood. That the without was never seen just the with, here is my home with my dog on the green of my grass. Here is my mother and here is my father. My brothers are building fires on the train tracks. My sister is underage drinking in a bar. Here is my dog bending in play then standing straight, tail wagging at her good fortune. Here is the car my brother is sanding the rust off of to prime so that he can make it new. I see it again in my old age, the way I saw it in my youth. The everything that there was and the everything there could be, never seeing the what there wasn't or couldn't be. My dog is waiting for me to come home from school, to put down the books that my father covered with brown grocery bags, and play, while my mother simmers in the red sauce on the stove, while my brother sands the rust, while my sister plays a record, while my brothers sneak cigarettes, while my father, at work waits to sell a car so everything that is imperfectly perfect can continue.
Hashtag throwback Thursday. It has been fifty-seven days since the presidential election of 2016, and there are pinpricks of light in the darkness. I see it in the way people are trying to notice one another. I see it in the daily actions on social media and hear it in the quiet talks at bars and coffee shops. It is in the slowing down to enjoy the ordinary moments with the people we love. It is the beginning of the new year. With it comes the hope of the future, the idea that we can be better, more loving, more accepting, calmer, more patient. Here is a photograph of my father. There is the onyx pinky ring that I put on as a child. He is wearing the Christmas sweater I bought him and wool pants against the Buffalo winter. He is holding the cup that has been in our family’s cupboard since I was a boy. My mother made me tea in it when I was sick. We colored eggs at Easter in it. He is eating a sweet pastry he should not be eating, but once in a while is okay he would say. The pastry is my grandfather. The ring is my father. The cup is my mother. The wool is the winter of the east side of Buffalo, New York. Here is the revolution. The revolution is remembering the past for its hardship and struggle and seeing the successes and failures of time. My father carries within him the history of my mother and his father and his mother. I remember I need to ask him if my grandfather wore a pinky ring. I remember I need to ask him how he and my mother moved through the difficult times. It is sometimes in the darkest times that the brightest lights can be seen if you know how to look. Here is my father against the cold of the long Buffalo winter with a hot drink and a sunshine of pastry. He will wash the cup out with a blended whiskey, like his father once did. He will savor the pastry, the sweetness of the sugar on the tongue that for a brief moment pushes everything that is dark away.
Hashtag throwback Thursday. It has been thirty days since the election and I am as angry, full of despair and despondent as ever. And it is the beginning of winter and it is coming on Christmas which has its own challenges with the melancholy of remembrance. I am throwing it back to the winters of my youth to help myself put the despair into perspective, to narrow the focus to the moment we are in while carrying with us the moments that have made us who we are. In the very early morning, it comes back to me, the white of winter, the biting wind, the raw smell of cold when entering a heated house. The house itself, a furnace kicking on, the coveted spot before the metal register, a telephone cord, a basket of yarn. I am sitting on the radiator at my grandmother’s house again, the white of winter obscuring the houses across the street. I am in the blowing snow again, where the wind stops your breath until you have to turn and walk backwards for a moment to catch your breath from the battering, then turning again head bent into it and following the bootpack on the sidewalks. I don’t remember anyone in my family ever complaining about the cold, about winter. It was homemade soups and pots of red sauce. It was gnocchi and polenta and a bottle of red wine against the winter. It was the way my mother would tie a scarf around my neck when I was little. It was that Christmas when all I wanted was a pair of moon boots and got them. I was an astronaut every time they made a new track in fresh snow. it was this and more, it was the way winter made time slow and the way it made the sounds of rushing life quiet or muffled for a moment and left you with yourself again. On the east side of Buffalo, New York, the winter storms came in over the lake, picked up the moisture and dumped it on the city. The neighborhood was a fresh sheet of paper. It was endless and open and expansive. For a moment everything from before was erased. It’s important to remember this. The feeling of first snow when everything is new and can be redrawn. When more is lost than found, it is important to remember that in the middle of winter there is quiet and hope and through the darkness you find yourself walking toward the light of spring.
Hashtag throwback Thursday. Last night the Chicago Cubs won the World Series ending a 108-year drought. That is generations of time. I watched it, old man that I am, and was brought back again and again as the game got late. This is what old men do while watching baseball. They go back into their memory and remember the past. They remember their own dirt lot pickup games. The shuffling around in the dust waiting to get picked, and then picked punching their glove, spitting into it to make the leather supple and shine. They remember the lot itself. The scrubby parcel of unused land transformed by the possibilities of youth into a World Series stadium. Always game seven, bottom of the ninth, two out. Then to the glove itself, the one that sits in my father’s closet and has a story all its own, and then to my father who I imagined already asleep on his chair in the bottom of the sixth. Himself, I’m sure having thought about games of catch with his son on a black tar driveway. But back again, to the lineups. To the bartender’s son and mechanics sons and postal worker’s son. To the girls who watched at a distance, knowing the sides to be uneven because they could count and who waited to be called, and then when called mimicked the kick and spit and scratch of us before the seriousness of the game began. The loudest one, the most beautiful one, is the girl I secretly liked. All at once then, in the rain delay, there she is again on the field before the game hitting grounders to us. Calling to us and hitting pop-flies that we caught and caught and caught. The loudest and funniest. The unafraid. She slid into second in shorts and scraped her knee and threw dirt on it, clapping the dust off of her. When I watch the World Series, I go back to when I was in it, on a patch of garbage lot on the east side of Buffalo, New York. I see my mother and father. My brothers and my sister. My red-haired friend and our associates. I see my secret crush. I see them all. I imagine them not as they are now, in the midst of divorce, or checking their bank accounts, or eating dinner with their aged parents, I see them as they were. I feel the leather and spit. The choking of the dust. The yelling and jeering. I see them in the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, two outs. We are down by two. The count is full and our team’s girl is up. My not so secret crush. We all cheer her on, and that cheer echoes over time from Buffalo to Dallas to North Carolina and Cleveland and Chicago. It’s the cheer that whispers you got this, and you can do it, and we all believe in you. This is what comes to the old men watching the World Series and it doesn’t matter if their team wins or loses, it’s the moment of reflection on time and its connection to all of the most beautiful things in your life that counts.
Hashtag Throwback Thursday. You wouldn’t know it from this photograph of my brothers and sister on the east side of Buffalo, New York, but my mother loved Halloween. I’m not sure what it was exactly. Maybe it was the scores of kids that ran along the lawns and hopped bushes to get to the next house to yell trick or treat. It could have been the jostling kids standing before her in their handmade or cheaply bought costumes with their plastic masks on the top of their sweaty heads so they could breathe again, bags outstretched and eyes looking. The community of it. The way the neighborhood transformed itself and forgot its problems for a moment. Maybe it was our own excitement at the prospect of candy and freedom of the night that she saw in us. Maybe it was the way she saw us concentrate on cutting up our masks, helping us with the details. Or maybe it was the idea that for one night you could become someone else. You could be unhurried, less tired, financially secure, and young again. Innocent again. Seven years ago today, my mother passed away. The Halloween decorations were in all the windows and on the 31st on a grey morning, we said our last goodbye to her. Here is something to remember, no matter how much you want the world to pause when someone you love leaves, it doesn’t. Halloween doesn’t stop when your mother dies, and so that night, my brothers and I, took our children out trick or treating. We told them to walk, but they ran. They joined the throngs of Batman’s and Spiderman’s, the Harry Potters, chefs, Princesses, and the skeletons. My daughter was a bedsheet ghost with eyes cut out that got turned the wrong way and she stumbled along behind the group until we righted her again and restored her vision. Her eyes were huge and longing and she ran to the next house and we stood on the sidewalk in the distance watching. The monster’s and robots and superhero’s racing from house to house or comparing the weight of their bags. For a moment I forgot my grief. Everything went away as a white ghost skipped down the sidewalk and I saw what I knew my mother must have seen on Halloween.
Hashtag Throwback Thursday. Here is a photograph I took of my friends in the late 1970s on the east side of Buffalo, New York. I would walk to my best friend’s house and yell his name and he would come out. This would continue until all of our closest confidants were accounted for, then we would walk the beaten streets to the empty school and secure our spot in a doorway, or on a red railing, or on the concrete and do what we did. Joke and josh and taunt and scoff at one another. We would trade hockey cards or baseball cards or star wars cards or football cards. If we had scraped enough change together, we bought brand new packs. We opened them and over each other’s shoulders looked to see what we got. Guy Lafleur, Reggie Leach, Gilbert Perreault, Larry Robinson. We organized them by team, put a rubber band around them and put them in our pockets. We ate the stale gum. We played a game called foot hockey with a tennis ball. We ran and laughed and pushed and shoved. We were the heroes in our pockets for those moments, and then we weren’t again. We were ourselves. We were the sons of the machinist and the sons of the car salesman and the sons of the bartender and the sons of the mechanic. I think about it sometimes now. The hockey cards and Star Wars figures. The money we made shoveling or with odd jobs that children do to earn candy money. It all seemed so free and easy at the time. The yelling at the houses for our friends to come out and play. How little we knew about how hard America was at the time. The gas shortages and plant closings, the precariousness of the lower middle class. It was more than this though, it was how little we knew about the strength and fortitude of the adults in our lives. The scrap papers of additions and subtractions after we went to bed. The mustard jar of loose change. The quiet thoughts and prayers they said. The anything is possible, and these things will turn out okay philosophy of them. We often even failed to see the hard work. The love, the love, the love. The lessons in the weekly trip to the library, where they said hello to the librarian and whispered in small talk. The austerity of the bank for my first savings book. The diversity of the bus. My mother’s smile. The way she liked to hold you like she would never let go. We should have had our parents on those cards wrapped in a rubber band in our hand-me-down coats. We could have hunkered down in the empty doorway of the closed school with the I’ll trade you a steel worker for the car salesman, the bartender for the machinist, the baker for the mechanic.
Hashtag Throwback Thursday. Here is a photograph of me with my brothers and sister on the east side of Buffalo, New York, sometime in the late 1970s. I am a milk belly with a mop of yellow hair in hand-me-down clothes. I am new with wonder. My life is being taught to me in drips and drops by my brothers and by my sister, though they don’t know they are teachers. Everything they do is hilarious, and everything they do is serious, even the hilarious. Everything they do is confident. They take the path and see where it goes and I follow. This is the song. It is a ring of a big bodied guitar and a bass groove. This is the song I want to sing. I sing a song for them, for the them of this photograph that were the cops and robbers. The army men and nurse. The Jim Craig tending the goal in the Gold medal game. To the them that were the skateboard freaks, carousel eyes, and cassette tapes. The them that were leather jackets, stolen cigarettes and sucker punches. The boot steps in deep snow that I stepped into. I sing a song for them and for the freedom of childhood. For the treed streets that became sets in the movie that was our lives. This throwback Thursday is for the comfort of laughter. The hardness of rocks. The cuts, and bruises and scratches of play. The drenched wetness of rain. The elasticity of time. For the impossibly long days of bicycle rides to fields with snakes. The glass dishes of penny candy in the corner store. The anything is possible possibility of the day.
Hashtag Throwback Thursday. Here is a photograph of the east side of Buffalo, New York, sometime in the mid 1980’s. Buffalo was undergoing a historic transformation from a vital industrial and manufacturing city to a service oriented one. Steel plants closed. The population drastically declined with nearly one in four moving out of the city to find work. Skilled laborers were left reeling, neighborhoods seemingly lay in ruins. It was against this backdrop that I grew up. But the crumbling wasn’t crumbling to me. What I mean is that within it, the crumbling was something else, something distinguished. It carried a patina of the hard work of generations. We climbed, and bicycled, and ran through this landscape of rocks and soggy lawns and brick buildings with brass door knobs. Of steel railings, canvas awnings, and concrete. It was translucent glass, old wires, engines, and flowers. It was foreign accents, incense, and Franciscan nuns. It was the bent chain link fence that demarcated yards which separated but somehow also brought neighbors together. I am not sure what I am saying, the chain link fence allowed you to look through; it gave you a line but one you could cross visually. It is this openness of the chain link fence that stays with me. When I was little I would put my eye to look through one of the diamonds that the chain link fence made. I would look through that diamond to the space it contained and move to another, piecing the neighborhood together like that bit by bit. In the best of the backyards, the chain link fence was a tool, it carried the trailing vines of peas, and cucumbers. It carried the vines of wisteria and rose and grape. The fences became living things in those yards, like hedgerows you see in the countryside and this too is important. The east side of the Buffalo, New York of my youth was a dying industrial city but it carried within it the old homelands of rural Europe, of Poland, Italy, Germany, and Ireland. At dusk, neighbors pulled weeds or smoked and stopped, elbows on the top pipe of the fence, to share a moment, laugh or memory with their neighbor who did the same while their children tumbled nearby seeing without looking, learning without the lesson.
Hashtag throwback Thursday. It is back to school so I want to throw it back twenty-two years ago. 1994. The end of college. I was twenty-two. Everyone who I had been close to had departed for points unknown or home after commencement. they had gone to Buffalo, Philadelphia, and Boston. they had gone to New Jersey, Albany, and Waterbury. They had gone to California and Portland. I stayed in the Bronx working as an abstractor which meant that I prepared a condensed history of the ownership of a particular parcel of real estate. I researched this history which consisted of a summary of the original grant and all of the subsequent conveyances and encumbrances affecting the property on microfiche. Glamorous. I know. In some instances, I had to go back to the original hand-written books to find deeds that had not been microfiched. These were great big dusty books which were lorded over by an ancient woman who wore flowery housedresses and who did not like me immediately, she was distrusting of anyone who might not understand the magnanimity of these books. The histories of pieces of old New York written in hands long since gone. But I did. I opened them gently and ran my hands along their pages. I spent many hours admiring the penmanship they contained. She must have seen this and eventually smiled a toothless smile at me. We became co-conspirators. There was something important about this work to me, this idea of going back to find where we come from. It appealed to the amateur librarian in me. In any case, in those weeks following commencement I had never heard the city so quiet as when I sat in my tiny Bronx apartment with its view of backyard laundry reading Look Homeward, Angel, which only added to my post graduation blues. A crushing sense of loss surrounded me. It wasn't just college that was gone, an enduring moment of my youth, the east side of Buffalo, New York, was slipping away from me and I didn't know it then. Just weeks before I was on a rooftop clinking aluminum beer cans with my best friends. Then Kurt Cobain was dead. Just weeks before I was at a dance with a girl who could have been a movie star. We would etch our names in wet concrete in the east village in the hopes that moment would last. Then Brazil mourned the loss of Ayrton Senna. In one moment I was studying beneath perfect trees as a friend in leather boots and a skirt came yelling my name across the lawn and the next I was alone in the city, my future expansively terrifying ahead of me. Here is a photograph of me on the D train with what would become my confidant and companion in those moments post graduation. You can see the worry in my eyes, but so too the hope. I have my goldfish who I would wish good morning every day before leaving to the microfiche and books, to the going back to the past and seeing the beauty in beginnings. This is a photograph of me in that end which looking back was always a beginning.
Hashtag throwback Thursday. Here is a photograph of me circa 1984. The milk-fat of my baby years has disappeared in games of street hockey, bicycle riding, and general mischievousness. I am lengthening into awkwardness but haven’t noticed that about myself yet. Instead, I am sure of myself. Confident in the newfound freedom that library books secretly impart. Certain with the insights gleaned from careful observations of both the successes and failures of my brothers and my sister. I am a summer tan and beat sneakers and when I come to this photograph again and see myself, it is as though I am seeing myself for the first time. Joyce wrote "we walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love, but always meeting ourselves." This is what this photograph does for me. I see myself both stretching backwards and forwards in time. What is there to say about this photograph? There is nothing to say about this photograph. I am my mother and my father. I am my grandmother. I am my brothers and my sister. I am borrowed library books. I am my best friends. I am the backyard parties of my parents. The cigarette smoke and stories. I am the past and the future without knowing it. I am the precious moment between. Between youth and adult. Between then and now. Between confidence and doubt. Between new and rust. Between here and gone. In a click of a Kodak camera and the advance advance of the film I am stopped. This is what there is to say about this photograph. I am with my friend Doug. We have borrowed his mother’s car. We are parked near the Niagara River. I take a short path to a rock that I can jump off of and into a current that will pull me swiftly towards the falls. I am the cold water and the pulling of the current. I am summer and sunshine. I am the fish and the seagulls. I am the rocks that have traveled from Lake Superior to here which tumble on the river bed below and then drop from the height on their way to Lake Ontario. I am the river bank and the cool air. I am all of this and have no understanding that in some distant place I will forget this sometimes. You do. You forget that it is all here for you sometimes. You forget that the ordinary is extraordinary and you forget that it all disappears, or maybe you try not to remember that it does. It comes back to you though, in bits and pieces. In the way a song starts. In the way a river runs. In the way the light rises and then slips away. In a letter, or text. or post. In a jog of memory that the laugh of the person you love most brings back to you, and in a photograph of the you you were and the you you are and continue to be.
Hashtag Throwback Thursday. Here is a photograph of me in the St. Gerard’s parking lot circa 1983. It is springtime on the east side of Buffalo, New York. There is not much to say about this photograph. I am wearing the hand-me-down sweater of my older brother, Michael. I cannot recall who the older boy is who has stolen our ball and poses triumphantly. Heather is little red riding hood. Monica is a wet-plastered smile. The excesses of summer are hinted at in the soaking rain that washes winter away. The scribblings of the darkness of youth are on the walls. There is nothing more than this square of pavement of the now with its lure of sweaty hands and smiles. In an instant this will disappear though we will have no inkling of the disappearance or even what has disappeared until it is too late. Instead, the moment is an interminable lull between now and the great future of hope and success and impossible dreams. Then minute succumbs to minute to month to years and you find yourself standing in an impossibly long line at the Department of Vital Statistics to get a certified copy of your birth certificate. It having been lost in some minor life destruction. The green-haired girl two up ahead checks her phone, then checks her phone again for a message that will never come. The young mother with sad eyes soothes her son who has grown impatient with the waiting. The government has been so kind as to spell out in big block letters the directives on the wall:
Form A for Birth.
Form B for Death.
Below these signs are the wire baskets with the photocopied sheets that we are all holding. Through the plate glass window, the unknowable sky can’t seem to decide between rain or more rain and that view brings you back to those disappeared moments in the parking lot of your youth as the line does not move. The woman with the walker drops her dull pencil for everyone’s interest until the man with the tear tattoo on his face bends in kindness for her, like a smile after rain. The man with the thinning hair towards the front with the cat-haired shirt is muttering because he thinks he has been here the longest. Shifting from foot to foot, each of us waiting in turn for the proof of our existence or the thin slip that says we once were here - in the sigh and sigh and sigh of lines. In the way we inch forward and wait with all of the grace the moment calls for.
Hashtag Throwback Thursday. Here is a photograph of the interior of Bob’s Galley circa 1981. Bob’s Galley was a little restaurant that made submarine sandwiches, hot dogs, and hamburgers. It was two blocks from our house. It was a little building with a big sloping carport like roof that jutted out over the pavement away from the building and towards the sidewalk. It had a foosball table and some arcade games, so naturally it was the main hangout for the children of the neighborhood, and naturally the older children of the neighborhood brought their menace to the younger children there because the younger children inevitably ruined their “cool” with members of the opposite sex. What I am trying to say is that it was just as normal for an older girl to mock and threaten a younger kid with her words and fists as it was for an older boy to do the same. Also there were cigarettes. They were stolen from the pocketbooks of mothers and the plastic cigarette holders of grandmothers. There was a perpetual cloud around the place, and that, coupled with threatening remarks from jean jacketed older kids was enough to imbue the place with the sort of dangerous hipness that we all wanted to belong in. I don’t have much to say about the place. It was a sort of free zone where the kids could hang out for hours nursing pop in paper cups and telling lies. It was a space outside of the eyes of the peering adults, where we tried at imitating them, in their angers, and sorrows, but also, and most importantly in their loves, in their big, big loves. Hands were placed in the back pockets of Levi’s. Cigarettes shared. Foosball games became competitions of masculine skill, both athletic and verbal. The girls dared and flirted. The high score of the Donkey Kong game lent itself to cryptic messages of love spelled out in three letters and displayed over and over again in between games. I watched it all, careful not to get beat up, or ridiculed. I was taking it all in, but Bob’s Galley had closed before I got to older kid status. I heard that the Italian guy who owned it, closed it to start a light bulb business supplying bulbs and electric supplies to retail business. He went into the light business. I remember Bob’s was replaced by a short-lived bicycle shop where I rebuilt a BMX bicycle. After that, it was nothing. I recently Google street viewed the building, because that it was what we do when we are old. We look back to make sense of the past and to bring it into the present so that it may live in the future. I clicked through the street view to the block on Bailey and Delavan where Bob’s stood. It sits abandoned in a cracked parking lot with grass sticking out in tufts. It is whitewashed and boarded up tight against the weather. I stopped and looked at it there on the screen. I could see the long hair and denim. I could hear the clack and rap of the foosball on the boards. I could feel the setting sun on my face and hear the swears and slurs and slaps. I could see the young loves loving to love that big love. The Orange Crush in a paper cup like a sun. It occurs to me, staring at the abandoned, dilapidated building, that Bob’s wasn’t so different from the light bulb place the old Italian guy started after it closed. That little place with the greasy burgers and submarine sandwiches and Donkey Kong and Foosball table that was populated by the bold and brash and beautiful kids trying at adulthood was pure golden light. I could feel it shining still, a bright, bright light against the currency of darkness.
Hashtag throwback Thursday. Here is a photograph of me with my father. We are on the east side of Buffalo, New York. Based on my father’s shoes (which, if I remember correctly, were his work shoes, but which he also wore when he wasn’t at work to the great consternation of my mother) I want to say this was 1973. This was clearly during the time of gas shortages, anger, and fear in America. I was a wide-eyed child, constantly observing, though prone to seeing inaccurately, which would later be mostly corrected by a visit to an ophthalmologist who would fit with me the glasses that would bring everything into focus. It was the actual seeing that I continued to have trouble with though. But this is a photograph of my father and me. It is summer and it is a song. Winter is forever a month away. He is on his day off. My father was a car salesman, and the oil crisis with its gas shortages, wasn’t good for business, but still he went in day after and day and stayed until the evening and then came home. Maybe it was due to the fact that my vision was blurry, but looking back, I find it hard to remember a moment when the fear and anger that was so prevalent then found its way into his heart. He put on his shoes and suit and talked and talked and joked and joshed and sometimes he sold something and sometimes he didn’t. He never let the days he didn't differ from the days he did. They were all good. Each day. On this day, he has allowed me to help him replace the radiator in a Chevy Malibu he bought from an old woman who drove it two miles to the grocery store once a week for five years before she decided she could walk. The car was practically brand new but needed a radiator and so my father replaced it. It was a beautiful car and you knew it was beautiful by the way it shone in my father’s eyes. He had bought the car for my sister who drove it for one year before she decided she didn’t like old things and bought a new car and so the Malibu would be passed on to my brother. In my inaccurate seeing, I saw the car being passed on, in turn, from brother to brother to brother to me. It was a beautiful blue car. My help consisted of holding the flashlight and asking a million questions which he didn’t know the answers to and told me so. It was sunlight, sweat and the sweetness of swearing that little ears shouldn’t have heard but was made okay with his wink and conspiratorial smile. In my mind the car was mine. While he worked, he impressed on me the way the old woman had taken care of the car. It was a good car. Well built. Good things that were well built were meant to be taken care of, but so were other things. His shoes were cheap, but he shined them before work anyways. He replaced the radiator. He took a rag and wiped the grease away. We drove it around the block. We rolled the windows down and the air rushed in and rolled over him. The car had a big well-built engine. It was passed on to my brother who smashed that car to pieces. My brother was well built and good and my parents took care of him and the car that my father loved, that we had replaced the radiator in, was the footnote to the story. The real story is that in that summer of the gas shortages and anger and fear, my father never gave in. He took care of the things that were well built and he took care of the things that weren’t. His son, who could barely see and didn’t know it, was the apprentice mechanic he took under his wing. That summer was the sun. He was the waves that curled and fell on the shores of Lake Erie and then slipped into the vastness to come back again, over and over, cool and unrelenting.
Hashtag Throwback Thursday. Here is a photograph of me squinting into the sun. This is the late 70s or early 80s. This is back in my materialistic days. I am holding the poster of Farrah Fawcett I bought at the newly opened and very cool mall. The one that would eventually put the mom and pop shops of my neighborhood out of business, but I didn’t know that then. I have purchased this poster because both of the posters of Tatum O’Neal and Kristy McNichol were sold out, also because I figured the poster of Farrah Fawcett would distract my brothers long enough for me to get away from their fists, which in those days was code for love. Just after this photograph was taken I would tack the poster above my bed using three green push pins and one black because I couldn't find another green one. Here are other things I purchased at the mall: two patches, and several quarters worth of plays on the game Pac-Man. I am with two of my brothers. They have just finished throwing rocks at their friends and are about to bicycle to a place where they can light something on fire. First they were enthralled by Farrah Fawcett though and I knew I had made a good purchase. I am uncertain where my oldest brother is, but I will guess that he is either roller skating or smoking cigarettes. He has outgrown throwing rocks at friends. He might be kissing a brown-haired Italian girl behind the garage. She will remain nameless. We are on the east side of Buffalo, New York. It is summer and it is a song. In a few short weeks it will be autumn again and I will become a rasping cough in a square of light from a window with a view of falling orange and red leaves. I will be sick with influenza and a hand so cool and tender will be smoothing my hair. In my deliriums, it will be Farrah Fawcett, then Tatum O'Neal. Their hand will caress my cheek, red with fever. An oak leaf will drift through my view. I will see it in the instant of its fall, flat and spinning, held aloft by my blink. But before that, the summer is bright and lush. It is sunlight, Farrah Fawcett, Tatum O'Neal, and me.
Hashtag throwback Thursday to the backyard of my youth on the east side of Buffalo, New York. This was in the time of tube socks, Bactine, and bubble gum. This was before the words ovarian cancer, metastasize, and life expectancy came to be known. We were golden in our green. Our lips the color of popsicles. The sky a Crayola crayon blue. There was no such thing as money or debt or loss or leaving. We were enveloped in the embrace of the neighborhood that extended several blocks. The struggles were unknown, they were the things of adults, and the things of adults were another country to us. The photographs of my youth are tricks of memory. I look outside of the frame, search inside the house for my mother. My father. But somehow the photograph pulls me outside again. I am on a bicycle again. I am running through mosquitoes at dusk again. I am a bloody knee. I am a scab. I am the band-aid placed there by my mother. I am peeling the wrapper off of a popsicle again. I am in the backyard again. I am peering through the fence again. I am looking out across the expanse of the neighborhood. The lights are coming on one by one against the darkness. There is the shadow of Mrs. Schlauger again, she is a ghost now. She was a sweetness of wet eyes who we got to know. How was it we got to know her exactly. My brother mowed her lawn when her husband couldn’t anymore. He was an oxygen tube in the front window. She was a candy. I am nine again looking out through the bent chain link fence to the future before the future took hold. Long before the words malignant and stage IV. Before metastasize and glioblastoma. Before the scratching of numbers on a notepad. The adding and subtracting of a mind at the end. Plus signs and minus signs. The figuring and dividing. I want to go back again to that fence and come back to it when I am out of college, when I have children of my own. When everything is falling apart. I want to stand at that fence and call out plus sunlight. Plus fireflies. Plus pancakes. Plus you. Plus you. Plus you.
Hashtag throwback Thursday to the Buffalo, New York of my youth. The light in every captured moment in the square of a photograph is something to be celebrated. I pulled out the shoebox of old photographs this morning. The ones that remind me of the long story of my life and contain the ordinary moments that I thought I had forgotten or maybe misremembered. This is the significance of the shoebox of old photographs. This is the significance of the family albums. It brings you back to yourself. It brings the people and moments that are gone back to you. Here is one that stopped me. It is a photograph of me with my mother, we are in Canada at the cottage my parents rented every year in the summer. We are in Lake Erie and it is a plate of glass. My brother is in the photograph too, and though you can’t see him, my father is in the photograph because he is the one who captured this moment. What was it that made him get off the blanket and pick up his camera? It was my mother. The way she loved the water and the beach. The way she loved the way it made us smile. We were fish, my brothers, my sister, and me, and my mother loved that, she could sit on the blanket with a book, or look out at us, or look out at the lake and remember herself. Every summer we went to the lake and we swam and we ate peaches and we fell asleep in the sun, and my mother made a tent out of towels over us so that we wouldn't burn. There are so few photographs of my mother at the cottage. But here she is again. She is standing in the water and I am looking up at her. I am forever frozen looking up to her. She is in the water. She is in the sky. She is blurred just a bit, but there she is again. She is Lake Erie and she is the light that my father saw and stopped what he was doing to stop her there. To hold her in that light with the knowledge that she would never disappear.
Hashtag throwback Thursday to the sweet streets of the east side of Buffalo, New York. Here is a photograph of me with my sister. I have no idea where my brothers were when this photograph was taken, probably on the train tracks throwing rocks, or behind the garage kissing girls. In my youthful milk belly days I was a mischievous, troublesome, disorderly hellion whose sarcastic demeanor at the gumball machine was the stuff of legend, but my sister was a confection, and under her tutelage I learned politeness and kindness, and generally outgrew my rude behaviors.
Hashtag throwback Thursday. Here is a photograph of me from late last week. The lyrics Old man don't lay so still you're not yet young, there's time to teach, point to point, point observation, children carry reservations are in my mind. I am wearing my favorite yellow sweater. I have had it for over 25 years. It’s amazing to think about isn’t it? It is amazing to think about the everyday objects in our lives. The quiet meanings they impart. I don’t know what I am saying other than these are the things that move with us through life and carry us forward while whispering about where we have been. The way the sunlight doesn’t come this morning brings me back and illuminates the bent chain link fence of my youth where the bottom of my sweater snagged on the sharp top link and tore. I am thrust again to the east side of the Buffalo, New York of my beginnings. There again is the Archie Bunker of my neighborhood sitting on his porch. The gardens are brown and bent. There is Edith carrying a bag of groceries gingerly over the wet leaves stuck to the sidewalk. Meathead is on the corner in a cloud, smoking cigarettes by the boarded up bakery. Gloria is jumping rope. This throughout the day, day after day. The way the past comes over you in the most mundane of moments. When sleep has overcome the house, I check to make sure the door is locked and sit down, alone, in the lull. I listen to the song, King of Birds from the album Document and then listen to it again. Over and again. It is on the lowest of volume so that you have to really pay attention. In the instant, my brother is in his leather jacket again, leafing through his albums. Tells me I should listen to this one. All at once, it is autumn and I am the loneliness of the long distance runner. I am coming up the hill by the statue of Michelangelo’s David in Delaware Park, and there is my brother halfway up the hill dressed in black saying, looking good, looking good. The album cover is on my table and it becomes a portrait of him clapping on that slope. The house is quiet but for the thin strands of guitar that transport me some long way back to the edge of Lake Erie where I am running. The kitchen cupboard is quiet with the bowls of my mother and grandmother. When I use them, I put my hands where their hands once were. They are gone again. I leave myself on that hill, run my hand over the album cover. The song is a thin ghost playing on the quietest of volumes. The strum of the guitar over the wires and through the speakers fills the room with all of this, the television sets and leaves, the brown grocery bag, the stolen cigarettes, old crockery, leather jackets, hands that once held, Michelangelo and the narrow path of the cross-country course. It contains all of this and more and it grows and grows, and it gets so loud on the lowest of volumes.
Hashtag throwback Thursday. Here is a photograph from 1978. In the old days, photographs were printed and kept in books, or shoeboxes. They were pulled out and looked at and looked at and looked at until they bent and creased, and then they were unbent and smoothed back with the palm of a hand and looked at again. The smartest people wrote descriptions on the back of them, but the smartest people were usually the elderly, and by the time they thought to write on the backs they had forgotten many of the details associated with the photograph. Luckily, on the back of this photograph is written, “Doug, David, and Heather, 1978. USA.” USA here did not mean the country, it meant a skating rink just past the east side of Buffalo, New York. It is gone now. It was scraped away to make room for a big box store. A Home Depot. This is what they do now, they knock down the uniqueness and put in its place the sameness. USA. But on the back of this photograph USA stood for United Skates of America and the youth of our neighborhood and adjoining neighborhoods met there on Thursday and Friday and Saturday nights, ostensibly to skate, but more than likely to smoke, drink, and kiss. We were in the becoming stage. We were becoming ourselves and we were sampling it all. Fistfights were not uncommon, because what is becoming without a fight. It was always some squabble over a girl that was settled swiftly in the back lot where glass bottles lay empty. But enough of that. The music poured out of the speakers and into our ears and we moved, swirling in and around each other. The best skaters, of which group my oldest brother belonged, would look as though they were floating from blank space to blank space. Gliding between the slower skaters, moving in perfect sympathy with the music and in an instant becoming the music, becoming the physical embodiment of the music so that if you watched you were seeing the music in long arcs that weaved around and between the slower skaters who themselves, if you took the time to look, were lost in the music too. They were moving at their own speed while around them everything whirled and turned. Looking at this photograph and turning it over and reading the cursive, it occurred to me that many years later, after I am gone, this photograph will be found and the finder will have no reference to what the USA on the back stands for, they will think it is the country, and so this throwback. I throw it back so that the hallowed wooden floor of United Skates of America is not forgotten. So that the freedom of that floor is not lost. So that the beat up rental wall of skates still stands silent like a sculpture and like a sculpture carries with it the essence of that time and place. The essence was in the rusting cars and the factories where our fathers once worked. It was in the way we drank and smoked and worked at becoming adults. We lied and laughed and joshed and joked. We dressed in our best jeans and terry cloth shirts. What was it within me that stammered and halted as I went up to the girl with the eyes that shone like two wet stones and calmly asked her to skate? What was it within her that said yes? This is what we did. At the start of the slow songs, the lights went down and the rink thinned and the boys and girls of America asked each other to skate. Remarkably, I asked, and remarkably she took my hand and dragged me to the floor and we skated in a circle slowly. We talked and smiled and she took her hand, when it got sweaty, and wiped it on her jeans and then took my hand again, and wasn’t that something, I thought, the way she took it away and wiped it off and then reached for my hand again. In an instant it was over and the lights went back on and we were engulfed in the throng again. In the smell of alcohol and smoke. There was a cherry red skate box emblazoned with hot rod stickers advertising Moroso and STP under a bench. There was a paper plate with a cigarette bent into the center on a sticky table. Socks and paper cups crumpled on dirty rugs, but the music swept it all up into something beautiful and true. We found a place to be alone in that sea of becoming. We sat with our backs against a wall, our knees touching each other, everything new and pressing. The moments ripping away towards the unknown tomorrows but we leaned in closer against it, certain of each other, certain that nothing would hold us back, that we would be propelled cleanly into the America of our golden future, whirling and turning through the obstacles and defeats smoothly. We would be hooting and hollering and turning and slashing and slowing to take it all in, to hold tight to the freedom of that moment for all of our moments. Looking at us again stopped on that thin sheet of photo paper I remember the details; I turn the photograph over, smooth it out with the palm of my hand and beneath the USA write United Skates of America. The rest of the words are on the front. In the image on the front if you look close enough you can make out the words USA, and freedom, and youth, and yearning, and innocence, and truth, and hope.