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. 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. I was leafing through the old photographs again last night. This is what happens when you get old, you wake up in the middle of the night and think about the past. The moonlight comes in through the window and settles in a trapezoid across your body, bathing you in its quietness. It’s easy in these moments to feel pangs of sadness about the people in your life who are only photographs now. It’s easy in these moments to feel the weight of passing time. The way, for instance, the moonlight moves across you and up the wall and then fades with the coming of the day’s light. You forget the moonlight and the way it was a neat box on your wall as the daylight erases it. But within that quiet, away from the day and its screens, comes a contemplative moment that lifts the fog that is your life and brings into focus the things that matter, and the things that you had thought you had forgotten. I want to talk about the architecture of the east side of Buffalo, New York. I want to talk about it in a roundabout way. I want to convey what it was about the close set houses, the bent chain link fences, and the laundry on the line that stays with me and has somehow informed me and made me who I am today. I want to talk about the density that was the east side of Buffalo, New York before deindustrialization and economic despair destroyed the vibrancy of the place and left it empty and rotting. The low chain link fences invited conversation. The neighbor’s laundry swayed with the breeze like a country’s flag and you watched it, noticing the way the line was tied to the pole that was painted gunship gray. Their yard a foreign country with rock plants and roses. A whiffle ball fouled into their yard lay still until their dog went inside and you could hop the fence and race to rescue it, thrilled with the foreignness of your surroundings. The sidewalks and streets were our playground, where the flirting and shoving and the talking and loitering was conducted carefully because the windows were eyes. The neighbor watering his driveway knew us. The old woman rocking on her porch who never looked up at us, knew who we were, so we had to build our fires on the train tracks. From behind curtains we were noted, so girls and boys pushed each other into deep door wells at the school after it was out, finding their own sacred spaces to kiss and touch. The neighborhood allowed us to travel without ever having been anywhere. The old people conversed in Polish or Italian over the counter at the bakery. A bocce game was played on a lawn. Pinochle and Euchre were words that carried smoke and the smell of stale beer. It’s hard to imagine, if you were to walk through east side of Buffalo, New York, today to imagine its vibrancy. To smell the bakery, to feel the cool dark of the corner bar or the pungent floral smell of the flower shop with its talking Mynah bird. It would be hard to imagine the blue of the milk machine, or the streams of people walking the sidewalks. The stream of dresses and squeak of shoes out of the church. You would not be able to imagine the hardware store, that pile of metal fittings and pipes and screws and doorknobs that packed the place. You would not be able to see the little handmade signs that read screws 5 for 5 cents. You would not hear the bells from the church tower. You would see nothing much, boarded up houses, a decommissioned church and an empty school yard. There is a vacant lot where Ray and Theresa’s Clam shack stood. The little white chalked box we drew on the side of the brick wall of the school where we played a version of baseball called Strikeout is faded to be almost imperceptible, but if you look close you can see it. In the middle of the night, when I am thinking about the past, I see it again, and as the light shifts and moves and disappears I keep it within me. I keep it within me, the hardware store and its hand lettered signs, the smell of the bread, the Mynah bird, the cool dark of the bar, the bent chain link fences, the narrow driveways, the laundry on the line, and it slips out of me as I move into the day and if you listen and look closely, you’ll see it. You’ll feel the old time hello of the neighbor and see the way the white sheet lifts on the line and wafts on a breeze before hanging limply like a white flag.
Hashtag Throwback Thursday. This is not a photograph of me. It is a photograph of my Aunt Laura, the youngest sister of my grandmother. My aunt who lived above my other aunt, her sister Rose. My aunt who kept a yellow canary named Dickey who when he died, bought another yellow canary and named it Dickey. It seems like nothing, this photograph. An old woman is carrying groceries and a newspaper. Seems so ordinary. Look again. This is what I have been doing on Thursday. This is what I do in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep on Monday and Tuesday. This is what I do on Saturday and Sunday. I get up quietly so as not to wake the dogs. Not to wake my wife. I put on a dim light. I read a book or try to read a book but the sentences somehow turn to memories. I pull out a shoebox of photographs and flip through them to find myself again, or to see where I went wrong, to see what happened that made me end up here. I’m not sure what I am trying to say. I think what I am trying to say is that in my youth on the east side of Buffalo, New York I was surrounded daily by what I wrongly assumed to be the ordinary. There was the butcher and there the bakery. There was the flower shop with the black mynah bird that hopped around on the counter or stood staring out the window. We jingled the bell above the door and stood fascinated before it as it said hello in greeting. A bird said hello and it pleased us until it didn’t. There was the milk machine that coughed up dimes and there was my aunt walking down the street. It occurs to me sometimes in the middle of the night how little I know about her. The non-filtered Lucky Strikes she smoked or was it Pall Mall? The yellow canary. The candy dish of kisses. With new eyes I look again at my aunt walking, the ordinary pedestrian, and I see myself. I see myself in her conspiratorial smile as she hinted at her past in the ways we all do. Relaying bits and pieces the best way we can. She was the wild one. The one who snuck out through windows to go dancing and drinking in her own youth. The one who had a married lover who I only knew as the bookie. But it is more than this too, this photograph brings back that former me. The dumb one reading books, leafing through New Yorker magazines, wanting to get out and out and out, sick of the same sidewalks. The milk machine. The way the light slanted in winter and then left altogether. I looked and listened but failed to see or hear. In the middle of the night, in dim light, I turn the photograph to let the light catch it so I can see it better. So that I can see what I missed. What I missed was the extraordinariness of the ordinary. The light tilting. The weight of the bag, and yesterday’s news in a hand I once held.