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-six days since the election and every day the news brings despair. The cold fronts are sweeping down from the arctic and pushing us inside to the warmth of our homes where we flip the light switches on against winter’s darkness. I have become late period painter Mark Rothko, abandoning the yellows, bright reds, and oranges of my youth on the east side of Buffalo, New York, in favor of blacks, burgundies, grays, and deep greens. This is what happens in old age, but this is also what happens at any age when despair is heavy and sits on your chest and makes it difficult to breathe. It is important to remember this. It is important to be aware of the burgundies and grays and it is vital to remember the yellows and oranges. This is what I want to share with you, here in the middle of the night, squinting through the darkness to write this, I want to share with you that I have not forgotten the yellows and oranges though they have become fuzzy. On the east side of the Buffalo, New York, in my youth, a patch of land was scraped and leveled. I cannot remember what stood in its place before the scraping and leveling, but I remember what they put in its place. Though I didn’t know it then, the scraping and leveling was the beginning of a long decline of my neighborhood. In place of the thing that I cannot remember that occupied that corner, they built a Burger King. The corporation had come into the neighborhood with its cheap shiny construction. In the opening week they gave away New York Yankees cards with cheeseburgers and I built a collection of Bucky Dents and Thurman Munson’s. My grandmother loved the french fries and we would walk the block from her house past the Baptist church that always seemed closed, to order fries and if I was lucky, a drink and sit on the curved orange plywood benches. She ate them one by one and the cars outside passed and we watched them pass. Sometimes we talked, sometimes we just say in silence. She watched me eat french fries and I watched her eat french fries and then we walked back to her house, maybe stopping to say hello to someone on a porch, me kicking at weeds, or looking at a stack of newspapers tied with twine and set out on the curb, a dog barking in the distance. This is what I remember, in the darkness, there is light and we carry it within ourselves and it moves us forward. It is the middle of the night, and it is cold, and winter dark, but my Nonnie is eating a french fry and the light is streaming in, bathing her in something true and golden. We are walking down the street again, before the corporation, before the weight and despair, when the light was in the hand you held and in the eyes of all the people you loved and loved you back.
Hashtag throwback Thursday. It has been twenty-three days and I’m still trying to make sense of the election. I’m not sure I will. I wake up in the middle of the night and think the thoughts that come and come and come. I’m thinking about reading and comprehension. I’m thinking about news and propaganda. I’m thinking about the libraries of my youth on the east side of Buffalo, New York and how each book I read opened a door to an entirely different world and allowed me to see through and read between the lines of the moments and people in my life. I’m thinking about the city bus that I took to high school. It was the #19 and I waited for it at the end of my street. It took me through and out of the neighborhood, past the University, to my school. Every morning I waited with an elderly black woman who I let get on first. She sat in the first seat at the front. I liked to sit in the very back so that I could get a good view of everyone, and then make up little stories about them in my mind. Here is the thing about the #19 I want to share with you. Lying awake at night and remembering the #19 as an old man it occurred to me how democratic that bus was and how much it shaped how I came to approach people. A year or two into school, a teacher of mine who was also my running coach got onto the #19, which was unusual considering he almost always ran home, I’d see him sometimes from the window. It was a blustery winter day, he got on, saw me and sat down next to me. He pulled out a folded New Yorker story he had ripped out of the magazine and gave it to me. Thought I might like it. He told me about where he grew up in the neighborhood, his family and then his stop came and he got off. I watched him walk through the snow in the center of the street as we pulled away. We passed Anacone’s Inn, a bar I would underage drink in, and then back into my neighborhood which sagged with the weight of the economy. Thinking about it again in the middle of the night, it struck me that my teacher took the same bus I took and it was no big deal. I took the bus with the elderly black woman who sat in the front. We said hello to each other, I let her on first, or she demurred and let me go ahead, and we sat. I made up stories about the greasy mechanic and the woman with the bags who arranged them and rearranged them. I made up stories about the University students, and the office workers, and the elementary school kids with powdered donuts around their mouths. I looked, and with the light from the window streaming in, they all became me. The stunned, tired old grandmother with her granddaughter on her lap was me, and I was the granddaughter too. I was the elderly black woman in the front, and I was the bus driver too. I was the teacher and the mechanic and the University student before I was a University student. I saw in them the struggle of life, of too little money, problems, and old clothes, but I saw their smiles too and the courtesy they extended by moving a bag or wiping melted snow off of a seat so someone could sit. That is what I remember most, the way an old handkerchief was unfolded and used to wipe away the wet to make room for someone who had been standing for too long and just needed a seat with a view of their world in a big plate glass bus window.
Hashtag throwback Thursday. It’s been eight days and I’m still trying to make sense of the election. I’m not sure I ever will. It keeps me awake, and as old men do in the middle of the night they look backwards to the past and then inwards towards themselves. I’m thinking deeply about the origins of my own thinking on race in America. I grew up in a predominately, but not overwhelmingly, white lower middle class, working poor, catholic neighborhood on the east side of Buffalo, New York. The Buffalo of my youth was in a major upheaval. The economy of the city, and the jobs from the heavy industry of the steel plants, had collapsed. High unemployment, crime, and despair were prevalent. It was not uncommon to hear stories of white neighborhoods not far from mine making it uncomfortable for people of color to even walk through them, let alone live. The older grades in my elementary school were almost entirely white, but my grade and the grades below me, had more diversity. I like to think my thinking on race began then. That the otherness I experienced was more of a curiosity and not an animosity. It was as though I was going into someone’s house for the first time and looking at their pictures on their walls, then noticing the pots and pans, chairs, and hardwood floors, the mystery revealed. We were the same. I remembered Chandra, the way she smiled, and how she snuggled with me one night when some of the girls had crashed a sleepover at my friend’s house before they were found out and had to leave. Chandra, if you had to describe her in terms of color, was a light skinned brown girl. Chandra, if you truly described her, was a sunlight of smile and a fierce intelligence that was seeking. When she smiled, dimples appeared and I was smitten. I don’t even remember how we became innocently entwined that night, but it was a powerful connection for me. It was a brief moment of one night before we went back to the usual schoolyard separation of boys and girls, but here it is again all these many years later. Two people enjoying each others company. Here is what I do remember: her smile, and the way she talked to me quietly and the way we laughed together while the party went on around us. It was what boys and girls did and color played no part in it. They played at love. They held hands, and squeezed together. They saw each other, listened to each other, and looked at each other and accepted each other for who they were. My heart fluttered. Around this same time, a Vietnamese refugee family was sponsored by our church and, like that, three Vietnamese children were in our school. The Tranh’s had three children, two boys and a girl, and the youngest two, the boy and girl were for a period in our class. They were quiet and delicate. I can only imagine, as I think back now, that they were afraid and unsure. I am not making sense. I am trying to understand where my own view on race in America began. It is not perfect, but I am trying to see where the thinking began, and how I diverged from a group in the country who elected a man who campaigned on bigotry, misogyny and racism. In the middle of the night, I have come to these early instances. Chandra and the Tranh’s. There are two things I distinctly recall about the Tranh’s. The oldest was in my brother’s class and though the Tranh’s spoke English, it was clearly a second language, and someone in my brother’s class had taught the oldest the middle finger as a greeting. At recess, I remember one of my brother’s friends calling out to him from across the yard and saying hey Tinh, and giving him the finger and Tinh raising his hand and giving the finger back. I remember it clearly. It made me feel like something was very wrong. There was a grotesqueness that the gesture, of which I was no stranger to, had taken on that was more deeply troubling than I had noticed before. It was wrong. That is one recollection. The other is that the brother and sister in my class, though quiet, reserved, bent to learning could take a scrap piece of paper and fold it into a crane, or frog, or star. I want to say it was my first experience with origami. As an old man awake in the middle of the night, making sense of a senseless election, I saw Chandra again, that little girl making sense of the world and in so doing reshaping me in a brief moment of tenderness. I see the Tranh’s again and how they took a scrap of discarded garbage paper and made it something beautiful.
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 my childhood friend, Kelly Shea, circa 1979. Kelly Shea lived down the block from me. She was my constant companion and daily playmate until someone at school cruelly chanted that we were sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-Ging. After which, we proceeded to politely nod to each other as we passed each other in the street. Kelly Shea came from a large Irish family. Her father was a teacher. He was white-haired and wore button downs and khakis. She was blue eyes and milk white skin. Kelly Shea, aged 8, was a good reader but not the best pupil. By this I simply mean that she tended to daydream in class, routinely getting called on and fumbling out of her reverie to flip pages or stare at the ceiling hoping for an answer. She had assiduously begun going to the movies and seemed to be lost in the moving pictures even after they stopped. She was a great fan of the French New Wave, and sacrificed milk at lunch and gum at the corner store to save her allowance for tickets. She smoked at 9 and I would see her sitting on a guardrail after school, lazily puffing away while reading the French Magazine Les Cahiers du Cinema. I had no idea she could read French. She told me about Antoine Doinel, the fictional character created by French film director Francois Truffaut. It was cold and the smoke from her cigarette hung heavily around us as she spoke. It was autumn and the ground was a sponge. She pressed her maryjane’s into the soggy ground, concentrated on the telling. The 14-year-old Doinel, she told me, was a troubled Parisian boy who skips school, eventually turning to street life and petty crime in response to neglect at home by his parents. Towards the end of the film, he is sent to a reform school, from which he escapes for places unknown. Then she looked away from me for a moment. She turned her head into the direction of that unknown, going there herself. This was before I knew how language worked. Before I knew the phrase, is everything okay? Instead, I photographed her with an old Kodak Brownie that I had unearthed in the mountains of detritus in my basement which consisted of the physical memories of the lives my parents lived before having children and also of the pieces of our own childhood that we had surpassed. I snapped her picture looking down into the viewfinder. She moved three weeks later and I never saw my first true friend and daily companion again.
Hashtag Throwback Thursday. This is not a photograph of me. This is a photograph of the mother of the father of my father. My great grandmother. I never knew my father’s mother, my grandmother (she having died before I was born), and have two or three vague memories of my grandfather, who died when I was little, so you can intuit that I never knew the mother of my father’s father. There is nothing to write. This is the only known photograph of her in my immediate family. There may have been others. Perhaps my father’s sister had some, but she too is only a photograph now. I shouldn’t say only, she is also the stories of her children and she is the stories of my brothers and sisters, and she is the stories of her husband and she is the stories of her brother, my father. Her stories will live on for a generation or two. They will live on for three or more if she is lucky. She will be carried on. Leafing through some old photographs from a box that had been moved from our childhood home on the east side of Buffalo, New York to my parents new house, which is one hundred years old, I found this stuck to another and slowly peeled it away. I showed the photograph to my father and said, “who’s this?” and he brought it close to his face because he has a lazy eye and he said “my grandmother.” That was the extent of the information that I could glean from him as he proceeded to watch the boxing match which emanated from the television set on full volume because his hearing has declined in recent years. I studied the photograph carefully to see myself in it, but I follow the Polish line of my family which comes from my mother and so saw none, but I see her in the nose of my father, and in the nose of my nephew. I can see her in the eyes of my nieces and in the strength of my sister and brothers. You’d think her story seems to end with my father saying “my grandmother” and leaving it at that, no more color commentary about how she carried a bushel of hay on her head in the mountains, or perhaps some recipe for sauce that has been handed down and down and sits folded in a cookbook on a shelf in Buffalo, New York which is only able to be deciphered through the help of Google translator, but it’s not. Her story continues in my father who sits watching men throw right hooks beneath an afghan my mother crocheted. Looking at this photograph again, I do see myself, carrying on my head the bushel of all the things that have passed and will continue to pass. I write these things down imperfectly into a little white text box so that I might not forget them and post them to a website. You will be going about your day checking your device, reading text messages and Googling words whose definition you are unsure of on a Gorilla Glass screen that is made by the manufacturer Corning, by luck you will come across my great grandmother and read the words I have written and you too will become part of the story, you will see it stretch back and stop and then elongate out to the broken back of my grandfather, to his passage to Ellis Island where you can search the databases to see his name which is the name of my great grandmother and my father and my sister and brothers and me.
Hashtag Throwback Thursday. I am throwing it back in honor of the beginning of the school year. Here I am on the east side of Buffalo, New York. It is the first day of school. I have not yet mastered the art of tying my shoes or buttoning my coat, but that is no matter. The day is monumental in my mind. Up to this point in my life, I was relegated to watching my brothers and sister from the front window as they walked to school. I observed them closely as they ate their breakfast in their little uniforms. When the door closed, I hurried to the couch that ran along the front windows, bent over the back, and pulled the curtain. There they went, beneath the red maple tree to school. School. It was a mystery. In my mind I imagined it a place of properness. Of books and learning. Of transformation. I wanted to know the names of the things in my life to give them definition and bring them into focus and make them clear. I was a serious child. I studied the words in the books my brothers and my sister brought back trying to make sense of them and my brothers saw this and used it to their advantage. Taunting me with words I didn’t know until I cried, which buoyed them and allowed them to continue their torment. Here is a photograph of the beginning of the end of the torment. Here is a photograph of the beginning of the definitions to the words I didn’t know. My mother is in my buttons and hat. She tells me to look at the camera and in that instant summer is washed away on an autumn wind, and with it, the mystery of school, the mystery of the world. I have taken flight. I walk on my stick legs two blocks to the mayhem of the schoolyard. I follow my sister who walks with purpose while my brothers lag behind, kicking at stones. At the corner I hear the shouts and yells from the yard and it becomes an orchestra warming up. We turn to the red brick of the building that seems to hold the blood of generations. I stand in awe and my brother pushes me forward into the undulating mass of school children who stop at a bell and get into line yammering until that too is silenced by a nun and we are ushered in quietly to the learning and becoming.
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. 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.
Hashtag throwback Thursday. When I last visited Buffalo I came across some old notes in a box in my father’s basement. Old handwritten grade school notes that were surely passed to me through intermediaries in a snowy parking lot at recess or stealthily, from hand to hand, while a teacher wrote in loops on a chalkboard, until it reached me. That former me, the eight-year-old me in a navy shirt and navy pants. My hair blonde and new. I was full of love and curiosity and imagination. I was Wayne Gretzky and Gilbert Perreault. While my brothers poured gasoline on Big Wheels on the train tracks by my grandmother’s house, I read old books from the library and leafed through the old photographs of my parents. Of that time before me. There they were strong in the sunlight of the Alleghany Mountains. I am getting ahead of myself, I should slow down so as not to forget any of it. A statue of the Virgin Mary stood in a corner of our classroom with her palms outturned in mute appeal. The note folded and then folded again and then passed to me and unfolded and saved and forgotten until now. It occurs to me, all these years later, in light of Paris and San Bernardino, in light of cancer, and old age, how quickly we are here and then gone. How we try and try to hold on to the moments which keep slipping away. The edges of those memories blurring like old photographs. We live and then we disappear, we come from somewhere and then we go somewhere. In that parking lot youth of our hockey games, our sticks scraped in chops along the snow, our yells and shouts echoed off of the red wall of the school and faded as we rushed back and forth beneath a gray sky that to us was golden. The school itself, where our brothers and sisters went, and where our parents went, is closed for good now. What was the first to go? The hardware store? The bakery? The grocery store? Which building was the first to be boarded up? In those moments, the note, that had been passed to me, carried with it a monumental significance. It carried with it, not only the love of the girl who lived on Roebling Avenue, but of her existence and in turn mine too. I kept them all in a shoebox and hid them from my brothers who surely would have used them to burn bonfires on the tracks against the snow that fell and would continue to fall. I stowed them away, carefully, and then forgot about them. And then the children of that time scattered to New York, and Charlotte, and Dallas. They are in New Orleans, and Boulder, and Seattle. They are holding the hands of their mother in a hospital. They are visiting with their father in a room in Buffalo on an unseasonably warm and bright day before a holiday. In the photographs in our family albums, with notes and dates written by my mother on the back, I find my brothers again. I find my sister again. There they are as they used to be, and I can smell the gasoline on them. There is the school with the Fallout Shelter sign above the door that recessed back into the building, a perfect spot where my brothers bent to kiss the girls of their youth. Where they passed bottles of Genesee Cream Ale stolen from the refrigerators of their friends fathers, and here I am holding a cup of pop in the sunlight, and here again in the folded note of a girl whose eyes shone like wet stones. In the sweetness of a note I am reminded again of myself and that time. Of skating parties and holding the sweaty hand of a girl who wrote a note and passed it to that former me. I am reminded of that period where everything was opening and nothing was closing. Before I realized that after everything is gone, the photographs remain, the writing remains, the words remain and with them, in some small way, we remain.