A classic photo. You can find this photo in December 2016. Probably taken 10 or so years after World War II. Our father still has pimples and our mother very much in love. This is before Seton Hall college, the Korean War, taking on a business and 10 children. When they first got married they were able to get a free apartment above The Westfield Leader, the local newspaper. Having a cop for a father entitled you to some perks in those days and that’s how they got the apartment. The only catch was that they had to clean the bathrooms of the newspaper. It wasn’t an easy task as this was way before the digital age and the bathrooms were blanketed in black ink seven days a week.
In 1960 shortly after having their first child, Barbara they purchased a home for 12,000 in a budding new suburban town called Carteret. The New Jersey Turnpike was just built (1951) and it’s short ride to New York City made it a perfect nest for new families in search of the American dream.
The American dream consisted of a white picket fence that our father planted rose bushes next to. Our neighbors were steady thru out our 25 year stay at 121 Whitman street. (to be continued)
this was our first summer
Under the canvas gazebo
Encased by the towering rows of impatiens,
where 8 foot tall sunflowers leaned into
the bursting tomatoes conversations
deep in three Layers of balanced stones
where we met each morning Covered in cool shadows
starbucks coffee and melted wax from last nights candles
you, chasing the bees and butterflies and weeds,
me interrupted by the screaming locust trying to
understand my struggle with claustrophobia
“the last time i died…” i said, “i drowned
in a wave crushing ocean.”
Here is the obituary of trying: millions cascaded the streets swinging signs of hope. The skies were dreary but there was love and unity everywhere.
“america first” is what we are told we will become. When once we were so remarkably blessed because we always wanted to help other people. what is so wrong with reaching out? accepting? loving? This is difficult to do in an ego generated dog eat dog world- to be generous or even thoughtful but for two centuries we did that.
My youngest son once shocked me and cried out from his college campus podium:
“There is no such thing as karma” and yet now I, 56 years removed from being a helpless infant, have witnessed more karma in one lifetime to last three lifetimes.
my point is this: when you help other people, good things will always come back to you. when you turn your back on them, you better keep a close eye on the karma waiting for you just around the next ( or 478th) corner ahead.
the internet is the great masterpiece of civilization. it is the great karma of technology that has come to bite us all in the ass. it has alienated us while giving us the illusion that we are closer together.
what is it you fear?
while once I was a little boy crawling on a gold shag carpet lost in imagination. Leggos and blocks. My living room was safe. My house was heated from the cold. My town was never being invaded or bombed by another country. The president insured me on TV that we are the “most powerful country in the world” we have the biggest everything especially army. my friends were safe, the sky was blue with big puffy white clouds most of the time. my school bus never got hit by a train when we crossed over the rail road tracks by the FMC factory, our family always got City Line pizza on Friday nights.
then one day I was watching the huge wooden cabinet television in the rec room. It was a special about how the soviets have built submarines capable of launching nuclear tipped missiles. that moment (most) my innocence was lost. I thought the cold war back then was about snow plows but boy was I wrong
advice is given to be ignored but here’s mine: never take anything for what it is given to be.
To Write Is To Leave This World
the more technologically advanced we get the less we want to do.
Discarded technologies: watches, newspapers, hand written letters, telephones hanging up on your kitchen wall, typewriters, movie projectors, needle and thread, 8 track tapes. Although I could make a case for vinyl records, watches and newspapers.
I am happy that we have become aware of the need to get back to nature. Gluten free, organic, no hormones, grass fed, cage free. I see men with baby carriages. I see more women in pant suits driving $40,000 SUV’s. There are no bad ideas.
Yet I continue to struggle with my identity.
-a cracker mother fucker?
-a good father?
-full of shit?
Table for Two
Here on the verge of the fall of the American Empire three years removed from the Handshake School, still deep in debt, I did some number crunching for my retirement and came up with this: homelessness. Lets make a deal. If I can design and build my own robot before my resume becomes ancient yellow and crusty then I’ll gift wrap my future for you. I’ll be your janitor, butler and boner for the rest of your art saturated days on this melting planet.
This has gone on long enough and so I end it with my deepest darkest secret: I write messages of hope on slips of paper and hide them in books at the Barnes & Noble.
I draw the blinds as the sky goes black on another
when we found out you were sick
we cried more than
at the smothering silence at your funeral
except for the angels singing
yeah, we all heard that
even years later the sadness continues to follow me
for someone I hardly knew
when I think that even towards the very end
you took out your school books to do homework
(Maria was a 17 year old girl that died from cancer)
about Mikes bar was an old mans bar on Roosevelt avenue right before the West Carteret bridge. I t was the quintessential filthy bar with a Jukebox, pool table and black and white Tv up on a shelf. It’s not there anymore. It was refurbished with shiny new bar with mirrors and played disco music in the 80’s but now even that is gone. I’m not even sure whats there now.
This was my mother and fathers “hang out”. Especially my fathers as it was on the way home for him from Westfield. Most times he would just go in and get some “packaged goods” as they were called back then. A six pack to go. There was a neon light in the window even announcing: “Packaged Goods” and it would blink on and off ad nausueum.
As a seven or eight year old boy I would sometimes go in there with him. I remember going into a bar for the first time more than I remember riding a bike for the first time. It seemed the same song was playing on the jukebox all the time. It sounded like the saddest song in the world of a love lost. The background singers sounded like angels in heaven. Many years later I heard this song cracking on the AM radio and I memorized the name as “Rambling Rose” by Nat King Cole. Overtime, whenever I heard that song I thought my father.
I wasn’t allowed to sit at the bar so I was placed on a table behind the bar and underneath the TV.
There I was given a Coca-Cola and a box of pretzels holding hands. (The pretzels were connected when they were baked)There I was buried in Jukebox music and tremendous clouds of second hand smoke. My dad, always in his business suit, up at the bar having a cold one and laughing with the regulars. Perhaps arguing why the price of gas is approaching .50 cents a gallon because of the Vietnam war.
My father came and got me to introduce me to a pile of people in the corner of the bar by the front window. These people were always there. The same ones. Always. I was introduces as "George Junior" which I hated and wished I could just be called Butch for the rest of my life. Fifty years later I actually remember one of their names; Teddy. A strange looking old man with a fedora and a hungry nicotine appetite.
Teddy came close enough to my face where I could smell the stale cigarettes and fresh Schaffer beer and I notices he had no eye brows. "Go ahead, Teddy tell the boy why you have no hair." some old hag with long gray hair said. Teddy took off his crumpled hat and sure enough no hair there either.
Teddy then proceed to tell the story of how when he was a kid he went to the movies to see Frankenstein with his friends. The movie scared him so much that he had to be helped home and was shaking uncontrollably in the kitchen. His mother tried to tell him it was only a movie and put him to bed. When he awoke the next morning all the hair on his body had fallen out. And it never grew back again.
I quess the vision of that for me at the time was waking up in your bed with hair all over the sheets. Now that's a horror story. I suppose growing up the rest of your adult life with no body hair gives you permission to sit in the same seat at Mikes Bar in West Carteret for thirty years and slowly drown yourself in ice cold Schaffers and Lucky Strike cigarettes.
When my father took me home he told my mother about my first visit to Mikes Bar. So how did you like it Butchie?"
First I thought of how the bars lights are always dimmed. The loud echoing music. The muffled laughter and serious talk. An adult world. Deep dark and mysterious filled with story book characters. The romantic neon glow on everyone's face. I always got a nice "buzz" from the Coca Cola.
"I really liked the atmosphere." I said
And with that the laughter that followed lasted several days. Where a 3rd grader comes up with such a word, "atmosphere" is beyond me and I'm sure I heard it in a movie or cartoon somewhere but I honestly don't know how I came up with that.
This story became an ongoing thing for about a year. My mother would call me in the kitchen when she had guests, proceed to tell the story about me and Mikes bar and then I would get the Que from her:
"I liked the atmosphere." I said as I rolled my eyes and they laughed and laughed as I went back to my army men.
Friendship Hall was a large two story building at the end of Seventh street in Piscataway. It was a big old brick building that had 12 step recovery meetings all the time and every day. I always said this place saved my life because someone gave me directions to it just when I was unemployed and correctly thought I needed a lot of meetings.
“Just take Seventh street in Plainfield all the way down and make a left. It’s right there.”
“That’s it?” I said. I thought it would be more complicated than that.
“Yes. That’s it.” then added
“Those are the directions but you have to show up for it to work”
“Oh, of course.” I said. My sponsor at the time had too much sarcasm. Everything wasn’t funny for me at this time. I was dead serious on not going back to jail and losing another job.
This is where I first met Bill. I had almost two years sobriety and he stumbled into a noon meeting one hot afternoon. He was in his late sixties, tall and very quiet. For weeks he never shared, helped clean up, or read from the books. He was just there.
Bill came over to me after another lunch meeting one day when I was cleaning up. I had a coffee commitment which meant coming an hour early to set up and make a big pot of coffee. It kept me busy and sober. He started talking about the Giants to me. After a few minutes of chit-chat I looked down and realized my deep blue Giants Jersey was the reason that this conversation was born. I was just glad to finally see Bill talking with someone and not running out the door at the end of the meeting like he normally did.
“Yeah, this kid out of Georgia looks like he might be a winner.”
“Oh by the way, my name is George” and I held out my hand and found out he was Bill.
His voice was faint and scratchy and kind of hard to understand but I stopped what I was doing, leaned in and had a conversation with him. This could actually be crucial to whether Bill keeps coming back or not. I was proud of myself to understand that and even more so when I realized I was helping another alcoholic just by talking football with him.
He saw that I was struggling to understand him over the after meeting conversations and clean up.
“I’m sorry George” he said, “I’m getting over some chemo therapy I had for throat cancer.”
“Oh wow, yeah, hey, that’s awful” it suddenly became even hotter in room.
To make it even more awkward for me he pulled open his shirt collar and showed me the baby smooth skin burned by radiation.
“Oh. Oh. Hey wow. I’m sorry. Is everything ok now?”
“That was a lethal combination for me. Fifty years of alcohol and cigarettes.” he said with a smile.
“Yeah, shit. Sorry man.” I stammered, still trying to be cool.
“I’m the one who is sorry, George. Don’t worry about it, Ok?”
“Yeah sure. Ummm, hey good meeting huh?”
“Yeah,” he said after clearing his throat, “they are all good meetings but I think I started going too late.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that. It’s never too late to get your life together, is it? I thought to myself.
So Bill and I hooked up. We sat together at meetings and he still never participated and actually seemed bored at points. It was 1990 and the public assault on smokers really hadn’t started yet. There was a lot of smoking in AA meetings and one day I asked Bill if it bothered him being that he was apparently an ex smoker. “Well, yeah, actually I haven’t totally quit yet, but I have cut down. Nicotine is a tough monster George.”
“Hey,” he continued “The Giants are having Summer camp in New Jersey this year. Madison. Not that far away. We should go check it out”
His blue eyes lit up and I realized that saying no was out of the question.
“Great!” he said and took a pen from the coffee table scratched down his address on a stray phone list and told me to meet him at his house tomorrow at “eight am sharp!”.
As much as the program of AA is to reach out and be social with other recovering people, it was the part of the program I mostly hated and dreaded. Besides, I was beginning to wonder just how much “recovery” Bill really had.
The sun began it’s annual baking sessions in August in the north east on a hot muggy morning when I set out to Bills house. He was close to Friendship Hall in a typical middle class neighborhood. All the houses were lined up in a row with the same design just different colors. I was hoping he would be waiting outside but he wasn’t. So I got out of the deep freeze in my car and stumbled into the nagging heat and up the crooked concrete path to his front door. The grass was up to my knees and cradled several old rusty bikes and other odds and ends that I couldn’t make out. Ok, this guy is slob I summarized to myself but he’s still a nice old man. As I got closer it really hit me how neglected the house was. I mean years of neglect. Shingles were hanging by a nail and empty garbage cans were turned over and captured in a sea of weeds. I tried to stop staring and looking around in disbelief as I approached his home.
I knocked and patiently waited. When the big wooden door creaked open he quickly came out and shut the door behind him. I admit I wanted to get a glance inside and to see if the chaos outside continued in there but he didn’t give me a chance I was engulfed in his aura of aqua velvet as he looked down at me with those sparkling blue eyes and barked. “Ready!” to which I replied. “Lets go Giants!” We hopped into his powder blue pick up truck in the crumbling asphalt of the drive way and took off down the road to see the New York Giants practice for the upcoming season.
I tried to get a personal conversation going on our drive to the university where they held the practice sessions. Since seeing his home and his quick exit and swift slam of the front door I suddenly had become quite interested in his life. Wife? Kids? Job? Retirement? I realized I knew nothing of this guy and had suddenly found myself trucking down the road in his pick up truck. That compounded by his total lack of interest in the AA meetings had suddenly ignited my imagination. MAN FOUND FLOATING IN RARITAN RIVER WITH THROAT SLASHED the headlines would say. My obituary would read what a nice guy I was, a big Giant fan that had found sobriety in the last two years of his life but was stupid enough to out on a “day trip” with a strange old man.
My nervous imagination decided that this would be a good time to find things out but he dodged every personal question and managed to change the subject to football. My frustration with finding out about this guy ended up with a long look at him while he was driving. All I saw was that pushed up collar on his shirt attempting to hide his chemo smoothed skin.
“So Bill, are you completely cancer free now? I took a shot and asked
“We’re here!” he answered.
Our arrival had given him another escape route to who he is.
This guy is slick I thought but I know I can run faster than him if he tries to kill me.
I decided to myself that I was going to tell him on the way home that it’s never too late to come to AA and get sober.
I’ve been to several Giant practice sessions in my life and have always enjoyed them. Very laid back with no “win or lose” tension. It can get tedious without the clock and structure of a real game but you feel like a real fan following your team from the depths of practice in the long hot Summer. The crowd will cheer and yell for a great catch or tackle and better than all of that you are at field level with all the players. After spending a lifetime in the upper section it’s a breath of fresh air to actually see a players face through his face mask.
I’m standing next to Bill and we’re having a good time and I suddenly lost that dark mysterious feeling I had on the way up here. It’s rare when I’m with someone who is taller than me but there me and Bill are mingling by the gate leading to the locker rooms watching the players jog by. Most of the players had blinders on and quickly ignored any request for autographs. “Look, here comes Hampton, their number one pick”, Bill says. He was the only one walking and it seemed like he came right up to me. He was in a white away Jersey with a big blue number 27 that came right up to my face. I was lost in the moment but somehow managed to hold out my hand and I was surprised when he grabbed it! “Have a great season Rodney. Welcome to the Giants” I was impressed with what had come out. Almost as if I rehearsed it. I surely wasn’t expecting to meet any players today so I was totally unprepared and the look on my face must have announced that because I heard Bill chuckle as he stood aside me. He firmly shook my hand and said, “Thank you young man” and then this incredible smile by him followed by, “I think we have a good team this year.” he said with that humble southern accent.
And then just like that he was gone. I was still stunned when Bill tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Wow! What a nice guy!”
And I was like yeah, what a nice guy. Yes, a NICE guy. The ride home was a blur. Bill kept laughing at me because he knew I was a little shell shocked. Rodney had never yet played a down for the Giants but in football terms a first round draft pick is a big deal. But technically he was a nobody, he might even get cut or injured and never play but I didn’t care, he was a nice guy that came to ME.. I had never had a first hand encounter with a celebrity or professional sport star and I never understood the hoopla. But now I did. I was like on a cloud. I felt like a little boy again acting all crazy about something that was just downright silly. I remembered my sponsor telling me once, “Don’t ever put anybody up on a pedestal.”
But that was all nonsense now because Rodney Hampton was the greatest football player EVER in my mind at that moment.
The day ended like that, I had forgotten about the mysteries of Bill. He dropped me off by my car, gave me a big sparkling blue-eyed smile and said “See ya George”
I never saw Bill again. He never came back to meetings. We never exchanged phone numbers and he was just gone. I really thought nothing of it until like about a month later and I was thinking about him and actually hoping that everything was ok. I had no way to really contact him but I did know where he lived. One day after cleaning up after a meeting I got in my car to go home and I made a quick turn down the street where his house was. It felt creepy driving by his house real slow. His truck was there so I drove by again and this time I stopped and parked. I got out and once again made my up to his unkempt home. The doorbell was covered with a strip of electric tape and there was a hole in the screen door big enough to put my hand thru where I reluctantly gave a few knocks on the weathered front door. Knock knock knock. Silence. Once again knock knock knock. Silence.
I don’t know what I was thinking when I opened the creaky screen door and put my hand on the door knob to get in. I slowly turned the knob. Oh my God, I thought it was open. Almost acting like I was hypnotized I opened the door and took one step in. What the hell am I doing I thought. “Bill!” I called out.
There was a stunning silence except maybe a dripping faucet from somewhere. “Hey Bill, it’s George”
More silence and dripping faucet and suddenly all those imaginative fears of Bill came rushing back yet I took some more steps towards what looked like the kitchen. Maybe he IS a freaky murderer or pedophile! My heart was pounding as I approached the kitchen opening. “Bill, you there?”
I stopped and it felt like my heart was still walking ahead as it was pounding in my chest. I stood motionless and looked around. The house was totally trashed. There was a musky smell of nicotine and old alcohol . Over flowing ashtrays and empty beer cans everywhere. The walls which should have probably been white were a dull yellow from years of cigarettes, so was the refrigerator and windows. There were no curtains but broken yellow blinds shut tight. There were some crooked pictures hanging on the wall. The walls also had scuff marks and holes from possibly something being thrown at them.
If Bill just suddenly shows up I’ll just say I’m sorry but I was worried about you. Yeah right, and then he slices my throat with a rusty kitchen knife.
I slowly tip toed over to the photos on the wall. It was a professional shot of a happy family on the beach. There was mom and dad had has his arm around her and big smile on his face. Wow, I recognize that smile. I suddenly realized, that was Bill in the photo. In much happier times. And two kids! A boy and a girl standing in front of them both wearing big smiles and braces.
So, he is or was married AND he had kids. But where is everybody … including him? My imagination went off at warp speed again. Perhaps he murdered them and put their bodies under the house. Or maybe, I thought, the family just left him. This is the saga of the alcoholic family gone very bad. I’m standing right in the middle of the last chapter of Bills life. I snapped out of it and looked down at myself. I’m standing in a strange mans house alone looking around. Really creepy I thought and suddenly headed for the door. It was still open so I peeked outside first to see if there was anybody before I took off shut the door, jumped in my car and headed home.
My head was spinning as I drove home. What the hell is wrong with me? You don’t just walk into peoples houses. What if he was home? Where is his family?
I moved on from that day and hoped Bill would walk through Friendship Hall doors one day. We had a lot to talk about. The Giants were first in the NFC east and were playing very well. But Bill never showed up. About a year later I drove by his house again and slowed to a crawl as his tattered old home no longer stuck out like a sore thumb. That’s because the lawn was beautiful, the house was painted and fixed up. His truck was gone too. I stopped my car and just stared. At that moment the front door and brand new screen door flew open and a man holding a young child appeared with apparently his pregnant wife. I accelerated as to not attract any attention and went home. Wow, I thought. Bill is gone.
As for Rodney Hampton he went on to have a fabulous career with the Giants for which I lived and died every time he touched the ball only because at one time, his hand had touched mine. I never forgot that smile Rodney gave me that very hot afternoon in 1990 even after he retired. And Bills smile remains with me too. I thought of what his life had become and how he ended up alone dying of cancer. I think of his bright-blue-sparkly-eyed smile when he said, “George I think I came here a little too late”.
You may find yourself…
One day I woke up here and the sun was spilling into our bed in what seemed to be huge buckets of yellow and orange paint. We had breakfast together and then went outside into the garden.
People come in and out of your life for a reason
I come here immersed with gratitude. I am very
lucky blessed and God has been very good to me. As I look back on Gods impeccable track record a glow of thankfulness covers me like a warm blanket in my new home.
In all that was chaos is blessings. I have done some of the footwork for I have no idea where I would be today if I wasn’t sober. Most times my mind goes faster than what I can keep up with but even that is getting better. It seems like so many many years ago I walked thru the doors of a place in Piscataway NJ, fresh out of jail, jobless and confused. It was a big room on the second floor covered with windows by a railroad track. There was always cofee and sweets, there was always clouds of cigarette smoke (yes, that’s how long ago this was.) but most of all there was always meetings. The building was not dedicated to anything else but recovery. Everyday, several times a day. And during holidays it was 24/7. I am very
lucky blessed to have found people to talk to and phone numbers (there were no cell phones back then but I knew where every phone booth was)
they are gone.
* and some people can just floatSo this past June 16 was the 45 anniversary of my fathers death. I remember him telling me about the “7 year locust” next to that funny looking tree that is (still!) in our front yard. Obviously the seven year locust only come out every seven years. The story is that he was working on the rose bushes which he loved to do and one of those huge MF’ers flew into that tree and let out one of his crazy long noise/scream/bug sound. It freaked me out but my father soothed me by saying, “Don’t worry it’s only a seven year locust. He wont hurt you.” And that’s the end of the story pretty much. It’s funny how I can have memories that long ago! Actually if you asked me what my deepest longest memory EVER was, I might think it was the 1964 Words Fair in Flushing NY.
I lost you in the butterfly tent
So basically I have obtained a Flux Capacitor on Ebay and with the help of a friend of mine from New York City, we have created a Time Traveling APP. In a nutshell, when the phone is charging I can transfer through communication lines into different periods of time. My current quest is to travel digitally to a bar in West Carteret (Mikes Bar) and transfer my image onto the TV at that bar. The date I picked is October 10, 1968. A Thursday. My father frequented this bar ofter especially on Mondays and Thursdays when the Westfiels Sewing Center was opened until 9PM>
Since my father has never seen my kids, HIS grandchildren, I plan to show photos and small movies of them projected thru this black and white TV in Mikes Bar. My only hope is that dad sees them.
I haven’t traveled into the future yet. I’m too scared.
Sometimes I wish I never connected this blog to the family website. Sometimes creativity is hard to understand. Many
Every time I start feeling Sorry For Myself I watch The News
I used to think I knew too much about life to have optimism. I was very wrong. When I was a teenager and into my twenties I wasn’t a very good person. In fact I was a big dick. I was indeed a racist, a sexist, an egomaniac and an irresponsible punk ass hippy. I’m very sorry to all the people I hurt, especially my family.
Everything that makes you happy is going to end at some point. I have gotten over that and have diligently tried to be a better person. I used to think that letting my divorce happen was one of my biggest mistakes. One day I woke up in my car and said “what the fuck have I done?” I should be waking up with my kids and teaching them how to sheetrock a fucking house or something! How to make a living in life. How to cook. How and when to put on underarm deodorant.
Actually I don’t have the first clue of how to sheetrock a house.
And today I don’t regret the sloppy one-sided nightmare divorce one bit. I know in my heart of hearts I did the absolute best that I could…..stressing with WHAT I HAD.
I have been calling Uncle Billy and I did that because I had some kind of crazy resentment with him. That he “abandoned” us or something. See, I can still be an idiot. After Carol died we used to think Barb was the last elder left in the family, then we found Jerry Jones but she sadly passed away almost as soon as I found her. Our fathers brother is still here and he such a nice, intelligent man with many many memories. He was so pleasant and patient when I last spoke with him and I had a hundred questions(knowing me yes some of them were strange) He is doing very well and will soon be out of assisted care.
Sometimes I feel like I’ve conquered it all except death. And maybe heavy merges on Rt 46 during rush hour.
When I see people in their twenties freaking out in their car, I laugh to myself. I was like that once too. Climbing the ladder of life. Knocking people down. Building a wall around myself and possessions. Yeah, this materialistic fever fed by American TV and movies. I’m reading a book now that changes all that. After the last France truck terrorism episode… it changed me greatly and I needed to find myself again. I’ll tell you one day soon how I made out.