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Archive for the ‘memoir’ Category

Fun City

In memoir, Prose, Uncategorized, where on April 25, 2017 at 2:12 pm

NY Street scene

NYC is a wretchedly wondrous place that can abrade the human spirit leaving nothing more than rue, misery, and existential scar tissue. You find yourself surrounded by tons of people but somehow an inveterate member of the lonely crowd.

My neighborhood changes yet retains its soiled, somewhat cosmopolitan essence. Back in the 70’s when I first entered this then-tattered urban wonderland of seemingly infinite and accessible possibility, my block and the nearby area was pretty much all mom and pop stores with the exception of a few places like Barney’s. The towers of the World Trade Center were also in pristine evidence. You could find an occasional vendor who sold hot dogs, falafel, or rice and beans. There was a pizza parlor on 8th Ave, owned and operated by a Puerto Rican family. At one point in the nineties, the laundromat below me had an actual variety show on Wednesday nights. You could see a comedian or catch a local band. There was also an occasional puppeteer or juggler. This diversity of people, activity, and optics is an example of the sort of thing that compels me to live in Manhattan despite attendant forms of adversity.

Nowadays it’s all Rite Aid, Subway, Walgreens, and Duane Reade. Back in the late 70’s an elderly gentleman dressed in cowboy drag sat on the corner of 7th Ave and 23rd Street while playing Western swing on his pedal stool guitar. Somebody told me he lived in the Chelsea Hotel, that redoubtable stronghold of bohemianism and artistic exploration.

Over the years, I’ve surveyed numerous other sights as I made my way through the neighborhood.

I saw Herbert Huncke, another Chelsea Hotel resident, on a corner near my residence. He was engaged in a heated conversation with a young woman. Despite his dissolute lifestyle he was an aging pretty boy with a wrinkled baby face.

I saw Art Pepper walking along 7th Ave. He was playing at the Vanguard that week. I noticed his paunch. I knew it was a hernia simply because I had recently read his book, Straight Life, a tragic, somewhat lurid tale about a musical career and life thwarted by the ravages of drug addiction.

Then there was Dr. John. I merely watched as he strolled by on a pleasant warm weather day with a child who was most likely his daughter. I read somewhere that he actually lived nearby. NYC makes you jaded about that sort of thing.

What about Nico sitting in the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel? Like Pepper and the good Doctor she was a member of the Thomas DeQuincy fan club, a lotus eater who had difficulty foregoing her treacherous appetites.

No, I’m not judgmental; just commenting on what I see and know about what I know and see in this crepuscular nightmare we blithely refer to as life – an out-of-control chimera that initiates and then destroys hope and dreams in a painfully capricious, inexplicable manner.

Sonny was a painter who lived a few blocks down from me. He started painting after a serious motorcycle accident. Sonny was a somber yet affable working-class artist who smoked True cigarettes. I sat for Sonny in order to supplement my meager income derived from playing and teaching music. He talked incessantly while painting. Once he told me he would never allow his children to wear jeans. That sort of thing just didn’t make sense to him.

He talked about the time he visited Mexico. I did play in San Diego on a couple of occasions. On my second trip the other band members went to Tijuana while I spent the day in bed. Touring can take a lot out of you.

Joe, my next door neighbor, lost his right leg due to diabetes exacerbated by the copious, unrelenting consumption of Heaven Hill whiskey. Sometimes he would put on his artificial leg and try to walk down to the O&B on 23rd Street in order to place a bet or two. Judging from what he told me he once had a fling with one of the ladies who worked there.

There was a guy named Dennis. He was courtly, quite pleasant with everyone; when I first met him he was a handsome young man with a neatly trimmed moustache. He always said hello. I would reply in kind. Where did he live? As far as I could tell he was homeless. Often I would see him bob in and out of the liquor store on the corner.

Sleery was a tall, slender, black guy who lived across the hall from me. His girlfriend Linda was white, southern, and danced in little more than a wig and a Band-Aid in a bar on 8th Ave. Once or twice he stopped me on the street in order to converse. He knew I was a musician. He went on and on about his fondness for jazz. Once he even broke into Dizzy Gilespie’s vehicle and stole some of his wardrobe – the hallmark of a true fan.

I found myself stumbling over his unconscious body as I made my way to my room after a gig that had gone on for too long for far too little pay. Who knows? Perhaps he was his own best customer. From time to time he volunteered to provide me with samples of various substances to which he seemingly had easy access. I always declined in the most gracious manner possible.

One Sunday while I sat in my room going through my practice routine the building shook. There was a loud noise. I ran downstairs and discovered a car that had jumped the curb and gone through the front window of the hardware store beneath my apartment.

Years ago the 10th precinct station on 20th Street made a cameo appearance in a film called “Naked City.” How fitting that such an accident took place on a nearby corner.

-Bern Nix

 

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Cold Water Flat

In memoir, Poetry on October 28, 2016 at 2:26 pm

 

vintage-west-village-map

COLD-WATER FLAT

That now has hot water.

I used to think of it as my

Million-dollar apartment,

All three rooms of it.

I was close to the Hudson River

And to the quiet streets

Of the West Village.

It was only a subway ride

From my mom and my hometown

In Jamaica, Queens, New York,

Where I wouldn’t be recognized

If I returned there for a visit,

As almost everyone I know

Has moved away to the Island.

West Village. 1970s. I was youth

Run amok. Up days on end, drunk,

Nicotine poisoned, searching

For an “ancient heavenly connection”

To give my life meaning while I drove

Hit-and-run love affairs that left

Me and others sorry for living.

Employers who put up with me

Because I knew books

Or to help stave off

The inevitable homelessness

I was headed to fast.

Eleventh Street. Roaches.

Smelly cat litter. Tobacco smoke.

Imagine a plethora of apt adjectives.

One cat I threw out

Before an open window.

The other cat died without

An explanation.

Now, I’m far enough

From Jamaica

And the West Village’s

Descent into madness

And have achieved

A Ginsbergian cool,

Hello, Murray Hill.

-Michael LaBombarda

I Remember

In memoir, Poetry on June 9, 2016 at 5:45 pm

Food for the soul pinto

I remember kitchens and privacy

I remember having furniture

I remember having a place with walls so think you couldn’t

hear the neighbors arguing next door.

 

I remember driving

the open freedom of the road

being able to go where you want when you want

and not having to shell out $438 to UPS to ship your

stuff instead of transporting it for much less in the car.

 

I remember owning a car, $2 a gallon gas,

registration and insurance not costing more than the car itself.

 

I remember the freedom

driving from New York to Colorado

or San Antonio to New Mexico

or LA to Louisville

 

I remember that getting a job was easier when you had a car

or an apartment that was affordable.

 

That was so long ago.

-Thomas Clarke

Victrola

In memoir on March 4, 2016 at 3:38 pm

VictorVPhonograph

                Seeing a picture of someone pondering this wonderful machine allegedly invented by Mr. Edison makes me think of many things. What comes to mind first is the fact that some now say a Frenchman was the first one to record the human voice way back in the early 1860s.  A recording exists of a young French girl singing Claire DeLune. Whatever the case may be this technological advance spawned an industry that I have had a complicated relationship with for years.

As a young person I spent  much time listening to records . By the age of 14, I was obsessed with jazz. This fascination let to my choosing music as a career. Perhaps career is the wrong word for a world ridden with brigands, mountebanks, psychopathic journeymen and a few geniuses.

I’ve worked with all of these types. Often I wonder about the provenance of my musical obsession. Perhaps this is the wrong thing to do but then being involved in a noble art that is often at variance with the harsh vagaries of the music business provides you with plenty of time for contemplation.

Do I sound like a chronic complainer, a petulant overgrown crybaby who is far from happy with his station in life?

Anyway let’s get to the facts. My first recordings were 45s, (remember them?)   with local blues artists when I was in my late teens and early twenties. I was a rhythm guitarist on these sessions. I don’t remember how much I made but do know that some of these recordings wound up on Juke boxes found in some of the dives I worked. I remember seeing someone smoke pot for the first time in my life during some of these early record dates .These cannibis laced sessions were never turned into records.

I was a very young, unworldly, somewhat nerdish young man who was just beginning to acquire a knowledge of what the life of a “real” professional musician was like. Many local bluesmen had no use for Jazz.

The whole drama of the human condition could be encapsulated in the framework of 12 bars. Well let’s be charitable and say many of these performers had a somewhat cavalier sense of time. They were not unlike country-blues Einsteins who had an awareness of time being relative. This perception was the end result of an amalgam of soulfull expression and ineptitude. You merely played with them and hoped to get paid at the end of the night.

Of course the blues is as much about sensibility as it is form. In fact the blues is the first thing any serious student of Jazz learns how to play.

-Bern Nix

Red Wagon

In memoir, Poetry on February 19, 2016 at 1:59 pm

red wagon

Hey son, time to move again

but it’s the only home I’ve known and all I know is here

You’ll like your grandparents and that big house and the van will move all

your stuff to our new home.

Say goodbye to your friends, you’ll make new ones,

because no one ever stays in Colorado Springs

The house got sold, the van came and went, but it left behind my red wagon.

 

More than 35 years later, it’s still someone else’s home

and I still haven’t found a place of my own

Parents and Grandparents are now long gone

and the little sister doesn’t even remember that old home anymore

but then the movers also forgot about the red wagon.

 

And now the present seems lost with failures abounding

and everyone gone as well as the sled and bear and red wagon.

It seems I’m trapped in the past but stuck in the future

wandering the streets I’ve known all my life

but now no one there knows me

The faces and storefronts are different

but any chance I have of returning home is as gone as that red wagon.

-Thomas Clarke

32 Flavors of Ice Cream

In Food, holidays, memoir, Prose on December 18, 2015 at 2:54 pm

fruitcake-3lb-small

32 Flavors of IceCream

“32 flavors and then some.” Song and slogan tells take of tastes fixed in forever. Perhaps Ben & Jerry’s have split. Still either/or and thousands more can access the pages of molecular exactitudes to make Crunchy Carmal Cone a heavenly thing.

After Jerry has hung a “for sale” placard on the lawn, and Ben has taken the pooch, I will  be able to purchase a pint – if only on “for a limited time only” anniversary dates.

Those anniversaries never commemorate my longings for those lost, nor could they honor those recipes.

There is a  piece of paper filed, or even an index card to indicate how many cloves my grandmother put in her pidgeon peas, and they were added at the point of or just before bursting?

At holiday times the only dessert was Ms. Lowe’s fruitcake. Not a dry, bland colorful rock. Rather, a deep brown, solidified pudding on fruits left steeping in wine and finished with whatever else goes into a cake, and palatable amounts of Rivers rhum. This was a meal closer, months in the making, with payment made not solely in cash, but with barters of spices and booze. No last minute rush to the market, but phone calls and scheduling of meet ups and pick ups of this tasty treat.

Even my mother, though no great cultivator of cuisine, and still with me in this world, no one can ever replicate those scrambled eggs.

With three simple ingredients – eggs, butter, salt – I come close.

I likely will be unwilling to use enough butter to let the eggs swim freely. Instead I will leave exact replications to the scientists while I dream of my loved ones while gorging on ice cream.

-Stephanie Lawlor

FOR MY MOM

In memoir, Uncategorized on October 2, 2015 at 9:05 pm

365050.TIF

I just don’t know how to start writing about my mom. I love her so much. She was 97 years old and strong. She had a strong gird. When she had to go to the bathroom, she would tell me, “I am no baby.” That is my mom. My mom was extremely generous, she would share her small pension every month with me. She was a giver.

She had two husbands, both of them abused her and beat her. I told her, “let me get the police,” and she said to me, “everything is ok, I’ll be alright.” My mom was an adventurer, she would go anywhere by herself. She would talk to strangers in restaurants. My mom was a likable person and I was blessed with the support of my sister and brother. My mom got shingles in her late 90’s – it was hard on me. It was hard on me, I would not give her the pain medication because it would make her sleep. I would give her a hot towel to relieve her pain. The more I was with her, the more I realized how important love was. I would bathe her every week, wash her lovely feet every day, and kiss her loving toenail. My mom and I worked together in a cafeteria. Her job was to make salad, while I was a pot washer.

I would take her every two months to see her foot doctor (to trim her toenail). Her foot doctor told me, “you are a good son, but as she gets older, it will get harder.” I realized that a few years later. I got her a wheelchair and she said “Is that for you?” That is my mom. My mom was a single parent, raised me, my two brothers, and sister (with my help). I would tell her “she did it,” and she would respond, “with the help of God.” I never put her in a nursing home, I was responsible for being in charge of my mother. I would play checkers with her and always allow her to beat me. She was so comfortable sitting in a chair the whole day, she would never complain.

I would talk with her for hours about the good old days, when she was young. I was so blessed that she had no dementia. She had a wonderful spirit and loved music. During World War 2, my mom worked as a bus girl at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. She met the actor Clark Gable there. He wanted her to come to Hollywood with him; my mom said no because she was too close to her own mother. I remember on my mom’s birthday, I took her and my brother to see a Broadway show. On mother’s day, I told her every day is mother’s day for me (with many kisses). Mom was a real New Yorker. She would go by herself to all the department stores in the city. She retired from work at 62 years old. She worked at a Coach factory on 34th street. I would visit her after work, and go for dinner on Fridays. We would also go to the St. Francis church on 31st street.

It’s very depressing for me now that my mother is no longer here. I miss all those intimate years with my mom. I miss it. I would say to myself, “oh Lord, please help me.”

I recall the last couple of weeks when I could not bathe her, change her pants, or do anything until my brother came home from work. There were times I would act like a clown and dance to make her smile. I know that the love for her doesn’t end because her spirit is with me all the time. I remember when my brother and I brought her to the hospital (where she spent three days). She was crying and told me to please take her home. I stayed with her the whole night at the hospital until the next day (when we went home). I remember praying to myself, “please help me God, I don’t want anything to happen to my mother.”

-Charles Borges

Simple Story

In memoir, Prose on July 17, 2015 at 2:35 pm

 

roy rogers

As I sat down to try to write a simple story in my writers’ workshop, I remember in the 1940’s tenants’ apartments were like train cars — you had to go through one bedroom to another bedroom to get to the bathroom. I also remember, sometimes the bathrooms were in the hallway, used by 4 families. But they were clean all the time.

My grandmother and I slept on a bunker bed. I slept on the top and she slept on the bottom. I also remember having a small radio and listening to Roy Rogers on the radio. I sometimes wish I could go back to that time.

Sometimes there was no heat, so my mom had to bang on the pipes for heat.

My mom was a remarkable lady. All the Italian neighbors loved my mom. We were poor, but rich in spirit.

-Charles Borges

MY MUSIC BOX STORY

In memoir, Prose on July 16, 2015 at 1:29 pm

red music box

This story has three parts, so please be patient. But it is still a short story. Also, for those of you who know me, you will be seeing a different side of me. Please don’t judge me too harshly. That goes for those of you who don’t me as well. Like all my stories, this one is true in its entirety.

Many years ago, as far back as I can remember, my family, my immediate family, my mother, father, sister, and later on my two brothers, would travel every Sunday from our New Jersey apartment to my Grandparent’s apartment in Brooklyn. This was my mother’s side of the family, the Italian side. Uncles, aunts and cousins would join us there for my grandmother’s macaroni and gravy. I don’t know if it was the length of the drive and the ensuing anticipation, but my grandmother’s macaroni was the absolute best macaroni, until many years later, when my mother mastered it and took over the Sunday tradition. Now, my grandmother, who had the gravy cooking for hours when we got there, also had the pot of hot water on the stove ready to boil. At the point of boiling, she would add the boxes of macaroni to the water, and begin to stir. While she stirred, she would sing various songs in Italian. ‘Way Mari,’ ‘O Sole Mio,’ and the like. My absolute favorite was ‘Torna A Surriento,’ which means ‘Come Back to Sorrento.’ Whether it made the macaroni taste better or my grandmother was just so happy to have her family all around her that she had to sing, it didn’t matter. I would sit at the kid’s table, which I did even after I had come back from the Vietnam War, and listen and wait for the macaroni. Two quick asides, one my grandmother would always ask me if I wanted to taste the macaroni to see if it was done. I was too afraid of that responsibility, so I always refused. She would smile, give me a kiss, and say I was a good boy. The second aside, I have that kid’s table in my kitchen today, my grandparents have long since passed, and the table has been in various kitchens of mine for years. So, I’m still sitting at the kid’s table.

That’s the end of Part One.

Fast forward, a little over twenty years. I am in my forties, teaching seventh and eighth grade in upper Manhattan, and backpacking through some foreign country on my summer vacation. I would always bring something back for my mother from wherever I went. Usually, it was a small box or something that I could easily fit into my backpack, and not break.

This particular summer, I was in Italy. And this part of the story begins when I’m in Venezia, Venice. I had just gotten off the train and now in a line to change my traveler’s checks into lire. From behind, somebody pokes me. Being a good New Yorker, I first feel for my wallet, just to be sure. Then I turn and see some guy, roughly my age, but shorter. He asks ‘Are you American?’ Obviously he has seen my passport which I was holding in my hand, so I can complete the money exchange. He seems pleasant enough and not shady at all. So despite my disappointment that it’s not a beautiful woman, I say ‘yeah’. He tells me his name and that he’s from Iowa and that he’s has been it Italy for two weeks and hasn’t really talked to anyone, especially in English. He then asks if we could hang out just for a while. So, I say ‘okay’.

We start walking, along the canal, passing open-front shops, talking about nothing in particular, and sort-of souvenir shopping. After a half-hour or so, something in one of the shops catches my eye. It is a small, four by six inch, red lacquer box. I pick it up, and then I open it. It was a music box, and ….and, it’s playing ‘Torne A Surriento.’ I am positively ecstatic. But I don’t show it, and actually feign indifference. I know that I’m going to have to bargain the price. But I also know that I must have that music box for my mother. She will be overjoyed, I just knew it. So, I ask the proprietor ‘How much?’ I know the box is worth about twenty-five dollars. But if I have to go to forty, I would still have to buy it. So he tells me what is the lire equivalent of seventy-five dollars. I say ‘no, I’ll give you twenty.’ He again says ‘no, seventy-five.’ Now I’m starting to get a little upset, but I offer ‘twenty-five’. Again he says ‘no, seventy-five,’ spitting the words out like he’s angry. I ask him if he bargains. He says, ‘Sure, seventy-five.’ Now I feel like he’s taunting me. And I don’t like it. So now I’m really pissed about the whole thing. But I do want that box. It was perfect. But I know that I am not going to pay seventy-five dollars, especially to this arrogant SOB. So I walk away. Iowa follows me. We walk about a half a block, and I stop.

I tell Iowa, ‘Listen, we’re going back to that store. I want you to go inside, where he has the chess sets in the back and ask to see a set. Then I want you to drop one piece on the floor. Let him pick it up. ‘What for?’ Iowa asks. ‘Just do it’ I tell him and that I’ll explain everything to him later.

So, we go back to the store. I wait outside and off to the side. Iowa goes inside. I see him talking to the guy, but the guy isn’t reaching for one of the chess sets. I wait, nothing. I wait a little more, nothing. So, I have to make my move. I grab the box. And I start walking away.

I haven’t taken five steps and the guy is out of the store. He yells to me ‘Hey, you stole that box!’

I think quickly, I got two choices, bring the box back, or run with the box. I figure that the guy isn’t going to leave the store unguarded and chase me. It’s a box, a twenty-five dollar box. I quickly stuff the box in my back pack and I run. He starts running after me. He’s not going to run too far from the store I think, and keep going. So does he. And now we’re running, really running. I’m big, he’s small. I’m in my forties. He’s in his twenties. But I play handball, and I’m in good shape. So we keep running. He can’t catch me, I’m taking long strides. But I can’t lose him either. And we’re running. Over the canals, through narrow streets, behind houses, in alley ways. Then he starts yelling. ‘I’m gonna catch you.’ I yell back, ‘what are you going to do with me if you do? I’m too big for you to handle.’ ‘I’m going to get you anyway.’ ‘People are stealing from your store’ I yell back. We keep yelling back and forth, and keep going. I have no idea where I am, or how to get back to where I was. But we keep running. Now the streets are getting more and more narrow. I know that I’m going to wind up in a dead end, with no place to go. Then, I’m going to have to fight this guy.   I know I can take him, that’s not the problem. The problem is, do I want to?

He has been about ten yards behind me the whole trip. So, I stop. I take the box out of my backpack, place it on top of a garbage can, and start running again. I go about twenty yards and turn. He’s standing by the garbage pail, with the box in his hands. ‘I’m going to get you’ he yells. ‘What are you going to do with me? I’m too big and too strong for you. I’m running with a backpack and you still can’t catch me.’ He turns and walks away. I half follow him back. I have to. I would have been lost there forever.

I see Iowa when I get back. I ask him, ‘what happened?’ He says I didn’t know you were making me part of a caper. I say, ‘You’re not a good partner.’ That was the last I saw of either of them.

That’s the end of Part Two. Part Three is short, so please bear with me.

I spend the next few weeks, visiting Rome, Florence, and Pisa. All the while, I’m looking for the box. And growing more and more disappointed for the last part of my trip to Italy. I’m going to the ‘Isle of Capri’, to see the ‘Blue Grotto’. It’s magnificent, by the way so was Italy. But that’s another story.

My jumping off point, for the Isle of Capri is Sorrento. I arrive late at night. From the guide book, the cheapest hotel in Sorrento is fifteen dollars. So, that’s where I go. In the lobby, it smells like they’ve been painting. But for fifteen dollars, and its late, I don’t complain. I get up the next morning, and it still smells of paint. I tell them at the desk, ‘it stinks here.’ The desk clerk says ‘It’s not the hotel; it’s the factory next door.’ I’m like ‘whatever’ and I leave. I’m standing outside. I know I have to walk to get to the boat. But something tells me to go look in the factory. So I go. The closer I got to the factory, the more it stinks. I open the door, and what do I see? A few thousand of the same music boxes, but in different colors. I see a guy working and I yell to him ‘you got any that play ‘Torno A Sorrento’? He says ‘Yeah, I got about five hundred of them on that table.’ ‘How much? I ask. ‘Twenty-five dollars’ he says. ‘Good deal’ I say.

I never told my mother the stealing part of the story, only the ending part. She would have broken that box, even though I hadn’t stolen that one. But she did love it. And now, so do I.

 -Charles Moonjian

Room by Thomas Clarke

In memoir, Prose on May 1, 2015 at 3:03 pm

As I entered what used to be my old bedroom, I noticed the changes. The yellow walls were painted blue, and the once lush 70s style gold carpeting had been stripped out in favor of generic cheap hardwood flooring. The sloping ceiling was still present, but what used to be endlessly tall and sloping now felt suffocating. And what seemed to be a big room now felt claustrophobic. I never felt much at home in the years I lived in that house, but 5 years after I moved out and 3 months after my dying father sold the house to my aunt, she made enough changes to make a house that had been in the family for 38 years seem like another house that was fixed up and renovated for another quick sale.