Christopher Street

I have always found it fun, that when I met people that had grown up in New York City, we would always share our “alma mater list”.

For instance my brothers would be:

PS41, St Bernards, Cardinal Hayes High, and Fordham University.

Mine was

PS41, IS70, Stuyvesant and Fordham University.

Everybody that grew up there had a list of their own. .

At each of those establishments, there were groups of friends and usually one “best” friend; someone you hung out with more than anyone else, spent time with after school, knew his or her parents….you get the idea.

Now I will be changing real names here for good reason, but sometimes it was the same best friend that you had through most of those schools..

This is a memory of one of mine.

Mark and I went to PS41 together, IS70 together, and finally we both attended Stuyvesant High School, at the time located on East 15th Street.  Stuyvesant High School was and still is considered a Specialized School; there were five public high schools with this distinction, ones considered to be where you would get the best education and credentials for the future. One of the different aspects of Stuyvesant was there was an entrance exam to get in, something all the other schools in the city (except the other four), did not require. It was coined an “intelligence” test, the idea being they didn’t want you if you had attained a certain level of stupidity that they felt couldn’t be overcome even by their fine teachers. If you were really dumb, you might infect the other kids in your class!

I didn’t feel very special in High School though; I didn’t make any new friends I can think of, and just stuck with the crowd I came in with. The school was heavy on Science and Mathematics and of course I was in love with History and Literature. Enough said. I can’t say I liked my time there.

But at least I was there with Mark. As I mentioned we knew each other since Kindergarten; my parents knew his parents, we spent time together playing ball after school or helping each other study. He came from an old world Italian family that lived in an apartment on Christopher Street in the Village. When I say Old World I mean Old World; Mark’s father was a strict and unhappy looking man, who tolerated very little dissent. Tradition was everything, the Church and the absolute rules of Italian masculine behavior were paramount

Now a little history: Christopher Street was indeed in the traditional sense part of the old Greenwich Village settled my many immigrants, a lot of them Italian. But in the 1950’s and 60’s it was also ground zero for a blossoming Homosexual lifestyle. It was one of the first streets to have gay bars, and attracted people from all over the city (there weren’t all that many specifically gay bars at the time, at least not many that openly advertised it). But on Christopher Street they did. It was on that street that a bar called The Stonewall Inn was the site of what many believe was the birth of the Gay Pride/Rights movement. Back then the NYPD would regularly roust bars like the Stonewall; it was an easy way to pad a quota book, catching someone smoking weed or having what at the time was considered “deviant” sexual relations. There was very seldom if at all any pushback from the clientele who became used to the Police routine.

Until the night of June 28th, 1969.,

On that night the cops arrived to do their usual arrest charade, but this time someone decided they had had enough and resisted arrest. That was enough to prompt others to come to the aid of the harassed person, and soon besides the problems the cops suddenly and unexpectedly found themselves having inside the place, a huge crowd had gathered on the sidewalk outside the bar, also sympathizers. The four or five cops inside had called the Paddy Wagon as they always did on these raids but it was held up allowing the crowd of angry people to grow. It got so big that even when it arrived the cops inside were afraid to venture out into the street, suddenly hostages of their own making. When re-enforcements came and tried to load a few people into the wagon, they made the mistake of roughing up a regular, who promptly looked around to the way larger crowd and said something like “you gonna stand there and let them treat me this way?”

No, it turns out they weren’t.

A riot ensued, and for most of the night the cops were losing. A pent up anger had been unleashed, a demand for respect, and a determination that this kind of harassment was ending here and now.

It wasn’t until the next morning that the NYPD gained control of the street, but that is all they were in control of. A whole movement had been launched and whether they knew it or not, through their own misguided efforts, they had helped launch it. Things would never be the same.

Ok back to Mark; bear with me, it all comes together.

It was becoming clear to me that Mark was questioning his own sexual feelings, and found himself drawn to the alternative lifestyle he saw on his own street every day and night. We had other gay friends in school and there was never any kind of judgment as to who they were. They were who they wanted to be, or I at least hoped they were. But I knew with Mark it was going to be different, and more difficult. As his friend I wanted to support him in whatever he did with his life, but also as his friend I didn’t want him to get killed which is what I am sure would happen if his nutso Dad ever found out what was beginning to dawn on Mark. His Dad wouldn’t understand it, tolerate it, or believe it possible that any son of his could be anything but what he thought a man should be, which basically was a mirror image of himself.

I began to worry about Mark as he clearly had a lot on his mind, and I was guessing I knew what it was. One day as we rode the cross town bus to the West Side, I tried to break that particular ice.

“Mark, you doing ok lately? You seem kinda down”

Silence.

“Is anything the matter? Anything I can help you with?”

More Silence.

“Listen if you ever want to talk—“

“I think I’m gay”  he finally said.

A moment passed. I knew I should be careful with my next words.

I said:

“Yea, I know”.

He looked shocked.

“Huh? How..did I do anything…what do you mean you know….are you too?”

Ok that one I wasn’t expecting.

“Um…no… I don’t think so……but who knows?”

And thankfully this made him smile. Ok so far I had said the right things, important not to blow it now. A stupid thing to say next would have been something like “Gee, what are you going to do?” So instead I said something really profound like:

“Mark- it’s ok. A lot of people are gay”

But I knew that wasn’t his concern. I knew it because we were both thinking the same thing, but he said the words out loud:

“My father’s going to kill me.”

Now I have always been a coward who wasn’t a fan of violent confrontation so my gem of advice was:

So don’t tell him.”

He lit a cigarette (you could smoke on buses then, or at least we did anyway). I saw tears in his eyes; I reached out not knowing what else to say, so did another:

“It will be ok…you’re his son….he loves you…it’ll be ok.”

We were nearing the end of our ride, and now I was worried. As we departed the bus, I said:

“Mark, don’t do anything dumb ok- you need to talk, please call me.”

He nodded but didn’t say a thing. As he started to walk south on 8th Avenue, I called to him one more time:

“It’ll be ok”.

It wasn’t.

I found out later that in an act of pure bravery if not questionable judgment Mark called together his parents and announced his new found sexuality. For his honesty, he got slapped in the face so hard by his father it broke his eyeglasses and chipped a tooth. And then his father threw him out of the apartment.

He wasn’t at school the next couple of days, and to be honest I was scared to call the apartment; I didn’t want to talk to his parents. I did see him again, as I rode that same cross town bus. As we passed Union Square, he was standing with a group of other guys, all dressed in leather, and smoking cigarettes. He didn’t see me.

A few weeks later, there was a knock on the door of our apartment on 17th Street. When Mom opened it, there stood Mark’s parents, his father clearly agitated. They evidently had come to talk to me, to ask if I knew where their son was, as he never ever returned to their apartment after the night he was thrown out. Dad quickly made an appearance from the bedroom, as Mark’s father demanded to speak to me. Dad strode up to him, his right arm pulling Mom aside and behind him, protecting her as always.

“I am the only one in this house who questions my son. Not you, not now, not ever”.

Well as crazy as Mark’s father was, he immediately knew better than to challenge Dad, especially in his own home. Dad’s words resonated with the old Italian who quickly started to apologize for the deep disrespect he had shown in his tone and his demand.  Mark’s mother remained silent by his side.

The father was sputtering apologies, but was clearly concerned:

“Please help us… my Markie…he no come back…we don’t know where he is…if he is ok.”

Dad continued to look the man straight in the eye and asked:

“Why isn’t he home? Why did he leave?”

Mark’s father bowed his head, answered in a whisper:

“I throw him out”.

Now this was beyond Dad’s comprehension, God Bless his beloved soul; he was confused, said:

“You threw your own son out of your home?”

The tone was enough. Mark’s father started babbling about “Mark hanging around with the wrong crowd on the street….you know… the limp wristed….the fairies…”

Dad held up his hand. He had heard enough. I am sure he was still grappling with a father tossing his own son onto the streets. He called to me:

“Rob come here”.

I got there as fast as I could, standing in front of Mom and Dad and Mark’s parents. His father started to talk again but this time, his wife shushed him into silence.

Dad looked at me.

“Rob do you know where your friend Mark is?”

I shook my head, answering honestly:

“No”.

Dad turned to Mark’s father.

“If my son says he doesn’t know, he doesn’t know. My son doesn’t lie.”

Defeated in more ways than one, Mark’s parents turned and walked down the hallway to the elevator. Dad closed the door, said nothing and went to sit at the kitchen table; Mom started to make coffee. I started back to my room, but Dad called me over to him. I went and stood there, not quite sure what was coming.

“I want you to know that I will never turn you away from this family and this home,  no matter what, never, for anything…do you understand?”

I nodded, feeling tears of pure gratitude at how lucky I was to have been born into the family I was, to have this wonderful man as my father.

“You ever have anything, anything you want to talk about, you come to us to talk. Don’t ever be afraid to come to us. We love you and always will”.

He shook his head, still unbelieving the sadness he had just witnessed. He looked at me again, this time he had tears in his eyes too.

“You know I love my boys”.

I heard a sob from the kitchen as Dad got up to hug me.

______________________________________________________________________________________

Someone told me Mark had moved to San Francisco but I wasn’t sure that was true or not until a year or so later when a letter arrived with a California postmark. He sounded good in his letter to me, happy with his new life, and that made me happy. He promised to keep in touch and let me know where he was as he was planning on doing some traveling.

That was the only letter I ever received. I tried writing but never heard back. A few years later the AIDS Epidemic ravaged the gay world, and many lives were lost. I knew I would not hear from him again. My fears were confirmed by mutual friends.

I think of him often, the older I get. I hope his life for however long it was, gave him the happiness he deserved.

I hope he found it in his heart to forgive his father. And against all logic I hope they got it wrong. I hope right now, he is lying on a sunny beach with the Pacific Ocean in front of him, and his true love by his side.

Hey, I can hope can’t I?

-Rob

 

 

 

 

 

2020

2020

Can we all agree that the year 2020 should be sent back to the Hell it was spawned from?

“The whole world

It is exploding

Violence flairs

Bullets loading”

-Barry McQuire         

It is indeed a perfect storm of bad circumstances; a pandemic that demands self distancing, and waves of demonstrations, all necessary and long overdue, that of course, bring people together. So, the virus, still having a good run of disease and death, will continue to run up the numbers. Every state is following its own path, and given the leaderless quandary we are in, voids will always get filled, but by what and whom is the question. People are angry, frustrated and eager for whatever they think normal is, though I suspect the “new” normal isn’t going to look too much like the old normal. Go to a restaurant? Maybe in 2022, get on an airplane? Yea right-fat chance. Visit friends? As long as they keep their distance and have a mask on, then yea maybe- in a while.

Nah, normal is gone.

Some things though are always going to be a part of the grand scheme of human existence. Let me illustrate with some examples from the last few months:

-In May, a woman visiting a client in South Carolina spotted a massive Alligator near a pond, and decided she wanted to pet it. Yes, pet it. And she did for a second of two, before it grabbed her and pulled her into the pond.

-Also in May, a woman in Arizona who wanted to take a selfie with a Jaguar, jumped into its enclosure so she could get up close and personal with the big cat. She did. And luckily for her, and unlike the woman in South Carolina, she survived; not with all of her parts or anything but she survived.

-In Spain, a man taunted a Bull which had gotten loose from its paddock. Now he wasn’t a professional Bull Fighter, or anything, just someone who thought he was tough and cool and could dare the Bull to do something. The Bull did. As the guy flew into the sky after being lifted up by the bulls horns, I am sure he had second thoughts. And it wasn’t over. What goes up, comes down (there’s that wonderful science thingy at work again), and the Bull, not at all the stupid beast the man thought he was dealing with, got into perfect position, leveled its horns, and waited for him to descend. Nice.

-Since November 2019 six people have plummeted into the Grand Canyon. Why? They wanted to get that perfect photo and got a little too close to the edge.

-More recently in Ohio a reporter asked a big guy why he wasn’t wearing a mask when he was out amongst the public. The reporter could also have asked what the guy why he felt he needed the AR-15 Assault Rifle he had strapped to his shoulder, for but he didn’t. The guy answered the reporter saying he didn’t need a mask because God would protect him from the virus. I guess God isn’t too good at protecting him from everything else, thus the need for the AR-15. Enjoy the Respirator Dude.

-A pool party at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri was packed with revelers not wearing masks or keeping any distance from each other. It wasn’t until ten whole days before people that attended started testing positive and flooding the hospitals.

-And even before that, with a Governor slow to move (that must be a pre-requisite for Government now), thousands of young people attended Spring Break on beaches in Florida, that should have been closed. Many said they were there to party and didn’t care if they got the virus. Well they partied, and then they got the virus.

I could go on, but dear friends, by this point I am sure you can see the common denominator in all these stories, which brings me back to my point of some things always being a part of the human story.

Yes! You guessed it – Stupidity!!

We can overcome many things but not that it seems.

Now stupid has been around since the Cave Man; you see signs of it every day you walk out the door (if you are going out at all), but it has been elevated to new heights lately.

It has been institutionalized.

And friends, just think: this year is only half over!

So buckle up, the ride is going to get even bumpier, and remember, if someone suggests that you should pet an Alligator, or taunt a Bull, take a pass.

As Forrest Gump said “Stupid is as Stupid does.”

Stay safe! And don’t forget – wear your mask!

Rob.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

I watched a film on my phone the other day. The picture was clear, the sound impeccable. Then I checked the apps to see what I could stream that night on the flat screen. I chose one of my favorite genres, the Western, and in a few moments, saw it; one of my favorite films of all time, if not the favorite. I have it on VHS tape as well as a DVD boxed set so there is never a time when it is not available to me. I have seen it countless times, and never tire of it. It is a masterpiece of style, and the confluence of music, the visual, and just downright coolness. It is Sergio Leone’s tour de force, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

As I stared, smiling at the familiar trailer art, a vague, dusty memory stirred in the back of my mind. A memory from a time long ago when televisions were big boxes, and phones were mounted on the walls of kitchens or on end tables next to the overstuffed couch in the living room; a time before DVDs, streaming services, CDs, VHS tapes, even a time before Eight Tracks and Beta recording machines. A time when the only way you could watch a movie was to go to the theater and lay your money down.

A time like 1968.

The movie was made in 1966 and released the next year breaking box office records for a combined Spanish/Italian production set in the American West during the Civil War, telling the story of three men in search of gold…”For three men, the Civil War wasn’t hell…..it was practice!”……great line.  It starred Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach, and each would forever be associated with the roles they played. Eli Wallach made his name as a serious Broadway theater actor, and would gleefully tell the story of how as he came to the stage door after a serious Chekov or O’Neill play, someone in the crowd to meet him would call out:

“Hey Tuco!”, the name of the wonderful character he play in the movie.

But the memory that stirred in my brain as I looked at that picture of the three of them, was of one time when I did get to see a movie without going to the theater; something unheard of at the time.

I think I have mentioned before, that I had a friend, Nelson who was a student at the NYU Film School, and he and I shared a love for the Spaghetti Western and Leone’s work in particular. He of course had many friends at the school who shared a love of film, of any kind. So by 1968 I had already seen this film at least three times in the theater (once I think my brother and I just stayed in our seats when it was over and watched it again – you could do that back then).

One day Nelson tells me a friend of his had somehow gotten his hands on a copy of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and he was inviting some friends over on a Saturday night for a viewing party. When I say copy I mean the actual reels of real acetate, like they used in the projection rooms of movie houses at the time. And that is what this guy had, a projector like the theaters used, with two huge reels attached; the film would spool off of one reel onto the other, passing in front of the lighted projector and been transformed, magically it seemed onto the screen in front of you. But rather than be sitting in a theater, we would be watching the film in this guy’s living room. Nelson asked if I wanted to go with him to see it? Well that is called a no-brainer. See my favorite film again for free?? Um yea… let me think on that….ok!!

Now one thing I didn’t know was the guy’s apartment was at the northern tip of Manhattan and to get there required a subway ride of at least 45 minutes to an hour and then a bus ride for another 30 to forty minutes, so it was quite a trek from where we lived.

But hey, it was The Good, The Bad and the Ugly right?

Oh and did I mention it was February? A cold, miserable, snowy New York City February? And the weather forecast for that Saturday night was predicting blizzard conditions??

And did I also mention that as anyone who has lived there knows, when it snows in New York City, every thing slows up: traffic, deliveries, the mail, even the subway which doesn’t make entire sense as it was mostly underground, but whatever….it happened every time.

So with all that, the long trip up and back, and the weather being horrible, you would think well maybe reconsider going right?

But hey, this was The Good, The Bad and The Ugly…..and for free!

We went.

Now the film itself runs about 182 minutes depending on the version which is almost three hours. And that’s about how long it took us to get to this guys apartment……one way. So you have about three hours to get there, a three hour movie to watch, and then three hours to get back home, and yea….you’re talking getting back home in time to go to Sunday Mass.

And of course that didn’t take into account the hour or so, after the film ended (and the time it took to put on new spools of film half way through), that we all sat around and had a very serious and literary discussion of the film’s merits. The conversation went something like this:

“Man that was so cool!”

“Did you see Tuco shoot that guy from the tub?!..so cool!”

“Clint’s the man!”

“Nah….Tuco….Tuco’s the man!”

“Are you guys kidding…no one was cooler than Van Cleef.!”

“And the music…so cool!”

You get the idea. This wasn’t Judith Crist and Pauline Kale talking (two famous film critics from the time).

And all the time the snow continued to fall outside.

We all made calls home to say we would be late, and it was ok because everyone was just concerned we got home safely given the weather, so none of us got any flak.

And yup, it was another 2-3 hours for the journey back to Chelsea. We got back tired, soaked, and famished.

Was it worth it?

What do you think?

“You see in this word, there are two kinds of people my friend…” 

Those who would do anything for something they absolutely love, and those who will never know that joy.

And hey after all, it was The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

-RobGBU 1GBU2

The Bridge

Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, in either direction, was a unique experience, and not just for tourists. We lived in Manhattan before moving to Brooklyn, and would every now and then walk the expanse of the bridge, and each time it was quite literally breath-taking.

Now the Bridge itself of course was famous, both in real American history and in a hundred jokes about people’s gullibility. If you believe that, the old saw went, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I could sell you; some variation on that each time.

It opened to the public in 1883, and it was the largest suspension bridge in existence at the time. It has three lanes of traffic in each direction on one level with the pedestrian (and now bike) lanes suspended 18 feet above the cars traveling its expanse, which measures about 5,989 feet, a little over a mile long.

I especially liked the journey from the Brooklyn side to the Manhattan side for the obvious reason that you were facing one of the most dynamic skylines in the world, and as you walked, you rose in elevation, and the buildings of Manhattan revealed themselves slowly, enticingly. The Chrylser Building, and of course the Empire State Building shooting straight up into the blue, crowded out by thousands of other buildings, each one with a story all its own; a heritage built of more than stone, glass and steel, each one marking a stage of development in the island’s progress, each one re-shaping and re-defining the city’s appearance.

But the journey was more than a history lesson, more than a class in modern architecture, or city planning. It was a spiritual one as well.

You started out on Tillary Street at the base of the bridge in Brooklyn, entered the walkway, and began an ascent into the sky. You started out in the normal noise and clamor of a city totally engrossed in its every day commerce and business. The sounds of traffic, car horns, the sound of trucks shifting gears, whistles, sirens, shouts, the clang of nearby construction; the hum of movement itself.

You could have been standing in Times Square!  The city’s sounds were the same wherever you went, the hustle was the same, the rush to be somewhere else was the same. But as you continued to walk the bridge, a strange thing happened. Rising slowly as the bridge arched, the sound of all those people and all those cars and trucks started to fade, replaced by the white noise of the wind that swept across the East River. You slowly realized you were being taken somewhere far away; sure you could look back and see it all still happening: the traffic, the lights, the people; you just couldn’t hear them anymore and that was ….. wonderful.

In a mere few minutes, what was overwhelming, became inconsequential.

You were literally above it all; the noise, the dirty streets, the rancor, the ugliness, the smog, you were for a brief time,  in the sky with the clouds closer and the sea gulls guiding you on your way. It was for me one of the most peaceful places to experience and still be within the confines of that great city.

Of course you eventually reached the apex and then started the descent down to the Manhattan side of the expanse, and the clamor of the city re-established itself.

But that feeling at the top, with just you and the sky…….I longingly remembered that feeling just recently.

Being above it all, in a place of peace and beauty sounds pretty damn good these days.

I hope those that can, are taking that walk across that magnificent bridge and finding some solace in its ability to transport you to a better place.BB1

“Serenity Now.”

 

Kitty Mange

She came into our lives rather unexpectedly. We were living in Brooklyn on 10th Street near Prospect Park and we were moving to a garden apartment on 9th Street off of 7th Avenue, a short distance away. Our 10th street apartment was tiny so there wasn’t a lot to move. Moving day arrived and with the help of our friends Pattie and Dana, all went as planned. Almost.

The new apartment had the usual little plot of ground in front of the building on the ground floor, with a concrete walkway that led to the front door at street level. As we made our approach with our respective cars loaded with boxes, it was Dana who spotted her first.

“Well it looks like the place comes with a dead cat”.

Sure enough, there in front of the door was a splotch of black and white fur. Now Dana certainly couldn’t be blamed for thinking this was an ex-cat, but in fact when we got closer we could see it was breathing, though barely. She had had a rough time of it, that was for sure – her long hair was mottled and shaggy, she had various bruises and cuts everywhere, and her eyes were almost completely shut with what appeared to be a white crust. But she was breathing.

And thus began the saga of Kitty Mange, a named that just seemed to fit at that moment.

We had cats already at the time, B-Leep and Vinyl, but there was always room for one more! Especially one in such dire need of a home. So the move continued and went off splendidly though I seem to recall Dana spraining his ankle which was unfortunate, but a “job well done” party of pizza and lots of beer I hope alleviated the pain a bit.

What followed of course was the unpacking, but first we had to see to the new kitty. We decided to leave her where she was for now, not knowing how poor a condition she was in but we brought her food and water, and were happy to see her show interest in both.  We would have to get her to a Vet, but first a bath was in order. Now all this time, B-Leep and Vinyl were at the front window on the inside, hissing at this newcomer, a dirty intruder they certainly didn’t need sharing any lap time with. Little did they know our intentions.

So after a few days, and a couple of baths and endless bowls of food and water, she looked to be getting healthier. She actually seemed to enjoy the baths, which was a first for us, and she cleaned up nicely. Her tail was especially noteworthy, luxurious in it’s volume and sweep. She gained confidence, and physical strength.

The visit to the Vet went well, and besides a few expected problems, there was no reason we couldn’t bring her into our home for good. But you know how plans go.

Though she looked good, healthy and happy even, what we didn’t realize at the time was Kitty Mange was a child of the streets. We assumed she belonged to someone at one time in her life before finding her way to our front door, but it was clear from the get go she wasn’t quite ready to become a house cat just yet.

But we tried. We brought her into the house and she stood in the front room (actually it was all one big room at the time), and calmly looked over her surroundings. As expected, our other two approached slowly, eager to proclaim their seniority. They both sat a few inches away from her and hissed, and growled that low growl that all cat owners know is a prelude to a fight. We stood at the ready just in case a fight did break out, though I was never quite sure if it was a good idea to get in the middle of a cat fight.

Well it turns out we didn’t need to. Kitty Mange had sat silently looking from one cat to the other, showing no fear or even much interest. B-Leep and Vinyl kept vocalizing, but made no physical attempt to attack the newcomer. And then Kitty Mange showed her street cred. Without any warning or sound, she jumped into the air effortlessly, reached out with her right paw and landed a perfect cuff on the side of Vinyl’s head, just as her left paw simultaneously did the same to B-Leep.

Well that was that.

The old timers were not used to this kind of playing rough, and retreated to the rear of the house, pretending nothing had happened. Kitty Mange had landed softly and resumed her sitting position. She blinked once or twice and I could swear I hear a sigh come from her. Then she just turned and headed back out the front door.

So that was the way it would be. She did get more comfortable being inside, but she just never really bought the whole house cat lifestyle.

Being a garden apartment, there were iron bars on all the windows for security and in the nice weather, we would leave the back window which looked out into the garden, open so that the cats could get some fresh air and come back in at their leisure.

One day, we left the apartment to go to work and all three cats were lounging about as they usually did. We never worried about B-Leep and Vinyl  as they knew they had it good where they were, and though sometimes they would take a walk around the neighborhood, they always came home by dinner time.

Well this one time, when we came home together after work, we walked into the apartment, and both of us stood looking about in shock. Kitty Mange must have invited a bunch of her street pals to come over for the afternoon. There must have been ten other cats of all sizes and colors; ones we had never seen before. They lay on the countertops, the table, the couch. And there in the middle holding court was Kitty Mange. A couple looked up at us and turned away; the others didn’t even bother; one large orange tabby snored loudly on the floor.

“What the Hell…..” I said doing a pretty good imitation of Dad. Leslie just burst out laughing.

It was clear that life with Kitty Mange would be quite a bit different than it used to be.

To accommodate Kitty Mange’s love for the outdoors, we put food bowls out in the garden and even a kitty litter box. She ate the food, slept in the kitty litter box and pooped in the flowers.

Such was her way.

But we loved her like we loved all of our children we have been blessed with over the years, each one special in their own way, each one unique. But I have to say Kitty Mange pretty well owned the “unique” category.

We would often sit with her out front as she watched the world go by. She sat calmly, regally, on the wall of the small patch of garden, her magnificent tail fluttering in the summer breeze. People would stop and comment on how beautiful she was, and I always hesitated when they asked her name. Maybe the name Kitty Mange fit when we first found her, but it didn’t any longer. Yet it still did convey the street toughness she never lost.  As people complimented her, she would sit impassively; every once in a while she would turn to back at me with an expression of  “Well…..yeah”.

Her confidence was only exceeded by her free spirit.

There was one old lady who would come by often to see her, and even told us if ever we didn’t want her anymore, she would be happy to have her and give her a good home. She looked at me strangely when I responded:

“Well that’s her decision, not ours”.

And it was. It was exactly how I thought of her, and I have never felt that way about any of the other many cats we have called family.

You may have already guessed how this story ends. One day she was just gone. She had eaten the food in her bowl, slept in the litter box and then must have decided it was time to move on.

I have always missed her; not in the same way as my other children that are waiting for me across that Rainbow Bridge, because I am convinced it was her decision to leave. She always did know where she wanted to be and how long she wanted to stay.

The Legend of Kitty Mange lives on, and truth be told I wouldn’t be surprised if I find her waiting with all the others when if is my turn to cross that bridge and  be reunited with those I have loved so much.

Revelations

Apocalypse is a Greek word meaning “revelation”, “an unveiling or unfolding of things not previously known and which could not be known apart from the unveiling”

These are times that wear you down; the normalcy of our lives is disrupted and probably changed forever.

It’s normal to get up in the morning and go to work. But that doesn’t happen anymore.

It’s normal to go out for a cup of coffee or a beer; maybe lunch at my favorite spot on a Saturday afternoon. But that doesn’t happen anymore.

It’s normal to go grocery shopping without having to worrying about which direction I am walking in or how close that person checking out the green beans is. But you have to worry about that now.

It’s normal to shake hands, hug someone or pat someone on the back. But that doesn’t happen anymore either.

It’s normal to see family and friends. Nope,not anymore.

It’s normal to walk out of my home and not have to wear a mask and latex gloves. But I have to now.

But at the same time, it’s not normal to find a bag of groceries left on my front porch, or a beautiful vase of flowers and yet that’s what happened in the past week, courtesy of some good hearted neighbors, known and unknown.

It’s not normal for someone I had seen many times at our local Acme, but had never spoken to, say to me the other day he was sorry to hear about me losing my job. How he found out I have no idea, but here was someone I hardly knew at all, expressing sympathy about something that had happened to me, a stranger to him. And the thing is, it was more than I have heard from people I know a lot better.

It’s not normal to hear from friends I haven’t heard from in years, but I am, some checking in almost everyday to make sure we are ok and don’t need anything. I think on that often. Every day, due to our new reality I hear offers of spiritual encouragement, financial assistance; words of comfort, and understanding.

From friends, family and yes strangers.

Every day.

That surely is not normal either. But it is happening.

And It’s not normal and I am not used to, people of diverse political, social, religious beliefs coming together to join in a common cause of lifting each other up.

And it’s not normal to re-evaluate anew every day, who and what is important, how your life should be defined, what matters, what doesn’t, who you are….really.

That anonymous gift left on the porch, the kind word of the person I had never spoken to previously, the e-mails, texts and calls that are received just when they are needed most; they are all gifts freely given and gratefully accepted, and will be paid forward to someone else.

This is not the way it normally is; none of this is normal.

It is better than normal.

Sometimes we look for things in the wrong places. It happens. And sometimes it takes a hard time to let you see some light.

Maybe I don’t want everything to go back to the old normal.

Doors close, new ones open.

Friends become strangers, strangers become friends.

And family is not only defined by blood.

Revelations.

It’s all part of the unveiling,

 

 

Perspective.

I lost my job last week. Along with millions of others.

Our vacation plans were cancelled, along with millions of others.

Our 40th Wedding Anniversary will be spent on the back deck instead of Paris.

Cities are full of emptiness; Stores, Gyms, Offices, all closed; Basketball Arenas, Hockey Rinks and Tennis Courts all dormant.

Even the Baseball diamonds sit unused, the excitement of Opening Day deferred.

It is a Spring without Graduations, Reunions, Weddings, or Funerals.

It is Holy Season, and the Churches, Synagogues, and Mosques are inaccessible, denying the solace we so desperately want. .

It is a time of confusion, fear and doubt; the future is not guaranteed, but that was always true.

We are home bound, locked away from the world, maybe bitter, maybe angry, disappointed, disillusioned and dismayed.

I was thinking about all that had gone wrong in my life in a matter of weeks, and I started to feel pretty bad. I felt lonely, abandoned and lost.

And then I heard that a former classmate of mine had died.

And I watched a video of bodies being loaded onto a refrigerated truck outside a hospital in Queens.

And I saw a make shift Morgue parked on Ninth Avenue opposite the projects we grew up in.

All out of a bad horror movie.

But then I saw…

health care workers going to work at the hospital nearby; and cars were honking to honor them as they passed, and neighbors cheered them on from the windows of the houses across the street.

And I went to my local supermarket, and there were the same people I see every time I go there, stocking the shelves, cleaning the floors, greeting the customers, on duty as always.

And I waved to a man driving a tractor trailer, having just made a delivery to the loading dock in the back, as he pulled away heading back to the lonely empty highway; going to deliver more. He waved back and probably didn’t hear my “thank you”.

And I saw the photo that a nurse had taken of a man who had made a sign and held it up to the hospital window, thanking the staff for saving his wife’s life.

And I thought again.

And realized that there are modern day Saints hidden amongst us.

There are Churches on every corner, Saviors on every block.

And every once in a while, when they are needed most, they become visible.

Perspective.

Rob.

Perspective

I lost my job last week. Along with millions of others.

Our vacation plans were cancelled, along with millions of others.

Our 40th Wedding Anniversary will be spent on the back deck instead of Paris.

Cities are full of emptiness; Stores, Gyms, Offices, all closed; Basketball Arenas,  Hockey Rinks and Tennis Courts all dormant.

Even the Baseball diamonds sit unused, the excitement of Opening Day deferred.

It is a Spring without Graduations, Reunions, Weddings, or Funerals.

It is Holy Season, and the Churches, Synagogues, and Mosques are inaccessible, denying the solace we so desperately want. .

It is a time of confusion, fear and doubt; the future is not guaranteed, but that was always true.

We are home bound, locked away from the world, maybe bitter, maybe angry, disappointed, disillusioned and dismayed.

I was thinking about all that had gone wrong in my life in a matter of weeks, and I started to feel pretty bad. I felt lonely, abandoned and lost.

And then I heard that a former classmate of mine had died.

And I watched a video of bodies being loaded onto a refrigerated truck outside a hospital in Queens.

And I saw a make shift Morgue parked on Ninth Avenue opposite the projects we grew up in.

All out of a bad horror movie.

But then I saw…

health care workers going to work at the hospital nearby; and cars were honking to honor them as they passed, and neighbors cheered them on from the windows of the houses across the street.

And I went to my local supermarket, and there were the same people I see every time I go there, stocking the shelves, cleaning the floors, greeting the customers, on duty as always.

And I waved to a man driving a tractor trailer, having just made a delivery to the loading dock in the back, as he pulled away heading back to the lonely  empty highway; going to deliver more. He waved back and probably didn’t hear my “thank you”.

And I saw the photo that a nurse had taken of a man who had made a sign and held it up to the hospital window, thanking the staff for saving his wife’s life.

And I thought again.

And realized that there are modern day Saints hidden amongst us.

There are Churches on every corner, Saviors on every block.

And every once in a while, when they are needed most, they become visible.

Perspective.

The Odyssey of Flight 532

Mom never learned to drive. She never learned to swim. And for a long time he had never stepped foot on an airplane. When she finally did at the good age of 58, it would be one of the last adventures she would ever have.

I have to believe she dreamed of traveling to Europe, of seeing Paris, Rome, the Vatican, but back when she was young, people still took transatlantic voyages by ocean liner. Now that is something I always wanted to do, and obviously will never do. Air Flight of course took off in the 1960’s (Come Fly with Me….we’ll float down to Peru”), and airlines like TWA and Pan-Am ruled the skies.

So for whatever reasons, partly I am sure economic, partly fear, she never took flight.

Dad I have to believe, having been a Marine, would have had the opportunity of taking a flight. Unfortunately, he did not get to fly to Paris or London, but he did, compliments of Uncle Sam, get to see the wonders of Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal and Peleliu. I could of course be wrong, as he did regale us with stories of shipboard life, and the Marines were a nautical bunch, so maybe he too never had the pleasure of looking down through the clouds and seeing Mother Earth.

In the late Seventies, early Eighties the discount airline made its appearance. These airlines used small planes, had no amenities at all, and if you were willing to take the chance they could bring you half way across country for $49; not bad.

PeopleExpress was the name of one of the first, if not the first. of these airlines and it flew from Newark Airport to most American cities for a fraction of what one of those classy big ones would charge. You even paid for your flight while you were on it! At first it was cash only, then they started to accept credit cards, but often the cost of the flight was literally pocket money.

Now I have a memory of the first time Mom took a flight; it was in the early 80’s and we went to see Don and Rhonda in Virginia and we took PeopleExpress.

But let me preface this memory with the fact that Mom didn’t travel well. She was a nervous wreck sitting in a moving car. She was notorious for sitting in the passenger seat as Dad drove the Rambler, and being wracked with terror for the whole time the car was in motion. She would slam the floor with her foot, hitting imaginary brakes to slow the car down if she thought Dad was driving too fast, which was all the time, she would grab the dashboard white knuckled when a car merged into our lane, she would start reciting the Lords Prayer if it started to rain, all the while keeping up a steady banter with Dad while he drove:

“Tony that car has his turn signal on”

“Yes I see that”

“He may want to get in front of you”

“Yes, yes he may”

“Tony do you see that truck is braking??!!”

“Yes Babe, I see the truck is braking”.

“Tony you’re driving too fast”

“No, no I’m not, I am doing the speed limit”

And on it would go….every single time.

So if she was that way in a moving car which was attached to Planet Earth, what would she think about getting into a steel tube and getting shot into the heavens?

We did our best in the weeks leading up to the flight to re-assure her that it was just as safe as……well we couldn’t say driving given how she dealt with that…and we couldn’t say swimming for the same reason….er..er..as safe as taking a walk? Sitting on the couch?? We tried everything. Dad had a more fatalistic view of the world; if your number is up, your number is up. I guess that attitude comes from having had to charge through a jungle or up a hill with people shooting at you. After that, taking an hour long flight to Norfolk Virginia was a breeze.

But Mom was another story.

Trying to convince her was quite a task; the rosary came out, the prayers were recited, the candles at daily Mass were lit.

The airplane awaited.

I am sure she didn’t sleep the night before the flight. We made our way to Newark airport on a bright sunny day. The flight was a short one; so short that by the time you reached cruising altitude, the plane began its descent. We got through Security, which would be un-recognizable today as it was virtually non-existent. You could pretty much carry on a sub-machine gun back then and no one would stop you.  We settled in to our seats, Les and I sitting directly in front of Mom and Dad – the plane was so small it had two rows of seats on each side of one small center aisle in between. I kept turning around to check on Mom, trying to make small talk to get her mind off the moment of take off. Thankfully for such a cheap plane, the engines were quiet and smooth sounding, and when the plane started to taxi to the runway, you could hardly feel you were moving. It certainly must have seemed that way to Mom as she made no indication of being upset or scared by the beginning of the flight. We had been talking back and forth, enjoying the ride after take off, and I was pleased and amazed that she was taking it all so well. I turned at one point to tell her how good she was doing and she responded:

“Well as long as we are on the ground, everything is fine”.

Les and I looked at each other. Huh? On the ground? What was she talking about?

“What do you mean?” I asked with some dread. She looked out the small window and said:

“I can still see the runway so I’m ok.”

See the runway? What was going on? How could she still be seeing the runway? We were flying!! And then it dawned on me: from her cramped aisle seat with a limited view out a miniscule window, all she could see was a slight expanse of smooth grey – the wing of the airplane. But it looked like the grey of the runway we had just left. How the heck she missed the whole take-off thing I don’t know, but she was smiling and feeling safe on the ground, so why tell her any different. Dad was snoring away next to her in the window seat, so Les and I just went along for the ride so-to-speak and before we knew it we felt the plane begin its descent. Well, I couldn’t keep this up any longer.

“Mom, that isn’t the runway you are seeing.”

She looked at me, perplexed.

“That’s the wing of the plane.”

Her look changed in a second from one of confusion to one of abject horror! She shot out her arm, clutching Dad’s hand in a vise like grip; he woke up howling.

“Mom, it’s ok – we are landing soon….its all over..you did it.

Dad was totally lost.

“Babe youre killng me- what the hell is wrong?! Wha? Wha? What happened?!”

I heard Leslie laugh, and that was all it took. I tried to stifle my laughter as I shook my head telling Dad:

“I’ll tell you later”.

We proceeded to have a wonderful visit and that first night around the dinner table, the story of our flight was related and met with great laughter and Mom, to her credit, laughed the most.

And just like that, a simple trip to Virginia, became another chapter in family lore….the strange and wonderous journey of PeopleExpress, Flight Number 532 and the bizarre appearance of a phantom runway, high above the clouds.

-Rob