Monday, April 20, 2015


Somehow I got through the weekend and made it into work on Monday.  I got home at nine on Sunday.  It was actually very beautiful and I went into the backyard we have for our co-op.  I set on the grass with my back against the fence. I closed my eyes and I meditated.  Once a long time ago in college at a keg party I talked to a pretty girl who told me,
The basic principle of meditation is sitting quietly and doing nothing.
What about the Bhagavad Gita? I asked, trying to be cool and funny.  Of course all I wanted to do was kiss her.
She smiled.
It does not matter.
What about humming, the Beach Boys and all that crap?
She laughed, but in a nice way.
It's not necessary.
Later we did make out a little and I dropped acid but all that and the Carly Simon's Greatest Hits album that we listened to is ancillary.
I remembered this now.  She had also said,
It’s good to try to think of a place where you were happy.
Our building’s yard abuts the Henry Hudson Parkway, so I listened to the cars as they passed on their ways home from the long weekend in the country and I thought of the park where we all played as children in New Jersey, where cousin Hamilton’s son had gotten ahold of the gun.  Here I was actually able to take off the gun outside the apartment for the first time since the initial Yankee stadium episode.
It was dark and I had a shopping bag so I put the gun and holster in there to hide it from passersby.  I was conscious of the fact that I was doing this as much out of shame as from any desire to be secretive or concealing.  Not to mention finally that I am a lawyer after all and all of this indicated how far from reality I had flown.  For this is New York City after all even in Riverdale near 231st St. and unless I shot someone I didn’t think anyone would say too much.  Surely though they would watch and judge, which bugged me more.
Above my head the wind swept through the leaves of the trees.  An hour before in our apartment I had emptied all of my pills into the bag.  I checked the pockets of all of my suits, sport jackets and trousers, even the front breast pockets of my shirts, for little foil packets, and for strays, for others stashed in plastic or metal aspirin, cough drop and mint containers.  I emptied out the messenger bag where I carry my iPad.  It has so many little pockets.
Alice bought it for me from a company out of San Francisco when the vintage Globe Canvas bag from my actual messenger days became too cracked and worn to carry.  It really was not appropriate for work anyway.  She was always doing nice things for me.  It only made me angry these things because at the time I thought she did them because she really did not love me, that she was preparing the ground for getting rid of me completely and finally.
It was the hour of gloaming and as the last of the sunlight receded from the atmosphere it was still possible to smell the heat on the new green summer grass, on the dirt and on my own skin.
The park in Jersey abuts Route 3, the main travel/commuter route into the Lincoln tunnel and when we were kids we would gape at the Empire Building from there and it made our ball-field special, like it really was the Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park that we pretended it to be in our ballgames.  In my meditation practice I did not try to clear my mind of all the crap in it, rather whenever I realized I had stopped thinking of this park where we were once so happy as children, I rebooted my thoughts to it.
Someone had their car window open as they passed and I heard snatches of the Beach Boys song, Don’t Worry Baby and I remembered how we listened to it on my dad’s Hi-Fi and it was one of the things that the whole family did together.  I felt okay about it.  I felt okay about everything.
I don’t remember going upstairs to our apartment, but I do remember listening to the message afforded me by the red beeping phone machine.  It was from Alice.  She put each of the kids on to say they missed me and she did too and at the end she said,
I love you and
I heard her voice crack a little.
My heart quaked in my chest  
I checked my email and found a message from a writer and AA named Steve G.  He was nice and had just published a book which made him hard to take.  He was still in the all excited about everything stage.  I had been so crushed by the whole thing when my deal blew up that his bubbly enthusiasm made me cringe.
On the message he recounted how he had heard the conversation I had with Tom at the big meeting.  He said we could go through the steps in a month or two depending on how hard I wanted to work. My first thought was, This guy has a lot of gall.  My second thought was that I desperately needed Steve’s help.  Then for a moment I felt hope. Even when I looked around the apartment and saw the few toys of our kids left strewn in their sweet rooms.
Could we start next Monday? he asked.
Little did I know how perfect his timing would be.  I could not sleep so I sat down and meditated on the couch for another hour or so.  Which was when I realized I had left the paper shopping bag in the park.


I walked to the edge of the roof and from there I could see the street.  There were no police in sight.  I wondered if they had even called them, if they had decided there was too much to explain, not even counting the dangerous liaison which of course would go unmentioned.
I was really high, so high that I felt like at once I could think any necessary thoughts of other men or women and that it did not matter, nothing mattered anyway.
It was windy up there and I almost lost my footing and it seemed utterly significant that I didn't and that at the same time that it mattered to me whether I fell.  I wanted to shoot the gun again and I was struck by the idea that I was utterly powerless to stop myself from doing this.  This moment was ground zero to me.  It was exactly like I was just an energy source of insanity.
I pointed the gun over Central Park wondering how far it would fly and whether it were possible to hurt someone from here.  Then I turned to the south and then east toward New Jersey.  Could a bullet from a .28 handgun reach New Jersey?  Of course not.  Would it make it to the Hudson River?  Of course not; the thought was preposterous.  It would turn toward the street and strike another building on its way down.  The so-called stray bullet would hit someone in an apartment building or someone lounging in their rooftop garden if any regular citizens still lived in midtown.  Even if they didn’t, well, someone lived there and I realized that I did not have the heart to do it.
I finally turned to the brick enclosure that housed the stairway cocked back the hammer with my thumb and squeezed the trigger not once but three times.  Again it felt really great to do this.  It occurred to me that I had not had anything to eat nor drink since a donut and coffee at the big meeting, with this in mind I headed for the door to the stairs.  It took me about an hour to reach the bottom and when I finally did, taking my time and enjoying the utter anonymous quality of a 75 story back stairway, I pushed open the door and no one noticed me as I slipped onto the still brightly sunlit streets.
It must have been past seven by then, but I had lost track of time.  I walked a couple more empty blocks and then lost myself in the crowds of Times Square.  I got a couple slices of pizza and sat down in a chair in the middle of the avenue, our great mayor in its compassionate wisdom having closed the streets of the area to traffic I was able to sit down in the early evening amidst the crowds and enjoy the breeze.  A fountain coke to wash it down reminded me how high I still was.
I checked my gun and got up to walk around.  I still had a couple bullets left.  I remember thinking, that and I had gotten through most of the day without going home, without seeing the empty rooms of my children, the empty marriage bed, without talking any of the prescription mood-altering medicines with which I had been keeping back my demons the last many months.
And the thing is I did not feel half bad.  There was none of the terrible kick of opiate addiction, a little tug and nothing more.  Ahh the wonders of modern medicine!  I felt light as a feather and as I stepped off I kicked up my heels and a pretty girl smiled at me from behind her sunglasses.  Everything seemed possible for that moment.  As my witness please record that I did feel some happiness this one delicious moment before what took place next.  I thought about taking a subway and then decided to walk downtown and enjoy the night air.  I was a man without any ties at all and it felt good.


When the door opened on the floor which I had once worked, an odd thing happened.  The elevator stopped an inch or so below the actual level of the floor.  I did not notice and when I stepped out of the elevator my foot caught and I sprawled onto the floor.  There was a weekend crew there waxing and I must have slid three feet, tearing a small hole in the knee of my pants.  It hurt like hell.
The reception desk was empty.  Again I had the acute feeling of loss of identity, like I was the tree that had fallen in the forest and indeed no one had noticed.  I remembered to a day before I was married, when once having turned my ankle in a weekend basketball game I had to go out to get dinner and a six pack of beer.  It must have taken an hour to walk a block and a half.  The most singular realization was that there was no one on earth whom I could call for help.  I was alone utterly.  If I wanted to eat, it was up to me to finish my painful solitary journey.
I don't remember when I took out the gun.  I walked down the partner hall and if a door was open I did a cop thing like on television where I appeared in the doorway with the gun drawn.  All the doors were open because of some other janitorial duties being performed and I knew the offices were empty because there was a cart at the end of the hall and the sound of a vacuum could be heard from an empty office at that far end.  Did I mention how much satisfaction it afforded me to spring into each open doorway with the gun drawn?  Well, let me assure that it was really quite considerable in nature, in taste, even in texture.
The vacuum was so loud that it occurred to me that I might be able to in fact get off a shot without anyone noticing.  In the next office I turned into the open doorway, turned and took aim at a bookcase on the far wall.  It was not an easy thing to pull the trigger, but I managed it and the bookcase shook with the force of the shot as a hole appeared in the considerable spines of one of the volumes.  Might I tell you how much this increased the utter quality of pleasure involved in this action?
I pray that it would not be possible except to say that the tingling quality in all my limbs was not unlike the few moments after climax during sex.  In fact I went to the bathroom next and spent a few moments in one of the stalls.  When I pissed finally afterwards, I felt better than I had in a long time.
I also felt that I had become almost completely unhinged.  I felt like a boat that has left its ties on the dock, and without captain begins to drift toward the greater sea.  I went into one more office and would have gone on and went into more except for what happened there.
I jumped into the open doorway, aimed the pistol this time for the back of the leather swivel chair, which for some reason was in front of the desk rather than behind.  It was then that I noticed that the chair was trembling slightly.  The chair suddenly swiveled and in turning upset the utter quality of concentration which I had achieved.
A woman sighed exquisitely.   I saw a woman’s skirt and bare hips straddling that of a man’s before I realized who it was: the woman had beaten me out for partner.  The man was not a partner.  Neither of them should have been in this office.
We all stopped what we were doing for a moment.  They stopped fucking and I stopped breathing.  Oh they saw the gun.  A pistol pointed at you is not something that one misses.  No one said anything.  I slowly used my thumb to cock the hammer back.  It had dawned on me that this made the trigger easier to fire.  The order of events is weird to think of now.  I remember speaking with the man.  I was angry.  I yelled at him.
What does your wife think of this?
Have you gone mad? he yelled.
She is going to have to reapply her lipstick, I said.
He cursed at me with a most ghastly string of epithets that I will not repeat here.
We went back and forth.
The woman got to her feet.  One of them was white and the other black and for some reason this seemed really significant to me.  It took that special swivel of the hips that is necessary to come off of someone like that.  She pulled down her skirt and then pulled up her hose.  I remember how they blotted slightly the wetness of her sex and how I could almost taste that and at that moment I thought he was right and I knew what it felt to not know who you were and what you might do next and that knowing who you were and where you fit in the world was an important facet of sanity and that this is something of what I had lost.
I raised the gun and shot out one of the full length windows.  They both ran out of the room and I watched them go.  What was truly weird is that they did not call the police right away or if they did, they did not arrive until I had time to stand out and lean over the broken window.  The bullet had done enough damage so that it would have been possible for me to step over say a six inch shard no more and step off into the abyss.  We were on the 61st floor of 9 West 57th, a building known for its distinctive hourglass design.
When I did hear the police sirens, I still had time to walk purposefully, but not quickly, down the long glassed corridor to a stairway where I decided on impulse to walk to the roof.  It was one of those back stairways where the landings are outside about ten flights of stairs and I reached the top.  At the last landing I found a chair with a newspaper and a joint with matches.
I had not smoked pot in years.  It was really good.  I smoked most of it in the stairwell then pushed the door open with my shoulder and stepped onto the roof itself.  There was a four step last stoop and a slightly open door, the red handle to the alarm was not latched.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Ninth Gun

All my life I have been told that I should be proud to be who I am that it meant something there was a story of origin that was tied to the name but it was more than that it had to do with a certain way that we were the Smiths going back to the original Hamilton Blarney and the Hubners and August who were respectively the first of their families to set foot foot on American soil but also what happened when the two families joined forces so to speak at the wedding between August and his bride, Sarah Smith, she the first female to join the ancient order of the American Enniskillen Dragoons outright that it meant something more than being a good hand to have in a fight, a taste for the psychedelic and the ability to drink as a contact sport that we were patriotic Americans with a thirst for knowledge welded to a sense of injustice.
In any event it was not a straight line (as I might have implied before) that got the original Hamilton Blarney Smith from the battle in NJ to the kingdom of Buccleuch.  He was deployed by General Washington with the dragoons in a force of five and twenty marauders who trekked east and forded the icy blocks of the gray freezing waters of the Raritan River, reaching the Palisades and led a siege by General Heath's 6000.  Fort Independence across the Hudson River. On January 25, torrential rains overflowed the Bronx River, flooded the fields  and paralyzed American troops.  After three days of waiting, fighting off a fierce British counterassault in a howling blizzard General Heath had to admit defeat and ordered his troops to retreat on January 29, 1777. 
Hamilton B. Smith nearly died defending a dugout fort defense that overlooked the Harlem River in the battle of Woody Crest and never forgot the spot where he killed a Brit at hand to hand and had to leave him whilst pinned down as his comrades passed a second man came Smith trapped laid a hand over his mouth as a dozen more passed this Brit saw his dead comrade thrashed & struggled a moment of intimate mortal terror passed between them and without a word exchanged Smith let him go and bade him to his comrades I could not after the first kill another with demon dispatch he brushed some b some brambles from his britches and rolled through the sticker brush down the banks for cover took cover in a copse of trees having learned  in that hour that war is not for winning but for survival as he told it for the rest of his days and committed to the log of the legend of the American Dragoons of Buccleuch.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Gun 8

I usually rise before my wife.  I had made breakfast and was standing at the counter in the kitchen reading the paper as the kids played at what Alice jokingly calls my Captain's Station position, when she came out.  I was wearing a t-shirt and had the gun strapped on underneath.
When are we leaving for your mother's?
She looked at me.
You're not going.
Come on, you don't like to go.
Yes I do.
Well, you are not going this time, she said.  You can go next week.
Oh okay.
She did not have her contacts in so only when she came closer, did she say, Oh my God, I can't believe you are wearing that.
She shook her head.  I heard what happened with Hamilton yesterday.
I started steaming around.  I started literally beating myself in the head with my fist.
She looked at me like I was a crazy man, and I guess I was at that point.  But I had promised I would not yell anymore in front of the kids, no matter what.  There must have been steam coming out of my ears, like one of those Popeye cartoons.  I kissed her on the cheek, went over and kissed each of the kids one by one.
Where are you going? she asked.  Her smile was as breakable as newly blown glass.
To a meeting I guess, trying to smile.  For that she came over and gave me a real hug.  Please call me when you get there, I said and I left before we both melted into puddles right there on the floor.
On Sixth Avenue and 16th St there is a place called the Foundlings Hospital, opened over a hundred years ago as a home for abandoned babies; that my journey into the wild would begin here says more than I ever could.  I got there a little early and wandered over to a flea market in a parking lot across the street.
In this parking lot my cousin Hamilton and I had stopped to take a piss behind some cars against a brick wall on our way back to the Port Authority where he caught a bus to JFK on the first leg of the ill-fated trip to Los Angeles that ruined his life.  The thing about something like that is you can always turn it around.  That is the promise that life gives us, just some of us never do.
All of the vendors at the flea market were older single men, all of them with a load of crap, the detritus of someone's half-assed, cut-rate glories emptied onto a rickety card table next to a hand scrawled sign that read best offer.
All of these fellows looked like they needed a good retirement plan but what they got instead was this, a folding chair, a straw hat, some faded tattoos.  One guy had World War II medals, another baseball cards, record albums, coins... You get the picture.  There was even a guy with two shoeboxes, one filled with dead letters he'd gotten from a trash can behind a post office by an abandoned military post in New Jersey.
This is what he told me.  The other shoebox was filled with old postcards also out of Jersey from down the shore.  I told him I was from New Jersey and we talked of creosote soaked boardwalks, sand between your toes, cotton candy, bumper cars and other things Jersey Shore before it was a tacky exploitation tv show.
He said that ain't the Seaside we knew.
They call it Sleezeside.
That's pathetic.
We buried my father at Seaside Park.
We put his ashes in a paper bag and threw them into the surf.
It was a place to have a life, the man said.  He smiled.  His hair had thinned.  You could see the cataracts in his eyes.
The thing on the table that attracted me was a dark brown baseball bat.  It called out to me.  When I picked it up, he noticed how I gripped the thick handle.
They don't make them like that anymore.
How much?
I reached in my wallet and bought the bat.  The meeting was starting across the street in the hospital, so I bid my tribute to the Ghost of New Jersey's past and went inside the glass revolving doors of the hospital.  I don't remember the meeting very well.  What I remember is halfway through it dawned on me that in my haste to leave that morning I had left without taking any of my prescriptions.  I had also forgotten the pain pills.

The Seventh Gun

According to the search engine on my iPhone 6 there are two other Hubners who are more noted than myself.  I am as far as I know related to neither of them.
The first was a WW I flying ace who won 5 air battles before being shot down in a dogfight over enemy territory, a heck of a way to go and one that I have imagined for his sake.  Alfred"s short page mentions five successful missions and (1891-?). You got to love a question mark to mark one's eternal fate.  In today's day and age of information we get less and less of this.
Next, Andreas is a German  evangelist who has clearly infiltrated and corrupted his own Wikipedia page.   Huebner's crusades in the Third World are accompanied by supernatural "miracles", including the healing of the blind, crippled and those impaired of hearing.  However he also states: 'Do not stop taking medicine or undergoing treatment before your physical healing has been verified by a medical doctor.'"
I am third and noted as an
American author and so perhaps for this reason it has fallen to me to tell this story of my family and what has happened to us.  Although I am setting out to write what is essentially a true story I do tend to make stuff up.  While I do not feel especially entitled to this I am after all noted for it.
For myself lets eschew any worldly philosophy or list of accomplishments and let me just say by way of introduction three things:  That when possible I enjoy taking my five year old daughter to ballet.  That when I do I wear a tie.  Lastly, I value family above everything else.
That said, my wife's stepfather murdered a man in the driveway in front of her mother and sister.  He struck his estranged wife and shot the man who had offered her a ride home from church, who died in the arms of Alice's older sister.
She said to me once, When we got married I knew you were tough but I didn't know you were going to be scary like...
Like what?
Like the others?
Something like that.
Like your father?
No, my stepfather.
I'm no killer.  I've never struck a man in my life.  We were talking in the kitchen.  We had both taken to smoking again, and staying up late, our talking eventually turning into a fight and frustration, gnashing of teeth, waving of arms.
She shook her head.  We've always been this way.
Have we?
When we first lived together my landlord heard us fighting and asked if everything were all right.
Besides the teaching which is part time and earns barely nothing, my new job is in debt portfolio management.  We set up in abandoned offices in midtown high-rises.
I have started buying loose cigarettes.
All right let's stop right there.  I have a confession to make, actually more than one.  I have been up to this point somewhat of an unreliable narrator.  I lied about a couple things.  First I saw my youngest Gus go with Alice that first day.  The second is that when the cops came to get me at the stadium I did not leave my two other kids with strangers.  We are season ticket holders.  We always sit in the same section with the same people.  My kids know the people I left them with and feel comfortable with them.  The truth is, I am a good father.
The other thing, while we're getting things out of the way, is that I was drinking non-alcoholic beer at the games.  Beyond a few technicalities, which I am sure I will explain when time permits, I have been sober for over ten years.  Clearly I am not a fanatic about it, but there are certain accepted rules in the program, though of course we are never allowed to call them that and while I have bent a few, I have not transgressed.  A long time ago a trusted advisor told me, Never give up your clean time and the truth is I have not.
Two more things, one, I still have the Porsche, though I was willing to sell it, I have not yet and two when I said I stopped playing with my pill prescriptions, I did not.  That point actually comes a little later in our tale as you will soon see.  The main point is that though I might be somewhat unorthodox about certain things and play fast and loose, you can ask Alice, I am in fact a devoted father.
For the record the first concert I ever attended was not Rush or the Rolling Stones as has been previously claimed by erroneous and erogenous sources but a band of hippies in a North Carolina cow palace on the state fairgrounds of Blood Sweat and Tears to which my father dragged the whole family to in what must have been 1973 when he was still riding out the cultural adrenalin of the great move south.  It strikes me thinking back that the soul affinity I feel for the so called hippie esthetic comes from this from the grand beliefs tempered by the horrid chaos  of the assassinations the blind terror of the riots.  For kids like us shielded and exposed at the same time 1973 when I was 11 led directly to the disillusion which streamed into the teeming lakey muck of punk rock anarch suicide drugs and vulgar angry and lung coking cocktail of fear and anger that our generation would drown on for let's be honest decades following.  And what a charming speedball when set off by the hope of the poor delusional hippies. Must be why many of us hated them so, like Clayton whose dad was a religious  scholar let alone Alice of Wonderland my beautiful bride for whom all this is written by whom all my work must be honest and true enough to earn her blessing. So it's a bloody wonder that any of us survived much less believed in anything enough to procreate, no wonder it took the fiery falling towers to hotspur we of the poisoned downtown intelligentsia which stepped us of enough of our foolish ill begotten notions to try to hatch offspring.
Alas we are surfers not ship captains riding the waves of destiny that bend between art and experience

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Gun #6

Did I mention Hamilton's other son.  He had made the trip with his dad.  He was a little slow as a kid, as they say, but he was getting through high school in what they still called Special Ed in North Carolina. 
Hack is as tall as his dad now but not as big and he looks so much like him that when we got there and he turned around it was like we were running back in time.  He had the pistol in his right hand.  Luckily he had shot it at one of the oak trees.  
A group of our children came running up behind us, my oldest Henry among them who looked at me with wide, inquiring eyes.
Where the hell did you get that? Hamilton hollered at his son who cringed a little like the kind of kid who grew up getting hit and was still wary.  Later I wondered about something Hamilton had said when we asked him about his oldest and realized Hamilton Jr. had probably fought back where this younger Hack had not, yet.
It's mine, I said and walked quickly over to Hamilton who handed the pistol over.  It was warm.  
I left it in my car, I said.
What were were you doing in your uncle's car?  Hamilton asked his son with the harshness of a father who had disappointed himself and his kids but knows other adults are watching.
It was my fault, I said, covering for him.  I should not have let the door open.  I thought of the money in the console and wondered if the kid had found that too.  I looked at his father's blurry eyes and the dark circles and thought the apple does not fall far from the tree.  
One of the older teens had noticed the mark it made in the tree and was pointing it out.  The sound of my oldest's voice startled me.
Can we see the mark it made in the tree? Henry asked.
Uh go ahead, I said.  
The sound of my own voice sounded like it was coming from someone else's mouth.  We shooed the kids down to the playground.  Only tall Hack hung around.  His dad gave me another cigarette.  I did not notice which of them pulled out the joint but we all had a few hits.  Eric's wife joined us and offered a half-pint from her purse and it was just like old times except now instead of getting high and talking about what we were going to do someday we were watching our kids on the playground.  Hamilton asked me where I'd gotten the gun and I told him from my dad.
I was sorry to hear he died.
Yeah yours too.
Thanks for coming down for the funeral, he said.
I realized that was the last time I had seen him.
Those old Colts are beautiful weapons, Hamilton said reflectively.
Oh yeah.
They're not expensive too on the street, he said.  Nowadays everyone wants a Glock.
Because they shoot more rounds, I guessed.
That's right.
Where do you get the bullets?
Ammo?  You can get it at a sporting goods store.  Hell you can get ammo at a WalMart down south.
For a pistol?
Hamilton nodded and thought.  Go to where the cops shop.
They have to buy their bullets?
Sure they do.  
I looked at his eyes again.  We were looking at each other both without really looking.
What are the kids getting high on these days? I asked.  It was out of my mouth before I thought about it.
Mostly meth and painkillers.
From a doctor y'mean?
Oh yeah.  
Worse than crack?
Oh it's a helluva lot worse than crack.
From something in my cousin's voice, I could tell he was speaking from first hand experience.  Both of us were high as hell but neither of us could tell the other.  I realized that was why I had asked him.  Like it would prove something.  
If I ever catch Hack with that, he won't know what hit him.
Sorry about that whole thing with the gun.
He should have not been in your car.
I'm glad it was one of your kids.
Oh yeah?
He had a look on his face like a mosquito stung him.  He slapped his arm and blinked in the sun.  It was going down through the trees and the dappled light played over us onto the ground at our feet where some early fallen leaves already lay on the dirt and in the grass.  There were ancient bare spots from the ball field where kids had been playing since before us and you hoped they still were.
I mean Hack is responsible enough not to get anyone hurt.
Harry crinkled his eyes at me, as if to say-- Unlike someone else I know, but instead he said, He knows what a gun is for, if that's what you mean.
Sure he does.  No harm no foul.
He laughed and said, That was a close one.
What should we say do you think? You know the kids are going to talk.
I ain't saying nothing, Hamilton winked at me and it felt good to be with him.
Dead men tell no tales,

It was Harry who said this.  It startled me first because he sounded so much like his dad and it was the first time he had opened his mouth and second because frankly I had forgotten he was still there.  Harry and I laughed and patted him on the back like he had just said the funniest thing in the world.  We watched as Laurie, cousin Eric's wife walked back to the playground.  She was only weaving a little and for a moment I wished she was my wife.  It might be easier in a way.  

The 5th Gun

In the bathroom I checked the holster and when I did not feel dad's gun, I saw a mental picture of leaving it in the car.  I think I meant to put it under the seat or in the side pocket, but I saw Harry on his porch with Steve and realized that maybe I had just left it on the seat.  I hurried outside.  My sister in law was in the living room with one of the aunts; I tripped over a kid in my haste.  It wasn't mine.
Everything all right, Hamilton? Aunt Judy asked.
Just left something in the car. 
Her grimace was something between the intended smile and the frown occasioned by all the years she had watched all of us sabotage our best intentions.  Hamilton was her oldest, which was a hard thing to get over.  Hamilton lives with his wife and two boys in a trailer his mother in law gave he and Missy when they got married.  Outside in the backyard Hamilton had been telling us of his son's golf scholarship and all of us were proud and relieved that his son had gotten out of that trailer.  It was a falling down piece of shit the last time I saw it and that was going on twenty years ago but none of us said that to Hamilton. 
When I did not find the gun in the car, I made a quick inspection of the house, walking downstairs to the cellar and upstairs checking on what all the kids were doing.  Alice was in the kitchen laughing with my brother and his wife and she gave me a harried look. 
Just thought I would check on the kids, Hun.
Is everyone all right?
As far as I can tell. After I check things here I was thinking of walking down the park to check on the kids.
Is he down there?
I let him go with the older kids to play ball.
Just like the old days.
It was my cousin Hamilton who had come into the kitchen to get another near beer.
You want to walk down to the park with me? I asked.
When we asked the others outside, I was glad when they said they would follow us.  We walked down a skinny trail that led behind the houses.  We made small talk about the Yankees.  Hamilton had not been to New Jersey in a generation but I sent him a plane ticket for the reunion at Harry's house.  He thanked me for it and I told him we all pitched in. 
I had to change jobs myself, I said to him, trying to make up for it.
It's hard now to find work, he said. 
He pulled out his pack of cigarettes.  When he offered me one, I took it and he smiled.  There's an odd quality about my cousin's face.  He looks old and somehow still like a teenager at the same time.  You've seen people like this, we all have.  It's the face of someone who has never grown up but got old nevertheless like the rest of us. 
He had never gotten his teeth fixed and one of his front teeth needed a cap.  I was there when he cracked it, in a fight in the bar across the street from the stadium, Yankee Stadium.  Hamilton and I had to pull little Harry and Eric out of a melĂ©e.  We made it out before the cops went in to bust heads and watched with crooked beery smiles as the ones we had been fighting were led out in handcuffs. 
When you come into the park from that end, there's the playground with the same basketball court, swings, merry go round, see saws, slide and monkey bars that we learned on as kids.  Hamilton was always the best of us out here too, though he could not play hoops for shit.  Beyond the playground a stand of oak and elm trees stretches out for another acre, with what's left of the town woods beyond.  In those woods is where we got high, and made out with girls for the first time.

We heard the gun shot before we saw who it was.  We both started to run at the same time, with our cigarettes still in our mouths. 

Gun 4

I had stopped all the drugs cold turkey, both the pain killers on their third renewal at this point which I had gotten from an old schoolmate who looked at me like I was in an Edgar Allan Poe story, that cringing awful look the madman gets before he bites off the head of a schoolgirl or something.  That night I found dad's gun under the front seat of the Porsche where I had stuffed it when I left California after he died.  It just made me feel whole somehow, to strap on the holster, the smell of the leather, the heft of the loaded gun.

My cousin lives in the house where our grandmother on our mother's side used to.  It's in a town called Clifton less than an hour's drive from the Buccleuch Mansion.  Grandma's house has been in the family for a hundred years and all of us would have liked to live there in some part of us, but for Harry it was practical and really he was the only one.  I would have been too proud to live there when I was young.  I had to have a place in the city and would have never settled for a small two story, three bedroom house in the suburbs of northern New Jersey.  
I did live there for one summer, before Alice and I were married.  She had a grand scheme to spend the summer after college traveling through Europe.  She saved her money working as a lifeguard in the summers.  But then she got pregnant, I asked her to get married the night before she left; her friend copped out, she settled for a tour group package.  
When she lost the baby on a train somewhere between Rome and Venice, I learned about it on a postcard.  I bought a nickel bag of dope in Bryant Park when you could still do that, rolled a joint and walked all the way down to the village feeling lonely and stoned.  I got a couple beers at the Lion's Head and wondered who might be writers there.  I talked to a couple of guys, but the one was a burnt out journalist and the other wrote copy for a law journal.  They both had abandoned novels and talking to them about mine was a drag.
The street where Grandma used to live is called Knollwood Terrace.  It's off of Route 3 ten minutes east of the Lincoln Tunnel near a section of Clifton called Four Corners, there the towns of Montclair, Bloomfield and Nutley all come together.  Except for the last they are named for the beautiful, original landscape, some of the lushest country on the North American continent, a good honest place to grow up, a place for white people mostly and the few minorities who can literally fit in, Yankee  and Giant fans who drive into the Stadium, drink a few beers, but not too many to prevent them from driving home.  A lot of the old Yankees used to live in the area and for years there was a Rizzuto-Berra bowling area at the local shopping center.  Though it's gone now, Yogi still lives nearby.  
At the end Knollwood there's a beautiful old neighborhood park.  There's where I found the teenager with the gun he had taken out of my car.  I had left it there and forgot until I went into the bathroom to snort an anti-depressant.  I was drinking O'Doul's with my cousins in the backyard under the apple tree behind the house because as far as they knew I was sober still.  
I only drank when I was around people who I did not really know, people who had no idea of the breakdowns I had suffered that were blamed on a substance abuse problem I went through in my late 20's and early 30's before I cleaned up, got my shit together and got on the partner track.  Most of my cousins and my brothers are sober too and the ones who are not learned how to handle their liquor.  
We're like that Jim Carroll song except we all still walk the earth.  Billy lost his phone company job when he was od'd in the truck and got arrested in Newark, again.  My brother Smith joined the army.  My brother Steve wrecked a car in the woods down in North Carolina going over a hundred miles per hour and shattered his face.  The windshield was found intact, in a tree more than 75 yards from the wreck.  Steve was discovered in the car the next morning and was in a coma when I got there after riding an all night bus down from the city.  When mom and dad flew in from France two days later, he had finally come out of it.  His drinking was never the same.  
My cousin Eric is supposed to be sober, but he has fallen off and on the wagon.  He remarried a woman he met in rehab, his fourth.  Word is she's drinking again.  Only Hamilton is still strung out.  He has a back condition he got from a motorcycle accident that ended a promising baseball career.  He and Eric were the best ballplayers, which is maybe not so coincidental that they are still fucked up because the big league ballplayer is a dream that dies hard especially for kids like us who grew up playing ball in the shadow of Yankee Stadium, with our dads and uncles watching us play and speaking that golden language of names like Mantle, Maris and Ford.  

Hamilton got arrested for pot and a handful of valium when we were teens and flew to Los Angeles rather than face the charges.  I said goodbye to him.  We got drunk in the city on Jack Daniel's and he left with fifty dollars and a frozen t-bone from his mom's refrigerator in a red and white playmate cooler.  He got robbed, maybe raped out here, turned junkie and criminal and has been in and out of the pen ever since.  It happens, even to nice suburban boys like us.

The Third Gun

The other cop watched me the rest of the game.  It was a long inning and I was able to get a couple more beers.  The kids were having the time of their lives.  The husband of my seat mates took one of the beers, he looked as wasted as I was.  His wife gave me a questioning look.  She had our girl on her lap and was peeling peanuts for her.  They were your typical New Jersey white people Yankee fans, my tribe, so what could she say?  I nodded, smiled like her long lost prodigal brother.  She exuded co-dependent long suffering Catholic girl energy.  
Speaking of when we got home, after the Metro-North, it was late and Alice was passed out in the nursing chair in the babies room with our youngest on her chest.  As the others crawled into their beds, I checked her Blackberry.  She had called the family lawyer, an old friend, her sister, my sister and her best friend.  There were no other calls, despite my harangues, my own conscience, imagination and everything else by all indications despite the Facebook episode that occasioned my spiral or coincided with depending upon what narrative thread works for you, she was still faithful to me and had always been.  Who in the end could blame a girl for spending a little time with someone who was nice to her and then lying about it to avoid one of my Charlie Volcano tirades? 

All this started about two years ago, a little more, some time around the time when everyone started walking around with little computers in their hands and talking to people who are not there like crazy people with things attached to the their ears.  I was playing golf by myself.  Well I ended up doing that, after I caught Alice in a stupid lie over a receipt, a paper receipt! I found on the changing table.  She had told she was in Chelsea at yoga, instead she was on Avenue B, the bank receipt gave her away.  She handed me a wad of cash and there it was.  I looked at it and realized where she was and what she must have been doing. 
Mr. Facebook, I yelled.  Mr. Long lost boyfriend.  She had left him when her sister died and she got strung out.  He was a nice man.  She confessed, a gentle man.
Not a big angry lug like me you mean
He doesn't scare me, she confessed with the tears starting.
The twins were in the carriage.  We took the argument to the park.  Our oldest Henry trailed after us as we argued.  The poor kid just wanted peace, just wanted mommy and daddy to stop yelling at each other.  I had just gone off the meds.  I had fallen off my bicycle on the way to work and gotten a bottle of Percocet. 
I didn't get tenure.  I guess the drinking was the reason though that was only what they saw when what really sent me over the edge was the anti-depressants.  Did you ever get a bad diagnosis and wake up with your life a complete car wreck?  Well that's what happened to me.  When I got the news from the firm I cleaned out my desk, drove home.  It was almost a month before I told Alice.  I will never forget the way she looked at me when she realized it had been over a month, almost six weeks.  She looked at me like I was capable of anything. 
Where have you been going Hamilton?
Looking for another job.
How's that going?
I've been working for the last month.
You could have told me.
I know you wanted me to make partner.
That was important to you Hamilton.
After a few minutes she hugged me.  I kissed her and we ended up in bed.  It was the first time it was spontaneous since the twins were born, since she was sick.  Afterwards we were quiet for a long time together.  She said my name and I pretended I was already asleep.  I had no idea what to say to her.  The sound of my name from her voice was weird.  It was like she was calling someone, like she had seen someone she used to know on the street.  This was before I sold the Porsche and it was six months before I got my papers from my desk out of the trunk of the auto and then it was just to empty them into a dumpster behind the McDonalds the night I signed up poor Henry for little league in Yonkers.  That was how I found the shooting range up there where I have spent so much time in the last couple years.  It was my grandfather's gun, passed down from his own granddad, August, the first of us to come from Germany to the US, a .28 Colt Paterson vintage 1849. I went to the golf course called my brother to cry and tell him of Alice's betrayal.
All she really said was she had once had feelings for the guy.  I never let her explain. I exploded.  The words just did not fit into my brain.
There while I talking to my older brother on the cell, and told him the story.  He's a Marine Colonel he was ready to commando the guy at my request. 
No one will know, he said to me.
No one has to know.
Uh, let me get back to you.
He gets a call, I sit there on the golf course with the world dead to my ear.  It was misting a little I remember and turning cold.  It was late January.  We have year round public golf courses in the city.  It's a great and beautiful way to isolate.  I had walked the entire course by myself, walking through foursomes like a madman in about two hours flat.  They just saw the look on my face.  I have always had a Murder One look and they waved me through.  He came back on the phone and said dad was dead.
He killed himself.
He was 86 with cancer.
So you say.
This is who we are.  This is how we talk.  Somehow after a week long drunk of an Irish wake I ended up with his service revolver.  Alice asked for the separation that summer, six months later on a broiling hot day in July in Cape Cod after driving me to the bus station.  The tarmac was steaming from a quick worthless thunder shower that only increased the humidity.  She barely got the words out of her mouth and I broke the door of the minivan.  We have a Honda Odyssey which I insisted on because all the other names are so stupid and inane and at least with this you can think of Homer.

The 2nd Gun

It was a bright sunny day.  The first trip to the bathroom, I moved the piece to the shoulder holster and we sat down to cheer on the New York Yankees, the team of Champions.  So what if they ruined and tore down the place of our youth, cheapened the brand and sold it out as a mall.  It worked in Times Square, and this cheaper less lethal version of NYC sells a lot better to all the tourists who buy the tickets anyway.  I had our little girl and the oldest, and they are as I said, quite beautiful and well bred thanks to the wife.  Did I mention she is the descendant of a US president and a couple senators?  These kids like have an aura that attracts the best in everyone. 
I have a couple of beers, buy a round for some buffos nearby and the kids are taken care of.  The oldest is a great fan, watching intently,  cheering along.  His little sister imitates him.  It's a glorious thing to be a part of, no kidding.
What happens is very respectfully a security guard nods at me and points discreetly at a couple of uniforms.  They look like my dad and my uncle.  It feels comfortable.  I guess I have had about five beers.  Did I mention I was in AA?  It hasn't worked on me.  I keep showing up.  These other guys are like struck dumb sober but that has not happened to me.  Anyway five minutes later it's like I freeze up or something or maybe the way the uniforms looks at me.  Evidently someone saw something and said something.  This is what the uniform who looks most like my dad says.
I take the gun out of my holster and lay it on the table.
You got the license.
I hand over my grandfather's badge, still in the little leather case.  I grimace and wait to see what happens.
Up until that point I was running off at the mouth, about Alice, about what's the score.  What precinct house are you guys?  Oh the four-two?  Like I'm the commissioner or something.
My kids are back there, I say.
You should have thought of that.
They see the badge and everything changes.  You would think they might check it or something.
The uncle looks at me, clears his throat.
You should have told us you were coming.
The one who looks like my granddad, the same 1962 crewcut the whole thing, starts to object but the uncle outranks.  If you are not a cop and have never been around cops it's hard to understand how utterly random the whole thing can be.  The difference between a pat down, a stern warning and an arrest might depend on how close to the end of the shift the cop happens to be.  He signed deeply and looked over his droopy eyelids with a world of compassion, compassion I meet with the cracking tone of my voice, the tears in my eyes.  I had started bawling somewhere between mentioning my kids.
You have kids here?
They're with their uncle, I said, lying with every breath.  It was like I could not speak without lying, but in every minute ounce of my desperation, it did not matter because it became the truth.  I sat before them the most desperate, most compromised man in the full five boroughs.  The uncle held up his hand to quiet his partner.  Something passed between us.  He held up the weapon by its trigger ring. He had bright blue eyes just like my dad.  What if he knew him?  And that's what it was.  He looked at me.  He checked the chamber.  You can do that with a Colt if you know how.  He clicked the thing back into place.  It is such a compact beautiful sound, a wonderful piece of machinery.
Why don't you go for a walk? He said to his partner.
You got this, is that what you're telling me.
My cop nodded.  The other guy sighed and left. He must have had twenty five years in uniform, took the Yankee Stadium gig because it was a dignified way to close out a long and distinguished career, and he did not have the nerves left.  He asked me for some more identification.  I handed over my wallet.  It was clear that the name on the gun was my dad's and I was his son.  He is the third and I am the fourth.  He could sense I was the farthest thing from ever being a cop.  He had survived in his world for so long by sensing such things.  It was all over his face.  Like it was written out in magic marker and I could read it.  He was pushing fifty five, almost ten years my senior. My cop came over with the gun and he handed it to me.  I replaced it quickly in the shoulder holster.
He watched me, sighing.
You know that I know what you're doing with that.  Whether he did, how could he really be sure, didn't matter.  Clearly he knew that it was fucked up.
You got to do something about this.
I wiped off my face with my hands one after another.
Thanks, I said.
You are a real freaking piece of work, he said. 
I know, I'm sorry.
You won't get me the next time.
I almost started crying again but I held it.
I know what it feels like to face your wife I mean your life fall apart.
I can tell.
I was ready to say anything at this point.  Just pitiful.  He and I knew it.
You could lose your kids to child services.  You are so close.  Another cop.
I know, I know, look can I buy you a round?
He turned quickly and took a step my way, like he was about to strike me.  I swore he was but he stopped. 
I didn't make partner, I said, wiping my face again.  It seemed like a more manly way to wipe away the tears, like it was sweat instead or something.
It seemed to startle him a little.  He waved his arms like there was a fly bothering him, but he didn't speak at first. 
Then he said, And your father died?  It was a question.
How did you know?
You told me, when you were...
He nodded.
He's never going to see me be partner now.
But you didn't make partner.
He looked around.  Let's get back to the game, he said.  He took a step toward me.  I froze.  Men scare me.  It's always awkward, the hug, the handshake is all right, but nowadays guys like to touch each other more.  He didn't me though, instead he gave me his card.

Look, before you really do something fucked up, call me.

The Gun

1# brought the kids to Yankee Stadium today.  Alice and I had another row.  It seems more benign to use that word.  As in English, civilized, old-world.  It helps me think that what we do, my trembling rage, my finger pointing, stepping over the kids, the point where one of them cries, or starts telling us they love love us, Alice barricading herself first in the bathroom, then finally with a flourish of the curtains, in the shower, that all of it has a basis in tradition.  You need that at the moment when she's crying and you leave with the kids, when she comes out in the hallway and you look at each other.
We have beautiful children.  She opened the door of our apartment and looked down the hallway, our three small children grouped around me. Harry, the oldest, is 5 and a half.  The twins, Alvah and Caroline are 3 and a half.  I looked back at her and at that moment, I touched the gun.  It's concealed, don't worry.  If she knows I have begun to carry it with me at all times, she has not said anything.  It's all right, I am a historian.  My brother is a soldier.  We both stood there breathing for a second, the kids teasing each other and jumping around.  She ran back in, and grabbed her bag.  I let the elevator go as she followed after us.  It was in that moment that I had no idea what she was going to do.  She kissed all the children, and then me, on the cheek.
I will have them home by seven.
You better.
She took the stairs.  We stayed with the elevator.
Alvah the youngest ran out of the door and chased after mommy.  I expected to see him downstairs, but he wasn't there.  After we got on the train, I texted Alice to make sure she had her.  I wondered if she would get to meet Alice's friend.  Or if she really had one.

It was easy to get the weapon inside the stadium.  The security they have are amateurs.  They are all minorities, from the neighborhood; it's like a big welfare program.  All of them must be terrified of being dismissed, like they have seen countless others.  Do you have any idea what the unemployment rate in the South Bronx is right now?  A couple steps above Somalia, short hop steps.  Years ago my father showed us a way to conceal the weapon near the crotch.  It wasn't like a demo or anything.  I caught him coming out of the bathroom at Aunt Judy's.  He was half in the bag.  Don't ask me what it was doing there.  A pro would know to look, but not one of these ninnies.  You let them find the empty holster on your shoulder and give them a significant look.  This fellow laughed and nodded.  He was black, I was white.  He was in his fifties.  Do you think he got that age by questioning the will and whims of guys who look like me in the South Bronx? Who are we kidding?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Gene Clark's 36th Psychic Break


he beginning of the LA Rock scene dates without a shadow of a doubt to the Byrds extended run of shows at Ciro's.  As a live act they never sounded better.  Ciro's was a legendary Supper Club on Sunset Strip right down the strip from The Whiskey a GoGo.  Once the hang of mobster Mickey Cohen and home of stars like Peggy Lee it had fallen on hard times and in early 1965 it had decided to try rock.  The Byrds had been signed by Columbia as a potential rival to the Beatles.  But after recording their first single with the session musicians later known as The Wrecking Crew in January the record co. Sat on it.  The poetic folk rock sound was so new Columbia evidently had no idea what to do with it.  

With the band cooling its heels their manager Jim Dickson whose idea it was to record the Dylan song over the vehement objections of one David Crosby, got the band the Ciro's booking.  It made LA music history and created the happening scene of the moment. Later Gene Clark was one of the first newly minted rock stars to live in Laurel Canyon in 1965 when he got a place off Lookout Mountain Road to go with his new Ferarri with the first of his songwriting royalties.

The Battle of the Wilderness, fought May 5–7, 1864, was the first battle of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's 1864 Virginia Overland Campaign against Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Both armies suffered heavy casualties, a harbinger of a bloody war of attrition by Grant against Lee's army.

Gene Clark's wilderness was of the metaphorical kind.  It was a battle he fought the rest of his life and lost.  It started the day he walked off the plane, when often unintentionally cruel bandmate Jim McGuinn told him, If you can't fly, you can't be a Byrd.  Ironically the Byrds were on their way to NYC from LA with the acetate of their brand new career highlight single Eight Miles High to appear on the Murray The K show.  

The pressures of the last year had certainly been intense, constant touring, interviews, publicity campaigns.  McGuinn cited a beautiful GoGo dancer from the Whiskey and a bad acid trip.  The other members of the band were jealous of his lucrative songwriting talents; insecure David Crosby constantly needled Clark, Hillman and Clarke. Gene Clark was eternally restless and his solo prospects looked promising.  His leaving the NCM had certainly worked out well.  If Brian Wilson could take a break from touring.  Others blamed Exhaustion & undiagnosed, misunderstood manic depression.  No one really wanted him to leave the singing group, though only Hillman and mgr Jim Dickson tried to talk him out of it. Instead Gene Clark escaped LA to go stay with his family in Bonner Springs, Kansas.  He had not been home since leaving to join the New Christy Minstrels.  He was barely 21. 

He had dropped acid with John Lennon, discussed songwriting over weed and speed with Brian Jones and dated Hollywood starlets. He was a Mid West Country boy where word was bond who found out that the star eat star ethos of Hollywood acted very differently.  The Byrd who would not fly angle that dogged him until his death made good fanzine copy but the context is misunderstood. He was white knuckle flyer who'd been forced to fly on a weekly sometimes daily basis for the past three years.  And it had all happened so fast: from August 15, 1963-Feb '66, from Missouri kid to #1 and back in the time and exactly at the age when others his age spent in their frosh & soph years in college.

Back in LA by March, he tore his telephone off the wall, and would not fly again for a year.

The Amsterdam

  The Landlord's worst day of all.  From some pharmacy's Dempsey Dumpster on Park Avenue, he got prescription cough medicine.  He would cough real ceremoniously before each swig, and by twelve noon he's passed out, head lying on the tar bucket, the empty cough syrup bottle falling out of his torn coat pocket.  When it's time to go, I yank him up and the bucket sticks to his head.  He just yanks it off.

 "I thought I was being eaten by some big metal trash machine," he tells me.
A clump of his wooly gray hair comes off stuck to the side of the bucket.  We get ten bucks for the day, the enigmatic Cassidy fifteen.

Down on the street a great booming explosion sounds, then another and a third.  A manhole cover shoots into the air, churning black smoke and sparks thirty feet high over the cheers of the crowd.

 They make a move for the wrecking ball and crane.  The great black skeleton is toppled over and dragged along toward the fire.  Someone jumps into the tractor, revs it up and drives it right into the heat of the fire.

“What a rush, man,” says Downtown as we watch the tractor explode.  The boom rocks the block and shakes the buildings.  The police cars, one by one, turn on their lights, turn around and leave the scene.  In the crowd people grab sticks and scrap metal and set upon the liquor store which is two storefronts away from the OTB.  Fire trucks sound in the distance.

"They won't be coming here," Downtown says.  "They always just let things burn in Times Square."
We five nod solemnly as Cal Cassidy comes in from the terrace after another session outside this time with Cola and Lola together.  We watch the latest war reels on the Diamond Vision screen, backed with the classic rock n roll of the Stones, Beatles and the Who.  I hear helicopters outside as I go to the window one last time to watch the fires.

At three in the morning I awake again, I can see the time across from the National Debt Clock and the murder count.  The neighbor's radio rebroadcasts the news.  Cassidy and the girls are still out on the terrace.  Below straggled groups stand around in circles, smoking and talking in low voices.  Smoke rises from still smoldering fires; I watch the shadows play on the walls and try to get back to sleep.

I get off work at the messenger house late, come home and the building's gone.
The Landlord walks around with this far-off look on his face, his shadow, his knit fisherman's cap outlined against the darkness, the bulk of his coat flapping in the wind.  When I call to him, he won't answer.
"I was here," is all he says.

It's been two hours now, I had to drag him away by his coat.  We stand in line underneath the Diamond Vision TV halfway down in the queue before a handout table.  A chilling mist falls, alights on everyone's clothes and skin, and gives everyone a fresh glow.  The Landlord's son is here too.  The Landlord looks at him and sighs.  A group of cops stands on the corner together drinking coffee and talking.  Once in awhile one will stroll over here to the line to keep us in.

They took down an entire corner of buildings today.  From what I can piece together from others it was over early in the morning.  I had just left before sunrise broke open the sky.  By noon, everything was over.

"The Landlord was in there."  One of the Cassidy kids tells me.
"He started throwing potatoes at the wreckers."  This is the older kid.  "Said he was going down with the ship."

An unhealthy scent catches my throat and makes me cough.  I think it must be something in one of the fires.  The entire square is mobbed and people stand in groups around small fires in the empty spaces where buildings once were.  They talk about the best places to go.

The Landlord still clutches one potato in each hand.  At first I tried to pry one away but he looked at me with this horrible groping stare.  His lips start to move, the muscles of his jaw quiver; his eyes look pasty and unseeing.  He keeps sniffing the air, like a wounded wolf might sit in a mall parking lot where woods used to be, dazed, wounded, with a soul still pulling toward heaven.

The Clark Highway 11

That night in the dark van, as the stark winter night trees made shadows on the old winding and cracked highway, Gene told us of how writing songs and singing them, sometimes performing even made him feel something like he did as a child when he played Indian in the woods from his friends. He told us he was of Apache origin and that the name Clark was an English name given to an ancestor by an overseer, Like a slave name, he said.

According to Clark’s biographer John Einarson, Clark’s sister said that their father never pursued his heritage because, when I was growing up, Indians were just another form of nigger. His sister also believe he had a manic depressive personality. It was the hereditary thing, she said. The in-marrying.

Gene Clark, however spoke proudly of his Apache heritage. His celebrated & and infamous friendships with Keith Carradine and Jesse Ed Davis reputedly included knife-throwing exhibitions that never failed to make mixed company fearful. 

Something else that Gene Clark told me about was what I want to call the whiteness of the spotlight (apologies to Melville) and what Gene referred to as the class or curse of 1966. It was not clear to me which word he used to refer to it, maybe he used them interchangeably. I could have asked him for a clarification but I never got the chance.

He told me he wrote Eight Miles High after a conversation with Brian Jones, either in Pittsburgh about England or in England, about Pittsburgh. This also wasn’t clear. I think we were both a little stoned on Diz’s old Thai weed and my notes reflect that. When he wrote the song anyway he was still a Byrd, for the moment.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Selwyn

The Landlord stands in the line, dead weight hanging from my hand.  Once in awhile he casts a glance to the space of the sky that was occupied by our building.  On the other side of the square, another queue, longer than ours, waits in front of the bank.  In the empty lot the Christ actor walks around with a great wooden cross strapped to his back.  It must be eight feet tall built of railroad ties.  It drags along the ground.  At the OTB across the square there's just smoldering ruins now except for three cash windows untouched by the fire.  Everyone’s standing out in the open air, action goes on as if nothing happened.

Behind it is an old fortune teller storefront where they sell crack and heroin.  People of every stripe hurry up to the door, rap on the metal and then hustle away clutching their habit.  Two men light up just a few steps away from the door.  One, a tall skinny black guy with no shirt, just one tooth and a skeleton key chest takes three hits then coughs.  Although he must be a hundred feet away you feel the rattling cough in his chest echoing throughout the square.  He coughs for three full minutes.

Paper cups, posters torn down, discarded scaffolding, brick fragments, pieces of wall mortar, plastic spoons and forks, an empty box of Marlboros, a crushed Yoo-Hoo can, plyboards with nickel nails, half a pair of sunglasses beside the broken out bottom of a brown glass beer bottle, a pile of rat feces next to a plate of poison pellets, the feather of a bluejay and half a plastic straw with red, white and blue stripes.

It's past rush hour and all the people who work in the area have passed through and are gone.  Once in awhile you see someone walking quickly to the bus station or the subway.  A few people are looking to score.  Mostly it's just others lost, wandering around or standing in line.  There are handout lines, bank lines, the OTB lines and then down the street around the corner the people hanging out by the crack house, hovering around waiting their turn.

Someone in the crowd starts coughing, this wracking dry cough, like the end of an alcoholic hack when there's only guts.  It's an old woman, dressed like a bank teller with a bun haircut and a pinched face.  Her skirt is tattered and strands of her iron gray hair stand out, bloody pink spots on her cheeks.

A crowd forms around her.  People reach out to help.
"She's choking on the smoke!"  Someone shouts.
"Get her some water!"  The call goes out.
When the Landlord's reaches out to comfort her, his efforts are met with a withering look that stops him cold.

"I don't want any help," she coughs.
"I saw this happen to someone else," someone’s whispering.  "That same smell was in the air.  We were all standing around and suddenly Charlie starts coughing.  In a few minutes it was over."
"The coughing?"
"No, Charlie."

 The woman hears this, scowling at all of us, twitching terribly, like a cat trying to walk on snow.  Finally the Landlord's son grabs her, forces her mouth open and pours a cup of water down.  She spits in his face, wetting his chocolate-colored cheeks and turning his snowy white beard pink a bloody pink.  Flecks of bright pink blood dot his face, but he tries again and finally the woman stops coughing, and collapses.  Her head hits the sidewalk with an audible pop.

The Landlord's son hoists her up over his shoulder then sits her down, propped up against a wall.  On the newsreel above the square there are international and local headlines:
                         49 DIE IN MEXICAN CHURCH STAMPEDE

Kids run by, laughing, knocking into people in line, they shout and grab food out of people's hands.  The Landlord's son takes a swing at one.  But there are ten more, with bricks.  I dive in and try to pull him away but he's swinging and hollering.  Finally the storm passes.  The whole thing lasts fifteen seconds tops.  By the time the Landlord's son lies down the old woman we're engulfed.  You don't see the faces.  It's just fists and arms and feet, grunting, and all through this energy of panic that leaves you shaking, rubbing yourself all over to warm the chills that bite into your skin.