Tuesday, August 24, 2021

August 28th Revisited

 This Saturday is August 28, 2021! Summer is almost over, and I am getting ready to go back to work on Monday (which happens to be my 80th birthday!).

I can always tell when summer ends and my birthday is approaching because we get so much rain here from the hurricanes moving up the coast from Florida. And, although I worked most of this summer, I did as usual get to read a lot of books. 

My favorite was Tayari Jones' novel Leaving Atlanta, a story about how the 1979 - 1981 child murders affected the lives of other children and teenagers living in Atlanta at that time. 

In addition to Ms. Jones' book, I reread an old favorite of mine, Behind the Dream, although this time, instead of reading it, I listened to it on audible read by the author Clarence B. Jones (who like me, was born in Philadelphia.) It's a book I encourage everyone to read for a look behind the scenes of the 1963 March on Washington.

In this book, Jones tells some little-known stories about events that occurred on this date fifty-three years ago. For instance, Jones reveals the amazing story of how he happened to find himself inside a bank vault in New York City on a Saturday in 1963 - when the bank was closed; how Martin Luther King Jr. managed to convince Jones, a wealthy Hollywood lawyer, to join the civil rights movement; why John Lewis changed the speech he wrote for this occasion; and who wrote the headline for the New York Times which read: Today Washington was invaded by a Gentle Army.  

And finally even though - or rather - despite the fact that I am turning 80 in a couple of days, I am determined to continue reading, writing, and learning all I can during the rest of my time here on Planet Earth.

Be safe Everyone!


Monday, June 14, 2021

Stuck in First Gear

 

Have you ever had a song get stuck in your head? I did last week, which was my last week driving a school bus before summer break. It was one of those songs that tells a story. It was Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey” and I kept singing it while driving - aloud when I was alone, and under my breath (mostly) when my students were on board.

That song is a story about a young bride who, according to her groom, was “kinda dumb and kinda smart,” a young woman who, after wrecking the car was “so afraid that I’d be mad, but what the heck…and it was in the early spring when flowers bloom and robins sing, she went away…” (She died.)

It was the words to the chorus: “And Honey I miss you, and I’m bein’ good. And I’d love to be with you if only I could,” that got stuck in my head. 

All of which is funny because I’m a reader and not a singer (which you could verify if you ever heard me sing), but since my literature class ended, I’ve been having a difficult time finding a book I wanted to finish. I’d pick up one book and then another and stop reading before I’d get very far into it.

Then, earlier this week, I decided I would finish the next book I picked up. The funny part is that the title of that book is Every Song Tells a Story by Edward Nugent. It’s good and I’m enjoying it, although there is a lot in it about bike riding.

It’s a story about a young woman who goes to jail for possession. She’s the girlfriend of a dealer and the mother of an infant who is put into foster care when she’s arrested. It’s a story about a woman who may lose her child, a woman who keeps running into walls – until she starts riding a bike. And every time she talks about riding, I feel the same exhilaration she feels. But I can’t tell you if she loses her child because I’m just nearing the end of this book and I can’t wait until I get to read another. 

 


Dear Elvis, my story about loss and grief, written as a series of letters to the king, is available at amzn.to/2uPSFtE 

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Right Where He's Always Been

I had trouble falling asleep one night last week. I was thinking about a conversation held earlier that day as my co-workers and I sat around a table in the break room.

“Where did you get that?” I asked one of them as he unwrapped a sandwich. Then, “I didn’t know there was a restaurant there,” I said after he told me.

“Everything changes,” someone said.

“Not everything,” I replied. “The motorcycle shop is still there. Still right where it’s always been.”

“It’s gone,” someone else said.

“But I saw it not long ago.”

“It’s gone,” he repeated.

A day or two later as I drove down that road looking at the empty windows where the shop had been, I remembered when Nathan (my ex) bought a motorcycle there in the late Sixties and how a day or two later I went with him to get a helmet for me.

While Nathan talked to the owner, I walked to the drugstore on the corner. I was about to enter the store when I stopped to look down the street. And, as I did, I was overcome with a feeling of déjà vu, even though I’d never been down that street before. But perhaps it wasn’t déjà vu after all. Perhaps it was precognition since I later worked in a restaurant on that street while living in an apartment above it.

Everything changes, I thought as I got ready for bed that night. Everything changes, I thought as I closed my eyes hoping for a moment of intimacy with God.

Not everything, I heard him say. I’m still right here beside you. Right here where I’ve always been.  

 

 


Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Because It's Cathartic




I am reading - no, I’m re-reading a book. It’s a book by one of my favorite authors, Anna Quindlen, whose work I have been following since the summer of 2000 when I read a novel she wrote about spousal abuse, a book called Black and Blue. Looking back, I remember how it felt so familiar. Like the woman she was writing about was someone I knew well.

Now, as I pick up the book I am re-reading, Every Last One, I wonder why I have returned to it. It's about a woman to whom something egregious is about to happen. How does she not see what’s about to happen? I wonder. How can she be so oblivious? (And, as I think these thoughts, I think, momentarily, of the pandemic and the way things were a little more than a year ago.)

Why am I reading this book? I wonder for perhaps the third or fourth time since I picked it up. I plow my way through the first half of the book and then, holding my breath, I get to the climax, and finally to its aftermath of grief. Why am I reading this? I wonder for the last time as I put my head down and cry.



Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Father

The last movie I saw was a terrifying horror movie. Not terrifying the way people kept disappearing in the movie Get Out, or the way the home invaders in the movie Us turned out to be all too familiar. It was terrifying because of its brutal – and brutally honest - depiction of an elderly man’s descent into dementia, and because I am at an age when dementia may be looming on the horizon.

The movie, Florian Zeller’s The Father starring Anthony Hopkins, is a story about an independent and stubborn elderly man who is, at least in the beginning, living in his own flat in London. When his daughter, Anne, arrives he refuses to accept the help she is trying to provide in the form of a live-in caretaker. Hopkins, whose character’s name is also Anthony, tells his daughter the caretaker won’t work because, among her other faults, she has stolen his watch, an instrument he obsesses over throughout the movie as though knowing the time is something that can secure his (and our) grasp on reality.   

After Anne leaves, Anthony emerges from his kitchen to find a strange man sitting in his living room, a man who tells Anthony he is Anne’s husband and that they are living, not in Anthony’s flat but in one that belongs to the couple. When Anne returns to the flat, Anthony (and I) fail to recognize her. That’s not the same woman, I thought as I gaped at her in confusion. What’s happening here?

My confusion intensified when an entirely different man is introduced as Anne’s husband (and I was left to wonder if Anne has divorced and remarried). This man cruelly accuses Anthony of ruining Anne’s life and his treatment of Anthony deteriorates from there. (When the same man appears in the background of another scene close to the end of the movie - this time not as Anne’s husband, but as an employee in a nursing home  - a chill ran through me.)

In the final scene of the movie, I watched as Anthony fully realizes the horror of the situation he is in and, as he begins to cry out for his mother, I became aware of two things simultaneously. First, of this man’s extraordinary acting ability, of how, as one critic put it, “all of the magic happens above his neck,” and second, of a real-life man who, with a knee to his neck, also cried out for his mother.

As the credits rolled, I got up from my seat (Did I mention I was the only person in that theater that afternoon?) and walked toward the lobby where I sought the eyes of anyone who would return my gaze, needing at that moment to be, not just fully present, but also seen.


Wednesday, April 7, 2021

By the Sea

 

I can’t tell you how excited I was as I headed for the Ninth Street Bridge. I had a day off and decided to take a trip to the beach. I drove across the bridge, passing the visitors center, the fishing pier, and the exact spot where an enormous American flag had hung on a construction vehicle high above the bay the summer after 911.

I entered the city, parked my car, got out, and then backtracked wanting to be sure I knew exactly where I’d left my vehicle when I returned to it later that day. For a moment, a trash truck backing out of a driveway blocked my view. I hurriedly walked around it and climbed the steps to the boardwalk where I saw the sight I hadn’t seen in almost two years - the Atlantic Ocean stretched out before me. I held my breath, taking in its beauty, and its breadth - its steel-blue color, and the silver sheen the sun left on its surface.


For the next couple of hours, I walked first along the boardwalk and then on the beach determined to exceed my daily 10,000 steps. 

Feeling as though I wasn’t close enough to the water (and maybe daring myself a little), I climbed up onto a rocky jetty. Two thirds along it, wondering why I had subjected my almost 80-year-old body to this precarious path, I turned and started back.



“Are you okay?” a woman with a little girl asked as I got ready to jump back onto the sand.

“I am,” I said. 

And I was.


Back up on the boardwalk, I was tempted by a sign featuring an enormous ice cream sundae. Knowing that to indulge would negate my 10,000 steps – today’s, yesterday’s, and tomorrow’s, I kept on walking.

After lunch I headed back to my car aware that as beautiful as the ocean was, its vastness had not done for me what it usually did. That is, it hadn’t caused me to see myself and my problems as smaller and less consequential than they seemed before I arrived.

But maybe I thought, as I unlocked my car, I didn’t need the ocean for that. Maybe the events of the last year – the virus that threatened everyone on this earth - had already helped me to see how inconsequential I and my problems were.   

 

 

Saturday, February 27, 2021

What Thomas Wolfe Said

I went back
To my childhood home
Last night,
Remembering the first time
I drove there. 
I went
Like l was going back 
To my childhood -
Like all it would take

Was a matter of distance, 
And not 
A reversal of time.