will you ever read this?
will you even read this?
we have seen the darkest side of freedom
flags on staffs wielded as weapons
the misinterpretation of Gadsden
the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia
co-opted by a misinformed majority
a context to perpetuate points of view
that could be only be described as expiring.
who do you want to be, America?
what is American Exceptionalism?
is it a Department of Defense masquerading as a
unique entity, a projection of strength,
which actually exists as a social works program.
( shhhh, don’t tell anyone….” )
how does your Socialism feel?
we have seen the Pettus Bridge
we have persevered beyond Mississippi,
when it was burning.
hearing fifteen year old girls in Arkansas
casually drop the N Word in private
to musicians from the North
who were making money in the South,
led us to leave town, and drive to the next gig
we have seen America.
we have seen the darkest side of freedom.
it is a bomb perpetuated in Oklahoma City
it is a cult siege in Waco
it is a White Bronco heading slowly
down the freeway,
while helicopters hover in place.
we have seen Ferguson and Minneapolis,
Breonna Taylor’s killers
still walk among us.
we have seen America
lay waste to the thatch huts,
to the Baghdad neighborhoods,
as clearly as we have seen
the tank brigades in the hedgerows
and landing craft on the beachhead.
we have seen the protests-
to dismantle Wall Street
to defund the Police
to dismantle The State
where is the future we all subscribe to?
Exceptionalism requires a definition of Quality,
without maintenance, quality ceases to exist.
without maintenance, quality ceases to exist.
without maintenance, quality ceases to exist.
(thematic inspiration from Robert Pirsig)
I had no mints on my person, so I sprinted back to my house, up to the main floor and brushed my teeth; deciding it was the better option of the two. When I make it back to the waiting car, I shut the door quietly, but let out a heave of breath.
“Outta shape there kid?” teases Benno
I didn’t want to remind him that the Heimlich took quite a bit out of me.
I receive a text from Anne at 10.30 while I’m in the emergency room with Benno and Folk Mass.
“He’s taken a turn for the worse. Not sure if he’s going to make it through the night.”
“I was halfway home an hour ago when I got a text from people who were visiting him, to get back to the hospital as soon as I could”
“Are you ok?”
“Well…. He’s resting, and taking calls from all of his friends.”
Her father certainly had friends. From every facet of his life he had made lifelong friends.
“I’m at Weekapaug, with Benno and Folk Mass. I thought you were watching the game? Frances called me and said Benno was choking to death. We raced over and gave him the Heimlich for a minute, for twenty seconds …. We realized he had a piece of chicken lodged below the windpipe, had to bring him here.”
“Oh my god! Is he alright?”
“We think so, but the piece won’t come up. He may have to go to New London.”
“That’s where I am…”
It was an eerie coincidence. The emergency room closed at midnight, and any inpatients that didn’t have medical clearance by the staff had to be transported to the main hospital in New London. The doctor came into the room one last time, and then, Benno was in the last ambulance to the hospital. Folk Mass had to drive me all the way back to Mystic, in case I needed to be there for Anne, and then drive to New London to help admit Benno; and stay with him through the procedure. I decided to watch the pilot episode of Twin Peaks while exchanging texts with Anne and Folk, trying to let the film’s unbounded intentions fill in the crevices between trains of thought.
“Here with Folk Mass, we found each other getting coffee”
It was 1AM. I responded with what I felt was acceptable credence, but I was exhausted.
“How long are you planning to stay there?”
“At least until Emmitt leaves.”
Emmitt was the youngest of her father’s siblings. A self-made man; he had created a distribution network for computer hardware in the late eighties, and was still in the game as a sole proprietor. His lifestyle was legendary in the family- Emmitt would work 21 days in a row programming code to complete a project, and then fly to Colorado to ski for a day, flying back that night and going to work. The Maddalenas adored him unequivocally. It was reassuring to know he was there in the room with Anne. I felt selfish about the realization that I was home and Emmitt was there. I could understand the definition of her stated intent.
“Ok, I’m here.”
I drift off to sleep and wake up at 3AM. Still no sign of Anne. I head upstairs, make a sandwich, down a pint of water and milk thistle, and head back to bed. I wake up six hours later, and the only person in the room is me. A sudden wave of unease arrives as I awaken. Was Anne here at all last night? I find her downstairs, in the add on room with the TV, and the faux bar. I notice the landline is off the hook.
“He died an hour ago.”
“I’m so sorry babe”
We huddle on the couch, crying for a few hours, not speaking at all. Anne knew I had been in her shoes. My step-father had died at age 41 from melanoma, and the two of us watched as he tested experimental drugs that would become lifesaving medicines a generation later. My father had succumbed to a stroke at age 55. At the time, we had been together for twelve years upon hearing the news.
“Benno fine, procedure worked. That was an unforgettable night, huh?”
I finally hear from Folk Mass at 11AM.
“Yeah. Anne’s father died an hour ago…”
“Oh my lord. Please, condolences from me. I can’t believe we were both at the hospital last night. Surreal”
Tuesday morning. It’s my off day, and I am behind on various PR for the band. We have shows in the works in Brooklyn, Manhattan, New London, and New Haven that I have to finalize or we are going to lose out. I have to check the radio stations that I shipped the CD promo to; gauging if we are garnering any interest. I also have to begin to budget the next single. We were almost at the tipping point where personal investment had to be balanced by band income. This was the one area I had trouble articulating to the kids; the financial reality. I loathed the discussion of money, on any level, and would avoid it at all costs- much to my detriment. Joss owed me $150 in gas money for studio sessions and gigs. And I paid her way into the TAZZIES because she forgot her purse in the car, waiting out the cold interruption of the awards opening. I was able to collect $300 from our last run of shows, and we were still owed for the BaBa’s gig, which would get us to half of the cost of a third single at Stormy Harbor. If the holiday season was as good as predicted, I might be able to parlay a Palace bonus with some savings of my own to schedule the sessions. The financial pressure was getting more evident with the planning of the next single. The fourth single would have to be recorded with band income alone, or investment from a label. Every group that gets this involved reaches the same conclusion. Even still, I was convinced we were going in the right direction. Everything was being realized from the original design. I had to remind myself there was a certain success in simply achieving that; a world created of your own efforts.
Anne’s fathers wake is scheduled for Thursday night, Halloween. Coincidentally, it’s the night of our last practice before the shows in New London and Brooklyn. In addition, the funeral would be Friday morning, and our show at the Well is that night- All Saints Day. I put on my funeral shoes at 6:00 pm Thursday evening, and Anne and I head across town to the wake. On the drive over, I begin to calculate just how many funerals I had been to; how many times I had to stand in the receiving line at a wake, being numbed by the overwhelming response to a family members passing. That was the methodology behind the wake ritual- contain the grief, even if it is only momentarily, with a barrage of hugs, thank yous, and tears. I could only recall eighteen, although I was sure I missed a few. And tonight, as a member of the Maddalena receiving line, I would draw on that experience. No one wanted to see a family fall apart at the wake; that was for the attendees. I was able to add enough levity to play my part, and when the seemingly endless line of people had settled into a final small group later that night, I realized not one of the Piercing members had made it. Even my thought process had been altered by the wave of emotion at the wake; I didn’t even notice until I realized I needed to get back to Centraal in a few minutes for practice. Jeremy would be the only one of them to attend the funeral the following
The general attitude toward Piercing had shifted once we showed the temerity to survive what we had been through the previous six months. There was a sea change in town about what we were doing- no longer were we a threat to anyone, but rather we represented a promise. It was the message we had been dispensing at the Palace to this generation: you have to create your own world; there is no world waiting to validate you. As we drove into NYC for the Sunday gig with Love Me Not, the van is as full as it can be. The light show kids from the Warehouse were thrilled to be asked to do lights for us in Brooklyn. June made her first trip to NYC with us. Anne was in the van, her camera bag full. The Folk Mass was with us. Jeremy’s new girlfriend Amber was with us, which made it nine total, including all of the light show gear. I prayed silently that we wouldn’t be stopped along the route; simply because of the seat belt laws. That was a new wrinkle in the drive to a show.
Our set goes over quite well; the light show is a particular attraction. Someone in the crowd close to my age grabs me after the gear is packed in the van. He has a cell phone video of one of the songs.
“Hey man- can I post this to my YouTube?”
“Yeah, sure man. Thanks for coming out tonight.”
Perhaps we have finally found the formula for our live show- a full mixture of the various elements of Mystic at this time. A totality. June gushes on the ride home about how the new lineup has “So much more fluidity, so much more depth, while retaining all of the aggressiveness that marked the earlier songs.”
“Ohhh, thank you June. I can’t think of anything I would want to hear about the band other than that.” replied Jocelyn. She sounded completely earnest.
“Hey Ian” I shout out over the din of the stuffed van
“Did you have a good time tonight?”
I was beginning to worry about him. Not his musical competency, which was exceptional. I was worried he was beginning to think, or perhaps realize, that he was in way over his head.
December is filled with practices, new songs, and one show in New Haven while we wait for the days to peel away until Todd finishes school on the 23rd. Anne and I hide out on New year’s Eve. Jeremy comes by Centraal on New Year’s Day to track a demo of his latest song. On Thursday the second day of 2013, we have a full band practice at 7.30pm. We have added six new numbers to the set, and I finally feel as if Piercing has every song that it needs at this juncture.
The first thing I need to attend to on Monday morning is emailing Richard at Stormy Harbour to book the session for our next single. We all agreed that ‘Walking the Psychic Vortex’ and ‘Cupid’s Pulse” were the best choices to represent the new lineup and the new sound we were getting. Thinking about the contrast while I stared at the screen awaiting a return email, I began to think that while the visceral edge of the original lineup was no longer as present, we did sound like the same group, and one that had matured. The songwriting did have more depth, the studio was almost routine to us, and we were finally, after nine months of fighting to simply keep the band together- the retrograde was seemingly ending.
“Hey Ellery- we have two dates available for you- weds 15 jan or thurs 30 jan.”
As much as I wanted to get in to the studio as soon as possible, we would have to wait until the 30th. Joss was due to be out of town with Marcus’ family for a winter jaunt to sunny Florida during the week of the 15th. I tell myself every element of delay has eventual worked in our favor, and this would more than likely as well.
“We’ll take the 30th, thanks for getting back to me- you guys are the best! et”
Jocelyn, Ian, and Todd meet me at Centraal at 8.30am so we have enough extra time to pick up Jeremy at Amber’s house in Niantic. He will not participate on the same level as the three of them today; who have to walk through the slushy mush toward my house in the winter that won’t end. We are due to load in at Stormy Harbor by Noon, and I’m hoping January traffic to the city is minimal. After we load the van and head out toward Niantic, Joss guides us through the streets of New London, hoping to buy us some time with a shortcut.
“This is my neighborhood; I didn’t really grow up in Mystic.”
I knew where we going the entire time, but I let her call the shots. I was still trying to get Joss to take a more pro-active role in the direction of the band beyond our image. When we arrive at Amber’s house, Jeremy is waiting, guitar case in hand, on the front porch.
“Jesus, could you guys be any more late? I was freezing my ass off!”
“You think this is late? Hahahahaha” I laugh. “And what, did you get into a fight with Amber and she made you wait outside?”
“Very funny, asshole. “
“But, am I right?”
“Of course you are; asshole. Can we go make a fucking record now, please?”
“Hahahahaha…. We’re on our way.”
We do not have a stop in Brooklyn to pick up Adrian, so I can simply follow my directions right to the studio. As we pull up, and I maneuver the van into a tricky patch of iced over Brooklyn pavement, out onto the street come Richard and Michael; they look genuinely happy to see us. My initial instinct is to chalk that up to the fact that we contributed to another day of the studio’s existence, but the hugs each one of them gave me dispelled any business notion. They were invested in us, as much as we were in them; our relationship with Stormy Harbor had only been strengthened by our return. I could barely hide my anticipation about the impending session to Richard:
“I think this is the best material we have written. I can’t wait to hear what Michael is going to do with it.”
“He really has high hopes for you guys, you can see from the work he puts into your sessions. He’s also noticed all of the press you’ve been getting. ”
“We truly appreciate it; I can’t imagine recording with anyone else. Have we namechecked the studio enough in our PR?”
“Hahah, yeah, you guys are great at that.”
Michael always wanted to get a single take drum track with as many other instruments locked onto that beat. He was masterful at arranging sound baffles, microphones, and the guitar amps so there was very little bleed through on each individual track. But, the tighter we all were, the more detail he could explore during the mix.
“How old are these drum heads, my man?” Michael asked me as I finished setting up my kit.
“I put them on a week ago, tuned them twice, played them once.”
Once I had completely set up, Michael began to tune the drums himself. I was always amazed at how quickly he could bring the whole kit into harmony. I had worked with producers who would take three hours to tune the drums, but those days were thankfully long gone; we would record exclusively at Stormy Harbor for the duration of Piercing- as far as I was concerned. While Michael tuned, I began to help Richard place the mic stands and unravel the corresponding cords over the length of the studio floor. Jeremy and Todd were fine tuning their effect pedals and amp settings; Ian is in the isolation booth warming up by playing scales ridiculously fast. Jocelyn is deeply settled into an old couch backed up against the west wall, and she turns to catch my attention. Joss motions with a nod of her head toward Ian, and mouths
‘Can you believe this kid?’
I nod back, with my arms splayed apart; ‘I know.’
I thought to myself: everything is in place. We are going to get a deal and tour. I almost let myself believe it was a foregone conclusion. And then I remembered 1994. If Thames blew it, we could blow it just as easily. That brief moment where I let my guard down reinforced an inherent
insight about managing the band- never project a possible success.
Jeremy was taking it all in, a subtle sense of awe and arrival detailed his wry smile. He walked through the room, gazing at the collection of guitars, occasionally asking Michael how a certain instrument had found its way into the studio. Todd was sitting cross-legged on the floor; gently strumming his guitar which was not yet plugged in. And then: insight into initiatives. Jeremy asked Jocelyn to go through his vocal warmup with him. He had a background in singing, having been a member of the Chamber Choir in High School all four years he was there. This piqued my interest, because Joss never warmed up before a gig, a practice, or a studio session. She was actually that good; she was rarely hindered by not warming up. I myself had to play drum rudiments for at least ten minutes before gigs and studio work, not quite as much before a practice. Jeremy had been trying for months to get Joss to take warming up seriously, but she always half assed it just to placate him. But, with Richard and Michael in the room, she knew a specific professional aspect was front and center.
“Follow me, just like this… up the scale la la la la LA la la la LA la la la Laaaaah
Jocelyn followed, flawlessly.
“Now, the next note up “
Jocelyn followed, flawlessly.
After the first few takes, Michael asks me to come into the control room.
“I want you to hear this, it’s where were having a problem.”
I carried plenty of anxiety with me when I went behind the drums to track for Michael. It wasn’t an issue of whether I thought I could execute his direction; I simply didn’t want the beginning of the session to be laborious for him. I wanted to nail these tracks on the first take, but I was having trouble during the bridge of ‘Vortex’. Michael leaned over the expansive mixing board, and rewound to the spot he wanted me to hear; the whirring digital code sounding like an impending typhoon. I was nervous.
“Hear how you’re galloping through this bridge transition? You need to slow down there and let the rhythm develop; you’re basically rushing it.”
“Yeah, yeah, I can totally hear it. Ok, let me just do a raw run through with those guys to nail it.”
“Ells, you know I’m going to run tape anyway. Try to nail it out of the box.”
“Ok, man.” I trusted him. As I reached for the door handle to the studio, a sudden realization entered my mind: he trusted me.
“Ok, Twining… can you nail it so we don’t waste the whole day getting drum tracks?” Jeremy judiciously instills a bit of sarcasm. He had a point, and I had to keep up with the kids musically. On the third pass of the song after Michael’s instruction, we lock in to the change effortlessly.
“Great! Great! Ok, Ells, there is one part out of whack toward the end, where you get a little behind, a bit off.”
“Ok, cool, can you cue it up?”
“Coming right up… and here, listen for it.”
The sound comes in at top volume, the way that I like it. After a brief pause where all of the instruments are holding a note in unison, the drum fill that I play out of the dissolving noise brings the whole band back to full throated volume with a concise guitar solo from Jeremy to wrap it up. The drum fill isn’t smooth at all.
“Can you roll back the tape for a second; play it again?”
“Sure thing Ells”
Now I can hear it. There is one solitary snare note that is out of place. It’s not obvious, it’s not glaring, but it is wrong. And Michael heard it; could isolate among all of that sound a single snare beat. It’s a good thing he’s not leading us into war, I think, because I would probably follow him.
“Are we rolling?” I say into the closest microphone, and gaze back at the control booth. I get the thumbs up, and the Michael nod; always reassuring. I reach into a place where I can draw the discipline to make this live edit: there already exists an audience that is going to hear this drum take.
“Got it. Good work, Ells.”
The recording of ‘Cupid’s Pulse’ is the complete opposite from ‘Vortex’. We track a beautiful version of Todd’s haunting epic on the fourth take; perfectly synthesizing the quiet/loud dynamic of the tune.
“Ok, ok. Great work people. Ummm, I need a smoke break, and then we’ll listen together the few spots I need each of you to do a quick fix on. Is that cool?”
“Of course, Michael. Whatever you need.” Jocelyn is the first to respond.
Michael found three distinct notes he wanted Ian to fix. It takes about eight minutes.Jeremy has one section to fix, a guitar solo on ‘Vortex’. One take. Done. He wants Todd to triple layer parts of the guitar solo that ends ‘Cupid’s Pulse’. Four takes.
“Joss! Your turn.” Michael bellows into the room mic. She is in the front room ordering take out for herself, Richard, and Michael. I have the picnic basket packed.
“Be right there.”
Once Joss has soundchecked in the vocal both, I head out back to their open air patio. One of the more interesting elements of Stormy Harbor were the double industrial doors you had to pass through to get outside. They sat only eighteen inches apart, and every time I went out back to partake, I could only think of some musician way past their limit getting wrenched between the two doors, and calling Michael, or Richard for help. I also didn’t want that person to be me, so I never drank in the studio until the mixing session began, among many other reasons.. I had to drive everyone back home from Brooklyn, so it wasn’t a rock life moment for me. More like a Dad moment, because I imagined it would be a great night to get totally loaded and mix new music with Michael. He was a singular human being, and an incredible music maker.
Jocelyn and Todd take a combined twenty five minutes to complete their vocal tracks. Jeremy was up next, and was essentially was recording the last tracks before we could begin mixing. We were way ahead of schedule, so there was no real pressure on Jeremy; he could take a bit of time to find his way into ‘Vortex,’ as he sang half of the main vocal. His first five takes, however, are completely awful; off key and out of rhythm. Joss, Todd, and I share a concerned look, as if to convey- there can’t be a way he’s been actually this off the whole time, can it?”
“Hey” I whisper to the two of them. Ian is on his phone and doesn’t seem to be aware of the tension in the control booth at all.
“Michael will get the performance needed out of him. Let’s be patient.” I offer encouragingly. But I absolutely believe it as well.
“I think that’s a solid.” replies Todd, in his typical unblemished whisper.
“He’ll get it. I know he will. He won’t let me down now.” Jocelyn adds this at a low volume. I can barely make out her words.
Jocelyn speaks these words as if in a trance, as if her exchange of conversation was not for Todd and me, but for some larger, extemporaneous force. Jocelyn’s personal identification toward the importance of the things we cannot see, the things that are hidden from us… asking “how random is random?” were the centrifuge I which I built my belief upon in regard to her talent. It was not simply her voice. Perhaps I was reading too much into it; completely projecting. But that sort of thing happened all of the time in the Mystic valley. There was no way I would not be influenced by her statement.
As we finish packing up the gear, Jeremy brings up the cover art. My first reaction is personal disappointment; hadn’t he been paying attention to Malthus all these years? And the cover art for the previous two singles was scheduled well before their respective recording sessions. This was the first real evidence that at some point, Piercing was going to be too big for a member of the band to manage. That realization was powerful, as it truly indicated our outward growth. But until that time actually arrived, I couldn’t let the proverbial ball to drop.
“How about Todd makes a collage, something based around the American flag?” states Jeremy with confidence
“Ohh, that’s interesting” opines Jocelyn
“The flag? What kind of progressive imaging led you from Joss in a bra to the flag?” I reply, somewhat incredulously. Had Jeremy not been paying attention to the Piercing totality of image? It was in Jocelyn’s hands, and she wanted Pop Art full color, with each of the glamourous, risqué entreats.
“You know- the fucking stars and stripes?”
“Haaha very funny. There is nothing political about our music. But the flag image is making me think about something…. Fabric…”
“And?” asks Jeremy
“Anne wanted to do this fashion shoot years ago, but it never materialized. Her idea was to take large swaths of velvet fabric and wind them between trees in the winter; shooting the models in the bi-chrome effect of the white snow and the heavily contrasted fabric. A ‘Snow White’ kind of thing.”
“That sounds very interesting.” Jocelyn speaks, and everyone else stops talking.
“Are you up for it? I’m sure Anne would love to have you model a shoot again; she always raved about your ability to capture the spirit of the moment.”
“Can you text her about it now?”
Jocelyn asks. I comply.
On the ride back to Mystic, the CDR of the session plays on the van CD player. The is a palpable sense of relief in the van as we pile up the miles on I95- we had survived the near destruction of Piercing only to come out stronger. Ian had been pretty quiet throughout the day, but I suddenly sensed the need to hear what his take on the day’s proceedings were.
“Hey Ian, did you have a good day?” I asked.
our next door neighbors on Ashby Street
were a decade older than my parents.
they felt an intrinsic responsibility to
impact their wisdom on our young family.
their most consequential advice
was to have our family join
the congregational church
that they belonged to-
in the City of Groton.
my Father never attended the services
my Mother ascribed to,
following the recommendation of our respected
neighbors. She was the one to wake up early
on Sunday; to get my brother and me
into the appropriate clothes, and the appropriate attitude
to mingle with the good Christians recommended to my mother.
what i did not know at the time
was that my Father was literally
incapable of attending a church service.
the car shuffled to a slow stop;
about a hundred yards from the entrance
to the highway exit that led to our house.
“ok, Richie, i need you to walk to Nana’s house,
you know where that is, right? near Ocean View but closer
to the Ice House. do you know where i’m talking about?”
our house was located at 56 Ocean View Avenue,
two blocks below the intersection
of US Rt. 1 and the Ocean View Avenue.
Nana was my Father’s best friend’s mother,
Polish for “Grandmother”
my Portuguese Grandmother was known as
her residence was my destination;
following the command of my Mother,
at the end of the exit ramp.
a two mile walk was of no consequence
to me- i would have walked as far as
she instructed me to.
when i arrived at the home of the Hoinsky Matriarch,
my parents best friends were waiting for me.
“where is Linda?”
“she’s at the entrance to town, at the foot of Exit 89…..
i had walked two miles
in an effort to help my Mother.
no one thanked me for making the trek.
i was an afterthought in the “rescue” of my Mother.
i was fortunate to be drafted as a nine year old,
added to an expansion team of our Local Little League.
that was not something to bring up
in the schoolyard.
at the end of an early season Little League practice, it became apparent
three players waiting for their parents
to arrive late would be revealed.
i immediately decided that walking away,
toward the parking lot, that would allow me a certain plausibility.
if i made a run for it…
on my own…
the driveway of the Ramada Inne
that sponsored my Little League team
was where my Mother spotted me,
i would catch the yellow of her Volkswagen Bug
out of my peripheral vision,
as she makes an abrupt left turn.
“why are you out here? why are you walking
home? why did you leave the practice?” my mother’s voice was forceful,
withholding an inherent terror.
i realized that negating a public embarrassment
was paramount, and it did not rest exclusively
within the wealthy families of Mystic.
it was an incisive insight.
youth football had a very low
return on investment for a five foot one inch
who would have been a soccer player in Stonington Borough,
but grew up on the Groton side
of the Mystic Village.
few of the neighborhood kids
who participated in Little League Baseball
arrived at that first football practice.
i was there. and i realized that certain families in town,
whose kids participated in Little League Baseball
were not present in this public sphere.
the rationale for youth football was
a clash with a neighboring town
according to an accumulated sense
the parents against the parents, articulated within the specious
of their children.
i was a first round draft pick,
but my mother had yet to arrive
after the practice.
i was petrified to be the last player
in the parking lot, holding the coach up
in an untenable situation.
i decided to simply walk home.
i decided to disappear.
i walked into the woods between the
junior high practice fields,
and our neighborhood; higher up the valley
than the basin.
i felt confident no one would find me
as i followed President Carter’s “Fitness Trail”
built by federal funds,
to encourage a more healthy population.
i emerged from the woods,
onto Prospect Avenue.
i was quite scared of the Judson Avenue climb,
toward Ocean View Avenue.
a woman had just set the weekly trash
at the curbside, as i passed in heavy breaths.
a cavalcade of tears.
“do you need to call somebody?”
“yeah…. can i call my Mother….?”
“of course you can……”
during the decade
of my childhood
revolved around what my parents
for my sixth birthday, my mother booked an event,
in a private room
off of the main seating area
at the local McDonald’s.
parents could rent a room for a
celebration, and skip the lines
at the counter,
for double cheeseburgers,
or the Happy Meal.
we were sheltered under public park structures,
at the second stage of my celebration;
anticipating the rain
which was a frequent factor
of an early June birthday.
Bates Woods was a small woodland
park in the neighboring town of
New London. to the kids invited to the party,
it represented the City.
after all, there
was a Monkey House at Bates Woods.
there was nothing resembling a zoo
in Mystic, especially
if we discounted the mammals
in our public aquarium,
a picnic commenced. the park grills,
covered in an excess of soot,
were nonetheless utilized.
as the final hot dog,
and the final burger
were slapped onto
the wicker basket plastic plate holders,
the rain announced itself.
“hey kids, let’s head
to the Monkey House! you can leave
your plates here
at the table.”
my mother, trying to control
led the group of us to the Monkey House.
the other moms present had to
deal with the aftermath of a picnic
in the rain.
“it’s ok Linda, we can clean this up.
take the kids to see the monkeys!”
i could sense the subtext of her statement…..
“i would rather clean up this mess than
deal with the Monkey House.”
the structure was built with
cinder blocks, the cages were
anchored into an industrial
definition of confinement.
these mammals were imprisoned,
to maximize my
during the 1970’s, even in my small riverside village,
a certain social order revolved around
what type of swimming pool
was installed on your property.
the scientist who installed the first
solar panels i had ever seen
did not have a pool.
he filled a cheap plastic substitute,
bought at the local discount store,
with cold water from the garden hose.
the businessman, who ran a recycling plant,
installed a solar blanket,
to keep their in ground pool
at a consistent temperature.
he openly invited us to swim
and share what his children,
who were our friends,
were privileged to know.
my best friends in the neighborhood;
a set of identical twins,
were the fortunate recipients of an
above ground pool-
twice the size my parents could afford.
the Eastman’s house was exactly halfway between
my house and the twins.
they also had a pool. it was surrounded by a wooden deck,
and a traditional slat fence where the Eastman’s
had hung a few humorous signs dictated by that
particular decade. the wooden signs were held
by loose framing wire on exposed
nails which were already showing signs of rust.
“i don’t swim in your toilet-
don’t pee in my pool.”
my family, under some social duress,
bought an entry level pool
at the local discount store.
i was surprised my parents felt a need
to keep up with the Eastmans,
or the Carpenters, or the Peters.
were they actualizing equality,
or an illusion?
it was about their own
the local firehouse was located
a city block from my childhood home.
we were not in a city- however the opening of the firehouse doors,
and the initial blare of the sirens,
were intoxicating to us; the unknowing dictated our attention.
everything would cease
as we tried to catch a glimpse
of the deep red vehicles
as they exited
under the perforated glass walls
that would would ceremoniously rise
after the alarm.
the trucks never had to enter
into our neighborhood.
in the twilight of this evening,
as i toweled off, pleading
for one last minute in the pool;
we heard the first siren.
“they are coming down the Avenue.”
stated my mother, with an unavoidably
she was correct, as we heard the tires of the firetrucks
grind as they took the right hand turn onto
ambulances from various districts
began to appear,
the Hoxie Hook and Ladder arrived in support.
as we watched the distress unfold,
we crept closer to the fire.
“where is Jeremy? have you seen him?”
i watched my mother ask my father
he had no answer to.
the sirens continued to commandeer
the frequency of an emergency.
i suddenly understood their temporary
i followed my mother down the Avenue,
as she began asking anyone in earshot, out of desperation,
“have you seen Jeremy….?”
“hey Mom, i’m over here…”
he was standing next to one of the firetrucks,
whose tires towered over him.
“that tire could have killed you!”
“i just wanted to watch…”
i walked briskly past the Eastmans driveway,
toward our house,
toward what i anticipated was coming next.
i overheard the Fire Chief ask Mr. Eastman if the Fire Department
could drain his pool to fight the fire.
my father moved into a first floor apartment
of an old Victorian house at the edge
of the Thames River.
i enjoyed the every other weekend
arrangement of the divorce.
his apartment was so unlike
my home during the other
twenty seven days of the month.
the old, creaky floors provided a soothing comfort.
the whitewashed plaster walls
crumbling in slow motion, however,
barely held the ancient
sinks in place.
my brother and i slept on two inflatable
beach rafts in my father’s cramped bedroom, just off the kitchen.
late night odors would wake me,
when his roommate returned from a night out on the town.
hastily heating frozen pirogi
with a hint of
my father and his roommate, Charlie
were in strict observance of their
commitment to watch televised games of the
National Football League.
Miller Brewing of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
spent excessively, promoting
their Lite Beer
on those broadcasts.
while staring jealousy at the
inside cover art of the
J. Geil’s Band’s “Full House” live LP,
i overhead my father’s voice
following a particular Lite Beer commercial.
“we can win that contest! i have an idea that
the Milwaukee brewer had created
a contest- the best holiday display
integrating their product would win
a year of free beer.
the contestants had to submit
their photographic proof
by the 29th of November.
the two of them decided to appropriate
a shopping cart, on uneven wheels,
from the local grocery store
to house their harvest;
and the possibility
of an entire calendar year of free beer.
the majority of an NFL season
of Lite Beer cans
were meticulously rinsed out,
and placed in the grocery cart
outside the backdoor,
beside the rust ridden aluminum garbage cans.
the weekend after Thanksgiving
was a scheduled stay with my father.
he and Charlie started decorating a small tree
they cut down on the property of a co-worker
who owned land in the quiet corner;
with beer cans from a shopping cart
to compete in a corporate contest.
i watched as the two of them
meticulously bent beer tabs
into the proper position
to hang the can with the same traditional ornament hooks
my mother took care to recycle
after each Christmas celebration.
i could not remember a holiday season
where my father actualized such an
attention to the detail of holiday decoration.
he was fully convinced of the importance of the contest;
at one point he asked Charlie
to adjust the string of lights
to better reflect off of the aluminum cans.
we spent Christmas Eve with a few co-worker friends of my mother;
young girls working at the nursing home
trying to get ahead in their nascent working lives.
their small apartment was fashioned to feel celebratory,
but i simply wanted to be alone
with headphones and a stack of 8 track tapes.
they gifted my brother and me
a dart board set,
which my mother immediately confiscated.
during our way home from that event,
my mother decided to take the long way to Mystic,
circling back through the City of Groton
to scout what may be happening at my father’s apartment
on Christmas Eve.
she was correct; which she consistently reminded us of.
he was throwing a party,
with his roommate,
at the apartment.
as we traversed the icy sidewalk
from the car to the front door,
i was running through the scenarios
i would inevitably have to be in the middle of,
when my father came face to face with my mother
on this night.
“you are hosting a party tonight?” she hissed through closed teeth.
“yeah, why wouldn’t i?”
“because it’s Christmas Eve, and you
should have thought of your kids first.
but you had to think of yourself first, again….”
i could sense the tension throughout the room;
the dissipation of the energy to
have a good time,
and the host who was being confronted
by the mother of his children,
with his kids present.
“nice fucking tree!!!” were my mother’s
last words to him as she escorted
us across the threshold of the back door,
which i always reminded myself
not to trip over
on weekends with my father.
my family moved to a neighborhood
that sprouted up during the post-war period,
around an elementary school
that was built in 1953.
the expansive playing fields of the school
were our dominion.
street hockey until the first snow,
nerf football before class and at recess,
whiffleball nearly year round,
baseball after the Little League season ended.
occasionally, a kid from the neighborhood
would forget a baseball glove on the playground,
which would still be there the next day.
i’m sure a certain bicyclist regrets
that allowed a particular bicycle
to be left behind.
it was a lazy autumn afternoon at the playground.
other than my brother and me, there were only
two other kids there that Saturday.
the Judson brothers were notoriously
known as “mischievous.”
under no circumstance would we accept
an offer of a Friday night sleepover,
much less ask our parents for permission.
we were halfheartedly competing
at the tetherball court; the Judson brothers being fairly
inept athletically. during an interruption in play, one of the Judson’s
noticed a single bicycle, at the bike rack,
“hey, is that bike unlocked?”
my first thought was that he wanted to steal
the bike, which seemed to be a disastrous position
to take. even though i was only in the 7th grade, the implications
of such a crime seemed inescapable.
“let’s show them a lesson! let’s make them
never leave their bike behind again!”
a consensus was reached to
vandalize the bicycle,
under the stairs at the back
of the gymnasium.
i knew this endeavor was wrong,
in spirit and letter,
and yet i followed my brother
and the Judson’s slowly rolling
the bike up the incline
to the dank, dirt floor cave
below the gymnasium’s concrete steps,
beer cans and liquor bottles
the school janitor hadn’t caught up to
after an early 80’s teen summer.
the bike was propped up
on it’s kickstand
when the kids went to work.
i stood in silence, afraid to confront them
which might result in them turning
on me, in a similar manner in which
they were unleashing unbridled violence
onto this inanimate object.
a loose brick deflated the tires
and mangled the spokes and rims.
a broken bottle shredded
the soft foam seat,
metal cans scraped at the factory paint.
i did nothing to stop it.
my bus stop in seventh grade was at the end
of Overlook Drive, at the junction of Capstan Avenue.
the Judson’s house was within sight at that corner.
the Tuesday after the bike incident, at 8AM,
while i was waiting for the number 7 bus,
i watched as two Town police squad cars
pull into the Judson’s driveway.
i quickly surmised there were two possibilities;
one would be defined by police evidence,
that the Judson brothers were guilty.
the other was they were going to blame it on me.
in the two hours between getting on that bus
and hearing my name over the intercom,
i had thought through every possible
“Ms. Rogers, could you please
excuse Ellery Twining to the Principals office?”
“Yes, of course.”
the gaze of my classmates was intrusive
and inescapable, as they were in disbelief that “little Ellery”
might face disciplinary action.
i, however, knew something that
they did not.
there would be police officers
in that office
when i arrived; slack shouldered.
when i arrived at the small
cinder block office, with industrial desks
and battleship swivel chairs,
my mother was waiting for me.
“get your fucking ass in the car…..”
her tone suggested an equivalent definition of her anger,
were we not in public.
my younger brother was already in the VW Bug,cowering
behind the driver’s seat.
“i get a phone call at work from the Town police?
at work? on a fucking Tuesday?!?
the goddamn police
called me at work
because of YOU TWO!”
i knew intrinsically
what YOU TWO meant.
i was the guilty party.
i should have stopped it.
i should have never let my brother
the entire episode;
it was obviously my fault.
as we entered the police station,
a uniformed officer guided us into the
proper interrogation room.
there were four people present-
my brother, my mother, the
“we have already questioned the Judson brothers,
so i need you to tell me the truth. ok?”
“i was there, and i didn’t do anything to
stop it.” i replied.
“so, you personally did not damage
the bicycle in question?”
“no, i didn’t. but i didn’t stop them either…”
“does that imply that your brother was involved?”
“i didn’t stop him….”
“ok, we’re done here for now,
but i don’t ever want to
see you again.”
“you will not” i replied
following my step-father’s funeral,
family secrets were revealed.
“do you remember Mark from Montville?”
“mom, what did the police tell you after
the bike episode
with the Judson brothers?”
“they knew you were innocent, that your brother
and those kids initiated it.
but they wanted to scare you, and you were
such an easy target.”
that lesson taught me the value of invisibility.
because i wanted them to destroy the bicycle.
i wanted to witness the event.
i wanted to punish the kids who could afford
to forget their bike at school.
as the blows from the brick
were applied to the tires,
i was fully aware that this was the definition