little spacey

Night in Saint-Cloud by Edvard Munch

i am the exile, the dreamer,
i am the ghost who blesses the slumber of your sleep.
i am the autumnal draft which crosses your pillow in the night.

little spacey, i am the skeleton who sleeps in your closet,
i am the turner of the doorknob in the dark.
i drift beneath the celestial sphere, and i find you.

we meet there, behind the black of bleakest soul,
when eden whispers her sweet mysteries
and the moon droops beneath the stars –
we meet behind this balcony to heaven,

deep down inside this dream,
deep down inside your sigh
our spirits dance,
and we are dazzled to love

 

(composed in 1993)

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PAC-MAN: How We Played The Game

Pacman edit pink

A repost from Retro Bitch

Pac-Man: The Untold Story of How We Really Played The Game

The impressions of human desire are often left upon objects of their devotion or on the paths leading to where a sense of peace or pleasure can be found; i.e. the worn frets on a favorite guitar; the finger-smoothed ivory keys on an old piano; the “secret path” in the forest blazed by decades of children that’s been “a secret path” to other children for over 100 years.

By Cat DeSpira

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The Pedestrian

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
Vovo.

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…..
Allyn Street…..”

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,
walking alone.
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
Portuguese kid;
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
Regional Rivalries;
a clash with a neighboring town
according to an accumulated sense
of self-worth.
the parents against the parents, articulated within the specious
athletic ability
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……”

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Marry A Poet

 

Marry
A poet
You
Could be
Poor forever
You could
Live
In
A shack
Marry
A poet
You could
Start
A revolution
You could
Star
In La Boheme
Or Rent
Or whatever
Some martyr
Some poetic
Death
But
You’d
Live forever
Marry
A poet
You could
Lose
Everything
You could
Travel
The world
On
A suicide mission
You could
Be brave
You could
Marry
A poet
You’d never
Grow
Old
You’d starve
Like
A statue
Marry
A
Poet
It’s more
Than the rest
Have
Marry
A
Poet
It’s better
Than
An
Accountant
For more poetry by Royal Young his Instagram page is:

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Goodbye Moonshine Man

I am sitting in my small Santa Monica apartment when Mom calls. She refuses to take her anti-psychotic medication these days, dozing in and out of sanity. It’s hard to believe if what she is saying these days is true or not. “Charlie, Haliti vdiq.” She speaks very matter of fact. “Haliti died” Grandpa had rarely been sick, he was a tough Albanian country man, who religiously brewed his own moonshine with the grapes that grew in his garden. But I believe Mom. Partly because a few seconds into our conversation my younger brother texts with the news.

But still neither mom’s words nor my brother’s message hit a cord, no tears, no sick feeling in the stomach, nothing.

It isn’t that I don’t care about my grandfather. I believe I loved him. Last time I had seen my grandfather when I visited Albania, I stayed with him and grandma. At 76 he hadn’t slowed down a bit. When the 6ft wall that separated his garden from the neighborhood had been damaged in an earthquake, he dragged his hurt leg and re-built it himself. Brick after brick. He refused any help.

At the end of the trip I remember grandmas last words.

“Call us okay?” she says as we hug one last time and the smell of her warm cooked peppers wafts off the white gauze scarf she wraps around her grey bob. Now guilt rushes in.

I never call my grandparents after that trip. Not once.

“What a cold hearted bitch” I hear my inner voice railing on me. “Why hadn’t I?”

I know being an immigrant has toughened me up in some ways. And it had also numbed me.

Numbing up was a better guarantee of survival. My family’s first many years as immigrants in the US were fraught with so much drama, pain and poverty. When my mother’s mental illness got out of hand, I was the only one in the family to admit there was something wrong and eventually had to make the call that landed her at Bergen Regional, a mental hospital in New Jersey. I was nineteen. Already having spent 10 days in a looney the year prior when I’d called the suicide hotline.

Mom was the one who usually called our extended family in Albania. The last few years the relationship between her and my grandparents had been strained.

Dad had told me that she’d often call my grandmother at 2 or 3am Albanian time and go on one of her delusional rants. Speaking about dead Albanian relatives she’d seen roaming the streets of Hackensack New Jersey, where my parents now lived.

Dad would have to intervene or eventually grandma’s patience would run out and she’d hang up, usually in tears, upset Mom was so delusional. I felt too embarrassed to call grandma. I always felt I had to make excuses for mom.

When my grandparents refused to accept mom’s invitation to come visit us in America Mom had been furious and upset. I understood and was angry with her, but I also realized my grandparents had spent a lifetime dealing with a daughter who seemed too wild, too much for them. For most.

“They never loved me” Mom moaned for days, weeks, months, then eventually her madness got the worse of her. She rarely spoke of them anymore. I never knew what had really happened between Mom and her parents when she was young. I wish I knew.

My grandparents were tough country folks, they were also kulaks. Persecuted by the communist regime because their families had owned lands pre-communism. My grandfather’s dad, my great grandfather had hung himself off a fig tree in his land when the communist came to snatch everything he’d worked for. My grandpa had to learn to fend for himself early on.

I want to cry for my grandfather, I want to be there for him, but I can’t.  To cry means to feel the pain and to remember the past. To forgive him and grandma for never visiting us, for whatever I assume they might have done to Mom. For sometimes wondering if his moonshine obsession had something to do with Mom becoming addicted to alcohol from an early age.

I call my brother Ergi in NY. It’s already ten in the evening there. His work as an inner city teacher and his second master’s studies keep him busy. But he answers. “I meant to call you but it’s been crazy.” he says, sounding exhausted.

“I know it’s okay”

“You got my message about grandpa?” he asks worried.

“Yea, mom called too. She didn’t even sound upset”

“Yea that’s mom for you, she’ll panic over the silliest thing but her father dies you’d think she didn’t even know the guy.” Ergi ads sighing in a tired laugh.

“How are you feeling though?” we rarely speak these days.

“Better than I thought. It’s crazy how living apart makes you not as upset, you know. It’s like you let yourself feel and in some ways you’re kinda fucked cuz you can’t do much about it. I mean I haven’t seen the guy in forever. I’ve forgotten what he looks like.” His words are somewhat comforting. I know exactly what he means.

I decide to rummage through some old boxes where I’d hid old photographs of my family. Some from my childhood in Elbasan, Albania. Some from our early years as fresh off the boat immigrants in New Jersey.

Black and white photographs of our family at the beach before life in Albania became a shit show and even those gorgeous beaches were too dangerous to visit. Black and white photos of me as a baby. The first colored photo of my little brother and I posed in a bush in the main park, taken by one of the local photographers since nobody owned personal cameras. Photos of our parents’ wedding, even one of my mother in the special black wedding dress my paternal grandmother had sewn of her.

But no photos of Grandpa. I quickly rummage my memories of him. They always begin in the house he’d built in the north end valley of our lil ol city of Elbasan. His immaculate garden, chickens running around kookooing, the whole property surrounded by his all organic white and red grapes. So many you’d bump your head thru the bushels as you walked through the front gate in the later summer months. The time when I was seven and sat on his lap curious as to what that wood oven in the middle of the garden my dad had built for him was being used for.

“I wanna try grandpa” He doesn’t hesitate.

The small shot glass smells like rubbing alcohol and grapes. It’s warm, immediately comforting but also nauseating. I take a small sip feeling the heat burn up my insides.

“Yuck” I pucker my lips and run off. Grandpa laughs.

Then there is Grandpa sitting on the veranda, writing in his mysterious notebook in the early afternoons. A notebook he keeps locked in an old wooden box at the foot of his bed. Grandpa was a serious man. He spent hours watching the news. Yelling at the politicians on the screens for making empty promises. Then I remember grandpa, who wasn’t one to give compliments, telling me one hot summer afternoon when I am twelve: “You’re smart, you know. You can make something of your life.” I don’t know what to make of it. “Did he mean it? Or was he trying to make up for the times when he’d make fun of my dad for not being able to hold his alcohol well.”

My heart is softening up but my mind is still fighting it. I wish I could’ve been closer to my grandparents. I wanted to know them better, as an adult. I wanted to ask them about mom. Sometimes I’d blamed them for her madness. “They must’ve done something to her.” I remember feeling upset as a teenager when mom’s madness hit its peak. But I would never know. I close my eyes and realize I don’t want to live with anger in my heart for a dead person. I have to let it go, all of it, the questions and the silent accusations. I imagine his soul somewhere between the living in the dead. “I hope you hear me. I didn’t know you so well but I want to wish you a good afterlife. Goodbye Moonshine Man.”

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Living in Sin

Recently, writer Royal Young suffered the loss of his grandfather, Zayde.  As he writes in Fameshark,  his memoir noir (Heliotrope Books 2013), “My maternal grandparents Babbi and Zayde supported everything that had to do with the arts. Their three-story house in Great Neck, Long Island was crammed with Zayde’s impressionist paintings and Babbis’ sculptures.”  Royal called it “Jewish Grey Gardens”, and everything about this picture was in direct contrast to my own maternal grandparents.

This month marks the tenth anniversary of my grandfather’s death, and I feel nothing, really.  We were not close since twenty years prior, though close is a stretch to define our relationship even at all.  Anthony Beaudry, my aloof French-Canadian grandfather: he smoked cigars incessantly, my father hated cigars. Whenever my grandparents came down from Worcester, Massachusetts, to visit us at my childhood home in Noank, Connecticut, Anthony was forced outside to smoke his smelly cigars. Yet the house reeked all weekend and even after they left. My other three grandparents, Anthony’s wife Louise Caputo, my paternal grandmother, Helen Pelosi, and my namesake paternal grandfather Rocco Gemma, all radiated an Italian warmth, or at least parlayed easy company.

I left the United States on January 4, 1989 to study abroad for my last college semester, meaning I would graduate while in Grenoble, France, and I had no intention of returning home for an anonymous graduation at UCONN.  Plus, my parents’ divorce was finalized on August 17, 1989, a process that started in the spring of 1987 when my sister was just about to graduate from high school.  Time was up, and my mom made the announcement, as soon as I got settled in my first dorm room, fourth semester, up at UCONN Storrs, having just moved out of the house in Noank, having lived at home for my first three semesters at UCONN Avery Point.

My sister had started college in the fall of 1987 at URI, and seeking sisterly solace would drive Route 138 West over to UCONN most every weekend, not wanting to go home to Noank.  My parents had separated, but due to each of them not wanting to grant the space to the other, they were still living at the same address: my childhood home, a raised split-level ranch, where my mom lived in the upstairs, and my dad lived in the downstairs- a situation that was not fun for anyone. It took another year before my mom moved out, in the fall of 1988.

I was ready to move off campus as well, three semesters of dorm living were three too many for me. In the same fall of 1988  that my mom moved to a temporary place in her hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts, I moved into a modest Colonial  brick house with four other roommates that I had casually met in the last year, three boys from Fairfield County and the sweetest hippie girl from Norwich.  My sister Maria continued to visit me at UCONN, arriving at the brick house most every weekend. When I left for France in January 1989 for my eighth and final college semester, Maria transferred from URI to Northeastern in Boston, and looked up one of my former brick house roommates, who had already transferred to UMASS Boston.  She moved in with him, as a familiar counterpart. During the year that I was abroad, their friendship deepened from the platonic to the romantic.  When I returned at the end of 1989, it was official that they were an item.

The first family function in Worcester that spring of 1990 was a cousin’s school graduation, and my sister and her boyfriend planned on driving down from Boston to attend.  My maternal grandfather, Anthony Beaudry, announced that he would boycott the family event, if Maria and her boyfriend made an appearance.  They were living in sin, according to my grandfather.  I remember being shocked that he was actually taking a stand on this distinction. He had, heretofore, never crystallized an official definition of his Catholicism. I felt that I was already growing apart from the totality of family gatherings in Worcester, having been raised in Noank since I was five, and I was at that point, barely attending the annual Christmas Eve dinners. My parents’ divorce had far-flung all previously engaged in rituals, so it was basically a free-for-all for my sister and I.  We were already feeling the guilt trip that each parent passively placed on us to divide our time evenly, while visiting each side of the family in Worcester for Christmas Eve: the only relief was that at least the host of each family gathering was conveniently located just a few miles apart from each other.   We tried to make it a party and have fun ourselves, but there was never a moment that we didn’t feel some guilt, if we had inadvertently let the moment escape at one house, and then knew that disappointment would follow at the next stop.

But, my grandfather’s stand clearly required a response. I wrote him a letter, urging him to reconsider his position; that times had changed, and modern relationships were strengthened with cohabitation. That as a couple had the chance to live with one another,  they could discover if their relationship would survive in the long run.  As children of divorce, we most wanted to not get divorced.  We watched our grandparents,  in what we interpreted as loveless marriages: separate bedrooms, which seemed frightening, and  each grandfather barking orders to each grandmother, who waited on him “hand and foot”, because… he… worked…all… day. Then we watched our parents get divorced. This is not what we wanted.

Anthony Beaudry would not budge, in typical stubborn stance. He wrote back to me, claiming ownership to his religious principles, which forced him to be inflexible in his points of view. I was disappointed, and other relatives intervened on my sister’s behalf, and life moved on.  In the summer of 1990, I was not only back from Europe, I was back from an ill-fated trip out west in the US which resulted in a ski-trip accident in Vail, Colorado, and then knee surgery and physical therapy back east. I started a relationship back in Mystic, with an old friend from junior high school. As late summer faded into the autumn, I was ready to get my own place in Mystic, and found a lovely apartment located within the glory of a local mansion, run by my friend Courtney’s family. My boyfriend Rich moved in with me that October 1st, just two short months after we started dating. I was now living in sin.

As my sister and I were the two oldest cousins out of the eleven that comprised my mom’s side of the family, we were the first to experience the many rites of passage throughout our childhood. It makes sense that we would be the first to break ground in the family with boyfriends and living arrangements. As Grandpa Beaudry aged, it seemed to matter less to him, when my younger cousins experienced the exact same milestones, and they moved in with their significant others. My mother was always bitter about this. As well, my grandfather had tried to convince my mom against getting a divorce, on religious grounds, but he lost that argument.  He, however, in a finely tuned maneuver,   never acknowledged my mom’s new partner that she was living with in Mystic. My mom visited her parents solo from 1992 until her parents’ death in 2009, just ten months apart from each other: January 3rd and October 3rd, 2009.

I could never grasp religion with my grandfather’s type of dissociative fervor. In my childhood, I resented being brought to church weekly, and worse, being forced to attend “Sunday School” at the local high school, adjacent to my church, which was across from the town police station. I could not buy the basic premise of Catholicism, that the Pope was infallible. Noone was infallible. It did not make sense to me. I dreaded church and stopped going just after my confirmation.  I understand the structure that religion provides for the ceremonies of life- baptism and marriage, and for the ceremony of death.

Placing judgment on life itself:   to define “living in sin” did not have merit to me. The years passed quietly from 1989 to 2009 for me in my relationship with my grandfather. I was polite, dutiful in the sense, that I would not embarrass my mother. I even conceded a visit to him in the nursing home, when all that was keeping him alive was a feeding tube. His mind was gone, and his body followed on the third of January, 2009.

 

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The Bates Woods Monkey House

birthday celebrations
during the decade
of my childhood
revolved around what my parents
could afford.

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.
a Zoo.
there was nothing resembling a zoo
in Mystic, especially
if we discounted the mammals
in our public aquarium,
deliberately caged.

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
the situation,
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
birthday experience.

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The Neighborhood Fire

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?
perhaps,
it was about their own
reconciliation.

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
specific declaration.
she was correct, as we heard the tires of the firetrucks
grind as they took the right hand turn onto
Overlook Avenue.
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
a question
he had no answer to.
the sirens continued to commandeer
the frequency of an emergency.

i suddenly understood their temporary
commitment,
their vows.

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.

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Honeymoon Baby

 

When I was twelve, my sister and I finally earned the right to be able to stay home on a Saturday, while my parents went to work in the family business, “A Stitch In Time Boutique”, in Downtown Mystic.  All previous summers were spent at Butler Elementary School, the host for the local Groton Summer Rec program. We enjoyed Summer Rec, with all of the field trips to Ocean Beach, rainy day arts and crafts projects making “gods-eyes” and strange cakes with blue frosting, and sunny day vigorous games of kickball and football. But then we tired of the didactic hierarchy, and begged our parents to let us stay home. We would keep busy and clean the house every Saturday: a deal our parents quickly agreed to. We lived in a raised ranch in Tanglewood,  on  Noank’s  Palmers Cove, a new development built in the early 1970’s, east of Mumford Cove and Groton Long  Point. There were two floors, almost identical in spatial identity. My sister and I would trade off weekly: one week I got the upstairs;  the next ,  the downstairs. It was a fair arrangement and we rarely argued about it. We worked quickly, but thoroughly,  and  listened to music on our parent’s stereo. I can’t quite recall why we were so satisfied to be free from the grip of Summer Rec, but it was probably due to uncomfortable budding hormones, and it felt safer listening to Cat Stevens  “Teaser and the Firecat” and Carole King’s “Tapestry”.

I remember this one day that I got the upstairs. I started with the bathroom, then vacuumed the entire floor, and would end my time with dusting the living room;  each shelf of books, and each knick-knack: the wooden gazelle, the amethyst geode, and the tiny marble figurines of Venus and Discobolus- the Discus thrower. Then I got to the stereo shelving unit which occupied the entire North wall of the room, and featured the German 1249 Dual Turntable, which, coincidentally lives today at the Mystic Disc. The record player was on the top right shelf, with two cabinets below it to house the vinyl collection. Below that were three drawers, two shallow ones,  on top of the third deeper drawer.  As I was dusting, I started opening up each drawer, as if I had never studied the contents before. The second shallow drawer contained my parents’ wedding album. I took it out, placed it on the brown shag carpet below me, sat down, and opened it up. The first page contained the date of their wedding, 7 January 1967, and with a tiny shock paging through the familiar photographs, I realized what was bothering me.

I waited till my parents got home from work later that afternoon to make my triumphant announcement: I had found a mistake in their wedding album! I was confident that I had uncovered an important clue to something larger than my immediate comprehension. I was a serious Nancy Drew acolyte, and had read every edition in the famous Mystery Series at that point. I was certain that title number 24 “The Clue in the Old Album” was playing out in real time.

“Your wedding album has the wrong year in it”,  I charged. “It says 7 January 1967, but shouldn’t it be 1966, since I was born in October of 1967??”

“ Yes,  you were born more than nine months later.”, my mother said. “You were a honeymoon baby.”

My twelve year old brain consumed this new context of information with a fair amount of alarm, or was it catholic guilt? I did the math, and it DID seem plausible, after all.

All I knew at that point was that my dad was in the Navy, and had been out to sea when I was born, and had received a telegram announcing my birth.  Growing up, as the oldest grandchild on my mother’s side, my grandfather told me every single time I saw him on a visit to Massachusetts,  “I was the first person to hold you at the hospital.”

It was true: my dad enlisted in the Navy as a senior at North High in Worcester, Massachusetts, on 11 October 1961.  Then he signed onto active duty at UMASS Amherst in August of 1965, as a Naval Aviation cadet. He had just met my mother on the beach at Cape Cod that summer of 1965. If you lived in Central Massachusetts, you for sure spent as much time as possible going to Cape Cod every possible weekend. Turns out, my dad had met my mom’s older sister Phyllis in high school, so on a weekend when my mom found herself stranded on Cape Cod, without a ride home, my dad showed up in one of his fancy cars, he owned a Packard with a rumble seat, and a Galaxie 500, and offered my Mom, known as “Little Phylly”, a ride back to Worcester. They fell in love, and she was standing by his side, when he received his wings as a Naval Aviator and commission as an Ensign that December 1966.

According to my mother, the wedding was spontaneous because my dad was under contract with the Navy, and they couldn’t get married until he got his wings, which turned out to be 20 December 1966.  Some of their peers in the Navy had planned weddings in advance, only to find out that the groom couldn’t attend his own wedding because he had not gotten in the requisite flight hours.  Also, my mother’s family was planning a move to Cambridge, Ohio, from Worcester, Massachusetts, so that my maternal grandfather could start his new job. As my dad’s next deployment loomed, they hastily prepared for the 7 January 1967 wedding date. In fact, there was a giant ice storm that night, which prevented my parents from travelling to New York City for their honeymoon, so they stayed in a hotel in Westboro, Massachusetts. My paternal grandfather, Rocco Gemma did not attend my parents’ wedding, a fact that was dictated to us almost annually. Rocco was in New York City attending a trade show for his employer Wilson Sporting Goods, so he sprung for some Broadway tickets for their honeymoon, “Hello Dolly.” My parents enjoyed a nice idyll in the city, and then my Mom moved to Ohio, to live with her parents,  and 14 year old sister Christine, and 16 year old sister Patty,  as she herself was only 21 years old. My dad departed the United States on the aircraft carrier, the USS RANDOLPH CVS-15,  to conduct Anti- Submarine Warfare Operations, on the Mediterranean Sea.

My dad was on a port call to Italy, visiting my Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Pete in Bologna, when he received the telegram from the ship that I had been born that 10 October 1967. Legend says that he went to the Sistine Chapel on his next stop to light a candle for me. He did not meet me in person until the following April of 1968,  when he returned from his “Med“ cruise, and my parents left Ohio for his next assignment in Norfolk, Virginia. My sister was born in Norfolk that February of 1969.

Then the transfer came in for NAS Pensacola, Florida and from May of 1970 to May of 1972, my dad served a second tour of active duty as a search and rescue pilot.. My first memories are in Pensacola and of the white sand beaches, and the hot hot hot weather every day. My mom would dress us every day for outdoor play with the little boys next door, and after five minutes of riding our big wheels down the main drag, my sister and I would run back to the garage where we would tear off everything but our shorts so we could stay cool like the boys.

It always amazes me that my mom was so young, raising two daughters, while bearing witness to my dad’s Navy career. She had taken two years of advanced secretarial courses in high school, before a final preparatory year at  Ward Secretarial School in Worcester, Massachusetts, before she met my dad. After Ward, she got a job with the Mayor of Worcester, and worked for him until he lost in the next election. Her next job was working for the president of a local radio station. She went from living with her parents to living with my dad, and instant motherhood, which was de rigueur in the 1960’s, a fashion that did not appeal to her honeymoon baby.

After my dad left active duty in 1972 and joined the Navy Reserves at NAS South Weymouth, Massachusetts with HSL-74, we moved to Noank.  My parents opened up the Downtown Mystic Boutique, and my dad only had to report for duty one weekend a month, and two weeks a year:  Pancakes for Dinner!  But by April of 1987 with my dad now reporting to the Naval War College in Newport, RI, alas, the rigors of a Navy career had taken its toll on my parents’ marriage.  By the time my sister was set to graduate from high school that June, it was over after twenty years.

 

 

 

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Seventeen Again

This is unfortunately, a true story, written in October of 1985, while the writer was 17.
Dedicated to Jason Filardi and John Hughes.

“The Double – Edged Sword”

“Come on Claire, tell us, have you ever done it?”,
Claire hedges, not wanting to answer, yet mesmerized by the mounting peer pressure.
“You can tell us,” chant the other four, “we’re your friends.”
Allison separates herself from the all too eager group, and pauses, “it’s a double-edged sword,  isn’t it Claire; you’re a Prude or a Tease if you don’t,  and a Slut if you do!”

Above is an excerpt from the teenage movie, “The Breakfast Club”, released in the summer of 1985. However short this scene was, its underlying theme implanted a tiny seed in the back of my mind.  Personal experiences and subsequent relationships with males seemed to nourish this little idea, as would water and sunshine to a young flower. The whole concept of a double-edged sword troubled me, and led to a good deal of unanswered questions.  Just how do the young women of modern society fall prey to these evil-categorizing vultures?  I have to come to believe that one simple date with a boy nowadays tosses a girl on either side:  the Prudes and Teases on one, and the Sluts on the other.  There are no compromises, no in-betweens, either she does or she doesn’t.  Unfortunately, these labels yield one conclusion:  the girl never wins!
During my time in high school,  a typical pattern uneasily developed when I was meeting a lot of new guys. I had the usual overload of female and male friends, and we all indulged in prescribed activities: parties, concerts, cook-outs, beach outings,and road trips. I thought it was of small importance when a male “friend” asked me to go with him to a party. I thought this guy was a nice person, and enjoyed the easy-going friendship that we shared.  Well…..it seems that the moment I stepped into his car, he thinks that my previous “friendly” conversation meant a little more, as he begins to make his move.  If I say “No”, I risk losing his friendship and proceed to get labelled a “Prude” (or a “Tease” if I accidentally excited the poor adolescent and failed to carry out his idea of a good time).  Should I say “Yes”, however, I not only risk creating a bad reputation for myself as a “Slut”, but our previous friendship is destroyed as egos, reputations, whispers, and rumors are whipped around in a swirl of high school confusion.  So, what started as an innocent  ride to Susie’s party threatens to become a nightmare of labels and categories.
Example number one emerged from a conversation with a sincere male friend of mine. He mentioned another friend of mine, and ended with, “You know, Michelle, Mark always thought you were a prude, kind of square.” I replied, “You must be mistaken, Mark gave me a few rides, here and there. Sure he’s a nice guy, but he didn’t hint around or make a move towards me. How could he think I was a prude?” My friend only answered with, “That’s exactly it….he feels you weren’t receptive to his signals.”   “Oh really”, I said dryly, “Next time I’ll know not to say, ‘Gee, Thanks for the ride Mark’, but I’ll instead throw off all my clothes the second I jump in the car to show my appreciation.”
The irony in this silliness with Mark led to my dismayed reaction in example number two with Matthew. He and I shared a few high school classes. One day, a conversation with yet another male friend revealed this interesting rumor.  “Michelle, you know Matthew always thought you were a tease”, said my friend.  I groaned silently.  “Now really, how did he form this judgment?”, I questioned.  “Well, I dunno, the way you acted…. the way you made him feel….the things you said….”, my friend trailed off. I replied, “How wonderful that I have this control and influence over Matthew.”
I was beginning to feel resentful of the ignorant labelling that guys seem obsessed with, as if it were some tribal ritual.  Since I could not realistically change the situation, anger led to helplessness. A distressing example number three arose during a reminiscence of my sophomore year, when I had befriended several senior guys, known as “The Men”. (note to my young self, this is a hint and a half for your ass).  It seems one of the guys, Jon, supposedly my friend, took it upon himself to spread these incredible (and completely untrue) rumors of he and I having a consuming love affair. When I learned how he implicitly labelled me a “Slut”, I was shocked and amazed.  This was the limit!
How could three boys paint such vivid extremes of me, and thus allow me to unwittingly fall into these despicable category traps.  I am not going to analyze some psychological process, nor explain the boys’ incessant stories: I am sure that even in primitive cave dwellings, the first vestiges of “locker room talk” were taking form.  There are no real satisfying solutions to what I believe is an injustice towards young women. I refuse to start some Anti-Label Crusade; an ignorant guy will think of a new stereotype for me,  the “Frustrated.”

Claire screams out to the group before her, “No!  I never did it.”
Me too Claire, me too. I could not trust any boy in high school. Eighties, baby, they were interesting!
In hindsight, I am glad that I had a very protective Italian father, who scared everyone away. It’s true!  He always told me, “Once you lose your reputation, you can never get it back”.  Thank you to Scary Larry,  Stormin’ Norman,  and  Captain Stubing for keeping my idealism intact!

 

 

 

 

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