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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My First Christmas With Dad

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
buttered toast.

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
is foolproof!”

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.

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The Realization of Shame

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
the distraction
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,
unchained.
“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,
littered with
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
scenario.

“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…..”
she hissed.
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
be exposed.
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
investigating officer,
and me.

“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
of shame.

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Mystic Mythology: Skateboarding Part 2

“”What bothers me is the particular breed around here[…] M. Mehlman

Welcome to the second installment of Mystic Mythology: Skateboarding. During the late 1980s and early 90s, Mystic Connecticut, with its quaint and quiet streets and drawbridge that halted traffic 2,200 times per year, was the perfect place for a bunch of misfit kids to gather, ride skateboards, and have scorn heaped upon us by nearly ever merchant in town except Dan Curland at Mystic Disc. This was a time when lifelong relationships were formed and it is because of those relationships that I am able to cobble together the myriad memory fragments into something resembling a memoir. Welcome to part two: The Post High School Days.

As far as my crew and I are concerned, the skate scene in Mystic would have been very different if it wasn’t for “the booth.” The booth, located at 9 Water Street, was the place I worked managing the parking concession for The Landing Restaurant. It was there where I met the crew of dudes who I’ve now been friends with for over 30 years.

The booth very quickly became a refuge for the skateboarders of downtown Mystic. Back in 1987, we, the skateboarders of Mystic, were not exactly loved. As mentioned in part one, the merchants hated us, the jocks and jerks wanted to beat us down, and the cops did their best to arrest us. The booth was a place my friends could ditch their boards, huddle around the tiny heater in the middle of winter, or peruse the collection of off brand pornographic magazines that may or may not have been purchased by the oldest kid in the group.

The act of skateboarding, being both a creative and physical pursuit, seems to cement friendships quickly. The guys who hung around the booth started packing themselves into my 1978 Mercury Bobcat to go on skate adventures. It wasn’t long before we, with a nod to the world-famous Powell Peralta Bones Brigade, were known as the Bobcat Brigade.

These adventures took us all over Connecticut, into Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and as far north as Maine. While visiting these places, we inevitably met other skateboarders who would occasionally share skate spot information, or better yet, lead us to their favorite spots. These were the years when skateboarding felt like the only important thing in the world. All one had to do was be willing to try, sometimes despite better judgement and usually at the risk of physical injury and pain, and the respect of other skateboarders was earned.

Through the countless connections made by being as mobile as an old Mercury would allow, we discovered numerous hidden gems. When we weren’t skating Kaplan’s, the parking lot, 12 Water Street, or the Mystic Train Station, we could be found at places such as the Norwich Pool, Fish Ditch, Rat Hole, behind Benny’s, Case Ramp, Firehouse Curbs, about a million hill bombs, Mansion Ramp, Blues Ramp, College Hill, Turtles, the Sk8 Hut, Water Bros., Newport, and many, many more. The more adventure we sought, the more we found. We were becoming skate nomads without ever being aware of it. We were dedicated to skateboarding because it never let us down. We consumed it as it consumed us. We weren’t just kids with skateboards, we were skateboarders.

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Mystic Mythology: Skateboarding Part 1.

Welcome to the first installment of Mystic Mythology: Skateboarding. During the late 1980s and early 90s, Mystic Connecticut was a bustling hub of skateboarding activity. The merchants hated us, the jocks and jerks wanted to beat us down, and the cops did their best to arrest us. It was kind of an ass-backwards paradise for us punk-rock misfits and I don’t think any of us would have had it any other way. *Please note: some of the details here have been blurred, not for the purposes of artistic license, whatever that means, but due to the fact that I wasn’t taking notes back then, my only access to photography was an OLD Kodak Instamatic, and, quite frankly, I’m getting old. Welcome to part one.

When I turned 12, way back in 1980, I got the one and only thing I wanted for my birthday; a plastic yellow skateboard. It had translucent yellow wheels, loose and loud ball bearings, a tiny kick-tail, and an even smaller pointy nose. I saw it in the Benny’s department store in downtown Groton near the bikes my parents couldn’t afford and I became obsessed with it, pestering them every time we stepped into that store.

After months of begging, cajoling, and promising that I would be careful to not hurt myself, my fantasy of becoming a skateboarder became a reality. On the last day of November, that little skateboard was mine. It did, however, come with a catch, I could only ride it if I promised to wear a helmet. I was crestfallen. If that wasn’t enough, my parents, without consulting me, had gone ahead and purchased a helmet for me and it was quite possibly the most hideous thing I’d ever seen. Instead of an actual Pro-Tec skateboard helmet, my parents purchased a Cooper SK 100 hockey helmet that looked like it was made out of plastic milk jugs. Imagine, if you will; an awkward husky kid from a trailer park, wearing off-brand shoes purchased from the Railroad Salvage store and thrift store ToughSkins showing up at the quarter pipe some older kids built while wearing a beacon of ignorant geekdom upon his head. Let’s just say I wasn’t welcomed with open arms.I was determined, though, and didn’t let those gawking teenage boys bother me. Growing up in a trailer park had prepared me for a life of derision. Instead of trying to overcome the perceived adversity, I would walk past, doing my best to ignore the taunts, and head up the hill behind my house to figure out how to ride that useless plastic toy.

On day one, despite countless promises to be careful and not hurt myself, I did exactly that. On day one I learned two very important lessons: what speed wobbles are and what road rash is. My mother was not impressed.

Covered in scabs, but undaunted, I persisted. On day two, the speed wobbles also persisted, but it was on that day that I learned the importance of “run-out.” This gently curving road had two distinct sides to it: the safe side, with sloping manicured lawns, and the suicide, filled with rocks, briars, and trees. On day two, I discovered that bailing at speed onto a nice, soft lawn required almost no first aid, only soap and water.

Bombing hills, surreptitious trips to the quarter pipe, and the occasional trip to a reservoir spillway that later became known as the Fish Ditch was my entire world for the first two years of being a skateboarder. I didn’t need anyone or anything else and that suited me just fine. At the time there was no way I could predict what skateboarding would come to mean to me, what doors it would open, or how it would be the common ground on which most of my adult relationships would be founded. That little, yellow skateboard, after all, was just a silly plastic toy purchased from a discount department store in the submarine capital of the world.

 

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The Balance of Power

The woman is perfected.
Her dead

Body wears the smile of accomplishment,
The illusion of a Greek necessity

Flows in the scrolls of her toga,
Her bare

Feet seem to be saying:
We have come so far, it is over.

Each dead child coiled, a white serpent,
One at each little

Pitcher of milk, now empty.
She has folded

Them back into her body as petals
Of a rose close when the garden

Stiffens and odors bleed
From the sweet, deep throats of the night flower.

The moon has nothing to be sad about,
Staring from her hood of bone.

She is used to this sort of thing.
Her blacks crackle and drag.

 

a new photo narrative featuring Model: Jane Alice
as my LIBRA
for the new series: Personal Universe, an astrological study starring the model stable of Michelle Gemma (2017-2018)
Photograph by Michelle  Gemma
27 July 2018
Stonington Boro, CT  USA
Full Moon Lunar Eclipse

http://michellegemmaphotography.com/
https://michellegemmaphotography.wordpress.com/

featuring the Poem:
Edge      by      SYLVIA PLATH

 

 

 

 

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“Return From The Sea”

The Captain has been on a long sea voyage to find his fortune, having left behind his beloved.

He has anxiously awaited his return home.

He knows that his beloved has paced away many nights at the Mansion up in the Widows Walk, craning a look through the telescope: hoping to see a ship , any ship, any movement.

Movement is life.

The sea has movement but it can betray the visible truth because there is so much movement in the sea.

The sea waves back at you, is hopeful.

The Captain has arrived at the Mansion.

He enters each room and looks around.

Then he walks upstairs to get a better look. The Widows Walk has the best view. Plus there is a telescope: he will find her…

“Return From The Sea”
a new photo narrative starring Writer: Royal Young
Text and Photographs by Michelle Gemma
25 June 2018
Spicer Mansion
15 Elm Street, Mystic, CT  USA

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It’ll End In Tears

Kangaroo

Song To The Siren

Holocaust

FYT

Fond Affections

The Last Day

Another Day

Waves Become Wings

Barramondi

Dreams Made Flesh

Not Me

A Single Wish

 

It’ll End in Tears is the first album released by 4AD collective This Mortal Coil, an umbrella title for a loose grouping of guest musicians and vocalists brought together by label boss Ivo Watts-Russell. The twelve tracks of the album are illustrated here, in proper order.

featuring Model: Emma Rocherolle
all Photographs by Michelle Gemma
Spicer Mansion, Mystic, CT  USA

https://michellegemmaphotography.com
https://michellegemmaphotography.wordpress.com/

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