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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The Manager

The Manager

on game days, my mother would fill paper grocery bags
with popcorn cooked on our kitchen
stove. the pots were lined with a thin layer
of vegetable oil, heated to the point
where kernels popped on contact.
these bags of popcorn kept the kids
distracted during the tedious
company softball games.

my father had achieved the position
of manager for the company team.
it was a desirable position within the
Pfizer Athletic Department;
and he was quite aware of that.

the Pfizer team participated in tournaments
throughout Greater Southeastern Connecticut.
my brother and me
spent many weekends in
Baltic, Norwich, and Stonington;
collecting empty soda and beer
cans in exchange for soda and bubble gum
at the concession stand.

my mother’s first boyfriend
after my father walked out,
loved his Coca-Cola.
he bought it in 40 oz. bottles,
a quarter inch thick, with impeccable
label printing. the deposit value was
clearly marked on the paper banded neck.
“40 cent deposit”

he would give my brother and me
five empty Coke bottles
every Friday night.
that worked out to $1.00 for each of us.

we applied this approach on the
gravel parking lots of various
municipal recreation areas.
maximize the potential.
the tournaments were a temporary
sentence;
we tried to make the best of it.

i kept thinking someone would ask us:
“hey, why are you kids going through the garbage?”

during our search for
returnable
soda
cans

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Our Final Phone Call

my mother had her first date
with the man who would become my step-father
on a sweltering July night.
i was playing basketball in our driveway, the aging hoop
dangling above the garage door
by rusty nails we kept banging back in that would one day
be rebuilt by him.

“he is going to be here in five minutes!”
yelled my mother from the front porch.
“you better watch out so he
doesn’t hit you in the driveway!”

on our quiet street, we could hear a vehicle
lumbering toward the house.
the collected kids from the neighborhood
scrambled into the garage
and quickly closed the overhead door.

a sleek, silver van slowly rolled
to a halt on the oily pavement.
a rather large man with curly brown hair
and a working man’s belly exited
from the driver side door.

“he’s three times bigger than your mom…..”

we shuffled to our right
to catch more than a glimpse of him as he walked
across the lawn, torn up
as a result of my mother letting us use it
as a football field following the divorce.

i was in my second floor bedroom
when he arrived for their second date.
one of the windows faced the driveway,
and this time he had another car, not the silver van,
but an enormous four door sedan.
i thought that was a good sign, as none of the other men
in my mother’s life
owned two vehicles.

at their wedding, a year later,
my nine year old brother was plied
with canned beer by the uncles and cousins
in attendance. they found it fascinating
that a little kid could drink beer
like a teenager.
i drank cola over ice, a habit i picked up
from my mother.

my step-father introduced us
into a world we could hardly imagine.
his family owned a ski cabin in the Maine woods,
as well as a lake front cottage
closer to home.
having secondary property
up to that point
was my mother allowing us to bring
dirty, old couches into our basement
during neighborhood bulky waste disposal.

the diagnosis left little room for error.

“it is an incredibly aggressive, invasive form
of melanoma. we might have to get your permission
for clinical trials.”

he granted his permission.

my visits to the house
of my childhood, during his rehabilitation
dovetailed
with the presidential election of 1992.

“you both need to vote for Clinton!
the last twelve years have been
a disaster!”

“Clinton is a phony. we are voting for Perot.”

“do you seriously
think a billionaire
has the best interests of the people
at the forefront of his policies?”

“yes. we need a businessman
to run the country like a business;
with responsibility, with accountability.”

i was arguing Presidential Politics
with my step-father,
as he endured radical radiation
treatments.

when our friends arrived at my parents house
to hang out as my high school rock band practiced,
they were greeted by my mother,
taking off the headphones i had purchased for
two of them,
as well as a small chalkboard
they could write messages to each other,
in an effort to not completely
interrupt
their lives.

“i just think they are adorable! i hope i end up
watching TV with my partner and a chalkboard.”

the band checked in to the motel
in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

before i left town, my mother
called me and asked
that i call my step-father
on the Friday night
we were due to arrive in Lancaster.
the band had two shows that weekend.

she had her doubts about him being
alive by the time i returned.

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the Night my Father was Robbed

my father’s first relationship,
following his divorce from
my mother,
was with a gentle soul.
she had no idea what she was
getting herself into.
i was too young to articulate
my inherent reservation.

when she finally called it off,
my father parlayed a manipulative
relationship with her parents.
they agreed to let him house sit
during a cross country excursion
that was their initial realization of retirement.

my younger brother and me
visited our father due to a court order,
every other weekend. our routine was perfected
in short shrift.
he would pick us up at our mother’s house,
and we would hear the sigh of relief
from the back of her throat
as i opened the door of his faux sports car.
he couldn’t afford his desired Corvette, so he settled for a Capri.

the car parked at the apex
of the horseshoe driveway.
we carried the snacks
our mother would never have allowed us to purchase,
over the threshold of the outdoor patio,
into the elegant kitchen.

we began to unload the groceries.

my father asks us to listen to him, for a moment.

the two of us are taken aback at his
deference to something
seemingly serious.

“someone broke into the house this week….”

he then regaled us with a tale of
educated thieves;
who knew the owner of the house
was a very successful businessman,
selling TV sets
during the golden age of television.

the thieves came to steal the
vintage sets he had accumulated
while owning a retail store.

i believed him. i believed my father.

i convinced myself
that he was telling me the truth. surely,
this was an isolated incident.
and yet, every time i was at that house for a
weekend with my father,
i was petrified.

he went to the grocery store
early, one saturday morning-
to get cereal he had neglected to account for
the previous night.

a few minutes after he left, the house lost all power.
my only thought was to find my brother
and get somewhere safe.
the thieves were back.

we crouched behind a stone wall;
half covered in a pristine green moss,
gazing toward any proof of
entrance, shivering in the damp
March morning. my father drove up
to the property
and witnessed us
crouched behind a farmer’s boundary, where the driveway
met the street.

“what are you guys doing out here?!?!?!?!?”

“there was a sound in the basement, and then the power went out.
i thought the thieves were back….” i replied, in a defiant tone.

“c’mon guys, get in the car….”

we did.
and my father drove the twenty yards
to the back door of the house.

he lied to me.

someone was owed money.
he was targeted for a reason beyond
a vintage television market volatility.

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Panama Diaries, Part III

I take a bus alone from Panama City into the jungle. One one-way ticket. My friend Guadalupe, a retired Spanish journalist who has been my tropical partner-in-crime for three months has returned to Spain, leaving me with a kiss on each cheek and a warning to stay safe.

The crowded bus terminal across from Albrook, a famous mall on the outskirts of Panama City is a disorganized Port Authority on acid. The old bus I board looks like something out of a Bollywood movie meets a Grateful Dead tour van from the 1960’s revamped for everyday travelers. All brocaded curtains, paisley patterned seats, gold, red, and psychedelic purple swirling over the interior.

We drive five hours through small towns nestled in palm trees, a trek that oddly reminds me of when I was in love with a girl in Toronto and would regularly take the endless bus ride from NYC through Upstate New York and across the Canadian border to see her. Youthful amor knows no geographical boundaries.

Now, waiting for me is a cheerful older ex-pat named Kippy, with short cut blonde hair and a gap-toothed grin in her beat up old truck blasting jangling Motown.

“We’re going to a party.” She announces, as I climb in.

When Guadalupe was here, I was able to hang out with Panamanians, the feisty ninety-four year-old matriarch of the small town Pedasi, an owner of a hostel who called me “Mi Rei,” my king, a guy from Chile who strummed guitar while I belted live karaoke in his cantina, American songs like House of the Rising Sun, Proud Mary and Mack The Knife. It seems now that Guadalupe is gone, that world is inaccessible to me. So I fall in with the expats.

After the concrete condos of Panama City, rising by the Pacific like some Miami Vice throwback, the cracked sidewalks and salt stung air, window washers rushing out at streetlights with homemade squeegees and buckets of sudsy water like the crackheads on Houston Street did when I was a kid, the countryside feels even more surreal and tranquil. Kippy and I stop at a roadside stand to buy giant bunches of pinkly stained lychees, and semilla de coco a new delicacy for me, a round white orb of coconut seed with a spongy texture and pure subtly sweet flavor.

On the beach, under the portico of a local cantina, a group of expats have gathered to party, throwing back rum and $1 beers. I haven’t been around this many white people in months and it feels overwhelming and a bit embarrassing. They form their own cohort and even though many have lived in the country for years, they don’t speak Spanish. I wonder how they go grocery shopping.

All the expats in the jungle by the sea seem to have ended up here for some shady reason. So have I, I suppose. No one leaves everything they know behind unless they want to escape something.

At her seventy-first birthday party on the beach, I meet Corey, a “California girl” and old school lesbian who tells me she used to have a gambling problem.

“What made you stop?” I ask.

“I lost my job and my house.” She says frankly, in her nicotine growl, going off to chain smoke another menthol.

There is Sammy, who arrives at the beach and immediately announces he has just gotten a blood test for HIV and herpes.

“I met someone.” He says giddily. “I’m doing it for her.”

After our third round of cervezas, I find out he is a New York Jew, like me, though originally from Israel and three decades older.

He and his parents emigrated to the Bronx of the 1950’s when he was a kid, then moved to Canada when he turned eighteen, so he wouldn’t be drafted in Vietnam.

“When I was eight years-old I got held up by knifepoint for milk and eggs I was bringing home to my mom.” He says.

He notices me noticing his tattoos, numbers across his inner arm and a semi-colon at his hairy wrist.

“The numbers were my father’s when he was in a camp. The semi-colon you should know as a writer.” He says.

“I do.” I say. “But what does it mean to you?”

“My son committed suicide two years ago. It means continuation. Life continues.” He says.

The sun sets over the sea and the green hills of Isla Iguana in the distance. The island looks so close under the bronze, violet and blood red rays it seems you could swim there, though you would die trying.

 

Terrible news filters in from the States. There is a certain anarchy among the ex-pats, escapees who have given up their country for another. Some try their best to ignore all American news, some rage against it. But all seem to live in a sort of tropical Brigadoon, a valley the outside world can’t penetrate.

It reminds me of an ill-timed trip my grandparents took me and my brother on my senior year of high school in 2003. We ended up in the Galapagos Islands on a small nature cruise touring islands desolate except for teeming wildlife.

On one of the few inhabited spots in the archipelago in a small internet café, I found out through an email from my dad that the United States had declared war in Afghanistan. Only two years after 9/11 had changed my New York childhood and teenage world forever, I cried in a roughly paved town square thousands of miles from home feeling angry and helpless all over again. War was the last thing I wanted, but how could I stop it?

Fifteen years later, on a different beach, someone makes a crack about sexual assault on the darkened porch. An older gay man talking about the priests of his youth molesting fellow choir boys.

“The whole time, I was like pick me! Pick me! Is something wrong with me that they don’t want to fuck me?” He says and everyone laughs uproariously.

I don’t and get sideways glances like I’m being a party pooper.

“I think it’s normal for kids to feel chosen or made special by abusers.” I say. “That’s part of the abuser’s power over their victims. I’m sorry you felt that way.” I tell him.

And as the chuckles around us fade, he nods quietly and says, “Thank you.”

“When I was a teenager we fooled around, but we were just figuring out what we liked and what we didn’t.” Protests a grandmother from Colorado. “If a boy and I were heavy petting and he did something I didn’t like, I always told him ‘no,’”

Though unstated, it is clear we are now talking about the recent hearings around the latest Supreme Court nominee.

“There’s a difference between normal exploration and being forced into a situation.” I tell her. “Some people don’t have the ability to say no while it’s happening, that doesn’t make it okay.”

“What about innocent until proven guilty?” She jabs.

“What about believing victims?” I ask.

“I was never a victim.” She says so vehemently it makes me wonder, if like the joke about the priests, there is some pain behind her bluster.

“Bet you didn’t think hanging around with a bunch of old people, you’d be having conversations like this.” Kippy takes me aside to order us more drinks.

“I spoke to my dad on the phone the other day about his artwork and how he used to correspond with a guy who was into phallic piercings to do a portrait.” I shrug. “He’s older than all of you.”

But as the party dies down, I think about generational ideas of sex. How this older crew who grew up with so much normalized repression and sexism have all been touched by abuse in some way and see it as a hard knock reality rather than something that needs to change.

Kippy drives me back in the dark, past swooping bats and the crooning melodic croaking of frogs. Guadalupe always sang back to them “Sapo cancionero, de la noche cantas tu melancholia.” Singing frog, in the night you sing your melancholy.

 

I think of being five and forced into a bathroom by a girl in my class who demanded to see my penis, being ten at a Mets game at Shea Stadium and a fat old man saying to me, “Hey kid, cute ass.” when other adults were out of earshot, being twelve and the odd pitch of my babysitter’s panting as she pinned me down in a game of wrestling, being thirteen and a homeless guy following me down the street offering “I’ll suck your dick for a quarter.”, being eighteen and an older gay friend pawing me whenever he got drunk, being twenty-seven and doing a reading in Philadelphia where the hostess promised me I had a room for the night, which turned out to be her bedroom she wouldn’t let me leave when I tried. How through all of these experiences and more, I felt like I was the fucked up one because I was a guy and shouldn’t I just enjoy it?

We reach the rusted black metal gate of Guadalupe’s property and Kippy keeps her brights on me as I trip up the path lined with palmeras, their fronds glowing poison green in her headlamps. I am alone in Guadalupe’s small house now.

That first night in my friend’s borrowed casita on her vast stretch of land I have nightmares I am being robbed, like I was when I lived in Bushwick, Brooklyn in my early 20’s.

Maybe it is Guadalupe’s paranoia infecting me. Before she left me on my own she warned “Pueblo chico, infierno grande.” Small town, big fire. Her house has been knocked over three times before, so maybe I am just being realistic.

I wake up to glaring sunlight, safe for the moment in my sweaty nightmare tossed sheets. I wonder how many other of the revelers from last night went home and dreamt of a world where we were violated. And if the lush beauty of the tropics will ever be enough to quell those visions.

 

 

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lost in thought

sat down with the intention of writing something
anything
and that’s when the distractions of the day became the subject of the day
the smells –
are those my shorts?
my socks?
my shoes?

sat down with the intention of writing something
anything
and instead of the esoteric, what gets tapped into instead is just so common
so basic
the vagaries of effluent discharges brought about by the bodies that live on bodies
kinda smells like shoes
or bodies on a hot summer day
or the first few minutes of sex

sat down with the intention of writing something
anything
this isn’t to say that this “subject,” this “idea,” is not worthy
it just so happens
to have nothing to do with the thought that first sat me down to open this document
but here we are
a little lost
thinking about
something other
than that which was the thought
that originally sat me down
to start typing

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Parade Season

each spring, as the parades
approached, many veterans
would need to update
their uniforms. a small percentage
are Vietnam Veterans
who discarded their awards
in disgust. an accumulation
of time altered their original
conscription, and now wanted to
participate.
and represent.

the veterans of World War II
did not have to confront
the decision their Vietnam brethren had to.
the Greatest Generation watched over decades,
as their uniforms were desecrated
by curious grandchildren.

“i need a belt buckle.”

“a regular web belt for work?”

“No, a Goddamn USMC buckle in all it’s glory!”

my father in law- who owned the Army Navy surplus store
i found myself working in
had bought 120 USMC Dress buckles
at a trade show years earlier.
there were still a few dozen
in our attic stockroom.

“hold on one minute, i’ll be right back.”

i immediately find a
boxed USMC belt buckle,
and head back down the
rickety stairs from the attic,
to the retail floor.

“how much do i owe you, kid?”

“on the house. it’s the least we can do.”

“awww, c’mon kid, i can pay you!”

“hey- didn’t anyone give you something for free today?”

he raised his head to look directly into my eyes.
i thought i could hear his train of thought.

“a free buckle? a free buckle?”

holding the small
cardboard box
he spoke eloquently

“You are making an old Marine proud.”

he then exits the store.

the sound is congruent
everyone in earshot
was aware of what we heard.

i race to the deck outside the store
as customers are dialing 911
on their cell phones.
when i reach his fallen figure, i ask “are you ok?”

he replied~
“yes, i am.”

a moment later, a police officer arrived as
the first responder.
he walked across the deck
that provides access to the store.

“have you been drinking today?
“no, no, no, sir…..”

“Stand Up….”

the officer plants his hands under
the arms of the Marine Veteran
and gradually brings him
to his feet.

“have you been drinking today?” the officer repeats his question, with
an edge of malice.
i was shocked at the lack of a level of subtlety from the officer.
perhaps they dealt with this “emergency” everyday.

and yet, i decided to speak out:

“hey, take it easy on him….”

the officer held the Marine in the same position and then
slowly craned his neck to look directly at me.

“i’ll let you know when i want you to talk.”

i thought to myself
i would oblige,
and remain silent.

a gathering of EMT’s, firefighters, and police
have gathered at the scene.
they all seem to look at me
with a coordinated
disdain.

“you couldn’t differentiate a heart attack
from a drunk old man?”

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