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Ashes to Air (April 29, 2018)

This was his rock. He said it suited him best because it gave him more room to stretch out his legs, and not because it was one of the few chances she could ever feel what it was like to be taller than him. Both of those were true, but she believed he also chose that spot so he could rest his head against her thigh as she sat on the higher rock beside it. She tried it now, imagining the sensation of flesh against her face, the pulse that ran beneath it, the subtle tensing and relaxing, depending on what, if anything, they were talking about. She imagined she would be able to, hoping to find some other new connection to what was no longer there, but all she knew was the scraping pain of the rock on her cheek, not even being tall enough to reach the spot where he would have been, making contact with her.

The perspective was different for her down here, only if it were a matter of a few feet. The horizon was closer somehow, and all the times she felt like she was looking out to a greater expanse than she would ever know now was replaced by the new reality of a smaller world, one that continued to close in on her. There was less ocean and more sky, and more than ever she wanted to be part of one of them. It didn’t matter which one. Either, she believed, was a better option than the world she was part of now.

She had run out of time to tell lies to herself, so today she had finally come down. It had been her way over the last several weeks, telling herself and anyone who she thought wanted to listen that the winds were still going to be too strong, and with them too much a chance that a gust could blow out of nowhere. Nobody wanted to hear it, and those few that listened did so because they knew she needed to tell it. Some had talked amongst themselves, wondering if there was a way to tell her “Enough,” but nobody could agree as to when that would be, because nobody wanted to admit they knew what she was going through. Better to let her do her thing in her own way and time. That time was finally now.

The hammock had gone up easier than she had expected, once again because her enemy was no longer around. She used to laugh at him, watching him try to harness it, one tree at a time, while it caught full sail and blew around like an erstwhile kite. Some days, it seemed like it might have power enough to take the first tree with it, but he still insisted on setting it up. When he finally anchored it to the second tree, it was no less bellicose in its flapping, but it was tamed enough for them to enjoy.

She had let it sit, in the bag with everything else, where he had left it that day, one of just many things that had to be cataloged. There were things to keep and things to get rid of, things to go through and things to ignore, none so big as the battered backpack that had sat in the corner of their bedroom. The lie about that (and there were lies for everything, there had to be, because there was no way she could face the truth, not yet) was that she knew everything that was in there, and none of it was really that important. No paperwork to be handed over to the authorities, whoever they may be for such a situation, and no family heirlooms that somebody would want to keep. In layman’s terms, the damn bag was just full of shit, meaningless shit that had the one purpose of joining them at the beach.

The most that would ever be done with any of it was to take out the towels and hang them to dry, but that hadn’t been necessary after the last time they used it. The weather never seemed hot enough that day, the water still cold enough to not be tempting, a luxury they could have that friends and family back home could not. So the bag had sat, untouched in the corner, a silent witness to the last time they came home, the last time they slept together, the last time she left him in the shower, the last time she had kissed him goodbye, told him she loved him, and left for work.

Add this to the list of things she believed would be true: the hammock would be full of his presence, not to be touched or seen but smelled. There was no reason this would be true. He had searched for a good hammock, one designed to be beaten up a bit by constantly being used outside, and that meant spending more money than necessary, but resulted in a fabric that breathed freely, cleaned easily, and had material designed specifically not to smell like every trip it had been used for. Stretched between the trees, she regarded it, and, still wanting to believe he would be in there, she didn’t get in it, not right away. Instead, she removed the one new item from the bag, made her way across the protruding stones that bit into her feet, and sat out on their rocks, waiting for the wind to not be there.

The wind never was there, and she would have sat forever, countless tides coming and going until she would simply become part of the rocks, but for the voices that began to gather around her. If ever there was a time she could count on him being cross, it was then. There were moments, like any normal human would have, that would anger him, piss him off, make him a jerk, but now, then, that one moment every day, she knew it to come like clockwork.

Like clockwork, indeed, because he would say it was nature’s way of telling them they’d been at the beach long enough. Human nature, she would remind him. Nature was what they had come there for. The nature of the ocean and the beach, the sky and the clouds, even the tree limbs that danced above their eyes when they snuggled inside the hammock, the sides all but cocooning them in their own world. It was the humans that changed things then, it was the humans that changed things now.

The voices told her now it was time to go.

What little nerve she could find she called on and she stood, as far out as she could, still waiting to be sure, finally surrendering. The bag opened freely, and the ashes fell orderly, spilling out into the ocean, the parade of his life passing before her eyes. Almost over, nature disagreed, and an errant gust caught what was left and took him from the ocean, towards the beach and towards her.

‘Doesn’t it always,’ she thought, followed ‘Does it always?’ She thought of all the videos she had seen, the ones he had shared with her, where such ceremonies had gone seriously, hysterically wrong. Some were flawed from the start, the wind always being there and people not understanding basic weather patterns. Others were like her experience, perfect until the end, which gave her pause and made her root her feet a little stronger, because there were those, too, when it wasn’t the wind that didn’t cooperate, but the own person’s sense of balance. Others would laugh at that, if it were to happen to her and be filmed, but not her. She could only find a sense of laughter when she allowed herself to believe something else, that this was his last attempt to make her laugh.

It was what she loved about him, more than any other aspect about him, so much so that early in the relationship she thanked him for it. For what, he asked, and she explained that she had never been a person to laugh every day, but with him, she did. She told him that even before she told him she loved him. She had her one final laugh, but it was quickly extinguished, because she knew that there was nothing more he would ever do. Any laughs that came in the future would be rooted in the past, reminders of what he had done. There was no more present.

She walked back across the stones, head down, studiously avoiding the people around her. Back at the hammock, the wind was now there, and the hammock snapped at her, inviting her to it. It was all over, and she knew she had to stop believing in everything she had been telling herself.

Alone, she felt like she hardly made a dent in the tension. It seemed to swing no closer to the ground than it had been, her weight offering only a small anchor against the wind. The fabric now embraced her completely, and the tree limbs above her, and the sky above them, was snatched from her sight. Now she would know, and she would know she had been wrong all along. There was nothing of him in there that she had not brought with her. She didn’t even make the desperate gesture of pressing her face to the fabric and inhaling deeply, because she knew smelling the dry chemical compound of the synthetics she was entombed in would do nothing for her. She did not even waste her time trying to believe that when she set the hammock up again, she would smell the tears she was now leaving behind.

October 20, 2017

My apartment has a small back patio. It’s really not much, maybe an 8 by 8 concrete slab, made bigger only because the fence that separates ours from our neighbor’s came down in the storm. The fence that is still standing stands about six feet tall, nothing to look at, simply a utilitarian fence to give residents some sense of privacy.

My roommate has the patio furnished with a matching set of furniture. It’s very comfortable, and i almost feel bad that I’ve added my own folding camp chair to the decorations. Kinda necessary though. The furniture that’s there has cushions, and manage to stay wet for a couple of days after it rains. And since we seem to get rain every couple of days this time of year, well, you can do the math. Plus, where my chair is set up, it’s covered by the second floor of the apartment. So, even when it is raining, i can still sit outside and be dry.

Did that the other day. i was having a cup of coffee, and just decided I wanted to sit outside while I enjoyed it. It certainly seemed like a nice day, but that can be the deception of direction. My patio faces west, and the weather we’ve been having lately has been showing up from the east. Sure enough, within five minutes, drops began to fall, and soon we had a full on shower.

It was nice to sit and enjoy it. It took the temperature from hot and humid to warm and not, a welcome change, and as everyone knows, the sound of rain can certainly be soothing and relaxing. And, yes, like typical Key West rains, ten minutes later it was over. But I stayed outside and looked around, over the fence.

Funny how little time I look around, considering how much time I spend out there. I certainly spent a lot of time the week or so after the storm. Took that long to get power back, and with no A/C, by far out back with even a hint of a breeze was cooling than anywhere inside. Pretty sure i didn’t want to look then, mostly because I knew what i was going to see. We were far luckier than most people, when it comes to damage, but there wasn’t a tree left unscathed on the property. Many lost big limbs, most lost a lot of branches, and all of them lost all their leaves.

I’m still a seasonal kid. That’s what happens when you grow up in New England. Things bloom in the spring, thrive in the summer, wither in the autumn and slumber in the winter. Maybe it’s because I knew it was mid-September, I told myself that these trees were going to look like this for several months, and I didn’t want to face the reminder of all the destruction that Mother Nature had let loose on us. But Mother Nature, it turned out, had other plans.

After the rain I looked over the fence at the trees that line the property. Every single one of them was covered with bright, green leaves. I took the time to look around, and could see some trees had even began to sprout new limbs. Don’t get me wrong. The limbs were still tender and weak, and the trees covered in leaves were nowhere near as full as they had been two months earlier. But it was growth.

It’s easy to take any situation in life, good or bad, and dwell on it. Certainly in cases of large scale natural disaster or horrific personal tragedy, those situations can become overwhelming, masking everything else in a person’s life. But that doesn’t stop the world from moving. Life continues, and by acknowledging and accepting that, we can continue with it, moving forward, growing.

Key West will never be the same. For that matter, neither will the Virgin Islands, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Houston, Napa, Santa Rosa, you name it. Whether it gets better or worse is a matter of personal belief, but it will definitely be different. It will continue, it will grow. I’m happy to be here growing with it.


Bonus track: I was lucky enough a couple of weeks ago to see the Meyer/Kirby/Meyer show down here. Scott opened with this song, and it was a beautiful and inspirational way to start the show. I like his version, but I’m partial to the original. Today, after going to Goombay with my roommate, I’ll probably make my way to the Tiki bar, and relish the fact that I get to live here on nights like this. Click here to give it a listen.

October 17, 2017

Cyber security experts tell us, that when it comes to passwords, we should have different ones for different accounts and change them up on a regular basis. Between my three email accounts, my various social media platforms, my banking, my phone, this place and god only knows however many else, there’s no way I’d remember all of them. Only way I could do that would be to write them all down, which takes away the entire purpose of having passwords in the first place. Not that I expect someone to break into my house simply to log on my computer, mind you, but still. As such, I’ve been trying to streamline them all down to one.

Problem is there are some accounts I use less frequently than others. Case in point, today I went to log onto my publisher’s website so I could start uploading “Red Skies At Midnight.” I only go to the website every six months, though, so I wasn’t sure what password I have for them. Believe me when I say it isn’t any of the four I tried. So I hit the “forgot my password” link, and am now waiting for a new one. In the meantime, I figured I’d listen to some music.

Spotify has a “Discover Weekly” playlist they put out each week, tailored to the music I’ve been listening to recently. I went to play this week’s list, and immediately I knew something was wrong. The song that was listed was not the one playing. I turned it off, turned it back on, and the same thing happened. I thought maybe it was just playing the end of the last song I had been playing, and then it would switch to the new list. Nope, same thing happened. This started to annoy me, albeit more than it should have. I was supposed to be getting this. Why, then, am i getting that?

Don’t get me wrong. I liked the songs they were playing, but it frustrated me. It was far too easy for me to make a big deal about it in my mind. But when I realized there was nothing I could do about it, I made a simple decision. I chose to accept it.

I went on waiting for my new password (30 minutes and counting, createspace. What’s going on here?) while cleaning up my room, checking out Facebook, playing solitaire naturally. A strange thing happened when I did that. I found myself being pleasantly surprised with each new song, because I no longer knew what to expect. It forced me to live in the moment and not be already looking towards the future.

That is a trait I have that I can’t seem to let go of. Yes, there are times I need to do so. If not, how would I be able to make plans for anything? I need to look into the future to know I have to have the new novels here by November 1st (something I’m going to get done by the skin of my teeth. I’d like to blame Irma, but a lot of this is on me and my natural predisposition to procrastination) for instance. And it isn’t that looking to, and living in, the future, doesn’t mean those things are any more important. But it makes the things happening here and now less important.

About seven or eight songs in, I realized they were playing last week’s playlist. Maybe the next time I log in they’ll have the new one playing. Maybe they’ll always be a week behind. Or maybe Spotify has become my own personal “Groundhog Day.” Oh well. But there is one thing I know:

I ain’t changing my password. Can’t imagine what kind of music that might give me.

February 3, 2017

Things I’ll miss…

I’ll miss the spring. Spring seems like a special season here in the city. Truth be told almost every season does for it’s own reason, with the possible exception of winter. As a child winter was something magical, so blatantly different from all three other seasons and so full of wonder and excitement it was hard not to be a fan of it, no matter how many layers you had to put on. As an adult though it changed for me. I know some people still revel in the beauty of it all, but for me on the best days it became something that had to be endured, much like a cold or a prostate exam. Other times when I let my mind really wander on it, it felt to me like the season that so many others have associated it with throughout the years, the season of death.

Death comes to all of us. It is as much a part of living as life itself is, and no matter how many ways we strive to find ways to cheat death we ain’t going to do it. Many religions have answers for that, a promise of life afterwards, but no matter whether it is the concept of Heaven or the idea of reincarnation, I’ve yet to find one that promises you rebirth into the life you’ve been living. I think that’s part of what makes spring so special. It is the season of rebirth, but not anywhere other than where you have been with who you already love and what you already know. Spring in the city really embraces that as everyone seems to emerge from their own form of hibernation and living in a shell to truly come alive.

I’ll miss the subways. I’m a sucker for trains, always have been, always will be. There is something fascinating by seeing not just any random train, full sized and imposing, rumbling into a station, filling the entirety of it all, but the concept that the train you are looking at is only one of a hundred currently on the tracks. An entire system exists to move hundreds of thousands of people all over most inches of the city. And even realizing the scope of the city, that it would take me an hour and a half to get from the Bronx out to Coney Island, may help to reinforce the sheer size of where I live it also did something to diminish it as well. I could enter one turnstile, make one transfer, and be wherever I wanted to be.

I’ll miss the city-ness of it all. Maybe if it hadn’t been the first city I knew well (Hartford, for as much as I love it, doesn’t really count in comparison.) I wouldn’t have had such a romantic notion of living here. Everyone compares their first city to all those that follow, and it is certainly easy to find faults with others when remembering their own, but to me there is nothing like New York when it comes to the definition of what a city should be. The layout of the grid, the soaring of the buildings, being the center of so many different enterprises and industry, the romanticizing of it that has gone on for decades bordering centuries, all of it conspires to make it the iconic capital of the world that it is.

That being said though, there is much about the city-ness itself that I won’t miss. I met a guy a few months ago from Arkansas, in town for business, something he’d be having to do every few months. He spoke about New York in terms that so many others had, as a machine that seemed to power itself. Well, it almost does. It has to draw power from somewhere, and that somewhere are the people themselves. Some rise to prominence in their chosen fields, some get chewed up and either spit back or swallowed, but most just keep plugging away, cogs in an ever growing machine. I’m not going to miss that energy, that need to be part of something that is so far greater than you that your presence is both inevitable and expendable. I’m all for living a life full of energy, but not when the energy is being harvested away from you. The phrase running to stand still never felt more appropriate.

On a similar note I’m not going to miss the type of people who are part of that. I know that the price I paid to have a comfortable bartending job meant dealing with people straight out of the Gordon Gecko “Greed is Good” school, and to be fair I’ve met a few who have been the exception to the rule, but there is a level of humanity I’ve come to see that I couldn’t believe actually existed. In many ways I feel like I have more in common with the people who live here in my neighborhood in the Bronx. These people surely represent all facets of what makes people great and not so much, as we all do, but I’ve felt a greater connection to them in many ways, a recognition that they are somehow more real, more connected to who they are and what life is about, than many of the people I’ve poured drinks for. I’ve certainly learned that what might seem like the greater difference between two people, the color of their skin, is the least important aspect of it all.

I’m not at all upset I came back here. It was all kind of a whim, and for the last year and a half it has been a mostly positive experience. I got to spend time with old friends, I’ve made some new ones, a couple of whom I think will stay part of my life for a while (especially if I ever make it to Perth,) I got to learn more about myself, I’ve certainly become a better bartender and I think I’ve definitely become a better person. Most importantly I’ve learned a lot about home, and place, and being somewhere not because you can or you have to, but because you want to. There are very few minutes of my most recent time here I would trade in for anything, so few in fact that I cannot recall them. I guess in the life of a writer there are always new chapters to be written. I’m looking forward to writing the next one, but I’m damn glad I got a chance to write another New York chapter in my life. Like the song says, “I’ll always love you though New York.”

Click here to hear the song that says that. (Kind of touching and ironic date of making the video.)

January 9, 2017

For the last few years I’ve posted a year end video, sort of my own tongue-in-cheek State of the Union. Someone asked me this year if I was going to do one. I hadn’t really thought about it, and when I did I realized that not only did I not know what to say, I didn’t really feel like doing it at all. In fact, I discovered that I didn’t really feel like doing anything at all.

The last few months have been a challenge for me, and the most infuriating part of that is not knowing why. I am not the most action minded person on the planet, but I know enough about myself that when there’s something I need to accomplish I can suck it up and get it done. The problem here and now is not knowing what needs to be done because I’m not sure where the problem is. The closest I came to any of it was something I wrote in November:

The choices I’ve been making, the actions I’ve been taking, have let me know the darkness is coming.

So I will sit in the darkness and I will invite my demons, one at a time, and I will ask them why I have them in my life.

I will listen to their answers, I will respect their reasons, and then I will banish them, one at a time.

And one day I will step back into the light. I will see you then.

Overly dramatic nature aside (this is me, after all) it’s a pretty powerful call to action, but one I still haven’t done a damn thing about because I don’t know where to begin. I know that when you need to bail water, you just start bailing anywhere you can and eventually you’ll find yourself dry again, but there’s part of my brain that will not let go of the idea of finding the start of the thread and working my way along it. I know some of the reasoning behind that thought is the belief that the first issue I confront and overcome will start a domino topple and everything else will fall into place, the success of which I basically put on par with winning the lottery.

One of the bright spots of the last few months is that several people have come back into my life in various ways, and each has in their own way helped to shape the narrative of what I’m dealing, ultimately resulting in the recognition of dealing with what I want versus what I need. I’ve talked in the past about the difference between living in the moment versus for the moment, and that has started to emerge as the beginning of my thread.

To live in the moment is to be fully present in what is happening, to be engaged by whatever it is you’re doing, and to be an involved active participant in your life. To live for the moment is to simply live for the visceral pleasure of what is happening, and to work solely towards creating pleasurable moments. It’s kind of like the difference between losing weight by eating healthy, working out and living a healthy lifestyle versus going for liposuction. There is a shallowness and an emptiness that comes from such living, one that has left me wanting and unfulfilled.

The upshot of all of this is that I’ve decided it’s time for me to take that walk back through the darkness. It’s a journey that I have to undertake mostly on my own, because as well intentioned as some people may be, many people have their own intentions and agendas that may prove to be counter productive. Most people aren’t even aware of it; it is simply a result of who they are and how they live, and they offer their advice with the sincerity of wanting success and happiness for the person they are offering it to.

One of the biggest challenges for me is that I constantly look to others for validation and approval. I want to be liked, and my ego needs to be scratched. (Let’s face it, I didn’t go into acting just because I liked the costumes.) Of course, couple that with my wonderful self esteem and my inability to believe in myself and you have every therapists’ wet dream of a patient. I need to let all that go, the reliance on others for their approval and the skepticism of the compliments they give me. So to that end, I’ll be stepping away from the world for a while. I’m not going to do anything so drastic as to shut down my social media accounts, mostly because I know very few people read this and I’m sure some people would panic if they went to find me and I’d disappeared. I did one of these Facebook divorces before (as a friend of mine called it) and it was successful enough to be encouraging. In the meantime my email is still the same and my phone number is still the same (although, so is my aversion to talking on the phone, so there’s that.)

I just have to keep telling myself that the party will happen whether I am there or not, and I don’t always have to be the life of the party.

I’ll see you when I see you.


Click here for today’s soundtrack.

December 27, 2016

My first memory of Watership Down was seeing it on my brother’s bookshelf. The cover of that particular edition had a drawing of an ornate compass, one complete with ENE and SSW and so on. With the 16 points it looked much like the paddle wheel of a river steamboat. This to me made sense because with a title such as Watership Down I was sure it was about a boat sinking. Which is why the rabbits that were also on the cover made no sense to me.

Eventually I chose to not judge this particular book by it’s cover and actually read it, probably sometime during Junior High. To say i loved it would be an understatement, but I also can’t say what about it particularly that I loved because there was so many different elements. It’s an epic tale of survival and war, and yet it’s a personal story about a group of individuals brought together. It is full of allegory and parables, containing several stand alone stories that showed off just how creative Richard Adams, the author, was. It had it’s own made up language and yet spoke in accessible ways, making it easy to fall into the story immediately, And it had talking rabbits! How cool is that?

This was a book that I could put down, but not for long. There was a time I was rereading it once a year, and I was so wrapped up in it that during college I was serious when I told a friend that someday i wanted to create a live action version, possibly a film, probably a play. (This was during my “I’m an artiste!” phase so the idea of humans playing rabbits with human characteristics made perfect sense to me.) Every time I read the book I took more and more from it, and it began to influence who i was in ways I wasn’t even aware of, specifically in the type of writer I became.

I try to make my longer fiction cyclical, so that when the ending comes we’re somewhere near where we started, but also several miles further along. A perfect example is my novel Chasing Ghosts. The novel opens and closes with the main character in Penn Station waiting for the train. However the differences are enormous. At the beginning he is alone, running away, trying one last attempt to salvage what is left of his old dark life and convinced it isn’t going to work. At the end he is with his lover, and they are leaving to start a new life together in the sun. I never knew why it was important for me to write like this; mostly I told myself it was to show that the story was definitively over. Then a couple of years later I went and reread Watership Down, probably for the 15th time at this point.

The first line in the novel? “The primroses were over.”

The last line? “…where the primroses were beginning to bloom.”

In twenty something years of reading this book I had never made the connection. I certainly can’t speak for what his intention might have been, and the image of plants dying at the beginning – when the original warren was about to collapse – and blooming at the end – when the new warren has grown prosperous and happy – speaks volumes as a metaphor for the novel as well. But for me it was something that slipped into my head and never left. I judge other books by this same yardstick as well as my own, and feel subconsciously that I enjoy books more that have this wrap than those who don’t. And I know I’m not the only author who has been influenced by this book. Stephen King cites it several times in his own epic The Stand.

I’ve never read anything else by Richard Adams; he’s only written a few other novels and frankly I’m afraid that no matter how good any of them are I will unfairly hold them up against Watership Down. Ultimately that is a disservice to me and what I might be enjoying, not to mention to his estate and the few extra pounds in royalties they’re missing out on. But I also think the reason certain things touch us is because of when they touch us, reaching us during a time in our lives where we are more open to influence and susceptible to suggestion.

Not to be late to the bandwagon, but 2016 has been a shit year for celebrities dying. Richard Adams may be no celebrity, but as I look back at the list of people lost this year (and let’s face it it’s pretty hard to remember them all) as much joy and pleasure and entertainment and great memories many of them have brought into my life, none have been more important in not just shaping what I have become as I’ve grown up, but even how I go about doing it.

“My heart has joined the Thousand, because my friend stopped running today.”

I could tell you what that means, specifically what the Thousand represents, but I’d rather you read the book.

R.I.P. Richard Adams.

September 22, 2016

I have an anxiety about being late that falls squarely between the absurd and the paranoid. This is something that dates back to my childhood. My father was one of those people that believed if you weren’t fifteen minutes early for something you were late. Naturally this resulted in spending lots of time sitting in empty churches before even the choir arrived, wandering aimlessly around the field waiting for the rest of the team to show up for practice – during those few days I actually played organized sports – and finding ways to kill time in the lobby of a movie theater when we weren’t allowed to play video games or have snacks from the concession stand,  a particularly challenging experience for a kid as restless, impatient and unfocused as I wa…am.

(In our defense, my brother and I would pass the time by playing the Rock & Roll name game. Simply explained, a person would name a band or artist, and the other person would have to name another one whose first letter was the last letter of the previously named band. Whoever got to say Aerosmith usually won.)

This has carried over into my adult years. On days when I don’t have anything to do before work but simply go to work, I still typically get there 20-30 minutes early. And if there are other circumstances, like having to run an errand in the city, or simply not trusting that the person who worked before me did a good job restocking the bar (a far too common occurrence with one of my co-workers) I’ll find myself arriving stupidly early. Naturally when that happens I berate myself, thinking of all the things I could have done with the extra time at home. (Like play another game of solitaire on the computer.)

A couple of weeks ago this happened like it always does. I left ridiculously early which means the subway showed up right as I got to the station. My one errand took far less time than I expected, and now I had more than an hour to kill before work. With nothing else coming to mind I decided to at least take a long walk to work from where I was, exploring a few blocks I don’t normally see. Funny thing was I never made it more than about a hundred yards.

On the north side of 51st street, between 2nd and 3rd avenue, there’s a little pocket park-like setting. This isn’t one of the many little micro-parks the city puts up in odd spaces where streets don’t quite match up perfectly, but rather a community space that many buildings are required to have in turn for being allowed to build bigger, taller, higher, what have you. Some of these buildings adhere to the letter of the law if not the spirit, calling their enclosed entryways a “public atrium.” Yes, they are quite large and spacious, but considering the entire space is still enclosed (albeit in glass) it still leaves a person with the feeling that they are trespassing.

The space I discovered was quite the opposite. It is completely open, with several different sitting levels, plenty of chairs and tables to sit at, numerous trees for shade and color and, most noticeably, a waterfall.

There is something about a waterfall that is both powerful and nurturing at the same time. The repetitive notion and white noise of the cascading is immediately soothing, and even in a situation like this one, the sight and the sound of it was enough to not just block out the city but seemingly remove it completely. For a few minutes I just sat and let the inherent simplicity of it all wash over me (figuratively, not literally. I did have to go to work still, and anyway I’m sure whoever owned this property frowned on frolicking in the water.) After a while my attention started to wander and I began watching the other people watch the water.

The microcosm of who i saw there was a pretty perfect slice of the humanity that makes up this city. There were people in suits from the nearby offices, little children being watched over by parents or nannies, guys in the unmistakable attire of kitchen workers, whites still clean letting me know they too were on their way to work, everybody with almost no two skin tones alike. I kept switching my focus from the waterfall to the people who the waterfall drew in and back again, until I realized I needed to get moving to work.

I’m never going to not panic about being late. It’s as much a part of who I am as my blue eyes and stupid sense of humor are. And I don’t think I will ever completely stop being annoyed with myself for getting places ridiculously early and then feeling foolish as I try to find someway to pass the time. Best I can do is take solace in the fact that sometimes being early can be a good thing, because it gives you a chance to find something you might not have otherwise. If I didn’t have the time, I would never have turned that way down the street.

Since I am still perpetually early, I end up visiting this park a couple times a week. I suppose the same thing will happen today. We can’t always change how we do things, but we always have the power to change how we adapt to them, and sometimes that is change enough.

September 13, 2016

About fifteen years ago I got a new job. I was living in Hartford, CT at the time and was hired to be the General Manager of a restaurant in Stamford. This made sense to me on many levels. The woman I was seeing at the time lived in Stamford, and the restaurant I was hired by had it’s original location in Hartford, so I would do most of my training there before moving down. Salary was negotiated, benefits were explained and all the paperwork was filled out, and I was ready to report to my first day of work. Like most new jobs, it started on a Monday.

Monday, September 10th, 2001 to be precise.

Training went on pretty much as scheduled, although as anyone who was alive then could attest to, everything was done with this palpable sense of dread hanging over it – “This is how you fry calamari, and I can’t wrap my head around what happened. I’ll be the first to admit that my mind was hardly in the game and my approach to the training was half hearted at best. Some of this was certainly due to the fact that I found it odd I would train here and not at the location I would be running (something that made far more sense once I got to my location and saw how poorly it was being run and how little training I would actually get there) but most of it was the same reason I think everyone who wasn’t a first responder at the site was doing things halfheartedly: suddenly nothing made sense anymore, what was going to happen next, why had this happened at all.

Thursday of that week I was training in the kitchen. It was a particularly slow night, as most nights were in the first few weeks after the attack, and after three hours of doing almost nothing and learning even less, I decided to call it quits. My buddy Johnny was (and still is) tending bar at a place called the Spigot, and I decided I would stop by and have a few beers with him.

When I say that the Spigot is just another neighborhood bar, I mean that in the greatest sense possible. There is really nothing to distinguish it from many other bars – enough televisions to watch all the football games, dart boards in the corner, a jukebox, Golden Tee and Megatouch machines – but it was the type of place people would still come and visit years after they left the neighborhood. My future landlord (when I moved back years later) bought the house he did because it was walking distance to the bar. In the winter, when storms made the roads treacherous, you’d lose track trying to count all the sets of footprints from people walking there. Hell, I was there one Saturday afternoon when an entire wedding party showed up between the ceremony and the reception because the Spigot was where the couple met.

When I got there that Thursday evening, the bar had a decent crowd, but you would never know by the lack of noise in the place. Conversations, if they were happening at all were muted and stilted. Worse was the fact that it seemed like you couldn’t do precisely was what people went to bars to do: escape. At that point even ESPN and other sports networks were showing coverage of ground zero, channeling the feed from their parent companies. Those televisions that were used to bring pleasure and happiness to people now served as a dark reminder of the strange new world we were living in. The only heartbreak they were supposed to bring us was our team losing in the last seconds.

Johnny did manage to find one station that wasn’t focused on the events. ESPN Classic was still showing it’s regular programming, although to this day I believe they might have made some small switch. For those of you who don’t know, ESPN is located in Bristol, CT, maybe 20 minutes from Hartford. I’ve even seen some of the on air talent drinking at the Spigot. The game they were showing that night was the Hartford Whalers against the Boston Bruins.

Johnny had the game on one of the televisions, right near the end where he would sit when he wasn’t serving customers, which naturally made it the end I would sit at. I honestly don’t know if he could have put it on more televisions because as morbid as it was, people seemed to need to see what was happening in real time. It was more than just watching a train wreck and being unable to turn away. This was a need for people to find some answers, get some reassurance. This event was beyond what most people would comprehend, and I’ll argue that in those dark days even the people with the strongest faith had a hard time finding answers, much less solace.

But a funny thing would happen when people who were sitting at the tables would come up for a drink. Naturally they would approach the end of the bar Johnny and I were at, and as he made their drink or poured their beer, their eyes would be drawn to the television. There they would see the familiar colors and uniforms of the beloved Whalers, who even then were a thousand miles down the road doing business as the Carolina Hurricanes. The customers would get their drinks and pay for it, but still stand there for a couple of minutes watching the game.

Did it provide answers, clear up the confusion? Not remotely. But what it did was give these people (myself included) a bit of a respite. It was a time capsule, back to not only when the Whale called Hartford home, but before people flew planes into buildings, before the world would be turned upside down, before we no longer knew who our enemy was. Sometimes the customers would talk to us, about having gone to games at the Civic Center, of seeing Gordie Howe play, of how they grew up watching them and teaching their kids to love the Whale, but mostly they were silent, just experiencing a little break from the insanity that was the new reality for a few minutes before going back to their table.

Moments of grief, whether they are as grand as 9/11 or as personal as the loss of a loved one, cause us to ask many forms of the same question: why? We each in our own ways try to find answers, all to varying degrees of success or failure, but even the best answers I don’t think really do the job completely, because the loss is always going to be there. There will always be a Before and an After. We are all changed in some immutable ways that can never be unchanged, not matter how complete an answer we find. Sometimes the only thing you can do is to find a way to get back to the Before, to be reminded that things were once okay and that they will be again, if only for a few moments. That game probably did as much as anything else to help the few people who saw it that day come to some sort of terms with the new After they were living in.

And the best part about it was that it was a game the Whalers won.

Bonus track: Even if you’re not from Hartford or don’t follow hockey, there’s still a good chance you’ve heard THIS SONG.


September 6, 2016

Now is the autumn of our…of our…well, I’ll leave the seasonal metaphors to Shakespeare, but now begins one of those strange times where our perception and the calendar of society doesn’t quite match up with the universe around us. Summer starts June 20th or so and not on Memorial Day, the new year begins, well that’s somewhat debatable – I guess you can choose whichever solstice or equinox you like best but it really isn’t January 1st, and summer is still with us for a few more weeks and has not ended just because Labor Day has come and gone. Still, in relation to the other arbitrary markings of the passing year and changing seasons this one seems to resonate more than most.

Personally I believe this happens because we were conditioned for it through our primary schooling. All the way through high school, the school year typically began right around Labor Day. Memorial Day would happen but usually there were still a few weeks more of schooling, and the midway point of the year always seemed to happen sometime in late January or early February, This makes sense if you think about. With a school year that covered close to ten months of the calendar year, trying to make the Christmas break serve as the halfway mark would create a disproportionately unbalanced curriculum.

So Labor Day became the point where things started anew. This is something that seems to stay with people as we become adults. We scramble to get our vacations in before August is over, even though the temperatures and weather conditions that we prize so highly can be counted on sticking around usually into early October. Granted, for many people this is a reality because their own kids are on the schedule we once held, so they don’t have the freedom to come and go as they choose, but that isn’t the only example of the before and after that the first Monday of September brings with it.

Many businesses that can offer their employees half days on Friday throughout the summer, but expect them to be around all day once the calendar turns. Logically it makes no sense other than to celebrate summer as the time of reduced expectations and seasonal fun. I mean, if a business can afford to reduce their hours then, surely it can do so the rest of the year. Personally I think it’s more than that. It’s certainly something that I have felt in how I approach my own life and I think it goes back to the conditioning we received through our schooling years, and possibly something even more instinctual than that.

Now is the time for renewed focus on achievement. Now is also the time that we respect the noticeably shorter days and the approach of winter. Central heating, Gore-Tex and hot chocolate aside, we still dread the coming cold dark days as something that must be endured and so we work harder, becoming more productive as if we were squirrels storing our nuts for the winter. We feel a primordial urge to prepare ourselves and since that no longer means harvesting crops (well at least not for most of us) and finding better shelter (once again, not all of us) we focus that energy into our work.

For me I noticed something about myself that seemed to hold true about how I worked creatively, at least until I spent four consecutive years in the reasonably unseasonable Key West. My work and my growth mirrored the seasons. In the fall I would be diligent, creating, growing, doing some of my strongest work and raising myself to the next level. In the winter I would “hibernate” not necessarily doing too much in the way of productivity and growth but rather reflecting on the work I’d been doing leading up to it. When spring would come around that reflection would prove to be the seeds that turned into action, and I would find myself refining and solidifying the work I’d accomplished in the fall. Finally summer was, as it always had been, a time for letting all of that go, recharging my batteries, not concerning myself too much with anything outside of the visceral and enjoyable. Once summer vacation, always summer vacation.

I know when I go to work tonight no matter how busy we may or may not be, the topic of conversation among the customers will revolve around two things: what they did that summer and what prospects their work holds for them in the fall. Without thinking about it or even trying to, they will have mentally switched gears. Over the next several weeks this change will  become even more noticeable, and even though there will be some lingering resentment at the ending of summer, there will be a continued happy acceptance of the new season. (This I’m sure to see most frequently on Saturday afternoons, when people will be watching college football and cheerfully recounting great memories of autumn weekends and all that comes with them.)

I’d even be willing to bet that most people will not even notice when summer actually ends. There will of course be notifications on the news and online – “Today the autumnal equinox will happen at such and such a time” – but between the hoopla that surrounds Labor Day, the changing weather patterns (these last few years I’ve been up north it seems like each season is showing up later and sticking around longer) and the fact that most people have already traded their shorts and sundresses for jeans and sweaters, 10:41 am September 22nd will come and go with nobody knowing the difference.

I know that I probably won’t notice it. Whether I want to or not my habits already tell me I’ll have switched gears and found a different focus on what I’m doing and how I’m living. It isn’t even something I think about or choose. It just simply is. Even the conditional things if you will, the choices I make that have very little direct influence on my creative work, will have a different set of priorities, and the amount of effort I’d have to put into proving myself wrong, well, it simply won’t be worth the effort. In fact, as the season changes, there is really only one thing I have to do that requires conscious effort and isn’t just a instinctual conditioned response:

I need to buy more socks.

September 2, 2016

Here’s how I know I’m in a bad way.

I got home not too long ago and went to turn on my fan. I live in a small apartment so all I need to cool the place is a small oscillating fan. If I know I’m going to be in the same place I set it so it doesn’t oscillate. I turned the fan on and was ready to pull up the little stopper doohickey so it wouldn’t oscillate. When it started, it first turned in the opposite direction I needed it to, and my thought was “This is how my life is going these days.”

Except it’s not. Not by a long shot.

I had just gotten home from a trip to Washington DC where, mostly through the largess of a great friend I hadn’t seen in a long time I got to see an epic Bruce Springsteen concert where he played several deep cuts off of my favorite album of his. The week prior (to the day) I was out at Jones Beach to see Jimmy Buffett also with several close friends, including one who has been one of my best friends for more than two dozen years. And this coming Monday, also through the generosity of a friend, I’ll be at Yankee Stadium in great seats, hopefully watching (I can’t believe I’m saying this but it’s what would be best for the Red Sox during their playoff run) the Yankees win. Any one of these things on their own would be a great experience. All combined in a 12 day stretch is a pretty incredible run. And yet I let a fan determine how I felt.

Keep in mind that a mis-oscillating fan is nowhere near as traumatic as a pen in the clothes dryer – and if the biggest problem a person has in their life is a fan that first goes right when they wanted it to go left that person obviously has a pretty good life and they need to shut the fuck up – but it’s very symptomatic of what goes through the mind of a person with depression. It doesn’t matter how good anything is, there will always be something bad to point out. All of this helps me categorize what’s going on in three categories that helps me figure out why I am where I am.

1) There are certain things that are mostly out of my control. Right now work is slow and I’m at a standstill on the novel. Even though the few problems I’ve had with my job have been big problems, I truly like my job. To a certain degree, between the sense of stability it gives me by forcing a schedule on me and allowing me the opportunity to show off skills I know I have, the job is one of the best things in my life. But this is the slowest time of the year, as reflected in my wallet, and that can help build pressure with financial concerns that fuel the depression. As for the novel, the creative part is over. Now is the mind-numbingly dull part of editing, formatting, submitting and reviewing that does not come close to offering the same rewards spiritually and mentally that the creative process does.

2) There are certain things I could be doing that I’m not. I can’t do much about work: it’s slow and it sucks. But I can be doing creative work on other stuff. There is the novel I started last November that needs to be finished, plus the the third installment of the Tricky Dick series I will eventually need to get started on. Plus there are other things I could be doing, things I have tried in the past (meditation) and things I have thought about (taking a class in philosophy) that could be put to use in my life, helping to ground me, give me a new perspective or just fill the time.

3) There are certain things I am doing that I shouldn’t, at least not to the level I am. If you’re reading this than you know me, and if you know me then you know what I’m talking about, so there isn’t a whole lot of need to go into further detail. Suffice it to say sometimes the easy choice isn’t the best one, but for the moment you’re in it feels like the best choice, because it has with it, at those moments, the feeling of comfort and security, because it is a known entity.

Now it’s easy and logical to look at this and say “Well if you do A, B and stop doing C, then you’ll get the results you’re looking for.” That is actually a mostly true statement, from a logical viewpoint. Problem is if depression got a report card it would come home saying “does not play well with others, especially logic.” I know all these things to be true, I just don’t know how you convince your own warped and damaged mind that these are best things to do. To put it in comical terms I sometimes think my mind is nothing more than an endless field full of infinite cats and I’m just trying to herd them all.

And make no mistake this is not a plea for sympathy or a cry for help. Like I said I know my fan is no pen and my apartment is no dryer. I know there will be some situational things that will happen – work getting busier and the novel actually getting released – that will help create a more stable base for me to deal with the rest of my issues. (We can deal with my low self esteem and belief that the novel will suck and I’m a failure in November when it actually comes out.) And if depression has taught me anything it is that it operates on a series of highs and lows, and even though you may be doing all the right things (which isn’t to say I am) you may still find yourself dealing with one of the low periods. I know the low period will end.

I just wish I knew when.