Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.
Ronald Reagan

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mumbley Peg

Tommy spat on the whetstone and worked the edge of his knife in a smooth circular motion.   He sat on the top step of his front porch in silence as he listened to Angelo and old Byron.   Byron sat on the bottom steps, his head hung low between the knees of his lanky legs.   Angelo was standing on the lawn, repeatedly throwing a knife in the dirt and then retrieving it, while cursing and gesticulating wildly, "This is for the judge, this is for the parole board," he repeated the mantra over and over.

“Why they do that…why they let that animal out?”  Old Byron asked of no one, shaking his head from side to side.

“This is what he needs,” Angelo waved his long blade in the air, “right Tommy?”

Tommy did not respond or lift his head.  He continued to sharpen his knife.  A police car slowed to a stop in front of the house.

“Hey Riley, up for some mumbley peg?”  Angelo greeted the officer with a cheerful familiarity.

“Nah, those days are gone, Ange,” Riley replied,  “I ain’t allowed to hang with you dagos no more.  “Especially with those new tattoos, ‘Watchmen,’ what the hell is that, some kind of gang or something?”
 Riley extended a greeting to Tommy and Byron.  Old Byron nodded his head, Tommy lifted his to reveal his steel eyes, his face was expressionless, “They just found William Hall,” Riley continued,  “He was in Emmet Alley, with a shiv in his neck, have you guys heard anything?” 

“Violent neighborhood ain’t it Riley?”  Angelo smirked and fondled his knife for Riley to see.

Riley turned to Byron, “Sorry to have to talk about this Byron.”

Byron sat silently, covering his face with his large black hands.  Billy Hall had attacked, raped, and beaten Byron’s granddaughter five years ago.  He was let out of prison on parole 2 days prior to this meeting.  Annie was six years old at the time; she survived the attack but to this day had not recovered from the physical and mental trauma, nor had her family.

Riley turned to Tommy, “Do you know anything about this Tommy?”

Tommy calmly placed his knife and whetstone down and stared at the fleshy face of the policeman.    A vivid image flashed through Tommy’s mind of Billy Hall being grabbed from behind by his hair, a shiv thrust deep into the side of his neck, his face being beaten against the brick wall, the shiv held tightly to complete its internal justice, the lifeless body let to fall to the ground.   “Let me ask you something Riley, why did you become a cop?”

“You know me Tommy, I always wanted to help people,” Riley said.

“Who you helping now?”  Tommy asked.

Riley paled, since they were children, Tommy had always intimidated Riley and his voice broke, "I just had to ask, Tommy."  He returned to his car and drove off.  

 Angelo sat down next to old Byron and placed his arm around the old man’s shoulders.  “It’s over now Byron,” Angelo said, “your family is our family.”

Back at the precinct station Riley sat at his desk deep in thought.  He reached in his bottom drawer and pulled out an old American-Italian dictionary.  Scrolling down, next to the word watchman, he found the translation: vigilante.

The Forgotten Celebrity

I was standing in line at the grocery store the other day.  There was a large lady in front of me with curlers and a cart full of processed food.  I felt sorry for her ankles.  So I had time to glance at all the magazines they place at impulse level.  It's all about celebrities these days.  Celebrities are people that are famous.  I'm not certain what the criteria are for fame, I mean the numbers.  How many people have to know you're alive to be considered famous?  Are all famous people also celebrities?  Probably not, I think celebrity is limited to entertainment, mostly.  Anyway I really don't care.  What I care about is Bigfoot.  Before it became legal to write about entertainers gaining weight or getting pregnant, the National Inquirer and others would publish information about Bigfoot.  They not only listed sightings and encounters, but included personal information as well, such as the time Bigfoot gave birth to an alien child.  I really miss those articles.  Not only were they interesting, but they kept the public informed on current locations and behaviors of Bigfoot.  Now I never know when, or where Bigfoot will appear, or how he will act.  I don't have anything against celebrities, I just think it was thoughtless and insensitive to abandon Bigfoot like he was nothing but a fantasy.  It's just wrong.   

Saturday, May 10, 2014

June 1948

The morning sun was still a lazy pink haze in the eastern sky when she pushed away from the dock and rowed a short way into deeper water.  Several vigorous pulls started the Mercury outboard, and the lady disappeared into the morning mist; motoring out of the shallow bay, out to the waters of Lake Ontario for a day of fishing. 
The night rain had cooled the air that was now lifting the mist off the still waters of the bay.  The lady surveyed the array of wooden boats that lingered in the shallow water of their slips.  After paying the marina the day rental, she wisely chose the boat with the least leakage, for they all leaked.  She wore a light quilted jacket against the morning chill, and dungaree pants with flannel inside; the cuffs were rolled up exposing the colorful lining.  A kerchief wrapped her head and was tied tightly under her chin, framing her tanned countenance. 

She made her way down the rickety dock, carrying an outboard motor in one hand.  The other hand grasped a basket that held an infant generously wrapped in blankets.  She placed the baby in the bow of the boat, hoisted the motor into the boat and bolted it to the stern.  She returned to her car to gather fishing poles, bait, a thermos of coffee, and the reserve gas can.

This was her domain.  She was at home on the vast inland sea.  She loved the water and she loved to fish.   The vagaries of wind and waves did not frighten her. And she would travel in small boats on that great lake to places few lone men and no women would venture, while in her solitude, save the little child in the basket, rocking in the bow of the boat. 

The men at the marina would shake their heads and wonder at the lone woman and her infant in the basket so far out to sea, all alone.  At the end of the day she would return to the marina with a stringer full of fish, while many of the men would return empty handed.  Then over their beer they would talk about the lady with the baby who ventured out to the big lake alone and returned always with fish. 

But there would be no acrimony in their talk, no derisive tones would their inflection reveal.  They admired and respected the lady.   For she possessed a pleasant nature, without haughtiness or brazen pride, with a quietude and kindliness that made her courageous watery treks even more admirable to the men who knew the lake. They knew its propensity for rage and its uncompromising impetuosity.
But the lady was adept at handling a small craft.  She could row a straight and true course, meet large waves at just the right angle, and bring a boat to dock in a smooth and graceful manner.  And she could sense the eminent changes in the weather as her eyes darted about the skies and her face lifted to feel the wind. 

But it was not her ability to catch fish, nor her handling of watercraft, or her knowledge of the weather that the men admired.  It was her freedom; they admired the grace and dignity with which she pursued the things she loved.
She was a truly liberated woman.  A liberation that grew out of love, the love of fishing and water.  She harbored a sense of freedom that grew from inside her and all around her.   Like all heroes, she was able to overcome a force greater than herself.  And like all heroes, she was driven by love; love of life, a life she had chosen.  Her freedom was not wrangled forcibly from the clutches of oppressors with masculine posturing, but was gently gathered up through feminine determination and perseverance.

I learned all I needed to learn about life from this lady, my hero.  I learned to appreciate the beauty of nature; to embrace the challenges that lie within and without; and to always follow my dreams.  But mostly she taught me a lot about women, and a lot about freedom.  You see, I was that little baby, in the basket, in the bow of the boat.


Friday, March 28, 2014


Waldo sat in his recliner, watching television, drinking a bottle of beer, and having a cigarette.  This was his norm, his motif, and he was content.  Suddenly Waldo felt a little nausea, he wondered if it was the food at the Burger Palace, maybe those extra French fries he had, they were pretty greasy.  He reached for his beer but a sharp pain flashed down his left arm.   The pain persisted as he became short of breath and his chest began to feel like a heavy weight was pressing against it.  Oh my God, Waldo thought, I am having a heart attack.  He reached for his cell phone and dialed 911, in gasps he pleaded for help.

At the hospital Waldo poured over required forms while sweating profusely, hunched over with chest pain, his left arm paralyzed.  Then he sat there waiting, he could barely breath.  He thought, this is it, this is the end of me, I am going to die, right here, right now.  A resident came and performed a quick screening of Waldo’s condition and gathered a personal history.   The resident left and Waldo waited.  In time, a lady with the forms returned.

“I’m sorry sir, she said, “we will not be able to treat you.  Your insurance will not cover this condition.”

“No…please…I have coverage,” Waldo gasped, “Please, I need help.”

“Yes sir, you have insurance, but under the new Democare law, your insurance company is not required to pay for self-imposed pathologies.”

“What…what, I don’t understand…there must be a mistake.”  Waldo’s speech was halting, he was lying on his side clutching his chest, the gurney was wet with perspiration.

“I am sorry sir, but according to our evaluation, your personal history, and general observation, your condition is clearly self inflicted, the hospital will not be reimbursed for any treatment we might provide,” She sniffed.

“But no…I didn’t do this…I was just sitting there…please, please help me.”  Waldo was terrified.

“Well sir, that is most likely the problem, you were ‘just sitting there.’  You are morbidly obese, you consume alcohol on a daily basis, and you smoke a pack of cigarettes a day.  These factors indicate that you have actually  brought this upon yourself.  And under the new Democare law, conditions such as obesity, alcoholism, and  smoking-related disorders are not covered.”

“Please…please, I will pay later, by the month…little by little...please help me…”  Waldo’s voice was getting weak.

“Well, actually sir our computer did a quick credit check, I’m afraid we can not justify installment payments at this time.  Now if you don’t mind we really need this gurney, there is an accident victim coming in.”

Waldo barely made it to his feet and holding on to the wall for support, limped down the hall and out to the parking lot.  He let go of his left arm just long enough to light a cigarette.   Waldo sat down on a curb and lifted his head toward the stars.  He thought that soon he would be among them.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Old Tom

Back in the early 1970s I worked with a guy named Tom.  We worked in the carpenter's union and would ride together into the city each day.  Tom was a quiet, good natured guy in his 50s, of Italian decent and a Catholic.  He was a World War II veteran who was wounded and captured at the Battle of the Bulge.  A sober and true personality; he was of that "aw-shucks" generation who would not hesitate to defend his country, or open a door for a lady.  Tom was an all around decent guy, not given to sarcasm or enmity, nor cheap flattery or deception; the kind of guy you could depend on.
 One day while driving to work I mentioned a movie I had watched the night before; "Agnes of God."  It is a true story of a Catholic nun who gave birth and then murdered and buried the child.  Apparently she had sex with a gardener or workman.  After much sparing and bantering between police and church authorities, the nun was transferred to another diocese.  I mentioned to Tom how upset I was at the nun getting away with murder.
Tom didn't comment immediately.  He stared out the window and after a while began to speak.  He told me that he was in the combat corps during the war, in France.   The combat corps duties involve construction projects.  This particular project was a road and approach to a bridge to be built across a small river.  The excavation for the road took the crew behind an old convent.  As they were working, they suddenly unearthed a small skeleton, the remains of an infant.  As they continued to work they found more little skeletons, soon there were dozens.  The commanding officer ordered the work suspended and the French authorities were notified.  Crews were brought in to dig the bodies up and transfer them elsewhere.  That is all he said.  Tom was still staring out the window, neither of us said another word the rest of the ride in to work. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Deep Blue Dreams

 Deep Blue Dreams
 Every summer on every available evening Ellie sat at the end of the pier at Oswego Harbor and watched the sailboats come and go.  Her eyes followed the tall white sails as they filled with wind, and pitched to the rhythm of the waves.  She thought that there was nothing quite as graceful or as beautiful as a sailboat.  Every summer she swore that she would someday learn to sail.   But twenty summers would come and go before Ellie would fulfill her dream. 

We had been dating only a few weeks when I told Ellie that I had purchased a sailboat.  Her eyes lit up and her jaw dropped and she flushed with excitement.  “You’re kidding, I love sailing!”   She gushed.

I was heretofore unaware of Ellie’s long flirtation with sailing, but as happenstance would have it, my status was immediately elevated to rock star.  I had purchased the sloop from an old salt down on Seneca Lake and I had to sail it up to Oswego before winter.  I asked Ellie to come with me on the three-day cruise.  She, of course, was thrilled.

As we drove up to the dock Ellie emitted a squeal of excitement, burst from the truck, and ran toward the wharf.  I went to the back of the truck and started loading my body with gear; sea-bags of clothes, cooler, rain gear, and possibles.   I could hear the ringing of Ellie’s ecstasy, “I love it,” she cried, “What a beautiful boat!”

As I approached the dock, laden with gear draped over my back and shoulders, and hanging from my arms, I could see Ellie running up and down the decks; fore to aft; port to starboard, twirling around the mast. I understood why she loved this boat so much; it was a new forty-foot Tayana luxury yacht, beautifully appointed with sparkling teak and loaded with virtually every available option.  It was truly a magnificent yacht.  Only it wasn’t mine. 

My boat was in the next slip.  Looking all of her thirty-two years, the old sloop proudly displayed a medley of chalky paint, duct tape, and several annual rings of caulking around the ports.   The aging actress showed various shades of white touch-up paint on her more delicate parts.

Ellie was at the helm of the elegant Tayana wildly jerking the wheel side to side like a 5 year-old left in the family car.   I was trying to gain her attention to break the news when the owner emerged from the cabin brandishing a handgun and threatening to ventilate poor Ellie.  She stopped turning the steering wheel and thrust her arms straight into the air, “Larry, we’re being robbed!” she yelled.

“No!  Wrong boat,” My voiced squeaked, barely audible.  Starting toward the yacht, I dropped the gear on the dock.  Two beer cans rolled in the direction of the water, I stopped, and thought about it, but my passion to save Ellie prevailed.  “Wait, don’t shoot; wrong boat, ” I waved my arms to the yachtsman.  Ellie then looked at me; looked at my boat; and looked back at the owner.  A bewildered look came over her face.   I had seen that look before,  on my mother’s face the day my dog bit grandma. 

In her attempt the escape, Ellie’s ankle got tangled in a halyard line.  The owner grabbed her other ankle, threatening to call the police.  Now Ellie was suspended half on the yacht, half on the dock.  I grabbed Ellie’s arms, trying to extricate her from the tangles of the halyard, and the clutches of the angry yachtsman.  Ellie was screaming.  The owner tightened his grasp, still clutching the gun.  He was growling.  I was pleading.

Ellie was suspended like Superman from all four extremities, her body straddling the boat and the dock.  The yachtsman growled.  Ellie screamed.  I pleaded.

Just then the owner’s wife stuck her head out of the cabin, “ Oh, you’ve invited some friends to dinner dear, how nice.” 

We all stopped, turned and looked at her, a woman of a certain age with heavy mascara and ruby red lipstick, she reminded me of my boat.  Ellie hit the dock with a thud.  The distraction gave me the opportunity to untangle her leg and drag her to safety.   

The grumbling yachtsman and his wife retreated to their cabin.  Ellie sat on the dock sobbing.  I dove for a teetering beer can in time to save it from the dockside depths.  All was well for the moment.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”  Ellie sobbed.

“I was just getting around to it when…”

“I could have been killed,” Ellie proclaimed, her voice handing down my indictment.

My tone waxed repentant, “Well, they say sailing can be dangerous,” I confessed.

She shot a stinging glance at me then turned her attention to the little sloop, contentedly bobbing in its slip.  “So this is your boat?”  She asked, not without a hint of disappointment.

“Well, I have to admit she is a lady with a past, but I plan to fix her up like new.”  Hidden in my sea bag were duct tape, touch-up paint, and caulk. 

“Where are the sails?”  Ellie inquired.  The sobbing had abated and she was slowly edging her way toward the boat.  “Why is the mast laying down like that?”

“Well, I sent the sails out to be cleaned.”  I said.

“You mean I waited all my life to sail, and now they’re at the cleaner’s?  Like a suit?”

“Well, I really hadn’t thought of it in quite that way…” I stammered.

“How are we supposed to sail, with no sails?”  The legitimate question sprang from her lips while she shrugged her shoulders.

I shrugged mine too; my head lowered.  “We can’t sail through the Erie Canal, we have to use the motor.”  My voice was getting smaller; my guilt was getting larger; my rock star status was diminishing.

Another summer had come and gone, and Ellie, sitting on the dock, still dreamed of sailing.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Hunter

  Jamie lay by the little brook listening to the small swirls of turbulence as the water rushed over and around the rocks.  After the dry summer, the previous night’s rain had the creek singing once more.    Jamie had an extraordinary gift of listening.   The sounds naturally blended to his ear like a symphony.  Sound was his medium.  With sound he could paint the wind bending the grass, blend in the color of rustling leaves, and accent the little creatures that scurry along the forest floor.

A variety of birds found their way into his masterpiece; he identified each by their unique song.  He claimed that his hearing was not so much better than others; it was just that he heard more out of the sounds, the details that normally went unnoticed by those who possessed the dominant sense of sight. 

Jamie also had an acute sense of touch. He could feel the wind on his face,  knowing the direction it was blowing from and whether it held the promise of rain.   And he possessed an uncanny gift for identifying things with his hands.  But most of all he loved the feel of the sun on his face. 

Lying on his back with his hands behind his head he allowed the full brightness of the mid-day sun to bathe his youthful countenance.  Staring up at the sky, on a bright sunny day, Jamie could just barely detect a hint of light, his only moments of respite from a world of darkness. 

Blind since birth, Jamie met the exigencies of life with resolve.  His sovereignty in everyday life skills was owed to his parents, who disallowed any pity or indulgence.  His constant companion and best friend, Pal, gave him the eyes that nature had deprived.  Pal was a Yellow Lab, and like most of his breed, was a devout anthromorph.  Endowed with human-like sensibility, he shared Jamie’s quiet times lying close beside him and laying his paw across the boy’s lap.  And like the time Jamie’s mother passed, a shy whimper might escape his throat.  He would even sit and listen, tilting his head side to side, straining to comprehend the stories Jamie’s grandfather would tell on Saturday nights.  The boy and the dog went everywhere together, roaming the fields of the farm and the backwoods along the creek.   

This place was a favorite destination, a long walk down an abandoned farm road where it crossed the little brook over an old culvert.  Here Jamie spent many quiet times musing over the sounds of the surrounding woods, the loss of his mother, or his imminent future as a blind adult.  He often confided in the loyal canine, which would sit and listen and gaze upon the boy like a Sunday worshipper.  But presently Pal was off terrorizing a rabbit that had dared to venture into the clearing while the vigilant canine was on watch. 

As the dog emerged from the brush he detected a distant sound.  Then Jamie heard it, a vehicle bouncing down the old farm road.  It was an old pickup truck, Jamie knew from the sound of rusted springs, and the rattling of body in the process of separating from it’s frame, an all too common occurrence in this farm country, which was rife with old pickups.  Pal sat, ears erect and squared the way Labs do, hyper-vigilant to the approaching noise.   It was rare to see a vehicle on this old road, but it was early in the hunting season and it might be someone after squirrel or rabbit; it was much too early for deer.  Jamie and the dog listened as the noisy vehicle came closer.

Finally the truck bounced over the culvert and slowed to a stop.  Jamie heard the creak of old hinges and the rattled closing of an elderly truck door.  Pal stiffened and a low growl emerged from deep in his throat.  

“Hello there, seen any rabbits?”  A friendly voice rang out.

Jamie had guessed the truck most likely carried one of the locals.  But he did not recognize the voice.  “Well, I can’t see anything, but I think my dog was chasing one around a while ago,” Jamie offered.

The stranger was carrying a shotgun over his shoulder.  He walked closer to Jamie.  His head thrust forward and a quizzical look came to his eyes, “Excuse me, but are you blind, kid?”

“Yes, all my life, I was born this way.”  Jamie noted a sympathetic tone in the stranger’s voice that put him more at ease.

“Well how in the world did you get way out here in these woods?” The stranger asked.

“Its my dog, Pal, he helps me, he knows every inch of these woods, he’s my eyes.”  Jamie proudly proclaimed.

“Well he is a real good lookin’ dog, I gotta say.”

“Thanks mister, you can pet him if you want,” Jamie offered.

“Oh, no thanks,” the stranger waved the offer off, “I like dogs but I was bit one time so now I’m careful about dogs.”

“Well, Pal would never hurt anyone, but I understand how you feel, that’s fine.  My name is Jamie, are you from around here?”

“No, my name is Nem, I live in the city.  I was just driving around and saw this old road and it looked like a good place to hunt.”

The two fell into a talk about hunting.  Jamie related something his father had told him about rabbit hunting; that you needed a good dog to get rabbits these days.  Pal was a good dog, but he was not the right dog, what was needed was a good beagle, a beagle will chase a rabbit and bring him right back to you.  The hunter was only a little older than Jamie, perhaps eighteen, and had not been hunting long.  He admitted that he had yet to shoot anything.  It was mid-day, the sun was high and bright, and the hunting would not be very good. So the two young men sat on the bank and talked of things, as young men will.  The dog lay down a few feet away and slept in the warm September sun.

“You must go to school don’t you?”  The hunter asked.

“Of course, I get by ok, and there is an aide that helps me with the visual stuff, and special ed classes, I like school,” Jamie said.

Nem picked a long weed and stuck it between his teeth, “I kinda miss school, there were lots of girls. Not that it did me any good,” he confessed.

“Why?” Jamie probed.

“Oh, mostly because of this scar, that’s where that dog got me, in my face, and it ain’t too pretty…” Nem’s voice trailed off.

“Man, is it really bad?  I can’t see of course.”

“Here, feel it,” The hunter took Jamie’s hand and placed it on his face.

Jamie had never seen a face, but as a very young child he would caress his mother’s.   And he was let to explore others; like his father’s, and his grandmother’s.  He knew what a human face felt like, and had formed a clear image of what it should look like.

The deep and jagged scar traveled across the hunter’s nose and down through his upper and then lower lip.  It was a deep and horrible disfigurement.  Jamie was shaken, the scar was bad, but Jamie would not say anything, he would avoid making the hunter feel any worse than he most likely already felt.  But the hunter saw his look, the same look he saw in everyone’s face that met him, or walked by him on the street.  It was something he had to live with.  People would stare, then catch themselves and look away, but their eyes would ultimately be drawn back.  It is human nature.   The children would stare, as there is an inherent honesty in childhood, if you want to know what people think, watch the children. 

“Oh I don’t blame the dog any.  You know dogs get scared and they’ll snap at you.  It’s just natural for them I guess.  You can’t blame dogs, I guess,” the hunter attempted to reconcile himself to his deformity.

“I guess we all got something we have to deal with, whether a person can’t see, or a person has scars, we all got something,” Jamie said.

“I suppose it’s the scars you can’t see that go the deepest,” Nem declared in a more distant voice.

Jamie said nothing.  But he had felt those scars also, those scars unseen that no surgery could ameliorate, the irretractable loss, the forsaken gifts of life that everyone else takes for granted, that are forever lost to a person who is different, a person with scars on his face, or a person who can not see.  He had felt it in school, and he felt in on the hunter’s face, the perpetual state of grief; and the constant and ever-present tinge of exclusion.

“Well, I better get goin' back home, I don’t feel much like huntin' anyway,” Nem rose to his feet and spat the blade of grass he had been chewing.

“It was good talking to you, I usually have no one but old Pal to talk to,” Jamie said.

“I’ll say goodbye to your dog then too.” 

Jamie was still lying in the grass when the thunderous explosion occurred.   The sound was so close, so terrifying that he reflexively uttered an indiscernible roar and grabbed his head and curled into a fetal position.  There he froze for a few seconds, his sensitive ears taking time to recover, his face buried in the grass.

Terrified, Jamie called out, “What was that?  Pal where are you?  Pal!”

He heard the truck door slam; he heard the engine start; the truck shifted into gear and drove away.  Still protectively curled in the grass, the sounds began to return; the rushing water, the leaves of the trees; his own breathing.  But one sound was conspicuously absent, a sound that you would expect after such a violent encounter, a sound that Jamie wanted and needed to hear, the sound of his dog barking.

“Pal?”  Jamie called softly. 

Suddenly, a pang of horror seized him, more visceral than cerebral.  Alternating flashes of denial and terror ran through his brain.  For a moment he was frozen, and a bitter nausea welled deep in his throat.

“Pal!”  The call became frantic.  Jamie crawled through the grass like a madman, grasping in every direction.  He found the still, wet warmth that was only moments ago his companion, his closest friend.   Jamie collapsed on the dead animal and pressed his body into it as if to give it life.  To lose his eyes twice in one life was too great a loss.