Friday, October 14, 2016

i don't belong

The narrow opening sucked me in. Bricks in shades of cranberry, pomegranate and plum laid in alternating patterns of Flemish bond and herringbone paved the ground and curved up into walls and archways that cradled dark, tinted windows three stories tall to form a cul-de-sac canyon with a waterfall on the butt end. The air was heavy with moisture. Breathing the thick air slowed my movements. I strolled among empty tables covered in blazing white cloths.

I sat at the very back, my back to a vine-covered backdrop hiding wireless speakers. Aaron Neville crooned through lush, mottled leaves, “...Life is too short to have sorrow, you may be here today and gone tomorrow …” I smoothed my hands across the clean, linen surface in front of me. The stiff fibers scratched my fingertips. The bartender placed a Virgin Bloody Mary in the center of the circle, an open wound in perfection. Heat stung my tongue, as I sipped the sharp, bitter cocktail. Ice cold condensation soothed my irritated palms. I wiped the wet onto my jean-wrapped thighs.

Couples meandered into my secret garden. The women in white silk blouses and jeweled skirts, toes peeking from strappy sandals, hair sleek, unmade-up make-up. The men wore collared polo shirts and Palm Beach slacks. Wrinkle-free. Stainless. Relaxed. Nondescript waiters addressed the invaders by name. They chuckled at quips. They anticipated needs. They provided the usual. They waited. I watched while I ate butter-tender sea scallops and golden potato hash, I absorbed fluttering fingertips, deep-throated laughs, crossed ankles and slouched postures, arms that rested around shoulders, fingers that plucked at loose necklines, lips that brushed at wrists and cheeks and whispered into ears. They felt my stares. They glanced my way. Their eyes slid off to the pool on my right. The fountain with its dancing water didn’t hold their attention, either.

Friday, October 07, 2016

the cure

Cookie cutter, assembly line houses made the streets the same. Built white bread, white picket fence whitewashed. Strangers could not tell one lane from another. Strangers were not welcome.

Once an orchard, a dairy farm, a hay field or cornrows, Mr. Levitt purchased land dirt cheap from families too exhausted to keep going for Veterans and their families with The American Dream. This was a Levittown.

They built four types of houses. Two kinds of one story houses: the little Kensington Rancher and the bigger Buckingham Rancher. Two types of two story houses: the smaller Cape Code called an Ardsley, and the larger Gramercy Colonial. Throughout the eight square miles of raped and ravaged land they built the same four houses. Rinse and repeat. Roads, sidewalks, lawns, and trees. Everybody lived in parks and the names of our streets started with the same letter or words as our home park. We lived in Garfield East and lived on Eastgate Lane which was just off of East River Drive. Ever clever.

The rules said, “No bushes or fences in the front yards.” It made it easier to play tag and kickball. We even got yelled at when our ball ended up on the neighbor’s front lawn. The old man actually came out his front door, all outrage and high dudgeon, tried to capture our ball before we could rescue it. When he beat us to it, he’d keep it until the next day. But since everyone had their own balls, we just kept playing.

In Winter, we built snowmen and igloos in our front yards, Dads competing as much as the kids. Snowballs flew over the top of cars slipping down the icy roads. It took hours and sometimes days for the plows to make it to all areas.

In Summer, we rode bikes with banana seats. When it rained and the sewers backed up at the end of our street, we waded in and swam in the flood waters. We drank out of garden hoses and ran through the sprinklers that wave back and forth like a liquid fan. We’d get called in for dinner and then be right back on the street. We stayed outside long after the lights came on.  

Not all was rosy and idyllic. We were infested with bugs. Maybe mosquitoes. Since we were kids, we didn’t know and we didn’t care. Not about what they were, anyway. All we cared about was the cure. All we knew was that we were lucky because we had a great game to play. On random afternoons, in the heat and humidity of a New Jersey Summer, the Bug Spray Truck would make its rounds. It was basically a large bug spray can on wheels. It would travel slow throughout the neighborhoods spraying huge, thick white clouds of poison and we would run behind it, laughing and sucking all of the noxious fumes.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Sunday, October 02, 2016

blackout rules

Winter seeped into the stone walls, the thick wooden floors, the still air. We put our frozen mittens on the sill of the kitchen window. Ice clung to their woolen fibers. It only melted in the brief sunshine that hit the southern wall in the afternoon. The light through the thick panes of glass magnified a circle on the floor occupied by a dozing kitten. The war required blackout rules. No fires in stoves. No oil lamps lit. During the day, it was bright enough, especially with the sun bouncing off the snow, knee deep in the pastures, shoulder deep in drifts blown into corners.

We left a path from the woods. Footprints and evergreen needles alleviated the dull white on white landscape. Into the forest we went, early in the morning to take advantage of the light, to get our tree. We cut down the perfect Fir like we do every year. Only this year, there would be no candles on the tree. No sparklers allowed.

It stood center stage in the middle room. Tangy-sweet, rich evergreen scented our breath clouds. Hand-made glass ornaments, a Robin’s nest with three blue eggs and red ribbons tied in bows decorated its branches. I sat on the bed, wrapped in a feather quilt to keep me warm and stared at the tree while illumination still glinted on bulbs.

We gathered in the front room, close together. We ate liver, bread dumplings in a chicken broth. We ate in silence. Except for my Ur-Opa who snored in his back bedroom. We ate warm apple strudel drenched in honey. It had been a whole year since we had sweets. Normally, the honey from the combs in the orchard was sold for what little money we could get.

I layered several sweaters under my red wool coat. I slipped my reindeer boots lined with rabbit fur over three pairs of wool socks. My uncle Viktor brought the boots home with him from Norway after he had been shot in the left leg. His knee was shattered and he could no longer march so they sent him home. He felt a certain shame in not dying for the Fatherland but we were glad to have him back. My five other uncles all died on frozen battlefields in places that sounded like fairytale lands: Kursk, Westerplatte, Nibeiwa, Narvik, Gembloux.

We went out into the black night to see the stars, The Star, shining just beyond the reach of my fingers.

Christmas Eve in the dark.

We stood in the chamomile field, in the silent night. I wanted to sing. We always sang on this night. I opened my mouth. A buzz rolled through the mountain peaks. At first, I couldn’t tell where the sound was coming from. It seemed to be everywhere at once and then I saw bright lights moving across the sky, a triangle of lights, a moving celestial tree. I clapped and laughed. My Ur-Oma grabbed my wrist, pulled me along behind her. I wanted to stay to see the Christmas spectacle.

Whistling followed us into the hall. The walls vibrated and shook as we sheltered in a corner. The bombs landed high in the alps.