Friday, January 26, 2024

With No One to Tell My Upset To


Walk with me down the streets and trails and memories of my childhood map. We’ll just go out the garage here and head out to the street, Bunnel Road - rural route three, then four and then finally: three, eight, nine, one, four arbitrary numbers for me to learn as a boy. It’s a bright and pale green morning, Spring of nineteen-hundred-and-seventy-two.

We’ll go left on the road up here at the end of the sharp stone drive. There, that’s my friend JB’s house, it’s early in the day and the usual hum of activity from five kids there is yet to begin. Here’s the Childers’ and Dodds’ houses, close to the road, childless now and silent.

Bunnel (sometimes one ‘l’ sometimes two, even on official Union township maps and titles and such, no consistency) dead ends under a tired old STOP sign, the letters cracked and peeling, right into State Route 741. 

Let’s scurry across here - the trucks and cars go fifty, sixty miles an hour and the road drops off both ways and the visibility is limited; hard in a car, too. No dog today so we needn’t worry enough to pick him up and rush him across the street, confused and irritated – the dog that is.

Yes, it is sand. And pebbles and crushed stone. Down the road behind us is a very busy sand-and-gravel company with pits dug in between the fields and meadows, ponds, and streams all around here. The sand especially spills from the rusted, diesel-black-smoke-bellowing dump trucks that rumble past our house back behind us now and race down this state road.

There’s what looks to be a pull-off up ahead and just beyond that is a rutted gravel road. Step carefully, it quickly steepens and snakes right. It’s an abandoned pit they probably had to quit because the road’s so close. 

So, that’s how this works, on a flat, ever-widening floor sits a scoopy sort of crane thing that just tears into the walls around it. Bucket after bucket go into trucks, then to the plant to be washed and separated and crushed on machines we do not play on – way over there, see the dust behind the Barnes’ cornfield? It’s all really massive.

Wait, you are going?

Was it this little rifle in my hand?

No hard feelings. I do need to go on ahead though, thanks for walking with me. Truth is I would’ve had to ask you go soon anyway – sometimes the road is just for one.

This is the pit cleverly known locally as: “The Shootin’ Pit.” Anyone around here would know exactly where you were talking about.

Right, the BB gun. Well, that’s why I am here. It’s fun to shoot the little “bullet balls,” the BBs, into the dirt walls and old paper targets and jumbled, colored glass from bottles shot to pieces. The pump and pop of the gun echoes back sharply.  Everything is sharp - the shards of glass, the brass casings everywhere underfoot, the angle of the sun, even the vaguely lingering taste of cordite, gunpowder, sweat and stone.

I tire of shooting the little gun, a nice Daisey Model 25 with a real wooden stock, a Christmas gift I could not wait to get. I walk up and out of the back of the pit and wander down a rutted trail, used now only occasionally by farmers and dirt bikes.

In the branch of a tree hanging over the dirt road, I spy a female cardinal, grey and red against the new green. I am imagining I am frontiersman – the book having just been finished – and level that rifle, take aim, and…

… I hit the damn thing. It is sheer chance, BB guns are crazily inaccurate. The bird drops to the dirt track with a soft, feathered whump. I run ahead, so mixed up and surprised, briefly proud of my skill and then, when I get closer, I am horrified at what I have done.

It looks like an Audubon illustration whose plates I’d seen in the trusty World Book encyclopedias in the basement. A patch of the dappled sun shines on it, spotlight like, and the detail is insane, three dimensional, quivering in its realness. The sun rainbows and dances on the feathers and a little bead of an eye looks toward nothing.

I was just goofin’, I think to myself, I never thought I’d hit it, I see no wound, but I assume she’s lying on it. Blood, entrails. I know these things happen - I’ve seen the rabbits skinned and deer dressed in the field; the familiar dog hit by these infernal trucks; smashed possums and rotting raccoons; fileted fish rinsed of scales and guts in a rushing stream - I know the cycle, I know the unending circle. But… I’d never killed something.

 I sit down beside it, my mind flies. I am so, so sorry, I think to the little bird. Who was I to do this? This boy-pain sweeps over me – I stopped a life. I feel ashamed both because I hit it and, and… I know that the others would say ‘good shot’ and ‘it’s just a bird’ and, worst, ‘don’t be such a sissy about it.’ My senses are firing. I feel the cold-barrelled Model 25 and set it on the warm earth beside me. I taste a tear. I smell the verdant Spring woods. I see that stupid, fateful bird.

I hear the quick “cheer, cheer, cheer; birdie, birdie, birdie” of another cardinal. I imagine a nest of eggs, bluish brown, speckled. Abandoned.

I begin to sob.

I barely understand why this is so wildly emotional for me. I think of how alone I am. I think of how difficult it seems, how impossible to understand, to explain. I am the most upset I have ever been, and I am suddenly hit with the loneliest thought a boy could have: I cannot tell anyone.

I am so upset, with no one to tell my upset to. I have a feeling this will happen often, which upsets me more.


And then, as God is my witness, that bird trembled its wings, hopped up, shot me a dirty look, chirped angrily and flew away - cursing me for all time to expect a perfect, happy ending.


Later – days, years, decades, scores, tomorrow… yesterday – another story enfolds.

An older dude. A lost set of keys. Phone forgotten. A red truck. A leather bag. Frantic, panicked searching. No way to call. Inside the store. Outside, inside the truck. Anxious and scared.

Tears. Frustration. Shame. Fear, fear, fear. So, so upset.

He is so upset, with no one to tell his upset to. 

Again. Always?

The keys are in the bottom of the leather bag tangled up in a loose inner seam, so they didn’t come out when the bag was dumped. Another happy ending…


One of these memories triggered the other, I am not certain of the order, though.

Friday, January 19, 2024

It Snowed Last Night


I’d worked all week on a story or two neatly interwoven with some clever interjections and confused conjecture on time and/or space all concluding with a wise and hopeful flourish. I was planning on touching it up a bit and publishing it and getting on with my day, but something happened…

It snowed last night.

As I look out upon it now a mountain of memory crumbles and stones and pebbles and boulders, chips and chunks of the past come at me. Fast. Jumbled. Frightening. Comforting.

All at once. In my imagined frailty I am afraid they will bury me.

I am afraid because as I age the ranges of memory seem closer, more vivid. I see a pretty girl with a giant snowflake on her eyelash, flushed in the wind and cold, waiting for a kiss – a quick flash of memory which used to bring on a wistful smile and rueful sigh now nearly leaves me on the floor as though downed by a hard blow to my body. A sob, tears.

I could continue telling you the memories of snow that assailed me this morning, and that’s the thing I have come to notice - I am less able to curate my memories, separate them, stack them here and there, hide some. Like today, along with all the bucolic, romantic scenes of snows past, came another roomful.

A silent walk home past a cemetery, alone and so cold.

A boy of twelve and, concurrently, a grown man with adult boys both reading the Frost poem marveling at the wisdom of it to learn and to share.

That haunting theme from Dr. Zhivago accompanying those long train rides through the deep snow of the vast Russian heartland joins, in my mind, the hours watching the streets of Queens fill up with snow. How?

The painful wallop of an icy snowball upside the head on a cruel frozen schoolyard.

It’s as though the tears that the wind and glare and ice and snow bring to our eyes are really for these memories past and future.

I don’t know what to do with this avalanche, I’ll never sort it out and get it put away just so. Will these mountains keep falling around and upon me? Will every pebble from the past hurt so?


Is this memory now?


Here’s a link to the Frost Poem.

The themefrom Dr. Zhivago (a movie I’d see if I were you).

And this’ll link you to some snow stories on my back pages.

Friday, January 12, 2024

Now, Then


In the Burroughs of New York City, I am fairly certain the furniture is migratory. At some point on the timeline of the late nineteen eighties, I lived in Queens, initially in the Ditmars area and eventually settling in Astoria. You know, I never lived in an empty apartment. I have no recollection of buying furniture, but I had it, we all did.

It just sort of wandered in or was already there or, more often than not, you found it on the street, like, always, a lot… it’s weird but if you’ve lived there, you know what I mean.

I often was walking home from the train in the early hours of morning, after work and late-night shenanigans, and one cold morning I passed a perfectly serviceable chair of the type I think is called “wingback.” It was this dirty teal color with an almost corduroy texture, it had one broken and dangly leg and three others that looked serviceable – nothing a few bricks or a well-placed old saucepan couldn’t mitigate. So, I gave it a deep sniff – a pretty common assessment tool in the city – and decided to take it on home.

(It's funny when you start thinking about a specific event, even one you’d not thought of in decades, and the details tumble back so easily.)

I had, what, five, blocks to get it to my second floor apartment. I was tired and, well, not exactly sober. I sorta drug it along the sidewalk, noisily, at five, in the morning, slowly and awkwardly and recklessly – I feared I’d break another leg and there are only so many spare saucepans in the kitchen. So, I did the obvious thing, I picked it up and heaved it on my head, my crown in the seat of the chair. There’d been a miscalculation of sorts and I had the back of the thing directly in my face, so, I bounced it around (the springs were good) and situated it so I could negotiate the sidewalks and crossings to come. This whole maneuver was accompanied by a rain of dust and detritus, tidbits from the recesses of the seat which I’d liberated in turning it about – pennies and nickels and the powdered tobacco of a hundred lost cigarettes, an old style tack and one of those swirly pins you tack down upholstery with, a purple Cricket lighter and two Bic pens – and I sneezed several times.

I got it to the house, two locked doors, a stairway, and another locked door were somehow executed. I woke up Noni* but she was sweet on me and agreed it was a good find. I had a chair in my small living room that I moved to the bedroom and set it right in that place of honor. I found the saucepan I already knew would work as an ersatz leg. I had a giant-ass Hudson Bay style wool blanket, you know, with the stripes, kinda tan, thick… I threw it over the chair longways and it looked great. I remember I’d not really sat in it until I’d worked out all these details and when I finally did, it was all I’d hoped for and imagined when I saw it on that cold city sidewalk. It was perfect, welcoming, comforting and warm and homey.

I would say the loneliest I’ve ever been was in that chair.


It’s hard to talk about loneliness.

It’s only poorly and vaguely defined - here’s what wiki says: an unpleasant emotional response to perceived isolation. Loneliness is also described as social pain – a psychological mechanism which motivates individuals to seek social connections.  Well, that’s clear…

So, so often it’s presented as a bad thing, I feel it just isn’t that simple.

I sit down here in my basement and play guitar and sing songs. No one is listening, often no one even knows I am bending the air with soundwaves, no one. Sometimes I get what you might call lonely down here. It seems sad, I guess, but there is more.

I sing a song that an old friend loved to sing with me, I miss that person – who is alive and well to further confuse things – I miss being together but, in that lonely melancholy there is joy in the memory. How am I both lonely and happy at the same time? Weirdly, sometimes when I am most lonely, I think back to other times I was lonely and am comforted at such a protracted, over-arcing feeling of continuity and connection. It is no place nor time to wallow, I am not doleful.

Yes, comforted.

Last night I sang that song, or another one, for that person or another or you. Who knows? And I saw, somehow, a younger me in that chair, on that blanket, in that apartment on that particular spot on the timeline. I see that he, I, am lonely and I comfort him. I comfort him by saying it will, sometimes be like this, and that’s alright.

I remember, there in Queens, all those years ago, alone, without, sad, unnoticed, unheralded  being comforted by a thought so far ahead and away and new and old. I recall, somehow, being made better - being unaloned - by the me in the basement last night. To further add clarity, just last night I remembered forward to the me to come, boys long gone, others too, in some window looking out and telling the me then it’s all just right. (I am no stranger at meeting the future and past’s me*, there’s just not very good language to explain it.)

Listen, I know loneliness is a big problem – some of the research is staggeringly sad – and I am hardly discounting it. It is often mentioned alongside depression and/or anxiety. I know it is debilitating for some. I have been “… so lonely I could cry” and wondered if I’d ever have another friend. I have been lonely with others, invisible. I have been lonely with my family, during the pandemic lockdown I thought I might suffocate from it. These cases, I think, are paired with those other problems – depression, etc – where the loneliness is a symptom.

Loneliness alone, if you will, is worth embracing. It can echo and sing back a new song. It can be a comfort and comfort. It finds life in each breath and hope between them. It is now and then, what will be and what was, sometimes in the wrong order.

It has been both my companion and my shadow.


*I made a beautiful friend once in Queens, I called her Noni

*I have met myself many times along my path, it's weird, but oddly comforting. I've written about that several times in the back pages here in a section called "nowthen".