Sunday, July 29, 2007

Hello, Dummy

I usually don't care for practical jokes, unless, of course, I'm the one pulling the joke.

I find what many people call practical jokes are often acts of cruelty and humiliation designed to make someone look bad and feel stupid.

The "jokers" who do these things are really looking to do damage, not spread mirth. But if you don't smile and go along with it, you're told that you have no sense of humor.

There was one time, though, back when I was a teen-ager that my father and the rest of us pulled a pratical joke on our mother that actually turned out to be fun for the whole family.

First, a little background: my brother had a habit of leaving his guitar case in the living room, much to my father's displeasure. He'd tell my brother a thousand times to take that goddamn thing into your room when you're done with it and every time my brother would ignore him.

Now my sister had gone to some kind of carnival or church event and wound up winning--if that's the word--a cheap wig, complete with a plastic foam head where you could perch the thing when you no longer had the urge to wear it.

One day my father decides he's going to have a little fun. He takes my brother's guitar case, my sister's wig, and a couple of blankets and fashions a dummy on the livingroom couch.

My mother comes home and he tells her that this "person" is a friend of my sister's who stumbled into our home and promptly passed out on the couch.

"I think she's on drugs," he tells my mother in an ominous tone.


My mother went back to her room, presumably to wring her hands, and then my father grabbed each of us as we came into the house and told us of his little con game.

Now bear in mind this was my dad--the leader of the family, the one who is expected to be responsible and mature--pulling this stunt. Sometimes it's difficult for me to get my head around that, even after all these years.

I assume my father had a job at the time, so this fiasco happened either on a Saturday or a national holiday, because normally he wouldn't have been home at that time to wreak all this havoc.

It's interesting to note that my mother, who loved old horror movies, had a particular interest in any spooky story involving ventriloquists and their dummies.

These particular tales all pretty much have the same plot line: the dummy takes over the ventriloquist's personality. You find this in such films as Dead of Night, Magic, an episode of "The Twilight Zone" with Cliff Robertson and God knows how many other movies, plays, radio shows, and so forth.

I don't think these stories have much to offer. Once you know it's a horror story involving a ventriloquist, you've got to figure that it's going to be about the dummy coming to life and taking over the hero's personality. But my mom still loved them.

I had my own run-in with a ventriloquist and his dummy. Years ago, while a reporter in Pennsylvania, I covered a public safety lesson at one of the area grammar schools.

The presentation was being given by a ventriloquist and his dog puppet, who was dressed up like a cop and went by the name, I believe, Canine Doggie Dude.

It was a good show for the kids. Instead of lecturing them on how to behave, the dog deliberately got things wrong, forcing the students to correct him.

When asked how he should behave on the bus, Canine Doggie Dude shouted, "I jump up and down all over the place!" Whereupon the children shouted at him and told him he had to behave on the bus.

Before the show, the ventriloquist assured me that I was free to walk around the class and take pictures while he did his act.

"Don't worry," he tells me, "take all the pictures you need."

Nice guy--or so I thought. Little did I know that I was being set up.

Late into the show I was walking around with my little PhD camera ("Press Here, Dummy") and I decided I wanted to go to the other side of the room for a different angle. I'm a reporter, a fly on the wall, right? I'm supposed to be invisible.

I was directly behind the ventriloquist when he spun the dummy's head around like it was Linda Blair, so the dog puppet was now eyeballing me.

"Where you goin', dude?" the dog shouted in his raspy voice.

For one second, I babbled and tried to explain myself to an inanimate object while a roomful of second-graders howled with laughter.

Then I slunk over to the other side of the room and hid behind the teacher for the rest of the hour. Stupid mutt.

Bring It Home

My sister was the last one to come home and my brother and I just about dragged her down the cellar and told her the story. She covered her face with her hands and started laughing--and quickly joined in on the joke.

Now we were all co-conspirators. We gathered in the kitchen while my poor mother walked around the house looking quite upset. Who was this stranger--this dope fiend--on her couch? How would we get her out of here?

Meanwhile, the merry pranksters were also in a bit of quandry. Namely, how do we end this charade?

Just yanking back the blanket and shouting "fooled ya!" didn't seem dramatic enough; we wanted to bring the house down on this caper. (My mother always hated the word "caper" for some reason, by the way. Sorry, Mom.)

Then we hit upon it: my brother, the guitar player, would loudly declare his intention to watch TV and demand that this bimbo vacate the premises forthwith.

So he storms down the hallway, bellowing at the top of his voice that he wants to watch TV and he wants to watch it now.

My mother is insane by this point and she starts chasing after him, shrieking "Peter!" After all, this may be a drug-addled vagabond stretched out on the couch, but she was still a guest.

My brother charges up to the thing, leaps through the air and lands right on top of the dummy with both knees, knocking the bogus head clean off.

And there's my mother, standing in the middle of the living room, laughing and shouting at the top of her voice, "stupid! stupid! stupid!"

We told and re-told that story for weeks after, recalling the look on my mother's face when she found out that she had been had.

It became part of our family history and I like telling it again now, at this time when we are cleaning out our house and closing down this act of our family's show.

As we dig through the rubble here, we are also unearthing some very unpleasant memories.

For the record, I'd just like to say that we had good times, too. We had our problems, but we also had fun together as a family.

And that's no joke.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Water World

You know for a guy who can't swim, I'm spending an awful lot of time on the water.

My latest adventure took place on Saturday, when I went whitewater rafting near Jim Thorpe, Pa.

This was also a strange kind of homecoming for me, as I worked as a reporter in the Poconos for five years, oh, God, nearly two decades ago.

I kind of proud of myself for even going on the trip because I was seriously considering bagging the thing entirely right up until I got on the bus.

I was certain I was going to drown, or I was going to tumble out of the raft and be dashed against the rocks, or be kidnapped by perverted banjo-playing hillbillys. But none of these things actually happened.

I'm starting to think that panic for me is similar to opera singer doing scales. Instead of singing "me-me-me," I shriek "we're all gonna die!" And then I calm down and get on with my life.

I went on this trip with a singles group that by now has become an extension of my family. Back in June, I paid for a horseback riding tour around Prospect Park. Since then, I have won trip after trip from this company.

On the horseback riding event I got a free tour of three Long Island wineries. On the winery trip, I won a free tubing event on the Delaware River. On the tubing event, I won this goddamn thing.

And today, on the bus going to Pennsylvania, guess what? I won another day of tubing on the Delaware. A few more of these river trips and I'm going to grow a set of gills.

Row, Row, Row Your @$#!-ing Boat!

The Lehigh River was beautiful and we had great weather. There were five or six people per boat with about 20 or more boats in the group.

As we got into the river we looked like the Roman navy mounting an attack on Egypt-- except that the Romans, unlike our group, actually knew what they were doing. My boat got stuck on a rock shortly after we shoved off and our captain--our freaking captain, people--went flying out of the raft.

She claimed she had gone rafting before, unlike myself and most of the others on board. So it didn't do my much for my confidence when I saw her fly ass over tin cup into the drink.

We yanked back on the boat, got the thing going straight and headed down the river. The rapids were wild and I found that yelling like a lunatic every time we went into them actually helped in some strange way.

Then we had a mutiny, or a resignation of command, after one woman started giving out orders and our official captain stepped down from her position. But the woman who shot her mouth off didn't want to be captain after all.

You know where this is going, right? Yep, yours truly--a non-sailor, non-swimmer maniac depressive urban dweller offered to take command of water-logged rubber raft in the middle of a raging river. What could possibly go wrong?

A lot actually, so much so that I'm amazed we're not half-way to Cuba by now. I never got the hang of "right paddle" and "left paddle." If you want to go one way, you've got to say the opposite. So consequently our vessel went around in circles a lot.

We tried to joke about it, saying we had mastered this great move, and kicked around names for our group. This morning it occurred to me "The Circle Jerks" might be the most accurate title going, but I'm just being crabby.

The frustrating thing was that some of my crew members weren't paying attention to our surroundings. Two people would be jabbering away, while, from my position in the back of boat I could see a sharp rock jutting out of the water.

I didn't want to come off like Captain Bligh, but I didn't feel like sinking to the bottom of the river either. I asked people to please pay attention and not to wait on me if they saw that we were about to get clobbered.

We got stuck a few times on the rocks, but I was able to handle it better each time. Late in the day we got stuck one more time, until a family of six came flying behind us and crashed into raft in a watery version of bumper cars.

We were freed and back on our way, but the family was now stuck on the rock. All we could do was offer lame apologies and paddle like hell.

All the boats were numbered, which meant nothing to me, until someone on another raft made a keen observation.

"That's a pretty scary number you've got there," he said pointing to our craft.

"Let me guess," I said, not even bothering to look. "Is it 666?"


Great. I was the commander of the S.S. Damien. Any second I expected my head to spinning around while I spewed pea soup in all directions.

A short time later I saw another boat with the number 718--my area code. And that's where I wanted to be, back in Brooklyn.

After lunch, which we finally had late in the day, our original captain offered to take back her command and I cheerfully returned to my position as a lowly seaman.

We were all pretty tired after the meal and we wanted go home. When we saw people beaching their rafts onto the shore, we all paddled like mad. I had survived my day on the river and now it was time get home.

As we rode down North Street in Jim Thorpe, I looked over the little houses that made up this small town. I saw an elderly couple sitting on their front porch, enjoying the summer night. It was a Norman Rockwell moment.

Schmuck! I reminded myself. You already tried the small town life and you hated it. Do you seriously think you'll be happy if you give it another try?

The Story Behind the Story

The bus went down Route 80, right through Stroudsburg, my old home when I was working at the Pocono Record.

Those were five of the most miserable years of my life, but I still felt a twinge of nostalgia as we went by the Park Avenue exit. That's where I would get off to get my place on Scott Street.

The whole Pocono experience was a mistake. I should have been in L.A., or making films in New York, but instead I took off for a small town to cover car crashs and house fires. It's like I drifted away from my dream and got stuck of the rocks.

I remember the day I moved to the Poconos. It was Mother's Day 1988 and I was a nervous wreck, as were my parents. I was 30 years old--30 years old--and finally moving out of my family's house and we were all acting I was going off to college.

My mother had told me to go and not to worry about her, my dad, or our dog, Casey.

"We're an old man, an old woman, and an old dog," she said firmly, indicating that I should get on with my life. Of course, I was really worried about my own sorry keester. I was terrified, convinced I had made a terrible mistake.

I thought of my mother's words on the way home and felt tears forming in my eyes. After all this time, I still can't believe she's gone.

I eventually settled into life in the Poconos and that was part of the problem: I got too settled, unwilling to move. As we drove through Jersey, I recalled my weekends, when I would leave Stroudsburg at 11 PM and drive down to Brooklyn to be with my family.

That was some pretty lonely driving, pretty much me and the tractor-trailers. I would survive by listening to various oldies stations, swinging like Tarzan on the vines as one station's signal faded out and and another one came on.

I had a mini-panic attack as we headed down the highway, convinced that bus driver was going too fast.

When we crowded into the toll plaza at the George Washington Bridge, I felt we were back on the river, surrounded by all these rubber rafts. Only now I couldn't paddle away from them.

For some reason, I felt compelled to tell a woman riding next to me about the time I covered a drowning at a state park in the Poconos.

I'll tell that story some other time, but let's just say this lady didn't seem enjoy the details I was giving her. I kept telling myself to shut up, but my mouth wouldn't listen.

I said my goodnights and hopped the subway home. I was tired, exhausted, but satisfied. I had conquered my fears, tried something I had never done before, and had a good time--all for free.

As I picked up the mail outside my house, I managed to smash my knee against our front stoop. I cursed and fumed, but I have to admit that it was pretty funny: I had gone through hell and high water only to maim myself in my own home.

But I learned some things today. I can still chase after my dreams at my age, even though they've been deferred.

And if I get stuck on some rocks, I'll keep pushing and shoving until I get free.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Five Years Gone

Give her a reward of her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates.”
--Proverbs 31

We found our mother’s wedding dress yesterday.

My sister and I are just into our second week of cleaning out the family house and we stumbled across the personal equivalent of the Holy Grail.

It was in my sister’s old bedroom, in the pile of boxes, books, clothes, tools, and snow shovels and God alone knows what else my father crammed in there over the years after my sister moved out.

I was helping her take some of this stuff out of the room when I saw a large cardboard box that crumbled at the touch.

"Marlene's Dress Shoppe" was printed in the middle and the address appeared in the lower right hand corner: 247 Grand Street.

I googled the name and street and while I found stores with similar names, the business that made my mother's dress is long gone.

I knew it was a wedding dress the second I pulled up the dusty flap, but for some reason I wondered whose dress this was.

"Is this mom's?" I asked rather densely.

Well, my sister is the only woman in the family and she's not married, which I guess narrows it down a bit. It's hard to imagine that something so important actually exists, that it's not in a vault or a museum someplace.

I knew we were going to find items of great emotional value as we cleaned the place out, but I have to confess this was a bit of jolt. The fact that this discovery comes one day shy of the fifth anniversary of my mother's death borders on the eerie.

The clean-up is a strange mix of physical drudgery and emotional turmoil. You dig through mounds of crap that should have been thrown out years ago, choking on dust. And then, like Indiana Jones, and you reach into the rubble and pull out some fabulous gem.

It’s hard to believe we’re actually cleaning up the house, after talking about doing it for so long. And it’s a little scary because when we’re done, the house will be ready to be sold.

I've only seen the gown in photographs, most notably in these 3-D slides my parents had made of their wedding day some 57 years ago.

There’s one photo in particular of my mother in front of triptych mirror that takes my breath away every time I see it. She looks so young, so nervous, and so beautiful in that dress. From that point in time, she raised four children, had two grandchildren, and now she's gone.

I try to imagine what the world was like back when that dress was new. The Second World War, in which my father fought, has just ended five years before.

This Day in History

Earlier that year, 11 men robbed the Brink's office in Boston of nearly $3 million in cash and securities. Harry Truman approved the building of hydrogen bomb and the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel opened.

And, on their wedding day, Joe DiMaggio--one of my mother's few sports idols--becomes the first player to hit three home runs at Washington's Griffith Stadium.

My mom's parents, who had moved to this country from Italy, were still alive. From what I can see, some of the wedding photos were taken in our house. I believe that's where the mirror picture was shot.

I went to church today in remembrance of my mother, walking to Our Lady of the Rosary and kneeling down in the front pew.

There was no service going on and only a handful of people were there, praying, meditating or, in the case of one man, sleeping soundly.

It seemed fitting to go there today, at the Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. When her health was failing, my mother was treated at St. Elizabeth Ann’s in Staten Island, eventually winding up at St. Vincent's Medical Center a short distance away.

Five years ago today I was working at Goldman Sachs when my mother’s doctor called to say she had gone into cardiac arrest. I got over there as fast as I could, but she was gone. It was unquestionably the worst day of my life.

At the wake, I started crying again when the priest spoke over her casket and talked about “our sister Gloria.” My aunt was standing next to me and started rubbing my shoulder.

We buried her and I recall that it was unbearably hot that day, no time to be in suits and riding around in hearses. But death really doesn’t take a holiday, it doesn’t call ahead, and it sure as hell doesn’t ask our permission.

I miss her so much and as I thought about her today in church, I thought I was going to start weeping again.

She was with me during so many rough times in my life, sharing in my failures and disappointments, feeling the pain as acutely as I did.

I think about all the stupid fights I had with my mother when I was young, how I gave her grief over the most idiotic things, and I cringe.

If I had known my time with her would be so brief, that it would fly by so quickly, I would never argued with her about anything.

So now she’s gone, my father died in January, and we’re going to sell our house. It doesn’t seem right or natural, but it really is nature at its most brutal. Nothing lasts forever, homes and people included.

I can only imagine what else we’re going to find as we dig through the house. I know it’s going to be painful—that's a given for when something so close to your heart comes to an end after nearly 60 years.

My mother's wedding dress is faded and musty now, baring little resemblance to the beautiful white gown my mother wore so long ago. But it's still beautiful to me.

And I don't know what we're going to do with it, but I do know that when we leave the house for the last time, that dress is coming with us.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Squeeze Play

I saw this little Hispanic boy on the 6 train the other week and I can't get him out of my mind.

He was sitting between his parents and they were playing this game where the mom and dad would lean in on him at the same time and pretend to crush him.

Each time they did it, he would laugh so loudly you could hear him throughout the entire car. And then they'd do it again.

As I watched this little bit of family entertainment, I had this feeling of sadness. At first I thought it was regret at not having children of my own.

But while there is some of that going on, I think the truth is that I envied the kid. My parents are gone and that chapter of my life is long over. But when I saw that little boy, I wanted to be a child again, having fun with my mom and dad.

I know the drill: Time marches on. You can't go turn back the clock. Don't live in the past. I've got all that, and you know something? It still hurts.

That was quite an emotional day. Earlier in the afternoon, I learned that I had gotten a repreive at my job.

After a few tense weeks of wondering if I would be spending the summer pounding the pavements, I was being reassigned to a new position instead of being canned.

Up until then I had been preparing for the worst and, in fact, had shown up at the office in a suit and tie--a dead giveaway that you're looking--because I had an interview late in the afternoon.

Take A Meeting

Then I get an email from my boss "suggesting" we meet that day at 3 p.m. in the conference room. Those of you who are old enough to remember the "Dragnet" theme should feel to play it on your mental I-pod right now.

I've been in this situation before many times with many jobs. I suspect the problem stems from my staunch loathing for my work combined with my rock-solid refusal to put this hatred aside and soldier on--like most normal people do when working at jobs they can't stand.

I figured if they were going to can me, they wouldn't put it off until late in the afternoon. But I was still nervous. So nervous, in fact, that I decided to go to church on my lunch break. There are no athesists in cubicles.

I was raised Catholic, but I usually stop by Trinity Church for a spiritual oil change, since that place is just up the block from my office.

It's a beautiful church and they've got a lot famous dead people in the cemetery. And I like how things are familiar in the Episcopal Church, yet also different. (I keep forgeting how they add "the power and glory" line to the Our Father.)

But for this important day I thought I should go straight Catholic, so I walked down to Our Lady of the Rosary on State Street.

As I headed down Broadway, I tried to prepare for the worst and plan what I would do if I was told to clean out my desk and hand over my ID card with that hideous picture.

"I'm going to make my fucking film!" I declared to no one in particular.

You see I wrote a screenplay for a short film last year and I have yet to start shooting the damn thing. If I were on the dole, I'd have plenty of time to get a crew together and make it happen.

There was a service going on at the church, so I knelt down before the statue of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and prayed for strength to face whatever going to happen at 3 p.m., though, I really, really wanted to hold on to my job.

Well, my prayers were answered. I've still got a job, which means a steady paycheck and health benefits.

My boss said they liked my attitude and work ethic, which means I finally got smart and kept my mouth shut--unlike other jobs where I couldn't wait to throw a fit or lodge a complaint in a loud, booming voice.

Of course I'm doing the "what if" game now, wondering if I would have finished all my various projects if I could skip working for a couple of months.

Clean Up

I still went for the job interview, sneaking out of the office at 4:30 pm, skating up to Herald Square and meeting with a beefy, ill-mannered young man who sat perspiring behind a keyboard in a half-furnished office. Apparently, they were just moving in...or moving out, I'm not sure.

I talked to Jabba the Putz for all of three minutes before the blubbery nincompoop decided I wasn't right for the job and turned to his computer like it was a tray of steaming lasgna.

"I'm really backed up," he said.

Well, I'm sure a good laxative will take care of that. I left, thanking God yet again for allowing me to keep my current job and saving me from the likes of this dolt. I had forgotten how some people think nothing of wasting your time.

I had spoken to this clown over the phone, sent him all my information, and only when I show up does he decide that we're not a good match. And he was so right.

My sister and I started on another job this week: cleaning out our family's home in preparation for sale.

Since the house has been in the family for 60 years, we have tons of stuff to go through, save, or throw the hell out.

We tossed out several trash bags of crap and plan to devout some time each Sunday in getting the place ready for sale. Naturally, we're finding bits and pieces of our childhood in all the piles. It's hard to say what's trash and what's a treasure.

I found a small pad my mother kept for taking notes and saw my name--"Rob"--in her handwriting and circled. When and why did she write my name? And why did she circle it? Should I keep it for posterity, or is it just a bit of scrap paper?

My sister found photos from my cub scout days and I saw myself as a boy with my parents. My dad is actually a scout uniform, which I have no memory of, and everybody looks so young.

While going through her old bedroom, my sister also found a tiny white shoe that had belonged to my mother. If I didn't know any better I would have thought it was a child's shoe.

"I forgot how small her feet were," I said, and started crying.

There will be more of these scenes, of course, leading right up the day we hand over the keys to the new owner.

So, if I could give my little subway buddy some advice, it would be this: enjoy the time with your parents, let them squeeze you, hold you, and kiss you as much they want.

Treasure every second with them because it's going end one day and all you'll have will be those sacred memories.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Zero Hour

I thought we'd never get here.

Today is the Fourth of July, the official kick-off of summer.

It seems like just last week we were all freezing our butts off in what seemed like an endless winter. Now the cold weather is a distant memory.

Today Nathan's will hold its annual hotdog eating contest on Coney Island and they have an electronic sign counting down the days to the big event.

Back in November my father was being treated at a nursing home just off the boardwalk and I'd always go by Nathan's on my way to the train station.

It was dark then--literally and otherwise. I felt so depressed, so unhappy, I thought the warm days of summer would never come.

But the time passed and here we are. My father didn't make it, though. He died in January and didn't get to enjoy one last Independence Day.

I remember the Fourth being a very big deal when we were kids, almost as big as Christmas. Our block would turn into a war zone as people set off all kinds of fireworks.

I can remember that smell of gun powder that filled the air and the ringing in my ears from a night of endless explosions.

My neighbors apparently had connections with the Defense Department because they would unleash the most incredible types of explosives in the middle of the street.

There were these tube things that sprayed showers of multi-colored sparks. They had sky rockets, ashcans, chasers, which screamed as they streak through the air, just inches off the ground. (The bad kids called them "nigger chasers" but we never did.)

Then there was the M-80, which supposedly how the explosive force of one-quarter stick of dynamite. I have no idea if this is true or not, but I can definitely say the M-80 was no sparkler.

There was no bright colors or beautiful patterns when this thing went off. There was only a tremendous boom and you were best advised to run like hell as soon as you lit the fuse.

One year our family stopped at a fireworks factory in Pennsylvania, which looked like a munitions plant. I remember one of the owners standing in front of my father as we entered the place with a pained look on his face.

"You don't smoke, do you?" he asked, anticipating the apocalypse.

As the youngest in the family, I could only play with sparklers, cracker balls, and something called snakes, which burned and curled up like a cobra. Even as a child I thought they sucked. No explosion, no sparks, just smoke and debris. What was the point of this thing?

I did manage to hurt myself one year when I rather stupidly reached down to pick up a discarded sparkler. I learned quickly that it was still very hot and I began bawling.

My grandmother put butter on my burned fingers, which was one of those old school remedies that has been proven to be dead wrong. Butter retains the heat in the tissues, which can make the burn worse, so save the butter for your toast.

Need A Light?

One year my brother was hit in the stomach by debris--or was it shrapnel?--after someone put a lit ashcan under a large soda cup. He grabbed his gut as if he had been shot and when he lifted his shirt, he had a cut on his stomach.

I remember one time my father thought I was playing too close to some local kids that he didn't like. His solution to the problem was to grab me by the ear and pull me back to our stoop.

I was pretty upset, but then he threatened to send me upstairs to bed, so I shut up. Now I'm not sure, but this may have been the year I put a lit firecracker in my father's back pocket, where he was storing the family's supply of fireworks.

He started running back and forth, swatting at the sizzling fuse in a desperate attempt to keep his ass in one piece. The firecracker fell out at the last second and exploded harmlessly.

I don't know how I survived that little stunt without a brutal beating, but here I am, behind the keyboard.

As we got a little older we wanted to get our own supplies. One time my brother and I bought a mat of fireworks from the son of our tenant, a local juvenile delinquent who years later died of a drug overdose.

On the morning after, we'd go out and find the streets covered with shreds of paper, the remains of exploded fireworks. Some kids would sift through this refuse in hopes of finding unexploded fireworks.

That next morning also featured horror stories about some kid somewhere who had his fingers blown off when an M-80 went off too soon.

As we got older, we became less enchanted with the Fourth. It was starting to feel like we were in the middle of an artillery attack, so we made a point of getting out of town, if only for the day.

Our two dogs, Schnapps and then Casey, were also deathly afraid of the noise. They'd try and hide in one of the closets and sometimes urinate all over the floor.

Things are different now. That gang of neighborhood kids are no longer kids and the city has cracked down severely on fireworks. In fact, I haven't heard one explosion yet this morning, something that would have been impossible when I was a kid.

As a reporter, of course, holidays have very little meaning. One year in Stroudsburg, I worked on the July Fourth weekend, and there was absolutely no one around.

I ate dinner by myself at a Chinese restaurant on Main Street and as I walked back to my car, I had this feeling of such intense loneliness. It was as if I didn't matter to anyone in this world.

A few years ago I was working at a part-time job in Manhattan where I had to come in on weekends and holidays. I was there on the Fourth, while it seemed the rest of the world was out enjoying the fireworks.

I heard the explosions and I could see the reflection of the fireworks erupting in the glass windows of the buildings across the street. So, in a way, I did see the fireworks that year.

And now the hotdog contest is history, Joey Chestnut beat out six-time champ Takeru Kobayashi in what the Assoicated Press called a "rousing yet repulsive triumph."

So the year-long timer will be set for next summer and the count down will begin all over again.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A Soldier's Poem

My sister was cleaning out her old room the other day when she found copies of a poem we believe had been written by our father, who died in January.

There were two copies of the single-page document, mostly likely the last survivors of a stack of photocopies.

I had no idea my father had ever written poetry. I recall he had a desire to write, but that was usually in the form of angry letters to newspapers or corporations that had irritated him in some way.

This is something different. A veteran of World War II, my father wrote about what it feels like to kill somebody.

It's strange to imagine my father writing something like this. He could be a tough customer, so it's a little jarring seeing this more sensitive side.

Children have one impression of their parents and are so surprised when they come across something that doesn't fit the profile.

I suspect we will find other items as we clear out the house and learn things about our parents that we never knew. We're going to be archaeologists digging through our family's history.

While my father's poem describes an incident that took place more than 60 years ago, it retains its power.

Our country is now hopelessly mired in a disastrous war, concocted by a small pack of neocon idealogues who, in spite of all their tough talk, were never anywhere near combat.

I thought that on this Independence Day we would all benefit from the words of a real solider.

It's a welcome relief from the lies of a gutless idiot strutting around in a flight suit as he bravely orders others to die.

God bless America.

Murder--So Foul

I shot a man yesterday
And much to my surprise,
The strangest thing happened to me
I began to cry.

He was so young, so very young
And Fear was in his eyes,
He had left his home in Germany
And came to Holland to die

And what about his Family
were they not praying for him?
Thank God they couldn't see their son
And the man that had murdered him.

I knelt beside him
And held his hand--
I begged his forgiveness
Did he understand?

It was the War
And he was the enemy
If I hadn't shot him
He would have shot me.

I saw he was dying
And I called him "Brother"
But he gasped out one word
And that word was "Mother."

I shot a man yesterday
And much to my surprise
A part of me died with Him
When Death came to close
His eyes.