Thursday, August 09, 2007

Lovely As A Tree

"You know, a tree is a tree. How many more do you need to look at?"
--Ronald Reagan

The first tree on my block is gone now.

I came down my street after work tonight, saw the sky where there used to be green, and knew something was up.

The tree had been damaged during the great Bay Ridge tornado, knocked into a street light, and had to be taken down.

The street light is still there, though it seems to be leaning a little too much for my taste. I'll make sure to walk around it when I go up and down the block.

Of course, now that the tree is gone, I'm trying to remember what it looked like and coming up blank. But I still miss the hell out of it.

I went out last night to see the storm damage for myself. It didn't seem right that I, an ex-police reporter, would rely on mainstream media images of a catostrophe right in my own backyard.

I left my house at around 11:30 p.m., even though I had to go to work the next day. I worked over one block to Leif Ericson Park and I nearly keeled over. It looked more like Jurassic Park after the dinosaurs went on a three-day binge.

Nearly every tree was knocked down, some of them crushing the fence that surrounds the park. They were like fallen soldiers, struck down by an invincible enemy.

There was yellow tape blocking off most of the street and a few gawkers, like myself, were out surveying the damage. Some people used their phone cameras to record the wreckage.

I can only imagine what all this destruction must of sounded like to the people who live across the street from the park. One tree going down is loud enough, but--what?-10 or so trees going down must have sounded like the end of the world.

I remember when I used to play in that park, first on the swings and the slides, and then over to the baseball field, where I dropped so many balls and struck out so many times.

I convinced myself that I was a lousy ball player and that's all my subconsious mind had to hear. I was indeed a lousy ball player.

"Aw, right to ya! Right to ya!"

That's what kids used to shout if you missed an easy catch, saying that the ball was coming to you and thus there was no excuse for dropping it you worthless sack of monkey poop. Kids are pretty emotional about games.

There used to be a circle painted in section of the park that was divided into slices and bore the names of several countries.

Chance Meeting

One kid would take a rubber ball--a "spaldeen"--rear up his arm and shout, "I declare war onnnnn..." He'd named a country and then pound that ball straight down as hard as he could.

The thing would streak into the air and the kid standing on that particular country had to run, get the ball, and then take his turn to declare war on someone.

This was a different era, when kids were encouraged to play with guns--as opposed to getting real ones, like today--and attacking other countries seemed perfectly normal.

It looks like someone play the game for real. As in, "I declare war onnnnn...Bay Ridge!" Whoever it was dropped his giant spaldeen right on my neighborhood and then ran like hell.

I remember going to that park the day after my grandmother died, when I was in the fifth grade. One of the younger kids looked at me and said he knew my grandmother had died and then he fell silent. There are a lot of memories among those fallen trees.

I walked by the battered car dealership on Fifth Avenue and then walked up Fourth. The emergency crews were still out and some of the streets were still closed down. Two churchs along the avenue sustained heavy damage.

People were sitting outside of them near 68th Street while others were inside putting up wooden boards. I was thinking about going over to talk with them, but I didn't. And now I wish I had.

I was walking to the corner of Bay Ridge Avenue with the intent of crossing the street and going home when I saw a waitress standing outside a diner smoking a cigarettee and I realized I knew her.

She had been a waitress at Nick's on Fifth Avenue, the diner my father used to frequent a few years back. She recognized me and we exchanged greetings.

"How's your dad?" she asked.

I had to tell her that he died in January and she seemed genuinely sorry to hear about his passing. We talked about how sick he was with Alzheimer's and how he was probably better off.

"I remember when he used to drive me home," she said. "I was so scared. He'd cut a U-turn in the middle of the street..."

My father's horrible driving was something of a local legend. I told the waitress--I don't remember her name--that my father would drive over to Staten Island every day to visit my mother's grave and every day I'd call the house at 4 p.m. to make sure he was still alive.

On the few days he didn't pick up, I'd prayed my tail off that he hadn't killed himself or anyone else. He once left the car down by Shore Road with the windows open and the keys in the ignition.

He told me there was something wrong with the car, but I went down there and figured out quickly that there was something wrong with him. How that car wasn't stolen I'll never know, but I reached in through the window, opened the door and drove it the hell home.

Some of the other waitresses at Nick's told me that my father made passes at them. For some reason I felt compelled to ask this one if my dad had gotten frisky with her.

"Oh, yeah," she said. "He'd say 'do you want to come home with me?' I'd tell him, 'not today, maybe tomorrow.' And that was it. He said 'my wife told me I was a good lover.' "

You know I can't begin to imagine my mother saying something like that, but who's to say? Maybe she said it just to shut him up.

"He didn't mean anything by it," the waitress said. "He was harmless."

I could have told her stories proving otherwise, but I didn't see the point. My father is dead, the neighborhood is a mess, and we need to clean up. No time to dwell on the past.

I wished the waitress a good night and walked home. It was late, but I was glad I made the effort to see things for myself. You get a real understanding of the damage when you're out there, instead of looking at TV.

The images hit hard--and they're right to ya.


Gimme a sign said...

Geez, and I was upset about a developing chopping down a big ol' pine tree in my neighbourhood. Sometimes Mother Nature can be as cruel as "development" can.

Rob K said...

Yes, the power of nature can be amazing...and pretty scary