Keep In Touch

We always said that. We wrote it in our Jr high school yearbooks in 1979, and in our high school yearbooks in 1982. Sometimes there was a phone number beside it that I never called. Maybe we believed we would, but we soon came to know that we just did that to avoid the big goodbye. We would never see these people again.

That’s not the way it is anymore. Because social media. This generation keeps in touch. It’s easier than it used to be. Only the Luddites lose touch. And the privacy hawks, who like to live off the grid, or at least pretend they are, by shunning facebook. I have nothing against those people. I respect them. I miss them.  Because most of us are back in touch with each other again, even those of us who had accepted that we were never going to be keeping in touch. Social media has allowed us to find each other. If you ask me whatever happened to Dan Cherubin, for example, I can tell you that he died. I know, because though I hadn’t seen him in 33 years, ever since I left Bard College, I heard from him as recently as last week. He was going back into the hospital for a post op infection and now this vibrant, friendly, loving, funny, influential friend of everyone he ever met (well, maybe not those neo-fascists) is gone. It was only a year ago he made the dramatic decision to leave NYC, gave up his rent controlled apartment (that’s not easy), and learned to drive (he’s not the only native New Yorker I know who never got a driver’s license) so he could take a job in Connecticut.  I know these things about him. Then he got cancer, but “the little fucker,” he called it, was removed, and the prognosis sounded good. Thank God for health insurance. That’s what Dan said.

I know a handful of people who have died, who I grew up with. Dennis, Veronica, Adam… Dan. Every time it happens, I think about weather I liked them, and how I wish I had made an effort to know them better, to see them more (or at all). Except for facebook, I can only think of them in my mind as the young children I last saw, last heard their voices, their laughs. It seems even more tragic to me, as if they never got the chance to grow up. But they lived. There were a couple who went earlier, but Dan did have a much fuller life than I know. There is comfort in that, for me, that he had a chance after I knew him, when we were mostly potential, and that he became something, and by all accounts grew into a good man.  And yet, I know that may not be enough for those who were still in his life and knew better how much more he had to offer.

We’re in our 50s. Old enough to have had a full life. As old as the age at which our great grandparents regularly died. Lucky to have gotten even this far, I suppose.

Did he do what he was supposed to do? Was he supposed to do anything? Did he influence people enough? He had an effect on me, a small influence, which I will remember. I knew him once. I can hear his laugh. I feel his warmth of spirit. And all I can say now is, Dan…  keep in touch. 

Going Home

Going home, to the apartment my parents still live in which I grew up, in New York City, in Chelsea, always feels like worlds colliding for me. The person I was vs the person I am vs the person I thought I’d be.

The New York that isn’t like New York anymore, just like I’m not like I was anymore.

My parents were out of town so I took six of my friends there. I did this a couple of years ago with two friends. Both times I learned to appreciate something new about the city.

It’s not easy hosting six other people, when they consider you the tour guide, and of course I haven’t lived there in twenty-five years. Then they don’t want to do what I suggest because they have their own ideas, and they all have different ideas, then we do what they want and they ask me all kinds of questions.

“I don’t know, this was your idea.”

It wasn’t like I was getting paid. So at times I thought it might have been more fun if we had been on neutral ground.

Some of the things they wanted to do, I didn’t want to do. Some of the things I wanted to do, they didn’t. I pushed them into something that turned out great. They did things I wanted that weren’t as good as I expected. They pushed me into things that I didn’t want to do that also turned out great.

Like citibikes.

When I was growing up, there were no bike lanes in the city. I used to ride my bike in the streets, like bike messengers, right in the middle of the road, to avoid double parked cars, and pretty much matched the speed of traffic. It was hairy, and I wouldn’t have taken a bunch of tourists on such a ride.

My family was not for Mayor Bloomberg’s push to take away car lanes and create bike lanes. We said, “this isn’t Europe, we can’t retrofit NYC, there already isn’t enough room for cars,” etc.

But my friends had done the bike thing in other cities, and they wanted to do it here, so, ok, whatever.

It turned out pretty damned easy and pretty damned good. I’m converted. And as far as cars are concerned, you really shouldn’t drive in New York anyway. So, as we say in New York, “fuck ’em.” 

One of my guests did get yelled at. “Watch out, citibike.” Part of the experience.

Also, I grew up in Manhattan. People who grow up in Brooklyn know Manhattan. People who grew up in Manhattan don’t know Brooklyn.  Goes for the other boroughs too.

Brooklyn, like Manhattan, isn’t what it used to be, but I don’t really know what it used to be, so we went to Brooklyn.  Walked the Brooklyn Bridge, found a good pub, picked up some more citibikes and even rode to Adam Yauch Park to pay my respects to the late founder of the Beastie boys, who I knew, and jammed with, even though I never particularly liked the Beastie Boys.

I love Brooklyn. 

Gotta move forward, I guess.

But still, lots of memories. It’s almost as if I didn’t want to be myself then, I wanted to move away, pretend I was someone else. And when I go back I’m sometimes mad that things have changed, and I wonder what happened to New York. I wonder what happened to me.

You know what I discovered? The best way to find out is to show others where you came from.

Reunions

The past is the past
Those were different people
It’s not about love
Or sex
Anymore
But laughing
If we can
At what was
Until it’s time to start over
Until we disclaim who we are
Can’t we examine why
We felt like we did
Or didn’t
Our spirits
Touched
And that can mean anything

Wasn’t it Grand?

Trying something new. Happiness in the morning.

I’m going to tell you a story about a time when I was happy.

I’ve written before, here, there, somewhere, about trying to revisit the narrative of my past to remember more of the good times, even if they didn’t happen. In other words, to spin those days of lore as better than I ever thought they were. Because if I was always happy, then I’d have no reason to be unhappy now, which I don’t. It’s all about how you think about your life. And whether you think life is worth it. And whether you’re proud of who you are. And whether you can or do recall, at any moment, a memory that will make you smile.

I grew up in New York City. It was diverse in my neighborhood then. Not just black and white, but various denominations of Hispanic: Cuban, Dominican, Puerto Rican (not so many Mexicans). And Chinese, and Japanese. Also Catholic and Protestant and Jewish and Muslim and Atheist.

And the weather was great then. That’s how I remember it, a spring or fall day every day. I remember the distinctive smell of those Tamarind looking things (except flat) that fell from the trees and you could shake them, like Maracas. Speaking of Maracas, shaved ice! And Sabrett hotdogs. And Pizza. The Pizza was so good. Get it with extra cheese if you ever go back in time.

I remember how wonderfully dirty it was in the subways and on the streets. There was dog shit everywhere.This was before pooper scooper laws. The law was that you were supposed to “curb your dog,” which meant to let it shit in the street, where the street cleaners, that never came anymore because the city was practically bankrupt, would clean it up. But people didn’t curb their dogs anyway. The police would never enforce something like that, or jaywalking, or hardly anything those days, they left you alone. There was one street, 29th, between 8th and 9th which had buildings only on one side. The other side bordered a small green space, but there was a fence in front of the grass, so you couldn’t take your dogs in there. The residents of the buildings would cross the street and let their dogs shit on the sidewalk. To watch kids traverse this particular street was like watching them play hopscotch. I don’t know why we ever went down that side of the street, but we did. I guess because it was so much fun.

There’s this smell I remember, like it’s still in my nose. It is the smell of hot garbage piled up on the street near I.S.70, my jr. high school. Let me tell you what it smelled like. It smelled like home. And who wouldn’t want trains that were colorful and painted with Graffiti? When they solved that problem in NYC, they ruined my life. After that it was all downhill… well, just kidding. I’m still the happiest guy I know of. Seriously.

I never knew who painted the trains, but I knew guys in 9th grade who would tag everything with their own “handles” so to speak, the walls of the school, mailboxes, and the insides of train cars. Mace and Strider and Saki were some of their tags. Saki’s actual name was Sasaki, Brian Sasaki. He tagged the music room of our school with “Saki”, and the teacher asked us to rat him out.

“Was that Brian?”

“I don’t know.”

There was this rectangular blacktop playground near my apartment building. We played pickup softball there. There was no right field so we would play that if you hit to right field it was an out.

Second base was first base, so you had to run there first. Old ladies walking on the path out in (the) right field (that wasn’t) would yell at us, scared they would be hit, but those old ladies could run when they had to. Just kidding. I don’t ever remember almost hitting any old ladies. We also got yelled at for walking on the grass, making paths where there already should have been some. We built those paths, and now they are paved. Now adults walk on them too. Well, we’re adults. We helped design the cityscape, And I’m proud of that, even if we never got any credit.

Here’s a thought that makes me happy, water keys. There were faucets attached to the buildings but they required a certain kind of key to turn them on, so that only the building maintenance staff could use them. But you could buy a key, it was really just a tool, and we all had one. It made me so happy to have a water key in my pocket. You know what else made me happy? Drinking water when I was thirsty and not because I should stay hydrated.

Was it dangerous in New York City? Well, we grew up there, so no, we didn’t think so. I got mugged a few times, but you got mad and then went on with your life. We were feral. We were free. We kids would meet at the playgrounds, and play freeze tag, or tag no touching the sand, or we would wander around, climbing fences, taking the subway at all hours with our school train passes that were only supposed to be used to get to school and back, or we would jump the turnstiles, or when we had to, we would pop a token into the turnstile. I miss tokens. 

We would climb on top of elevators and have our friends operate the elevators from inside. We would go to the roof of our apartment building and survey our domain. We would head down past the warehouses on the west side, past the hookers that hung out there, and play on the elevated and abandoned (after a truck fell through it) west side highway and light firecrackers. We would go to central park and ride our skateboards, or play in a pickup softball game there on a real field. We would take the train out to Coney Island and “pay one price” for all of the rides and go to the Mets games day of, and get great seats.

This is what it was like to be a kid in NYC.

Good Karma

I sold an old Camera for some good karma. I was going to sell it for money. I justified the purchase of the new one by telling myself I could defray the cost by selling the old one. But by the time the money was spent and the cost lost in the budget of an expensive vacation to China, where I broke it in, it seemed like the need to defray the cost had passed.

I bought my “new” camera on Ebay, along with an old manual focus lens and some other accouterments but I was a little disappointed at what people were getting for my old camera, well reviewed sellers, and then you have to figure in ebay’s take and shipping costs. And I didn’t have any reviews by which buyers could find it in their hearts to trust me.

I found a better deal on Amazon – they wanted to buy it, as long as it was in the mint condition I said it was and had all of the original packaging. I had about 80% of the original packaging but I added an extra genuine Nikon battery and lens filters, which I pointed out in a note. I sent it all off with the understanding that I would not entertain a lower price and that they would send it back if they didn’t agree with my assessment, which they didn’t.

Then I heard through the grapevine that a cousin of mine (once removed) living on the west coast had recently become smitten with photography. I asked her if she wanted it and sent her some sample pictures I had taken with the camera. I actually did such a good job selling it that she offered to pay me something, but I stuck to my guns and gave it to her for good Karma.  

32448582281_5397985264_k
A picture I took with my old camera

She was excited to receive it and sent me a nice thank you note, which made me feel good enough, but here’s where the coincidence occurs.

I like to think this was the universe’s way of giving me something back, something merely commensurate with the deed which I don’t pretend to be any greater than it was. I know I didn’t solve the world’s problems. I gave a girl a camera. But I like to think that little things count and what I got in return counts.

So on the same day my cousin posts a picture of herself with her new camera

Kate with her Camera
Kate with my old Camera

 

a facebook friend posts an old picture from 1985 crediting the black and white to a mutual friend who I hadn’t seen or heard from in 33 years. Our friendship was short lived as it was, I met her and then shortly thereafter transferred to another college.

But there was one day that she and I spent together to buy our first 35mm SLRs. I had already decided on mine, having done some research, an Olympus OM1N, I believe it was, and I had an opinion on what she should buy as well. We went into Manhattan together and I recommended to her what was probably my second choice – I always felt a little worried that maybe I pushed her into the this camera because I wanted it, recommending to her a different camera than mine because I was unsure of my own choice. But she took my advice and bought a Canon AE1. Then we hung out in central park and she and I took our first pictures with our new cameras. I remember in particular there was a middle aged black man, probably about the age we are now, maybe even younger, dressed a bit formally. I believe he was leaning up against a tree, with one foot on the ground and one foot on the tree trunk, reading. I could be remembering this completely wrong, but suffice it to say it was a great character shot, the kind I would take surreptitiously with a telephoto lens, if I had one. She asked the man if she could take his picture, the right thing to do, and he said, “no.” 

I visited her page to see what is public and googled her, while my friend request was pending, not creepy, and discovered that she still shoots with Canon, and majored in photography and is now a professional photographer.

So within a day of planting a seed in the heart of my younger cousin with her first interchangeable lens DSLR (the modern equivalent of the film cameras we bought in 1985), I find out what became of an old friend by a photograph that was taken with her first camera which I helped her buy.

I realize that she may not remember it the same way. Maybe she doesn’t think I helped her at all. In fact, I know from past experience that sometimes when I think I help a person with advice or a good deed, that the event does not resonate as significantly with them. If I remember it, it may be because it helped me to realize something about myself. I still nurture a love of photography, after all. Maybe she’s the one who helped me. But it still feels nice to see that there is a tree that grew from a seed I may have helped plant 33 years ago. The re-acquaintance with an old friend is a gift, but the knowledge that something I did helped someone in the long run, that’s good to know too.

Fe at CP
Fernanda at Central Park 1985

I thought she’d remember me, but I wasn’t sure. I will always remember her because she had a way of making sure of it. She was from Sao Paulo, Brazil, and I don’t know if this was a Brazilian thing or if it was unique to her, but she would initiate you into her circle of friends in a way that was funny as shit to me at the time. She’d saddle up behind you when you were in a group, focused on talking to someone and she would lean down behind you and actually bite you in the ass. You, of course, would jump and everyone would laugh. In fact she was known for this, and on another occasion I was with the woman who introduced us, the one who distracted me so that I could get my ass biten, and we were in Manhattan purchasing a gift for Fernanda, a custom made T-shirt that had a picture of a spider on it and the words “ass biter.”

She accepted my friend request and answered my message telling me that I had a good memory because I remembered what kind of Camera she bought.

I remember more than that, ass biter. Hope all is well.  Keep taking pictures.

Fe and me on the day we bought our cameras
Fe and me the day we bought our cameras

 

Reinvention

Once I reinvent myself I’m going to be better than all of y’all.

There are always things I want to do, like read more books, write a novel, learn Spanish, eat better, exercise, lose weight.

I’d like to be skinny. I think I’d feel better, physically. And look better. 

Still, I’m not talking about defining reinvention by some measurement of goal completion. I’m talking whether I can become a different person. Someone who doesn’t care what people think, has courage, and confidence. Can a person change what they believe?

For example, I can’t choose to believe something that just didn’t make sense to me, like that stuff about Jesus. 

But can you be young again when you are old? Can you effectively travel through time and reinvent, not just who you are, but who you were? Can you create this fiction about your past, if you want to?

What if you can turn yourself from a person who failed a lot to someone who always succeeds, from one who regrets to someone who has always been grateful for the  miraculous good fortune, that has always befallen him.  Maybe it isn’t fiction.What if yo remembering more of your successes than your (supposed) failures. We all have them. Can the narrative you tell about yourself redefine you in the present?

And even if it were fiction, even if I made up the fact that I had a wonderful life and it wasn’t even true, does that matter? Does it matter if it helps to reinvent who I am today?

I had a friend in 1984 named Larry Wachowski. He was a fanatic Cubs fan. He won a bet I made with him at the beginning of the season that the Mets, who had the year before finished poorly, I don’t remember where the Cubs had finished in 1983, would finish better than the Cubs. The Cubs ended up in first, and the Mets in second. When the Cubs clinched the division, even though it was at that point, already, a foregone conclusion, he came to my dorm room with a bottle of Jack Daniels, our drink – in that he had introduced it to me – to celebrate.  I said, “oh, you fucking asshole,” and then we drank it.

I liked who I was then, in that moment, even though my team had lost. And then I rooted for the cubs in the Series.

That’s a moment I can be proud of. Just being who I was then was a success. When the cubs lost, Larry put his hand through a window pane.

He reinvented himself. I only know this because he’s kind of famous, not because I’ve kept in touch.  He reinvented himself and he’s a girl now.  Maybe he would say he was always a girl. Semantics. I thought about him just this week because the Cubs have finally won a World Series. And I wonder if she, is as happy about it as he would have been. Would she have put her hand through a window pane if they had lost, again? I hope so. Because you gotta like a girl like that.