Thursday, November 24, 2022

Marking Mom and Dad's 67th Anniversary

Following is an excerpt from my contribution to "New Jersey Fan Club," an anthology published earlier this year by Rutgers University Press.

As described by the editor, on this page with ordering information, the book features personal essays, interviews and comics, offering a multifaceted look at the state's history and significance. My essay was about why I post images of New Jersey churches on Instagram every Sunday, and I wrote this about my favorite church:

My favorite church is the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, which opened in October 1954. It was the site of my parents’ wedding on Thanksgiving Day -- November 24, 1955.

People flock to nearby Branch Brook Park every April for the Cherry Blossom Festival. New Jersey has more cherry trees than Washington, DC, with over 2,700 bursting into full bloom each spring.

It doesn't matter to this church. This church is always in full bloom.

Its magnificence is such that my mother, upon finding out she could secure the cathedral for her wedding, sought permission from her pastor in Garfield not to have her ceremony at her family's local church on Lanza Avenue.

Instead, Mom arranged for her immigrant Polish-speaking parents to take the first limo ride of their lives to travel to Newark, where her bridesmaids needed to stitch together two red carpets to cover the distance down the long center aisle.

Mom's wedding was an American fairy tale made possible by my wife's great-grandfather. He was one of the Irish day laborers who laid the stones when the cathedral’s construction began at the turn of the century.

My Babci was in tears when she beheld Sacred Heart. It appeared to her then, as it does to me now, the closest place to heaven in New Jersey.

---------

Dad died before my parents could celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Yesterday, Mom and I visited his gravesite at Laurel Grove in Totowa and, just like every year, Mom placed a single red rose there.

Mom and Dad, November 1955 and October 2005


Thursday, November 17, 2022

The Last Waltz: Goodbye, Catholic New York

I met Nancy, my wife, in the 1980s at a newspaper called Catholic New York.

That paper published its last edition today. Its editor, my friend John Woods, published this informative article about the publication's history.

In it, he mentions two editors I worked for at the start of my career: Anne Buckley and Gerald M. ("Jerry") Costello.

Both are now gone.

When Anne died in 2019, I posted about her life and legacy.

Anne was a wise woman; she suspected I wasn't good enough to marry Nancy.

Nevertheless, she wrote a charming column about our wedding day. There's an image of it below, and if you can't read the words in the photo, the words are posted here:


At Jerry's funeral in 2021, recalling that he recommended me for my first job and subsequently hired me twice, I learned he had sponsored many other journalists' careers... including another friend I met at Catholic New York, Monica Yehle, who sat beside me, and the Catholic Standard reporter in the pew behind us, and reporters, columnists, and editors who posted similar expressions of thanks on social media.

Jerry's obituary, written by his daughter Eileen, was wonderfully detailed: https://scanlanfuneralhome.com/tribute/details/10170/Gerald-Costello/obituary.html#tribute-start

His eulogy, delivered by his son Bob, focused on the impact of Jerry's life on his six children, 21 grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren. Bob also spoke of Jerry's love of music, concluding with lyrics from Dan Fogelberg's "Leader of the Band" and applause from the congregation.

The photo here, from the funeral Mass program, includes Jerry's written reflection as he neared the end of his life and battled with Parkinson's disease.


The words in the photo are too muddy to read there, and Jerry's words were always precise. So here's what he wrote:

"The special memory I keep is one where I'm part of a band -- a big one, of course -- on a night when everything is going just right. All the sections are working together, and the five saxes that I'm leading are playing in perfect harmony, the music we're making is so good, so joyous that the crowd on the floor in front of us stops dancing -- just so they can listen. It may not have happened all the time, but often enough. And when it did, it brought a feeling of excited contentment that I remember still."

---------

To this day, I still remember, and miss, everyone at Catholic New York.

I appreciate that the cover of its last issue this week features a photo of St. Patrick's Cathedral, just like its first issue did. The photo is by Chris Sheridan, one of the most talented photographers I've ever had the honor to work with.

So I guess that's an appropriate "30."

And yes, Anne, we still have your wedding present. It's displayed proudly in our dining room.

It plays a waltz, and the music is forever haunting and joyous.

Thank you, Catholic New York.



Sunday, November 13, 2022

A Lesson in Poetry, Thanks to Marianne Moore

This is the story of my first public poetry reading.

I love hearing poems read aloud by their authors in real life. That and listening to musicians perform are two things that always rekindle my sense of wonder and reaffirm my faith in humanity.

Having recently attended both the Paterson and Dodge poetry festivals in New Jersey, I was energized and excited by the poets I heard. The experience inspired me to write a trilogy of poems that share the theme of looking back at my life and family.

Just for kicks, I decided to share these poems in public, out loud, during the open mic portion of a poetry reading at the Fort Lee Public Library this past weekend. There were a few other men approximately my age who also read, including one who read a poem about an imaginary conversation with the poet Marianne Moore.

So I was emboldened to walk to the mic in front of the room and read the set of poems below. The crowd of perhaps two dozen was attentive, and applauded, and I felt pretty good about the experience.

At the end, as I gathered my coat and notebook, an older gentleman hurried toward me. There was joy in his eyes, and it was as if he couldn't wait to tell me how much he enjoyed my poems. I thought, "I have a fan!"

He shook my hand vigorously and smiled warmly. He said, "I bet you didn't know that Marianne Moore loved baseball and was a big fan of the Dodgers!"

I smiled just as warmly, admitted I didn't know that, and thanked him for the information.

Then, turning and turning, I slouched towards home.


Elegy in a Living Room

Roman Holiday

Unopened Prayers

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Poem: 'Roman Holiday'

Pietà, St Peter's Basilica

Michelangelo's Pietà, St Peter's Basilica (Creative Commons)


This month, I was able to attend two poetry festivals close to home, the Paterson Poetry Festival and the Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark.

I listened to some incredible poets, including (two favorites) Rashad Wright in Paterson and Sandra Cisneros in Newark. Thank you to Talena Lachelle Queen and to the Dodge Foundation for coordinating such wonderful, life-affirming events!

In Paterson, two poets were especially kind and signed books for me: Elijah B. Pringle III and Catherine Doty.

I attended Cat's prompted workshop, where she asked us to think of details of a place we remembered vividly and also of a special hiding place. I combined the two prompts into the poem below. 

Roman Holiday 

When I was a teen,

my uncle led me up stone steps of a forbidden tower

to a parapet, with a panoramic view of St. Peter’s Square.

We were trespassing, and I was afraid of heights.

 

I told him I preferred to see the world with my feet on the ground:

Looking up at the Sistine Chapel ceiling,

Seeing my grandmother feed pigeons in the piazza,

Seeing the cool smooth marble of the Pieta inches from my eyes.

 

When I was a boy, I had seen Mary’s young face from afar,

behind bullet-proof, ceiling-to-floor plexiglass

on a dimly-lit moving sidewalk,

jostled by tourists at the World’s Fair.

 

As a teen, free from my Roman chaperones,

I was Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.

I was the only person in the world viewing, in a stolen moment,

what Michelangelo had carved from a single stone.

 

In such dizzying proximity to perfection,

I understood the desire to destroy it.

 

And yet I have lived my life as an innocent man,

never seeking to avenge my younger self.

I am Zacchaeus, and this page is where I hide.

This piece of paper.

This poem.


---------




Friday, September 23, 2022

5 Things I'd Tell My College Self


My apologies for the aging, yellow Kodak print of Dad and me examining my diploma after the graduation ceremony on the Notre Dame campus decades ago. It’s really all I have left.

Dad always wanted me to go to Notre Dame, so I did… to make him proud of me.

The first thing I’d tell my college self would be: “You don’t have to go to Notre Dame to make Dad proud.”

I miss Dad terribly. He died what will be 17 years ago next month. I learned in the years since that Dad was unconditionally proud of me.

Also, Dad didn’t know everything. For example, he was a lifelong Yankees fan. I started out that way too, but the older I get the more I appreciate the words of Roger Angell, who would have turned 102 this week. He wrote that cheering for the Yankees’ perfection is “admirable but a trifle inhuman.” The Mets’ “stumbling kind of semi-success can be much more warming: there is more Met than Yankee in every one of us.” I agree.

Regarding everyday life in general, I’d advise myself of two things: 1. “Be kinder than necessary” and 2. “Don’t worry so much.”

Regarding business, I’d advise myself of this truth: “Everything you need to know about business success can be found in two movies: ‘The Godfather’ and ‘The Godfather: Part 2. (A simple Google search can fill in the details.) 

Finally, about the big picture, I think back again to Notre Dame.

Fr. Ted Hesburgh, the university’s president from 1962 to 1987 who passed away in 2015, traveled far and wide in pursuit of social justice. I greatly admired him.

Fr. Ted was friends with popes and presidents, and his accomplishments were many. Touring the old LaFortune Student Center in a visit back to campus nearly five years ago, I stopped to admire a large, black-and-white portrait of Fr. Ted linked arm-in-arm with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at a civil rights rally at Soldier Field in Chicago in 1964.

Later that day, walking with my wife, we entered a cemetery on the edge of campus that had always intrigued me. It was filled with small cross-shaped headstones in neat rows. In college, I had simply assumed they were veterans’ graves.

No, my wife said, reading the markers in 2018, these were graves of all the brothers and priests of the Congregation of Holy Cross who had lived and worked at Notre Dame. They are buried in chronological order… one right after the other, with no marker more distinct than the next.

That made it was easy for us to find Fr. Ted’s grave, in a remote Indiana cemetery, marked with the same stone as all his brothers. Everyone buried there had done his part, lived and died, to the best of his talents, for a higher purpose than individual glory.

So this is the final thing I’d tell my college self: No person is more important than another; everyone contributes to everything.

Only the passage of time reveals the true import our efforts, and our biggest heroes are often buried in the most modest graves.



Saturday, September 10, 2022

Visiting the Warhol Museum: Ambivalence and Awe in Pittsburgh

Standing next to a large photo of the artist at the Andy Warhol Museum
Me and a photo of the artist, using a "Warhol Effect" filter.
It's only fair I appropriate his style.

Nancy and I took a road trip to Pittsburgh earlier this week, ostensibly to see the baseball Pirates host the New York Mets.

On our way to an afternoon game, we crossed paths with the Andy Warhol Museum. I was excited to see the works of this New York City legend, not realizing that he was born in Pittsburgh. Also, not realizing that I was about to enter the largest museum in North America dedicated to a single artist.

The experience was a head-spinning, comprehensive portrait of the artist. To me, it was a portrait with flaws.

Let's talk about the elephant in the room. The photo below, in one of the main exhibit areas, is a work by Keith Haring, who painted over a papier-mâché sculpture Warhol had purchased. 

Haring's elephant, unfiltered.

I love it. It's Keith Haring being Keith Haring and nobody else.

Then I looked around at what I thought were Picassos on the walls. They were works by Warhol in Picasso's style. Warhol, it seemed, tried to be like everybody else.

I looked at all the photographs on display, taken by other people and manipulated by Warhol. Then I watched some screen tests (filmed, silent portraits of visitors to Warhol's Factory studio in New York). Some on video, and many of those surrounding Warhol in black-and-white photos, seemed to be broken people. I read about suicides in the fine-print captions of various screen-test participants, actors in his films, and subjects of his art.

On one hand, Warhol produced work that seemed to exploit other people. He mastered the art of appropriation, taking possession someone else's work or image. As Warhol himself once said, "Art is what you can get away with."

On the other hand, his art put a spin on banality to create something with more meaning and permanence.

With ambivalence, I also watched a few videos of Warhol while there. He seemed elitist. In real life, I fear he'd make sure I knew I wasn't one of the cool kids.

Andy appraising Nancy while giving me side-eye in another room.

But then I noticed more layers to his life: His collection of kitschy folk art was heart-warningly "normal" (to my worldview, at least), like a visit to my guileless mother-in-law's house in Nutley, New Jersey.

Front of Warhol's Mass card.
Also, I read the Mass card from Warhol's memorial service at St. Patrick's Cathedral in 1987, where Yoko Ono delivered one of the three eulogies. On the card, the parish priest from the Church of the Heavenly Rest on 5th Avenue and 90th Street noted that Warhol poured coffee, served food and cleaned up after meals provided there to the homeless, hungry and friendless on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.

Warhol was only 58 when he died. I'm in awe of his accomplishments in his too-short life.

I'm older than that now, and I've never done as much hands-on for those in need.

Also, all my creative and artistic achievements could fit in a single folder in one of the filing cabinets on the entire floor of the museum devoted to Warhol's archives. All seven stories of the museum in Pittsburgh display only a portion of all Andy Warhol's creative work.

I'm a weekday commuter to New York City, fated never to be world-famous for 15 minutes or eulogized by a pop culture icon. As I write this on a Saturday morning in New Jersey, I'm watching Bugs Bunny cartoons and Nancy is reading the news.

I take small comfort in the fact that I lead the type of ordinary life Andy Warhol might have appropriated to turn into art.

---------

Following are some scenes from the exhibition.

Ordinary people imitating art...


Warhol's extraordinary art, including "Elvis - 11 Times"... 


The obligatory gift shop in the lobby, and the world's last (and most decorated) pay phone in the basement...


Leaving the museum, we walked across the Allegheny River on the Andy Warhol Bridge. The homeless, hungry and friendless were pan-handling; the tourists pretended not to notice.

Several love locks attached to the grill of the walking path were numbered Master locks. With the right combination, these locks can be easily removed should love prove not as lasting as art... 


Sunday, September 4, 2022

10 Slices of Life in New Jersey

Two views of Wesley Lake in Asbury Park
Wesley Lake, Asbury Park

Last week (Aug. 29-Sept. 3), I had fun taking over the Jersey Collective Instagram account. And you can too! There's a story pinned to that site with more information about how to apply; another story pinned there will take you to more information about the new "New Jersey Fan Club" anthology.

I've loved raising a family in New Jersey and currently live in Bergen County. About five years ago, I started a Found in New Jersey Instagram account to document the eclectic beauty and whimsy of life in the Garden State.

Below are my recent @foundinnj guest posts at Jersey Collective. It's my own "top 10" list, of sorts, with things to like about New Jersey.

- 1 -

Above are two images of Wesley Lake, with a distant view Ocean Grove from one of my favorite places: Asbury Park.

Citgo tanks along the Turnpike; Bon Jovi rest stop along the Parkway
To get there, I drove down the Turnpike, past Linden's iconic roadside Citgo storage tanks (made world-famous by the opening credits of "Sopranos" episodes), to the Parkway, stopping along the way at the Jon Bon Jovi rest area.

At the Asbury Book Cooperative on Cookman Avenue, I attended one of Project Write Now's Tuesday evening "Write Out Loud" events, open to all.

I read this essay I wrote for one of their classes. I figured, "What better place to talk about Springsteen?" and I was touched to see the audience snap their fingers in appreciation. PWN has great writing courses/events for all ages, and the Asbury Book Coop sells copies of "New Jersey Fan Club" at the front counter. Check it out! Go during the day (after 11:30) and you can ride an Asbury Park Pedal Boat on Wesley Lake too.

- 2 -

Four scenes from Asbury Park

More from Asbury Park, from visits over the past year. I like the place most when it's haunted, before and after hours, when the boardwalk is empty and streets outside the Wonder Bar and Stone Pony are quiet. I often visit with friends from Black Glass Gallery for photo meetups at sunrise. Check out the Black Glass Gallery Instagram account, where many of the best photographers from Asbury Park and around the state contribute photos from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York.

- 3 -

4 scenes from American Dream Mall

58 years ago today (Aug. 30), the Beatles toured New Jersey in the back of a fish truck (a limo would have been too conspicuous) before performing that night at Convention Hall in Atlantic City. You can look it up (thanks, Weird New Jersey).

Today, such a magical mystery tour might take them to American Dream Mall in East Rutherford, where they (and now YOU) could ride in an air-conditioned cabin on the Dream Wheel, a 300-foot Ferris wheel, or stroll through an indoor rival to an Octopus' Garden, or film ski scenes for "Help!" at an indoor slope in the middle of summer. I'm not generally a fan of malls, but this one makes me feel about 58 years younger.

Pro tip: check out IT'SUGAR, the three-story candy store there.

- 4 -

3 skyline views of Manhattan

What's your favorite place to view the New York City skyline from New Jersey?

Recently, I saw it from the top of the Ferris wheel at American Dream Mall (the top photo above, #nofilter).

Just about every day I sneak a photo while riding in a New Jersey Transit commuter bus (driver's side on the way in to work in Manhattan; passenger's side on the way home to New Jersey) on the Lincoln Tunnel Helix in Weehawken.

I've also seen the city's skyline from as far away as the beach at Sandy Hook.

When driving, the view often appears suddenly, as if approaching Emerald City. I've seen it from Route 17 heading south in Bergen County, Route 80 heading east in Hackensack, and... a favorite... Route 3 heading east in Nutley. I should pull over for that!

- 5 -

2 images of fireworks at ballparks

Fireworks and baseball are two favorite things.

I recently attended a Somerset Patriots game at TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater, where there were post-game fireworks DURING a distant thunderstorm (photo above, right). You can see the threatening clouds in the photo, but I'm pretty sure it was a Brett Baty HR that ignited the storm. The minor league season is short, but there's a final Patriots home stand you can attend Sept. 13-18 (with fireworks on the 17th).

Meanwhile, in Montclair, I attended a fireworks night (photo above, left) following a Jersey Jackals (love that name) game in July. Their season already over, the Jackals announced recently that the team WON'T be returning next year to Yogi Berra Stadium on the Montclair State University campus.

I'll miss seeing them there, but maybe there will be baseball to see in 2023 at a refurbished Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson?!?

Teams to see on my bucket list: the Jersey Shore BlueClaws, Trenton Thunder, and Sussex County Miners.

- 6 -

Images of a red barn, a sculpture of dancers, and a boardwalk in nature

Where's your favorite New Jersey park?

Looking back to winter (feeling wistful during this summer's heat and draught), I visited two personal favorites.

New Bridge Landing, on the River Edge/Hackensack border, includes several historical buildings, particularly a red barn that's picturesque in the snow. The site is maintained by the Bergen County Historical Society, which is hosting its annual Baron Beerfest there on Sept. 24.

I also visited snow-covered Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton Township, where ticket sales are currently open for its Nov. 2022-April 2023 nighttime lighted exhibits.

More recently, thanks to NJ Spots, I found a new (to me) park to visit: the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in New Vernon, with well-kept walkways through beautiful greenery. NJ Spots is a great resource for exploring New Jersey!

- 7 -

Images of 4 casual dining places in NJ

Thursday is #DateNight, and while all these places may not be date-worthy (depending on your relationship status), all are wonderful, in a New Jersey sort of way.

Here are four possibilities: Rutt's Hutt in Clifton, Pizza Town in Elmwood Park (which is not closing, as rumored; it's just under new ownership... although, sadly, Tavolino Pizzeria in Wallington closed its doors Sept. 3), White Manna Hamburgers in Hackensack, and the Summit Diner.

Press of Atlantic City file photo
Earlier this week, I posted about the Beatles' visit to Atlantic City in 1964. There's an (infamous) photo of them holding a giant sub sandwich from the White House Sub Shop... so that's on my wish list too.

All these places are perhaps guilty pleasures. What places are on your Date Night list? Asking for a friend :) 


- 8 -

Images of the Devil's Tree, Devil's Tower and Annie's Road

I posted this on a frightful Friday, facing the unofficial last weekend of summer (although the meteorological end of summer was Sept. 1). I'm wondering: What are your favorite haunted places in New Jersey?

Here are three places I've dared visit:

The Devil's Tree tree stands alone in the middle of a large field off Mountain Road in Bernards Township. It remains standing because anyone is cursed who tries to cut it down, according to local legend.

The Devil's Tower is located on Esplanade Road in Alpine, where a jealous lover leapt to death in 1922. As every schoolgirl at nearby Academy of the Holy Angels will attest, if you drive or walk backward around the tower three times, you will face the actual Devil.

Along "Annie's Road" in Totowa, you will see roadside memorials for the ghost of a teenager (sometimes called the "vanishing hitchhiker"), dressed in white, killed late night in the 1960s by a pickup truck as she tried to find her way to safety along unlit Riverview Drive. Local legend says she had fled her boyfriend's car after an argument on Prom Night.

PS- if ANYONE can tell me exactly how to find the Gates of Hell in Clifton (I've looked twice), I'd appreciate it.

- 9 -

Double rainbow at Garret Mountain overlook

Months ago, I caught a double rainbow over Paterson at the scenic overlook at Garret Mountain Reservation.

I like to visit Paterson when checking in on Mom, who lives nearby. Yesterday, I stopped by the Great Falls to see the Passaic River aglow with algae. I also strolled by adjacent Hinchliffe Stadium, now a full-scale fenced-in construction site (and future home of the Jersey Jackals?) where Dad played semi-pro baseball in his teens.

Need an occasion to visit NJ's 3rd largest city? I recommend the Paterson Poetry Festival, Oct. 1-3 (more information available at Word Seed). Allen Ginsberg grew up in Paterson, and the Poetry Center at Passaic County College sponsors an annual awards event in his honor every February.

Below is a poem I wrote inspired by the view from Garret Mountain. Forgive me, Allen.

Text of a poem
post here about the evolution of this poem 

- 10 -

The outside of St. Patrick's Church, with a plane landing in the background

Church buildings can provide quiet inspiration, and they often have wonderful stories to tell. I wrote about that as a contributor to "New Jersey Fan Club," so here's another shameless plug for that book.

About this image: Someone told me there had been crosses atop the two majestic front spires of St. Patrick's Church in Elizabeth, but that the crosses needed to be removed in 1961 due to damage from the vibration of low-flying planes at nearby Newark Airport.

Call me Doubting Thomas, but I didn't actually believe that until I visited there this past winter while a plane was landing!

This ended my week posting at Jersey Collective. At @foundinnj, I'll continue to post sights from around the state and, every Sunday, another image of another church.

See you there?

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Braided Essay*: 'Thunder Road' in 6 Scenes


Are You Scared? Are You Thinking That Maybe You Aren't That Young Anymore?


Scene 1:
The disambiguation page on Wikipedia lists 21 possible references to “Thunder Road.” But as anyone knows who grew up in New Jersey in the decade of the ’70s, there’s really only one. It’s the song recorded by Bruce Springsteen in 1975. A song without a chorus.

Scene 2:
It’s sometime after 8 p.m. on Saturday, October 9, 1976. I am standing right next to one of most unobtainable women on the Notre Dame campus. She barely knows me. We’re in Section 11, Row 7, of the Athletic & Convocation Center. I know these logistics because I still have the ticket stub in 2022, with its faded price of $6.50. More vivid is my memory of fair Rosie from Phoenix, AZ. The goosebumps and raised, wispy hairs on her bare, freckled arms almost graze my face as she raises her hands and we shout in unison, “Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night. You ain’t a beauty but, hey, you’re all right.”

Scene 3:
People magazine has named the actress Julia Roberts the most beautiful woman in the world five times, beginning in 1991 and most recently in 2017.

Scene 4:
In 1972, I leaned in to kiss Bobby Jean on her coral-red lips during a game of chess in her living room in Shrewsbury, NJ, where she’s lived forever. Bobby Jean’s all right; she always fit in. In 1974, I arrived on the Notre Dame campus 725 miles to the west, having never lived outside of New Jersey. I was immature for my young age. I grew a mustache to appear older; I didn’t fit in. By 1975, Bobby Jean and I were an uncoupled sonnet, doomed to be friends. Alone in my dorm room, like a Roy Orbison lyric, I donned corded, freakishly oversized headphones to listen to “Thunder Road” again and again. Eyes closed, haunted by Shakespearean ghosts, I’d imagine driving 725 miles to the east to rescue Bobby Jean from all the losers who pretended to love her. Just like me, I realized by the end of the decade. Just like me.

Scene 5:

In 1974, Bruce Springsteen wrote “Thunder Road” at his living room piano in Long Branch, NJ. His band’s first two albums had made him a critical darling but still an acquired taste outside of rabid fans in New Jersey and pockets of Arizona. In August 1975, a stripped-down arrangement of the song opened the band’s next album, “Born to Run.” By October 1975, Bruce appeared simultaneously on the covers of both Time and Newsweek magazines. In October 1976, he performed before 12,002 fans at the ACC on the Notre Dame campus. Soon thereafter and to this very day, when performing “Thunder Road,” he simply lets the crowd sing the lyrics beginning, “Show a little faith…”

Scene 6:
In 2022, my wife of over 35 years is scanning celebrity news on her iPad after sunset in our living room in Hackensack, NJ. In the spotlight of a table lamp, Mary is sprawled across her favorite chair, her right leg hanging over one of the armrests, like Hyman Roth in 1974’s “The Godfather: Part 2.” “Listen to this,” she laughs. “Julia Roberts was once asked which song lyric described her most accurately, and she chose my favorite line from ‘Thunder Road’: ‘You ain’t a beauty but, hey, you’re all right.’” Mary laughs. “Isn’t that the best rock and roll lyric EVER?” she asks rhetorically, then adds that Bruce could only have written “Thunder Road” when he was young, because it’s filled with so much passion and promise. I tell her I disagree, then cross the room. Our eyes meet, and I brush aside a strand of her dyed red hair to steal a kiss. “Show a little faith,” I whisper. “I think you’re more beautiful than Julia Roberts.” Then I take Mary by the hand and turn out the light, revealing an ordinary New Jersey night.

“Baby,” I say, “let’s go for a drive.”

---------

*- As I learned in the personal essay course I wrote this for last week at Project Write Now (it's a great, New Jersey-based organization, and I highly recommend their online courses), a braided essay weaves threads together into a written work that's a cohesive whole. In this case, the prompt was for one paragraph to be simply factual, and the next to be personal. Today is also the anniversary of the day "Born to Run" was released in 1975.

My previous two posts on this site (the "hermit crab" essay posing as a pharmaceutical ad and the poem about prayers) are also based on writing I did for the PWN course.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Generic Pharmaceutical Ad: 'No Regrets - A Cure for the Heartbreak of RPL'

Generic politically correct photo of a diverse couple
(courtesy of Ukrainian photographer Vitalii Odobesku)

Recalling Past Lovers (RPL) is a debilitating affliction, but it doesn’t have to be life-threatening.  

You can learn to live with it.

Lethe 2022, now available in convenient tablet form, is designed to ease regrets caused by the disillusionment of passing time and the attraction of nostalgia.

For when you can’t sleep without dreaming of your former lover. 

For when you can’t keep pretending your life is happier now. 

For bleeding ulcers, because you’ve swallowed your heart.  

We have endorsements: 

“I love the memory loss that comes without having RPL,” says John. “Jane has vanished from my thoughts. Lethe 2022 even erased the remnants of her lingering scent.”  

“Without RPL, I’m free to love again,” says Jane. “One pill provides relief, removing any doubt from my life’s choices.” 

Potential side effects include: 

Lack of self-awareness 

Unrecoverable loss of time 

Delusional episodes 

Inability to learn from the past

Recidivism 

Taken as directed, Lethe 2022 cannot guarantee the death of desire. 

Should you encounter your former lover, you may experience dizziness and discomfort, caused by quantum physics and the entanglement of sub-atomic particles that can inflame the aches and pains still smoldering in your worn and aging soul. 

As your doctor if Lethe 2022 is right for you.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Poem: 'Unopened Prayers'


I own a prayer book
that reminds me of Nonna,
the way she would recite from her hymnal
while rocking in her front-porch chair.

She whispered a string of sibilant “s”-s,
audible only to young boys and house cats.
The words themselves were beyond my reach
as my grandmother conspired with God.

So I’ve saved this book,
but I’ve never opened it.
Instead, I hold it aloft and pretend I am young,
blowing seeds off a dandelion.

Lips pursed, facing the sun,
I watch particles of dust rise
from the dead and float to the heavens,
like incense.

(revised 11/13)


Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Hamlet in Suburbia: Why I Love Photography


Here's another shameless self-promotional photo of me (far left, which is as political as I dare get when posting here), holding a copy of the new "New Jersey Fan Club" anthology with some co-contributors.

We had gathered this past Saturday at The Corner (top right), a great little shop/studio in picturesque Flemington, NJ, to talk about photos published in the book... and what prompted our love of photography.

For me, it always comes back to Dad. He bought an Olympus 35 while overseas with the Navy, then took family photos in the ensuing decades. My Mom, sister and I used to love to gather in the family room to watch his slideshows. And now it occurs to me that exactly two years ago, I posted here about recovering Dad's slides from his 1955 trip to Barcelona.

Which I still haven't visited.

Several veteran news photographers who were artists at their craft also inspired me, and tolerated my questions, when I began my career as a reporter. I'm thinking especially of the late Tom Lynch. I once posted about him here. I still haven't collected and displayed his photos, as promised.

I'm also thinking of Chris Sheridan at Catholic New York, and Ken Lauben in my days as a corporate publication editor. I searched for Ken just now, and found his obituary. Nearly three years ago. I had no idea.

The older I get, the more I wish I could stop time. Which is why I love photography, and why these words from the recent finale of the TV drama "This Is Us" so resonate with me:
"We're collecting these little moments. We don't recognize them when we're in them because we're too busy looking forward. But then we spend the rest of our lives looking back…trying to remember them."

Anyway, since The Corner is owned and operated by the talented photographer Dave Norton, I booked a session with him so I could update my social media profile photos. Here's me, still left of center and wearing Dad's old tie, on Saturday, July 23, 2022, pretending the person in this image will never age:

Lord knows, I try to keep up with technology and social media... and I do love taking cellphone photos (preferring the camera I always have with me to the Canon I hang around my neck when going on photo-shooting adventures with friends).

As I explained to those attending Saturday's event, I even dream about these things.

This month, while in bed in suburban New Jersey, I dreamt I had created AI chatbot modeled after Dad, so that he and I could still have text conversations today, even though he died in 2005.

As our "conversations" grew more vivid, in my dream, I noticed that photos of Dad began appearing on my Google Photos feed. I had never seen these images of him before, and I couldn't fathom who took them. Dad was rarely in the family slideshow photos because he was always behind the camera.

One last photo stood out among the others. It was my Dad and Mom standing side-by-side, facing me, like the man and woman in Grant Wood's "American Gothic."

Scrawled on the bottom of this image, hand-printed in the same small lettering Dad always used when writing captions on the outside corners of his 35mm slides, was this message:

"Avenge My Death!"


Thursday, June 30, 2022

My Favorite Sister

It's my favorite sister's birthday today.


Well, OK, Sue is my only sister, but I'm pretty sure she'd be my favorite if I had 100 sisters.

Even though we live separate lives in separate states, I've been able to visit her this week.

My younger sister and I spent the day together yesterday, a rainy Wednesday. With outdoor plans scuttled, we went to see the new "Top Gun" movie. Sue had already seen it, but she wanted to see it again, and she thought I'd like it.

I loved it.

I was almost moved to tears during a few scenes. Silly me. I managed to keep my emotions in check.

I rationalized that I was so sentimental because it was my first visit to an actual movie theater (with a big, live audience to boot) since before the pandemic.

Also, it was my first visit to a movie theater with Sue since we were kids.

We saw "Jaws" alone together during a family vacation at the Jersey Shore. The MPAA had generously rated "Jaws" as PG, but my parents probably only allowed us to go because underage Sue would be there to chaperone me.

Sue doesn't remember this long-ago outing with her "big brother," probably because it pales in comparison to her many teenage adventures as one of the cool kids.

Throughout our young lives, Sue was popular and confident, while I was awkward and shy. Yet she always defended me. She has always had my back.

Even today, Sue's loyalty is unfailing, and we're still different people. I don’t think many others, meeting us for the first time, would peg us as brother and sister.

More to the point: Although I'll always be physically bigger and grayer, she's the bigger person.

Yesterday, as Sue's husband drove us back home after we had watched "Top Gun," he turned to her and asked, "You didn't cry again in the theater, did you?"

If I'm ever going to be as caring and as loving as my little sister, I'm gonna need a bigger heart.