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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

An Old School Song

With the new school year, I've been thinking of my old HS. It was a progressive school, originally an experiment in ecumenicalism between the Catholics and Protestants, on Staten Island. The building was a former Franciscan Friary and Nunnery, and we had nuns and priests still as well as lay teachers and student teachers. So much of my life was influenced by that school that I value good schooling for all, though I raised no children by birth.

Recently I've had the real pleasure of watching both "Goodbye, Mr Chips" and "Tom Brown's School Days". The old originals, not the remakes. Both put me in mind of school songs. We did a lot of singing in HS; at chapel, during school meetings, and in the community too. In my graduating year we visited nursing homes and sang to the residents. Though I considered it a pain in the ass at the time, I realize what a good thing that was to do and what those teachers, Marie Pappas and Rita Larsen Kurtz, were fostering in us. Good teachers, we had. Very good teachers.

One of the songs I remember very well was one we never sang anywhere but amongst ourselves. In fact, a sschoolmate, Leopold Zappler, and I composed it. Here now, is what I consider my school song:

I saw Rev. Belcher walking down the street
His mask it was a face of gray depair.
And though I'd often seen him traverse before there,
Something was missing.
It was his pubic hair.

Poor Rev. Belcher. Poor, poor Rev. Belcher,
He now felt so naked to the cold.
They say he wore a muffler wrapped up in his crotch
and his bush into a wig it had been wove.

Here's to higher education.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Very Good, Excellent Day

I received an email from someone who said that what I said in an email to them stopped them from killing themselves. That's pretty flooring and I don't think I can take the credit. Though there have been peep in my life who saved me from horrors (even random strangers- a remark from a homeless guy changed my life once), so I can understand the feeling. I don't know what was even said. Nothing was seeming crucial or critical in our exchange. But I didn't do whatever it was on my own; and the real crux of the issue is we all need each other. Because to even be there for that person, at that time, and in the right frame of mind to say whatever I did, I have others to thank.

So, the thanks really go to my brothers, my old pals, and a host of others who've uplifted me over my lifetime. Without learning by their examples/experiences, or the many things they've done for me or even to me throughout my life (and last Christmas), I wouldn't have been there for someone who needed me.

It's how the Butterfly Effect works. It doesn't take a lot, just some time & kindness. The Rager still lives in me; maybe always will. It's a process. However, keeping mindful of how easily I can be cut to the heart should make me kinder. The choice is omnipresent. One can be kind or unkind in any moment.The smallest gestures can reap huge miracles. We can make the world better.

Friday, September 11, 2009

8 Short Years

Time is hard to grasp. Sometimes seeming endless, as in the first days after September 11, 2001. From here in New England, it was three days before I could get a call thru to NYC and check on everyone there. In retrospect, much has happened since then but doesn't seem longer than maybe 2 years that it all happened.

At 9 a.m. that morning I called a coworker about the availability of an apartment. She was crying and blurted, "Haven't you seen what happened? Put on the news!" So I turned the TV on, and saw my hometown on fire. We didn't know for sure what had caused the plane to go into the North Tower yet. Immediately I thought of my Dad, long dead, and how fascinated he'd been with the construction of the Twin Towers. The pix we took from the Brooklyn esplanade in the Heights in 1973 were among our best photo excursions. When the towers opened we took shots from the ground up. I still have those....

At 10 I called my friend Kathleen and said, "Have you seen the news?" We watched in tandem, for an hour, saw the falling buildings, the clouds of fallout and dust, and cried. I went to work just after 11, walking thru a silent town, little traffic passing, everything a blur to me. At work we listened to the radio all afternoon. Friends and customers came in, seeking comfort, sharing the grief in hushed voices. It was all very quiet. Now and then you'd hear a soft low sob from someone. My friends Chris and Lise came by and we stood in an aisle, wondering aloud if even comfort foods would help or matter. Everyone looked lost. In a daze I tried thinking of all I knew who may have been around there that morning...Chiefy- his office was right there, wasn't it? Pat Carr-was he at work that early? my sis-in-law's family...wasn't Kenneth delivering on Church St now? Would Thomas be at work at that hour? Didn't Loretta work in the Trade Center itself? More and more people came to mind, the outer branches of family and friend trees, the cops and firefighters I knew, teachers down there at CAS & Stuyvesant...my god, is everyone okay?

By the next day it was becoming clear that there weren't going to be survivors in the rubble. If they had been there, they either got away early, or not at all. The Oxygen network went off the air and by a miracle, in its place we got NY1 news. Every waking hour I was home I watched nothing else. Talking to Stevil on Wednesday, we discussed how weird it all was- that the President said he saw the 1st tower hit when it wasn't broadcasted live, that he didn't look surprised when the SS guy told him what had happened, that they'd let the bin Laden family fly out of the country when everything was grounded and how fishy it all was looking.

On Thursday evening I got a call thru to my brother in New Jersey. Nobody of the family was missing or dead. Pat had been on the concourse smoking a cigarette when the 1st plane hit. He was in shock, rooted in place, and was badly burned but alive. Loretta had been leaving the WTC when a jumper hit the concourse right in front of her, splattering her head to toe in blood. But she walked over the Brooklyn Bridge and was home and safe. Chiefy wasn't there that morning; the kids weren't in the area that morning either. Then the names of the missing began to be posted. The Times ran them everyday and I scanned them, feeling almost ghoulish, until I saw the Talty name. My friend Sean's brother Paul. I thought of their family- a few years earlier, another brother of his, another cop, had been killed on duty in a drug bust. Now Paul was gone, too. Knowing how tight and loving that family was, the loyalty they had and how much they all adored each other... and Sean, that big goofy ex-Marine, had now lost his brothers...

At some point I organized a Cookie Drive for the FDNY, and many townsfolk baked several big boxes of sweets that Judith Serkin drove and delivered to a firehouse in NYC, a "With love from Brattleboro, VT" note inside.

I stopped reading "the missing" list. Every morning I talked with another NYer at work, sharing details and updates. That Friday I went to a service at the local Episcopalian church with my friend Cam and the next week I went to a memorial service at the VFW with my boss and his family. We were all in shock and angry. Satirical"Wanted" posters of bin Laden were hung up, emailed and sent around the country - bin Laden on a goat milk carton, bin Laden bent over with a nuke missile up his arse. Then the Patriot Act rushed thru Congress. We were changed forever.

It's been 8 years; many Americans have become more politically active. Some who'd never even paid attention before began voting. Lots mobilized behind their chosen causes. People march in the streets again. We killed Saddam Hussein. We began and continue to be, in a senseless "war" that's killed unknown numbers of people and driven even more insane. Our former President and Congress brought us to the brink of financial ruin. "Greed is good" is the motto for too many. While spouting Bible chapters many provoke and encourage hatred and violence. Those who value only money and power are helped in their endeavors and those who don't are demeaned and criminalized. Less than a year ago we elected the first black American to the Presidency. Democrats and Republicans spend all their time fighting each other, like grammar schoolkids with nothing better to do. Personally I've gone thru a lot. We all have. The last 8 years seem to have passed so quickly, but have been Big Years of Change. Where these changes will take us, and which will last, is yet to be seen. I try to keep hopeful.