Cushie

My internship at the Museum of Broadcasting when I was 17, a senior at Trinity School, consisted mainly of viewing Jamie Farr’s personal collection of M*A*S*H shows on VCR tapes to make sure the entire episodes were there.  Occasionally, toward the end of an show, the channel would cut to a Yankees game, and we’d have to mark the tape “unusable.”

 

There was no financial remuneration for this 6-week long position.  I had a choice at Trinity of either doing a senior thesis or a senior “project.”  As I was headed to North Carolina State University, and not Harvard or even Haverford, and therefore not closely monitored by the Administration Authorities Who Care How The Ivy Leaguers Are Doing, I was not really noticed as I slipped through the cracks that last year and into a role in midtown which allowed me to watch TV all afternoon.

 

True, I did have to work at points:  I catalogued old episodes of “Cavalcade of America,” a show first on radio in the 1930s and then on TV from 1952 to 1957.  This work involved kneeling and bending and lifting and writing:  activities all somewhat in dissonance with assuming the likeness of a potato on a couch.

 

The woman who had scored me the job was the museum’s curator – can you picture the teenage mind imagining what it must be like to curate a mass collection of television shows…?  That’s like mainlining Twinkies for a sugar addict – a woman my father had worked with years before at CBS.  She had an apartment in the UN Plaza overlooking the United Nations.  I became her friend during those weeks, and we remained friends long after then, even after my parents died.  She would take me, and then the Lovely K and me, to lunch and dinner at the Metropolitan Club on 60th Street between Park and Lexington, around the corner from where I took dance lessons as a 6th grader.  There I learned to box waltz, a dance that no girl ever asked me to replicate later in life, and a step I would not volunteer at a bar under threat of life or limb.  Nor will it ever be caught on YouTube.

 

After my Museum of Broadcasting gig was up, I returned to Trinity for the last few days of class, in early June 1981.  Finals were in a few days and, fortunately, were not to be boring ones, since one of my classmates, generally thought to be Steve _____, called in a fake bomb threat, clearing out our Calculus test for at least two hours.

 

 

 

 

photo:  dhammza

wind-swept hair

Two women.

 

One was like a pillar, her lean, erect frame topped with a bun of dyed-by-sun blond hair arranged so that the wind from riding the ferry across the bay wouldn’t blow it free.  It was steadied and secure.  Her lips were tightly set, and her mouth and cheeks showed no creases.  Her skin was fine china.

 

She wore a black top over khaki capri’s.  Her arms folded, she looked ahead and didn’t engage anyone around her.  She was a shrine to the vitality of youth, a temple whose visitors paid a token to enter, admire, take photos, and leave unchanged, walking on to the next site on their color-coded maps.

 

The other woman was a holy site, a meeting room where those seeking rebirth and those whose lives had been changed came and congregated, broke bread, sang, prayed and worshiped.  Her clothes were off-the-rack and loose.  Her hair was tangled by the wind blowing from behind her head as she spoke in animated terms.  Her hair blew around to the front of her face and into her mouth, where she would sweep it out with a hand, amused, and continue her story, her eyes pinched with wrinkles from years spent with friends and those she loved.

 

She glanced at her lover, her husband, and held her 2-year-old son as he nibbled on a cracker, the crumbs falling on her lap.

“Such a river”

It sounded almost like a wedding march and, in a sense, it was.  The organ in church this past Sunday at Point O’ Woods piped the first notes of “Glorious things of thee are spoken,” and in your mind you could see a bride walking down the aisle, smiling, her life-mate before her, beaming back.  Two of them in a Chagall painting eye-lock.  It was a wedding march, of sorts, yet it was years late, and misplaced, for me.

 

And as the congregation started to sing the opening line – Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion, city of our God! my throat constricted, my eyes watered, my voice weakened and ultimately failed.  I could not sing.  I was being beckoned to wed a place, this place, this community, in which I had effectively grown up, though it was just during summers, yet summers where life is lived and hopes are created and young romances are kindled and then replaced by other young romances like freshly pressed doilies on a dresser.  Life, where friendships are forged and never forgotten, where parents are seen in their relaxed state, away from the din of New York and the press of subway-sweaty flesh, now clad in seersucker and sporting bronze skin from white sand beach laughter.  I was being asked to spiritually locate my soul in this place, this place where I have more memories than I do of the City – the City where I spent 11 of 12 months each year, and to which God continually calls me back from wherever I have moved, as He has done recently.

 

Yet, I couldn’t do it.

 

He, whose Word cannot be broken,
Formed thee for His own abode.

 

As we sang the second line I – wanting to sing in parts, which I so love and which the organist Mary had trained me to do from my youth up through the adult choir – I had to sing the melody.  I couldn’t let my voice go free with the tune or the lyric.  It was Sunday morning, 36 hours after I had arrived on Friday night, my first visit to Fire Island and to POW since 2002, six years ago, our last summer in the house, the summer after Mom died, the summer when Karen spruced up the downstairs and made it airy and delightful and fun, which ultimately helped it sell in the fall.  My in-laws came for a visit that summer and later, after the house sold, my father-in-law spoke for us all when he said that he never would have left if he knew he wasn’t going to return.

 

I didn’t return.  Not that I didn’t want to.

 

That fall, 2002, I went back to pick up personal items from the house and take the Bunger longboard over to Dave K’s.  My plan had been to stay over a Friday night and then drive back to New England Saturday morning.  My stay was in fact less than three hours.  I walked into the house and felt that the life had been sucked out like from a halved grapefruit whose juice is all gone and what is left is the rind and the sad, drying pulp.  I couldn’t see myself sleeping in my – the new owners’ – bed and then rising on the weekend morning, when Mom and Dad would be dancing around each other in the kitchen, he letting his tea steep with the leaves perched in an aluminum strainer over a chipped plain white cup in a non-matching saucer, she busy like a bee with too many flowers and not enough time, smiling at you when you came around the corner of the staircase that descended between the kitchen and the living room, crying out, “Morning, lovey!”  Her voice, always greeting, yet now silent, not even echoing through these rooms which belonged to another.  The living room floor, deep with the stain that Mom applied after hours of removing linoleum tiles in the off-season and throughout a summer, now was a silent mourner, waiting for new feet and new voices.

 

I couldn’t stay.

 

So I left on the late evening boat and probably cried behind dark glasses or something like that.  I drove the five hours home, probably cried some more.  I don’t remember.  All I know is that after that visit to the owners’ new home that fall, I didn’t go back to Point O’ Woods until this past weekend, at the invitation of my childhood friend Jon and his wife.

 

I arrived, and there were Jon and Nancy, and Dave B., and Kinsey, and others, looking as young and vivacious as ever.  They, and the place, had not changed.  This is a cliché that runs throughout our narrative:  the unchanging nature of Point O’ Woods.

 

“There’s surf,” Jon said.  “I think we’re going to get an evening session in.”  It was 7:45 p.m., and by the time we got in, we’d have another 45 minutes or so of surfable skylight.  Which we did.  And there were waves all weekend; I surfed four times for a total of almost seven hours.  (Karen and boys were in Texas.)

 

Saturday night was the Lobster Party, with Dave K’s dad leading the Dixieland Band that has played there since I was a kid and perhaps before that.

 

On the Rock of Ages founded,
What can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation’s walls surrounded,
Thou may’st smile at all thy foes.

 

I still couldn’t sing, my mind reviewing the events of the weekend behind me:  seeing Al and Sandy and Jenny, learning of Jen’s daughter’s diagnosis of Type-1 diabetes – I had missed this in their lives.  Missed it because I wasn’t around.  Lexie wasn’t out this weekend, but I had also missed being near her when her father passed away from a sudden heart attack.  There were other life events that I had heard about through email or a call one night from Dave K – “Dave C has committed suicide” he said through heaving sobs.  Where was I?  Where was Dave C’s brother Al?  How was Al – I wasn’t there for him.

See! the streams of living waters,
Springing from eternal love;
Well supply thy sons and daughters,
And all fear of want remove:
Who can faint while such a river
Ever flows their thirst t’assuage?
Grace, which like the Lord, the Giver,
Never fails from age to age.

Slowly, I got my voice.  I stood there, next to Jon and his 6-year-old son Evan.  Jon: who might have been thinking about the words to the hymn or might have been thinking about his tennis doubles final in about 90 minutes, a match that he had played and replayed with his brother as partner for the last five years, which all of my friends were aware of and perhaps had seen.  Except for me.

 

I sang parts for the second verse.  It came, and I sang about the streams of living waters, the supply they gave the Lord’s sons and daughters, the thirst that was assuaged.  This thirst of mine – the thirst for connection, this thirst for memory, for reunion, for fellowship of a human and divine nature – this thirst for something more than a shell of a house which will turn to dust one day, the thirst for something imperishable and immutable, this thirst was being assuaged as I sang.

 

Blest inhabitants of Zion,
Washed in the Redeemer’s blood!
Jesus, whom their souls rely on,
Makes them kings and priests to God.

 

I realized that I was no longer an owner at Point O’ Woods.  I was not an owner in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, nor even a citizen of New York.  My citizenship, my inhabitation, was elsewhere.  These people around me that Sunday morning were my friends.  They would always be my friends.

Savior, if of Zion’s city,
I through grace a member am,
Let the world deride or pity,
I will glory in Thy Name.
Fading is the worldling’s pleasure,
All his boasted pomp and show;
Solid joys and lasting treasure
None but Zion’s children know.

photo:  clikchick

Why I took Freshman English twice

Miscellany for Friday.

 

The Serenity Prayer’s disputed authorship is in the news.  Many think Reinhold Niebuhr wrote it, including Niebuhr himself.

 

But what I wonder about is a missing comma.

 

It reads, in most “official” versions, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change….”  Yet the lack of a comma after God’s name makes this a general plea to an unknown grantor, instead of a child’s cry to a Father.

 

Would whoever stakes their ultimate claim on this prayer please put a comma in.

 

Thank you.

“Flesh that I fight”

Walking, almost gliding, past The Esplanade (“Luxury Residences” for Senior Living) on West End Avenue and 74th Street, I watched those seated outside who were watching everything and nothing.

 

A man sat on a wood slat bench, the kind you buy at Ace Hardware and put together in about an hour, with faux cast iron arms, and legs chained to standpipes in front of the building to prevent theft.

 

In his summer short-sleeved shirt, this man watched the early evening traffic heading south on West End, but his eyes didn’t move.  They simply watched the endless whizzing stream:  a blur of taxi-yellow and black rubber, and unchanging asphalt.  All the blurs were the same to him – same sound, same speed, same rhythm, same destination.  Away, away, away from where he sat.

 

To his left, as I continued, was a woman with a grape-sized purple mole popping off her forehead.  Her hair, thinning gray and unkempt, was pushed back as if by an impatient hand without a thought.  She was animated, smiling, explaining something to a much younger woman, a black woman, who stood and looked at her intently.  The older woman used her right hand like a machete, chopping the air into the meaning she wished for.

 

As I walked on, Brooke Fraser sang into my iPod…

 

If I find in myself desires nothing in this world can satisfy,
I can only conclude that I was not made for here.
If the flesh that I fight is at best only light and momentary,
then of course I’ll feel nude when to where I’m destined I’m compared.

 

photo:  mkristofer