Saturday, June 18, 2016

Season 11

“Alright, it’s the row behind us” I said matter of factly.

“What?” replied JJ

“It’s the row behind us” I said again after surveying, over and across, the row in front of us and then doing the same with the row we were in and then…

“…It’s the row behind us”

“For what?”

“For me to go across and grab our first round”

“Why”

“Because they’re Pirates fans” In our 11 seasons of catching at least one game, at Shea Stadium and now Citi Field in Queens, there have always been, inevitably, Pirate fans sitting close. “They already like me”

I hate sitting in the middle of a row at a ballgame as, eventually, you will need to Bugs Bunny ‘Pardon me, excuse me, pardon me’ across an aisle of people but in this case I was wearing my Buccos jersey. It was, thus, a much easier momentary imposition I thought.

Me and JJ (Jeremiah Johnsen is his name, not to be confused with the beard and living off the land) had fast become friends at Cumulus Radio in Poughkeepsie NY back in ’05 while I was doing an overnight shift and then a morning show when we thought it would be a fine idea to take our respective ballgame fandoms down to New York City for a Pirates/Mets game along with my morning show co-host, Reno and our producer, Beast. So the following Spring, right around the time my morning show tenure was about to come to a premature end, we did just that. I didn’t know the end of that morning show for me was coming but I somehow felt it in my shoes, when it was decided in the dreaded ‘upstairs’ I wasn’t funny anymore and was instead replaced by someone far less so but far more expensive in more ways than one. That decision would eventually come with a bite. I’ve never held many grudges in my life but that karma bite has always been remembered fondly and that first game was as good a night as any to remember that wonderful morning crew together as we sat just a few rows from God at old Shea watching that first game while bonding and joking with some girls doing their own night together who didn’t realize, or didn’t care how old I was. I thank you ladies for that by the way… and yes, there were Pirate fans nearby.

One of my greatest joys has always been a ballgame, win or lose, wherever I was, checking off 6 different pro stadiums in my time and though I’ve been on the losing side more often than not it hasn’t really mattered in the end. All that has mattered is the green expanse, the rush of walking the stairs, entering the concourse, ticket in hand, to the orderly confusion of favorite player jerseys/t-shirts and caps worn by dads and sons and daughters and moms to guide dad while distracted, as I have always been at the smells of dogs, burgers, pretzels, things with powdered sugar and the excited greeting of that expanse…the rush of that smack, the bat, the ball in the glove, the holler of the ump and the seeming hugeness of the same small game you played as a child, ‘There it is again…’ I thought ‘…and it never gets old’ the smack of looking out over that lush of grown up kids running their dreams to their positions and me living it with them with a beer, a dog, a glove and time paused. You know, I’ve felt old now in too many places and at too many times in the last number of years to remember but I’ve never felt old at a baseball game.

I was even reminded of that thought after I Bugs Bunny’d my way across that row of Pirate fans behind us this night while making my way to one of the snack bars for that first round when I was stopped by some Mets fans, the type of guys that try to make you feel at home while making fun to your face, especially that ONE guy, the smug one, the one that still finds it some sort of inside joke to wear the #69 in his over 35 softball league. I had my glove with me, as I have always have had my glove with me since my first game when I was 13.

“Dude! Pirates fan! Do you really have your glove with you?!” with the expected laughs from his buddies.

“Of course I do. Where’s yours?”

Another guy “How much you wanna bet on tonight? How about a hundred?”

“No, I’m good my friend”

That ONE guy “How much for that glove?”

“Do you still have the same glove you’ve owned most of your life with you today? How do you not bring your glove to the ballpark?” I asked.

We laughed as I walked away feeling the other laughs at my back drifting behind me.

Not surprisingly, as JJ and I and good friend Brian (who has been joining us going on 5 seasons now) left our seats to make our way to a centerfield vantage in the later innings, I ran into that ONE guy one more time, cheeks flushed, spending his time at a concourse bar hitting on some poor girl, the ballpark now a mere drinking hole.

“Hey, It’s the Pirate fan with the glove”

“And it’s you without one. Never forget what it’s like to bring your glove to a game dude. Be good”

Then it was a fist bump with a guy in a Stargell jersey and off to centerfield for some ice cream. Comfort food. My Buccos were down 10-0 and I was hoping that ice cream would come with a hug.

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I had a press pass in my later years at WDVE in Pittsburgh starting in ‘93, the year the Bucs stopped being baseball relevant (something that would continue for 20 more), when all the players left and the fans with them, well, the ones unlike me. I was still there and I gloried in my Charlie Golden Ticket of a free pass to the expanse anytime I wished or when I was there to get sad losing sound bites from Jim Leyland or disinterested players for the morning show. People still needed to hear the trainwreck right? Me? I got to sit in the press box after waving that ticket at security through the press entrance to fellas that would eventually just smile and nod me through, no pass needed. Though the club was a losing one, in a city that seemed to baseball die after ’92 (I swear Pittsburgh took that harder than any Steelers failure), I was allowed access to that press box and the clubhouse and even to the ’94 All Star Game. For a guy who grew up in NY but bled Black N Gold courtesy of my grandad how could you ask for more? Other than winning? You couldn’t and I surely did not when I would walk in on a Friday or Saturday night, unencumbered with the obligation of a girlfriend or others, no sound bites needed for the weekend, and grab a beer and couple of dogs to make my way to the 600 section of old Three Rivers Stadium, feet up in the front row. Bring me bad baseball with sauerkraut with mustard. Now that was living.

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In the grand scheme 11 seasons is a blip, it doesn’t even garner a flicker, but it’s been one fifth of my life, MY life. One that is only mine for this short stay but it’s been pretty big. Past days spent with Jagger (Maria’s son) and days spent with he and her, so pretty in a ballcap, days spent with my sis, her Buck and my nephews who are now stuck with the Bucs courtesy of Uncle Steve, a day spent with Johnny, when he was still feeling out his relationship with one of Meg’s daughters, the day in the rain where Beck and Buck and I moved, drenched, to the hitter’s eye seats in centerfield and days spent with JJ on a Sunday if we had a weekend series, getting there at 11a after the night game we caught to grill dogs, burgers and braut in a soon not to be lonely parking lot in the sun, to the game where I just missed a HR ball from Cutch 

(http://frankenberrysattic.blogspot.com/2010/09/my-buccos-and-missed-moment.html) 

and to that scheduled doubleheader in '77, with me decked out in my homemade John Candelaria jersey, the one that would have me noticed at the mad filing out after game 2 by his parents somehow amid that exiting rush, as proud as any parents of their child who, grown now, inspired that homemade jersey of a 13 year old from the suburbs who lived his 13 year old dreams by meeting John himself at the players entrance as they directed me and dad there to display their pride in the form of me. I even got a chance to meet John Candelaria recently and recount that story to a big smile, laugh, a handshake and an autograph on the years weathered Pirates batting helmet I got that day almost 40 years ago. This was courtesy of JJ. Thank you for that my friend. The bond of ball.

Though I didn't really expect a victory on this night with the Pirates pitching scuffling so badly it didn't matter. I was at the expanse. At the lush. It was season 11 of days and nights at a ballgame. 


Sunday, June 12, 2016

52 - A Work in Progress

I recently took a weekend off and did something.  Now mind you, that sentence is a touch foreign. I haven’t taken a weekend off to do something since the last time I did and that was, well, that was never it seems. But it was also a stinging reminder of all the weekends where I should have, with loved ones in tow but didn’t. A bad I can never un not do. But this particular weekend I did and I gotta tell ya, I felt a rush of actual living from it and it was something that I had to do at this point in my life for just that reason. I went to visit my old, and best, roommate, Tom. He the teacher of 20 years and his life were holding a Poet Con. A coming together of poets and expression and friends. He asked if I would be interested in joining, witnessing  and maybe actually do a bit of that coming together.

Sitting on a train to Norfolk from Poughkeepsie (a couple of them with a Penn Station hub) for just short of 12 hours I was slapped with a reminder of me. I enjoyed the solitude of those trains with a Neil Gaiman book this day, and a packed lunch and could have easily continued to stops beyond, or as long as my sandwich held out to the next sandwich, yet the promise of meeting new folks and sharing poetry had me get off where I should.  How to mix solitude with connection, a conundrum I’ve been trying to master for a lifetime.  

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Ya know, I don’t remember exactly when Tom (JT) and I weren’t sharing a place together back at WVU and before then. I know when it had to be, after Tom was done with the masters and I stayed on in Morgantown, after not being done with mine, at the college radio station while trying to catch on at WDVE in Pittsburgh, I just don’t remember exactly when.  I don’t really recall moving out, the whole packing and steps and lugging shit down them to say goodbye to that two bedroom place that started with pizza and fleas. Fleas hopping above that exhaustedly happy post move-in pizza suddenly profiled in the light of the TV as they sprang up and down in an almost circus of flight just minus tiny top hats from the carpet that seemingly had been home to a flead cat or dog before us. The necessary bombing of the place took a bit of the sheen of new place excitement out of the move but it settled and we lived even with the eventual ants who apparently just laugh off flea bombs. 

We had been roommates for so long and so well that I think my memories just kind of skipped straight to wherever I was next, wherever the next bed and stuff was. There were quite a few.
It started with our last year of college at Waynesburg where I stayed on for a fifth as the Resident Director of a Dorm, something that was requested of me, while needing to take just a couple of classes. Tom and I had already decided to find a place together for that year and when the school asked of the RD position I told them it had to come with a roommate. They agreed and it was the length of four dorm rooms connected and a slew of mattresses ‘procured ‘ from the unused floor above us. My bed was four of them, on the floor, stacked two on two. A Jerry rigged luxury King Bed of sorts that was only missing waved palms and dropped grapes. I still live with my bed on the floor, never quite comfortable in one as it’s supposed to be… it's nice that there's nowhere for monsters to hide. That’s a good thing right?

After that it seems something of a blur.  A succession of roomates and places and beds and girlfriends and mistakes, misfires, actual fires a lost dear cat (the first of many) and its upending, radio jobs that were good, some that were just dollars and time backwards, a wedding, an ex and a direction that never really was. Just one that always kept a roof and new cat food.

That has continued as I approach my 52nd birthday, a roof and cat food after a new ex of eight years two years gone now and the house we shared with skin and fur and memories of good and an eventual slow creep of bad. I wonder every day how I got here, what I missed along the way and how I can possibly make my last shot at a life that won’t just be one of walking, breathing poorly and limping to the end but one that I might still be proud of amidst my many failures.

Shit, that’s something.

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Today I finished a weeklong set of three triple header lacrosse state playoff lacrosse matches that led to three teams being crowned State Champs in an almost drunken haze of joy countered with the hangover of loss and tears from the seconds. I watched intently from my sideline gig for Time Warner Cable Sports and their broadcast of the games (an envious vantage for the moms, dad's, sisters and brothers and others that were imploring their kids from the stands I’m sure) teams of High School players doing what they do with the spark flash of youth and it was mesmerizing.  I watched a game I don’t know but have come to admire as I enjoyed this envious vantage while figuring out as many intricacies of the game as I possibly could. Who knew, thought the newbie, what sticks out meant after a shot on goal racing to the out? It’s something I could have played, I think, if I weren’t so baseball centric in my same days.

But there was something.

I found myself with small foot to foot rocking and tiny anxious lunges at whatever action was happening for whichever team I had silently decided were mine. Most importantly though, I breathed. While keeping my head in the game for my job of the day I couldn’t help but note that, God, yes, I was indeed breathing, taking in the day’s big heat and wanting to do nothing more than to jog, break out a ball and glove and look for mom and dad sunglassed proud on a blanket or bike ride to grab a sweat in my own spot, maybe on trail in the woods, with camera in hand, or a fast walk somewhere in the sun.

When the games were done and the day was the same I made way out to the now silent parking lot, so raucus earlier with the horn honks of victory and special meals from moms for son victors when they got home, and sat leg out in my car, windows open to a welcome breeze, spent, after letting that wavy heat drift breeze away and my stink sweat go with it. It was just me and one last survivor. A guy and his camera slowly working his day up the long parking lot to its end of the same leg out at his car or something similarly paused in the quiet of breeze.

My little square squeezy cooler holds just a few cans with a plastic block of freeze in the middle. Its long lost freeze now, after a day in the car’s sun, was still cool enough for the soda waters I kept there to get me home after the hot. He took the one I offered on his walk and found his day end spot, on a small wall further up the lot as did I with my leg out in the front seat, tilted back just a little extra. Man, what a day to breathe and, for a quick moment, I found the answer to that joining of solitude and its companion.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Rituals and Reminders of Singleness

The other morning, as I stepped into the shower, I didn’t even notice that I had done so while unintentionally changing one small detail of my morning ritual. I had turned on the light in the bathroom itself and not in the short hallway between it and the bedroom.  I shouldn’t have, but, I’m glad I did. I shouldn’t have for the reminder of my singleness and I’m glad I did just for that reminder.

You see myself, as I’m sure with you as well, have a said ritual for every rise to the day leading to the heading off to work…or trudging. Depending on the day. Mine involves first: the ordeal of actually waking, often with a Bella patiently staring at me from atop my nightstand wondering just when the hell I will actually take this first step as her breakfast awaits with it after the sound of the phone’s alarm.  Two: I sit up, swing legs to the floor, lean into my manbag of stuff (the magic bag according to Bella and her constant head first dives into it to pull shit out to knock about the floor) and pull out some vitamins and possibly an aspirin or two swallowed with the now flat half can of seltzer that I opened the night before.  Three: stand and open the blanket that covers the bedroom window. Yes, the blanket and not say…the drapes. I’m a single guy, I don’t have drapes, not that mom hasn’t tried to remind me mind you. To her dismay my windows are instead covered in blankets (the drapes she gave me are still in a bag, though the bag is close to a window) or sheets in a kind of modern crack house chic. I saw it in a magazine I think…or maybe it was a picture from a police blotter. Whatever it was, they do the job.  This is the second best start of the day for Bella after that soon breakfast as she gets to hop to the top of her kitty condo in the window to watch and warn the birds of her catness as they eat the seed that a neighbor below provides for them daily. Then it is grabbing the now empty cat food bowls from the night before, into the hallway where the light is flipped on, a pit stop for a pee, and a walk into the kitchen to grab two more bowls for her breakfast.

Four: nakedness and heading into the bathroom for my shower usually lit by that light in the hallway.  This particular morning though I had skipped the step of flipping on the hallway light and my pee pit stop before heading to the kitchen for Bella food.  Thus nakedness was instead followed by hitting the light in the actual bathroom for my shower and not with the hallway’s illumination. Why exactly do you use the hallway light in the first place you ask? Why not the light in the bathroom like any normal human being you then ask? Because that light in the bathroom, dreadfully bright as it is, is just TOO damn white bright for the morning and you’re annoying me now with your questions.

This is when my singleness came into full, bright sad relief and I heard a sound, a deep voice.  It said “Turn out the light”. Confused, I looked around, but nothing. Then again “Turn out the light”.  I shook the voice off and stepped into the tub. Then the source of the voice was lit in that full, evilly bright morning bathroom light. It was my shower curtain. It was alive. Though its color was a rather fetching warm orange from the top of the tub down it was still orange, as was the rest of my tub and the low end of the tiles above it. Dollar General, save me!

Yes, my rituals, my singleness and the lazy that accompanies it (as well as an aversion to bright morning lights) had pointed out just that, along with an imaginary animated shower curtain. Dude! Clean your fucking bathroom! And while you’re at it, it’s a bit, no it’s a lot dusty in here. That may be a really cool looking collection of Bloom County’s on your coffee table but you can write your name on it!

“Yes, Ma, I put those drapes up…thanks…they look great”

“You want to come over when?”

Sigh.


Note: the author, immediately upon finishing this, and returning from Dollar General, also cleaned his toilet and then bought some screwdrivers. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Scents


They eat well together, daily, coupled over scents this little upstairs filled with that together stronger than my lone vanilla candle.


Can I knock?

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Notes From A Shoe Box




Beck woke me. I nodded...yawned. “She’s orange and on the other side of the fence in the dealer’s parking lot”. Don’t remember if I even put shoes on, probably not, but I followed downstairs and, yes, she was orange, I was still yawning, I’m sure, and she was, indeed, on the other side of the fence. I hopped over, grabbed, handed orange back to Beck and hopped back. Nick named her ‘Mia’. We had, unknowingly, been adopted.

The three of us, my brother and sister and I (eventually four, courtesy of my sister’s impending babiness that we were unaware of at the time, Jake) moved in together in a small house at a time when all three of us needed such. The military two of them were back home and I was, well, I was there with them. I just needed.

The first place together turned into another, more permanent place that Beck bought. It bordered a car dealership in the backyard, strong neighbors and an orange cat. An orange cat that had me hop over a fence…a very smart orange cat.

Smart? She knew us already.

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Benny was still an outside cat at the time, until an argument with a car was lost, and he was relegated to lord of the inside manor. But in his travels in his own small world of our neighbor’s lawns, flower patches and doorsteps he had surely caught the attention of a very pregnant orange cat who knew that someone would hop to save her. After all, I imagined she thought, they like our kind…this is a good place.



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There was a cardboard box, comfy with warm towels and human hovering in a perfect spot between two rooms in the unfinished upstairs of a quaint, quiet (soon not so much) Cape Cod and a moment’s pause. There were five kittens…five squirmy, rolling, breathing tiny meow little beings in a comfy cardboard toweled world. Nick named one ‘Cal’, the one he would keep. I eventually named one ‘Shoes’ and mine. Kept friends.

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I remember too much and too little of those early ‘Shoes’ days. A procession of kittens following the unwanted, adored attention of the old man, Benny, growling his affection for this trail of newborns on his tail, from one room to the next, wanting to learn all they could from the master. There was ‘Frenchy’, my nickname for his little undernose stripe that our next doors kept and named ‘Nutmeg’. There was ‘Burgess’ and ‘Pidge’ (Cal was all about Nick with the occasional wake up under the covers with me while biting my belly) and then there was ‘Shoes’. The name was a reference to nothing but became everything. He’s been my “Big Orange” ever since.



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I got home late tonight, too late, as I thought about Shoes waiting for me at the usual time and being disappointed while I worked yet another cold ass Friday Night High School football game. He knows the time, always knows the time, always knew the time and the sound of whatever I drove no matter where our heads lay but he was still waiting, my good man Shoey Brown, with unbound devotion for his rub on the ear and a now late dinner with little Bella. My tear at his waiting was an almost, held back for now, as I saw him still waiting at the bottom of the stairs as always, his clock longer for the day but his ‘Steve’ come home was here again with the sound of my truck outside his tall window. Trying to fathom that waiting, that longing, hurts even more now.



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Nick came home from work and told me of watching head bumps. Mia had a magnetic collar that would unlock the cat door in the basement at her ins. Shoes, had somehow gotten outside and had tried to follow his mom through that tiny door. He wasn’t wearing the “magic” collar. Head bumps.

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Shoes’s favorite spot at the old stead was my computer chair, torn and frayed from Benny’s years of scratching, laying on the Steelers blanket that covered it and still does, old normals. His orange always seemed to blend comfortably with the black and gold to the point where I actually felt as if I had to ask permission to sit. He would agree only if he could then lay in front of my keyboard, my attention not allowed to waver to the screen of the PC. That chair sat in my new bedroom, ignored, for the longest time after I moved yet again, a new computer chair bought in its place. I thought about giving that old chair away or maybe tossing it but it didn’t seem right. It was Shoes’s favorite spot, after all, for a time. But he lays there again now, days waning, the rediscovered and familiar. Old nornals.



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He brought me his bag of treats after discovering that he could open the cabinet above the sink in my little apartment that I moved into, with Benny as well, when I left the house to Beck and Nick, Nephew Jake and latest newcomer Nephew Matty. Specifically, Temptations, or ‘kitty crack’ as my sister and I have called them over the years. I didn’t allow him these for the longest time due to his history of diabetes but I do now damning that history. He brought it and dropped it at my feet in front of my then captain’s chair in that  small third floor walkup in Fishkill, my first place on my own since Pittsburgh and living with Beck and Nick, as I watched whatever diverted on the tube. I had no idea how he came to be dropping this bag at my feet, heck, it was in a kitchen cabinet how could he?....Then I heard, watched, one night, under the dim of the TV’s grey blue shedding enough on my tiny kitchen to see him opening the ‘cookie jar’ cabinet above the sink. He got his treats. A very smart orange.

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He has always known his ‘spot’. All I’ve had to do over the years is to say “C’mon Shoey, let’s grab your spot” and he knows its lap time or bedtime if I tell him it’s time to “hit the rack”. Little Bella isn’t much for laps, maybe in deference to Shoes, I don’t know, nor is she much for kisses on the head as he is, (though she is getting accustomed with my insistence) but she has known a good ‘spot’ herself. Sometimes on an old pair of torn flannel boxers layed, just right, next to me but mostly anything that’s in proximity, as long as she’s close, she just has to be close. It’s almost a daily game now to catch Bella with a head kiss. But with Shoes? Close could never be close enough. He welcomed the kiss head bumps, forehead to forehead welcome homes from my day, or burying his head in my belly when he would jump on the counter on these same welcomes, plus nose scratches on the brim of my ballcap…left and right. Always have to have both of course, left then right. Even now he seems disappointed when I’m not wearing one.

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You know, I walked to the kitchen the other night, pausing a movie as I so love to do (a habit understandably annoying to anyone that has had the (dis)pleasure of living with me) to think on it and wash a dish or two or organize something that didn’t need such or even take in the night through a window in the tiny corner of this apartment that constitutes a dining room including gazing neighbor’s windows across the way wondering of their pauses, and I thought of Shoes. His favorite box sits on the kitchen table still where he would often lay, another reason’s proof of my singlehood. He’s been on my mind more recently, a month and half removed from his passed day. I put a favorite framed picture of him above my studio board at work, one I recently pulled from the dreaded cardboard box of my former office at the old job. I thought it would be a comfort but it just hit me that it wasn’t. I tried not to cry. He so loved our little ‘best of little new places’ with little Bella. It was ours. Though it is not quite the ‘best of little new places’, like that first apartment with Danielle and I was so many years ago, or the house with Maria and JG and all the fur, it is still the same in spirit as that first one, one he didn’t know, but I did and remember well. This now was our spot. Amazing what the littleness of 4 letters can mean huh? Spot.  Especially if it’s yours and theirs with you. Your small spot in a large world.




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Beck searched all around our immediate area of Beacon, NY for a house to buy, even further actually. She had made the decision to buy something with Nick and I in tow to help her with the payments, our rent, and after the longest of searches, forever it seemed, she found just the right place, amazingly only block from the place the three of us were in. We slowly moved in and when I say slowly, I mean slowly. The house was vacant, we had almost a month on the current lease left and with having to do it around a very small one and a half year old Jacob it was perfect (Beck popped Jake out after about a month or so of us living together with me and Nick becoming immediate bachelor dad/uncles). Benny of course already knew the neighborhood so he had no problem keeping up and throw in the fact that we had time to actually just fill up the backseat of our cars or even occasionally walk some of our things down the street and it was the easiest move ever.

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“You ready for our walk?” as I would lay my bag at the bottom of the steps, grabbing my keys and heading out with Shoey for our daily/nightly. I worried about little Bella though, and leaving her behind, when I came home those last two months, I didn’t want her to feel left out. She would occasionally venture onto the little porch outside the front door with Shoes and I as he sniffed around the same shit he sniffed at every day in front of our second floor neighbors like it was brand new, but then she would scamper back in after a sniff or two. Maybe, though, there was an understanding on her part that Shoes was ill and that this was just part of what we did, for him, at what I didn’t want to think about being the end. Bella knew. “You ready for our walk?” and Shoes was there. I’ll never know how badly he was feeling, and it had to be awful, especially for how quickly the monster inside him grew and how, even more quickly his lungs just drowned on his last day, but he was there. “Yeh Steve, let’s go explore, I know the way” And explore we did. God, it was nice.

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When the first big rains came at Beck’s new house with me and Nick and little Jacob we weren’t prepared at all. We had no idea the basement would flood. But it did. It wasn’t too long after Mia had had her brood of Cal, Shoes and the rest of the orange tiny ones. Now, I had already saved Cal once after coming downstairs from waking after my overnight shift and demanded silence. Beck and nephew Jake were my demand. “shusshhh” I whispered. How they didn’t hear what I did, upstairs, astounded me “I mean it, shusshhh”. I walked into the kitchen while both of them spoke questions aloud “Just Shush!” I said one more time. Then I opened the refrigerator door. “Hello Cal”. No idea how she snuck in there. Probably nephew Jake who had already mastered the human curious need to constantly open the refrigerator door and peer inside every time you were near it like, magically, something new would have appeared since the last time you looked, say, 5 minutes ago. Cats were the same with the magic fridge. But then it was the first flooding of the basement. I came downstairs wondering of Shoes after the night’s downpoar. He wasn’t with me. Beck hadn’t seen him, Jake hadn’t either but I heard a sound. This sound, though, was entirely different from Cal’s almost silent cries of distress in the fridge, this was the sound of…curious cat talk. Then I noticed the door to the newly flooded basement was open. Closed was the norm, always. After a few steps down and a peer through the stairs below I found that curious ‘cat talk’. Shoes walking chest high in the water, sniffing around, gleefully cat talking away in a flooded basement. So much for cats hating water. So much more for why I loved this guy.



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I wrote once of a “best of first little places”. That was the first apartment that Danielle and I shared on Potomac Ave in Dormont after our wonderful, sweaty wedding day in the middle of a stifling Pittsburgh August in a beautiful hall on the South Side with no AC.  The whole family was there, a band named the ‘Rat Bastards’ accidentally showed up from Chicago, after meeting Johnny Webb amidst his bagpipe warmup in the parking lot, to eventually take great pictures while drinking free beer, my dad was in his glory, my mother smiled her immense warmth. And, yes, Johnny Webb played the bagpipes. If you knew anything of this family this was the expected. If you were baptized, christened, married, dead, Johnny Webb played the bagpipes. Then Danielle cried later during my entering on the wedding night. Different story entirely but this was my first clue of the future that was closer than I knew. It took me quite a while to see the rest. But, for then at least, that was the first of ‘best of first little places” and it also included something equally as important as my new wife…a first Christmas present to Danielle and, more importantly, to myself courtesy of the East Liberty Animal Shelter. I walked in the door a little while after calling and inquiring about kittens. They said there were some to be had. Not so when I arrived, they were gone between call and arrival. Instead there were only a couple of slightly older kits still left. One was a little black ball sleeping in an empty water bowl near the front. I said “yes”. The other chose me when I went to the back and a room full of cages of all dogs and one cat. I was his chance to escape the barking din and he made it known to me. I went back up front and said ‘yes’. Benny the little black water bowl ball and Merlin the very vocal escapee. To me the “best of first little places” would now be compete, whole. I had cats.

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It’s hard to be fragile while trying your damndest to be strong. Now this isn’t a ‘put my head on your shoulders’ moment but is instead an observation on part of the nature of being human. Needing to show strength in the face of profound sadness and loss especially when that sadness and loss actually has a face, one that’s looking directly at you. A Fathers maybe, a Mothers, sibling, wife or husband, friend or neighbor or, in this immediate case, a true, devoted companion. Though Shoes wasn’t human I never viewed him as anything less. All of the fur that I’ve had the pleasure and good fortune to call family, friend, were just that, family and good friend. I’ve always treated them as I would any other human that was part of my life. I just recognized in them their differing ‘humaness’ is all and with Shoes, he was more. The difficulty in being fragile while trying my damndest to be strong? I didn’t want Shoes to see my sadness because he would have known. Oh, he would have known (though I  knew he surely did). But I needed to try and help him to move to his forward stop on his own without that burden, to move to this forward stop with me doing all in my power to make it as easy as I could for him to get there while still enjoying his final moving with me at his side. To remind him of us and the grand living we did together. It was a revelation, really, and then one of my greatest heartbreaks.

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Trains Pass

The trains pass, past the overgrown couch
cats comforter
Bella, Shoes
unawares maybe not
through my tiny comfy disturbing
nothing
not even a dining room chair

A neighbor’s dinner unawares throws tasted
stereo scents I don’t know from every corner of this tiny boring
that way but wishing I had a fork and an invite

The trains rumble and clack, rumble in order, order, rumble, clack, clack back such to wake
not
yes,
but

There’s rhythm, melody, music in trains
and scents in the linger of a stranger’s daily
below my feet waking, cooking, fighting, living
the couch
overgrown comforter
hungry
while trains pass in tune carry scented music
sleeping cats and their soon breakfast

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There were nicknames, always nicknames. Merlin was ‘Magic’ and not just bellying his name but from his crystal blue eye stare at me human, red tipped ears and his extra cat thumb toe that allowed him to pick up, as with a hand, crimpled balls of paper I would throw and even open the occasional cabinet. Benny was ‘Benny Brown’ for Charlie, aka “You’re a good man Benny Brown” but also from the way his black fur tinted after days spent cat lounging in the Florida sun he so loved. My little Bella is just that, ‘little Bella’ and her non-meow little squeeks. Shana was ‘Shana Girl’ in all her snorty glory napping on my chest on an any Sunday and Shoes? There’s been a few. Though there was ‘The Big Orange’ and the Benny similar ‘Shoey Brown’ there was also my favorite of all the nicknames ‘Stamps Bagman’ (he would occasionally get ‘Lumpy’ as well but that was one I’ve used with all at one time or another). ‘Stamps Bagman’ though was a favorite and was coined by Maria in our first apartment together. A nice three bedroom place on the first floor in a complex of apartment buildings in New Windsor, Knox Village. It came from two entirely different sources. One was for the plastic shopping bags that he had an affinity for trying to eat. It was important to be ever vigilant on not leaving any unattended or he would eat a small portion and then, eventually, puke it back up. No learning curve was involved with Shoes and the bags. It was every time. Two was for, like any cat, loving a good spot in a window to assess the world and its’ squirrels, humans, birds and sun. Shoes though, in his assessing, would always manage to leave a small ‘stamp’, a small butt stamp of proof on whatever window sill of choice he was enjoying, marking his time spent. Thus ‘Stamps Bagman’ came to be, replete with the persona of a good time 40’s gangster sidekick cartoon character and the appropriate New York or Chicago mobster accent provided by Maria, myself or even Jagger. “Yo, Stamps! Mugsy’s got a job for ya!” He was Stamps, the Bagman. Koo Koo Sha Shoes.

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I ran into a downstairs neighbor the other day at the grocery store, Matt, a young guy who shares his apartment with his brother and their small dog. He had met Shoes a number of times in Shoes’s usual sniffing of that same (only a cat knows) around the front of his place or the other neighbors at the next door. It was at the time of Shoes and I’s daily walks and Shoes was in the cone. Matt had never had the pleasure of meeting Shoes coneless or with both ears complete, as they were originally made. I wish he could have. But he still gave him a gingerly pet or two and called him by name before Shoes and I would embark on our adventures of the world that we knew. A boy and his cat in a cone plastic hat. At the store Matt told me that he had added a kitten to the human and fur in the world he knew. He said he had named the newbie ‘Zippers’ and that Shoes and his name was the inspiration. There ya go Shoey, ya Big Orange lump, living on for a while past your forward stop. I smiled, welling up later.

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On a Saturday afternoon I saw Brenda downstairs as I made my way around our building to my truck for a quick errands run. She choked up a bit when she told me of Shoes sitting in her lap earlier the night before and her realizing what a special orange he really was. Brenda was Brenda of Bren and Bob, my downstairs neighbors, good people who remind you that there are actually some of those. I became friends with them after a challenging day in my car. A day where the challenge came up short, in the back end of an SUV. It wasn’t much of an accident really but was enough for my 13 year old car to be considered ‘in the wind’ and I ended up in something a bit larger. My Durango, ‘Grey’. What? I name stuff. I then started to park at the back of my building instead of the front, mostly because of the difficulties parking seemed to present for some of my neighbors. It was far less complicated down there and only required a few steps to get back around front to my place. That’s when I got to know Brenda and Bob, and their beyond lovable furball ‘Sandy’ who loves me back in turn when I see her, occasional bounces of joy sniff kisses included . That getting to know turned into a friendship and Brenda helping me out with feeding my two on nights where I was late to my regular get home. It was on this Saturday, after one of my Friday night football gigs that she told me of sitting with Shoes. The stopping in to just feed them when needed had turned into Brenda coming up during the day to just give Shoes some company and to wonder if little Bella actually existed. Bella hides. Shoes sat in Brenda’s lap on my couch on this night and she cried at the wonder of it. She has remarked on this often, how knowing me and then Shoes showed her the connection that can be made and was with me and my big orange ambassador of catdom.

Brenda was the one I asked to join me when I had an idea to take Shoes to the small fenced in dog area at the complex here on a pretty Sunday afternoon. I got him in his carrier and drove down. Knowing time was now suddenly limited, that it had a clock, I wanted him to finally get a chance to walk in the grass, to bask in the sun he so worshipped in his tall windows over the years. To actually get to taste what he had only dreamed of. Our after work daily’s came from this. I miss them dearly.




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Little Bella squeaks at me now from behind my chair at the computer. She has taken to the old Benny habit of scratching it to shreds even though there are many other cat scratch options available. No, she scratches then squeaks in her little Bella way (not once a meow in 4 years). Like Shoes’s daily walks she squeaks now for my attention to come away from my mundane human and play. This is her daily. Play time. The rings from the tops of Gatorade bottles, acorns, some crimpled paper balls and her spinny ball scratch toy. She doesn’t need much else. Yeh, this is her daily. It’s play time.

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Shoes hugged me. It was on arriving at Middlehope Veterinary Hospital after leaving him there for the day again while I went to work. I lost count on the number of times I had to take him in during those last few months, dropping him off on my way to work and picking him up on my way home. I’m sure though, he knew the count. Too damn many. Though he enjoyed all the attention from a staff that adored him on these days, his cage right in the middle of all the action in the back of office, he was tired now. Tired of the hurt, tired of not being home in his spot, tired of the not understanding of just what was happening to him or why. And this day he was a bit cranky too, I was told. I didn’t know it then but this was the last time he would be there before I would walk out one more time alone but in this moment, when he saw me, the cranky he had been that day slipped away and he stood up on the exam table and grabbed me like he would never let go, both front legs/paws wrapped around my chest, head buried and I know, if a cat could cry, he would have, just like me.



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He was at the top of his cat scratch tower, a kitten clutching and staring at my face inches from his. Our understanding of each other started right there. And it didn’t stop. A perfect pair of Shoes and a boy. I can’t tell ya the miss kid





Friday, October 16, 2015

A Tiger's Tale

I tried to catch tigers by the tail when I was small
mom told me how
but I was always sleepy and woke up tigerless
like I do now trying to catch sleep
as elusive as those tigers
instead envisioning mad worlds of the tailess
turning over and over and over the sheets getting tangled 

my feet always trying to push them whole
so if I do sleep I'll wake up in a real bed made
the way it should be
tight with corners sharp hospital ready
when I earned a dime from mom to do it right
never understanding the reason for such a 

bed like I do now.
I hear the trains near my house at night
like rain waking me to rythmically loll me back
the cadence of the water spot on
the equal clatter of the trains just as spot
carrying wet tigers
licking wet paws and hinds
before they sleep as I try to with a wet face and coarse towel
before my tight bed with corners calling a good night
for only a dime
not much of a cost in these costly times for a tale
of mom stories and sleepless nights where tiger's tails
take guises of whatever it is that keeps you awake.
I don't know what it is that keeps sleep at bay
but trains and rain and tigers help
the clock of my mother's heart
beats and ticks to
lull me to furtive sleep
when I think of her tigers
and their tales.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

New Stuff Under Construction

With new attention let it be noted that the author of this page has finally decided to get off his lazy ass/mind and get to crackin' again with a pen/keyboard. Details forthcoming....;