Thursday, December 22, 2011

Out of Condition

I look for heavy bag with stand and there it is on Craig's List. I call the number and the guy says yeah. He's got it. Somebody talking in the background and he's trying to carry on two conversations at once, but yeah, yeah. I say I'd like to have a look, what kind of shape is it in? You'll love it. Mint, he says. Mint. He's on Somerville Street. Just come down the Goffstown Road and cross onto the Amoskeag.
So I drive down. I've got the day off. Why not?
It's a beautiful day, for the first time I see the falls under the bridge the way it might have looked during the days of the salmon runs when the Abenaki called it the place to be. Then I'm going down past the stadium and the houses are looking deserted, vacant. The people on the street have that hunted look, like vermin, that you get when you're down on your luck and you've been living on concrete for too long. I turn the corner. There's a police cruiser parked, the cop looking into nowhere and the cars parked along the street like they haven't moved in a couple of decades. I park and call the number again. He'll be down in a minute, he's getting his shoes on. I wait, leaning against the car. It's an unusually mild winter day. The street is empty, and then he bangs out the door. He's about thirty, large, with the kind of face that would fit a truck driver or jail guard. But he's nervous, squinting in the sun, as he directs me around the corner and down an alley into the back of the house.
There are other cars parked in the lot. It must be a rental. He comes around and shakes my hand in a strong man's grip. He walks over to the walk out and takes the lock off the door handle. I follow him down the stairs into the cellar. It's dark, I need to duck to avoid the lagging and ductwork. His movements are quick, angry, a man whose got many things to do and little time to do them. I'm thinking he could drop me right here with a quick sucker punch and nobody would ever find me. Then he's pulling pipes and things out of the dust. Here it is. It even has this big chain, he says. I want to take a look in the light, I say. I take one of the poles and he follows me, handing the bag out into the daylight.
The leather has tears along the seams. The chain is all rusted. He's back in the dirt pulling out the speed bag and some other pipe legs. I'll stop you right there, I say. Save your time. What the fuck, he says. What kind of moron are you what do you expect for 100 bucks? He's ranting as he exits the cellar into the daylight. I can see spittle flying out of his mouth. I look him in the eye to see how crazy he really is and he smiles a sick grin. Is he trying to scare me or what?
You said it was mint, I say. Mint. I enunciate.
What do you fucking expect on Craig's List, what kind of a fucking moron are you? You're wasting my fucking time. I'm sorry I made a mistake, I say.
You people make me sick, here it is Christmas and I'm trying to get some money together and... Listen, it was nice talking to you, I say, and begin to walk back to the car.
Fuck yourself you fucking moron. You wasted my time, he's yelling at me as I drive away.
Then the cell phone rings, I pull over thinking maybe it's important. I've got a text message. I get out of the car and breathe deep.
View Now:
Ur a fuckn idiot.thanx 4 waisting my fukn time u fukn moron.if u wanted something brand new u shudv gone 2 a fukn store. thanx again 4 waisting my fukn time.
I look around and put the phone back in my pocket. A cold wind rips along the alley and there's a guy in a doorway looking at me. Then I'm back in the car, and stop to pull out behind a Corolla and a girl with brown eyes and brown hair. No Farms No Food bumper sticker. The Amoskeag bridge and the river are just a few blocks ahead.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Time to Shut Up And Do Things Differently

Tis the season, but it's late for me. It might not happen this year. Maybe it's that there's no snow on the ground. By now usually I'm singing along to Alvin and the Chipmunks doing Jingle Bells and Aretha Franklin singing Silent Night, but not this year. Is it just me? The quiet spot hasn't hit me yet when all the world is chilling and waiting. I'm waiting to find that place within, to make room for the transcendent in the busyness of my life. Like Father Thom said in his sermon, to learn from Mary and her ability to open herself to possibility. I'm still in the mode of finding the right gifts, the ones that will really make a difference, send life reeling in a different direction. Isn't that what we all want, to make an impact on another life, to show that we get it with that knockout punch gift wrapped and all. I so clearly don't. And yet, life goes on around and despite me sometimes and it's just the way it was meant to be. My children surprise me with their intelligence and humanity. Where did they get it? It seems to happen when you're not looking. It's the grace of God, the spirit that is always descending when we most need it, always and forever. The gift that counts is knowing when to just shut up and listen.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The House Bustling with Activity, but Gutted

Here's a little taste of Latitudes, the story of Will Kogan's youth and teenage years. I wanted to tell a coming of age tale that ends with the realization that life is largely shaped by one's self-perception. Most teenagers see themselves as in the grip of larger forces than they can understand, at least that's the sense I get from my job as a teacher. Becoming a functioning adult is getting that first inkling that the direction you take your life in is up to you. Mostly the rest depends on getting better at steering.

Will played on the tiled living room floor and ran through the kitchen, terrorizing the maid and the two sisters with a plastic shield and sword, a roundtable knight from the book about Arthur and Guinevere. Another book about Greek mythology had pictures of the Medusa with her snaky hair. But the backyard and the swaying sea of dried elephant grass beyond the fence, the ominous and mysterious tower like the ramparts of some castle, formed some pole star of fatal attraction. He had a plastic yellow car, which you could pedal. He liked to position it at the top of the hill and careen down it, pedals screaming, bouncing off the rocks and rutted earth towards the region of myth.

Mother and a female friend stood at some distance.

"Watch me," he yelled, and flew down the hill, landing at the bottom in one piece, dragging the car back from the edge of the fence.

"Bravo," her friend said and clapped. Mother turned with a vague sort of pride, and they walked back to the house across the paving stones.

Will played by himself, exploring the territory around the house. The street was forbidden and the fence was too high to scale. The ants, however, could get around any of these restrictions with their small size and formidable will. He admired them. You could attract one with a fingertip, have it climb on, carry it a distance away and set it down on a blade of grass and it would resolutely set off down the blade of grass and back in the direction of its original destination. They seemed to be attending to important matters, and the hole they disappeared down sucked him down along with them. Will forgot himself. Hours later, in the rapidly descending tropical twilight, the maid's voice called him home. Without pleasure he complied, returning to his childhood and assuming the role of the son in that strange, lonely house, bustling with activity, but gutted, caving in on itself out of some unknown physical force in its routines and orbits.

(photo by Joe Jusko

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Blogging in the Blood

Sorry, I've been too long away. At first I thought I'd give it a couple of months to finish up a writing project that took me through the summer. But now that's done, and I need to get back to my blog. I've updated the look and am ready to ramble. I've missed out on a busy few months: Wall Street was occupied, the Republican candidates have been competing to see who can be the biggest ignoramus out there, the US soccer team has a new German coach, Obama has taken to the heartland to defend the middle class and the legacy of Teddy Roosevelt, and celebrities everywhere continue to make a mockery of themselves.

At home, I turned 51 and finished a second draft of a novel. It's called Latitudes - A Story of Coming Home, and I'll probably excerpt some of it here in the next few months.

The kids are growing up fast. School actually seems to have a salutary affect on them. They complain but then talk about their classes and projects and want to show off what they've learned. It's not perfect,  but their public school education seems to be doing its job. At my school, the kids get nicer every year. As a language teacher i get to channel their social energy and instinct for fun. It's all about communication in the classroom.

A good book I read recently was Moonwalking with Einstein by Jonathan Foer. It's about a lot of things, but mainly memory, the way it functions neurologically, collectively and individually. The part i found most memorable was the description of how books were originally written and read as an aid to oral memorization and only slowly, with the advent of the printing press and the need to read widely and quickly, did books become seen as a repository of our collective knowledge,  an offloading of our memory banks into texts. The process is accelerating today with the proliferation of blogs and digital photography and with the storage capacity of the Internet and rapidly moving advances integrating our nervous systems with computer controls, the day is moving quickly closer when we will theoretically be able to remember everything and have access instantly to the collective information of the entire world. Our notions of what it means to be human will have to change. But something tells me this brave new world will not materialize in quite such a promising way.