Broken Links

After my grandfather retired he would always point to two things he was proud of; The Verrazano Narrows Bridge and the Twin Towers. He was a shop steward in the electrical union and his guys had done the work on both.

He could quite literally point to them because on a clear day you could see them both off his back patio, which was really a dock just off Jamaica Bay. A working class neighborhood with waterfront access and a view of Manhattan on a good day. He earned it.

I was glad he wasn’t around to see the towers come down. Days later an American Airlines jet flew low over his old house before diving into a neighborhood in the Rockaways…it was an accident but fresh after 9/11 New Yorkers were edgy. He would have been 94…a 94 year old shouldn’t have to go through that.

I couldn’t see the towers from our apartment in east central Queens…Manhattan was a world away. But I visited Manhattan often, mostly the museums, Radio City, stuff like that. The Towers, like the Statue of Liberty were for tourists and so my visits there were with visitors in tow. Friends from Indiana, cousins from Illinois. A crush from Michigan.

Night time was the time to go up to the Observation Deck. The city lights stretched out forever only broken by the a dark swath of Atlantic Ocean to the Southeast. It was quiet as a church and indeed it was almost spiritual that New Years Eve so many years ago.

All the people I took there, when they watched the towers come down, that visit was their connection. They must have thought “I was there. Right there.” Janie too…I wonder what she thought. “I was there with that crazy fool that was in love with me. I let him take my hand, in the dark, oblivious to the hate in the world”

But mostly I think of my Grandfather. And I miss him and hate that the tragedy reminds me of him.

Rise and Fall

“My parents said you’re not allowed in my house anymore”. I looked at Robert “What did I ever do to them?” “They said you’re a trouble maker and a bad influence”. Well, they weren’t wrong. I looked around, half the kids in our 5th grade class were crowded around listening in. “Fuck your parents.” Collective whoa from the crowd.

So of course I went to Robert’s house for lunch. In fact there were lots of lunch invites after that from the latchkey kids living close to our school in Hollis, Queens. Even Claudia, the acknowledged class goddess whipped me up some food in her parents swanky apartment in Jamaica Estates. “If my parents find out you’re here they’ll kill me”. Who says being a bad boy doesn’t pay?

But fate, looking a lot like my mother intervened. And just like that, I was at the bottom of the totem pole in a new school with a bunch of brownnoses and a teacher I went to war with. And that’s a story I’ll share later.

Not This Time

I had been upgraded to 1st Class on a business trip to Memphis.  It was one of those last flight of the night deals when everyone is in a mellow state; passengers, crew, gate agents.  The plane was full save the one seat beside me.  No way it’s going to stay open.  I had a book to read, but was in that half-reading,  half-alert state that you are in while you are waiting to see who your seatmate is.  Once they settle in, I would do my usual courtesy greeting and go back to my reading.

No one else was boarding, but the door was still open,  you could hear the whine of the APUs and some chatter on the jet bridge.  The flight attendant moved back a step and waved in the last passenger,  and then directed her to the seat beside me.

She was dressed the way people used to dress to fly when it was not so common or to board a first class long distance train.   Expensive coat,  nice dress, pearls,  patent leather heels.  And she was attractive.  Actually,  she was beautiful,  with wavy brunette hair that made her blue eyes stand out.  We did the customary greeting, she ordered a drink and we both settled in,  me with my book.

When the flight attendant appeared to take up the glasses before takeoff,  she said something funny.  I can’t remember what it was but all three of us were laughing.  That broke the ice, we exchanged names, and for the next 90 minutes, we talked without pause, other than to have drinks refilled.

The cabin lights were off other than the spillover from the galley and we spoke in that semi-darkness with the sound of the engines that seemed to magnify the intimacy.   She had man troubles.  She was reassessing her life,  and I was right there for part of it.  She had just been badly used and she admitted she was stuck in a pattern.  Her problem was not quantity,  but as is so often the case,  it was quality.  We spoke very little about myself, only that I had a family with a daughter.  The conversation continued along the same lines right up until the time we heard the screech of the tires touching down.

We both sighed,  we could have talked a lot longer.  She looked at me “so what are you doing now?”.  She’d opened a door.  I walked around it.  I have some work to do tonight.  It was a lie, but one I judged was worth telling.  “oh”.

She got up first,  and I watched her get her things together.  When I got up,  she was ready to head out the door, but she stopped and turned around.  She put her hand on my upper arm, and she stood there looking at it for a second,  her hand on my arm.  Then she looked me in the eyes and said “You were exactly what I needed tonight.  Thank you.”  And then she turned and walked off the plane.

The Ground Beneath Us

We are living an illusion. We see the road ahead and we see the ground beneath and imagine, that it is firm and that it goes on forever.

But the horizon is a funhouse mirror and the ground is a knifes edge. Still, we walk along it and tell ourselves it’s solid. Until we’re pushed, a tiny tap really is all it takes, and we’re fighting for balance, our arms flailing around the air, looking for a handhold until we fall off one side or another.

“Your doctors office called”, “HR wants to see you”, “There’s a police officer at the door”.

And right then plans and hopes and dreams and the bullshit we tell ourselves all give way to the relentless math of the universe.

And the universe doesn’t care who we voted for, the universe doesn’t care what race we are the universe doesn’t care if we were rich or poor or good or evil or if we marched with King or cured polio. It doesn’t care about justice or injustice because it doesn’t care about us.

We, collectively, all of us together, are a cipher in time and space. Do you imagine that King Henry VIII is somewhere paying for beheading two of his wives? Do you imagine you will pay a price for that spider you whacked with a shoe? Laid side by side there is little to distinguish them.

We don’t exist. That’s the math. That’s the scale of the numbers. It’s going to fill in the missing side of the polynomial whether we like it or not but the truth is it doesn’t take much. We live on a planet that circles an un remarkable star that doesn’t even register within one arm of an unremarkable spiral galaxy among billions in space…space that continually confounds the physical laws we’ve made to comprehend it.

We are extraordinarily alone. In the cold. Walking our knifes edge. And all we have is each other and only for a nano second. And once we realize that…it’s always too late.

Body Count

I was sitting in the First Class Lounge watching the carnage at the bar. One by one men, traveling by themselves, approached the blonde at the end of the bar and one by one they went down in flames.

She had her back to me but she’d gotten up a few times so I got a look at her and man was she pretty…just a knockout. She wasn’t wearing a ring, and her and the bartender were getting along just fine so I figured she couldn’t be all that mean.

So I go up to the bartender and I ask him what’s up with the blonde and he gives me a blank stare. So I get out my wallet and slide a twenty across the bar. He looks at me and says “you seen the body count?” I slide another twenty his way. He pockets the bills and says “she’s watching the Red Sox play the Yankees. She’s in here once a month and we talk baseball.” So I ask him “Is she an iceberg?” “No she’s funny, but every one of those meatballs asked her a stupid question when she just wants to watch the ball game.” I thought for a minute then asked him who she was rooting for. “Die hard Red Sox fan. Good luck pal, nice knowing you” he says.

I took the stool next to her and said “Red Sox playing eh?” She doesn’t even look at me. She’s just staring at the TV and just kind of grunts. So I sit there next to her staring at the TV for like two minutes. Finally I say to no one in particular “I hate the fucking Red Sox”. She didn’t say anything. She didn’t even turn my way. She just reached over and put her cigarette out in my drink.

And that, Patti, is how I met your mother.

© Glenn R Keller 2020, All Rights Reserved

The Marine Theater

The ushers hustled everyone to their seats.  They wore the Jones Beach State Park uniform.  Blue and white.  There were seahorse emblems on their hats and epaulets.

Limousines were parked in their special lot while VIP guests ate 5 star meals in the dining room.  Soon they would be whisked to their special box seats right up front with each box manned by an attendant to bring food and drink at their whim.

Guy Lambardo’s Royal Canadians were warming up in the orchestra pit on the audience side of the moat.   They were the house orchestra for the lineup of Broadway shows produced especially for Jones Beach Marine Theater.  These were not travelling shows, these were dedicated productions starring the biggest names in musical theater.  There was a hum of outboard motors as the ramps between the stage and the shore were retracted from the moat.

Suddenly the orchestra launched into a fanfare and the house lights dropped.  The only lighting was from the stand lights in the orchestra pit and navigation lights out in the bay.  Suddenly there is the roar of twin marine engines at full power.  A spotlight searches the water until it lands on a speeding wooden Chris Craft runabout.  Guy Lambardo is at the helm and he comes to a dramatic stop right in front of the conductors box.  He hops out of the boat and onto the stage and immediately he strikes up the Star Spangled Banner.

The spectacle complete, the lights come down and the Orchestra begins the overture.  And this was what it was like to see a show at the Jones Beach Marine Theater.   And this was a State Park,  one of the finest in the world, which is just as Robert Moses had intended.  People will rave about Radio City Music Hall,  but in its day, Radio City was just another big theater in a city that was full of big theaters.   The Marine Theater was something totally unique.

It still operates today as a concert venue.  The moat has been filled in with seats and the dining rooms are gone.  It is undoubtedly an amazing venue for an outdoor concert,  situated on a bay next to the Atlantic.  But at one time,  it was something only Robert Moses could have pulled off.

Beauty and The Beast

I’ve never fallen out of love so fast. Yeah she was beautiful, yes she was a nice young lady, but she’d crossed a line that revealed her true character.

Selling books door to door was always going to be a sketchy enterprise. But despite my well known cynicism, I fell for the lure of a summer of hard work and adventure coupled with making a boat load of money. It was a rah rah affair, a real believe in yourself, what’s his name bullshit festival.

We targeted the most vulnerable, never a well to do neighborhood, and never when a husband was home. If you can think of a more crass approach I’d love to hear it. When I managed to get inside it was most often a lonely woman who wanted company. I could never close those sales…maybe they reminded me too much of someone.

The net of all this was I was always having to go on calls with the local sales manager, another student not much older than me, so she could show me how to close. I was in love with her, and her roommate, another crew member was, possibly, in love with me. I’d go over and sleep on their couch the night before we went out on calls. They’d make breakfast for me. Was this supposed to be punishment? I was in fricking guy Heaven. I got sent out with the roommate once…that never happened again because I talked her into goofing off all day. So I went out with Claire, and pretended to be interested in selling books.

The morning went well, we sold three or four sets and I took the lead while she watched and coached afterward. We split the commission, which was fair because she would have sold at least that many on her own. And then a very young mother came to the door with her baby in her arms. She was trying to feed her baby but listened politely to Claire’s spiel.

Let me stop right here and mention what really got to me on some calls. Usually when you got in, they knew you were selling something educational and they wanted to be good mothers. And they could almost never afford it. We had methods to get around it, but that was my problem, I’d look at this struggling young mother and I couldn’t pull the trigger, “you’re right ma’am…the library down the street is probably your best bet, and so on”.

This was one of those situations, this poor women was all wrapped up in guilt…she wanted those books for her baby who could start reading soon but as she put it, “I’m already having to choose between food and rent”. That’s where I would have just hung out for awhile and chatted because she was sad and pretty and who could resist that? But this wasn’t about me, this was Claire’s sale and she bored in for the kill “we just need a deposit”, the woman shook her head and said “ I only have eight dollars to last the rest of the week”. “We’ll take it!”. And so Claire did take it.

I don’t remember exactly what happened when we got outside, other than I was furious. I do know it was only around 1 in the afternoon and we had 8 more hours of sales calls to make. But not me…that was my last call ever. I quit on the spot and hitchhiked back to the apartment I shared with the male crew members about 40 miles away, found a Greyhound and went home without a job. On the way home I missed Claire’s roommate…we’d had fun together, but whenever I think of Claire, I can only think of how unfeeling she turned out to be.

© Glenn R Keller 2020, All Rights Reserved

Ghosts On The Trail

Photo Credit © Glenn R Keller. All Rights Reserved

A trail winding through farms, mansions, city

Living along it is hip

Drink an expensive beer

Ride a little more

Rinse and repeat

But I see ghosts

Ghosts of fantastic machines bright with fire

Ghosts with dreams of misty lakes and bright eyed lovers

Ghosts in sleek cars on ageless rails

And they dreamt their dreams

And they saw what we see

And they loved their bright eyed lovers

And wept over misty lakes

But the cars are gone

And the rails are gone

Only the ghosts remain

We walk on top of their dreams

Dreaming our own misty lakes

Dreaming our own bright eyed lovers

Until we join them

© Glenn R Keller 2020, All Rights Reserved

A Bear Story

Like all shared adventures the story morphs over time. The only constant was there was indeed a bear. Every time Jack, Anna and I get together we remember it differently. But no one questions the details because we are usually telling the tale for an audience and what do a few small facts matter? The bear was eating. The bear had cubs. Jack and I walked calmly back down the trail and informed Anna that there was a bear and we should all remain calm and withdraw to a safe distance. Jack and I tore down the trail dropping our packs and blew right past Anna screaming “There’s a fucking bear!!!!”. Jack got a picture of the bear on it’s hind legs growling menacingly. Jack only got a picture of sky cause he was too busy running. Jack and the bear posed for a selfie. Mere dressing for the story. But something you can absolutely depend on. With every telling, the bear gets bigger.

© Glenn R Keller 2020, All Rights Reserved

The Globe

Brian stared tentatively at the globe. He could hear the police coming up the stairs, so if he was going to do it the time was now. His mother, long ago, had told him the stories, the powers that the old tattered globe harbored. But they were just stories right? Now a pounding at the door, last chance. He took a deep breath and gave it a spin, it wobbled, spinning slowly. The door splintered, guns were pointed his way, he tapped the globe with his finger and closed his eyes.

“Uncle, are you being silly again?” The little girl laughed and skipped down the hallway, the green ribbons in her dark curly hair bouncing along. He watched her go all the way down the long hallway. Suddenly the fog lifted and he remembered the globe. Damn. He should have looked where he’d put his finger down because he had no idea where he was. Or for that matter when he was. The only thing he knew was that he must belong here because the girl had recognized him. He decided the best thing was to follow her.

“Darling”. He whirled around and found himself face to face with a stunning woman. She had bright red hair, that cascaded over her shoulders in waves. She wore a long green dress that placed her, he thought, in the mid 19th century. As she took him by the arm and he realized they were married, he felt as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

A year later, the entire country was amazed when the royal couple presented them with a princess and heiress to the throne. For five years they had resigned themselves that they were incapable. But now this miracle, and then another and still another.

“What would you change darling?” He looked into his wife’s gray-green eyes, just as beautiful as they’d been on that crazy day 23 years before. “What do you mean?” She sighed, “you are so dense sometimes…it’s a good thing I love you. What would you change about our marriage, our courtship, our children?” He stopped to consider. It might have been 23 years ago but he remembered that day like it was yesterday. He thought of the globe. He thought of what drove him to spin it in desperation and he regretted nothing.

He took her hand and squeezed it hard. “Nothing. I wouldn’t change a single thing”. The Queen stood and smiled “good answer”.

He watched her walk away, and he realized that the old globe had not let him escape to some random place and time. It had brought him home.

© Glenn R Keller 2020, All Rights Reserved