My mother has a first name... and it's Barbara. But you wouldn't learn that in the local newspaper in the 1960s. Check out the caption in the photo collage below. Look close, read it. You noticed it, right? Good. So, yes, not cool, and yes that was the way it was and now that's over with and I'm glad to be here now knowing that for sure. That is progress––acknowledgement, ownership, accountability, correction––natural civil progression, learning you might say.
Newspaper style guides, up to at least 1968 as far as I can tell, referred to married women in this way. They were reinforcing the status quo which back-dated to who the fuck knows. It is incredible when you unpack it. It's crazy, but one of my first associations when I read these captions was a TV commercial for Oscar Meyer bologna which went "My bologna has a first name it's O, S, C, A, R..." A cute precocious kid in overalls with a fishing pole sings a ditty––you buy that bologna (and their hot dogs too). Anyway, OUTRAGEOUS, bologna was allowed a first name, but wives/mothers, no sir, can't have it. To be accurate, the bologna commerical came out in 1973, and I gotta believe the Herald-News of Clifton, New Jersey, and every damn newspaper across the land, would have by then corrected and updated their style guides so as to never offend another soul.
Here's a proof sheet from a photo session of my father. If I had to guess the sitting may have taken place somehwere in the space of time between 1980 and 1981, the year his book was published. I don't recall him showing me the proof sheet at the time and asking my opinion of which frame to choose for use as his author press photo. We didn't sit around as a family and pass it around and then take votes––as far as I remember. It could have happened, and perhaps I'll recall it one day should the proper trigger bring forth the memory.
I have no facts about the older photos put up here––they remain a part of a long history of stories my father never told. Clearly they are publicity photos of a sort, for some purpose, taken somewhere in the 1950s, if I calculate properly. I'd have to do a little research to determine more precise dates, and perhaps I will, but I wanted to get the photos out nonetheless.
They may have been taken for either The New Haven Register or The Toledo Blade––two papers where he worked as a sports columnist. I suppose there are other possiblilties, perhaps he was profiled by a third publication and he got a few prints in the offing? Maybe he hired a staff photographer for his own publicity intentions, I don't know.
My mother once mentioned something about my father considering crossing over from print to television, perhaps these headshots were part of that effort. Looking at the last vertical photo with the beauty queen––it has the classic look of a TV reporter doing a live hit, way back in the day. There's nothing to suggest this was an actual TV broadcast of any kind (other than the mic, which is certainly connected to a PA system). On another note: that look on my father's face in this photo is a dead-ringer for my younger brother, Carl.
I'm painting again. Click on the image to see the full painting (oil on board). It has been a very long time since I finished a painting; and though my desire to paint more still exists, I have thus far allowed myself to be hampered by indecision, "perfectionism," fear (of what?), lack of motivation, whatever the hell else. I covet my own paintings. This is ridiculous. Can I learn to dispatch works quickly without making everything so precious, so that I may create a current body of work to show/peddle? It remains to be seen.
History of Neversent Cover Art
The image here was originally entitled, "Dreams of Freedom with the World at My Feet." It was a woodcut I carved into the wooden panel that slide out of my dorm desk (where one often parked their typewriter, if they were lucky enough to have one) on the first floor of Merry Markley Hall. It was second semester freshman year and I took a 4 credit course, numbered 267, called Printmaking, at the Residential College (East Quad).
That semester (winter 1978), I ended up withdrawing from Inorganic Chemistry after a diastrous exam result caused, in the main, by an UNcharged Texas Instruments calculator. That's when I gave up the dream of becoming a Dentist; which wasn't really my dream as much as it was a lie I told myself to keep my parents happy.
Anyway, the image here is technically no longer a woodcut, but a digital version made from scanning an original paper print, stiching it together, cleaning it up, and expanding it with Photoshop so it would work for the book cover. I still have the woodcut, and will put up a pic of it soon, if my word is any good.
My word was good, if a bit tardy––here's the plank of plywood from the desk of my freshman year dorm room. As an object it does not photograph well, and after realizing this, I quickly decided against another session to try and get it right. Thus slides my standards down the slippery slope. Such peril.
You May Discover One Day that...
Happy Halloween: Scene of the Crime
It's Halloween today in 2017, and here's a story, and unedited chapter, from my forthcoming next book. Life is funny and times change and sometimes things loop around and coincidences take place. Almost 40 years ago to the day when my father helped me move into Mary Markley Hall at the Universtiy of Michigan, I helped one of my daughters move into the very same dorm. Though today I'm proud to be a Wolverine, and proud of all my children, there were a few things I did during my time at Michigan that I am not proud of––this story is one of them.
Boo! Halloween is my favorite holiday. It’s not like I go completely nuts creating the scariest haunted house on the block, and I’m not some kind of cosplay freak; it’s just my favorite. I got my reasons.
My birthday is the seventeenth, so I’ve always felt like I shared October with my friend Halloween. I like the way Halloween celebrates the other side, the darker side of things, odd and imperfect things. Halloween is surreal; it licenses creativity. For one day, Halloween normalizes the abnormal. Halloween wakes the dead. Halloween frees the spirit. This Grand Hallucination is most revealing.
What are you going to be for Halloween?
Freshman year I lived in the Mary Markley dorm, room 1226; it had bit of a party reputation and a nickname to fit: Merry Markley. My randomly assigned roommate, Scott, was a Michigander from East Lansing and our room was on the first floor, the Reeves wing. It was an odd floor, half in the basement, the only floor in the building with rooms on just one side (with building mechanicals on the other).
Everyone seemed to be from Michigan, that made sense, but wow; I was like an exotic animal. People often made note of me being from someplace else, like they were summing up my differences. It worked both ways I suppose; but there’s more comfort with the majority. There was more to it than you say soda, I say pop, or you say hot daag, and I say hot dawg, but, I’m not sure what. Maybe it was culture shock of being in college, or being far from home, or being in the Midwest, or maybe it started rubbing off on me on Nantucket. I started noticing there were a lot of people who grew up with a lot more money than I did. And, it made a difference, it mattered in ways I had never considered.
The University of Michigan was crawling with boys and girls from Gross Pointe, Bloomfield Hills, and Birmingham, the affluent suburbs of Detroit. They moved their wonderful lives (and stereos too) onto campus and took up residence with a sense of belonging, entitlement and purpose. Just about everyone knew someone from their hometown, if they weren’t already rooming with their best friend from high school. I felt like a single digit entity from another planet. And they all moved, seemingly without pause or doubt, with shear, cut you like a knife confidence. It was like I was thrust in a world full of John Gambles, guys like the captain of the undefeated freshman football team and all round perfect human being from my high school back in New Jersey.
How did they know where they were going? How were they so sure what to do, what to study? It’s like people who knew, really knew, that working in the Post Office for twenty years was not such a bad deal––in at eighteen out at thirty-eight, grab a pension and move on to part two of your life. It’s like a formula. How do they know that path? Did they keep this formula in a family lock box and at the right time pass it on, like a family recipe? Where’s my formula? Where’s my family business? Why didn’t I have such a focused life plan?
Perhaps it’s like deciding what costume to wear on Halloween. Some of us are more certain than others. How did a firefighter know he wanted to be a firefighter? How did John Gamble know he wanted to be a doctor? How did I know I wanted to be a dentist?
Adjusting to dorm life proved rougher than I anticipated. I had worked two summers away from home, so that being “on your own” part was kind of covered; but what really bothered me was having another motherfucker in the room. The dude, the roommate, was interrupting my music habit, complicating a ritual that kept me sane, not to mention the hassle of trying to figure out when to jerkoff.
There I was, gazing down a hallway of doors filled with twenty pairs of dudes, everyone a complete stranger to me. Nothing to do, but swallow my fear and meander room-to-room hoping to find a friend. Things broke down pretty quickly; half the guys hit the door, heading out to rush frat row, somehow convinced, or inheriting the idea, that fraternity life was the way to go. The remaining independents or undecideds met in tentative gatherings that at first included both partiers and straight arrows, before we sorted ourselves out into smaller bunches of seemingly like-minded chaps. In the beginning you might spend a few days hanging with one group for a week and then join another a week later. You might be good friends with a dude on the swim team for a while, then suddenly you wouldn’t––after meeting another cool dude to pal around with; or sometimes, dudes just vanished, changed their minds, couldn’t deal, went insane, who knows.
I resorted to an old ploy to get attention, to make myself special, to make myself stand out in a great lake of people, all of whom I believed to be smarter, more confident, and more together than I would ever be––art.
I wrote a letter to Beth, the high school friend who taught me how to silkscreen, and asked her to send me a sheet of orange acetate I could use to make a stencil. I drew the cowboy who graced the latest Pure Prairie League album, Dance. X-Acto in hand, I painstakingly cut out the band’s name in their signature font, along with the dancing cowboy, his arms spread out with a bottle of rotgut in one hand. It came out pretty good, so I screened it on an old T-shirt, and on an old boy scout backpack I used to carry my books. Folks on the hall were suitably impressed with my extracurricular abilities.
After a few weeks, when classes were in full routine and the blush of these first days of college, the blur of change, slowed, the details emerged from beneath a layer of a broader brush. Time has a way of doing that.
Before you know it, you’ve unconsciously gravitated toward people you feel safe with for some known and unknown reasons––they like Springsteen too, for example; you know what I’m saying, or you can’t explain it, or you shouldn’t say it out loud (something about his walk or maybe it’s the kickass boots he’s wearing that you’ve never seen before), it happens to everyone. And there you are, and somehow it worked out and you have people with whom to hang. That’s how I met The Three Engineers, and Chaz & Andy.
It was impossible to forget meeting Billy from Jackson for the first time. I can’t remember what kind of engineer he dreamed of becoming. His room was the very last one at the end of the long Reeves wing hallway, room 1240. I recall striding through the threshold of his dorm room the very first time––and wow. There was Billy with his hand coming at me quick for a shake, and his face, red with a nearly scary case of acne, cracked wide open in the sloppy smile of a person who’s feeling good from an encounter with an at-the-moment-unknown inebriant.
“HI, I’M BILLY FROM JACKSON,” he belted, like he was the happiest (or the highest) son of a bitch in the universe for being exactly where he was––in a dorm as a freshman at The University of Michigan––he was literally in awe of the fact that he managed to arrive exactly where he dreamed of being when he was a boy. I mean his smile was so loose he was slobbering like a panting puppy dog, just about had a foamy white string of saliva yo-yoing up and down threatening to land on me. Before I could shake his hand, WHAM, what the fuck, no, no, he didn’t, he didn’t, holy shit, he did; and now I’ve just shaken his hand and I’m suddenly feeling queasy about that. Behind him, on his side of the double room, the wall was covered with Playboy magazine centerfolds, end to end, in row after row, wallpapered from almost up to the ceiling, to down beside his single bed.
“Isn’t it great, check it out,” he said, noticing my unavoidable gaze at his choice décor––he said it like he expected that I too had been waiting my whole life for the same moment, when I could do this, when I could do anything I wanted with my room now that my mom wasn’t around to stop me, and that, of course, I’d do it too. Why wouldn’t I?
Billy’s roommate, Steve, a thin, near-albino blonde dude from the Chicago suburbs––no doubt anxiously awaited the right time to tell his roommate to take that shit down without hurting his feelings (though myself, and most women might think he needed a sterner talking to). Steve was always holding, he was the first marijuana connoisseur I ever met, his approach to catching a buzz was almost scientific, which kind of made sense, he was studying to be a chemical engineer. Steve would buy a quarter pound of weed, then sell three ounces to break even and he’d have the fourth ounce (head stash) for himself. Steve had a great stereo and an electric typewriter too––makes sense, seeing as he had five or six hundred extra dollars lying around to spend on larger quantities of pot than I’d ever seen with my own blood-shot eyes.
Paul from Schaumberg added the last side of the triangle composing The Three Engineers; he wanted to be a mechanical engineer. He was the only dude on the hall who seemed more nervous and shy than I thought I was.
The amount of pot smoking in the dorm threw me for a loop. Where I came from, and being pretty much a jock, we called the kids who smoked pot D.A.s––short for Drug Addicts. Losers smoked dope, not the smart people (we drank, but that was different). This was a paradigm shift I should have seen coming because pot smoking was an issue between Lili and me; now here it was, confirmed. Lili had been part of this underworld all along, and here I was, late to the party, naïve again, the simpleton, humiliated, and yet enticed and tickled at the same time.
So then it was Halloween, and I was hanging out in Billy from Jackson’s room, when a few guys from the hall dropped in; they needed to figure out costumes for a frat party that night. It was a last minute thing. One guy, Big Tom, stumbled in being pushy, needing ideas for his costume. You might call him a bear today, if he were gay, or just call him fat, like Fatty Arbuckle Fat. Big Tom, already drunk and stoned, was looking for an answer.
“What am I going to be for Halloween?”
Usually Big Tom had it all figured out. He was a freshman too, but for him, it must have been like getting promoted to the 13th grade, what with all his buddies from his high school still surrounding him. He was well connected, a legacy, he was confident, big and loud. He would make a good frat man.
We tossed around a few ideas. (“Oh I know Tom, I know what you could be, you could be a douche bag,” I thought to myself in my best Jersey accent). I threw out an idea, half as a goof.
“How ‘bout this Tom, why not be Hitler? It’s an easy costume to make.” Big Tom paused to think, ummmm, a pause to reflect. I couldn’t help myself, I admit. I did help him along; I listed the stuff necessary for the costume, which wasn’t much, which was the point, at this last minute. And he went for it.
Then I helped him craft his Hitler costume; told him to grab a white shirt, roll up the sleeves, I even made the Nazi arm band for him. We added a mustache, that was easy––and look who we have here. I coached him on how to comb his hair appropriately slicked down and parted. He needed boots, he ran to get those and his costume was complete. The hall was buzzing as the costume pieces came together, no one thinking for a second that it might be inappropriate; it was just a great costume, easy to assemble, and there was no question who Big Tom was supposed to be.
There goes Big Tom, now Jolly Old Hitler waving around a beer in a colder-holder with his buddies bounding down the hallway and out to the elevators and stairs. They would cross campus on foot to a stately frat house on State Street a couple doors down from the Michigan Union, and do the dance of Halloween.
Later that night, I was hanging out with Chaz and Andy, Billy from Jackson was there too. Chaz and Andy, more Michiganders, were best friends for life, they knew each other since they were zygotes; they were from the U.P.–– the Upper Peninsula, Iron Mountain to be exact. I had attached myself to these guys after making the rounds on the hall, meeting people, hoping to find anyone I could stand to hang out with. I was out of practice, having given away my best friends back home in the ninth grade.
Chaz was a mountain man with a big brain who came down from the northland to get educated with city folk; he was on a pre-med curriculum like me. He was tall, had a rigid posture, and he walked incredibly fast––and with his red-laced, steel-toed boots he took on a certain Frankensteinian profile. His regular voice was so deep and slow he sounded like he was stoned all the time. The fact that he was, meant you had to trust his word that it was his regular voice.
Andy wasn’t college material, a high school dropout. He enjoyed life, partied too much, and basically bounced around like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz., shadowing Chaz, his Tin Man, you could say. When Chaz moved to Ann Arbor, Andy simply followed. He moved right in with Chaz and his official roommate, a soft-spoken Bible banging black dude, who looked like Arsenio Hall before I, or most of us, even heard of Arsenio Hall. The roommate quickly learned to be scarce, except to sleep.
I was shocked that Chaz and Andy actually smoked pot everyday, every single day. I didn’t think that people actually did that, like continuously; I had no idea. Really? Wow. Made me wonder how much pot Lili smoked. We argued about that too. I was totally against pot smoking right up until the moment I needed a more compelling reason not to be––like to fall in love with a girl.
Not long after meeting her, and having never seen marijuana before, I went out and got some pot and smoked it for the first time ever before school with Lili on the day of a field trip to Manhattan. I was a high school junior, she was a sophomore, and it was French Club (again) dipping into the City to experience something French, a play, a movie, a restaurant, a museum, one of those, as long as it was French. I bought a nickel bag from the kid who coldcocked me with a sucker punch in seventh grade and got me suspended. I took the bag into the half bath next our kitchen at 175 and I stared down at the dried brown leaves and stems and seeds. It smelt dirty. I tried to roll a joint with one of the rolling papers I begged off the guy who sold me the stuff; it took a few tries to come up with a zeppelin of doobie I hoped would do the trick. I got a familiar feeling; it’s the drain of shame. Seeing the evil weed up close for the first time, the potting-soil smell of it in my lap––bad, like a girlie magazine––as I sat on the toilet, I was flush with new guilt. I was thinking, I’m bad, I’ve gone this far––how far might I go?
After that, I very rarely smoked pot, until I got to Ann Arbor. In the dorm every other person seemed to be bonging up a storm. I could rarely afford to buy pot of my own, but it was easy to catch a buzz. I came to romanticize and rationalize pot smoking by associating it with Lili, who I still loved like crazy. Now I had another way to get closer to her (I had taken up cigarettes earlier for the same reason) and a way to ease the pain of missing her.
Chaz was kicking my ass at foosball in the vending machine room at the end of our hall when someone floated through and said to me, “Big Tom is looking for you, and he’s not happy.” Big Tom was back from the frat party and he was pissed. He came rumbling down the stairs with his hometown posse, striding out onto the floor looking for me.
“You made me look like an asshole!” He was screaming and pointing, explaining how he went to a Jewish fraternity and people instantly called him out for having really bad taste, because of his costume. It wasn’t until then that the realization of how inappropriate his costume was came flooding in.
The punch was on me before I noticed it, landing square and centered on my left peck. A decent shot. I put him on the floor, tackling him. I got up, punching my way out, escaping his grasp and then, just like that, the fight was done, both of us backing off down the hall spewing mouthfuls of fuck.
What was my real intention for helping Big Tom into a Hitler costume? Did I mean to set him up? Was I testing his insensitivity? Was it evidence of my cruelty? My badness? What about everyone else in the room? Why didn’t anyone say, “This is not a good idea.”
Later, while rocking on the side of my dorm room bed listening to music, I could see how easy it was for Tom to miss it, so anxious he was to have a costume and make a good impression. I could see too that it could have happened to me, if I wasn’t busy being an asshole of larger proportions.
If I had been thinking, and I didn’t secretly dislike him so much, I might have suggested to Big Tom that he be Charlie Chaplain (albeit a giant Charlie Chaplin). “You could use the same mustache.” Or, how about this: “Be the big dude in Laurel and Hardy––Oliver. Be Oliver Hardy. Or how about Humpty Dumpty?” These are all very fine last minute Halloween costume choices for the whole family. Well, one or two do require a degree of corpulence, but I guess you could stuff your shirt if you had to, that would work in a pinch.
“Tom! You should have just told them you were Charlie Chaplin, that’s all you had to do. Should a told them you were Charlie Chaplain, like you know, ‘I’m Charlie Chaplain in The Great Dictator don’t you see! It’s an ironic costume, I swear, no really. I swear. Don’t beat me up, don’t hurt me, pleeease. Ok, I’m the Dick Shawn character; I’m Lorenzo Du Bois in Mel Brooks’, The Producers, right? You saw that movie, right? I didn’t mean it, please, please don’t hurt me, I wasn’t thinking.’”
I really knew how to win friends and influence people.
Chapter 16 - Torn
This was the drawing of my life up to that point––when I was in fourth grade (I was 10 or 11 years old). It does still exist, and to be honest, it is one of the possessions I value most. Here, I digitally put the pieces back together, but in its true current physical form the drawing is part of a collage of a sort that I created along with two other images: one is a penciled self-portrait, and the other is a photo-booth photo of myself taken somewhere in Manhattan. I gave the collage to my parents for Christmas one year, when I was living the boomerang life after college and I made all my Christmas gifts because I couldn't afford to buy real presents. The story that goes with the drawing is told in Chapter 16 of The Best Feeling In The World, and now here. [P.S. note how I managed to sign the drawing three different ways/times––and the outsized ego of a 10-year-old kid who, apparently, was in search of the perfect autograph. Jeez.]
It was 1969 and America started coming down off a manic high. Hippies, protesters, idealists, and regular citizens too—all crashing in the buzzkill of the Vietnam War that they were seemingly powerless to stop. Worn-out adults watched the dimming embers of a pop culture explosion trail back to Earth like a spent Saturn V rocket booster. And I sat in Miss Nasty’s class clutching a fat number eight pencil, making a drawing on an eleven-by-fourteen piece of manila paper.
The fourth graders in my Sylvan School classroom, in a state of semi-obliviousness (assassinations and moon shots were hard to miss), continued on, guzzling sweet kid culture. If we got lucky, Miss Nasty might let us cue up records at the end of the day, and a soundtrack of bubblegum pop songs like “Sugar Sugar” by the Archies or “Dizzy” by Tommy Roe would kick out of a one-piece record player, in mono. A cheerful jangle of treacly music filled the fluorescent classroom.
At the time, Wacky Packages were all the rage; the latest in a series of seemingly endless micro-fads capable of possessing the student body—Frisbees, Superballs, Hot Wheels. Kids brought in packs of the stickers, showed them off, shuffled through small stacks, surrounded by curious classmates. Wacky Packs pioneered product parody stickers, packaged like baseball cards, complete with a stale sugar-dusted stick of gum. We collected Odd Rods, cartoon drawings of far out cars with gigantic motors, driven by bug-eyed monsters. The vibe borrowed from Rat Fink creator, Big Daddy Ed Roth’s style.
I leaned hard on my pencil, retracing contours, drawing the Road Runner; sticker number forty in a set of forty-four Odd Rods. It depicted a track runner with a souped-up motor strapped to his back, flames shooting from the exhaust pipes. He had a giant mouth full of teeth, and long, exaggerated running shoes; he crouched, ready to peel off down the road.
The drawing was going well, the only problem was I was not supposed to be drawing, because Miss Nastase was delivering a lesson. The drawing was the only thing that mattered to me; I was lost, gone, all time disappeared. I was in the middle of a creation jag that flooded me with satisfaction; I needed to finish it because it was filling me with joy. The process absorbed me, knowing how good it was becoming as I added each line, each color. I continued to draw and ignored the lesson until I got busted. She warned me, at first. “Put that away,” she snapped, and I chilled. But after awhile, I couldn’t help myself. The Pull of that feeling, drawing well, proved too powerful. I slipped it out again and continued. I showed it to a few classmates, looking for approval, or maybe a touch of complicity, justification––any excuse for ignoring the lesson. Nothing could stop me; a powerful, raw feeling of esteem compelled me. I could feel it; a sense of absolute certainty of feeling good about myself, like an injection—potent, high-grade, and pure.
A buzz began to circulate around the class; kids wanted to get a look at it. This disruption caused Miss Nasty to take notice.
“For the last time, Steven, put that drawing away!”
There it was, the final scold; but I didn’t care. I would have sacrificed a limb for that drawing, my left arm. The left arm, take the left, take it, but not the right, pleeease, I draw with the right.
“Pssst, hey, Steve,” came a whisper from a kid at a nearby desk, a warning call, “she’s coming.” I sensed a disturbance and I looked up and saw Miss Nastase move up the aisle in large strides, aimed right for me. With her face full of hate, she reached down and snatched my perfect drawing right out from under the oil crayon in my hand. My heart started to pound; blood rushed to my face. Then, in one jerky move, she brought it up under her chin—the best freaking drawing I ever made—and she squeezed it tightly in her hands, and tore it in half in a single dramatic downward stroke.
The class groaned. She strutted back to her desk, paused, then dropped her hand and let the pieces of my drawing fall into the gray metal garbage pail. There went the drawing of my life. Humiliation painted my face and washed down my neck.
“That will teach you to draw in class while I’m talking, now sit there and listen.” Listening was then out of the question; I was in shock, crushed. This was the drawing of my life; there was no worse feeling in the world than to have the one thing I was most proud of, most satisfied with, taken from me and destroyed. I was a zombie the rest of the day; in my head I repeated a wordy shock mantra: She just ruined the drawing of my life; she just ruined the drawing of my life. I can’t get that back, she just tore me in half. It seemed so malicious. What is this? Can a teacher do that? She destroyed my property. I should have been listening; I understand that, but whatever happened to making me stay after school? A part of me thought she crossed a line. Was she paying me back for successfully brown-nosing the principal with my president drawings? Was that my sin? Was it that I could draw well, or that I was proud of it? Did my ten-year-old ego need a slap down? I was always looking for ways to draw instead of write, because I struggled with writing. Maybe she just needed me to learn to follow her rules, to recognize her complete authority over me. I am not sure I learned my lesson, but I did learn to feel a bit different about authority. I was confused about the message of her reproach, because there was more to it than teaching consequences for a broken rule. What was she saying about drawing? What was she telling me about pride?
At the time, I was a Webelo; you know, in the middle school of scouting, too old to be a Cub Scout, too young to be a full-blown Boy Scout. In Webelos, instead of the embroidered merit badges Boy Scouts worked to achieve, there were silver activity badges for boys to earn, and pin to a yellow, red, and green tassel, The Webelos Tartan, that we pinned on the right shoulder of our uniform shirts. A Webelo could earn up to fifteen different activity badges in 1969. One of the first badges I earned was for art—the silver pin was a cartoonish horse head. I made a sculpture for one of the five tasks, or projects required to earn the pin. I found a book about Pompeii in the attic that inspired me. Using brown clay, I sculpted a man’s arm and a leg, and with toothpicks, mounted the appendages in a semi-abstract arrangement on a block of wood. It was decidedly cubist in form, like a three-dimensional Picasso beach painting. I worked hard to make the anatomy accurate; I was quite pleased with the results. My parents were impressed, and said I had a talent for sculpting; I was proud of myself. I looked forward to the next troop meeting so I could show off my talent, and get the shiny silver horse pin.
I carried my sculpture into the Presbyterian Church parish house, where Troop 161 met, and I placed it on the end of the table with the other scouts’ projects. In the time before our scoutmasters called the meeting to order, “Troop 161—fall in!” boys bounced around the room, expended energy, talked, and prepared. A couple scouts noticed my sculpture and started to make fun. “What the heck is that homo thing?” someone asked.
I became embarrassed, humiliated, and I felt stupid for taking pride in my sculpture, and for not anticipating the reaction. The scout oath ended with a list of traits, “A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. Kind, that’s the one I’m looking for; perhaps it was too much to ask, I know. I failed to live up to the oath as much as any other boy, but that spike went in deep.
We had a few semi-official assistant scoutmasters, fathers with sons in the troop who wanted to be involved. One guy, Mr. Kipple (his son George was in the troop) was a bit odd. He had a foreign accent, maybe Russian or Israeli, he walked with a limp, and he never wore a scout uniform. He always showed up late, in a rumpled suit, as if he had rushed over after hustling all day in The City. He pulled me aside that night and made a point to compliment me on my sculpture. He was odd, but he was kind.
At the end of the night, our meeting over, came the call “Troop 161—fall out!” The scouts, with their neckerchiefs removed and their shirttails out, gathered their gear and headed for home. If we were lucky, we might have gotten to use the two-lane bowling alley in the room next door, where the pins had to be set by hand, for the physical activity that often capped off our troop meetings. I walked over to the table to retrieve my art badge materials, and as I carefully placed my clay sculpture in a paper grocery bag, I noticed a few toothpicks had come loose, and then I saw that someone had apparently used one to gouge a few holes into the arm and leg of my queer little sculpture.
Back to class, where the radiators hissed and that day dragged on, all I could think about was the drawing of my life in pieces at the bottom of the garbage can. Finally, the clock on the wall  clicked down the last few minutes of the day, and we were free. But, I didn’t move; the only thing I cared about was the drawing, and how I had to get it back. As kids filed out the classroom door, I straggled behind, and waited. And when Miss Nastase got distracted talking to another teacher or a student, I made my move; as I passed her desk, I reached down in the garbage and retrieved, no rescued, the two pieces of my torn drawing, and I smuggled it past her. Then I walked home to show my mother.
I learned later in life that my mother was outraged that Miss Nasty had torn it in half right in front of my eyes. Surely, confiscation and detention would have been enough punishment, my mother no doubt argued when she went to see Principal Dorothy Davies to protest. Miss Nastase and I never acknowledged the incident again; I continued to draw during class, but more discreetly, and I stopped trying to impress her with my drawing in any way.
1 It was a gray flush mount Standard Electric––the AR2.
2 While checking facts on other chapters of this book, on a whim I called my mother to ask if by chance she might still have my grade school report cards. I had, after all, acquired my tendency towards archiving things from someone, and sure enough, she had them. When I got to this chapter, I thought about the report cards again, and wondered if there was any indication on my fourth grade report of the somewhat troubled relationship I had with Miss Nasty. In the space provided for Teacher’s Comments for the third marking period, neatly printed in blue fountain pen ink, she wrote: “Steven has been doing nice work. But he must become less argumentative. He must accept the authority and decisions of the teacher more graciously.” And, beneath that, in the principal’s red ball point, was added, “I am glad to see improvement. DD.”
With the release this weekend of Christine, a movie about a woman who committed suicide on air in Sarasota, Florida, I've been reminded of a few things. Back in 1983, between February 2nd and March 30th, I stuck a clipping of her in my journal, and it's been there ever since. It was from one of Esquire magazine's annual Dubious Achievement Awards features. I don't know if Esquire waited nine years to make a joke at Christine's expense (her suicide happened on July 15, 1974). Is nine years "too soon" to joke about suicide, or maybe, one ought never joke about it? What does it say in the professional comedians rule book? Whatever the case, I was in the habit of going through my old magazines, and clipping articles and images I found interesting, so I can't be sure when Esquire ran the bit (only that I stashed it in 1983).
I suppose, like the filmmakers of Christine, I was intrigued by Chubbuck's suicide, I remember wanting to know why she did it, I wanted to know if it was meant as a commentary of some kind. Beyond that, I clipped it and saved it because I thought her story might be useful one day in my creative endeavors. I suppose I clipped it also because in 1983 I was working my first job in television at Suburban Cablevision's TV3 in East Orange, New Jersey. It's just a coincidence that I would end up in Florida working in TV, including a stint at WTOG-TV in Saint Petersburg, where Christine Chubbuck also worked (before my time) in the traffic department before moving on to Sarasota. Every now and then, I'd think about Christine Chubbuck, and when I became a producer later on I wondered if maybe her story was worth telling, but I never got around to looking into it. I did do a series of reports about depression, actually won the 1997 Mental Health Media Award from the National Mental Health Association. I managed to get an interview with then sitting Governor Lawton Chiles, one of the few where he openly discussed his battle with depression.
And, then there's my own battles with the darkness, battles that make me sensitive to all others fighting the same fight; and hearing of any suicide, always releases a flood of empathy, understanding and sadness.
I'm not sure whether the movie Christine ought to have been made. I'm not sure if I believe it's pure exploitation--they are aiming to make money--but I have to admit that when I clipped that photo, my instincts were similar to the filmmakers, when it came to recognizing an intriguing story. It's a cliche to point out that Christine's story is further proof that Florida is a Tabloid Nation--it's a bit worn out, but no less true today than it ever was. Now, I'm thinking about another Florida story, one I covered when I was a photographer at WTOG that I'm convinced would make a great movie. Someone has already written an excellent book on the story, but so far no movie. I'd love to tell you about it, but then again, perhaps I ought to run out and option the film rights to the book before saying anything. Yeah, like that's gonna happen.
I made the photo of a photo by selectively cropping out the top half of a team photo from a town recreation basketball league. I think it’s a better photograph than the original, but then again the original had another purpose altogether.
Is this a “new” work that I may claim as my own, or is it a stolen photograph?
There are a number of factors to consider. Just for grins here’s three:
1. If the original photo was created after 1988 than the original photographer (or heirs) retains copyright for 70 years after death––unless the rights have been transferred in writing at some point. Length of copyright protection has changed frequently––just so you know.
2. Do I have the copyright for my simply cropped photo of a photo? The original photographer or rights holder has exclusive rights to reproduction. However, courts haven’t really agreed completely on whether taking a photo of a photo is a copyright violation/infringement (and cropping is a separate but connected issue).
3. Is my cropped version of the photo a derivative work for which I can claim copyright? That depends. The new work must be significantly different enough from the original to be considered a new work. Word is that the standard of “significantly different” is much higher for derivative works.
Now, at this point I’m not interested in doing complete copyright research on the original basketball team photo. Though I am curious who might have the copyright––did the photographer retain his copyright or did he relinquish it in a “work for hire” arrangement with the town recreation department?
I’d say it’s pretty likely that I cannot claim the copyright to my cropped version of the original photo. I doubt is would pass muster as “significantly different” from the original, but who knows there seems to be some gray area.
Now, there is a host of copyright issues concerning photography in addition to those mentioned here––such as fair use, public domain, creative commons. I didn’t intend for this post to be a comprehensive discussion of photo copyright, I was just trying to come up with some text to go along with the cropped photo of a photo I posted because I think it makes a pretty good picture. I aint no lawyer.
That’s why I consulted a few (online) for some of the info I have included. Here’s two blogs I used as references:
Check out the winners in the 2015-2016 ReaderViews.com literary contest. The Best Feeling In The World managed an honorable mention in the Memoir/Autobiography/Biography category. The annual literary awards was established to honor writers who self-published or had their books published by a subsidy publisher, small press, university press, or independent book publisher geared for the North American reading audience. POD books are accepted.
And, from the DeGreg archives: notice (above) an alternative book cover design for The Best Feeling In The World.
Near the end of writing “The Best Feeling In The World” I learned something about my maternal grandfather I felt compelled to include in the book, so I dropped it in there at the last minute the way you might feel compelled to namedrop a brush with someone famous, wherever you could make it fit. I learned that he had played in the early days of the National Football League on a team called the Providence Steam Roller. What? I had no idea there was ever an NFL team in Providence, never mind a team the owners decided to call the Steam Roller (I wonder what their other business was?). At the time I took to the internet in hopes of finding concrete evidence of my grandfather having played. There isn’t much information on the web about the Steam Roller as a team, and I could not find any mention of my grandfather no matter how deep I dug (while admitting I did not use any services that required money). I decided to include the factoid about my grandfather in the book even though I had no proof other than the collective memories of my mother and her family. How could I not include this fact, when the memoir itself turned so sharply on a story about football failure in contrast with football glory (irony baby, irony).
A year later, my mother sent me a photocopy of a newspaper article in which, on the face of it, there appeared to be proof of the claim that my grandfather played on the Providence Steam Roller. It’s a page from a weekly newspaper called the Windham County Transcript published at the time in Danielson, Connecticut (circulation 1500). Apparently, my uncle Nick had been on his own fact checking mission to confirm his father’s NFL experience––and he found the article and sent a copy along to his sister (my mother). There is no printed date on the article, but someone, my uncle I presume, wrote the date on the photocopy: September 27, 1928.
And sure enough, there is this sentence, in the short mention on the sports page about another local athlete (“Pop” Williams, also from Danielson) who made good debuting with the Steam Roller that Sunday in Providence:
“…Pop was not the only representative of Danielson and Connecticue Aggie in the game, for Tommy Longo got a chance to show his stuff at right guard for a time. Quite a number of local fans attended the game to see these boys in action.”
So, at first blanche, there’s the proof I sought. But, wait a minute, my grandfather’s name was Antonio A. Longo, not Tommy, and though he was known to have nicknames––he was called “Duke” while at UConn––I had never heard he was called “Tommy.”
Still, there is little room to doubt the “Tommy Longo” cited in the article is my grandfather, if only to say––How many other Longo’s were there in September of 1928 from Danielson, Connecticut, who went to UConn, would have been playing pro football at the time, in addition to my grandfather? So, my grandfather had another nickname, or a football alias, I’m okay with that. Also, the nickname makes some sense in hindsight, as Antonio morphs into Anthony, then into Tony, and before long, Tony becomes Tommy. And there’s this: my grandfather’s youngest son would be named Thomas, and everyone calls him Tommy¬––so exists a fondness for the name, that really doesn’t prove a thing in this case.
A few facts get a touch fuzzy. I have spent at least one long afternoon on the internet, armed with this new lead, searching to find further evidence of my grandfather’s gridiron exploits with the Providence Steam Roller.
The Steam Roller actually won the NFL Championship in 1928, so it’s the one season likely to have the most survivable trail of information available. Thus far I have not been able to find online another source to confirm my grandfather’s history on the team. I realize I might have better luck hitting the ground in Connecticut and Providence to pull microfilm or hardcopy newspaper archives, but I am not so compelled at this time (and perhaps, uncle Nick has covered that ground already, to get us what we have now).
Anyway, I did piece together slivers of additional information from searching the web. I learned that the Windham County Transcript was a weekly that published on Wednesdays during the year 1928. My uncle’s hand written note on the photocopy puts the date of the article as September 27th. A quick check on the web about what day of the week was 9-27-1928, proved it was a Thursday. So, it is seems the “actual” date of the article was likely September 26, 1928. Now, the article mentions the game in question was played on “Sunday” making for a game date of September 23, 1928.
I was able to find a photo of a schedule card for the Steam Roller’s 1928 season (an advertisement give-away for the Yellow Cab Company!) and the first game listed is for Sunday September 23, 1928. But here’s the thing, it’s listed as an “exhibition” game. Quite clearly this is the game that was written up in the Windham County Transcript, which also cites the opponent as Warlow A.C. of Long Island. What does this mean? I’m not sure.
My research has not been able to find my grandfather’s name on any team rosters (there is so little information available), and that includes another newspaper article from another paper dated December of 1928 that mentions at least 15 different players of that season by name––none is my grandfather. It appears my grandfather was not on the Championship team by the season’s end, at least he’s not mentioned on any rosters or articles I’ve been able to find. Apparently, he was not a player of note. I tend to think if he had played the whole season I’d have heard about it a lot earlier than I did (when in my 50s). Did he get cut? Did he get injured? Was he a practice player? Was it a one-off? Was it a tryout? Was he simply hired for the day for the exhibition to ensure there were enough players on the field?
Not sure how much more time I’ll invest in seeking to learn more details of the story, but it is a fun story to have in your family. So, I stand by what I wrote: my grandfather “played in the NFL for the Providence Steam Roller”––even if it was for just one day.
Papa go to bed now, it's getting late...
A couple nights ago I took my two daughters to see Bruce Springsteen in Sunrise, Florida, near Fort Lauderdale. I had tried to interest them in seeing Bruce when they were younger, but I didn’t force it on them, so, it didn’t happen. This time around was different, but it wasn’t simply about their age, they’re 18 and 16 now. It was impossible for them to avoid Springsteen’s music while growing up, but it wasn’t until recently, with the death of David Bowie (to be precise), that they both came around to the feeling that seeing Bruce Springsteen live on stage was something they wanted to do, before it was no longer possible.
I might have told them not to worry, Bruce is a lifelong musician, he might not rock your face off with the E Street band forever, but he’ll play, even sitting in a chair if he has to. I thought that. And then, my thoughts ran away with the idea of seeing Bruce on stage like an old bluesman, all boney, and with the skin of his neck showing off like soft vintage leather, and the blinking reflection of light coming off his guitar’s chipped patina of original paint.
The first River Tour started on October 3, 1980 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in Crisler Arena. I was barely a month into the start of my junior year at the University of Michigan, and son of a bitch, if Bruce wasn’t launching a new tour, literally, across the street from my house.
I ended up with a shitty seat (there’s a story there), but I had finally managed to see Springsteen live, after years of frustrating want (coupled with bad geography), and then a series of near misses. It was barely the relief I was seeking for this rock and roll holy grail––but it was a start. Time has proven to be on my side, faith has been rewarded, and so there are a couple more stories for another time. But, it started way back there, thirty-six years ago. I was there; and then, I was there Tuesday night again, and that felt good, because I knew it was true of Bruce as well––we have these two nights on earth in common. Oh, and, of course, it also felt great to have my daughters with me, perfect bookends for this Bruce fan coming full circle.
p.s. I hope that doesn’t sound creepy. I don’t have time now to write my way out of it, even though I know there’s something there to write. And maybe I’ll write it, and it’ll be about Bruce and how he calls The River his coming-of-age record, and how it seems to be the record that means the most to him, and that this revival tour signals another coming-of-age realization for Springsteen, one that may very well be an indication that the number of E Street band gigs may be down to precious few.
the a review s are is in...
Well, at least someone enjoyed the read. I've put the complete review on the page for you (below), but if you're interested in checking out the Reader Views site, click the name I just typed. In the interest of full disclosure, let me explain I don't really understand the business model of the site, though it is clear that it is a business targeting independent authors such as myself. So, how did I end up with a review? Did I pay for it? Well, the answer is yes and no. I searched the web looking for legitimate whole book contests I might enter (there are way too many scammy folks out there) and Reader Views floated near the top of a very short list of legit contests, so I entered. Now, as you may have guessed, there was an entry/reading fee for the book contest, so you could make a case that I paid for the review. I can't recall if a review was promised with the contest entry, or if they assign reviews to books that make a certain cut (I might check that). In any case, I was surprised and happy to receive the review in my email this morning, and pleased that it was positive, and that it was listed on the Reader Views website as well. Also, you ought to know that I do not know the reviewer and I have never communicated with her in anyway. Oh, and the results of the contest will be announced somewhere "between March and April 2016." Now, with all disclosures and disclaimers out of the way––read on, if you like. And if you really like, go to my store (see nav at top) and pick up a copy in any of the three formats you might like.
The Best Feeling in the World
Alligator Suitcase Press (2015)
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (02/16)
In “The Best Feeling in the World,” first time author Steven DeGregorio, takes readers on delightful journey of growing up in a middle-class family in suburban Rutherford, New Jersey. It is the author’s personal story, the middle child in this middle class family, growing up in the sixties and seventies. A time when kids played outside with the other kids in the neighborhood, entertaining themselves with sports, hide-and-seek, and kick the can, the possibilities were endless. The self-declared kids of the “Mountain Way Gang” boisterously explored all the options in their search for fun and/or mischief on any given day.
A simpler time, perhaps? Not always, as DeGregorio, grows up witnessing some of this country’s biggest moments in history: Vietnam, the Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations, sending a man to the moon, and the birth of rock and roll. DeGregorio watches it all through the reflective eyes of a young boy, and is awakened to the harsh realities that not everyone or everything in life is good. Added to the world events, are all the personal foibles and lessons of a growing, easily influenced young boy, who wants love and acceptance as he finds his way through life. From a naïve boy, through puberty and adolescence, DeGregorio makes some tough decisions, and messes some things up along the way. Some of these decisions help to ease the growing pains, while others change the course of his life forever.
“The Best Feeling in the World” is a highly entertaining coming of age story that I found to be so refreshing. The writing style of DeGregorio is such that I could easily imagine myself growing up in the era. Each one of the chapters is a different story, a childhood memory, and the memories combine to form an impressive tale of self-discovery and personal growth. I laughed out loud as he discovered some of the more intricate functions of the male anatomy - the writing is truly hilarious! It wasn’t all fun and games though, and my heart ached as DeGregorio went through some difficult times in high school. Dealing with bullies, popularity contests, it certainly stirred up some personal memories.
I highly recommend “The Best Feeling in the World “by Steven DeGregorio to all generations of readers. Folks that grew up in the same era will delight in the memories it stirs, and kids growing up in today’s high-tech world will learn some valuable lessons. Great story!
A Gold Star, AKA, Honorable Mention for e-Book Cover
I had submitted two e-book cover designs to thebookdesigner.com's monthly e-Book Cover Design Award last month (Sept.) for The Best Feeling In The World and The Drama King. When The cover for The Best Feeling In The World just barely made the list of covers that received comments for the month, I was happy for that, and disappopinted about no mention for The Drama King cover, becasue I thought it was the better cover. I called my brother with the bitter (for his cover) sweet (for mine) news, and told him I'd see if I could re-submit the cover for The Drama King for the next month's (Oct.) contest. I had good intentions, but I never sought to find out if I could re-submit, and just let it slide. Obviously, it was great to get an email today from thebookdesigner.com lettting me know The Drama King e-book cover had earned a Gold Star.
If you are not familiar––thebookdesigner.com––by Joel Friedlander is one of THE go-to sites for independent authors and publishers. Anytime I need to learn the way things are done, I start my search for answers at thebookdesigner.com.
If you'd like to see Joel Friedlander's comments click HERE
The Trouble With T-shirts
The first thing is––they don't last. The last thing is, that no one remembers that, so we forget when we're are buying our latest, most favorite T-shirt ever, that we ought to buy two (because it might be valuable one day, or, one day you'll discover you've worn it too much, it was your favorite, but now it just looks like a shirt you shouldn't wear in public, and, they might not make it any more by the time you might want to get a new one––and wouldn't it be nice to have a backup?).
Have you seen the prices they're asking these days for vintage concert T-shirts. Makes you think. Makes sense to have purchased two, right? I mean, there's no way you were not gonna wear that concert T the day after to prove you went to the show (once you wear it, it's worth less). So, buy one to wear, and one to sell or wear later.
But know this, if you don’t already, the items you manage to stow away in mint condition for a windfall later on, are worthless––without the perfect buyer. Good luck finding them when you're ready to liquidate. The futility of trying to figure out the zeitgeist of what to stash away now for the payday later, is well known. There's really only one kind to science to throw at a problem like that, buy at least two of everything you love.
Recently, I have put this buying practice into effect at Target. I bought two Jurassic Park and two Rolling Stones T-shirts. The quality of the shirts is not the best. I'd rate them as, let me see, as––disposable. These shirts start to dissolve after two washings. They fuzz up quick, and turn into an old pajama top, a you're-not-wearing-that-are-you item in no time.
We can blame our parents for not valuing our possessions after we've left the nest, our discards really, our left behinds; but, the truth of it is, if we really valued that stuff ourselves, we'd have already taken responsibility for them.
What I recommend for those in the process of leaving the nest is, go through your stuff and time capsule that shit. I'm serious. Reduce it, pack it, make it portable, store it, and forget it for a long time. Also remember, no body cares about your shit; do not expect anyone to give a shit about your shit, even your mother. The only way to take care of your shit is to take care of your shit.
Another thing about T-shirts: there are people, quite a few actually, who really believe that at some point in life a person ought to stop wearing T-shirts (and, I presume, become an adult, and what, wear a collared shirt?). I'd like to make a T-shirt to tell you what I think of people who think like that.
It's nothing new to point out that the T-shirt has a place in our culture (other cultures too, no doubt) as a medium of expression, for advertising, for branding, for political speech, for free speech even. There might be a book's worth of ideas in that subject to explore, but I'm not here to do that, nor am I staking a claim in any way, shape, or form, to such a project. I'm just coming up with a new feature for this web site.
I have a history with T-shirts, I wrote about it in The Best Feeling In The World, and it continued after that, and there will be a couple of stories in the next book. Also, the next book will deal with politics of a sort. In a way it will be a coming of age of politics story.
A person can get into a lot of trouble paying attention to politics; I'm one of those people. I don't want what I write here to become political, I don't even want the next book to be anything political; but, it's a memoir, and well, that's where life took me, or, where I took my life at some point (depending on how you look at it). So, I am determined to keep this site free from politics! Except for T-shirts. I will say things, perhaps political things with T-shirts, I will express myself through virtual T-shirt designs (okay, it's a meme in teenage clothing, I know that, but I'm doing it anyway).
It isn't just my history with T-shirts that drives this idea; it was a real, physical world T-shirt that I bought online a few weeks ago that kind of spooked me, because of where I bought the shirt. I bought a T-shirt from the web site of Anonymous ––anonhq.com. You may know them as hacktivists or activists who use computers. You may think of them as black hats or white hats, I don't know. Maybe you never heard of them, either way, it's safe to say that powers that be, the government perhaps, is, at the least, irritated by the activities of Anonymous.
If one presumes the USG has the ability to see everything I do with this computer, if they wanted to, then buying a T-shirt from Anonymous might be an act that might trigger a notice somewhere in the data pile, and might even dump my profile into a batch with others like me––depending on how high the setting is on the paranoid knob of the surveillance machine.
I actually worried that buying a Guy Fawkes face T-shirt from Anonymous would put me on a list. I wondered if my purchase of the shirt might one day be a crime, or a pre-crime, say for, I don't know, providing financial support to known "criminal" hackers?
"You're being paranoid." I can hear the chorus sing. So, it pisses me off to have these thoughts, cause I'm either a paranoid nut case who thinks too much, or our society is actually dangerously close to actually keeping such lists on us, if they don't already. ; )
The fact that I choose to remain a sane person means I have to reduce the amount of politics in my system pretty drastically (or could the opposite be true? hmmm). But, I still need some kind of an outlet and so, T-shirts it will be.
It might be corny to put it this way, but take a look at what emerged from The Alligator Suitcase. Hang on to your dreams, never give up, do the work, etc., etc.,––pick your own cliche––and make your dreams come true. Yikes, it's making my teeth loose just saying these kinds of things. To admit that I have been inspired by my father might make it uncomfortable for a son like me, but that does not make it any less true.
I've jumped to the end of the story for my own selfish reasons: I have a tale or two to tell about watching my father chase the dream of being an author; but, those stories are in the next book. You're going to have to wait, because––selfish. In the meantime, if you click on the main photo above, you can read the article from the South Bergenite.
The Alligator Suitcase
I’m not sure how old I was when I first journeyed up to the attic at 175 on a treasure hunt––digging through the remainders of things from life already lived; my parents lives, that is. Of all the things to explore in the attic of my family home, very few of them belonged to my father, except for the alligator suitcase. It may have been the only possession of my father’s stored in the attic (his “office/linen closet” was another matter).
It might have been the first time; my older brother and I found my father’s dusty old alligator suitcase shoved in under the squeezed-off space where the rafters meet the floorboards. We grabbed the handle and dragged it out, then snapped open the latches of the now brittle suitcase. Inside we discovered a trove of black and white photographs that appeared to be from my father’s time in the army in occupied Japan. We flipped through the prints looking for images of our father at a younger age. Next, we discovered a Kodak camera, which we presumed was used to take the photos we just went through. It had a dried out leather strap, the body was covered by textured black leather or some other kind of veneer, and the top, where the eyepiece was, was made of plastic or Bakelite. There was no lens visible on the camera, maybe it wasn’t a camera, we wondered, but it said Kodak right there engraved on that metal thing that flips out for no apparent reason. We fumbled with the baffling piece of equipment, trying to open it somehow. “Let me see it, let me try,” it was back and forth like that until one of us found the right lever to push to free the lens so it could see what cameras are destine to see. And the camera popped open almost like a jack-in-the-box, but not really. Instead, we had to apply a touch of force to unfold the cover that hid the black bellows with the shutter and lens at the end that poked out with a final click. Wow, a marvel from another time. And that was it, our curiosity sated, we moved onto something else, or maybe we were called away for dinner, or hollered at to stop poking around in the stuff in the attic.
I returned to the alligator suitcase a number of times while growing up to look at those photographs of Japan, to fiddle with camera with the bellows, and to check out the covers of the popular paperback novels from the 50s stashed in there––some pulpy, some modern classics. I even found a copy of the Warren Commission report in there.
Decades passed from the time the alligator suitcase first became a curiosity for me. When I thought about it again, I was an adult with a family of my own, and an attic full of boxes of the leftover stuff of my life. By then, the alligator suitcase came to represent something else, something more than a childhood memory. Mixed in there with the camera, the books, and the photos, were piles of typewritten pages and newspaper clippings, things I had zero interest in when I was a grade-schooler. Turns out the alligator suitcase was something of a file cabinet for my fathers writings––a place to store his newspaper clippings, the pages to a novel was trying to figure out, and drafts of short stories. The alligator suitcase was where my father locked away his dreams of being one kind of writer, so that he could become another sort of writer who could provide a stable living for his family. He became a newspaperman. The story goes on from there, but I’m not here to tell all that, this is about the suitcase––the suitcase of dreams.
It was like the suitcase of some other person, some other man, another version of my father, before he was my father. I sometimes wondered what his life would have been like had he not locked away his dreams in a suitcase. What if he followed them instead? Would I even exist?
I gave considerable thought to the idea that my father did lock away his dreams––even as I eye-witnessed his determined pursuit of them. So, I have had the metaphor all wrong, it is not about locking anything away, (the inexpensive, mock gator skin suitcase was falling apart anyway) it’s about holding on to something any way you can.
He had a handle on it, he carried it with him, it protected the dream, it contained it, he didn’t let it get away, it was portable, it came with a handle.
That’s the alligator suitcase.
70 Orient Way
This is the place where our family first lived in Rutherford. And, in a way it is the first character in The Best Feeling In The World. The house is featured in chapter one: “Of Mice and Monsters.” It’s not hard to describe a thing when you have a photo of it. That doesn’t mean my memory, of what I came to call The Ugly House, is any less vivid, even if it was augmented somewhere in time by the discovery of the photo.
It might be customary at this point, in some independent author circles (whatever they might be), to offer up the whole of chapter one for you to read here. But, I’m a contrarian, and will resist most everything customary or otherwise expected. So, as a compromise, I offer instead, one of my favorite paragraphs from said first chapter.
From The Best Feeling In The World, chapter 1, "Of Mice and Monsters”:
You don’t get a lot of second chances in life, but my father got at least one that I know of. Tagged by The New York Times as he came out of college, after he served in occupied Japan, my father was a copy boy getting a start in the working world, and living in a room at the YMCA. A great get in the workingman’s world of letters; but making ends meet in Manhattan was rough, so he traded the dream for the comfort of home and a few more dollars at The New Haven Register. If he hadn’t decided to get married he might have stayed in New Haven for the rest of his life; instead he moved out and stepped up to sports columnist covering the Big-10 for The Toledo Blade. It took him a few years, but he got a second look from the Gray Lady, and he jumped, moving his young family back east to the suburbs of New Jersey.
Now, I don’t expect reading one paragraph or even one chapter of the book will compel anyone to purchase the whole item (hardcover or ebook). Fact is , I don’t expect anyone to buy The Best Feeling In The World, because, on average, of all books created, the number of copies sold of each title––for the life of the book––is 250. I welcome any attempts or efforts towards making my book an exception.