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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Legendary Places of a Personal Nature

I was a boy there. Forty years ago, when I was seven years old, my family moved away from Middleboro, Massachusetts. It was the town where I grew up. I learned to ride a bike there, I broke my collarbone there, and I saw my first ghost there. I don't remember much about the town, but the momries of things that happened back then are still vivid and clear, while other, more recent, parts of my life are a complete fog. Middleboro was a near legendary place to me my whole life and with Evelyn's encouragement, I visited there last week forty years after I left.


I went to school in a two-room schoolhouse called Flora M. Clark Elementary School. First grade was on the left and second grade on the right. Restrooms were down in the basement. Evelyn and I found the old schoolhouse and I was flooded with memories. I broke my collarbone here once after a really heavy snow. There was a huge snowdrift in the parking lot and we, as kids, decided that it would be fun to climb up and jump off. In my mind it is always eight feet tall, but it was probably three feet. At the top, a bully tried to cut in line, I wouldn't let him so he pushed me off backward. Pain in my shoulder sent me to the teacher, who told me I should go down to the little boy's room and put cold water on my shoulder. Later that night we discovered I'd broken my collarbone.


I kissed a girl for the very first time...or, if I am being completely honest, she kissed me. We had been spending alot of time together, playing at recess, talking in class...yes I know. I remember she had a Barbie lunchbox with a game on the back, sort of like Candyland, and when the weather was bad, we'd sit in a corner and play and laugh. One day at recess we decided to try holding hands and we would walk around the schoolyard like that all the time. One spring day, as we walked behind the school, she kissed me and, gathering my wits, I kissed her back. Forty years later I stood on those steps again.


My brother was born in a hospital right next to our house and I remember walking over all the time to look at him through that big aquarium window with all the other newborns. Evelyn and I found the hospital, which has seen better days. The hospital is abandoned and boarded up, and although there were 'No Trespassing' signs everywhere, I could not resist the urge to walk around a little. The sun was almost down so I only had a few minutes. It was a pretty creepy place. I wish I'd had more time to explore and photograph it!


Next door, we found the old house and I was thrust back forty years. It was yellow back then, without the addition in back, but it is still there. We lived on the ground floor and the girl who would become my childhood best friend lived on the third floor. Today it is a daycare. Between the house and the hospital was a large field where my sister and I once got stuck in the mud so bad we had to call for help. As usual, our father came running and pulled us from the mud, though I think my shoe is probably still buried there. There was a rear, indoor stairwell that ran up the back of the building, which was kept locked because it was dark and the stairs questionable. My friend, Denise, on the third floor once saw a pair of red eyes peering out from the darkness of that stairwell, and once, while we were playing at the base of those stairs, the overhead light, a bare bulb with a string attached, shut itself off, and then on, and then off again. We could see the string being pulled by somebody who wasn't there and we ran screaming out into the daylight. As far as I remember, we never played in there again.


Which brings me to Denise. We met when I was four years old. We were about the same age and instantly connected. Her older sister, Joanne, hung with my sister, Roxanne. Denise and I were best friends at a time in our lives when that truly meant something. Once, while we were playing outside, a horse ran full-speed through our front yard. Nobody was chasing it and nobody ever came around looking for it. It remains a mystery. Denise taught me to whistle and I taught her to snap her fingers. We were inseperable. Behind our house was a wood mill and there were always stacks of wood beams and 2x4's and scrap wood behind the building. Once, when I was five or six, as we sat atop a woodpile, we noticed barbed wire running across the top of the fence. We spent several minutes trying to decide if it was an electric fence, and I decided I would climb up and touch it. The type of decision that I would make time and again over my lifetime. I climbed the fence, and Denise climbed beside me. We wore bulky winter coats and as I reaached up to touch the barbed wire, my foot slipped and I dropped. But as I fell, my arm was punctured by the X at the top of the chain link fence. I never did touch the barbed wire. I hung there screaming and flailing trying to get my arm loose. Denise climbed up and yanked me free. Blood poured out of a huge hole in my arm and I ran crying and panicked toward home. My parents took one look and rushed me to the hospital where I got six stitches. I still have the scar. Denise cryed when they told her she couldn't come to the hopsital with me. Forty-two years later, that barbed wire is still there, though I didn't see any blood.


I hadn't seen Denise since I was twenty five or so, nearly a quarter of a century ago. But last week we had an easy conversation without any awkwardness. The way you do with the people who knew you when you were a kid.

I think Stephen King said it best: "Nobody knows you like those who knew you when you were young. I never had any friends later on like those I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?"

Seeing Denise was a validation to me that those things I remember were real, that I really was that boy.


I will wrap up this trip down memory lane, which has turned out much longer than I expected, with this image. My father, who passed away a few years ago, moved us away from Middleboro in 1972. To his family and close friends he was known as Willy. When I saw this sign, it felt like he was right there with me visiting the old place. I miss you, Dad.


Thanks for indulging me my memories. If you followed along this far, I hope I didn't bore you too bad.


Monday, August 13, 2012

Strangers in Your Life

I once had a good friend named John who was genuinely interested in the people he met in his day to day life. John could stop to grab a coke and within ten minutes knew where the clerk was from, what his aspirations were, what his parents did, if he had pets or a girlfriend, etc. John is just a personable guy, and while I don't get to see him often these days, I remember his willingness to talk to strangers, which is something sorely lacking in our society today. Recently I decided to take John's approach and open myself up to the people I met. My dry cleaner is a sweet older man who is quick with a smile or a joke. He is a proud man, though as an immigrant, used to staying quiet and reserved. As a young man, he married his sweetheart and, as most husbands do, promised his new wife a better life. Growing up in Jerusalem, he was like many young boys, he had an interest in sports and photography, keeping a darkroom behind a blanket wall in the bedroom he shared with his younger brother. But as a married man, he decided to leave the life he knew behind and come to America, where he settled in Covina, CA and opened up a Dry Cleaners. Thirty-five years later, his business is still in the same location and he and his wife, Abla still operate it, working every day from 8:30am until 5:30pm. They have spent their lives doing our dirty laundry and have raised a family with three children, all of whom presumably have a better life than the one their parents were brave enough to leave behind. When I asked if I could photograph them they were at first shy, but then Ghassan whipped out his comb to be sure his hair was perfect. Abla, who is fairly obsessed with celebrities, was very excited. The two haven't had a photo together in over twenty years. If you need a dry cleaner, stop in and say hello to these two beautiful peaople at Society Cleaners. webIMG_8459 11x14 webIMG_8451 8x10 webIMG_8460 8x10 webIMG_8449 webIMG_8467 8x10 webIMG_8463 end

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Long Live Dub

Dub watched him long enough to make sure he’d go, then retrieved his Henry rifle from the jail. The stock fit smoothly into his palm and he tested its weight. He only carried it now when he began to miss the feel of it, but there was a time he’d carried it everywhere he went--back in the early days with Brody, when they were targets for every hardcase with something to prove. The bark of that old Henry was the last sound many of those men ever heard. Dub checked the load, closed the jailhouse door, and stepped out into the night air. That is an excerpt from my book. As many of you know, I published a western entitled, 'SARAGOSA'. In it there is a character named DUB RALSTON, who it appears is the favorite among all who read the book. My own mother berated me for the trials DUB goes through within the pages. It is no surprise to me he is so popular because DUB was based on my friend Erv Tibbs, who is one hell of a nice guy. It is rare to find a man with such integrity and pure honesty. You either love him or hate him, but you can see your true self reflected in his eyes. He is not only one hell of a writer, and if you have read his book 'SUNSET TOMORROW' you know he is a masterful storyteller, but he is an accomplisehed woodworker who has been quietly making some of the best custom guitars in Southern California. I asked him, this man who inspired me to write about DUB, to build me a guitar commemorating his alter ego. I present to you DUB: The Guitar: IMG_8476 IMG_8491 IMG_8488 IMG_8485 IMG_8481 IMG_8479 IMG_8472 IMG_8471 IMG_8442 IMG_8439 IMG_8436 IMG_8434 IMG_8433 IMG_8431 IMG_8425 IMG_8418 IMG_8416 end