That One Mid-Morning in November, 1963

“I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”   Matthew 5:28

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I’d admittedly forgotten some vague dots over the years until a tiny ember (resembling my aging mother’s voice) leaped through my firewall. She read to me an obituary of one Ms.
Daisy Polé the sole daughter and heiress of the late Mr. Raleigh (Buck) Polé. Ms. Polé, an unmarried woman and Mr. Polé, a widower since 1941 moved to Gilroy in the Santa Clara Valley in 1964 and accepted administration of the family’s lucrative portfolio of land ownerships including the keystone of Santa Clara, the Sebastiani Vineyard among others. a-1sebastianiIn 1916 his parents, M. Benoît-Pierre Polé of La Rogue Gageac, France, and his fiancé Miss Caroline Agnew of Tippah County, Missouri, entered into a 99-year periodic tenancy of the 4,467 acre vineyard of Mr. Samuele Sebastiani. This agreement allowed Mr. Sebastiani and his heirs to farm the land autonomously for a share of each yield. In a statement issued by family attorneys: “In the margin of the original will Ms. Pole noted in her own handwriting which was witnessed that “Upon my death and by freea-1daisy4 choice, it is my wish that all landownership be dissolved immediately and set free; all the land returned to heirs of Samuele Sebastiani (as well as Banshee, R. Strong, Paradise, and Truett-Hurst).” According to the Santa Clara County Recorder of Deeds Office, Ms. Polé’s gesture is the largest periodic tenant return in Santa Clara County, and is reportedly valued at $110 million.

It was back in 1963, one of a dozen sunny and bitterly cold Mid-November mornings. It was that particular mid-November day in 1963 that Mr. R. Polé and Miss D. Polé, and Mr. B. Bleddstone were exiled from my memory. That was the day my Mother (then a deeply discounted, cash only housekeeper) exploded. Her honesty while certainly noxious was also injurious and fatal to the futures of three adults and one child.

When I was five my single-parent Mother whose career as a deeply discounted, cash only personal 0-momnmewinter.jpgHousekeeper was forced to dress me, pack her lunch, pack my lunch, check our bus fare, and one last-minute cross-check of her self supplied and professionally preferred cleaning products deftly loaded into her briefcase (a doubled National Foods, brown paper shopping bag) and haul us to her four daily housekeeping a1-housekeeperandsonjobs. And though she never said it, my waving-hand-hello’s which greeted the Mrs. of the House always – except today elicited the friendliest responses in the form of an angelic smile, pat on the head, brief tickling episode, or my favorite, an invitation to (one of my Mother’s strictly forbidden breakfasts) sandwich cookies and milk!

We never suspected the degree of turmoil Mrs. Daisy Bleddstone had deflected on a weekly basis for my Mother’s tardiness. On this intense and nippy Mid-November morning,  I stood shivering and whispered under my breath, “C’mon, it’s just a ring of keys in a car coat! Jeez!” I paced as I grew impatiently colder watching my Mother plunder her car coat like a determined cop ransacked a suspects coat for contraband. At wits end, she threw the coat to the ground, a-1momstimexchecked her Timex and proclaimed, “Holy Jesus, it’s a quarter past!” then dropped to her knees and began twisting and tearing and rifling through her proudly self-purchased woolen car coat which eventually puddled, ruined and lifeless, before her. Then my Mother in a strained, ironic voice peppered with diabolic laughter quietly confessed, “They’re on the kitchen counter!” (Again we were rushed, determined to avoid another condescending explanation of the value of her employer’s time, which is, by the way, priceless!)  “And fifteen lousy minutes to someone with all the time in the world cost me the only coat I’ve bought for myself in six years.” And as we knelt there staring at the woolen carcass, the immense front door (resembling the Wizard of Oz’s deterring, massive and inadmissible portico) opened and Mrs. Bleddstone stood there like an over starched shirt. She said in hushed tones,a-1thief her voice quivering unnaturally, as though a crook was poking her ribs with a cold snub-nosed .38 ordering, “Get rid of them or I will for permanent!”

Mrs. Bleddstone, in a breathy, desperate whisper said, “Buddy’s looking for his shirts!” “Oh Holy Jesus,” my Mother blurted flying past Mrs. Bleddstone and beelining it for the kitchen. saying over her shoulder to the Mrs.,, “They’re in the fridge staying cold and damp ready for me to iron them.” When my Mother finally emptied the Fridgedaire, the door slammed shut unexpectantly and barely missed my Mother. On the other side of the door stood Mr. Bleddstone, dressed for work except for a shirt. Mr. Bleddstone chortled, “Do you expect me to wear a wet shirt to work?” Then he buddys take-offbegan to mumble, inaudibly at first, then tightly restrained; a “can’t two damned women figure out how to iron . . . someone’s to blame and she’s going to pay, Christ! She’s going to  “Daisy,” Buddy asked casually (while he studied, carefully recalling this whole fucking debacle: ‘Which one’s really to blame? Which of the two bitches made a patsy of me? And in front of the god-damn kid!), “At what time do we begin paying our laundress and her little thimble?” “Eight o’clock Buddy, but . . . today’s an exception . . .” My Mother, hopeful that after watching eighteen months of Daisy’s acceptance of denigrating sexism and impolitic adultery, Daisy would finally go chin to chin with him.

Then Wham! Down came his fist like a butcher’s cleaver!

And again; Wham! But this time the noise and crushing impact caused Daisy to retreat to the nook next to the broom closet; as though she’d learned to protect some of her body. a1-buddy angryBuddy, without breaking his stare at Daisy, whipped his hand to within inches of my Mother’s face; yet she didn’t flinch (having been a “Daisy” years before). Buddy yelled at Daisy, “Those folk don’t get exceptions, they are exceptions! Damaged, cracked, and “hopeful’s” waiting on a dusty shelf, propped between bookends; on one side alimony and child support and on the other side a line of suitors waiting their turn . . . that is until they spot her little anchor. The kid is competition for privacy, intimacy, and affection. He’s a nuisance; one more rain-check, yet another rain-delay; stood-up because of a kid’s runny nose. Finally he gets it: Every suitor is enchanted by the promises of a lonesome blonde with ripe, plump strawberry lips. Eventually every suitor becomes disenchanted by ignored or forgotten promises of afa-1soldiersfection and boundless hours of sex. Every suitor was embarrassed that a few well-placed promises led to her mockery of the suitors understanding, forgiveness, and patience. Eventually it became clear that her primary attention and affection was toward the kid and every suitor had the leftovers. This was her way of giving the kid a daddy ’cause she knew nobody wanted to be daddy to some little bastard!”

I heard it but never saw it. The sound resembled a bat cracked during a ballgame on the a1-woman slapsmanradio. And Buddy stood there stupefied by the burning sting of a Housekeeper’s hand (a fucking Housekeeper’s hand) which hung, opening and closing quickly like the mouths of caught fish. Slowly Buddy shook off the shock, steadied himself off the ropes, his chest began to swell signaling an apoplectic eruption.

But before Buddy had the chance, my Mother, with years of staggering physical abuse; years of self-denial, of crushed hope, of denigration, of inhumanity, and the pestilence of rotting promises; finally, Catholicism’s orthodoxy of eternal damnation if she divorced a cruel and punishing bigot; and her character decaying as she endured (out of fear) the self-important icy hands (also fists) which stripped then roughly rummaged  beneath  her clothing. My Mother, her eyes locked on Buddy said, “Well, a damp shirt is more dignified than one streaked with cheap lipstick. It’s so cheap in fact, that one day one of us “Housekeepers,” will climb the basement stairs where we’ve been scrubbing lipstick longer and with more determination than I scrub the grass stains from my boy’s dungarees. All that effort so your wife (and all the other wives that I’ve worked for) won’t face the humiliation of infidelity and worse, your cruel and bemused recklessness knowing she’ll notice it, deny it, admit it just as the last drop of dignity rolls down her cheek. Daisy’s fear of life alone and the weight of the word divorcee keeps you here to be beaten like a farmyard dog; beaten when it’s convenient for him!

“Good luck, Daisy,” my mother said in whispered tones; “I hope that one day you’ll have the courage to stand-up to this cowardly bastard!”

a-1buddyyellingBuddy spun around as quickly as a toy top, his fists clenched tightly and stood inches from my Mother’s face. His fists shook and clenched tightly like a school boy’s first after school fight. Daisy reached out to Buddy’s shoulder hoping to detour his anger. Which it sure did! The interruption lit Buddy’s fuse and subsequent explosion! First was a painful back-handed slap which spun Daisy around; then bare-knuckled fists which accurately landed painfully and repeatedly at Daisy. It was then, right then as Buddy was preoccupied with torturing his wife that Buddy yelled, “you’re fired so get the fuck out of my house!

My Mother grabbed our coats and mittens and never looking back, led us quickly to the back door.  Upon opening the door my Mother and I ran smack-dab into Buck holding a plate of Danish. “Isn’t it a bit early for you and your boy to be leaving?” Buck asked. My Mother replied, “Today’s not a good day for us and it’s probably not a good day for you.” She practically ran down the sidewalk dragging me behind and didn’t slow until the Bleddstone house disappeared behind a wall of Junipers. She kneeled a-1anger and looked deeply into my eyes as though she wanted to bury something deep inside of me; something that I’d likely to forget, yet it would somehow be something that would shape my life: “Bruises aren’t tokens of love. And that first yellow and green and blue and nobility purple resemble badly applied make-up and doesn’t streak down your cheek with the tears. But, you realize, the bruise is deeper, a place that can’t be wiped away but is absorbed like the deep pile carpeting of your marriage. And as your shivering fingers deftly touch it you hear his voice, “Want one more? Another helping?” And the next morning you awaken early and study your portrait in the bathroom mirror: the accolades about your beauty just a few years ago: “Priceless, gorgeous, the face of perfection!” But this morning you realize the beauty is counterfeit. And while closing the bathroom door so he doesn’t stir, out they come sob after sob after sob after sob all fueled by unutterable recollections.

The moment Buck stepped threw the door he saw Buddy slap Daisy so hard that she’d spun, landing face down and splayed across the kitchen table. When the plate of Danish shattered as it struck the kitchen floor its sound broke through Buddy’s madness, leaving him out of breath and surprised by his degree of destruction. Buck calmly walked to Daisy, scooped her into his arms and began to walk out of the kitchen, when he suddenly turned to Buddy, “I assume you’ll be here after Daisy’s packed a few things and is sitting in my car. I think we’ve got a thing or two that requires immediate intervention. Don’t you?” Buddy stood motionless then began crying. “You know,” Buck said, “In twenty-eight years I never, not once, laid a hand on her.” Then Buck climbed the stairs with Daisy cradled in his arms.

“She wrote to you, didn’t she?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied, “Right after Buck passed away. She said they never talked about it. Not once for all those years.”

“Never?” I asked.

“Just once,” she said sadly, “When Buck knew time was running out.”

“So?” I asked quickly.

“She asked me not to discuss it with anyone, any-one, until she passed away,” my Mother answered.

“And?” my curiosity leaped ahead of my manners.

My Mother paused, then answered, “She mentioned only two things: She said that while sitting in Buck’s car she swore a wrecking ball was demolishing the kitchen.” Then my Mother paused and in that silence I knew she was fighting back very painful memories and the tears which soon follow. Continuing, she spoke quietly, “She said while sitting in Buck’s car and for the rest of her life, that she never found an answer to this question: ‘How can love as deep as mine look like this?”

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We Think Alike, Our Pets and Us

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I have reason to believe that dogs aren’t aware of their size relative to the rest of the world. From the smallest breed to the largest there’s an obvious contradiction: the smaller breeds are the yappyist as though their bark implies, “C’monr! I’ll take y’all on! Me against 5 of you’s . . .” and their turf protection reminds me of the bully on the block. The larger breeds behave like Conscientious Objectors: demonstrating their reaction to conflict by staging a lay-in or sit-in. But I’ve determined that if you take a dog, remove its fur or hair, its legs, and its torso, a dog, fundamentally, is simply, a nose.

During one of our early autumnal walks, way past midafternoon’s march of the mothers to the elementary school followed by the pupil parade, two waning hours before dusk clocks in, we hit the abandoned sidewalk for Jenni’s thirty minutes of pure dogdom; when she’s not a pet, not part of the family, and not dependent on us. It’s her time to be a dog.

Often during our late afternoon, early autumnal walks we’re victims of late summer breeze’s giving way to staggering gusts which shake the trees like a determined child rattles his piggy bank. Green canopies disperse the shock while weaker, lower limbs lose grip. Cracking like brittle bones, the weakest branches drop like boat anchors, littering the ground with a menagerie of dissimilar limbs. Those few afternoons are beyond compare to play a rousing game of Stick!

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Stick! is a close cousin to fetch with one caveat: When I say Stick! Jenni’s got to find a stick to bring back to me! It’s a marvelous game, especially since I never taught her about sticks. Either Jenni understands English or I’ve picked up a bit of canine vocabulary.

On a particularly gloomy, chilly, and misty afternoon Jenni wished to play Stick! But the pickings were sparse until I located the perfect size stick for Jenni. However, it had threaded itself around three wrought iron spindles of a formidable fence. I bent down to pull the stick free from the fence and it didn’t budge. The harder I pulled the tighter it lodged itself into the fence. I paused for a moment to check on Jenni’s whereabouts, only to see that she had bitten down on the other end of the stick, and matching my determination, pulled even stronger when I successfully gained an inch on my end.

Life At An Amusement Park

It’s been going on for five days now, minute by minute mood swings making me feel like a shooting gallery duck; dense anxiety like heavy fog, and a degree of indecision that stops my movement like a pause button.

indecisiveFor instance, this morning I couldn’t decide between chocolate milk or hot chocolate, behaving like the child at the soda fountain musing over nuts or no nuts. Ten minutes of my partner hustling through the house when at last he stopped, uttered some variation on a familiar expletive, poured a tall glass of cool milk, dumped the equivalent of a chocolate cake into the milk, dropped in a spoon, spun it about without dissolving anything causing it to resemble a freshly unplugged toilet, then brusquely presented it as though I was a fussy child, followed by that variant expletive and walked into the backyard.

I ask, is this the behavior of a fifty-five year old man, highly educated, and graced with an innate aptitude for johnny-on-the-spot decisions?

hammerToday was the first day of my 96 hour ride on the infamous carnival ride, The Hammer, in which you swing forward and back forward and back, etc.  Today was also the first time of my 96 hour disturbing mental yo-yo that the Midway seemed like an appropriate place to live. I’d fit in quite nicely with the Fun House, the Freak Show, ping-pong ball goldfish toss, and the notorious ring the Coke bottle.

But there’s been nothing amusing about my minute-to-minute change in behavior, the confusion which renders me speechless, the marathon of apologies, emptiness to the depth of a wino’s bottle, and then a creeping attack of self-doubt, self-worth, even writing was tortuous (when I suppose its most honest.  Did you ever have those days when you wished they speed past like flashcards?  It’s only until that damned disappointing sun, weak incapable of tossing out a solar flare and incinerating the cloud cover that I felt calm. No more staring into a day of gray disappointment.grayday

Night time is the best time for me. Inside the house is quiet and familiar like an old dog and outside is awash in black and could be anywhere in the world.

 

Fall Has Finally Fallen

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Yesterday, upon postponement of our midday amble amidst a cathedral’s canopy due to the dowdiest of freshly fallen autumn afternoons, a cozy dinner might divert the chilly woes of premature dusks. Noting that a fresh fall ousted a sapped summer, I bought a trimmed pork loin from my butcher and fresh root veggies. Antecedently and focusing on forecasts, I foretold of a cagey fall; its entrance behind a skedaddling summer!

Hedging my premonition of summer at noon pursued by the sharp, shivery, and grim character of a wily autumn, I remained home with my aa-porkloinloin; I would prepare a French Provençal pork loin braised in red wine and entrapped by fresh, roasted autumn root vegetables.

The grievous and ghastly responsibility of restoring purity and sublimity to a kitchen struck by volley’s of mortar fire, would be nothing short of miraculous (or, if no miracles are available, allot three hours)!  Having peculiar habits when cleansing my knives and cutting boards, only I appreciate and comprehend the intricacy of the five separate operations which assures a chef that his tools are prepared for their next challenge.

But what I truly enjoy most, more than double-butterflying the roast, more than preparing the veggies, more than effortlessly carving the roast, even more than savoring my meal. What I enjoy most is soaping up the cutting boards, then watching the suds as I’m rinsing.

It resembles the foam, the final stretch of a wave on a sandy beach. It’s that image, barefoot in sand and retreating ocean which makes all else rewarding.

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Mr. Buchanan’s Peach Orchard

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Today I feel like that carefully selected peach.  The one picked for its promise, for its intention, for its springtime when its dense pulp prediction comes of age.  Hands coddle, gently squeeze, study its color palette, infer its density.  This is the One; I can hardly wait for its cotillion; the fuzzy skin taught like an umbrella tested by exuberant winds; at long last its flesh liquefies into sweet extract; itself a parity of perfection.  

Arriving at its destination, it is cautiously extracted from the tote and collides with a biting downpour, where it’s tossed from hand to hand like packing the first snowfall’s first snowball.  Flour-sacks turned drying-towels swaddled the tender pelt, familiar with its shallow depth and bias favoring lacerations, the freshly showered peach sustains a dozen instinctive pats then takes its place among the others.  And waits.  And waits.  And waits . . .

Some are gone, snatched like field mice from above.  Others suffered dismemberment; a knife tilled dry mortality then quit, flushing succulent hope into the dust bin.  The remainders eroded to the Italian-painted bottom and waited.  While waiting each of us, privately, felt the shock when its flesh gave-way; and the longer our wait the greater our deterioration.

Where did they go, we thought collapsing, the intoxicating eyes that radiated suggestive, wanton, and greedy fortunes?  Where are those fussy hands that arranged us in the Italian-painted bowl like fowl on a nest?  It was upon the scavenger fruit-flies arrival did we sense movement then the iciness of steel pushing us closer, some clinging then scraping then tumbling, airborne, as though I were that one fortunate seed that landed on that one fortunate acre that grew into one of many fortunate peach trees in Mr. Buchanan’s orchard.

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This Christmas, He Gave Me A Look From Outside, Inside.

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“Surprise!”  is what I used to say, years ago, early on in our twenty-eight year relationship.  Back when we hadn’t really yet learned each other’s tastes (or better, tolerances).  Fifteen years ago I’d stand there, his gift balanced by my sweaty hands, my nerves knotted and twisted like the Strangler Fig tree, praying for his hullabaloo upon opening the gift, followed by a tight embrace, further followed by his quick kisses like a woodpecker atop some pine. A decade ago I’d pluck the gift from beneath the tree with little ceremony, hand it to him, then sit back and watch as he tested-then-tore layer by layer of packaging, similar to a child tasting her way through a box of chocolates.  The past few years like a couple of archaeologists, the dig was more fun than the discovery!  At last he found the gift and I present-modernwaited for the inconclusive and rudimentary sentiment followed by a brief embrace and a kiss as light as a hummingbird.  Three years ago I’d started to hear “How’d you know I wanted this?” his amazement falling to the side of curiosity rather than tickling admiration, and my answer, diluted through the years like cheap gin, “I thought you could use this,” at which he cocked his head like our dog’s misunderstanding, and then I presented the real gift, “There’s a gift receipt taped to the lid should you choose to exchange it for a color more to your liking than orange.”  I’ve learned over the course of twenty-eight years that we buy lovers/partners/spouses clothing we’d like to see them wear, and definitely not the clothing they like to wear.  So after two decades of my repeated attempts to upgrade his personal style year after year by giving him exquisite gifts (which he surreptitiously found ghastly) I learned that a gift receipt, like the “get out of jail card,” nullifies my responsibility for his disinterest in modern style, and ensures that he can exchange the atrocious article for an object of his liking.

But this Christmas his gift to me was different than the previous twenty-seven.  Very, very different.  Absent was the gift receipt.  He handed me the gift without fanfare, explanation, or apology.  He simply said, “Merry Christmas.”

Hidden beneath wrapping paper we’ve had for twenty years was a book.  But not some book he’d like to read.  No, this was a book I’d already read and reread; I had a greater degree of familiarity with the final pages, but the earlier pages popped once more like bubble gum.  The book he gave me was “Becoming not Became: The First 100 Posts,” by T.M. Mulligan.

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I was dumbfounded then speechless then crying.  I was flabbergasted to hold Mr. Mulligan’s first 100 posts printed on heavy, magazine-grade paper and hardbound.  It’s rare indeed, to hold yourself up to yourself, to be reflected, to permit yourself to be tickled, concerned, angry, interested, and entertained.  I suppose narcissism might come to mind; but if you’re beautiful or handsome why not enjoy a modicum of self-appreciation.  Or, like me, those 100 posts represented dear friends, young and old, whom I haven’t visited, but whom all came together under the same roof for me.  I shall take my time reading these posts and thoroughly enjoy each one’s company greater than before.

Thank you so much, Nick.

 

Finally Understanding Life As Mani A.

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I first met Mani A. a few months after my father died when I was fifteen.  He appeared from around a blind corner where Wong-Su restaurant and Teddy’s Tavern meet like a knife’s edge.  He was a restless, sinewy, no-nonsense blond wearing his older-brother’s-hand-me-downs.  I apologized and excused myself immediately, but he roared to life like a freshly started chainsaw and lunged at me with a ferocious diatribe about a blokes right-of-way and his unalienable rights, to which I chimed in, “But you are an alien!”  He paused, his idling mind wafting the blue smoke of burning oil, when suddenly he hit the throttle baring his teeth and chortled that he wasn’t a bloody martian, see, so piss off with the alien bullocks; crikey, he has the right to use public property as a thoroughfare without being gobsmacked by some daft wanker! until, I think, he heard himself running-on about some kind of whack job hyper-speech at which time he slowed, eventually landing softly on a patch of green peckhamengland-1grass.  I sat next to Mani A. who opened up like a teenagers compact, and divulged his personal life in Peckham, England (just outside of London), which, by the way he described it, was a tortuous place; a hometown without a home, a chilling place that nobody admitted coming from, everybody just shows up one day, street-smart and dodgy, showed up-growed up because nobody ever had a childhood.  You were either born a teen-ager or plain old smeg.  Nobody was ever just a kid; and nobody ever saw a kid.  We were around the same age and dreamt of similar things, but whereas I knew mine were silly fantasies, Mani A. was certain that whatever he wanted he could have.  No kidding.  Without the slightest doubt or reservation, whatever Mani A. wanted, Mani A. could get.  Period.  Mani A. had balls.  Whether Peckham beat them into him or he developed that confidence on his own, the strength of his conviction, no matter the degree of unlikelihood, you had to think, hey, it just might happen.  I’ve never met anyone in my entire life that expressed the depth of fortitude that Mani A. did.  I said my life must seem like a cartoon compared to yours: I was two-steps west of being white trash, and while our home lives seemed oddly similar, I never learned how to survive; I just wait.  For what, he asked leaning his elbow onto the grass.  For anything.  Anything besides this shit hole I can’t get myself out from.  At which Mani A. leapt to his feet, extended his hand and said, come on mate, I’ll show you the dog’s dinner that’ll make your life now look like a wee bit of the hard lines.  Your going to get a crash course in Peckham Survival Know-How.  First, you learn about being borne:  In Peckham you didn’t cut your teeth; you growled and snapped!  We learn to bite before there’s anything to bite.  Being ahead, that’s tickety-boo; getting ahead never happens, especially in Peckham.  And so started six months of juvenile delinquency including assault (knife-school-teacher), battery (brother), truancy, and one stern lecture from a juvenile judge away from living in a home for dangerous boys.

It wasn’t until Mani A. left town did I get my head screwed back on tight.  I toed the line, straightened out school, became popular, played sports each season, acted, sang, even led student government.  Counselor’s referred to me as the idyllic example of reform.  But in the back of my head I could still hear Mani and all the things he said and showed and prompted me to do.  Being “ways” by choice, not by reaction.  Mani didn’t show me how to live,chubbyseniorportrait Mani showed me how to survive.  Mani and I have maintained our friendship for over forty years.  One of the things I admired about Mani was his bond of friendship.  Or should I say degree of bond of friendship.  Whenever he helped take care of something cagey, I’d ask him why he’d get involved?  His answer has always been the same: friendship.  He said all other relationships have their own bloody baggage and demands and expectations, and ways to screw you in the end.  But friends are simply friends.  Easy, like looking in the mirror.  I see a wee bit of my bloody self in you.

Mani continued to visit at irregular intervals, all of which were concurrent with troubling, impossible, or unavoidable circumstances.  For example, he swung into town when my junior year in high school devolved into adolescent chaos: ducking senior hazing, sidestepping discussions highlighting my grim blue-collared, unionized, married and fatherly fate; derailing any parochial collision between varsity lettermen and my shadowy shine for Mitchell, an underclassman; and my obesity targeted by jeering and loathsome bullies.  He arrived shortly after Stokowski and I went to Union Drop Forge hoping to snag summer work which leads to full time after graduation.  Our bus drove through the “Blue Mile,” a one mile corridor of heavy, eye-reddening, cough-inducing, toxin-saturated manufacturing exhaust.  We nicknamed that part of oldermani2town the “Blue Mile” because of that solar eclipsing blue haze belched from fifty-foot smoke stacks every minute of every day.  I took my application home where it still remains blank.  I wanted my future to be unexpected.  To be a lifetime removed from the cadence of the dead-end-man: a union job, a wife, a stuffy upper flat, kids we can’t afford, dependence on two incomes, kids dumped with objecting in-laws, hate and regret pitched at the other, and some place my hope tumbled out of my greasy coveralls pocket while reaching for my lighter which I never missed until I reached for it, right after she left with the kids flanked by her objectionable parents.  That tableau was the only life option offered to kids like me.  It was expected, and you were expected to follow the guy ahead of you.  But I dreamt of the unexpected, the unpredictable chaos of life beyond the “Blue Mile.”  College required good grades, but demanded money.  The costs were way beyond my family’s reach; so far afield that going to college became a family gag.  And then, when my avenues and alleyways around the tuition hurdle went bust Mani stopped by on his way back to Peckham.  His first words were, You look like a sorry sod, chum!  causing me to expunge my year of hopelessness and depression.  He waited until I stopped crying before he said, Sometimes you’ve got to be bonkers, your mates marching to a paycheck will call you a mug, but remember life is horses for courses!  And you’ve got to be bold!  You’ve got to be; because being bold and senseless and relentless are the only way out.  Back in Peckham if you’re pegged a nesh or are sussed acting naff the rest of life in Peckham is going to be piss poor.  You and your chums go about blagging tough, and sometimes it goes fist-to-cuffs.  In Peckham it ain’t about violence because violence there is like your factory here.  In Peckham it’s about surviving life, about tomorrow.

In 2008 Mani broke all the rules.  Rather than subtle clues that he’s a stones throw away, he decided that my end game was near, so he ruptured my barrier of sanity, perforated my character, elbowed out reality, and declared chubyoldermaniautonomy.  Mani was finally emancipated; freed from the crushing compliance of decency and propriety, he ignored laws, took chilling risks, discovered a steady stream of opiates which he washed down with lethal liters of alcohol, ignored vows, ruined friendships, tossed out of jobs, denied benefits, and finally barricaded himself in the office of a psychiatrist who eventually evicted him, and reinstated my authority over the dominion of my life.

I’ve never faulted Mani for his insurgency.  He was simply providing the bravado to traverse the craggy cliffs of life, and of which I was ill-prepared to navigate.  But as Mani A. learned, freedom from consequence isn’t freedom at all.  It’s destruction, it’s disregard, it’s vengeful and dangerous and hateful and lethal   But Mani did have a knack for getting the job done which he introduced, tutored, and polished in me, providing the backbone for a career.  I think that’s how he survived: Mani and I got hired by gentlemen to take care of things quietly and cleanly.  Not that we ever broke the law, but we definitely broke the rules.  Mani recited many adages over the years, but the single-most poignant he shared with me was:  You can’t quit; every bloody cry-baby “says” they want “it,” but quit the second they’ve got to act like a chancer.  There are just two times you can quit: when you take the biscuit or hop the twig. 

 

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