The Air Force shaved our heads, was it because of the heat of a San Antonio summer or that we’ll all look equally like fools, and easier for Sarge to maintain unit cohesiveness in his rag tag band of semi-successful Army avoiders.
Now we all wear masks and assume we all look equally foolish, knowing the virus cares nothing for cohesiveness, and normal is insignia only to dreams and at times life is shit on a shingle now.
We want our childhoods back, before the war, before the barracks and bad food, before expectations, and those few imposed could be ignored at minimal parental retribution, we want what never really existed, it is our right.
We marched and sang “Suicide is Painless”, never believed it for a moment, but now we consider it in passing as we walk down the shortening pier into the ocean of darkness.
First published in Circumference, Issue 4, June 2021
When I was younger (much), I could wander Manhattan and be what any neighborhood required, so long as I stayed south of 110th Street or north of 155th.
I was Greek ordering gyros, Russian at the Tea Room, Italian along Mulberry and Canal, although in Chinatown I was just someone who wandered a bit far from the heart of Little Italy.
I could order deli at the Stage like a local, and complain about the pastrami no matter how lean it actually was, and lift a couple of pints at Tommy Makem’s Pavilion listening to trad music late in the night.
Now I walk around man made lakes in Florida, and cook the ethnic foods so lacking here, a bit of heaven, but really, Cheesecake Factory is not now and never will be fine dining.
As a youngster I thought I had convinced my grandmother to one day entrust me with the old family recipes, since my mother wanted little to do with the kitchen and less with anything that came from “there.”
It was a bit of a shock to learn years later that grandma was born in London, that her mother shared my mother’s dislike for the kitchen and both favored take out whenever possible.
She did finally share her specialties which I carefully wrote down for posterity, only to discover that someone in the family was named Betty Crocker.
Rockets flash briefly across the chilled sky, plumes of smoke, ash carried off by impending winter.
Over the lintel of the entry to the Inter-Continental Hotel Chicago, carved deeply into the marble Es Salamu Aleikum staring implacably through ponderous brass framed doors onto the Miracle Mile. Countless guests pass below it unseeing.
My son and I sit across a small table spilling bits of tapas onto the cloth, laughing lightly at the young boy bathed in a puree of tomato, his shirt dotted in goat cheese. My son explains the inflation of the universe, gravitational waves cast off by coalescing binary neutron stars. His words pull me deeper into my seat. We speak somberly of the jet engine parked haphazardly in the Queens gas station unwilling to mention 265 lives salted across the small community.
We embrace by his door, the few measured hours run. He turns to call his girlfriend, I turn my collar up against the November night.
The Red Line train clatters slowly back into a sleeping city. In my room I brew a cup of Darjeeling.
*”We will drink tea in Kabul tomorrow morning, if God wills it.” – Basir Khan, Northern Alliance Commander, quoted in the Chicago Tribune, 13 November 2001.
First appeared in Hearsay, 2004 and in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008).
My parents, well my father, always felt is was necessary to stop on the way to our summer home in the Western Adirondacks to visit Uncle Morris, who may or may not have been an uncle in the blood sense, it was never clear. It was he who sold my father the cottage near the small lake, he who now lived in a nursing home in Schenectady.
Morris was sweet, frail, but still wanted my father to play a couple of hands of pinochle, which drove my mother crazy, but she loved the cottage, and Morris sold it to them for a song to keep it in the family.
I liked watching them play, never understood the game, and hated the name Schenectady, but we’d always go for an early dinner at the Chinese Buffet across from the store Morris owned for years.
I can still recall the day my mother was ecstatic on learning that everything grew out of a primordial soup. It was proof, she was certain, of a Jewish God, even if he didn’t do it all with his own hands. And, with a broad smile she said, I’m fairly certain at the soup was chicken, maybe with kreplach on the side.