Sunday, September 03, 2017

POEM: JOE

1.
He awakened me in the mornings dancing naked while singing along to Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime”.

2.
We were twins, but Irish Twins.

3.
Mom believed I refused to walk in order to try to secure my place as the baby in the family.

4.
We had no special language, as real twins do, but we seemed to understand each other’s thoughts without the delay of an audible language.

5.
Everything revolved around basketball with us including the time we broke into the gym at Adelphi University to play.

The guard caught us and asked us our names and I, of course, being the rube I am, gave him my real name, but he - he gave the guard a fake name.

“You don’t give them your real name if they ask you!”  he told me afterward, in disbelief someone could be this unworldly.

6.
We started playing on the hoop attached to red shingled garage on the back of our childhood home with that giant sugar maple blocking our shots, edged with red brick, positioned in such a manner so as to twist an ankle for sure whenever going for a layup.

7.
The statue of the Virgin Mary in her white, stone grotto hut stopped the ball from bouncing over the white picket fence into Mr. Green’s yard who spent his days inside a wine bottle and tank top tee shirt.

8.
When the hoop started to sag, we would kick off the wall to get a little extra height while doing layups, and practice our dunks.

9.
He gave me license to try things.
Maybe he needed someone to validate that the ideas in his head weren’t so crazy.
Or maybe he sensed I needed drawing out.

10.
Like those times we would sneak into the local golf course, and let ourselves get chased by the caretakers on the “Green Tractor” and the “Red Tractor”, making up stories about what each of the tractor drivers would do if they caught us!

11.
I am sorry for that time I got so angry with him after lights were out in our room that I took my stack of school books, tightly bound by those rubber straps with metal clips popular at the time, and threw them in an arc at him while he lay trying to go to sleep, only realizing as the weighty bundle left my hand that in the pitch dark, he would never see it coming.

It could have missed him, in the dark like that, but it didn’t.  It hit square in the face giving him a swollen lip for weeks.

12.
Then there were the summers up in the Catskills working on Glenbrook Farm for Tony and Sofi Gerstberger – with Tony’s mother, OOlah, and old Otto, in his flat cap and thick glasses and elephantine ears flashing the two-fingered peace sign.

There was “Amodio Joe” – the produce delivery guy who had a bottle of pain killers that COSTCO would be embarrassed to sell it was so large.

With braces on both legs from childhood polio, we laughed at how he would rock himself in the truck seat to get the momentum to climb out of his delivery truck.

We knew nothing of people’s pain, I am embarrassed to say.

13.
It was here that we first learned about the “free love” and drugs of the early 70’s of which I am pretty sure neither of us partook.

14.
I am sure my Father had no idea of the sort of experiences he was exposing us to, though then again, he was a Marine, so who knows? Maybe that was his plan to make “men” of us.

What a fool’s errand that was!

15.
I have photographic proof that we played little league baseball.
We were on the Owls and I pitched one game, walking or hitting every batter.
We played only a couple of years.

16
That doesn’t mean we didn’t have the best sandlot teams in the neighborhood playing football and stickball and stoop-ball,  two-hand touch on the street, with tackling allowed on the sidelines.

I remember more than once coming in for dinner with skinned shins, palms and elbows.

17.
My favorite time together was our cross country trip. Because I was with Joe, the original rolling stone, being in one place was never an option.

18.
Even then, his wanderlust gave the marching orders and with two 30-day Greyhound Eagle passes, canvas backpacks, and money belts to stash our cash, we made our way to the center and left coast of the country.

19.
While in California, we slept under the stars at Big Sur, kicking in cash for a collection to get wine with a group of other hippie campers in that field.

20.
In San Francisco that we were approached by a young woman selling tickets to a dinner/theater where the actors served the meal and after we watched some avant-garde play neither of us understood but pretended we did.

After buying the tickets, we wondered if the acting troupe really existed so we walked miles to the theater to make sure it was for real; that we hadn’t been duped.

We are such New Yorkers.

21.
There was “eye-patch” guy who picked us up on the Pacific Coast Highway in a beat-up flatbed, driving so close to the winding roads coastal road, showing us everything, leaning over the cliff edge.

I worried about his depth perception, though the picture of the naked woman on his  dash also had my attention as well.

But he was just a friendly guy, giving a couple of jamokes a ride.

22.
We got to see so many parts of what is now called “flyover” country long before there was the division and long before the internet homogenized us all like milk.

23.
People say it’s not like this today, but I don’t buy that. Just like I don’t buy that everything from yesterday was better.

24.
We shared that room for so many years that we eventually teamed up to throw out our blanket-wearing, cigarette smoking, tuna fish eating older brother from our room.

I am pretty sure we didn’t discuss it too, we just agreed we didn’t like his smoking and his tuna-eating habit.

25.
Joe was always clear headed, with a great intelligence, until I said this one day to a mutual friend of ours who responded, “Yes, but he also has a great heart.”

That should have been obvious, but to someone who always doubted his own intelligence, and who's always put him on a pedestal for his intellect, I’m embarrassed to say that surprised me when I realized this that I didn’t know this sooner.

26.
I wish we lived closer today, but I understand that lives are meant to be lived as discrete things.

27.
It’s like when we still had the house on Long Island and we could walk through the door with the cake-mixer tine being used for a door knob – we didn’t feel the need to explain things like that.

28.
It’s always just a feeling of home, free to be as neurotic as God made us.

29.
It’s almost summer now. Can you feel it? Is the wanderlust bubbling up in you? Are you getting the urge to dance naked?

Shhh—quiet – can’t you hear it? Like an evening breeze wending through the trees.
 That familiar melody, the metallic three-chord progression, the syncopated introduction ushering in the freedom of no school and summer yet to go:

“CHH-CHH-CHH” , “CHH-CHH-CHH”

As familiar as our own heartbeats.
Like the sickly-sweet smell of maple from that big tree in our yard, the one that spewed all of those “polynoses” whose ends we would split and affix to our noses to pretend we were horned dinosaurs.
The radio gets louder, it’s volume growing as summer nears:

In the summertime when the weather is hot/You can stretch right up and touch the sky/When the weather's fine/You got women, you got women on your mind/Have a drink, have a drive/Go out and see what you can find/Sing along with us/Dee dee dee-deedee/Dah dah dah-dah dah/Yeah we're hap-happy/Dah dah-dah/Dee-dah-do dee-dah-do dah-do-dah/Dah-do-dah-dah-dah/Dah-dah-dah do-dah-dah



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