Wishing well made of clear cut glass. So thick that to see through it your vision becomes blurry. Optometrist. Making the adjustment. Chiropractor, making the crack. Popcorn kernels stuck in teeth make for a very unpleasant movie afternoon. Sticky soda floor and the big screen. Beer being poured at the bar. The communal nihilism that pervades spaces of pessimistic community. Even the excitables have their doubts. About love, about life, about the regrets which they swear they don’t have. When the bar closes and you’re alone in the stone-walled corner nursing a gin and tonic, mindlessly stirring the tiny black straw with your pointer finger you think about your less than optimal moments. And you wallow in self-pity and wish you could be given 2nd chances to correct everything you didn’t live up to. I drop pennies in the well and wish. A wish is a prayer, at least I believe it can be. A thought bubble that balloons forth and soars skyward toward Jupiter or Mars. Something will run into it, read it and interpret it. Carbonated bubbles do their dance I can see them. They are excitables and they are rushing. Never the Earth knew this sort of Life bubbling. An amoeba that begot a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Land Before Who? I find myself constantly marveling at how mankind has progressed this far at all. Surely, it’s a complete accidental.
When I say, “yay big”, I hold my hands out about 2 to 3 feet apart. If you rewind the tape and freeze frame it, I am karate chopping with both hands looking quite sure of myself. The VHS fuzz on the top and bottom of the frame. The black, white, grey, spools holding the tape in place. I always need a VHS player at all times. In the garage, before the flood, we had a large Rubbermaid container / bin of tapes. A miracle they didn’t disintegrate from the summer heat. Trunks as in elephant, trunks as in storage. African safari and Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad. What is our history if not through a singular lens? Well, I’ve been to the eye doctor and there are many lenses. They’re kept in cases and drawers. One is sometimes clearer than the other. Sometimes it’s too close to tell. Down in the valley there are elephant bones and as I read a summary of The Lion King I remembered how much I loved that movie as a child, and how that death scene was hard for me. Mufasa not waking up was…traumatic. Media sculpting the mind. Hands of Jeffrey Katzenberg in the clay. Raining tumultuous claymation raindrops. Synchronized swimming. Channel flipping. Angels of direction. The confusion of free will. The juxtaposition that there are some choices that will lead us to the exact same place, spare a few irrelevant details. The nightmare.
The grandfather clock yawns tall at seven feet. Handmade, antique. It’s been ticking and tocking for 84 years. The wood is a warm walnut, stained darker. The numbers, still dark as if they were just painted yesterday. Holding an ear to the heart of the beast, you can hear heart of it: beating and churning and creaking. On the hour it sounds, ringing and clanging loudly in a room filled with dusty, forgotten treasures; All from a time when silver platters and spoons were customary serving receptacles to a certain race and class, and if the only certainty of life is that people die, then that is confirmed; Their accumulated heirlooms sold, donated, or thrown away.
A child sits in a white bonnet at the foot of the grandfather clock. The hour is late and the child coos, abandoned, finding fascination with her hands. The clock keeps rhythm of the passing hour. Dust accumulates in the antique shop, which sits on the border between dream and nightmare. Depending on the war, its borders can change and will as it suits them, the dreamer. A silver moonbeam makes its way into a window, divided into four smaller squares. It reflects on the floor of the child. Who is she? How did she get here? She is unimpressed, and continually distracted by the realization of fingers and touch and teething. The temperature dips and the clock watches over the floor, wise and all-knowing.
The only enemy of this clock would be a swarm of termites, neglect, or both. But the termites hibernate, too cold to take action. The building creaks and moans in silence, no one there to hear it but this babe, floor-bound, now sprawled on her stomach, rolling over, laughing. The hands of the clock form a lopsided mustache, indicating the early morning hour. A truck engine starts and sputters.
You talk about compromise like it’s some stick in the mud, some wound to be wasted, infected with oozing pessimism. Compromise like a world awakened and gone back to sleep. Eyes open and shut like cases, like a bag shaken out. I am empty and that’s all that’s left of me. But I want to breathe and believe in something other than magic and happenstance; Something other than Disney fantasy because happily ever after only goes as far as the camera zooms out and fades to black with grand orchestra, sweeping strings, lovely ballads made from consonant upbringings. I’m not saying it’s all gotta be painful and bad, but the story never just ends there. And even if you die alone in Tom Riddle’s house, there was certainly one person you meant in which you inhibited some memory. Imagination stretching outward, dancing darlings come, become crimson in their cheekbones after a long workout. I’m talking about college dorm rooms in November or December; Fresh snowfall and roommates gone home for the weekend. I’m talking letterman jackets and homemade sweaters, fireplace, hot chocolate, lovers gaze under low light. Youthful magic becoming more distant. We are comets, we are meteors, drifting away from the beginnings of our timelines in zero gravity. We are Tom and B’Elanna in spacesuits stranded, but hopefully cradling one another. And if we have to compromise to be there, so be it. There is nothing admirable about gargantuanly taking up space.
Today I drive down Harrison Street in the passenger seat (approaching Franklin Ave with Passaic Ave behind) and my heart breaks seeing the accumulation of ruined things placed curbside, house after house. Mattresses and lamps, furniture, black trash bags in heaps. You think you have it bad, but someone always has it worse. Driving through the intersection of Franklin and Harrison, having seen a photo or two of it severely flooded a few nights before, and my heart breaks for the businesses, likely already struggling due to COVID, the owners now having to deal with cleaning up what may in fact be the sole lifelines to their own livelihoods. I wonder if their homes have also been devastated as well.
I wasn’t out and about in the neighborhood to do a tour of the damage, but was coming home from the laundromat with my brother who was driving. We had made a pitstop, picking up a few bottles of Cherry Coke at 7-11; A rare, indulgent, but well-deserved treat for the both of us. We reminisced about the last time we drank a Cherry Coke; It had been awhile for both of us. The family washer and dryer and hot water heater are completely shot and non-functioning. More will be revealed, but it’s safe to say we’ll be without for a few weeks at least. Maybe longer…There certainly will be more laundromat trips in the meantime.
Many of our family’s things are also curbside, if they haven’t already been taken by the garbage truck that conveniently came the day after the rain. I won’t even begin to list but I mean: a trunk my mom bought with Nonna and my dad on Canal St in Chinatown, right before they were married. That sits curbside now. Soaked and ruined. My 88-key Suzuki piano from my childhood, unsalvageable toys, ruined pictures and papers turned paste, old school papers I was proud of, elementary school writings, American Idiot confetti that rained down from Giants Stadium that I gathered up and stuffed in my pockets from September 1, 2005, my wisdom teeth, as well as greeting cards from friends and family I had saved that meant something to me – Many from Nonna. I cried a lot when the water finally receded from the basement. Almost 2 feet total had accumulated when it was all said and done. “This is our lives!” I cried to my mom the day after, despondent and inconsolable. She had to throw out a wedding album she had given to Nonna; It had found its way back to us after she died. It was falling apart and impossible to save. And even though it wasn’t even my mom’s copy of the wedding album, I became emotional. Because it was Nonna’s copy. That was hers and now it’s in the trash.
I’m not here to lament. I mean, I’m devastated. And I’ve cried about it. But I’m trying not to get lost in the quicksand that is grief. Because I can get lost in it. I know myself well enough to know that. There’s this strange dichotomy and different levels of reality I currently find us all living in: The affected and the unaffected. And it’s…strange. Makes you feel a little bit like an alien walking through a slightly different dimension.
We are saving as many photographs as we can, the discs of our CD and DVD collections (tossing away the cases). We recovered my diplomas, but their cases are completely ruined. My mom has been trying so hard and painstakingly to save what she can. There are dropcloths throughout the first floor of our home to protect the wood flooring from water as we make the many trips up the stairs to take the wet things out and to the curb. This daily trek we now must make until there’s nothing left to remove. The dining room and kitchen tables are full of damp photographs drying out.
Tragedy and crisis are always strange. And even though this is personal and I feel incredibly affected by it, I do try and look at it with a birdseye view; Here is rebirth, here is cleansing, here is renewal, here is starting over fresh and clean. It doesn’t make it any easier, but…the thoughts are there under the surface. I will admit there is excitable family chatter about remodeling and finally making good on all those plans we had to better the basement, move things around, make the house better and nice.
And we can talk about global warming, better preparedness for next time, etc. We can go on a George Carlin-esque rant about “stuff” and “things”. We can play “coulda, woulda, shoulda” and spit regrets until the sun comes up five mornings over. But this happened. This is reality. It rained too much, too hard, too fast and our homes were overwhelmed. Tomorrow will not change cold hard facts. I am saddened by my own situation, as well as the situation of my community and neighbors. Overall, these two years have been insurmountably difficult and this event just feels like an added weight.
Approaching Franklin, I see the waterline, leaves and debris on a now ruined chainlink fence right before the stoplight, right after Ravine. CVS is home to three dumpsters now. I was just in there few days ago to get eyedrops and the manager helped me when the self-checkout froze. She was so nice and sweet. I told her this was my neighborhood CVS and she hoped I’d be back soon. I promised her I would.