May 31, 2011

Jack Is Right!

For a week after her hospital stay my mother was in a rehab facility trying to regain her strength. Each day or so I would drive my father to see her. She was in a bleak little room. There was no TV and a crappy curtain for privacy. (Note: there is a TV room down the hall for those few capable of getting there to watch it.) Thankfully she had a very nice roommate who was suffering with terrible rheumatoid arthritis.

When Mom was sleeping I would wander down the halls peaking into rooms and studying life in this place. Actually it was more of a glorified nursing home. It was clean and efficient, the walls all painted a pale blue or nauseating pinkish mauve. Large gold-framed paintings of blossoms hung every 20 feet of so. An orchid here, a cluster of roses there. Semi-capable people scooted their wheelchairs to a point and then, out of frustration or exhaustion, slumped over dozing off cluttering the corridors. Like a scene from the upcoming movie, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Part 2: The Geriatric Ward".

An old woman across the hall from Mom would loudly repeat something like, "Please don't do that...Please don't do that....Please don't do that..." over and over in a voice sounded exactly like Mr. Bill from Saturday Night Live (from the late 70s). This went on fairly often throughout the day and night. Though it was sad, I had to sort of smile at the similarity to Mr. Bill.

One afternoon, sitting there drinking some horrible old stale coffee in the "TV room", I couldn't comprehend why some of these people were even there. Aside from the few that were to leave soon after rehabilitation (like my mother), most of these patients were obviously being kept alive solely by drugs and constant care. Most of them had no idea who they were or who was visiting them. Was this any quality of life? One day while walking through the lobby I saw a woman wheeling a semi-comatose man out into a parlor type room. I looked at her and said, "Happy place eh?" She looked at me and replied, "Tell me about it, I've been here everyday for the past 2 years."

This brought my thoughts to Jack Kevorkian. He obviously saw this as a problem as well. He was brilliant, 100% right and went to jail for his actions. Why prolong this incredible agony? Ninety-five percent of these people will never leave this place. And, at a HUGE expense to society and their families, they are lying there being helped to eat, drink, breathe, relieve themselves and wait for the end....some waiting for years. Does this make any sense?

I have a real problem with this. Obviously no one wants to say goodbye to a loved one. But, because of the almighty religious right and thanks to big pharmaceutical companies that will suck every dime out of Medicare and Medicaid keeping a generation of lifeless, Depend-wearing zombies alive, sleeping in wheelchairs in hallways of expensive nursing homes throughout the land.

This is sheer lunacy.

I snapped this with my point-&-shoot while walking around the grounds of the rehab place. The grounds were beautifully manicured, though I think I saw 2 people outside the week I was there.

On a happier note, it's finally warm in NYC. I went to the park and Coney Island for the kick off of summer on Saturday. Crazy as usual. Pics to come.

May 29, 2011

Another Found Photo

First car. Taken sometime around high school graduation, give or take a year. Amazing how much a 1969 Chevelle SS 396 goes for these days.

The very day I got my driver's license and tags I was drag racing down Route 50. Brilliant!

My good friend Mike Breen and I went to Rehoboth Beach in that car after graduation. I remember the transmission linkage was messed up and had no reverse. Each time I pulled into a parking space we had to push it back out when we left. I remember thinking it was funny, not embarrassing.

It was a very good car and left me with so many great memories.

May 28, 2011

What Was I Thinkin'?

While looking through old boxes at my parents' house I ran across hundreds of old photos. I cringed a bit opening each envelope or stack of pictures, expecting to find something embarrassing. Didn't take long; here's a couple. A ridiculous example of me hiking in the Blue Ridge wearing very short shorts while in my shit-kickin', southern rock hat phase. Luckily that look was short lived. Jesus...

Another fine example of a fashion no-no. Here's me working as a photo assistant for my friend Nemo in the early 90s. This was pretty much my standard uniform back then. Actually, it was worse, I usually added a rolled up red bandana around my neck to keep the photo vest from chafing. I showed this to my niece Kristen and she said I looked like a member of the Village People. Note the ever present large goofy glasses, the "porn" mustache, the short shorts, the white socks (and tennis shoes) and walkie talkie hanging from my belt. What the hell was I thinking? That's just frightening....

I guess it could have been worse, I didn't dress up like Boy George or all goth like Robert Smith from The Cure as so many did.

Though in hindsight, this little getup was just as bad.

May 27, 2011

The Source of All (my) Knowledge

I grew up in Fairfax, Virginia, which at the time was a quiet suburb of Washington, D.C. My family lived in a 3-bedroom rambler on Embassy Lane where, except for a slight paint variation, all the houses looked the same. I thought everyone in the world grew up in a similar neighborhood. At the end of the block was about 50 acres of woods full of trails where my best friend Bruce and I played and rode our bikes every day. It seemed like an enormous expanse and kept us busy for years. So many experiences in those woods. We caught countless frogs, turtles and crawfish, built forts, shot my BB gun. I knocked out my teeth in a bike accident and had my first experience with a girl's body.... It was a true gift having that park so close. We didn't need toys, those dense woods were all we needed.

Halfway down the street from my house was a storm drain. For many years, just after dinner (weather permitting), a small group of neighborhood kids would gather and sit on that cold slab of concrete. There we would discuss our day at school, talk about family problems, play various games, smoke cigarettes stolen from our parents and, as we grew into puberty, our discussions inevitably turned towards sex. Bruce, Carol, Caroline and her sister Mary Beth, occasionally Peanut, Marilys (sp) and myself. That was the core group, though sometimes another kid or sibling would show up. Though I vaguely remember that being frowned upon. For years, each night I would excuse myself from the dinner table and run down to the corner to be with my friends. I didn't know how much it meant to them but for me it was very special. It was an escape. Other than Bruce it was the first time I felt a true bond to a group of people and felt a part of something special. There truly was a bond between us. I think back and try to remember details of conversations but can only remember vague little snippets of what happened on that sewer lid. Some of which I'm sure has been distorted by time and my imagination. Lighting fireworks (snakes), playing "smear the queer", chasing each other around for hours, attempting to tackle the girls and hoping to brush against their breasts as we pulled them to the ground, all while pretending to try and grab the ball away from them.

Around 9 o'clock, after we were exhausted, sweaty and grass-stained, each of our parents would whistle or call out our names to come home. My father had a very loud whistle he made using his fingers crammed into the corners of his mouth. It was piercing and could be heard a mile away. We would all say our goodbyes knowing we would meet again the next night. I always dreaded winter knowing that we wouldn't meet on the storm drain again until spring. I don't know why it was so much different to me than meeting inside one of our houses.

I clearly remember one warm day in March walking out of my house and looking down the street finding no one there. Miffed, I looked out again the following night and sadly, again, no one was there. I realized a few nights later that the storm drain had served it's purpose for us and that part of my life was over. I remember being very sad about that. I think I was about 14.

Whenever I come home to visit I drive slowly past that corner and glance out the window at that sewer lid. I don't know what I'm looking for, but it makes me feel so nostalgic. I learned just about everything I know about human behavior on that cold slab of concrete.

May 26, 2011

A Pain in My Heart

A photo of my mother as a teenager we found while cleaning the house.

When you get a call in the middle of a work day from one of your siblings you have a sudden rush of panic. As you glance at the number on your phone you have a feeling in your gut that it's probably not good news. The day after Mother's Day my sister called me to tell me my mother was in the hospital. She explained what had transpired and suggested I come home sooner than later. I jumped on the first train out of the city and got to Virginia before they were to do a procedure to fix what was causing a blockage in her throat. Afterwards, the news wasn't what a family wants to hear. Different doctors made their assessments and suggestions of treatments or the option to decline them. I believe I was (and still am) numb to what was said. I heard everything the doctors were saying but it was too unbelievable to grasp. She's here, she's talking, she can eat and drink and she's smiling.... She feels better.

Suddenly in the days following there was an urgency to clean the house, take things to thrift stores, to the dump and recycling. "Organizers" were hired, hospice was called, caretakers, nurses and social workers stopped by and filled out papers, asked questions and took notes. My brother went into a cleaning, organizing frenzy. I did little comparatively. I felt like I was watching a strange nightmare from the sidelines and I wanted to slam on the breaks of this chaos. To make matters worse, as well as adding to my mental anguish, this happened to coincide with the anniversary of Mario's death.

Having been gone for 2 weeks I needed to come back to "my home" and try to get some work lined up. I was torn by the guilt of leaving as well as relieved to be stepping away from the sadness and tension a family feels during these times. We were all very much on edge. Each of us having a different opinion as to what could and should be done in regard to almost everything.

Needless to say I'll be making frequent trips to Virginia.

There are few things harder to deal with than one of your parents being extremely ill. I was lying in bed with my mother watching Oprah the other afternoon. She sat up and asked me to scratch her back. As I did, she laughed because I don't have any fingernails. Sitting there I couldn't help but think that all those times we argued and bickered over small trivial things seemed so insignificant now. All I could think of was how much I loved her and what a wonderful, supportive mother she had been to me all these years.

I have such a pain in my heart.

May 5, 2011

Sights and Blossoms

Odd sight in Upper West Side store window.

Fine example of New York City's landscaping abilities.

Blossoms from the botanical garden.

May 4, 2011

Botanical Wonder

Sunday I went to the New York Botanical Garden. I've heard it's amazing and many things were in bloom including magnolias, cherry blossoms, crabapples and azaleas. I've had this planned for awhile but the weather has held me back. I'm not really a "garden" type of person but this was incredible. Perfectly groomed, clean and vast, encompassing 250 acres. Roaming around you would never know you were in The Bronx. Aside from the distant sound of traffic, it's more like being out in the country.

Walking up to a cherry tree, what I thought was a rock turned out to be a young rabbit laying dead on the ground. It seemed oddly placed there and I wondered how it died. I started to take pictures and after a few minutes felt I was being watched. I looked up to find two elderly women looking at me from the path about 30 feet away. In a frail voice one of them called out "What is that?" Barely looking up, I replied, "It's a dead rabbit." "What are you doing?" "I'm photographing it." I heard the other woman say quietly, "He's doing what? Why is he doing that?" They slowly walked away mumbling to each other, obviously confused, looking back at me as they made their way up the path.

May 3, 2011

Bags & Faces

Not long ago on a particularly cold day I saw this bag looking back at me while waiting on the subway.On the Upper West Side this "body bag" was in the trash.

Walking down a path through Central Park (I know, I'm there a lot) I noticed this big pillar type thing where there used to be a lamp or gate attached. It was obviously taken down long ago leaving holes and rust...and this face. Sort of creepy.

The other pillar directly across.

May 2, 2011

Santa...Is That You?

For hundreds years people have wondered where Santa goes during the summer. Most assumed he and his elves were busy building toys up in the North Pole. Various sightings suggested he had a vacation home in Hawaii. Well, mystery solved. Sorry to say, I found the fat bastard drunk and filthy sleeping on a park bench in Central Park on Saturday. I truly hope no children saw what I saw.

Strolling through the park I saw this man enjoying the beautiful day with his best friend.

At the Met everyone was enjoying the sculptures. This guy spent a little too much time looking at this particular one. Probably reminded him of a long lost love.

Me in an odd mirror sculpture