Thursday, April 22, 2021

I Remember


I saw an old photo the other day. I stumbled on it somewhere. 


It was her. 


There was no escaping it. The image was sharp, focused. 


And I remembered.


These were not hazy memories obscured by a brain trying to save me from myself. Not fleeting thoughts flashing like fireflies in the darkness. 



I remembered.

Clear memories that slashed me like a saber.

It was her.

And me. I’m in the picture, too.

Smiling. Both of us smiling. My arm draped around her shoulders. Her body, leaning in, tucked into mine.

It was so long ago.

The old me, the now me… wonders… how did that love die? How does any love die? What becomes of those moments after you arrive at the point you can no longer speak comfortably? Can barely look each other in the eye?

It’s times like this I start to remember every stupid thing I ever said. Jeezus. The list is endless.

I missed her for so long. I still miss her.

When I remember.

When I stumble on old photos. When I hear a certain song. Or when the scent of a certain flower finds me.

Lovers in love, eyeing eternity with each other, without asking... how long is forever?

As I return to the present and feel my fingers gripping the old photo, it’s not as bad as it first seemed. The ending was sad, and the aftermath was… difficult. Sometimes I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be alive. 

But that moment, in the photo…

I remember.

Both of us smiling. My arm draped around her shoulders. Her body, leaning in, tucked into mine.

When I think about it, really think about it, I treasure it.

It was a moment to die for. 

Or, maybe, a moment to live for.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Port Salerno

My drug dealer lived in Port Salerno. Larry. I don’t remember his last name. I don’t think I ever knew his last name. He was just… Larry.

It was fortunate I was introduced to Larry when I was – fortunate for both of us. He had a lot of marijuana to sell, and I was beginning a phase of my life where I would smoke whole forests of it. I think it was the summer before my junior year in high school.

Port Salerno was a quiet little coastal oasis, and the natural beauty of the whole Martin County area was stunning, with rivers and islands and a mighty ocean inlet. But that’s not much of a selling point to a teenage boy in possession of a newly-awarded driver’s license. In my view, the only things to do in this quaint little town were… go surfing and get high. And I did both of them with all the inspired energy a sixteen-year-old can muster.

I mention this because I’ve been visiting the area frequently in recent years – much more so than I did for thirty years after I first left. I revel in the breezy, sub-tropical beauty now. It’s fabulous. But I’m surprised when it doesn’t conjure up the warm fuzzy feelings I expect.

I only lived there during my high school years. My parents moved away after I left for the University of Florida in Gainesville. So going “home” for the holidays or summer breaks didn’t mean going back to the place I’d gone to high school.

As much as I consider those years to be important to my development, I have very little attachment to them. Each memory is like a random short film with its own little story, but there’s no continuity, no unifying theme. And, of course, many memories are obscured by clouds of marijuana smoke.

As I drive around Stuart and Jensen Beach, I recognize places, and make simple connections in my mind, just like I do with Port Salerno… Here is the 7-11 where we got gas for 70 cents a gallon, the liquor store where I bought my first six-pack, this is where my friend Mike lived, that’s the high school, there’s the church parking lot where I first groped whats-her-name. Yes, even at the time, I found extra pleasure in the fact that she was a good Catholic girl and we were in the church parking lot.

But it’s cold and clinical. There’s no emotion attached. And it got me thinking about memories and how differently we experience them as we get older because some of them are now so long ago. I think of each memory as an imprint on my mind, but I realize it’s an imprint of the way things were at the time, made on the person I was at the time. And both of those things… have changed.

To use a totally appropriate geographic metaphor, that period of time is like an island in my life, surrounded by the waters of everything that happened before or since.

So there’s no way to connect with my old self. He’s long gone. I won’t claim that the new me is better, just different. Very different. But I still try to appreciate what was… and what is.

I’ve promised myself, next time I pass through Port Salerno… I’ll think… My drug dealer lived here… And it sure is beautiful.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

A Few Lines Back

Gave up on the laptop. Eyes angry from staring at the screen.

Writing in my notebook now. Trying to be productive.

Fooling myself.


Fits of creative inspiration fueled by bourbon and self-loathing. Fits of creative paralysis fueled… the same way.

But I scribble on. What if that next idea, that next sentence, turns out to be great?

I wrote a good line there, didn’t I? A few lines back?

Who knows where the ideas come from?

Thoughts that torment me. Never leave entirely. Come back with reinforcements.

Are there dark thoughts?

Define “dark.”

Have I held a .45 in my hand? Thought about that one flick of the trigger that would bring it all to a sudden stop? The power that gun in my hand gives me? The power I don’t otherwise have?

Nah. (chuckle) Never thought about it.

There’s always that chance, right? That line.

That was a pretty good line there, right? A few lines back?

Need a good game on television. Or some other distraction. A visit to the local pub. Cradling my notebook.

That woman at the bar looks lonely. Bored. We chat.

Not fooling myself.

She doesn’t like me.

I’m a recipe missing a few ingredients. Palatable but not desirable. Mildly entertaining but not marriage material.

Oh god, I wrote the "M" word.

It’s okay if you go. You’d be better off without me. I understand.

I’d be better off without me. How can I complain?

The mind of a writer, like a tilt-a-whirl at a shopping mall carnival. Emotional landmines with every revolution.

Oh, this is fun.

Oh, fuck.

Oh, this is fun.

Oh, fuck.

Oh, this is fun...

What can they do to me when it's over? I mean... when it's all over. What can anybody do?

Pry those dreams from my cold, dead hands.

"Let go," they’ll say. "Let go."

But I’ve seen it. When I'm sleeping. Thick blades of grass smothering my disregarded headstone. Do you really think the grandkids will visit? Or their kids?

Not fooling myself.

Not fooling anyone.

Making the case for irresponsible behavior. None of it matters. That’s what I’m saying. None of it matters. Nothing but now. And what I can get down on paper.

I scribble on. What if that next idea, that next sentence, turns out to be great?

That was a pretty good line there, right? A few lines back?

Having a hard time seeing. Having a hard time.

Maybe it’s not from staring at the screen. Maybe my eyes are just angry.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Unresolved (Just Once)

It’s a new year, which is a big deal to some people, but, to me, it just means I’m getting older. Like I need another reminder…

I don’t want to sound bitter. There are things I can control, and things I can’t control. Time, most certainly, falls into the latter category. So I try to embrace its passage, happy to still be on the planet, as tenuous as that existence sometimes seems.

I don’t engage in the frivolous but fashionable exercise of making resolutions. Let’s be honest. We’ve all tried it. And failed miserably. I’ve broken every one my new year’s resolutions, many within minutes of making them. I realized long ago I’m not fooling anyone. I’d like to tell you I plan to change certain behaviors. But we both know I’ll end up being the same old asshole I’ve been for a while now.

What I’ve decided to do this year is change my approach. As much as I feel like I’m spontaneous, sometimes to the point of recklessness, I’m also a creature of habit. I’m not too obsessive, but I do find comfort in routines. The problem with that is, eventually, every day starts to seem like the same old shit, because… it is. I’ve finally realized that the only way to keep from ending up with the same old shit is to start with different shit. I’m excited about this new path. And, despite the state of domestic politics, climate change and the millennial ADD epidemic, I feel strangely hopeful for the near future.

But I always try to be optimistic. To this day, I feel a glimmer of hope when I check my e-mail and find out there are still Russian women who are dying to meet me. And it’s reassuring to know there’s apparently some financial institution out there that will lend me almost anything short of the Crown Jewels.

And I’m pre-approved!

So this isn’t about resolutions for me. I’ve just realized that achieving different outcomes requires different actions. I guess you could say I’m… unresolved. But I do have some ideas on how to change my approach to some things.

I would like to see a different outcome in my personal relationships. In some ways, I would like to allow myself to be more vulnerable. I would also like to be less vulnerable.

I’ll let you know how that works out.

Just once, I’d like to pick my nose while sitting at a red light, and not randomly turn my head and see some supermodel-type in the car next to me staring at me in horror. Why couldn’t it be… George Zimmerman? Although I guess you don’t want to start a booger-flicking shootout with him. Ok, ok. No more nose-picking in traffic.

Just once, I would like to place a glass under the ice dispenser on the refrigerator door and not have a rogue cube go shooting off into some far corner of the kitchen floor. Screw the ice dispenser, I’ll open the door and stick my hand in.

I tell myself I’m going to eat better. You know. Healthier. More plants. Less dead animal flesh. But just once, I would like to eat spaghetti without getting that small-but-incredibly-noticeable sauce stain on the front of my shirt. So, I’m going to try eating spaghetti without a shirt on. No, no. Not really. Maybe I’ll just eat more slowly, and make an effort to enjoy my food… carefully.

Just once, I would like to be able to quietly pass gas in an elevator without giving away my guilt by giggling. I’m willing to listen to suggestions on how to change that one. Seriously, if you have any ideas, we should grab some chow and talk about it.

Anyone up for topless spaghetti?

Friday, February 15, 2019

The Tour de Stairs (Silver Lake, Los Angeles)

I used to love old slapstick comedy when I was a kid. It was always good for a hearty laugh.

It still is.

While preparing for my recent trip to Los Angeles, I was reading about Silver Lake - a cool neighborhood northwest of downtown - and I was pleased to discover that legendary scenes with two of my favorite comedy teams were filmed in the area. And they both involve... stairs.

 At one point, the city had the world's largest inter-urban public transportation system, employing trains, trolleys, and streetcars to get people where they needed to go. Beginning in 1901, the Los Angeles transportation system eventually grew to the point it included 20 streetcar lines and more than 1200 trolleys.

Access to that extensive system often involved people walking to a station or pick-up point in a nearby neighborhood. If you didn't know, the outer fringes of Los Angeles are hilly. So, occasionally, the easiest way to connect one neighborhood to another above or below it on a steep hill was to build concrete stairs. This saved the pedestrian from having to follow the road the entire way around - which, in some cases, was a considerable distance. With the stairs, you could just cut through from one neighborhood to the next, catch a train or trolley and be on your way.

During the 1920s the city built a number of steep connecting stairways. And at least two sets of slapstick stars made them the subject of their antics.

Laurel and Hardy made a film called "The Music Box." The plot involves a woman who has purchased a player piano as a surprise birthday gift for her husband. Laurel and Hardy have been hired to deliver it. But the woman lives near the top of a set of steps.

Very long steps, as it turns out.

And, of course, slapstick hilarity ensues...

"The Music Box" won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film (Comedy) in 1932.

The film location was a set of steps running from Descanso Drive at the top to N. Vendome Street at the bottom.

By the '50s and '60s, Los Angeles had fully embraced the automobile (which resulted in dire atmospheric consequences in the '70s) and given up on its rail system.  But a number of the stairways survived - many in use currently as an alternative to a strenuous gym workout.

The Music Box Steps are among the survivors. So I paid a visit...

As you can see in this shot below taken from the original movie when compared with a screenshot from my video - below that - the house on the right existed at the time of the filming, although it's had a number of alterations since then, including the addition of an entry stairway next to the original steps.

The additional structure to the left - and the railings - were added some time later, and the growth of surrounding vegetation has closed in the steps a bit, but, they're still there... in all their glory.

Nine years later - in 1941 - the Three Stooges used a similar opening plot in their comedy short called "An Ache in Every Stake."

The boys are delivering ice - the electric icebox was only just beginning to come into fashion - and a woman in need of ice calls down to them... from the top of a very long set of steps - 147 steps, to be exact.

I love the Stooges...

This film location was a set of steps running from Edendale Place down to Fair Oak View Terrace.

Although a little more off the beaten path, these steps also still exist. I drove over to take a look...

And it was awesome!

In the still shots below (from the colorized version of the film released in 2004) you can clearly see the roof of the garage on the right and the arched doorway of the dwelling behind it.

Here's a better shot, as "Mr. Lawrence" (Vernon Dent) pursues the boys after having the second of his birthday cakes destroyed...

The Stooges' ice wagon is just about where my car was idling when I visited.

The picture below is a screenshot from my video - with the garage roof (now with a wrought iron railing) and the doorway visible beyond that.

I climbed a couple of landings to soak in the view - and the moment.  I love places like this. When you're standing in the exact location where classic comedy was created, it's not quite like going back in time, but almost.

It's a little disturbing, too, when you realize it's been almost ninety years since Laurel and Hardy struggled up the first set of steps. Ninety years.

If Oliver Hardy had lived to witness the changes in the world since 1932 and to contemplate the current state of affairs, there's no doubt in my mind what he'd say.

"Here's another nice mess you've gotten me into."

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Much Ado About... Nothing

I wrote this to read on stage at the Short Attention Span Storytelling Hour, presented by Writers of Central Florida or Thereabouts.

I’ve written fiction. 


Well, not counting tax returns. 

But, frequently, when people ask me what I write, and I say, “Mostly non-fiction,” I get the most puzzled looks. “What does that mean? What do you actually write about?” 

“Well, anything I want.” 

That doesn’t seem to help. To most people, “anything” apparently means “nothing.” 

It reminds me of the episode of Seinfeld where Jerry and George Costanza are discussing how to pitch their show idea to NBC. 

George says: Everybody's doing something. We'll do nothing. 

Jerry: So we go into NBC, and we tell them we have an idea for a show about nothing. 

George: Exactly. 

Jerry: They say, "What's your show about?" And I say "nothing." 

George: There ya go. 

After a long pause, Jerry says: …I think you may have something there. 

When they say nothing, though, what they really mean is… everything. Everyday life. 

And it’s a little frightening that most people think it’s perfectly acceptable, and probably accurate, to describe their daily existence as… nothing. If you don’t think something interesting happens to you almost every day, you might need to make some serious changes. 

But it’s more likely that you’re just not paying enough attention. 

Aren’t there moments that touch you? Moments that make you think? Moments that cause you to react in unexpected ways? Moments that make you laugh, or make you teary for reasons you can’t explain? 

There’s a story in each of those moments. 

I have written about watching a family with two young children become homeless, and then, months later, seeing them regain their footing – with help from the community they lived in. 

I have written about a young woman at a bar who briefly left her own drunken birthday celebration to sidle up to me, a complete stranger, and tell me her mom had died years before… on her birthday. 

That was nine years ago, and I still think about it. 

I have written about karaoke and cover bands. About music, in general. And my involvement in the business. Which meant… writing about drugs. I have written about sporting events. About irrational fears. And rational ones. About happiness and heartbreak. About the incessant urge that creators have… to create. 

I have written about the time I was sitting in a coffee shop next to two women in their sixties when a news story came on the TV saying researchers, using stem cells… had made artificial sperm. One of the women was absolutely puzzled, and a bit incredulous. 

"What?" she said, as she looked around. "There's no shortage..." 

You can’t make this stuff up. Or, should I say, there’s no need to make this stuff up. It’s there. Everywhere. Every day. If you look for it. 

I did tell a story once about a fantastic acid trip I had in Disney World. And I guess you could argue it’s not true non-fiction if it deals with a dramatically altered reality. Boy, I’ll say… 

I’m willing to admit that the present reality is rather fucked up. So, it might be tempting to invent an entirely new one. But many fiction writers go on to create make-believe worlds that are even more fucked up than our own. 

To me, there’s no sense in escaping your own hell to visit one that’s even worse. 

 I don’t mean to throw all fiction writers under the bus. I’ve met some, and they seem to be able to converse in complete sentences. I just find myself wanting to live in this world. And, even though there’s no doubt, in the brief time I have here, I’ll never figure out what it’s all about, I feel like I can at least figure out bits and pieces… by writing about it. 

So, what’s my inspiration for today? I’m glad you asked. It’s Edna. 

I was in a store the other day, and the woman in line in front of me was named Edna. And I thought… there are not enough women in the world named Edna. Not anymore. And that’s kind of a shame, isn’t it? 

I Googled the word “Edna” and got 57.4 million results. Part of that was because, as I discovered, there was a Hurricane Edna in 1954. She skirted our entire Atlantic coastline, causing twenty-one deaths in New England before petering out over New Brunswick. Somewhat ironically, I also found out that Edna means “pleasure” in Hebrew. Who knew? 

We’ve lost some of those good old names… Myrtle. Gladys. Alice. My personal favorite… Blanche. And Edna. 

Do you know what the most popular female names were in the 1930’s? Betty and Shirley. Edna must have come along later. 

Damn good names. 

With all due respect to the Haleys, Ambers and Kelseys out there, you should probably come to grips with the fact that, when they named you, your parents weren’t thinking about how it would sound when you’re ninety-five, and the assistant at the nursing home reads your name out loud off your chart every morning. 

“Amber, how are you feeling today? It’s time for your pureed goo and then a nice game of bingo in the activity room...” 

Ahh… crotchety old Amber… 

I’m sure there are male name equivalents, but… who gives a shit about that? What are they? Thad? Blair? Ayden? I don’t know… By the way, if there’s someone out there who happens to have one of these names… I just want you to know… it’s not too late to change it. 

I guess it’s a generational thing… But it’s sad. 

When something goes out of fashion, for whatever reason, and we move on to the newest, latest, greatest, hottest whatever it is, I guess it feels like progress, but, it still means we’re leaving something behind. 

What if that something is worth holding on to?? 

 I mean... Jeezus. We’re running out of Ednas. 

So what am I going on about? 




Friday, November 17, 2017

Precious Things

I wrote this in about half an hour while sitting in the back of the room at the Storytelling as Bungee Jumping event presented by the Writers of Central Florida or Thereabouts. Then I read it to the assembled crowd. I have no idea where it came from, but here it is...

I sat down in the coffee shop to write something. For no reason. I thought I'd start writing and see what came out. Usually, I have a purpose. This was just... random.

I go through these periods of self-reflection, wondering... what is the fucking point? I'm in one of those now.

Why is it that mankind has to try to find some meaning in life? I'm pretty sure cockroaches don't do this. Although, maybe I'm underestimating them.

Anyway, I sat down to write. I put on headphones. And, somehow, the first song I played was an obscure song by the The Who called "Cry If You Want." These are the first lines of the second verse...
Don't you get embarrassed when you read the precious things you said
Many, many years ago when life appeared rosy red
It's getting to the point where it's hard to remember my old self, my high school self. I didn't keep a journal. I still don't. I write a lot of my thoughts down now, of course, but I'm kind of glad I didn't then. I can't imagine how silly it would seem to me now.
Don't you get embarrassed when you read the precious things you said
Many, many years ago when life appeared rosy red
What was it like when your biggest concern was the giant zit that erupted on your forehead overnight? And why did it always happen on a Monday or Tuesday? So you had to walk the school hallways for the rest of the week with a festering Krakatoa erupting on your face?

What was it like when the most important side effect of badly breaking your right arm was having to learn how to masturbate left-handed?

I had questions then. Lots of questions. But I thought they'd be answered, one by one, as I grew up.

But... no.  Every time I answered one, another one came along. Sometimes they came in bunches. Lots of questions.

What is the fucking point?

What happens when you become convinced that  the only way people can be happy is if they're complete morons who are oblivious to what's going on around them?

What happens when you think to yourself, that, when you die, there might be some small group of people who are mildly upset, but at least you've made the owners of the funeral home happy?

What happens when you meet some wonderful woman, and you just walk away, thinking... no, she'd just break my heart anyway, if it wasn't already broken?

I have questions. Lots of questions.

There's not a decision I would take back. Not one. This is it. My magnum opus. This thing I created. This existence. In all its glory. In all its misery.

What if there is no fucking point?

I got up to pee, and get a fresh cup of coffee. I spoke to a couple of coffee shop regulars I see often. I lost my train of thought.

Then I looked through the lines I had just written. Jeezus. Where did that come from?

I leaned back. Closed my eyes. Took a deep breath. Put my headphones back on. And there was that song. "Cry If you Want."

Don't you get embarrassed when you read the precious things you said?