Friday, April 28, 2017

Grey reflections.

About 15 years ago, presumably one gloomy weekend, I went around the corner to the barbershop. The barber threw a dark-grey smock on me and starting snipping and buzzing and buzzing and snipping.

Amid all that shearing I must have gotten lost in the "New York Post" or some sports or girlie magazine, because after about ten minutes, when my hair was all off, I peeked down at the smock and noticed it was covered not with my hair, but with someone else'.

"That's not my hair," I said indignantly.

The barber looked at me like I was from Jupiter.

I tried to clarify. "That's not my hair. This hair's all grey."

Then he began laughing.

"The one with grey hair is always the last to know he has grey hair."

There are days, of course, when I feel as old as Methuselah. Where I feel as weary as the old gnarled trees that line Upper Broadway in Manhattan and haven't had a kind word in decades. The trees that get assaulted by cab bumpers and baby strollers and all manner of pocket knives carving initials.

Langston Hughes the great poet once wrote that his soul has grown deep like a river.

When I first read that line I was 16 or 17 and didn't know what he meant. Soul was merely music to me.

Now, as my barber's smock fills up with even more grey, my soul has grown deep. As I said to my wife last night, 'I don't have bags under my eyes, I have a matched set of luggage.'

Yet, we go on.

With laughter, resolve and a fresh belief in my craft and a love of what I do and the people I do it with and for.

There are days--weeks even--where I feel like I'm up to my knees in tarpits.

It's then I look down at that metaphorical smock and I say,
"That grey hair ain't mine."

And I go write something.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Found copywriting.

Spotted by my eagle-eyed wife on W. 29th Street.

Writing through the muck.

It’s been a rough few days in the office, and it seems that everyone has hit a trough at the same time.

After weeks if not months of intensity, this week has been like walking through cobwebs, or swimming in molasses, or, as my old man used to say, pushing water uphill.

Some people, of course, have put the fault in the stars, and blamed Mercury, which seems forever in retrograde, whatever the fuck that means. For me, it’s far more likely—painfully real, in fact—that earth is in retrograde as more and more people embrace the simian leadership of the Trumpocalypse, not to mention nazi-cosy Marie Le Pen.

Other people have looked outside our plate-glass and seen four straight days of grey and the deadening incessancy of rain and said that the outside gloom has infiltrated the inside.

Gloom or no gloom, Mercury or no, I am on my way into work early—I should arrive by 7:15, to face down this mental stupor. I have a deadline of tomorrow on something that needs writing—and while I am usually as prolific as a rhyme-for-hire poet, lately I have been as barren as Donald Trump’s hairplugs.

The only way out of this is to write. And keep writing like those infinite monkeys at infinite keyboards who will eventually type, “What a piece of work is man.”

Sorry, really, that the blog has sucked lately. My sullen side has been ascendant, or should I say, more ascendant than usual. And it’s made me less of a writer and less of a person.

But today, at least for a couple of hours, I will drive a stake in my sullenness. I will ignore feelings of ineptitude. I will shake off my self-doubts and throw on, no matter how contrived it is, a temporary cloak of confidence.

And write.

Until I feel good again.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Watching with Hector Quesadilla.

Hector Quesadilla was the first one to call me ‘El Professor’ when he was my coach in the Mexican League so many summers ago. As the youngest man on the team, he started looking out for me the moment I joined the squad. He gave me the locker nearest the closet that served as his office, and there was always a seat on the bench—no matter what dugout we were squatting in—next to his.

“El Professor,” he said one afternoon as we were facing a lefty from Torreon and not doing well. “El Professor, what do you notice with Brisque, the way he throws the ball.

I had seen Mario Brisque one time through the order and I noticed he set guys up—including myself—with two outside curves—hoping we’d fish for one, then he’d punch us inside with low heat to keep us off balance.

“This one will be a fastball in and low,” I answered.

“Yes,” said Hector. “Tamares is calling the same dumb game he always calls.”

“I think we take two, and wait for something up.”

“I call you El Professor,” Hector told me.

“Because I am reading ‘Guerra y Paz’?” I pulled a worn paperback of Tolstoy from the back right pocket of my flannel uniform.

“That is half of it,” Hector said, riffling the pages of the book. “But more it is how you see what the pitchers are pitching and how the hitters are hitting.”

I checked for my bookmark and sat back down on ‘Guerra y Paz.’ I was two weeks into the book and didn’t want Hector’s flipping to cost me my place. The book was no breeze to read in English, and in Spanish it was fairly killing me.

“Some of the boys sit here and don’t even pay attention to the game. You have to tell them when it’s their ups or how many outs there are. Others watch the game. But you see what is going on. You study the happenings.”

“I guess you could thank Coach Babich for that.” Babich was my high school coach. “Or my old man, who for all his faults, taught me to keep score at a ballgame.”

“So I call you El Professor,” Hector spat. You see the game as it is played.” He grabbed ‘Guerra y Paz’ from my pocket. “Look here. You read this like you watch a ballgame. You underline things you like: ‘¡Cuando uno se va, uno no llora por el pelo!’”

I said in English, for Hector’s benefit, “When one’s head is gone, you don’t worry about being bald.”

We laughed. We spit. We watched the game.

We heard the crack as Brutus Cesar got an inside pitch and doubled down the line.

We laughed. We spit. We watched the game some more.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Early morning suicide.

If you've ever run a marathon, and I've completed a dozen, you know there are some miles when everything seems to be clicking and some miles where you feel like you're running uphill, in molasses with a 60-pound pack on your back.

Lately, the later feeling has taken over for me. I feel dumb, slow and uncreative.

My bloom of athletic youth has limped into achey oblivion. This ex-athlete is dying, not like Housman's, young, but old. Old and creaky and unsure.

Yesterday I had the simplest thing in the world to write--an internal memo of all things. And it took me all day to write it. The kind of thing I usually knock off in ten minutes or so with my left hand while filling in the crossword with my right.

Even this space, which I write with such regularity and dedication is hard to come to this morning. That's right, I feel devoid of ideas.

Feeling like this leads me to stare into the abyss. What if this is it? What if some rare parasite that entered my body 42 years ago, unknowingly when I was playing ball and drinking dirty water in the Mexican League, has burrowed its way into my amygdala and is eating away at the very fibers of what's left of my cortex? What if my remaining too many days on this too hot and too sad and too backward planet will be spent on the benches of Upper West Side Broadway, leaning awkwardly to one side and nursing a 75-cent cup of coffee from the one-armed guy from the deli down 89th Street and making a day-old kaiser roll last through lunch while the pigeons peck at the crumbs which fall at my feet. In other words, what if this is it for me, and I've lost it to sullen ill-temper once and for all?

On the other hand, maybe it's just a temporary bout of malaise from going too hard for too long and not having had a day off since January 6th, save for one day in March when I went home sick at two-pm. 

Nevertheless, any one who has had power in their lives, the power to create, the power to have an idea, the power to persuade others, wonders, and perhaps wonders every time, what if this time, it's done and I can do no more?

There's a heavy mist outside and the fog is shrouding some of the skyscrapers I can see in midtown from my work-station. It's still before nine and no one else is in. I have a meeting in ten minutes where, to be honest, I'm sure I won't understand a word of what's going on.

I'm typing this, fearful of reading it back and realizing it's trash. But when I started this blog coming on ten years ago, I resolved to write every day.

If for no other reason than I can.

But, who knows, maybe I can't.
To an Athlete Dying Young

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

Today, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears.

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls

The garland briefer than a girl’s.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Ned Doyle slips.

 19 March 1902
(With spelling and grammar untouched by the editor’s hand.)

“Boot,” I shouted at the Rebbe, “covvy-net or not, yer still cootin’ a wee bairn’s paenis oof. Wut kindoov man, air ye?”

Joost then, es emberrysing as it ‘twere, the dour knooks ooopen and in cooomes the Rebbe’s niece, who I hae’ talked aboot before.

“Woot is gooing oon here?” asks Malka, “I hae been hearing noothing boot alterating larfing and screaming?”

“Ye ooncle,” sez I, “is noothing boot a unmentionable schnipper. He cooots the end oof oov yung bairns!”

Again, the Rebbe commencerates to larfing.

“Ooov course tha’ is wha he dooz. He ezza mohel and it is a religious rittchy-rol.”

“A mohel? Whoo cares hoo far he lives frum his vickytims? He coots the tips a’ thar manhood with a implee-ment of tur-cher.”

“A mohel!” sez she. “Nut a moil. A mohel. Nut a distance like a moil, a ritchy-rol involving the brit-milah, the covvy-net of circus-cision.”

Malka, I moost say, Dear Diary, cood explain to me horse manooer oon a sour pickle and make it sooond appey-tizing. She looked a’ me with her big brooon eyes, “Doon y’ oonderstan?” she said.

“Ah ah, well I do-do-doon know,” stutters I.

“It is noothin berberic,” sez she. “Yer Laird, Jeesus Christ wuz snipped th’ same way. And Ooncle Rebbe gives the bairn soom wine and the tip snips oof like water oof a dooks beck.”

Tha phrase, Dear Diary, ‘the tip snips oof like water oof a dooks beck,’ it fairly sends me a squaerming in the mid-seckshun a’ me  torso. Boot then, I wuz bewitched by Malka’s orbsa brun anni coona protest n’more.

“Issa noo diffrent frum doonkin’ a bairn en water, ez yoo do,” sez Malka.

“Aye, boot bein’ wet dun lasta loiftime, now do it? Whereas the snippin’ a the schmeckl.”

An thar, Dear Dairy, I disgraced me’self, sayin’ a narsty word like schmeckl in frunna a laidy like Malka. Boot, insteada she slappin’ me in me face, she bursts oot larfin’, Dear Diary. Here is whar I stoop fer tha e’een.