Reflections

The humidity was visibly laying in a wall of fog that reflected off car headlights as I drove to the rink along the canal at five in the morning .

When the temperature is lower than the dew point, the atmosphere has an uncomfortable chill; that, positively sticky skin yet with a chill that can grow to a shiver, demanding no coat or cover, however demands a car’s air conditioning.

At such an hour though it also requires an espresso clutched in my cold fingers. I sip, standing before the chained door. I wait like the padlock to be freed and drop down the stairs into the dressing room.

The ice rink glass was fogged by the humidity in the building.  The panes of glass sweat clear streams of water downward, since they could not freeze in the warm air.

This morning dressed in goaltender gear, I stepped through the door already sweating from the slight exertion to proceed to the far end, my net. Solitary. Team-less. An exercise in tenacity and spirit for which there’s no reward.

As the skaters churned up the air, spinning, deeking, colliding about the ice, I saw their various reflections come clearer – a mosaic of movement on the glass, and as their motion moved air, it reduced the fog from the panes.

Like ghosts, I watched them in the mirrors of glass.  They multiplied, solitary figures became two, three, merging with others as they triangulated on the ice.

I heard a voice behind me say my name. Twice. But the play was at the other end. I glanced back to my right, then behind the net. Emptiness. My eyes were drawn upward. Empty grandstand though briefly, a figure. A skinny man, whose vestige then disappeared.

In months past, I’ve seen an older man standing by the railing at the other end of these grandstands, though I knew he was not really there. A figure that did not move for minute upon minute, gone once I had moment to glance again after stopping multiple shots on my goal.

At moments I’ve thought it my father, twenty-five years deceased. My biggest fan, supporter.  He had never seen me play hockey. I’d seen that smile. Perhaps he was there again, as he was always in my youth. Smiling. Beaming.

It’s been recurring. I’ve rationalized it another ghost, whose soul rested at the rink perhaps his greatest love. He has stood there motionless many mornings.

The voice returned to say my name but I ignored it as the swirling reflections to my right multiplied, even though the boys were playing at the other end.

It was a projection of boys turned men now perhaps ghosts. Reflections of youth, which we no longer possess I was thinking as suddenly a half-dozen skaters barreled toward me like life, or maybe death were chasing, chasing our youth from our aging bones.

A Terrible Trajectory

broken glass

In the 21st Century, there is really no rational justification to promote defeated propositions of racial, or for that matter, religious superiority.

As the German bastard son, I’m acutely aware of a trajectory in American society’s perception of Fascism, in particular, German Fascism; that, most iconic, misguided fascination with “modern” racial superiority.

My introduction to America, schoolboys – the Baby-Boom in late adolescence, it was eye-opening.  Once identified as German, I was routinely machine gunned down in pantomime and spittle in schoolyards for years. (40 odd years later, it was no revelation when my long lost blood-sister shared similar experiences upon her immigration.)

(For context, Viet Nam was still a work in progress. Immigration a tepid “altWhite”. Civil Rights another man’s problem.)

It had been only twenty years since, in Hunter Thompson’s term, the “bad German” had been exorcised. A lot of “winning” was still enjoyed. Yet for me, it was a most ignoble –  frankly bullied introduction to my new alien status as a loser in the land of the free.

(It took another decade before enjoying Thompson’s post-war “Good German”.)

But boys will be boys.  Fast forward 50 years, the arc of American Society has become distorted as young white males, the descendants of my schoolboy acquaintances promote analog policies; that, I can only defer they believe is a “good NAZI”?

Built upon the blood and sacrifice of others, winning can easily be contagious over generations unaware and exceedingly displaced from the dirty work, the conflict.

Excuse me but I am dumbfounded to witness a controversy fundamentally revolving on the question, are some card-carrying racists “nice”?

Look, there are no “nice people” among their ranks, yesterday or today.  The use of  words steeped in NAZI ideology such as “blood and soil”, “Sieg Heil” or in race-baiting – “Jews will not replace me” should be obvious to rational people.

So abdominal,  sensible world leaders outlawed the use of these symbols and slogans in their countries once ravaged by the racial agenda.

assembly

The location that these “nice people” assembled was more signal than smoke screen. Rather than addition by subtraction, this protest sought numbers and to double down, as they assembled at an iconic symbol of failed American succession, mixing in the slogans and paraphernalia of  “Brown-Shirts” on Kristallnacht.

I’ve known this all my life as intimidation.

I’ve witnessed American youth evolve from shooting me, the imaginary NAZI in their midst to, later, deferring violence upon me solely because “You’re German. We won’t beat you up” as I rejected their White Power ideas at punk rock shows. (“You know we’re right”, they’d conclude. “Right” – a word steeped in German nuance.)

And, now, late in life I see them empowered, glorifying in the symbols of the “bad German”, acting out like the loser Nazi, justifying it under the valor of loser secessionists.

This is not a platform to return to “winning”, no, quite the opposite.

An astounding, terrible trajectory.

Vanishing Point

It’s a cold 39 or is it 39 days since I saw the Sun

My incision aches though the knots of flesh removed

My heart pained at the emotional knot of by my eldest child

A knot in my throat squeezes tight

There’s no air in my lungs to sooth my youngest suffering some virus

This cloud of ailments arrayed against my vision

A hearse passes by thankfully with out-of-state plates

We are all on our way

to some thing, somewhere

years or days maybe hours away

yet it seems without end

The respite is a moonless night

Spring is still not here today

The cardinal and the woodpecker don’t know

The gurneys sit jealous of them both

The sky a grey steel blanket above

It weeps cold drips of chilling reminder

The crocus purple and white know not to celebrate

They sense the failure of the daffodil and tulip

My pulse pounds down my shin in the knot that’s my ankle

I pace a cure for a sick child

Jack White blares in the aisle

Why is cauliflower five dollar per head

Fruit is cheaper anyway

I will buy it instead

Steady as you go

Fruit Suet and Seed

Spring is still not here today

The Roar of the Night

It’s assuredly late August. I just successfully escorted several crickets out of the house.

With such altruism I assure another evening, another year next of late summer night song.

Over the summer, weeding, pruning, I watch them grow, as I uncover their shade from brutal July sun. Like a farmer, a gardener knows these cycles from working the earth. The symbiotic rhythm of life.  These welcome signs confirm again that a cycle will not be broken. Nature is bigger, greater than any one person, any specie.

It also reminded me of a lovely editorial I read a decade or more ago in the New York Times. It comes to mind every late August. I’d like to share it here:

In 1899, Dr. Robert Thaxter Edes, a Harvard graduate and Civil War veteran, noted that “the tree cricket does not say much in the daytime.” Dr. Edes was trying to calibrate the change in the pitch of a tree cricket’s note as the temperature changes. F.H. Hall, writing in 1912, was more specific. The song is “a clear mellow whistle resembling the words treat, treat, treat, pitched about in C, two octaves above middle C, on a warm evening rising to D.” One species sings a half pitch higher and another “about F# on an average summer evening.”

The ensemble of those songs is what I hear these late summer nights. It is uproarious, a universal stridulation, as Dr. Edes might put it.  Unlike the first insect songs of summer, which come from the pasture grasses, the chorus of the tree crickets rises all around me, from bushes and from high in the maples and hickories. It sounds as though they are letting their songs fall from space.

It is, of course, not a true song, but the rasping together of wings held straight up from the body. For all I know, they could be playing tiny panpipes. The darkness seems to exult with song, and I find myself fearing the day when the sun will go down upon silence.

This chorus sounds like the end of a season, and yet it sounds like the start of one, too. It fills the night like a marsh full of spring peepers, whose ringing peep is said to be at E and F, four octaves above middle C. Nature may not intend this symmetry, but I can’t help liking it.

It’s encouraging to think that all this night song now will result in tree-cricket eggs that wait through the winter before hatching – the source of next summer’s singing.  Encouraging, too, to know that only undisturbed tree crickets sing. All is well as long as the night keeps roaring.

Exposure & Aperture: Stories in Focus

I woke suddenly with a knee buried in my back, a size 12 boot on my head.

It’s fortunate I’m a “belly sleeper” because the weight of that policeman could’ve broken bones, caused internal injury. It was unfortunate that this vacant 1920s stucco Hollywood bungalow had been sold at auction that afternoon to a LAPD Captain, so said his street soldier, pressing my face deep into that filthy carpet one evening in 1986.

I’d been mistaken for friends, who squatted this property just a few doors off Melrose. (Earlier they had been) “told to get out of here”, screamed the policeman, as his partner flung me by the handcuffs off the floor crashing into a wall.

Prone, head and neck propped against the wall, I could now see four  LAPD Hollywood Division patrolmen as I proclaimed, “those were my friends (not me)!”

max_hands up

A well groomed, mustached officer reached down, grabbed my throat and banged my head against the wall for the insolence. I was guilty but only of being homeless.

Within that year my longtime uxralocal relationship fell apart. Not only losing a girlfriend , I had also lost the one-room shack dwelling on her father’s property.

It was all my undoing. As “only-children” will, I’d been selfish. Worse, I’m the bastard son – look at me wrong, it was a fight or I was trying to bed you, mix with alcohol and stir (best not shake). I was fully employed, even mid-management by title. However, without first, last and security deposit, I couldn’t acquire an apartment.

As I flew from wall to wall, I understood the consequences of my actions, being exposed “on the street”. I could only afford to recuse myself on weekends at sketchy Sepulveda Boulevard motels.  My sleepy sanctuary – a flimsy dead-bolt door well worth investment, because on the street, you’re subjected to unanticipated drama and danger.

max_motel 86

Trying to catch my breath, I answered their inquiry regarding work.  Mistakenly I added that I was also a part-time Graduate student at CalState LA which doomed me to further abuse since I declared my major in Jurisprudence: “Oh! we have a lawyer here”, one said to the others.

And as one violently spun me by my handcuffs toward another, he tore my shirt exposing blood running down by left arm.

Earlier that day as I walked down Melrose toward Vine, an anonymous black two-door LeSabre likewise eastbound, windows down, fired a shot.

In a second my senses captured the muzzle sound, a barrel retreating into the LeSabre and sharp pain. In that fluid shocking moment, I pulled my jacket down.  Buried in my bicep was a projectile, the slimmest edge of a pellet exposed when I wiped away blood. My thick, old school biker leather slowed the disc. I could squeeze and tweeze it by fingernail from my arm.

It was shoot a freak Friday for some suburban kids in mommy’s car.  My orange, raggedy Andy hair a beacon for these pellet rifle toting toughs. Hours later, still bleeding, it was exposed to these LAPD toughs.  At the story, they howled, “Ahh! He’s a victim.

In 30 years since that day on one street in America, victims are still victimized. Nothing’s changed except there are now handheld cameras to testify to trespasses, be they black, Blue, brown or white.

Even then, the aperture and exposure to a public with their experience, creating their truth, their disposition enhanced by the guile and craft of their advocates, it dims the optics; that, what you see, it really is not what you see. Let me tell you what you see and share.

On the Periphery of Life

I took the Paris Metro to an underground garage to rent a car in the Place des Ternes.

It’d been a chaotic week in Paris enjoying the sights with thousands of foreign visitors who came for the European Football Championship.  My family tired traveling by foot.  It was time to drive into the countryside.

Driving in Paris is chaotic. Since I drive Boston, I was possessed to drive directly to the Arc de Triomphe for a wicked spin in its massive rotary. As I repeatedly screeched to halt at the veering Mercedes and Citrons, my joy transcended to the idea, I can get used to this.

Fun aside, my wife’s texts requesting an ETA brought me back to reality. My family was in the lobby of the condominium over in the thickly settled, one-way streets of the 17th arrondissement.

We had walked several evenings North to the Avenue de Clichy. My youngest, Lily and I walked there for a Metro station to Saint-Denis for the Germany Poland Match at the Stade de France (the suburb from which the jihadi cell resided who executed the November atrocity).

As one journeys along Avenue Clichy, one notices the population become more racial diverse, Middle Eastern, North African. I found that path with surprising ease; well, navigating was easy the traffic thoroughly congested.

The car loaded, I followed the trajectory of the Metro – station names I recalled from Match night.

I knew there was a Périphérique on the way to Saint-Denis. Paris has multiple travel bands, “Périphérique“, which ring the city; that, Americans might call “Beltways”.  They make movement easier, eliminating cross town travel, street gridlock.

I’m blessed with a German acuity, an intuitive, natural GPS that seldom fails me, and once again, didn’t let me down. Because as traffic worsened, I knew we neared the “Boulevard Périphérique“. Our escape was imminent.

Then my eyes spotted a makeshift settlement of tents and canopies. It was blocks long.

I grew up in Los Angeles. I’m familiar with homeless enclaves of refrigerator boxes, canvas covered street squats, the adept no cost shelter of the poor, the displaced.

Syrian refugees 2

June had been an exceptionally overcast, wet and windy cold month.

The rain fell every day during our stay and this makeshift community built along the frontage street of the Périphérique was wet, mildewed and as dreary as the steel sky.

As we crept toward the on-ramp, we saw the human element under the corrugated roofs, tarps and tents. Tanned old men, browned, unshaven, grey beard stumble contrasting with their light, dead, staring eyes, they sat paralyzed on jersey barriers.

Behind them between the rows of shelters, children played safely from traffic. Old ladies walked up traffic lanes, Syrian passports raised in hand, pressing them to each drive-side car window begging for Euros.

Younger men, fathers held hand-written cardboard signs. In French they read, “we are Syrians. Please help us eat today”.  My wife fought tears.  In a daze at this sad visage,  I entered the Périphérique – the wrong direction.

I exited immediately.  Returning along the other frontage, there was a parallel settlement of hundreds, perhaps thousands of families along a periphery of life.

Syrian refugees Paris

 

 

Living The Obverse and Reverse

Yesterday I reacted to a reading of The Obverse and The Reverse by Albert Camus by saying “[The] poor only have the sky and stars”; that, “their wealth are in dreams.”

Within hours I was told of my cousin, Michael’s untimely death. As I contemplate, again,  the happenstance that befalls us – consciousness, breath, life, I see our undeniable life parallels, too obvious to deny; front and back trajectory.

At this moment I recognize again there is greater pain in life than poverty.

He and I grew up in poverty. Poverty is physical. Like hunger, palpable, though it can be solved.  A simple dream be it food, shelter, security. These can ease poverty.

When there are no dreams, there is no ease to this life. One sees no cure. One is exposed to deep psychological bankruptcy greater than any material hardship. Deep existential pain, worse than hunger or physical want, a search for definition, a basis for hope.

As dreams disappear I sense live ends at some quickened metric to the detachment.

My cousin was a kind, gentle heart. He, as I, did not know paternal fathers. He was born and suffered of a dysfunction of his mother’s consequence. Addiction, turmoil, perhaps also not of her making, as likely as was my teen mother, however, their dreams were lost to some sad collision of truths.

Camus might inject that I was bestowed “une grâce sans prix” –  a priceless grace when an  incidental moment; that, moment of truth, my mother could not nurture another baby in a fatherless house with other fatherless siblings, who also deserved dreams.

And in giving me away to strangers, they the most honorable, I could have dreams and, by chance, she could dream again.

A gamble of faith or resignation to truth to resurrect hope. An acute difficult decision that likewise could end tragically but did not for the reverence to life of those strangers, who pledged to become my parents .

This was the grace not afforded Michael, though there had been lessons taught twice of his mother, when she birthed and struggled twice before him. For whatever reason – love, selfishness, the hollow promise of an unworthy man, who she never disclosed to her son, her pain was so unbearable, she chased each day with some sedation or illusion. She focused upon and pacified her pain, neglecting the dreams for her children.

Left on their own device, through 52 years Michael’s pain and anger was never absolved. His priceless grace was bestowed on a baby girl that, though when found not biologically his, he did not abandon. He gave as much heart and soul to embrace as was possible under the duress of a lifetime of torment.

Michael Natalie

Though he could not further dream, he gave that baby dreams and his brother, who fought through these terrible circumstances, will carry those dreams forward.

For this twisted corollary, on this Memorial Day, Michael’s uncle, my decorated father, Max and I are proud of him for his compassion, heart and honor battling fate. He is at peace at last.

 

The Kalends of My February

written February 11, 2016

“… I certainly don’t expect you to understand”, I spat back at my long lost sister. “You call it ‘happenstance’; that, Jesus is the reason.”

“Well that’s nonsense. He was just a man. A good man thrust upon a small world of illiterate shepherds. Alone he dared, did his best, as I’ve dared and made the best. But I will not work myself into an early grave or nervous breakdown” like your son or husband.

“I can easily be called a piss poor German for this work ethic. I am guilty as charged with an abandoning indifference toward Revolution. But it’s all accidental – birth, education, property. An accidental capitalist. Accidental husband. Accidental landlord. I was just making best of an accident.”

When you haven’t known your sibling for 47 years, there’s no time for antecedents, details.  It demands candor. No synopsis or Cliff Notes. Timidity wastes time. Time we do not have.

“Gosh if someone heard us they might think this is a fight”, Jutta injected, “but I wish [my son] could be more like you… me too”, she admitted.

jesssus

 

“I’ve conquered childish fears and fables” although my desires and demons remain challenging. Still I’ve navigated virtually alone, indigent with the winds usually blowing in my face, rarely at my back.

Schwesti, we’ve survived” but unwittingly our success crowds our lives with influences that will be our death. We’ve anointed the  Kalends of our February that draw us to the ides of our March.

On queue Jutta announced her son had his fifth baby last night, filling her “with joy and thanksgiving to [her] father in heaven who blessed this undeserving woman with such a great family.”

As bastards of Occupation, I see again our shared reality, contradictions: undeserving, we were adrift yet found an enriched path leading us toward death. (A death she desires.)

I am proud of her. Happy she has Jesus.  Happier I had a man who wanted to be a father. Staff Sergeant Maxwell Horace Pennock, USA. The same United States Army that created Jutta and me; that, brought the unknown “swinging dicks” to conqueror and occupy our hometown.(“Don’t you want to know who they are?”, she’s asked. “No! They got what they wanted and went home to their wives and lives”, I reply.)

Long a societal stigma, being fatherless is demeaning. You disguise it yet must own it.  My sister thankfully had a twin, was not given away. She found a father in Jesus.

The grace of age has allowed me to recognize the impact and importance of  male elders. In a world now with so many fatherless children, they’re essential.Three men formed the rails that guided this little engine that would down an improbable path.

accidental

Though my father’s last breath was long ago yesterday, he nurtured me through adolescence. Another, born long ago this very day, he unleashed my imagination. My third elder, an octogenarian survives –  this his birth month. Though he’d refute it,  he was my accidental mentor. He pushed me out the door of youth into a big world that – due to no one’s fault, I had closed in adolescence.

All three antithetical of the other, they taught tenacity and obedience, guile and defiance, calculation and risk. By the springtime of my life, I fought lessons, as bastards often do. Never pretty, I flailed and failed.  Unlike the man that I never knew they did not abandon me.

Now without elders, I recognize that I am an elder, as all good men must embrace.

Personally I fight sorrow yet it’s outweighed by tremendous thanks, even if they knew not what they did.

 

 

 

This is Not News

This is not news.  It was once News. Documented. There are photographs.

December 1979, the Soviet leadership of Russia intervened  in an insurgency over their border. Russia has big borders. The Islamic Revolution was on their border in Iran. The Revolution needed to stay in Iran. They acted.

Jimmy Carter reacted. In many ways.  He brought back the Selective Service registration – preamble to conscription, the Draft, suspended after Viet Nam.

Any young man 18-25 born after January 1960 was required to register or face penalties.

Born prior to that date, I was exempt and went down to the Post Office to protest, leaflet, persuade young men against registering until properly counseled, consider options. With all the reaction to the Soviet “invasion”  I could react within boundary.

USPO

Some young men came to register while a steady stream of citizens wished to ignore me. Courteous but, it seemed my conscientiousness was less important than a Federal education grant or other financial aid to these young men.

A man walking with a cane asked, “can I hang out with you awhile?” He said, he was crippled in Viet Nam. Quietly he sat on the wall saying, he wished someone was there when he registered. He watched as I couldn’t close appeals, dejectedly closing “then sign ‘under duress of penalty’.”

After he left, a late model Lincoln Continental stretched to the curb. I offered a leaflet to this middle-aged housewife as she walked inside. When she returned, she berated me about World War II. As she retreated she spat at me. There was name-calling all day.

Later a paraplegic veteran lent support. He too drafted, a single enemy round sentencing him to a wheelchair. Yet they continued to register.

As a young man this was action. I wanted more.

The coming morning, of all people in a small dusty central California cowboy town, a Hungarian immigrant approached, veins erupting on forehead, in neck. He dove nose-to-nose, yelling about Russians; how, when he was a child, they drove tanks into Budapest. People died and disappeared.

Intellectually, I stuck to the Peace narrative; that, a new multi-polar world required new reactions to old Cold War narratives. Emotionally I feared we were coming to blows. (I had heard over night likeminded locals were showered by yellow paint cans at a Post Office.)

Surviving that interaction, a young Episcopalian priest joined me in the afternoon.  His collar defused reactionary aggression.

Another middle-aged woman with a familiar accent approached. She told how her two sons, who were not citizens had been required to register and were drafted to Vietnam.

I asked if she was German. She was. As her light blue eyes watered highlighted her withdrawn face, she explained they were killed in action; that she regretted not saving them by leaving.

I thought of her a moment ago when I saw on social media the story of a Guatemalan mother.  Her sons enlisted and killed in Iraq. She is now being deported because, like her dead sons, she’s undocumented. I thought of these mothers. Of many mothers. The thread of motherly pain.

As an older man I feel pain acutely. Now my protest, how I wish I’d never returned to that post office.  Human struggle is difficult to bear, especially up close. The weight of these people’s pain, unnecessary, unbearable, I was injected with it.

It’s difficult enough to carry one’s own weight through life. But after all these years, these stories, this is not news.