The school year has ended for St. Gabriel’s in Queens. My father drove us to the Port Authority. My mother, my younger sister Mary Anne, and I are now on our way to my grandmother’s house in northeastern Pennsylvania on a Martz Trailways bus.
For a ten-year-old city kid, all this farmland is amazing. The only sound I hear is Johnny Rivers’ “Mountain Of Love” playing quietly on my transistor radio. I wonder what it’s like to ride a tractor instead of a utility bus. I think I’ll count the cows and horses for the rest of the trip.
Having lived in New York and northeastern Pennsylvania throughout all my lifetime, I’m most certainly quite used, by now, to insane amounts of snow. I’ve also seen lots of it in western New York, including their recent storm, their worst ever. Fortunately, however, I’ve never once been subjected to an avalanche. Were I ever to have to face such a calamity, without hope of being rescued until the next day, I should be forced to think of how relieved I should inevitably be to get out alive. Anxiety often overtakes me so I should have to attempt not to focus on all the first hand circumstances. Perhaps that would be precisely the perfect time during which to indulge my lifelong habit of wallowing in the past. Besides the obvious thoughts of the immediate future, during which I should be able to dwell upon the security of a nice warm environment, I could also think of winters of yore, when even the worst of snowstorms inevitably found me inside someplace, safely awaiting the spring. During the average storm previous to this disaster, I could always expect to be subjected to nothing scarier than shoveling and driving. I wonder if, under those circumstances, I may please be permitted to have in my possession a significant supply of hot coffee, a large cup, and creamer to show for all my troubles. If that were possible, much of my battle could already be won anyway. I could veritably rejoice in the peace and quiet, temporarily isolated from all the disgusting cell phones and pop cultural nightmares. How pleasant it all would be not, at least temporarily, to have to be forcibly reminded, of all the truly atrocious things that are going on these days. That’s having been said, the only truly insurmountable nightmare would be the temperature and other weather problems.
One day recently I wandered, as usual, into a time warp and met 2004 me for coffee. He was happy to see that I still drink coffee so compulsively. He reminded me of what life was like back then, with all its good and bad news. I told him about what was up ahead of him. He was happy to see that I’m still a lay Carmelite. I tried to explain to him that I still have all the same staunchly conservative ideas now as then, but that by now, they’re more fully developed. I gave him the impression that turning fifty didn’t seem to carry with it any major milestones, that the passage of time would, in many ways, leave me neither in better nor worse shape. I explained to him that both my parents died last year and that that left me with quite a few major irrevocable changes in my circumstances. Having lived for much of the past decade in northeastern Pennsylvania gave me some insights into what life in a radically different environment was like. The internet, of course, was quite a major topic of conversation. My younger persona was quite happy to hear of all the advances that were to transpire during the time between then and now. He got a kick out of all the things people have been doing with sites like Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and all the others. He was so happy to know that I’ve been able to keep in touch with all my oldest friends from school for so long. Most certainly, he was quite disgusted when I told him about everyone’s having a cell phone these days. He reminded me of the days when my cousins and I were on the Knights of Columbus’ bowling league, with the Wantagh council and recommended that I get involved in something like that again. He also reminded me that since my anxiety, temper and migraines have mostly subsided into virtual obsolescence, I should by now be hepper than ever.
It’s the Fourth of July weekend in Hilldale, Pennsylvania, and all the local townspeople are having their annual bonfire. My cousins and I have always especially enjoyed it. It’s a nice way for each of us to get out his frustrations and, more importantly, to act stupid in an acceptable context.
My cousins and I have had such an entirely lopsided rapport over the years. The fire is only one representative example of all our odd antics, which, of course, no one else understands. We laugh. We reminisce. We watch strangers burn things. Are we a fun bunch or what?!
Nobody can say that my eating habits have ever been precisely orthodox. Whenever I go to a restaurant, or there are distinctive foods available at either a party, church or workplace, I’m the kind of character who can be counted upon always to go for the really eccentric stuff. I’ve never been concerned about drinking only red wine with meat or white with seafood. I’ve always raised more than most people’s share of eyebrows over the years for my taste in food combinations and toppings. I often put salad dressing on meat. In spite of all the whining I get from others, I highly recommend it. There are many people who just can’t get over my liking ketchup on eggs, though I think it’s a more common practice than they’re willing to admit. Maybe it’s because my parents were both from northeastern Pennsylvania but I’ve always had several seriously offbeat quirks anyway, including some involving food. The weirdest thing I’ve ever eaten may have been a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with pickles. It was quite a very long time ago and I haven’t ever bothered with it even the least bit recently. I can remember having gotten quite a kick out of it. It just occurred to me, as far as I can remember, entirely on an impulse.
Over the course of my lifetime I’ve gotten many compliments about my speaking voice. I’ve often been told that it’s quite distinctive. Once I’ve spoken to someone on the phone at least once he always recognizes my voice, from then on, whenever I call him. Over the course of the past two decades, I’ve always been a lector at the churches I’ve attended. My looks are not necessarily to everyone’s liking but I’ve gotten some compliments about them. It’s hard to say whether I’m forced to cringe more because of a video recording of me, or a recording of my voice. I should have to say, though, that my voice has such a distinctive quality about it that it always leaves me quite seriously taken aback. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find a video of me that would a representative example of my appearance. You can, however, very easily see my profile picture on my blog. I have a youtube video, though, that demonstrates quite clearly the offbeat nasal timbre of my speech. Ever since I was a kid, during the days of reel to reel and cassette tape recorders, I’ve always noticed that my voice has a one of a kind property to it. My parents were both from northeastern Pennsylvania and I was raised in Queens and on Long Island. Because of that, especially in my young days, I had an accent that was a combination of both places. As far as I can see my speech and appearance are like an underground cult movie or musical group. Not everyone can figure them out but there are people who find them quite exceptionally hep.