western New York

hi de hi de hi de ho

It’s the Saturday after Thanksgiving, 1983, At twenty four years old, I’m on a plane home from Western New York, after having visited some relatives.

I can’t shake the feeling that I recognize that old black guy in front of me as a famous musician. “Duke Ellington?” I wonder. “Count Basie?”

At least one of them’s dead.

There’s a middle-aged couple next to him. The wife asks him, “Are you Cab Calloway?”

My anxiety attack is no more. I heave a sigh of relief.

I overhear Calloway say softly, “That handsome young gentleman back there won’t have to go crazy now.”

Each week Rochelle Wisoff~Fields leads us in Friday Fictioneers, as we write a story based upon a photo prompt.

This week’s photo was supplied by Lucy Fridkin.


snow snow baby

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.









cab calloway’s hat

I recently found a most confusing voicemail message on my cell phone. All I could understand were the words: “I’m sorry. I should’ve told you months ago. Bye.” Eventually I figured out what it was about. In 1981 I flew to western New York to visit some cousins for Thanksgiving. Famous jazz singer and bandleadercabcalloway Cab Calloway was on the plane. The call was from a representative of his estate. His lawyer explained to me that Mr. Calloway was so favorably impressed with what a charming and intelligent young gentleman I was that he (Calloway) intended to leave me something in his will. He planned on leaving me his famous trademark wide-brimmed hat. Because of circumstances beyond his control, however, he somehow neglected to include that specific provision in his will. He did, however, remember to tell all his friends and associates about me. Fortunately he told them quite often about his intention. He died twenty years ago this month. I should have gotten the hat then but it’s very nice to know that the problem has finally been resolved entirely in my favor. I just know that I shall make quite an exceptionally nice impression when I am finally able to wear the long overdue souvenir of such a legendary musical figure.







sometimes hep, sometimes hell

I should like to think that a train station, airport terminal, subway stop, or anyplace else where passengers gather, is somehow an eclectic combination of both a soulless space occupied by distracted, stressed zombies and a magical set for fleeting, interlocking stories within the population of mankind. Since most of the people who pass through these kinds of places are always going to remain absolute strangers to each other, and since they won’t ever end up having any signiIMG_0061ficant contact with one another, in that sense they will always, unfortunately, appear as if they’re a randomly thrown together combination of nameless, lifeless non entities, who are only in the same location for an extremely short time frame, on their way to a common destination.  They have the kind of connection to each other that’s somewhat similar to that of people who are connected only on Facebook, Myspace or Twitter.  They all merely fit into the same category to serve a fleeting purpose. At the same time, however, there can be potentially quite a lot of drama available in such a setting. Very many people with common interests may find themselves in each other’s company.  If, occasionally, someone would presume to strike up a conversation with a perfect stranger in such a setting, they might even end up igniting quite a significant romance, reminiscent of the kinds that happened on shows like “Hotel” and “The Love Boat” (I’m very sorry but I don’t watch very many recent shows).  People are the same all over the world. Up to a certain point it’s not such a very smart idea for anyone  to trust someone he’s just met in that kind of environment.  Although good people can be found everywhere places like that can be populated by all kinds of nasty characters.  Denizens of subway stations are well known for being rather lazy and careless about sanitary habits and social skills in general. Once one gets past all the morons, troublemakers and otherwise lost souls, though, it’s a truly hep place.  If someone were merely to hang around and to listen to the conversations people have in these kinds of places, he would be able to amass, after a short while, quite a significant collection of interesting anecdotes.  Exactly because so many people from so many different environments can be found there, it must be quite a veritable bottomless pit of story telling.  All those otherwise soulless non entities then become store houses of folklore and adventure. Whether by way of simple observation as a disinterested third party, or even by getting actively engaged with the occasional character in a lobby, restaurant or gift shop, anyone at any given time can at least turn an otherwise unbearably boring stressful situation into a reasonably interesting experience. Besides everything else one never knows whom he may meet in this kind of environment.  Once, in the early 1980’s, I even flew to Buffalo on the same plane as jazz musician Cab Calloway.







la di dah day la di dah

I’ve always enjoyed exceptionally warm weather and dreaded the several months of the year when it’s cold. Autumn is, to a certain extent, quite an exceptionally nice experience for me though. At first, when all the leaves start changing colors and orange and black seem to be everywhere, it’s such a fine feeling. I have many decades’ worth of nice memories of Halloween, especially when I was a kid, and Thanksgiving, most significantly when I used always to spend it with cousins in western New York. I remember during my very young days, as far back as Jackson Heights, the weather on Halloween was usually so bitter cold that I was forced to explain to people that somewhere under my fifty layers of heavy clothes was a costume, and that I really was dressed as either the Green Hornet or some other then-current character. Thanksgiving in North Tonawanda, during the 1980’s, was also frequently bitter cold. November can often be exceptionally rainy.  Once the full brunt of autumn settles in, though, it then becomes quite a seriously nasty depressing time for me. The miserable weather and dark gloomy atmosphere have always struck me as  exceptionally frustrating, and are also quite an intense metaphor, for me, of the dark side of life. My mother died during the last week of September and my father died during the first week of November so that adds yet another dark property to the fall.  When I was a kid autumn brought with it the beginning of the school  year, that was always welcome, but as an adult I can count on no such milestone to keep things interesting. Walt Whitman’s poem, “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking,” from “Leaves Of Grass”,  specifically references the ninth month as a symbol of birth. September, the ninth month, is when fall begins.  For me it represents all the good and bad that life has to give. Change has never been easy for me. The positive and negative aspects of fall perfectly reflect the good and bad things in life.





see you in september

When I was still only a youngster, still obligated to go to school, I’d always so thoroughly enjoyed it. Although, of course, it meant having to put a stop to all the uninterrupted enjoyment of summer, going back to school in September was always quite an interesting experience.  The only time I truly let it bother me a little was at the beginning of the seventh grade, when, having moved from Jackson Heights to Lindenhurst, I was forced to spend two weeks in Copiague Junior High School, after which I went to O.L.P.H. in Lindenhurst for the rest of my time in grammar school.  That was only because they were both new to me.  Now that I’m an adult man, my feelings toward the end of the summer each year ultimately amount to mere passive resignation.  Imo’ve always been quite smitten with symbolism and autumn and winter always abound with it. The last few months of each year always  bring with them cold weather and dark gloomy skies.  For a while autumn is quite nice.   I’ve always quite enjoyed Labor Day, Halloween and Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was especially nice when I was in the habit of visiting my cousins in North Tonawanda. Eventually, though, the last few months of the year turn into a seemingly endless succession of mandatory concessions to all sorts of inevitable trouble.   My mother died last September and my father died last November so from now on those times will also have quite a particularly sad twist to them. 





sort of like spoonerisms or what?

Over the years I’ve been known most certainly to have my share of inadvertent gaffes, from the time I heard Z.Z. Top’s “Two Step Boogie” as “Tube Steak Boogie” to the times I’ve answered the phone by saying “Telephone” instead of “Hello”, and the time I pronounced “NOmenclature” as “noMENclature.”  Inappropriate behavior has always come quite naturally to me.    To this very day my cousins from western New York remind me of the times I was visiting  them, mostly during the 1980’s, and had all kinds of missteps involving their dog Muggsy, my polka dotted jammies, and all sorts of other horrendous missteps.   My cousin Vinnie especially likes to talk about his visit to Lindenhurst during the late 1970’s when I sideswiped a school bus on the way to Robert Moses Beach.   Those are just some of the highlights of my lopsided adventures.   Please stay tuned for ever more yet to come.   





ha ha lydia!

This past weekend, for Independence Day, my father’s relatives got together in Hilldale, Pennsylvania, as they have ever since 1961.     My cousin Vinnie, originally from Buffalo, New York but now living outside Raleigh, North Carolina, was there.    He and I, as always, got into one of our more seriously obnoxious moods, rehashing several incidents from our long-ago past.    Ever since we were kids, he and I have shared quite a long series of misadventures every time we’ve gotten together.    Over the course of our lifetimes, we’ve accumulated quite a supply of inside jokes and catch phrases.    Long ago a girlfriend of his claimed that we speak our own language entirely.     We spent the entire past weekend reminding each other of things like the time I side-swiped a school bus on the way to the beach, my polka-dotted jammies, and Lydia and Delfina, the eccentric sisters who, for decades, owned a most unusual candy store on Farrell Street in Hilldale.        Lydia and Delfina are entirely impossible even to try to explain to someone who never met them.    Their store was quite a one-of-a-kind fantasy land, in a world entirely its own.   Even the very best of writers couldn’t possibly even so much as try to invent characters of their ilk.    Vinnie and I did quite an admirable job of revisiting their world and relating all their rollicking misadventures.       Since Vinnie and I have known each other for our entire lives, and our escapades have been in New York, Pennsylvania and Canada, we did quite a significant amount of very intense laughing about all these bygone things, people and circumstances.     Anything that happens anywhere near us inevitably turns, by definition, into fodder for something inexplicably humorous.








still my guitar gently weeps

As everyone knows by now I’ve always been quite irremediably smitten by music in general.     When I was little the Beatles made it unavoidably necessary for everyone who fell under their influence to want to play an instrument.     I have no idea which instrument is my favorite but when I was a kid in Queens,  my friends and I took guitar lessons at one of the local public schools, either P.S. 148 or P.S. 127.    Unfortunately that only lasted for a fairly short time.    In 1980 I finally decided to get a guitar and to learn to play again.    To my chagrin I’ve always had only acoustic guitars.   Although I’ve never learned to play any other instrument, I’ve always been quite smitten with all different kinds of instruments.      One day at O. L. P. H., about ten years ago,  one of the church’s bands was practicing for a while in the sacristy.    A parishioner  named Lou was playing his French horn.   To this very day I can still remember how perfect it sounded.    I’ve also always been quite awe-smitten with the sound of slide guitar on Beatle George Harrison’s “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth) and fuzz bass on his “What Is Life”.      When I used to visit relatives in Buffalo and North Tonawanda, in western New York, during the 1980’s my cousin Vinnie and I used always to play his guitar.    We played quite a rousing version of J. J. Cale’s “Cocaine”, popularized by Eric Clapton, and we played an overwhelmingly memorable version of the Allman Brothers’ “Ramblin’ Man” with a band Vinnie was in for a while.      Then there are all the annual Fourth of July jam sessions.     Steve’s a music teacher and the kids all play instruments too.    Besides that quite a few of my cousins also play instruments.    Cousins Gary and Lanfranco even play the accordion, and the Ronald, when he was young, played the trumpet.    In my world there’s most certainly never been any shortage of exposure to different varieties  of instruments.






my cousin vinnie

Recently I made plans to visit my cousin Vinnie, a policeman in North Carolina.     We’ve always most certainly been quite a colorful combination of characters since we were kids.    An old girlfriend of his once said, decades ago, that he and I speak another language entirely.

Last Saturday morning Steve drove me to La Guardia Airport in Flushing so I could get onto the 10:40 a.m. US Airways non stop flight to Raleigh.   If all had gone according to the way it was planned out my time in the airport would have been relatively short and even somewhat enjoyable.   The flight should have only taken about an hour and thirty five minutes.

Upon arriving at my terminal though, I got some very bad news.    The woman behind the counter at my gate insisted that my flight would have to be delayed for at least six hours due to technical difficulties beyond anyone’s control.    Everyone knows how restless and frustrated I get when I’m subjected to this kind of ordeal.    Of course, thanks to my life’s being the nut house that it is, neither my primitive cell phone nor my digital camera is working either so I can’t even take advantage of them to pass the time.

After my having calmed down a bit, and come up with the presence of mind to accept my sorry lot, I pulled my trusty copy of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” out of my bag and began yet another pointless attempt at reading it.   Bloomsday is coming up in the middle of this month, I reasoned, so the very least I could possibly do, having always been such a total bookworm, is to take advantage of the occasion to try my hand yet again at plowing through a day in the life of Leopold Bloom, Joyce’s protagonist.   My mind inevitably wandered as  I dwelled on the fact that Joyce and Virginia Woolf were both born in 1882 and died in 1941, and that both Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway” and Joyce’s “Ulysses” are set on a single day in the middle of June.   “Ulysses” is set in 1904, on the day during which Joyce and Nora Barnacle first met.   “Mrs. Dalloway” is set in 1923.

Eventually I needed a change of pace so I walked slowly to the nearest concession stand and got a small cup of cappuccino.   Having always been quite a compulsive clock watcher I alternated incessantly between sipping my drink and keeping track of the time.   Outside the windows I could see Citi Field and Flushing Meadow Park.    Being at La Guardia always reminds me of when I was a kid in Jackson Heights, when being so close to Flushing Meadow and Shea Stadium was a perfectly normal reality of my life.

By the time I finished my drink an entire whopping hour and a half had passed since first I showed up.     My mind continues wandering inevitably.    I have a flashback to the autumn of 1981 when I went to North Tonawanda to visit relatives, including Vinnie, for Thanksgiving.   Jazz singer and musician Cab “Hi De Ho” Calloway was on the plane.    One of the nice things about international airports is that one never knows who will show up.    Even though I didn’t get a chance to see anyone famous this time around, I was surrounded, as always under those circumstances,  by quite an eclectically garbed assortment of characters from all over the world.

Of course, I kept on trying to remind myself, this would have been quite an exceptionally interesting self-contained world of its own with everything going for it, if only I could have come here under nicer circumstances.    The fact that I was stranded, though, was really starting to get me crazy.    I couldn’t even take some nice pictures or call somebody.    At least if I could have done something like that I could have felt a bit more comfortable.   Unfortunately when I’m nervous and frustrated I become quite visibly tense and conspicuous.   I can imagine what other people there must have thought of me.    I know it would have been quite an interesting surprise for Vinnie if I could have made the trip.   By the time my six hours was up, though, I was so annoyed I left the airport and came back to Long  Beach.