Posts Tagged ‘true story’
This is an underpass. It’s on 167th St in the Bronx and runs under the Grand Concourse. We lived in a block of 6-storey red-brick apartment buildings a few blocks away and this was where we shopped. It really hasn’t changed much since I lived there back in the early 60’s. Deep discount shops, fast food, bars, second run movie houses – chain link fences, barbed wire, guard dogs, alarms. Not a very nice place to gow up to be honest – but I didn’t really know that then.
My movie theatre was there – The Kent Theatre – full of dreams and all the other places in the world. My pizza joint, where the jukebox had the Beatles and Herman’s Hermits and The Supremes and my Chinese Restaurant with real Chinese people – all of which totally directed me to exactly where I am now. Fortunately, I left when I was 7-going-on-8 and didn’t go back until November last year – so I didn’t notice all the drugs and related violence also going on there.
But back to this tunnel… you can see that the sidewalks have been sealed off and there is no pedestrian access. Not so 50 years ago, when my mother would give me a dollar to walk up to her favourite bakery on the other side of the Concourse to buy her favourite cake. It was a six block walk to get to the other side, 4 of them in the underpass. Dark, filthy, smelt of urine and and vomit and rotting food. Sometimes I had to walk around a sleeping drunk or bum (back before they were renamed homeless). I was terrified of everyone coming toward me or coming up behind me. Frightened of the rats and the cars careening past and of losing the money or dropping the cake… I walked tough, with clenched fists, totally ready to take on anyone that messed with me. No one ever did…
I’ve walked through a few tunnels in my life that later proved to be metaphorical and utterly transforming… This was the first.
I am endlessly fascinated by the palm tree. Though it is pretty standard in warm climates, I originated from a very cold climate and rarely saw an actual palm other than on television. And come to think of it, since we didn’t get a TV until I was 14 and my brother refused to let anyone else watch without his permission (he kept a loaded BB gun on his lap to enforce this policy) I’m not sure I saw any there, either. Other than a couple of forays to Florida, which involved more theme parks and contrived attractions than actually exploring the landscape, I didn’t really get up close and personal with a palm until I arrived in New Zealand.
The first time I saw a bloom, it was laying on the ground and I could not figure out what it was or where it came from. Later I saw them sprouting from the sides of the trunk and made the connection. This here is a bud in the late afternoon sun. It’s rather enormous, at least half a metre (20 inches). I just love everything about it…
Not sure where I got my love of monkeys. I used to hate them. Loathe them.
Not all of them. Or even some of them. Just one. I hated just one monkey. But I hated him enough for all monkeydom.
His name was Peanut. We got him when I was around 13, on a family holiday to Florida for a winter break. Back in the days when you could go into a dodgy pet shop and buy a squirrel monkey and a baby alligator and stick them in cages and drive them back to Dorloo in upstate New York, where the snows were several feet deep and the temperatures generally fell below freezing by December and didn’t let up until March or even April. Back in the days when a family would acquire a couple of new exotic pets, knowing that they were headed for certain death – but it didn’t matter because it would be fun!
The Alligator (cleverly dubbed Alley Gator) did indeed succumb within a few weeks, froze to death in my very bedroom one night when the furnace used up its allotment of oil and the temperature plummeted, so there was a fine veneer of ice on the water in the metal cage where he lived. I felt a bit bad, but I tossed the baby alligator in the kitchen rubbish and brought the cage down to the basement. He was only in my room because it was warmer than the other kids’ rooms.
Peanut, on the other hand, thrived. He took to life in our mad household in Dorloo as if it were his natural environment. The entire house was his playground and the other occupants – his minions. He was fond of dogback rides atop our vicious German Shepherd, Rolf; murdered a litter of kittens by hauling them one by one to the top of the bookcase and tossing them to their deaths; and ate the same food we did – while we were eating it.
We had a large round lamp hanging over the dining table, with a translucent white centre column which housed the bulb, and large blue and green clear plastic panels surrounding it (only made in the 70s…). The panels far enough apart that a small-ish monkey could easily leap up and get in and out of. (Sort of like this one, but think 70s blue-green plastic). Peanut liked to climb inside the panels and snuggle up to the bulb column to keep warm. It didn’t take him long to figure out how to get the lamp swinging, or how to hang by his feet while it swung giving him access to the length of the table. He would simply snatch whatever he wanted off anyone’s plate. Hold onto your pork chop! The butter always had grubby little monkey hand-prints on it, where he’d snatched a bit to lick off his fingers. He’d grab his booty and them climb back up into the lamp and eat it, throwing the unwanted bits back onto the table.
We didn’t have many dinner parties, and if someone was staying for dinner, Ma would lock Peanut into my little sister’s bedroom (where he would trash the place, screaming and banging and demanding his freedom.)
Peanut had a thing about peeing on the stove. He thought the electric burners made excellent squat toilets and regularly used the two back burners. Nothing would seem amiss – you’d put the kettle on then go upstairs to do something and within a few moments the entire house was filled with the gagging stench of burnt monkey urine and cries of “Peanut peed on the stove again!” And then the mad scramble to turn to burner off and cool it down by throwing water directly on the burner, which created a cloud of burnt monkey urine steam…
I hated Peanut.
Peanut didn’t dare come into my room -not when I was there. But every once in a while, one my sisters or brother would break in and leave the door open when they left, and Peanut would dash in and throw everything off my dresser and table onto the floor and break whatever he could. Occasionally he’d leave a bit of monkey-business on my bed.
No, Peanut was not poopy-potty-trained. Nor did he wear diapers. He just went wherever he wanted – which is of course fine for monkeys in the jungle but… He did have some control. He could sniff out my shoes from the line in the entranceway to the house, pick them out every time and have a squat and do his business, so when I went to leave in the morning there’d be one or two piles of monkey business waiting for me.
I hated him, hated him, hated him and wished he was dead.
My mother on the other hand, adored him, loved him, cuddled him, kissed him and let him sleep in her hair at night. (Rolf, the German Shepherd slept on the other side of her, with his head on his own pillow.) She thought Peanut could do no wrong, he was just a cute little monkey.
And one day, about two years after we had got him, on a bright spring day, Peanut died. Got diarrhea and by the time my mother got him to the vet, he was gone.
I was not sad. I did not cry or even pretend, though there was much wailing and sobbing elsewhere in the house. I hid in my room listening to Grand Funk Railroad, amazed at how relieved I was that he was gone. Peanut was over.
But now I love monkeys. Almost as much as bulls. And they love me. (Well, except for the deranged squirrel-type monkey I ran into in Malaysia a few years back. I moseyed on over with my camera and he started screeching and screaming and baring his teeth and generally threatening me. Peanut reincarnated??? Could be.)
I suppose… I suppose Peanut may have been a rite of passage. Sure, I can write about him and try to describe it – but to truly understand, I think you had to be there.
The fellow in the photo – adorable, ain’t he???
Hard to believe there still are pony rides! Putting a child on the back of an animal that might do anything! My word… However do they get insurance? Actually, I doubt this particular ride is properly insured as this was at the gypsy fair I went to summer past. I’m pretty sure insurance is not a gypsy sort of thing, though this lot were hardly as rough and tumble as the gypsies I encountered in Italy. They left me feeling rather witless and vulnerable.
But back to the pony ride – the child seems so passive and the pony so benign. Rather a shame few kids will have this simple little pleasure.
Of course… what I am NOT talking about is the first time I rode a pony when I was ten. And my brother’s friend decided to spook him as soon as I got on. Things did not go well as he tore down the dirt road, me holding on as long as I could before I fell onto the road, scratching, scraping and cutting my legs and arms. I cried and cried. And then, the adults (what utter idiots they were!) tried to make me get back on the pony. He was as terrified as I was. It did not go well.
My next time getting on a horse was three years later – and the person putting the saddle on did not do it properly and when I put my foot in the stirrup to mount, the whole arrangement slipped and slid, and I ended up under the horse. Yeah, that was actually scarier than the falling off the pony.
I pretty much swore off equines after that (though there is a photo of me on horseback at 14 somewhere…). I liked them well enough, but riding – nah, not for me. Until I met my friend Leanne when I was 21. She was mad for horses and insisted I go riding with her on Saturday mornings when she had her English riding class. It was pure love… more fun than I ever thought possible. Went whenever I could for several years, after Leanne had moved away and we lost touch. But then the children came, and the mortgage, and the work and the time and the never enough money… And now… it seems to late… and I’m much too big for a pony ride.
They’ve dimmed the lights
getting ready to land
service staff buckled down
can’t see me pull out my camera,
start clicking, clicking down the sci-fi lights,
like some Twilight Zone episode
where I’m holding my breath,
Waiting for that thing
You know, the thing
that tormented William Shatner,
sitting in his youthful beauty
beside his slender generic wife
elegant in a slim fitting suit
oblivious to him there
spying the monster on the wing.
Difference is I’m not afraid of the monster
I’ve glimpsed him
every now and again,
ducking away as soon as he spies me.
Observing things changes
the way they behave.
We can live with monsters quite nicely.
We’ve just got to keep an eye on them.
I’ve got eyes.
All kinds of eyes
to see all kinds of things.
I’m paying attention.
Even if you are not.
Even if you are sitting quietly
in your seat
in the dimmed cabin
waiting for the plane to land.
My poor mother – you’d think from listening to some of her children, that she’d got EVERYthing wrong, not most things or some things, but the whole lot. Hmmm… she definitely got some things right – but there’s not much percentage in telling folks about how right and normal and ordinary your childhood was (not that I had more than ten minutes of a right, normal and ordinary childhood.)
But even when my mother did try to get it right, I think we pretty much just ignored her. And I can speak for the four of us on this, as I was the oldest and the ‘good’ one, so if I was ever bad, the other three were three times badder, or nine times badder because I am pretty sure the badness of bad kids inbad families is exponential, not linear – especially when you belonged to one of those families on the wrong side of the tracks, down past the swamp. With too many dogs. And fighting. And loud music. The neighbours still complained – and we lived 12 miles out of town on a dirt road.
I had multiple personalities then, rather like a properly insane person might have, except mine all had a specific function and were basically under some semblance of self-control. There was the McLaughlin kid, which meant there was fighting, screaming and all the things being simply savage involved – totally in the moment stuff. Heart stoppingly exciting and fun, except for the fat lips and bruises. But running through the woods in the dark, while being chased by someone who might have a gun, sure gets the adrenalin pumping. Then there was the weird, quiet girl – the one reading Dostoevsky and listening to music and dreaming of escape to someplace, anyplace that didn’t have all that crazy business. Sometimes she’d despair and do things she still doesn’t admit to because you weren’t allowed to talk about them – not then, and still, not now. Well, you could, but some people would feel sorry for you which is just yuck, and some would try to help, which is ick, and others would say it’s time to get over it, which is ugh. BTW, she IS over it and so am I, so talking about it would just make other people react. Oh and the last one was Little Miss Perfect. She got straight As and her teachers loved her and she had a great future ahead of her. She even got to be pretty in high school. But she wasn’t totally perfect because the other two would leap out from time to time (always an inappropriate time) and spoil things.
It occurs to me now the most tumultuous years were the ones when I first went out on my own, trying to integrate those three mini-mes into one regular all-purpose me. It’s still a work in progress, of course and what I wouldn’t give to have a wee chat with those girls I used to be. Mostly I’d just let them know it would all turn out great, but there’d be some crap to deal with and some dark days too, but they were practicing for that now. But I’d tell them to get in a little more mischief, misbehave a little more. And for Little Miss Perfect to stop thinking she was the boss.