Fire and Rain

First some words  from James Taylor:

I’ve seen fire and  I’ve seen rain.

I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end.

I’ve seen lonely days when I could not find a friend,

But I always thought that I’d see you again.

Maybe it’s no more than that time of life when these things happen, but tonight, biking home from work along the Hudson River with the sun low  enough to the horizon to make me squint, I discovered myself thinking about Alvin Perry.  Here’s Al at the old  Tap-a-Keg where I used to play 8 ball afternoons with sanitation workers for tequila shots.  Probably ’66 or even ’67.

Al and I worked nights at a bar called The Annex on Avenue B between 10th and 11th back in the fall of 1965.  Al was a bartender and I, right there at the end of the bar, was the short order cook.  And short the order was: hamburgers, cheeseburgers, fried chicken and french fries.  You want something else?  Go somewhere else!

I had been listening to jazz for maybe 10 years by that time.  Al brought me to it live and with persons.  Al came up to New York from Philly at about the same time as John Coltrane and Lee Morgan and McCoy Tyner and the Heath Brothers and Hank Mobley and Stanley Clarke and Wilbur Ware and that whole, utterly incredible host of forefront musicians who set us on fire.  He knew them, so I met them and, of course, cooked burgers and chicken for them.  And there was Ellen Powell (, not that much later Ellen Powell Tiberino, but even then committed to Joe Tiberino, another artist.   She the Philly artist who let me know that art, like jazz, was made by people.

Here’s one of Ellen’s school days drawings.  She wasn’t that long out of school, and it was all I could afford at the time.

And Harold Feinstein (, my first photography teacher.  Al introduced me to him and, now that I think of it, to photography.  Al was my guide, my guru, my ambassador.  Somewhere around the time I left the Lower East Side for the Upper West side he left too, moving to the Southwest.  I don’t remember where.  I surely missed the man, but life was busy, and I was growing so full of myself that there was no need for a guru.  Still I always thought that I’d cross paths with Al Perry again.

Imagine two old men sitting over drinks trying to remember various women’s names and the ASAs of Tri-X, Plus-X and Panatomic-X.

That is until I got a call from Wesley.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I love Wes.  Even though we haven’t seen each other in maybe a decade and even though Wes’ role in my life has been twice  to inform me of demise.   (

Anyhow (and as you’ve undoubtedly guessed by my digression)–and right now I can’t recall how many years ago–it came in a phone call from Wesley that Al “may have passed.”

May have passed?!  What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”


“C’mon man!  Is he gone or what?”

“Take it easy, Goldie.  I’m just tellin’ you what I heard.”

Now I realize Wes put it that way for fear that pronouncing him actually dead would make it so.  Keeping it as a rumor would leave space for his reappearance.  Now I appreciate that.

Maybe this fall I’ll get up to Saugerties to see Wes.

*   *   *

So here we are–you and me–with a bike ride home along the Hudson on a clear late Summer day and an equally clear set of memories from what now is closing in on half a century ago.  This from a man who’s right knee bends only under protest who loses the names of people he’s been working with for 15 years.

Go figure…

Published in: on September 14, 2010 at 3:39 pm  Comments (2)  

Am I right or am I right? (Oops!)

This from Viktor E. Frankl, who taught that human life is motivated not by sex or power or wealth or even safety, but by an ongoing search for meaning:

Freedom, however, is not the last word.  Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth.  Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness.  In fact freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.  that is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.

I buy this.

Yesterday, 9/11/2010, while a great number of people gathered at the site of the World Trade Center to mourn the loss nine years ago of those 2752 killed in the attack, several other groups of Americans rallied at that same location to push political and religious agendas.  Each group believed unshakably in it’s own rightness.  Each group believed unshakably that it was appropriate to use this day and place of national mourning to further it’s own beliefs and desires without regard for the space and moment in which it was doing so.  Appropriateness hell!  It had the right!

During the weeks before all this various folks of my acquaintance had demanded–yes! demanded–that I take a stand for or against the building of an Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan.  Some required I be true to the memory of those lost at the World Trade Center; some that I be true to the Constitution.  Each clearly had decided what my answer should have been, and each was ready to argue until I agreed with him or her should I have dared not to do so from the outset.  For me to say I hadn’t chosen sides yet or that I didn’t care wouldn’t cut it.  I had to be with ’em or I was agin’ ’em.

Church and state may be legally separated in the United States.  Not so with religion and politics.  There is a sadness for me in what is happening right now around this mix.  As a Jew I  am too well aware of the stereotyping and book burnings used by the Nazis to feed anti-Semitism before rounding up my people and sending them off to the concentration camps and crematoria.  (Frankl, quoted above, was a survivor of three years so imprisoned.  His family did not survive.)  Being old enough to have participated in the Civil Rights demonstrations of the 1960’s and to hold a clear memory of what came before and after, I  have seen a great many political attitudes labeled “right,” only to be replaced regularly with something even “righter.”

So long as I’ve the right to [fill in the blank], then I’ve got that right to do it.

This is America, and I’ve got the right to [fill in the blank.]

If I don’t have a right to [fill in the blank], but I know it is the right thing, then I do have the right to do it.

I know who’s right! and I’ll be damned well happy to let  you know just who that someone is!

Perhaps the problem is ultimately with the concept of being right.  9/11/2010 falls between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the period when the Jews traditionally come to grips with our misbehaviors over the last twelve months.  This provides an opportunity make appropriate apologies to those we’ve offended and to learn more about ourselves.  this increases our chances of getting into heaven and doing better in the future.  I’ve discovered that–not unlike others–I am at my most offensive and obnoxious and, yes, hurtful, when convinced that I am right. Perhaps noticing and keeping this attitude in check will restrict such behavior in the future, but for right now:

To all I have  bullied or offended or hurt, I apologize.


Published in: on September 12, 2010 at 6:29 am  Comments (2)