Nine Snaps and Then Three More

The first 8–all recent–photos were thrown up in random order by forces ruling technology. I thought of protesting, of diligently rearranging them according to some structure of chronology or location then decided that was just the voice of my New England schooling and it’s incessant demand for order. The last three though, I made sure to arrange so as to support my little bit of narration. Richie and I were both 23 in 1965 when I, mourning the death of my dad, dropped out of grad school and moved to New York to become a starving poet. Richie owned half a bar, a joint called The Annex on Avenue B between 10th and 11th, which was annexed to nothing beyond the whole incredible ethos of the East Village as it emerged from the Lower East Side.

When I checked “The Annex” in my blog look up, it produced four more entries:

Whatever, here’s some brief respite from concerns of pandemic, race, religious, political and gender hatreds.




Outside MoMA


Under 103rd and Broadway


Amsterdam & 79th


Viewing the Alice Neel show at the Met Museum


Broadway at 125th


125th west of Broadway


125th west of Broadway


The Highline crossing 10th Avenue around 30th Street


Grafitto on the A train platform under 8th & 34th subway

*   *   *

And now the “Three More.” Think of these as a short story and, having done so, feel free to create your own plot. Should you actually do so, please continue feeling free and submit your creation as a comment. Rest assured it will be printed.

RSG, who in 1965 lived across East 11th Street, remarkably near Avenue B, from the Free Public Baths of the City of New York.

The very baths referenced in the caption above.


Richie V, the man who in 1965 gave the man who lived across from those

Baths his very first job in New York City and who now lives in the

self-same building occupied in 1965 by  the (I love this word!) self-same RSG.

Later That Night…

This makes much more sense if you’ve read the blog entry called Mind, New Mind, Another Mind Altogether which is just below this one. 

This is about me and my dad.  This is the last picture I have of him.

He’s standing in front of the produce section of the Grand Union Supermarket in Bloomfield, Connecticut.  Dad kept this job, commuting a couple of hours a day on city busses to and from our flat in Hartford until it was time for him to retire, check into the hospital, live for a while with cancer and then die just before I would be graduated from college and come home wanting and needing to tell him I knew nothing and would he please explain to me what it meant to be a man and where one found the courage to be that.

Now it’s 48 years later.  It’s evening in the Chan Hall, Dharma Drum Retreat Center, Pine Bush, NY.  I’ve had dinner, rested, sat in silent meditation for a while, exercised, sat silently again and now it’s time for walking meditation.  I stand, this time not at all anticipating pains in my hip and feet, not at all feeling anger toward anyone, no fear of death or self-hatred for fearing death.  Just standing up to begin walking meditation.  A quick thought, “Is this me?” comes and goes faster than I can tell it.  We begin to walk at “normal walking” pace.  Something is happening.

No more than 10 steps into walking meditation I am aware of an intense presence at my immediate left.  It is entirely too soon for anyone to be passing me.  I look again.  The space is clearly empty–but it’s not.  There is someone next to me.  Invisible to me as well as to the others, he is my father.  Yes, unmistakably my father.  Without hesitation I reach out my left hand and feel him take it.  Hand in hand we walk in meditation around the Chan Hall for the next 15 minutes.  I talk.  He listens, assuring me all the while that he hears clearly, heart to heart, all I say and don’t say.

I tell him I love him and miss him.  Softly he lets me know that’s not all I want to say.

“Go ahead,” he urges.  “Go ahead.”  I tell him how I hate that he died when I needed him most, that–yeah, I know it was cancer and he didn’t choose it–still he abandoned me, left me to a fear and hopelessness that resulted in 20 years of terror covered over by alcohol, pot and cocaine.

“Yes,” he says.  “But there’s more.  Tell me more.”

“Yes,” I say.  “There is more.”

“Say it,” he encourages without emotion.

“I’ll say it,” my voice growling now.  “Don’t worry, I’ll say it.” My mouth twists and quivers.  My voice chokes, cracks dry.  I clear my throat.  “Even when you were there you WEREN’T there!”  I’m scared now, scared to continue and scared to stop.  “You were at work or eating dinner or reading the Hartford Times or asleep in the easy chair in front of the TV.  On weekends you’d spend Saturdays walking around on Main Street meeting and greeting all your buddies or up in the pool room doing the same damn’ thing.  On Sundays you’d be at Grandma’s or watching a ball game with Uncle Jack or playing rummy or some such shit.  You never had time for me.  You never listened to me or asked me anything about my life.  You never taught me anything.”

I felt his eyes lower.  His hand grew warmer in mine and almost tense, as if he were struggling not to speak.  I started to feel guilty and wanted to take back what I’d said.  But that, of course, was impossible.  Words uttered in silence are not retractable.  Nothing now but silence enveloping us, uniting us.  And then an image so clear of my hand in his, the year perhaps 1950, my fingers still sticky from late night ice cream as we walked home in the chill night air from the bus stop after a Hartford Chiefs night game at Bulkeley Stadium…

…the image of him standing alert at the edge of the water as a friend of his taught me to swim…

…of him in the cafeteria of West Middle School being an assistant Cub Scout leader when he was too tired to stand after a day of work on his feet…

…the image of us in the refrigerated room below the Hartford Market where he would make fancy baskets of fruit to be given as gifts to folks going on cruises or dying in hospitals, him telling me he worked hard so I wouldn’t have to…

…of him sitting on the couch, my mother’s sleeping head on his shoulder when I returned after midnight from my first high school party…

…an image of him walking into the Wooster pool room while I was trying to show everybody there just how cool I was and beating my ass at game after game after game of 8 ball…

…of me all IvyLeagued up and home from my fancy-assed college for the weekend, him telling me to phone my grandmother just to say hello…

For fifteen minutes we walked, me talking and him listening, him making me feel safe and heard.  Tears falling inward, clearing the path so obscured for those 48 years.  Him, I think, feeling a father’s courage to be a father, to hear the truth knowing it will lead to the deeper truth, and, for the two of us, the joy of love flowing freely again.

Published in: on June 10, 2012 at 9:20 pm  Comments (16)  

I am not “The Bicyclist”

Judy: Are you riding these days?  Interested in joining me tomorrow?

Goldberg: I won’t be available until 2.  Does that work for you? 

Judy: Probably not but I will let you know if that changes.

*   *   *   *   *

Now that I’m finally getting older, I’m beginning to actually realize it when life lessons get handed to me on an unmistakable platter.  In the past few months I’ve been simultaneously blessed and challenged and delighted and rocked with unmistakable insights into what’s real. This is another part of that story.

And this was how this started: a simple exchange of emails between me and a bike-riding partner since maybe 1986.  The unusuality of it:  I didn’t respond with my usual and unequivocal

“Yes, yes, o yes.  We can ride.  I must ride.  Whatever…whenever…oh yes, just say when and I don’t care where and I’ll be there because (ta dum!) I am The Bicyclist!

Already something was going on.  Only I didn’t know it.  I just figured,

Hey!  I’ve got something to do around noon.  Either she waits or she doesn’t.  Either way–with her or alone–I’ll  still ride, ’cause I am The Bicyclist.

OK, so wearing my non-bike-riding civvies, I get on my beaten, blue Ross commuter bike and spin slowly up Amsterdam Avenue to 96th Street and my meditation group.  I’d not been there for three weeks now because of a trip to Israel (more about that, you can be sure, later), the land where life got handed to me several times, and I   was truly looking forward to reuniting with some remarkable folks engaged in a remarkable practice.  Still, the back of mind was filled with images of me in my bicyclist suit, sitting astride my bright red Klein road bike (bright red) riding perhaps across the George Washington Bridge, onto the road we cyclists call (incorrectly) River Road and north.  Remember, I am The Bicyclist.

 I’m not going to give you all the  intermediary details.  I hate it when people do that to me–I’m a ‘Punch Line’ kinda guy–and even if you’re one of those folks who thrives on details, I ‘m willing to risk your wrath here.  The meditation starts.  It’s the Shaking Meditation in the tradition of Ratu Bagus

that I’ve mentioned in previous posts.  Loud, rhythmic music, quiet individual mantra-chanting to bring the mind back to focus whenever it drifts off to things like being The Bicyclist, some groaning and laughter and, above all, rapid full-body shaking all dedicated to whatever I can conceive of that has vastly more power than I do.  In my case that’s God.

OK, so here I am shaking and mantrasizing and suddenly–out of absolute and proverbial Nowhere–the thought leaps into my head:

I am NOT “The Bicyclist!”


     I’m not?

          I’m not!


                                     I’m really not.  I’m just a guy who, along with doing countless other things on a regular basis,  rides a bike.  It’s not who I am.  It’s–at most–just one thing I do.  It’s not my identity, and I am certainly not somehow more worthy and successful when I ride a bike and less worthy and a failure if I don’t.  I’m just someone who sometimes rides and sometimes doesn’t.  In fact, I’ve just put a halt to receiving far too frequent emails labeling me a “Legend of the New York Cycle Club” in an effort to get me to attend a club reunion for which I’d already bought my ticket a month ago.  I’m not  him.  I’m just me.

O, flippin’ wow!

This truth realized causes the root question to arise:

What identities do I subscribe to?  How much of  how I see myself is based on trying to live up to certain stereotypes or, for the psychoscholars among us, archetypes that have been planted in my head over the years?  How much joy, misery, frustration and self-congratulation arise from my living up to or failing to live up to these sets?

And, of course, me being me, I suspect I’m not alone in this, so I turn it to you:

What identities do you subscribe to?  Who do you tell yourself you are?  What does it cost/profit you to believe it?

*     *     *     *     *

Published in: on June 6, 2011 at 9:51 am  Comments (7)  
Tags: ,

It’s Like This

(Here’s what I hope is the end of my delayed-onset mid-life crisis.  You think  you’re  tired of this?  I’m so tired of it I’m down to thinly fictionalizing it.  Anyhow…)

Travis stood in front of the aging refrigerator.   Inside and unseen: ice cubes wet and shiny; ice cream almost drinkable.  He knew how therapy worked.  He was a therapist–or at least had been one–down on Wall Street for almost five years.  He’d given it up because he preferred working with addicts.  He didn’t know that at the time.  He thought he just didn’t like working alone in that big room with no furniture other than the two grim chairs, the small end table with ashtray  and the empty desk near the windows, working for clients who seemed to thrive on their inabilities to make decisions outside of the workplace.  He  preferred functioning as part of a team, the situation at Rescue House, a residential therapeutic community for adults in The Bronx where he’d  now been social working for almost 15 years as one of an ever-changing assortment of directors, case managers, vocational specialists and medical folks.  Anger management, bereavement, parenting skills, relationships, even meditation–done in groups, seminars, workshops and one-on-ones.  They named it; he did it.

At work his strength was his openness.  At this moment, however, too much was simply too clear to be ready for additional possibilities.  Therapy to Travis was an ultimately simple and spiritual practice.  It’s implementation was no more than the art of compassionate listening without judgment, making sure the client knew you were doing so, then patiently letting that client discover Self as a byproduct of rambling on. And he was good at it, so no sense in hiring it out.

The therapist who treats himself  has a fool for a patient.

But Travis was not a stupid man nor was he naive.  He was blessed and knew so.   His life for quite some time had been measured by the number of times he’d–unprovoked–look up and whisper “thanks.”   He loved the wife who loved him right back.  He loved not only his work with those addicted to drugs, alcohol, street life and, more recently, institutionalization, he even loved the addicts.  Every day on the job was new and challenging. Every day ended with enough satisfaction to wipe out any frustrations including those lingering from his own 25 years of daily drinking and drugging.

His health was adequate despite some  recent and treatable difficulties.  He rode his bike in traffic and now had the gearing to tackle those Bronx hills included in his daily commute.  As back-up he was quick to quote the words of the woman, a racer back in the ‘70’s, who was president of his cycling club when he rode well enough to be a member and was his hero for no reason other than her willingness to state in public:  “ I never met a hill” (here she’d smile sweetly) “I couldn’t walk up.”  What was her name?

If she knew it was you, she wouldn’t answer the phone let  alone the door.

Travis lived in gratitude for all of it: friends, family, music, sex once in a while, the weather, travel, reruns of The Simpsons, pizza and, to be sure, health insurance.  His strategy for putting this attitude into action came straight from the rooms of Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous.  He lived one day at a time.  Whenever asked how he was doing, he’d smile a smile not unsimilar to that of that cycle club president say “Couldn’t be better” and actually mean it.
If he had a philosophy, underlying this attitude and it’s manifestations as behavior, it was it re-enforced three times:

● Travis had been brought up to believe that whatever life brought him, well, that was God’s will, and who knew better than God?

● In his late 50’s he began serious study with the Buddhists.  Leaving God out of the equation entirely, they taught him that reality was perfect.  Yes, they and subsequently he  recognized the discrepancy between this belief and what their eyes beheld on a daily basis.  The need to resolve this conflict, they agreed, was what empowered their meditation.   Hence he was provided with both a source of madness and a method for combating it.

● Finally, coming from–of all places–his clients, at least once every day for the last 20 years, a much more fatalistic yet no less profound, “It is what it is.”
On the flip side of all this apparently healthy adjustment and echoed by so many in his age cohort lay the increasing inability to find loving acceptance for the changes in own his body and what they suggested re mortality.  Ironically what he was going through now was clearly minor,  nothing more than a knee problem, one which had done well with ambulatory surgery and without physical therapy.  Sad because he loved PT, especially, one suspects. for all the pain it provided him the opportunity to endure.  This not to be unexpected from a man who, though never a real athlete in any sense of the word, had been able to bicycle up long hills without ever losing his smile.

“It’s not what I do,”  he’d say by way of explanation, “but the lack of attitude I do it with.”  He’d then make a joke about ending a sentence with a preposition, an acknowledgment of his education and his rejection of the social class it bespoke.  Travis’d been one of those lower middle class kids who’d  scholarshipped his way into an ivy league school.  Like climbing hills, he was drawn to it by the challenge.  Once there he did it because it was there , and, once completed, he forgot it.

Gee Mister, you sure know a lot!

And here he was now in the middle of a warm and clear Sunday afternoon.  The missus had gone to church and then to a movie.  He, still slowed by the surgery, had strolled up Amsterdam Avenue through 10 blocks of a half-baked and repetitive street fair carrying a camera which never left his pocket.  He considered a 10 minute chair massage, looked at the $5 watches, bought a chicken kabob for $4, and returned home to eat it and wonder how to fill up the rest of the time until she returned.  Six months of unread Smithsonian Magazines, two hundred five tv channels, more than six hundred CDs on the computer and a cell phone address book filled almost to overload: still the afternoon promised no more than nothing.
He opened the freezer.  A sigh.  Two front-runner choices: pistachio ice cream and ice.  Throughout the last 25 years the consistent choice had been the ice cream–safe, comforting and with patience he could walk or ride it off.  For the 25 before that the ice, placed in a double old-fashioned glass, then floated in tequila.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
There are three endings to this story:

1. Travis took the ice cream.

2. Travis picked up a glass, filled it with ice, and walked over to                                     the tequila   in the hutch.

3. Travis closed the freezer door and killed the rest of the                                                 afternoon on the computer.

Here’s a comment from Ezra which couldn’t go into the usual comments because you can’t post a photo there:

Option Number Z – Travis closed the freezer, grabbed a large bottle of water and a comfy chair, and spent the afternoon staring out the window.

The only reason for the email as opposed to a comment was to show you something I’m sure you would appreciate. “The view from my porch” as an attached picture. The only thing it’s missing is my feet (smile).



Published in: on May 28, 2010 at 4:35 pm  Comments (7)  

Maybe I think too much

There’s an article in Sunday’s New York Times talking about the internet like it was a middle Eastern souk–one particularly corrupt–teeming with competing merchants boasting a vast variety of quality and honesty lining streets roamed by an undetermined number of both the helpful and the hurtful.  Another analogy would be the American wild west: farmers, ranchers and land grabbers, miners and claim-jumpers,  card sharps and preachers, some of them perhaps soul sharps, Miss Kindly and Miss Kitty–the full variety of human beings all out there and waiting with a vast variety of motives for me and you.

The article then goes on to describe apps  as those agents of safety and righteousness who stand between us and them, the bold scouts or tour guides–maybe ultimately pimps–who go out into the uncharted and unregulated world of the world and, our shopping lists in hand, carefully select that safe site which most resembles what we believe we want, leaving us securely at home to play Sudoku or read best sellers or order Chinese food from the place we know and trust until they return with the goods.

Guardians to protect us from the world we say we want while insuring we get what we want from it at no risk to ourselves.

Well, yeah.  Who the hell wants to get directions from 76th and Amsterdam to 77 Montrose Street up in Hartford and end up with a virus that takes all the consonants out of everything you’ve ever written on Wordperfect or some guy in the Ukraine knowing stuff about you you wouldn’t even tell yourself?

Trust me, I do understand this.  I just installed Google Chrome as my new browser because that same New York Times (albeit an earlier edition) told me that it was much less likely to be invaded by the bad guys than Firefox–my previous choice–or Internet Explorer–my even earlier choice which I deserted in favor of the at- that-time-safer Firefox.  Thus an afternoon devoted to selecting Google Chrome  Extensions, literally thousands of, yes, apps that I might add onto my computer to make it do more specifically what I want it to do.  With maybe two clicks I could enable myself to get maps, to enlarge the little pictures of themselves people paste on Facebook when they don’t have dogs or infant children, tell the weather or translate or copy an entire page or even know what each Google search entry was really about before clicking on it.  And, yes, I turned down virtually all of the ones I’d selected when I found out that they’d have full access to all the personal information and browsing history I’d posted anywhere on the web.

Omygod, please don’t let them find out my nickname growing up was Dick and that I’ve spent more than an accidental moment looking at naked women, the political views of  the Tea Partiers and, in looking to see if the Students for a Democratic Society still existed, came upon the website for the Society of the Divine Savior–and found it interesting.

Yeah, O.K.,  so there’s some conflict here.  There’s a whole bunch of me that, like most middle class folks, is utterly comfortable playing it safe.  There’s another part of me  though, the one left over from dropping out of Graduate School back in 1965 and then fleeing to NYC to live in what hadn’t yet  become Alphabet City, working as a short order cook in a bar around the corner from my apartment on Avenue B at 11th Street, consuming significant amounts of drugs, spending short periods of time with women who’s names I didn’t know or much care about, and walking home alone at 4:23 in the morning in snowstorms with the stuff in my pocket.

So what’s this got to do with right now?  Part of it has to do with chronology.  There are times when I think,

Hell, I’m getting toward the end of it.  I don’t have to protect anything and, frankly, I don’t have a helluva lot to protect.  Let me just hang out and deal with whatever comes.

The Buddhist thought I’ve been reading and discussing for the last 50 years and practicing for 9 informs me that that attitude isn’t so much a product of age as it is of reality.  In the words of my clients, “It is what it is.”  Whatever…

Recently, especially this past week at home recovering from knee surgery and watching  my body get older has had a significant impact on my thinking.  The truth be told, these thoughts have occurred to me more than once before since I spend my days among the hundred forty or so younger–if not young–folks who’ve given over their lives to drugs and the street.  Like the rest of us, they too play  it safe by sticking with the familiar dangers.

Please God, let this stuff be good and take me away from the horrors I’ve been carrying around since I was a kid.  Let me keep focused on nothing but getting money, copping, getting high  and maybe getting laid once in a while.  I can handle jail.   I  just don’t have it to live sober.

So where does all this leave me now?  I wish I had a neat  and lovely answer, but I don’t.  When I started to write this, I was all ready to brag about my pre-Alzheimer’s boldness, my willingness–no! eagerness–to take chances with what’s left to me.  I was truly ready to make myself sound soo cool.  Then the conflict part came up, but I was still ready to resolve it in true heroic fashion.  Now, closing in on the end of this post, I  find myself out of my image and back in the heart of my soft, mushy humanity.

My home turf nowadays is such a mixture of impulses and habits: an ultimately delightful chaos of mysterious spontaneity on the one hand and the deep-rooted  desire for order and dependability on the other.  What I now realize is that neither will win, and my job is to accept that…to accept it all.  My desire is to accept it with a smile.

Published in: on May 22, 2010 at 1:42 pm  Comments (6)