In the Fall of 1991, I met many colorful characters at Harvard Square, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As a result, I return there quite regularly, hoping to recapture the magic of those days. One character sticks out in my mind. However, I never got his name. I simply call him the Angry Bible Thumper. Every Saturday night, he would convene just outside the Harvard Red Line T Stop, across from the Harvard Coop, and start to preach at precisely 8 o’clock PM. In addition, he would have several of his deacon warriors repeat his phrases in cadence, in hopes that it would enervate the crowd.
Whatever he did to prepare for his preaching was beyond me. He would get so whipped up in the moment while speaking, that he would jump up and down, with spittle coming out of the corners of his mouth. He gesticulated wildly, and would make violent gestures toward the general crowd. In addition, he would verbally lambaste the crowd by chiding them with the phrase “Open your bibles, you heathen!” He also had a case of the crazy-eyes. For all intents and purposes, he spoke as a man possessed of a spirit. Oddly, after his diatribe completed, he would put on his jacket, place his hat on his head, and hand out literature to any and all takers.
Throughout his professing, he would be derided by non-believers. Atheists, skeptics, and general naysayers threw their proverbial hats into the ring to contest this man’s faith. In addition, they would leer, mock, and get intimidatingly close in hopes of riling him up even more.
In retrospect, it seems that they needed each other. They validated his energy because they embodied the worst of what he had come to expect. Conversely, he validated their energy, because he embodied the worst of what they had come to expect.
The only certainty I derived, was that I enjoyed seeing the human tragedy play out among these characters, and that I enjoyed the theater of crazy. Especially, when someone jumps up and down, with spittle coming out of their mouth, all while saying “Open your bibles, you heathen!”
Today marks a truly special day for Atticus and our family. It was our first trip to, as Atty calls it, “the hockey store”. After a lazy Sunday morning, from which we awoke with quite a chill, we unwrapped ourselves from a series of quilts, sweaters and woolen socks, to try on the day and some skates at the Pure Hockey store in Medford Square.
It is a day of which I’ve been dreaming ever since Lissette and I had the ultrasound that showed that we had a bun in the oven. Atty is the first, and Lenore will follow, and any others that might come our way might join in the procession of giving hockey a go.
Atty is at a great age right now. His light speed jump from toddler to little boy, came with self-awareness, full blown conversations, and articulations of his own desires. It came on too fast and certain. He turned four in September, and assures me that “four year old boys, are big boys, and that they aren’t afraid of the big inflatable bouncy houses at Monkey Joe’s anymore.” So I ask him a few weeks ago, “would you like to try hockey” and he says “yeah, yeah sure, I think so I would like hockey.” Everything he prefers comes with the disclaimer “I think so…” It is the cutest.
Knowing from Atty’s response, and past experience, the fact that he would like to try it is a good indicator that he might enjoy it. So, Lissette and I decide to support him in this new journey. Luckily for us, the first series or session from October through December is a learn to skate session. So we can hedge our bets a little bit, just in case he doesn’t like it, or comes away from it with a little bit of ambivalence. In all honesty, he’ll tell you that almost everything is his “favorite” right now: macaroni and cheese, The Avengers, Kellogg’s Apple Jacks, etc. So we’ll have to wait and see if this blossoms into a firmer commitment. We are happy that Malden-East Boston provides an opportunity for him to learn this new activity and we hope that Atty gets the sense of community, sportsmanship, and inclusiveness that comes of the best parts of organized youth sports.
I started this journey myself over 33 years ago. One fall night, I think it a Tuesday. My father, mother, and uncles hopped in our family station wagon (AMC wagon circa late 1970’s) which affectionately became known in the annals of our family history as the Grey Ghost.
We were a hand me down car family. We got cars based on the opportunities provided by a friend of a friend of a friend selling their ol’ jaloppies. We had a series of these throughout the 80’s until my Dad became a company man at B.L. Makepeace, and got to take home the company car for the remainder of the decade (this is another story for another time).
So on a similar feeling day to this one, more towards the evening, we got in the Grey Ghost, and traveled from Charlestown to Medford where I got my first pair of skates. Back then, the store was known as the Medford Sporting Goods Store, and the consensus seemed to be that this is where you went to get skates and hockey equipment if you were in the market for such.
I’ve been past this location a few hundred times in the course of my life, and I always felt the gravity of it pulling me. I always believed that someday, I’d bring my children here to get their first pair of skates.
Today was the day.
I don’t know who was more excited about the trip, Atty or I. When we walked through the door, we were both kids in the hockey store. Although, I can’t say for certain, I’d like to think that the smell of the place was the same as when I visited it all those years ago. The smell of fresh equipment, hockey pucks, and the hint of the slightest burning as skates were being sharpened in the background.
Atty was bouncing off the walls with sensory overload, as we were greeted with a young woman who asked us if we needed help. I said “yes, I’d like to get my son outfitted for his upcoming learning to skate session.” She was immediately helpful, and brought us from station to station so that we could get Atty set up with the correctly sized equipment and protective gear. He was awash in delight, as each piece of equipment brought another comparison to Iron Man’s Gear, or Darth Vader’s.
“What color helmet would you like?” said the saleswoman. “Yellow and Red!” said Atty, just as Iron Man would have. “We only have Black, White or Blue” she said. I interject: “How about Black, buddy? Darth Vader’s mask is black” “Yes, yes, I think so I want black” And so it was. Black helmet, black gloves, and black elbow pads.
As we progressed around the store, and with the proper safety gear in hand, the focus turned to skates. This is the moment I had been waiting for a very long time. I told the sales woman which skates I wanted for him, and discussed his size. She brought out two pairs so we could try each and decided which felt best.
He parked his little ass up on the bench and couldn’t get his shoes off fast enough. As the sales woman slipped the first skate on his foot, he had a hard time getting his foot into it.
But then, as he pushed a little bit more, his foot slid right into the skate, and then a smile to light up the room came about his face.
A perfect moment. A moment of his own. A moment of mine. A moment of ours. And a moment that will see to it that he brings his kids back to this same place many years from now to try on their first skates when the time arrives.
I thought about my family, and how special the trip was for me, and having the experience with my son today, allowed me to understand how they must have felt back then when I slipped my very first skates on all those years ago.
This is a rite of passage in our family. Although, my hockey career never amounted to much, I felt so positive about my first trip to the hockey store, that it left an impression that has since guided me back.
I do hope that Atty enjoyed this experience. I also hope that he enjoys learning to skate, and that regardless of the outcome, that today leaves an impression on his young mind and heart. I so love being there for him, with him, and am so excited to see how he skates through this life now that he has his first pair of skates.
Years ago, when I was a wee lad, my grandfather, Alexander Ignatius Connolly, used to sit me on his knee and teach me “ditties”.
In my family, a ditty is a crude variation of a commonly known song, with lots of word interchange and improvisation.
Around this time of year he was keen on getting me to sing “The Night Before the Fourth”.
He would clap his hands, and move his index finger up and down in time with the singing. I think he had grand dreams of being the famous Alexander of the Ragtime Band.
The best part for me, was watching him laugh like hell when he got myself or my sister to repeat off-colored lyrics. It was a great victory for him, and from my experience, there is nothing cuter or funnier than a kid dropping some profanity without knowing that they are being naughty.
So, for Alexander Ignatius Connolly, this one’s for you.
Please sing the BOLDED words to yourself, using the “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow” jingle.
The night before the fourth.
The night before the fourth.
The cat shit in the shavings.
The cat shit in the shavings.
The cat shit in the shavings, the night before the fourth.
This was usually followed up with a quick question/answer poem:
This past Thursday evening, I attended a social gathering at the Malden Access Television Studio. The purpose of this gathering was to bring into the light, the exhibit that is currently there until Tuesday of next week: Lines Connecting Lines.
This exhibit was put together late last year, when local artists and members of the Malden Cultural Council decided to run a contest, where local Malden poets were invited to submit poetry for selection by local area artists to use as inspiration and to be interpreted as visual art through their own applied and chosen methods.
When I first learned of this opportunity from my friend Lady J at The Malden Writers’ Collaborative. I was dismissive of it. I figured my poems wouldn’t be selected, so why go to the bother of submitting. I lollygagged and procrastinated for a few weeks. Courting the possibility of submission, but yet reserved in my decision to do so. Finally, in mid-December, when the deadline for submission approached, I got a bit bolder, and subdued my doubts. I relented and submitted three of my poems to the selection committee. I even got bold enough and submitted some of my poetry to a writer’s trade magazine that was also having a year-end poetry contest.
As December passed into January, I heard back from the trade magazine. They didn’t want my poems. Not yet anyways 🙂 So, I just assumed that it would follow the Malden folks would not be needing any of my offerings either. However, just when I gave up. I saw an email in my inbox from-Lines Connecting Lines. They liked two of my selections and two different artists in the community decided to use my poems as inspiration for creating new art.
I was elated, as my poetry was now inspiring other artists. This had never happened for me before: to work across artistic mediums. Sure, I’ve worked with other writers before, but this was different. Now, as the submissions were selected, all I could do was wait for the tangible parts to follow.
Last Thursday night was where the lines got connected. I got to see for the first time, how my poems were viewed and realized tangibly through the visual arts.
My first poem that was selected for the project, “Cockroaches Are Precocious”, is one I have shared on this blog in the past. It is an irreverent take on glorifying something which a majority of folks would rather not talk about. It also challenges the conventions of expectation and reality.
I was lucky enough to have a local artist connect with the piece. I turns out that year ago when she lived in Manhattan, she also found Cockroaches to be quite Precocious. When she saw my poem, she remembered a piece that she had done almost 34 years ago. Mind you, I’m 41. I enjoy the notion that a poem I created, reminded an artist of a portrait she created in 1981.
When I met Cambia Davis for the first time, she delighted me with her story of how her portrait came to be, and how my poem had reminded me of that time in her life. We were connecting, my lines, her lines, lines all the way back to 1981. This made me feel gracious for the opportunity to participate in this contest, this exhibit, this sharing of artistic expression.
Below is the portrait she created, and beside it are the lines of my poem.
You can see the scene is under a kitchen sink, where some Manhattan Roaches are dining and washing some dishes. Cambia tells me that that is a paella dish in the sink, along with some wine glasses. Her Roaches were very cosmopolitan. This seemed to fall right in line with my insistence of their precociousness.
It was a true delight to have my poem matched up with Cambia’s artwork, and to learn about Cambia’s story, as well as her process.
I was fortunate to have another artist select another of my poems. Lisa L. Sears, not only an artist participating, but also my point of contact throughout the process. She was kind, and always kept me in the loop about the happenings related to the project.
When I met Lisa, she was as wonderful in person as in email (a rarity) and her voice completely fit the cyber image of who she was in my mind’s eye. She encouraged me to read to the folks coming out of the show.
I decided to read my poem “Sojourn” to the present audience. I was the sacrificial lamb, belting out my lines first (a spot no one wanted)
I couldn’t see the audience because of the lights, but I could hear their mutterings and whispers and breath. I talked about a metaphorical journey, my journey, their journey perhaps.
Other poets followed, and then the artists that interpreted our poems visually took time to tell us all why they selected our poems and how they inspired them to do what they did.
This was accompanied by a looped video of all of the poets reading their poems playing in the background, while the crowd gathered, mingled, and learned of each other.
For me, this was the best part of the night, getting to meet other local artists, and finding out what made them tick. There were many great personalities among us, and of course, what crowd of creative people would be complete without some really interesting folks with interesting stories and yet more interesting characteristics. These were my people. I felt connected. The lines blurred.
We enjoyed each others company, and then returned to hear more readings by poets and then their respective artists’ interpretations of their poetry.
This culminated in many announcements detailing how this show got put together, the who’s, the what’s, the how’s, and lastly the announcement of the events winners.
Lisa got up and started to explain that the event was in part funded by a grant from the Malden Cultural Council; and that part of that was to award prizes to participants in the show.
There were a lot of great poems and art shared that night, and I awaited to hear which of my fellow contributors would be honored.
Before I knew it, Lisa was talking about awarding a poem, and she called my name. I was stunned, and humbled, and got up to walk to the stage and shake her hand and accept the award. Lisa handed me and sealed envelope and gave me a big smile saying “Congratulations Chris.”
I went and sat back down and they announced the winner of the best in show, as applied to the art interpreted.
I was truly humbled, and didn’t believe that such a small thing could make me feel pretty damn good. It was (is) an honor to be selected for my work. This is the first such recognition. I was apprehensive about heralding it, but my wife, who is my most ardent supporter, convinced me to enjoy the honor and to share it with my friends and audience.
In my mind, everyone in the show, who helped to make the show possible, who participated and exposed a bit of themselves in the hopes of lines being connected, we all won something. We learned how rich our community is in diversity of person, diversity of experience, and diversity of life. We all gathered a communion of artists, and perhaps extended the promise of connecting our lines with others we have yet to meet, but can soon learn something from.
I look forward to sharing more, and in being less apprehensive to just take a chance and bet a little bit more on myself and what I have to offer.
Perhaps, cockroaches aren’t the only things that are precocious. Maybe, just maybe…
Well, we had Halloween three weeks ago more or less, and now in the parlance of Bill Belichick: “We’re on to Thanksgiving!”
My son has needed more than a little convincing that there exists a day of thanks and feasting a month ahead of the “Big Day.”
What is odd, is that my wife and I haven’t really pumped him up for Xmas. He seems to have developed an awareness of its pulse, its draw, its momentum.
There is something to his unbridled enthusiasm. It is a joy to share this anticipation with him. For now he is feeling out the Santa thing, and all of the wonders that the holidays hold.
In fact, several times this week he asked “When are we decorating for Christmas?” He is fucking adorable, when he asks (he has a way of stretching out one syllable words to two-syllable words, sans the Christopher Walken inflection, with more of a wispy wine). Also, when he does talk about the magic of the holidays, he possesses a measure of mischief. I wonder what is in his mind. But he’s an easy laugh. So I chalk it up to his burgeoning foray into the Fellowship of Holiday Merry-Making.
I fully encourage the joy, the fun, and the shared experience.
Part of the shared experience, and a subject of much discussion at my home currently:
When to start playing Christmas Music?
Really more of a debate between two parties. Party 1, the Liberal Democrat of Xmas Music-Me. I hold that you can never start too early, and it should really be up to the individual to decide for themselves as to when the playing starts. I’ve arrived at a formula-Xmas is on December 25. So 25X2=50.
Hey, in this two-party system, my wife holds the deciding vote, but I sure can filibuster when I need to. I believe that 50 days ahead of December 25 is perfectly adequate and not too excessive.
The other party, the Conservative Republican of Xmas Music-my wife, is more traditional in scope, and holds that if you have too much of a good, then the listeners will lose the spirit with time to spare. She holds that we can’t have a class of people with music entitlements, contributing to a general excessive listening experience that would inhibit the development of Xmas merriment and wealth well ahead of the intended day of celebration. You have to work hard for your Xmas music, it shouldn’t be given to you so freely.
So 50 days of Xmas music puts the listening commencement at November 6. As of today, this makes me a week late. As I said, I can filibuster, but my wife holds the deciding vote. It turns out that after much deliberation, this weekend is the target date for the roll out of Xmas music. November 16 being a solid 40 days ahead of the 25 of December. I can live with it. Hey Jesus did 40 days and nights in the desert right? And he sacrificed far more, allegedly. It’s a nice round number.
So this weekend is a busy one. Full of decorating delights, and transforming my home into a Winter Wonderland,with highlights of Thanksgiving. These small Thanksgiving offerings will be promptly removed, probably as quickly as the meat is removed from the turkey carcass on November 27.
Do you want to know a secret? I have been cheating with the holiday music, so to speak. I have been channeling in Jim Brickman on my Pandora. He is an instrumental musicologist, that seems to have embraced the holiday template for producing his arts. Also, his music hits places on the tear jerker scale that many others cannot hope to attain.
I haven’t technically listened to one carol as yet. Scout’s honor. I haven’t touched one toe to the figgy pudding. But in listening to Jim Brickman’s holiday selections thus far, they have bordered the vanilla, and have leaned toward the sonic thematic sense of traveling over the river and through the woods to grandmothers’ house.
So it seems that all parties involved will be heading toward contentment this Sunday. Our home will be replete with a bit of Bing. Perhaps the vocal stylings of Dean Martin, and I assume a litany of silly Xmas tunes to get my son intrigued. We put up two Christmas Trees in my home, but this year I might lobby for three. Just because. Can’t forget Elf on the Shelf. Being a parent now, I can fully appreciate how much my parents did for my family Xmas celebrations.
One of the best parts of growing up, was how well Xmas was celebrated in my childhood home. My parents were casualties of a young marriage, and didn’t always agree on much, ultimately ending in divorce years later. However, Xmas was the place where they aligned. They played well off of each other, and brought their individual talents to expanding the memories that were created by our family. Damn we had some great ones. Hell, in retrospect, they were all great. What stands out: the camaraderie, the fellowship, the enjoyment of being in it together.
I hang onto those things, those feelings, and I will use that blueprint to create the environment for my holiday merry-making in my home, with my family. Yes, I have my eye on legacy, and I hope that someday my children will look back as favorably on their childhood Xmases as I do mine.
So, when is it too soon?
I think it depends on your own personal feelings. I say, never too soon, but I must admit that I am glad that I waited a little extra this year to begin my merry-making again. It has built up that youthful anticipation of a coming event that is all too short in occurring in an adult life. When I was young, time stretched forever and it seemed at times excruciating waiting for holiday events to unfold each and every year. Now, I can hardly put the brakes on the wheel of time, and I hold on tight to these holidays, these memories, and these people for dear life.