February 16, 2013

Vault of Troubled Dreams

I dreamed I was in a room with my ex-mother-in-law and some shadowy people who might have been her relatives or anybody else; I don’t know. She did not look as old as she really is now: 90. She looked as old as she was when I lived in her historical home for 11 months, more than three decades after I had left her daughter and my young son in the lurch, and had fled my responsibilities for a fishing boat in the North Atlantic one forlorn winter. 

She had summoned me from New Orleans in 2002 to help my kid who was in a bad way. When I had walked out on them in 1974, I had wanted to be a revolutionary communist and not to be a father or husband any more. In my ignorance then I had not understood that in order to change the world, one first must change oneself. I had no clue then as to the long-term effect it would have on him; or on myself.

In fact I had not wanted to be her son-in-law at all; although my wife was pretty and intelligent, and said she loved me to death. She had manipulated us into the marriage with a despicable act that I won’t recount. After the honeymoon and a few idyllic months together my wife somehow became pregnant. Later, it was the son that was the real problem for me.

Her mother was sitting in a cardboard box and there were other people in the room; vague, dreamy figures that I could have identified if I had wanted to, but I had not wanted to. I could have made them be anybody at all. It was my dream. The location was definitely her living room, because I sensed without seeing it that damned un-tuned grand piano behind me, that she had let go to hell after her second husband had died, since he was the only one who ever played it. I had hated him but he had hated me first. Yet I had hated him more, and when I heard that he was dead I almost jumped up and shouted with joy. But I restrained myself.

We were sitting on the floor. I gave the cardboard box she was sitting in no notice. She was telling me again about her long, interesting, and combative life. As she did I saw visions of her two worthless sons fleeting through my brainwaves like bad smells drifting through a garden of roses. I actually loved the bitch. I knew without looking that my ex- was there too; quietly watching; sitting against the dead fireplace brick in complete shadow, determined to interfere or not to interfere as the case required. She was the Keeper of the Flame after all, and nothing that her mother ever did or did not do got by her. It was an intimate matter between them, and if she loved anyone at all it was the poor old rich woman I was dreaming of.

Her mom was telling me about her life, which I already knew a lot of, because over the years of our association she had kept in touch and tried to keep me close–enough so that my son would benefit somehow. I tried. He did not try and did not benefit from my infrequent appearances. Neither did I. But I went along with her machinations and manipulations, I guess simply because I liked her and wanted to do the right thing; and had long since recognized her as my intellectual equal and spiritual superior. She was a philosopher despite the fact that she was a ruthless capitalist competitor, who would do just about anything she wanted to, providing that she could make a legal or moral defense for it; and even if she could not. It had provided for her family and made them all prosperous, even wealthy; but seldom happy.

She was a strong, petite, sexy, and healthy woman with a spontaneous sense of homespun Kentucky humor, and an appearance of delicacy, taste, and class; her daughters were like her too; but her sons were worthless as far as I was concerned. I have no problem calling them both sons-of-a-bitch either. But I have to admit that I loved their mother, despite all the bad things she did. I have never insulted her to her face, and usually I refer to her as a witch, instead of what I just wrote. Yes, there are bad witches, ladies.

We were talking like we had in those days when I had sat alone with her at her breakfast table, eating something that she had cooked, while I read, sometimes aloud at her request, from the History of Western Philosophy, written by Bertrand Russell. She was the only person I knew who could appreciate something like that at breakfast; but it was my normal fare, my normal habit, to read while eating, and seldom something light or trivial. It was how I prepared myself for my stupid and boring days painting or building houses, or raking yards, or laying carpets, or driving taxis and trucks, or digging ditches, or looking for any kind of work to keep going so that I could not be called a bum.

She would ask me to re-read certain passages so she could understand. Philosophy had actually been her major subject in college. There was no losing her with Russell our guide.

Now she conveyed to me almost with telepathy her grief and sorrow at how things had turned out and how bad they were for her in the last years of her life. She was in great physical and mental pain and all her judgments still were harsh, unforgiving, and unyielding; like my own, a self-assumed privilege of the old; and stupid.

There were fleeting scenes of her son pushing her down and breaking her hip when she was in her mid-eighties; the incomprehensible shock and pain of her first and only-loved husband and father of four, when he had been struck down by multiple sclerosis in his mid-twenties; the near-loss of the son she liked best to cocaine, alcoholism, dishonor and negligent homicide, that she had saved him from, when, like the efficient CEO mother hen she was, she had mobilized her lawyer on the phone for papers, and had flown a hundred miles to meet the reckless one, who had run an old man down on a sidewalk with his moped, en route to buy more beer and shouting at him to “Get out of the way!” which the old man had not managed, and, as they were wheeling the negligent son of a bitch in for surgery to remove part of a thumb, she was standing at the entrance with the paper for him to sign all of his property over to her, so that the family of the deceased could not get it with a lawsuit. 

And also there was the pain of her total estrangement from the other one too, the hot-headed, violent one; the hunter and outdoors man; basically for the same reasons: self-indulgence, alcohol, drugs, and greed for more and more of her winnings. The one who had pushed her down in an alcoholic rage that he hardly remembered or deliberately lied about. It all had hurt her terribly, and she had fought back like a tigress through it all, most of which she had started with her provocative mouth, but usually won; but in winning she had lost most of the valuable things while holding onto her property and power.

She was better than all of them and worse, but in different ways. To a point, they all were her creations. I usually gave her the benefit of every doubt, usually followed her advice to a point, sometimes putting my foot down in the middle of one of her schemes, yet usually trying to cooperate, probably because I felt like such a piece of shit.

Is there a family anywhere without dysfunction on this splendorous, squalid and overpriced planet?

Hearing her, seeing her, and wanting like since the first time I ever met her to take her petite form into my arms and hug her, I actually did. I, her disgraced and despised ex-son-in-law, slid over the carpeted floor, and as I did she put a smaller box over her head, but I removed it and put my arms around her, and she leaned her aged head into my shoulder and sobbed softly, her old beautiful frail body trembling, acknowledging my compassion and our secret but undeclared love, despite the fact that she hated me for all the right reasons, and I hated her for all the right reasons as well.

I woke when I felt death crawling painfully up my left leg from the insidious blood clot, and my left hand numbing, which usually is what finally drags me from my single bed. I walked it off as usual while preparing my first coffee, turned the computer on to Word, and started to write this down so that I would not lose it. It seems important to record some dreams, because they are a key to the vault where our deepest thoughts and feelings are stored, the Vault of Troubled Dreams.

It is dangerously exhilarating to unlock that safe and prowl through the evidence locker. Here it all is: the dishonesty, hypocrisies, delusions, mistakes and selfish decisions, the hidden or unknown motives, the perverse wishes and outright hatreds, the mean nesses and penuries, the charges and counter-charges, the abandoned son and the deadbeat dad, the lying wife and deceitful friends, the things that you would never tell anyone for any reason, the reviled relatives, the misunderstandings allowed to fester and harden like subcutaneous cysts; the manipulated and weak marriage which should never have been, and the volcano which simmers and smokes beneath them like a sizzling time-bomb. It is hot in there. It scorches the mind. If we have a soul it scorches that too.

But you can dream that you had opened, examined, and again locked the safe; and hugged to your dying breast the dying breast of one who hates you; because the truth is that you love her even more than you hate her back.

In my dream we sob in unison, perhaps for each other, maybe for only ourselves, but certainly for the tragedy of it all. There is nothing to be done. There is no forgetting. There is no forgiving because forgiving is forgetting and there is no forgetting. I haven’t a clue what her poetic daughter thought about it, but she did not interfere. I  never would let her interfere in my dream anyway.

I am probably a nightmare in her dreams, but that's none of my affair. I write about only my own dreams. 

I never write about my nightmares.


February 10, 2013

No Regrets

No Sorrow Here

A friend in an e-mail
said that I write well;
and it did me a world of good.
Until then, I alone understood.
Yes, I think so myself,
though nothing is on a shelf
with my name scribed on it.
I don’t need that particular tit.
Writing well is enough for me;
understand: it helps me to see
that I can locate words,
which shine the stars or smell the turds;
for no one’s enjoyment but my own,
because I always have felt alone.
It’s not a matter for you to worry,
but only mine, and I’m not sorry.
I chose this life from  a world of strife
to keep from picking up the knife;
and long since learned to throw the blade,
yet long refrained from having slayed.

February 8, 2013

The Right Thing; A Motorcycle Story

In November of 2010 I posted a blog called "Words Won't Work," with brief mention of a motorcycle gang. A friend asked when I would write about the motorcycle gang. I don't know why I put it off for so long; perhaps because it was so traumatic, dramatic, and unsettling to think about. But here it is at last. This really happened.

This was where it started; the upper level of the Queensboro Bridge (59th Street Bridge); it was Halloween Eve. Shot taken days later from the Queens side. The incident began just ´past the middle superstructure.

I had two passengers, a man and wife I supposed, both in their late 20s or early 30s. They were headed home to Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and this was the fastest route for the hour, which was just before midnight. Traffic was heavy because so many people were in Manhattan celebrating a holiday that they don't even understand.

There is a gang of motorcyclists who wore jackets emblazoned with the words, "Fearless Riders." Their habit is to zoom between lines of cars at high speeds when cars are stalled in traffic, as was the case this night.

My yellow taxi was in the left lane, and we were stalled before the midpoint of the bridge which marks the boundary between Manhattan and Queens, which was the direction I was heading. Suddenly motorcycles of the aforementioned gang began zooming past me on my right. This startles. They were going about 50 or 60 miles an hour.

I instinctively moved a little to the left, where the concrete divider separates the roadway. Unfortunately, one of the gang was coming up fast on that side, and, as he neared my taxi, he raised a booted foot and kicked my rear view mirror into a hanging position, blinding me on that side. I instinctively went left to block the passage after he passed, and another, and then another, and then another rider on the right imitated his action by trying to kick the mirror from the right side.

They kept missing but they kept trying. My passengers were nervous and afraid. I was not afraid, but I was angry enough to move a little farther to the right, and the next guy who tried it had to dump his bike, I suppose, because I did not see the incident. Then the traffic began moving and we were on the Queens side, making progress.

Did I mention that all of these riders were fully dressed in Halloween costumes that looked like, well, Death? Horrible masks of demons and all that stupid capitalistic crap. In Mexico, where I now live, they celebrate Halloween, the Day of the Dead, by feasting at the graves of their ancestors and giving Death the Finger. It goes on for at least a week, and almost everybody is really into it. But drunkenness and vandalism is nearly unknown to be associated with the event.

Suddenly, one swerved in front of me and stopped sideways across the road, blocking my progress, while cars in the right lane proceeded slowly on down the bridge toward whatever was obstructing traffic. I immediately locked all doors and made sure the windows were closed. He was a very big, angry guy, and was obviously the Chief Boo Hoo.

He walked furiously to my side and began punching the curved window that not even Bruce Lee could put his fist through. That is one thing I will say for design of car windows. You cannot punch your way through them without brass knuckles. It has been tried before by various karate pretenders over the eight years out of forty when I drove taxis in New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

Things happen. People become furious over trifles. Occasionally, one wants to haul a driver out and beat the hell out of him. That's the reason for electrical locks and un-punchable windows. Whenever anyone has tried to punch his way into my space, I have just sat there and laughed in his face. Sometimes I crack the window and ask if his knuckles are starting to hurt. But leaving a window cracked even a little weakens it.

As the man with the devil mask punched and punched and tried to open doors, the other cyclists arrived and began doing the same thing. The lane was clear in front of me. I made a decision. I rammed the bike and pushed it about 100 feet down the road. It was trapped beneath my radiator. When I stopped the others ran up and began strenuous efforts to extract it, so, at the urging of my passengers, I backed up a little to help them out, and they hauled it out but could not make it stand. It was crumpled and unusable at this point, but repairable. I had wanted to leave it pinned as evidence if the cops ever showed up.

My female passenger screamed and objected, saying "Open the door and talk to them!" I told her I would be damned if I would step outside for a beating. Instead, I dialed 911 and talked to the police, reporting the incident as an emergency. They did the same with their cell phones. But I knew that there was no way for the police to reach us in time. Sooner or later, they would break a window with something.

The biker who had lost his bike made it back to his punching position and started the routine again. The others were rocking the car violently. I knew that if I opened the door I was in for a beating, and the very real possibility that one of these drunken maniacs might throw me off the bridge. Acting together, it was possible for them to tip the whole cab off the bridge.

I had no wish to be on the front page of The Daily News: Cabbie Thrown From Bridge to His Death!

Now he was really pissed. He went at the window with both hands, resulting in nothing but sore hands, I suppose. But I was starting to worry. I wish now that I had thought to take out my camera, which I carried in a small belt bag at my waist with my money change, and had snapped his picture while he was trying to get to me. The phone had a camera as well, but I did not think to use it. What a nice set of photos I would have for you, his demonic mask behind his murderous fists punching a glass window, which was all that stood between me and serious injury or death.

Realizing that his mighty fists would not do the job, he walked over and solicited something from someone, and then returned with something metal in his fist and started the pounding again. I saw the window start to chip and made my decision.

His bike was flat on its side. I had stopped pushing it because I feared that the gas tank would rupture and explode. But now I didn't care if it did. I hit the gas and the woman screamed, "Don't! Don't! Don't!" I thought, screw you lady, you aren't the target here, and I rolled right over that bike like it was two speed bumps in the road. Another biker zoomed up beside me and feinted like he was going to block my path and I sped up. I think the look on my face told him that he was a dead man if he did it. At this point I was willing to kill him.

Yes, I will kill to protect my life and my passengers' lives if necessary. This is a question that I answered for myself a long time ago; a line in the sand of my mind that I won't allow to be crossed without serious consequences. Screw turning the other cheek. I tried it once, got kicked in the tailbone for it, and suffer spinal arthritis as a result of trying to be like Jesus, Gandhi, and Dr. Martin Luther King. I am not that strong. Driving a cab anywhere is a dangerous business, especially in NYC.

It took about two minutes to reach the obstruction.The police were diverting traffic from Queens Blvd., which is a left exit, while waiting for a tow truck to haul away the remains of a previous accident. I meant to go right, toward 21st Street, which with a left turn leads to Brooklyn's McGuiness Avenue in Greenpoint. There were two traffic cops only.

I parked near one and walked over to report the crimes. The cop said that passing drivers had already reported it and that police were on the way. I saw that he could not leave his post. He directed me to park in a triangle at the intersection, and I moved there and stayed in the locked car as the whole gang arrived and parked their bikes on the other side of the police.

The woman had screamed an objection when I had trashed the motorcycle and again when I rolled over it like road kill. But now she and her man were quiet. The bikers all parked behind me but were separated from me by the cops. A few approached but stayed away from the car. I saw one put something on the concrete wall of the bridge and walk off. They all still were wearing their costumes.

I got out of the car and approached them but stayed 50 feet away and pulled out my camera. Sirens were coming from both sides of the bridge. A fire truck with its enormous horn was blasting a hole through the traffic from Manhattan, and finally some police arrived.

I explained the situation. One cop asked which side of the divide it had occurred on, and when I told him the Queens side, he nodded to another pair of cops from Queens and departed,probably relieved not to have to handle it from Manhattan. There was a young black policeman and an older white one.

I explained again. The older cop nodded and asked me to point out which one was doing the window pounding. They had all removed their costumes by now and looked as normal as any other set of maniacs. I told him that I would remember the costume, which was horizontal convict stripes,  but had not seen his face. However, he would be the one who owned the destroyed motorcycle. That was plain enough identification, don't you think?

The fire truck arrived. It had cleared the way for the Manhattan unit. An ambulance made it's way toward the scene of the wrecked bike by traveling in the legal lane toward Manhattan. A few minutes later, it headed back with its passenger. This was my first notice that someone had really been injured. Someone who had been about to kick my other mirror off.

I got out of the car. It was cold and I was wearing a leather jacket. The cop was going to hail a passing cab for my passengers. I objected that he needed their names and addresses as witnesses, and he reluctantly took them. The guy gave a watered-down description, saying only, "Yeah, things got a little out of hand back there." I merely sighed. People are such cowards. I had saved their asses too. But neither I nor they had seen anyone hit by my car. It had all happened pretty fast.

One of the bikers yelled, "My friend is on his way to the hospital with a broken leg!" Was he trying to get me to sympathize or apologize?

"Yeah? What was he doing with that broken leg on his way to the hospital?" I asked. He didn't reply. The nearest fireman laughed out loud. I didn't care if he had a broken head too, because he had shit for brains.

Meanwhile, the gang had gathered around, snarling insults. The two cops just looked at them, and the shorter cop, a sergeant I think, picked out this black guy who was giving him The Look. You know, The Look, which says I am not afraid of you? A look of challenge.

"Are you trying to stare me down?" the short, stocky cop said, advancing rapidly on the dude to kick his ass. The tough guy dropped his eyes and backed off. I love it when I see a cop doing his job. This was the only good moment of the night, besides the thought that I had completely wrecked a very expensive motorcycle. I totaled that machine.

He told me that if I could not identify the person by his face, there was little need to go any farther with it. He told me to back up and descend the Queens exit and wait, in order to separate me from the motorcycle gang. If I had made it to 21st Street, they would have too, and it would have been pure carnage before it was over, because I would have knocked each one of them off the road as they pursued. I was prepared to overload an emergency room with broken bodies and give the tow truck business a boost.

While the cops were deciding what to do, I stood with my back to the gang and watched the passing traffic, waving at a few cab drivers that I recognized from my own garage in Queens. Someone walked up behind me and whispered, "Superman." I didn't even look back at him.

Then I remembered the thing that someone had put on the wall. I walked over and saw that it was a folding corkscrew with knife blade, and knew that it was the instrument that the idiot had tried to bust through the window with. I pointed it out to the cops, and the senior cop walked over to look at it, but did not touch it or remark on it.

And then a guy walked over near the weapon--he was obviously the puncher because he was so aggressive--and said, "Oh sure, my fingerprints are all over it," and he made a few gestures at the weapon as if to touch it, but did not. The cop just looked at him. We both knew that he was the one. A good cop with direct questions could have proved it in five minutes.

I followed their instructions and drove to the bottom of the Queens exit, where the two cops met me and we discussed it. They told me that it was useless to press charges, and, being a politically-aware person who knows how and why the police keep returning yearly reports of reduced crime (by leaving them unreported), I agreed, and drove the taxi back to the garage.

Before I left, I told the cop in charge, "The best moment of the night was when I saw you back that punk down." He dropped his eyes modestly at the unexpected compliment and thanked me. I went home.

The next day I explained the whole thing to the Greek who manages the taxi garage with about 200 taxis and 600 drivers, mostly Muslims. I showed him the car and the shots I had taken of it afterward. He told me that he had photos too. After I explained, he said, "You used your car as a weapon."

"You damned right I did, and he is damned lucky to be alive, because if I had had a gun he would be lying in a morgue right now." He just laughed and told me to file a police report. I did. A copy of the police incident had the name of the injured biker, but not a mention of the wrecked bike or its owner.

They took the bike out with a tow truck. Later, when insurance papers needed filling out, he wanted me to leave out the details of the attack, and I refused. After a few days he relented, and I signed the insurance form which included my handwritten description of the events of that night.

When I got the report back, it had the name and address of the stupid bastard who was a fearless rider who broke his leg on the way to the hospital. I thought about paying him a call, but then recalled how every action or non-action has consequences; so I let it go. I even forgot to write about it until now, more than two years later.

Then there was also the possibility that the injured would file an accident report, have my address as well, and decide to make his own call, with the gang of course. I Googled them. Typical biker braggadocio, with a slight political content, making you wonder who is really sponsoring all those leather jackets and costumes.There were at least thirty of these stupid bastards. And the guy with the fists, who knows? He might be the son of a cop or a councilman. What other types of assholes act with such a feeling of impunity, and get away with it?

Every night for a week or more I drove past that spot on the bridge and noticed that the weapon was still there. Finally, I stopped and retrieved it. It had marks where it had hit the glass. Kudos to the guy who designs car windows. I used it as a paperweight for a year and threw it out.

Every now and then I would hear motorcycles roaring past my digs in Brooklyn. Occasionally I checked, but never saw one with a "Fearless Rider" jacket. What a bunch of phonies. I scared the shit out of them.

Unfortunately, this is the only photo I snapped on the bridge that Halloween Eve:

The gang is gathered near the red lights. So, if you see one of them speeding past kicking off rear view mirrors, I hope you will do the right thing.