Tuesday, March 29, 2016


On a shockingly sunny Thursday morning I took Caitlin to Kilmainham. We went because I needed to and I discovered that she had never been. "You've never been at'all?" "Never, I've been to Guinness though, and to Jameson's." "Not quite the same." "I live more in the present than you." "Still." "I've been meaning to, it's just out of the way." I told her to call in sick and we caught the bus and rode out, yes, past Guinness. "But you've been to the Contemporary Art Museum?" "Of course, you've been there with me." I remembered that, I'd harassed her two months ago about the same thing as we rode a bus back from an opening. We were alone up top and she silenced me with an absolutely teenage snog session there in the front seat that carried us all the way back from the western edge of the old city to College Green. "It's right across the street," I'd said then, and I said it again as I picked her up at her loft. "It's right there." She'd just repeated, "I live more in the present than you."

Had I been by myself I would not have wandered the museum, and I might not have taken the tour. One of my students was working at the desk as we came in and would have let me simply wander, but with a first-timer you need to do all the things. And so we walked around among the exhibits, the long history of the risings against the Brits. The attempts to hold onto the culture, onto the language, onto the banished and tortured religion. Then the diaspora – half the population vanishing to death, to Liverpool and Manchester, to Australia, of course to America. Along the way, all the secret and not-so-secret organizations – the United Irishmen, the Young Irishmen, the Gaelic League, the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army, Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Army: each that curious mix of poetry and violence that makes us so different from Russian or Chinese revolutionaries, or even those rationalist rebels of the eighteenth century in America and France.

But the museum could not affect me very deeply. I needed to sense the stones for that. I started to feel the stone in the walls of the chapel where the tour starts and Joseph Plunkett was married in the hours before he was shot in May 1916. "If you get sentenced to death I might shag you that last night," Caitlin whispered, "but I sure as hell wouldn't marry you." And some Brit tourist in front of us began to laugh. It is after that though, as you duck through short narrow doorways into the dank stone walled corridors and move to where all the Easter Rising martyrs spent their last nights, that you feel the weight. Many of those heroes indeed used that last evening of their lives to pen their thoughts in poems and the romantic prose of long love letters. And the stones then grow in weight. The stone floor of the courtyards where famine victims were buried in quicklime so the bodies would melt into the earth and untold thousands more could be buried on top of them. Those victims committed crimes simply to get into prison where there might be food, and the British reaction was to cut prisoner rations to discourage this. "There was really no food shortage in Ireland," the tour guides always say quite accurately, "or there would not have been had the British not continued to export huge amounts of food from Ireland to England all those years." Two million dead. Two million more fleeing on ships. And the ruling class in England opining in their newspapers that this was God's retribution for the Irish believing in the wrong God. But more than anything else, the stones of the courtyard where the 1916 martyrs were shot.

I've been in America's capital city and I've been in London, Paris, Rome, and Berlin. All home to massive war memorials, and gigantic tributes to the founders. I think they miss the point: the Washington Monument, the Invalides, and all. I've offended people in every country by telling them that they have missed the point. The wonder of heroes is that they are ordinary men and women, born as crying babies, raised as curious or maybe troublesome children, men and women who loved, who lost, who worked, who dreamed, just like everyone else, except that they heard a call. At some critical moment they chose to throw all normal human desires for comfort and even life itself into an incredibly dangerous pool, in true attempts to change the world.

I remembered a drunk argument at Notre Dame: "The Americans, the English, the French, the Germans, the Italians," I said, "they all try to imagine these people as Gods, as much larger than life. That lets ordinary people off the hook. It lets the rest of us say, We are not like them. We are not Napoleon, or Henry II, or Jefferson, or Frederick the Great," I even remember my audience losing interest, in American bars you argue sports, not literature, and surely not history, and so by the time I said, "and so we think that there is nothing that we can do." I was drowned out by some debate over whether the university should play football in the Big Ten.

On this day, in this courtyard, the stone walls towering above us, I said to Caitlin, my arm wrapping her for the first time since the tour began, "the holiest place in Ireland." She looked at me with a strange expression. "Not Tara? Not Christ Church?" she smiles at me, "Not even Joyce's tower?" I was listening to her, but I was really staring at the list.

It is such a simple list. It is such a simple plaque. It is such a simple place. The iron crosses and the single flagpole and the names and dates in bronze relief. Up in Derry on the corner there is a similar list of those who died on Bloody Sunday. Similarly simple. All over Ireland there are lists like this.

We left the prison and crossed the street to the pub and sat in the back by the fire. The pub has been there forever. Did Joe Plunkett's bride drink here on the day her new husband was killed by the British Empire? She may have, along with untold other desperate relatives. "They were all so young," Caitlin said looking at the portraits of the martyrs that filled the room. "Not all." "Most. They were all so young and they were the best of Ireland and they died for no reason." She looked at me while I drank my beer and smoked. "You don't agree," she said, "and…" she let her voice trail off. I looked at her. I was really falling in love with her, though this all felt different from past sensations. And I trusted her. I did, but I wondered, what could I say? How much could I say? "And what?" I asked. "You can say what you need to." She let out a big sigh. "You don't agree," she said again, "and that scares me."

"If they hadn't died," I said, sounding, I'm very sure, like I was in a classroom lecturing, "it would have been another thirty years, at least and we'd probably still have the fucking Queen on our money." She rolled her eyes. "Boys," she said. "Impatient, insane boys." She drained her pint. "Get me one more," she ordered, "using your no Queen money." I started to get up, "And listen fella of mine. I'm not coming to your funeral. And I'm not coming to visit you in prison. I'm telling you the limits right now." I turned toward the bar, then turned around again. "Well how about coming north with me then?" "North?" "Take a couple of day trips north with me," I said, "there are some things that I think I need to look for." She didn't answer, and I went and got the pints and came back. "I will come up north with you," she said then, "but you still understand the limits." "No funeral, no prison visits," I said. "Those are the rules," Caitlin told me.

- Ira Socol (c) 2006-2016

Saturday, January 18, 2014

I never saw the angels come...

I never saw the angels come. I know they were there. They had to be. But I never saw them. Maybe I was late each time and they had come from heaven and returned. Maybe my eyes were not ready, maybe my soul was not.

Woodlawn Cemetery - almost in the 47th Precinct, NYPD
 In The Bronx of the 1980s, if you were a cop and you worked "midnights" - 11.30 pm to 8.00 am - which we pretty much all did one out of every six weeks, we figured you'd have a 20% chance of ending your shift with a "SIDS baby." The calls seemed to come every dawn, and I'm certain the dispatchers tried to spread the pain... but still, you could count on this every night.

It didn't take long for us to learn to try to hide. Even that Bronx was pretty quiet at 5.30 am, before people started moving toward the subways, before cars stolen and businesses burgled were discovered, but we'd all grab any call we could to be busy before, "child not breathing" came across the radio.

"Seven Adam?" "Seven Adam." "Seven Adam, child not breathing, second floor, 538 East 223."  ...  "Seven Adam, copy that?" "Seven Adam, four Central, on our way."

Now I wonder if it was during that pause, that sigh before we'd find the courage needed to reply, if that was the moment when the angels would come for that innocent soul.

We were almost all young fathers then. I'd guess that half the precinct had kids under two at home. And, to a man, when we came home from working our "third tours" - 4.00 pm to midnight, which was three out of every six weeks - we would shake our babies in their cribs, usually until they cried, to be sure they were breathing. We lived our lives in a fear no one associated with the young cops they saw prowling modern New York's most violent decade.

I never saw the angels come. I saw panic stricken mothers and fathers. I saw rivers of tears. I saw the surroundings of horrific urban poverty. I saw shrines on the walls which had failed in this most precious purpose. And I saw lifeless bodies - blue, mottled - bodies we would grab and perform heroic medical care on in desperate hope... no, it was not that... in a desperate performance to keep the mothers and fathers from the ultimate nightmare just a few minutes longer.

I think that if I had witnessed that tiny moment of ascent to heaven, I would cry less all these years later.

(c) 2014 Ira David Socol

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

200 meters

image via NWI Times
Go away. Everything needs to go away. The scene in this place. The voices echoing off the tile. Especially the few that call my name. And the guy to my left, and the guy to my right. Go away. There just needs to be me and the fifty meters of chlorine filled blue water that stretch in front of me, seven feet wide, and the tone that I’m waiting for.

I just want to do ok. You know? I just want to do ok. There are people watching me. Somewhere up in the balcony they’re there. And if I’m ok, they can get me out of here.

There it is, and I’m off clean, and falling into the liquid world, and slipping under and now there’s the perfect time, the long glide and even when I start kicking I’m still in sea mammal mode and I’m way past the third of the pool mark before I need air and start the stroke. Today it just feels right, barely any break between the water below and the air above as I count myself into the first turn, dive, circle, kick and twist and I’m pulling myself back the other way and I slip into my dreamland in the softness of the blue, this easy world where the sounds are distant rumbles and the lights waver quietly and it’s just me and what my body can do.

When I start to come out of that state I’ve gone three laps and made the last turn and I’m starting to dig through the last forty meters. Now that bigger world starts to intrude. Now with every stroke I think of where the other swimmers might be. I think of places I’ve never seen or really imagined: East Lansing and Raleigh and San Antonio. I think of being in a place where no one knows me. Where no one knows all the ways I screw up. Where I can start all over, as clean as when I climb out of this pool.

And with all that I feel the water get thicker, but I feel myself start to rise up and fight. My arms drag massive chunks of water and force me forward. I start to know that there are no wakes kicking back toward me from the lanes on either side. I think I hear a voice yelling to me, saying “come on, you’ve got it.”

The end of lane marks are there, and I reach and touch. Then let myself sink, deep into the silence and safety until burning lungs force me to the surface. Cam grabs my hand and holds it up. The guy from Hempstead ducks under the markers and grabs me and says, “fuckin’ a.” I mumble thanks and dunk myself again, all the hours I’ve spent hiding from my life in water like this, all the times I’ve wondered about disappearing into it, about just not coming back up for oxygen, and maybe now it all can carry me away.

I come back up. The clock shows the best time I’ve ever swum. I climb out, wrap myself in the towel Cam hands me, and drift off into a corner, dropping onto a chair. They’ll come find me in a few minutes. They all will. And that’ll be ok. Because now I know where the door is.

(c) copyright 2003, 2013 by Ira David Socol

Thursday, October 17, 2013


Floating in and out of the present. Something in the back of my head really hurts but the pain in my right leg, that's the thing. That light is way, way too bright. I can only see the vague silhouetted shapes of the people talking above me. I feel the shot flowing into my vein and maybe I'm on the concrete deck alongside the outdoor pool trying to look into a sizzling early September sun. Is that Joey? Are we going to do the 4x100? I feel the breeze cross my body and shiver as I try to get up. But I'm way too tired. "Later," I mumble, "I just can't swim right now."

"Do you need something?" A nurse is asking. What is a nurse doing… oh. I hear someone say something about the mix of concussion and morphine. Someone touches my forehead, softly. Now I know I'm naked. Who are these people? I see a cascade of long dark hair and try to reach for her but cannot move that way either.

I dove for him. In a flash, does cognizance come from that sudden pain that sweeps up from my leg? I remember this. On that fire escape on 227th Street. He'd cut Brian with that fucking knife that came out of nowhere and went out the window before anyone could react. I went after him and tried to grab him… Where is Brian? That was one huge slash, but I can only remember falling, there's nothing in between then and this blindingly white space.

Warmth floods my brain suddenly and now I am maybe fifteen and drying naked on the warm granite rocks of an abandoned island after swimming from the park, slipping out of realities then as well, and there are noises around me, boat motors, jets leaving LaGuardia, even a siren but they are far away and can't disturb my escape.

"We've got to start getting into that leg now," a voice says but I cannot grasp where it might be coming from. I feel hands on me, and still wonder where they could be coming from. Then, snap and the meds drop away and in that window I'm with Colin and Mike and Brian in that room on the EDP - Emotionally-Disturbed Person - call, and I do fall, tumbling past the fire escape ladder. It's slow motion in this vision and I feel but don't see myself land on the edge of that dumpster and then the crushing thud onto the alley pavement.

Quiet time in the dark and then the sounds of people running towards me, and the radio barking "two officers down," and then, is there another injection? I think I hear, "calm him down, he's waking up," and the window shuts and maybe I'm on the concrete deck alongside the outdoor pool trying to look into a sizzling early September sun. Is that Joey? Are we going to do the 4x100?

(c) 2005 - 2013 Ira David Socol

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


In the summer when I turned thirteen I swam across Long Island Sound to the lighthouse on Execution Rocks.

At thirteen there are nights when you cannot sleep. Not because of actual reasons for terror in the house, nor because of worries or pressures. And really not even because the hot, humid Gulf Stream air swamping New York is too still and sweat coats your skin. But because there are so many things to hope for, so many wishes, that your brain cannot file them all away fast enough to let the silence come. This was the morning after one of those nights, and perhaps, not just for me.

Ten of us, maybe eleven - it is hard to count or even know all the faces now - mostly boys but not all, mostly members of the YMCA's Swim Team but not all, stood in the long gazebo at Hudson Park which overlooked the beach and the Sound. Late July, and the early morning light mixed with the incoming salt of the rising tide, and the seaweed and fish and the plants of the marshes. The flag in the park hung limp, only showing flutters of life around its edges.

It began with a dare, because that is the way stories of thirteen-year-old boys usually begin. Someone suggested we swim across Echo Bay, the small enclosure of the Sound which held the city's municipal marina and rowing club, and which, 280 years before, had seen Huguenot refugees of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre arrive to form a new home in a new land. But Echo Bay seemed both too easy - maybe somewhere between a quarter and a half mile - and too dangerous - the other side housed the rich, we'd be arriving on some rich person's lawn - and too familiar - we swam every day at the Hudson Park beaches here.

"We should swim out to Execution Rocks," I then might have said. The kind of crazy statement I could make at times like this. Execution Rocks, which had held a lighthouse since the early days of the American Republic, was the farthest outcropping of the City of New Rochelle, lying more than two miles across the Sound, much closer to the Long Island shore than to any point on this side, and marking the shipping channel through our rock-infested choke point where the Sound became the East River.

Decades later, I would stand in a gourmet food store before a shelf of various sea salts and wonder if I could season my foods with memories. Could I use the salt from this particular branch of the Atlantic Ocean? Or from the surf off Coney Island? From Lough Foyle or the Forty-Foot in Ireland? From Cape Disappointment where the Columbia finds the Pacific? What dreams might those meals awaken?

A thousand yards out, that's 40 lengths of the 25 yard pool we swam in under the Y gym, where the low ceiling held the chlorine captive so you could not smell the difference between air and water, my arms felt fine but my legs were beginning to drag behind me, and I let myself pause, coming upright in the pond-flat green water, my legs in a slow bicycle pump that stretched the muscles in different ways. I was still in coastal waters, tiny Huckleberry Island, legend told us of an old "Shore Club" and a great fire but who really knew?, still lay over a thousand feet away. But here, I breathed as deeply as I could now and saw the world from that exact point we call "sea level," was a wondrously safe spot. I could still see and hear my friends on shore, they were waving, and I waved back - slowly to indicate that I was fine, not frantically as in a call for help - and thought of not returning. And then I turned and began swimming toward the little island's rocky point.

They had said the swim to the lighthouse was "fucking insane," and "really stupid," and when I had argued that neither of those things were true they had dared me to try it. So we'd gotten on our bikes and ridden down the hill out of Hudson Park, turned left onto Hudson Park Road, then left again to climb the little hill at the start of Davenport Avenue - we could have ridden the flat route along Pelham Road and Church Street but it was not going to be that sort of day - and curved around the long reach of Davenport Neck until we tore down the vast grassy hill of Davenport Park and came to the giant tumbled rocks at the water. I'd swim it, but I wasn't going to start an extra half-mile away. We all knew this was not just the closest spot, but that it also had an island sort of halfway, a safety factor of importance.

Here, further out in the Sound, a slight breeze cooled us, but couldn't ripple the water. And the tide was reaching its top now, creating the calmest waters. I pushed my Keds off, pulled my socks off, and dropped my jeans, leaving just the purple Y Speedos most of us wore under our pants that summer. My shirt had been off and tied around the bike's seat post since I'd gotten on it that morning. "Scream if you're drowning," Billy said. "Yeah," I said, and walked to the one spot on the rocks we knew was safe for diving at this moment, and jumped in. "You're buying me pizza when I get back," I yelled after coming up to the surface. "Don't race," Peter said, kind of softly, "just go slow." I turned and headed south.

Three weeks or so later there was a meet at Saxon Woods, a huge county pool up near White Plains, with 50 meter lengths and teams from Ys and recreation programs from all over and the heavy smell of Coppertone and girls, lots of girls, even girls we knew. That day too was way too hot, and between heats the sun would weigh on our skin, pushing against us, driving us into the narrow strip of shade along the bathhouse. The girls, we understood, were there to see us, not to see us swim. They stared at our groins the way we stared at their rapidly growing tits, with not quite fully defined fascination. We then became completely aware of our own bodies, in ways that those of us who choose to hide in the water could not yet deal with. In September of that year, sitting in Cindy's bedroom on a Saturday afternoon, she put her hand on my thigh and asked, "What does it take to get you, you know, umm, excited?"

As she found out, I remembered her looking at me that day at Saxon Woods. How had she gotten there? What, exactly, had she been looking for?

When I pushed off the Huckleberry Island rocks I felt good, if vaguely thirsty. From here, a bit more than a mile maybe, maybe more, I guessed it would depend how far the current pulled me off course - a hundred little corrections adds up in distance, and the target now was a tiny spot in the water, still, at this moment in time, occupied by a lighthouse keeper, and home to deep-voiced steam foghorn which sang me to sleep on the stormy nights of autumn. And here, beyond that coastal zone, the water rose and fell, forcing a change in stroke to make breathing a conscious decision every time, and the smells of land vanished, and the water temperature dropped, and the world narrowed to just me and this sea, both my closest friend and my mortal enemy.

I pulled myself up onto the rocks in full, but not panicked, exhaustion, and lay gasping for air and feeling like my shoulders could not rotate one more time. I closed my eyes and felt the sun, and the warm stone, and listened to the waves splash against those rocks. Those rocks, that was our Halloween story. It was called "Execution Rocks" our story went, because the British had chained prisoners to these rocks during the Revolution and then waited for the tide to rise. When I looked again, I was staring up at both the lighthouse and a man in a blue uniform, who held a large green thermos out to me. "Did you just fuckin' swim here?" there was no wait for an answer, "drink this you crazy moron."

He gave me a salami sandwich on dark brown bread and lots of water as we sat on folding chairs in the shade of the island's house. He asked about my swimming, where I went to school, what I knew about the currents here. He never asked my name, or where I lived, or why I had just swum two miles to his spot on the map. I refused the boat ride back, though there was no doubt that he would shadow me in his launch back toward Huckleberry. For reasons I could not name this seemed to be alright with me.

I climbed back out of the water at Davenport Park three or three and a half hours after leaving. Maybe it was four hours or more. Time is not a specific thing here. I pulled myself up the rocks to a lot of whoops and stuff from now impressed friends. And they wrapped their towels around me, and I looked out, and saw the lighthouse keeper in his boat, just beyond Huckleberry. He waved. I hope I waved back, and then I stumbled to the grass. And then I think I slept.

(c) 2012 by Ira David Socol

Friday, January 27, 2012


The last of the sun lit the valley in ways that made all the best myths of my childhood seem possible, golden rays falling on green so deep and on a cloudbank the greatest painters of the world could not capture and, yes, on her skin and on her hair, and splashing off the blue of her eyes. We lay next to each other on the warm bonnet of the borrowed Rover, our fingers intertwined, and I said, "thanks for coming with me today," and she said, "I wouldn't have missed it for the world." I wanted to say so much more, but sometimes when I need them most, words elude me.

copyright 2006-2012 by Ira David Socol

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Fourth Avenue

The rain was whipping up Fourth Avenue, and the air was brittle with salt and impending cold. But here on this third floor it was crazy hot as the radiators sizzled. Everybody was awake, the kind of wound up anticipation to be expected. I was too, certainly, but I was working on staying in character, so I was pretending to sleep, lying face down on one of the beds, wearing nothing but Irish flag colored bikini underwear, my arms stretched out above my head, as I breathed the smell of my own sweat.
When I had found my way here an hour ago after the run through the chill wet streets from the Smith-Ninth Street Station, unexpected routes on both trains and streets, slipping through the narrow alley alongside the Bodega around the corner, climbing the fence and then through the stair window of this place, I'd been soaked to the skin. As I took in the team that would cover me tonight, and make all the collars, I peeled my jeans, my jacket, my shirts, my socks off, spreading them out on the old porcelain topped kitchen table stuck next to one of the overheated radiators. There was nothing I was wearing, nothing I was carrying, which would, I sure hoped, suggest to anyone that I might be a cop. The others were dressed for other purposes.

I'd stripped, to try to get warm and dry, spent about fifteen minutes talking in whispers to my Lieutenant and the Sergeant who was leading the sniper team while those here who did not know me wondered who the fuck this weird deep cover guy was. "I don't get these kids," one older cop said, "I mean, what's with the Italian flag panties? Is he a fag or what?" "Irish flag you color blind moron," I heard Jimmy say behind me, "and he might be a fag or he might not but don't think he's gonna fuck someone who looks like you." Jimmy was good people. You have to know, when you have a job like this, who the few people are you can trust absolutely. Jimmy was one of those. Frankie was another. Sergeant Keneally, especially when he had me covered with his rifle, was a third. The rest of the room really didn't matter to me. And I wasn't going to put wet shit back on to make them feel better about me. So I decided that I needed to slip away, and faked my pass out on the bed, separating my brain from the room.

Twenty minutes passed, occasional bits of talk bouncing through my attempts to shutter my head. "Look at that mook," I heard an unfamiliar voice say, "sound fucking asleep, dreaming of getting fucked in his little bikini ass." "Probably what he's dreaming," Frankie answered, "but he ain't asleep. You asleep Mook?"

"Shut the fuck up," I mumbled to the guy I knew always shadowed me, the guy who kept me alive day in, day out, and went back to convincing myself that I was actually sleeping. I tried to tell myself that I was dreaming of an icy day in a pub atop the Dublin Mountains, Johnnie Foxx's, with snow squalls spinning past the windows. The picture of solitude, of silence, was what I was trying to hold on to, but I couldn't. I shifted, it was hot enough in here. I saw myself lying on a beach, maybe Rockaway, sweat and salt and baby oil mixing in the air, the sky above such pure blue. Maybe...

I wasn't scheduled to head out, to start the game, for another six hours. I needed to be here, of course, but I needed to be anyplace but here as well. It was one of those things. It was a sense of nowhere to hide that had taken over, eyes closed fantasy being the one escape, but it remained an incredibly dangerous escape.

The rain was hitting the roof, mixing in a chaotic sound wall with the conversations, the television, the feet on the floor, the opened cigarette packs, the cheap lighters flaring, the citywide radio channel burbling with Emergency Services calls. As it rolled in, in my head, the beach on the Atlantic morphed into the crowded soundscape of a summer night along a salt water marsh. Just a step further in from the sea, as Jamaica Bay breathed peacefully. I took that and let it hold me.

The salt marsh was a safer place than the mountain snow, at least if the sounds swirling would not go away.  There were a few moments, maybe ten minutes, not sure, when the surrounding noise, whatever I was turning it into, was mixing with the voices and faces of this case. There were lots of faces, I'd been in this character for two months now, and, yeah, I knew these "targets" - targets were what they were and had always been - I knew these "targets," I might have even trusted these "targets" better than most of the people surrounding me now, but that's the way the brain works.

And then, then I did fall asleep.

The dreams left the fears behind for right now. They left the lies behind. And the guilt. They left that clock ticking in the ears, eyes, and hearts of all the others in this odd hide out, and probably with the rest of the cast of characters, all those out on the streets between here and the canal who were prepping for that false play I had given them. All around the clocks ticked toward 10:30.

But I lay outside those gears of time for as long as I could.

copyright 2012 by Ira David Socol

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Finding Ends (11/19/2001)

Fresh Kills, from the Wellcome Collection on Dirt,
2011 Exhibition, London
If I wasn't wrapped in this Tyvek spacesuit and struggling inside the breathing apparatus I'm sure I would be getting cold. The sun is brilliant but the November wind is rolling off the Jersey highlands and there's nothing at all to block it up here at the top of the pile except the remnants of the fire trucks.
We stand out here literally between sunrise and sunset. In the morning the slight glow out across the open Atlantic finds us dressing. An eternity later the last light fades behind the mountains of northern New Jersey and we wash ourselves off. We fill that stretch of time sifting through the untold tons of rubble and dust that were once the World Trade Center in this oddest of places, the special re-opening of the world's largest garbage dump. One hundred and eighty feet above the tidal marshes that centuries ago gave this place a Dutch name for clean waters, Fresh Kills, we work the crime scene of the worst single-day event in North American history.
I've been here a little more than a month now. Since they looked into my eyes and told me Ground Zero wasn't for me anymore. That was true. Twenty-three straight days in the smoking rubble and home only three times, but that wasn't rare. Most of us who could, stayed. What else would we do?
The search here is unlike the search there. There we could, at least in that first week, hold onto the vague thought that this was a rescue mission. Here, where nine thousand tons of, well everything, arrive daily, those illusions have never stood. Here where the stink of methane leaking from below mixes with the stench of human death and the salt air of the ocean. Here where we follow the gulls as they dive for the remnants of human life, then chase the birds with fireworks and gunshots so we can have first pick. Here where we keep our separate boxes for ID cards, and jewelry, and clothing, and shoes, and bone, and tissue. Here where crushed emergency vehicles mix with shattered office furniture, millions of office documents, and, in one day's discovery, a pile of tiny brass Trade Center figurines that probably came from that tourist spot just off PATH Square. Here where we hunt for evidence while desperately trying to give something back to everyone left behind.
This week I've found seven rings and four fingers, a laptop computer, two wallets-one more or less intact, part of a foot, a singed copy of Steppenwolf with a name and email address from nyu.edu written inside, the kind of badge-holder cops and firemen wear around their neck when off duty, six pairs of jeans from The Gap with price tags still attached, the top half of a human femur, someone's tax return, two earrings, a piece of white-painted aluminum I'll guess came from a plane, a phone message slip telling someone to "call home. 8:32 am, 9/11."
This week, as every week, people have come to the gates below us. Mothers, fathers, children, husbands, wives. There is nothing we can do for them here but they come. They come looking for answers we'll never be able to offer. They come hoping to salve unsalveable wounds. Or they come to say "thank you" and to say that they appreciate what we are doing. That is the hardest. It would be easier if they were angry.
I have worked for this department for more than twenty-one years. I have seen way too much. I have lived through way too much. Eight years ago when I worked the case of the first Trade Center bombing I realized my head was beyond full. I retreated into meaningless office work, became a researcher who happened to carry a gun. I started telling people simply, "I work for the city." I moved to the woods of outer Staten Island and pretended I was someone else. Then, on that incredibly clear day in September, drifting up Church Street, coffee in hand and late as usual, I stared up at my favorite buildings and watched a huge airliner plow into the north tower. When I pulled that shield, "Detective-Field Services Specialist, New York City Police Department, 1476" out from inside my shirt and ran across the street my carefully constructed dream world vanished. For 69 days I have been a cop again, in all the best ways, and, of course, all the worst.
It is important to know when to stop. That moment isn't now, but it is coming. I will keep driving here every day, and pulling on all this gear, and walking up to this, the world's tallest tomb since the great pyramids, and sifting the dust with gloved fingers, until we are all sure there is nothing left to find. When that is done, I will be too. I will take off the spacesuit. I will take off the badge. I will throw the gun into the harbor. I will go away to the smallest, calmest place where I can buy good coffee and sit in a good library and stare into open waters. And I will look again for peace.
(copyright 2003 by Ira David Socol)

Monday, July 25, 2011


On those hot nights when there just was nothing to do but be away from everyone and everything I'd walk in a slow drift down to the park at the water. There were no lights at all except for one in the parking lot just off the road and the glow of the 7-up machine by the padlocked restrooms and thick lines of trees blocked any infiltration from the lamps of the beach clubs that lay east and west. So in pure darkness I'd cross the enormous lawn, flowing down the hill, to the rock shore and strip off my clothes and being relatively careful of position as far as underwater rocks were concerned, would dive into the cold silence of Long Island Sound. If I needed dreams I'd swim to the abandoned fort and climb out and walk the ancient streets. If I needed hope I'd head for a little island with nothing but trees and warm myself in the glow of the stars. If I needed simply to be gone I'd crawl all the way to the lighthouse at Execution Rocks, cutting across the shipping channel with strokes at an absolutely consistent pace and breaths taken only at the point of absolute necessity. In that eternal salt water my thoughts would cease as I forced my body to fight for survival. And when I finally pulled myself up under the tower, the foghorn deafening, the strobe splitting the sky, I'd remember nothing but the swim itself.

© Ira David Socol 2006

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Electric Avenue

93 degrees. 92% humidity. Radio Car 1352. 2232 hours. 47 Precinct, Sector Eddie, which is not ours. Division 9 radio crackling, "holding 83 in the Four-Seven, anyone available?"

 The Police are on the radio. "Every Breath You Take." MTV is the thing you have cable for right now. Limelight, in that old church downtown, is the hottest club, and Liam and I know a few of the bartenders, so we get in. Imus in the morning on WNBC - "Hear the new excitement from Rockefeller Center, Sixty-Six, W-N-B-C" - and Howard Stern in the afternoon keep the day shift laughing but now we're flipping through FM, the volume loud, as if it could drown out the dispatcher.

I tell the guy I'm refusing to fight with to get lost. The sweat is pouring down my chest and back under the vest. we have no time for the kind of bullshit this moron and his buddies are trying to pull in the parking lot of the shopping center by Laconia and 2-3-3.

We climb back into the Gran Fury. Air conditioning is cranked to “max” as Chrysler describes it. The cold rushes across our faces, through our wet hair, we both shiver. Liam picks up his radio, but…

A fat beeping tone blasts through the speaker, “Any available in Four-Seven, shots fired, White Plains Road and 2-2-9, multiple calls.” “Seven Adam is going,” Liam responds, “We’re clear from 2-3-3 and Laconia.” “Any disposition?” “Uhhh, unfounded.” “OK Adam, anyone else in the Four-Seven going?” “Seven Sergeant will go Central, but we’re a long way.”

I’m speeding across 2-3-3, lights but no sirens. Never go to shootings with sirens, bad shit happens if they know you’re coming. The real radio begins to play “Electric Avenue,” our precinct’s theme song, and as I squeeze through traffic and spin left under the El a train heads south, sparks lighting up the scene in video game blue. “Down in the street there is violence. And a lots of work to be done. No place to hang out our washing. And I can't blame all on the sun, oh no.”

Between 231st and 229th there is no shooting but plenty of broken glass. Car windows, store windows. Two guys in Rasta hats and dreads lie on the east side sidewalk in a flow of blood, one face up, one face down. There are footprints leading away, someone has already snatched the guns from their hands. “Slow it down at White Plains Road,” I tell the dispatcher, “but we need the boss, and the squad, and the coroner.” And now we hear wailing. In the street an old Chevy sits crashed into an El pillar, windows open. My eyes go to the passenger door, one huge bullet hole ripped into it. Then through the window we both see the top of a kid's car seat.

Liam pushes the button on the radio, tells dispatch we need an ambulance fast. We run to the car, but we already know. 

(copyright 2011 by Ira David Socol)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Deep Green

St. Patrick's Day was a Sunday that year, and we awoke late, our bodies waiting for the overnight rain to disappear before coming to life. But even that was slow, we breathed in the stew of smells, sheets dried outside on the line, the sweat of our bodies, the peat from the fire in the next room, the salt slipping in on the westerly breeze.

"When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other's work would bring us to our senses."

I did not read her poetry, but watched her as she stood naked, silhouetted against the dull blue sky. "You haven't written a thing in three days," she said. Not a question, so I stayed silent.

She turned.

"Today?" "Not today, we need to be outside today. Tomorrow, tomorrow is Monday."

We gathered things to eat from the kitchen - brown bread and black pudding, yoghurt and bangers, cheese and bottles of beer - and walked from the house down the hill. We could hear the Atlantic breathing. We could smell the live wool of the sheep. We felt the winds of the world grazing our faces.

At the shore we lay on a blanket. There was just enough sun to allow us to keep ourselves warm.

(copyright 2011 by Ira David Socol)

In Memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984 by Seamus Heaney

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

March Seventeenth

Eric Ascalon (c)
I said I wasn't putting a uniform on and I wasn't working the parade and while I wanted the day off that wasn't a huge deal because even if I didn't get the day off and, it's not like I'm not sensitive to the staffing reports that he needs to send in to One Police Plaza everyday, I'll pretty much be here when I'm here but that'll be between him and me. The lieutenant said, "Whatever, but what do we have on these guys in New Jersey?" And I ask, "That the Feds haven't leaked to CBS yet?" He groans. I just say, "I'm going in today. I won't go tomorrow. Thursday I'll look at the reports. I'll tell you something Friday." He says, "Friday?" I say, "Yeah," and I turn around, spilling a little of the now cold coffee from my mug onto his carpet, mumble "sorry" and leave. Then I spend the next six hours wandering through the ruins of the Trade Center garage, surprisingly hot under the hard hat though it's cold down there, but we're not finding anything important anymore, that's just the truth.

Wednesday I make token attempts. I wear an old Michigan State sweatshirt because it's green. I get to work by about 8:15 more or less, and since my day technically starts at 7:30, that's not bad, for me. I've taken the slow train in. This might mean I've spent too much time thinking. Yes. It does. I've thought about how tired I am. The last three weeks, Jesus. I've thought about how I've slept probably thirty hours since the attack in February, so, of course I'm tired. I've thought about how that's not true: that's not why I'm tired. I'm tired because I'm going nuts as a single dad and I'm tired because not only haven't I gotten laid in a really long time I can't even imagine that a woman might look at me like that anytime soon if ever again and I'm tired because I came downtown eighteen months ago because they thought I was a burnout or I thought I was a burnout and because I have no idea if I want to be a cop anymore and because I've been that tired and then, bam, some motherfucker tries to knock over the towers and then, bam, because my bosses mistake eccentricities for intelligence, I'm totally a cop again, and I wasn't ready for that. And I've thought, well, we pretty much know what's happened and we've pretty much identified the assholes involved and we're not going to get any credit for this anyway because the FBI is running a 24/7 publicity machine for themselves and besides, at some point the CIA and the DIA are gonna take over, right? Then, if all that's true why can't I just dump this task force and go back to crime trend data analysis or whatever the fuck my job is supposed to be, or better yet, just leave this city behind before… well, before whatever's next.

On the train there are lots of cops, of course. Tons of cops and fireman all in uniform all heading down to be in the parade or to work at the parade. I've done that. Not marched but worked it. I did it as a rookie, all rookies do it even ones assigned to weird deep cover stuff. And last year because they said that kind of crap was more or less the price of the detective's shield, or surely the price of getting quickly bumped from Detective Third Class to Detective Second Class when you're getting that kind of pay raise without capturing Son of Sam or something. So I've worked the parade. It's not bad, I just never liked being in uniform in Manhattan where they expect you to wear hats and have shiny shoes and stuff. If I'd done it today though, I'd meet people, and I don't want to meet people or answer questions about how I am, and so I ride downtown, hidden in a corner, the old college baseball cap pulled down over my eyes, and I make it through the pre-parade crowd un-noticed.

I make it through the day mostly un-noticed. I get in late. I drink coffee. I walk a wide lap around the Trade Center. I sit by the water. I sit in the churchyard at Trinity. I walk another lap. I have three beers and a corned beef sandwich at a bar that ought to be better on the edge of Tribeca. On the way back from the bar a fat guy seems to be having a heart attack in front of a Burger King and I drop into public servant mode and do what I can for him until the ambulance gets there. Stuck to the light pole next to where the fat guy lies on the sidewalk is a hand-lettered poster asking, "Is America Safe?" A block later I meet Ahmad who's a waiter up in Windows on the World. He walked down 106 floors 19 days ago, and he's been out of work, of course, but he seems good. He laughs cause I'm wearing green, "You guys really aren't all Irish."

At home this night I'll have a Guinness or two, but I'm not going to find a babysitter in my neighborhood on St. Patrick's Day night. Tomorrow I will spread this mountain of paperwork all over the conference room and try to see things in ways I have not before. I'll be wearing jeans and a shirt and tie and none of it will be green. Friday I'll tell the lieutenant something, but I doubt that anything I can say will make any difference.

(copyright 2004-2011 by Ira David Socol)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Finding Patrick

The sun has dropped behind the hills to the west and I have stood in the field as the sky has tumbled from a royal to a navy to an ink blue that is almost black and now the moon has risen to straight above, surrounded by an immense ring which fills almost half the heavens.

At my feet the grass turns from dry to damp and the chill settles around me, and, though it has now been more than a year since my last cigarette I pull a fresh pack from my pocket, tear off the plastic, open it, the tobacco adding to the smells of the night, and slip the Camel between my lips.

Then I pause. I do not want to strike the match. I do not want to, even for a moment, add light into this dark. Terrestrial light seems an insult to that moon and the stars which themselves wait on the edges of the ring, Orion impatient on the southwest.

Patrick is not really my saint. Patrick brings the light to Ireland, which surely, is good. But to St. David the lights in the night are harbingers of death - ignis fatuus - and are to be carried with care. So I wait as well, the silence so deep that I hear the blood coursing through the capillaries of my ear drums, a faint yet ancient beat.

(copyright 2011 by Ira David Socol)

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Ash Wednesday

photo: Flickr by ionizdat
We stop at Saint Dominic’s off Gun Hill Road right after loading the guy with the heart attack on Edenwald into an ambulance. “Please guys,” we beg the paramedics, “sure he’s dead but if he’s dead here it’ll take us over an hour to get this taken care of, and you can just dump him on the E/R.” We kneel before the priest and take communion and are blessed with the ashes. Then, still deeply hungover from Fat Tuesday alcohol consumption, we run to the “shots fired” call where Edson ends at Strang, and find the kid dead in the tall brown grass of what was supposed to be a park.

The kid is maybe ten, well later we’ll know he wasn’t even, but at that moment, at the point where Colin says, “oh fuck” and I come over and see the thin body with the blood leaking from a temple, we think “ten,” not knowing that he was tall for his age.

A minute later I realize there’s a gun in the grass as well, a silver .22 automatic, and I reach into my pocket and pull out gloves and hand one pair to Colin who takes them without moving his eyes from the boy’s frozen face and I pull them on, silently because I fully believe that noise will rob this place of the desperately needed sanctity and I kneel down and and am about to lift this weapon into my hands when its location and position scream to me and I leap to my feet and start backing away, muttering, “holy fucking shit, no.”

There are no parents. No one knows where any father might be. Mom’s in jail. When we finally ask enough questions we find the place Grandma lives, a basement apartment a block away, and she is dead in her bed. It seems natural, she clearly went in her sleep.

“I guess he couldn’t take it no more,” another third grader tells us. “He was gettin’ picked on a lot at school. The teacher didn’t like him neither.” “Oh,” I say, “did he like his Grandma?” “Loved her,” the kid says, “she dead?” “I guess she must of died in her sleep,” I say without thinking about who I’m talking to. “Then that’s why, he must’a found her and give up.”

“You ok?” I ask him. “Yo, po-leece,” he says, “I’m jus’ fine.”

I look around. The cold winter sky. The low brick rowhouses. The projects towering over there. The abandoned, burnt cars near the edge of the park. I walk back to where the body still rests, touch the ashes on my face, bend down once again, this time making a tiny cross on that cold forehead.

(copyright 2005-2011 by Ira David Socol)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Timing the Night

I have no idea how many steps lead up to this place from Myrtle Avenue and that old Cathedral, but I've been told that the stone column that towers above me is one hundred and forty-eight feet high, the world's tallest Doric column for those into obscure records.
Circling around me, slightly filtered by the haze of July evening humidity, the skyline of New York rises as I struggle to regain my breath. Downtown to my left, accented by the lighted spans and cables of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. Midtown to my right, with the Williamsburgh Bridge in the foreground the odd lumpy shape of the 59th Street Bridge way out there. I am anchored here, after running these massive granite stairs a dozen times down and a dozen times up, at this odd spot where the river bends and New York lies directly north of Brooklyn across the East River.
I know my history. I come to this park to rehab the knee that I now feel swelling beneath the huge steel brace, but things that are gone fascinate me. I see dead people in my nightmares but even in the waking day I see long vanished buildings and places. And this park, well, long before it was a tomb for eleven thousand Revolutionary War soldiers and sailors killed in prisons by their British guards, it was a fort that Washington had tried to defend. And a hundred and fifty years before that losing battle I know that in the bay out there, in the bay beyond the fucking Farragut Houses, beyond the ancient brick Navy Yard wall, beyond all the old buildings and pierhouses and cranes where once a whole fleet of ships were launched to win the World War, beyond all that there were marshes thick with fish and oyster reefs and migrating ducks and pushing through a narrow channel a Dutch sailing ship arrived on a barely comprehended continent and dumped hired Flemish immigrants, Walloons they called them, to populate a new outpost in southern New Netherland.
If I work on it, especially in the settling dusk, I can see the woods and the deep green prairie that stretches to the tide line. And if I wait and let consciousness slip, sparks will start to fly from mud chimneys in the tiny cluster that will begin Breuckelen. Somehow, I know it is still out there.
I get up and begin to limp around, and though the Trade Center illuminates the night over there and the off-duty gun presses against my side under the big loose shirt and I am circling a Monument not built until 1908 in a park created in the 1860s I can find the seventeenth century. I watch those first Europeans pushing along the old Lenni Lenapi trade routes and creating tiny villages, Boswyk, Midwout, Nieuw Amersfort, Nieuw Utrecht, and Gravesend. Stumpy square-rigged ships drift through the harbor mixing with giant dugout canoes. The moon rises over an empire of trees.
A gunshot echoes from somewhere in the projects below, followed almost instantly by the wail of sirens, and the late twentieth century pours back. In a single breath settlements turn to villages, villages to towns, towns to America's largest cities, those cities meld into the capital of the world. Wars scorch the earth and demand industrial force. The trees lose their place in the skyline and the water runs gray. And then I am here, a knight of these streets, a victim of these streets, a child of these streets.
I turn and walk south along a winding path most white guys would think dangerous in this now dark place. But behind me eleven thousand martyrs of the Revolution guard my back, and as the sirens fade behind the receding hill, I can start to let myself float in time again, and my street becomes new in the moonlight. As I cross DeKalb Avenue and step onto the wide slate sidewalk I find 1845 and this new suburb up the long grade from Brooklyn. Just before I begin to limp up my stoop I'm sure I hear the rattle of the horse-drawn trolley coming from the ferry.
"Where've you been?" Katie asks, looking at me with the expected mix of concern and anger, "I've been worrying." "Sorry," I say, "I guess I got a little lost."

copyright 2005-2011 by Ira David Socol

Friday, February 11, 2011


For reasons not completely clear even all these years later I rush from somewhere in the far west via Greyhound Bus (yes, Greyhound Bus) toward Chicago where I will meet my father but seventy miles short of Omaha a blizzard begins and an hour later this bus is stuck in the snow on Interstate 80 next to a Coca-Cola truck whose driver offloads huge quantities of his product to us as gifts just before the bottles and even cans start to explode in the vacuum of Midwestern winter cold, we fall into darkness and maybe even sleep wrapped in white flakes rushing past the faint odor of diesel exhaust and the soft pops of thousands of carbonated beverage packagings failing. In the morning a National Guard tank pulls us to a cleared spot on the highway and we proceed in slow parade to the Omaha Bus Station the grimy art deco space we should all have expected which is filled with refugees from the precipitation which is at least four feet deep there is not much to do there but food seems plentiful and prices through midwestern politeness have remained in check and I have enough cigarettes and probably enough joints and meet a woman who claims to be from Walla-Walla though this may be a verbal disguise who criticizes my cigarette choices, suspects me of being a junkie, drinks some of the Coke I have stockpiled and has sex with me three times in a small office the door of which I "credit card" (actually my driver's license) before the road is declared open and I begin moving east again. In Chicago I am sure my dad has pneumonia and he is sure this is not true but I make him drink much cough syrup with decongestant as I drive his car straight through to New York in one shot so he will be home, arriving at the George Washington Bridge at sunrise on a forgotten morning when I was still a kid.

copyright 2004-2011 by Ira David Socol

Monday, December 27, 2010

Cold as hell

It’s a very cold Sunday morning and he shivers as he waits for his car to warm up enough to throw hot air on the windshield and melt the ice. He could scrape it off, sure, but the wind is howling and he’s tired and though he should be in a rush he’s not really, so he sits there instead, thinking about how maybe windshields should have those little ice-melting wires like back windows do though he knows that might not be great for seeing.

The radio is playing old Chili Peppers and he turns and digs through the junk on the back seat and finds the gloves he thought he lost, but when he tries to put them on the insides are like ice and he pulls his hands back into his sleeves and curses the winter.

He revs the engine as small wet spots appear before him. He pulls on the washer switch and shoots the ice melt mixture onto the glass. The wipers create small portholes forward; in the mirror the rear defroster has carved slightly open blinds. He backs out of the driveway.

The street is a skating rink and his tires slide as he brakes at the corner. He considers this. Thinks about the half hour ride to church that starts in twenty minutes. Then turns right instead of left and heads to the IHOP. He beats the after church rush and settles in with a newspaper, the endless hot coffee, and a month’s worth of fat and cholesterol.

He wraps his still cold hands around the warm ceramic mug. “God is everywhere,” he tells himself.

(copyright 2004-2010 by Ira David Socol)