Sunday, July 31, 2005

moments that create change (35 of 41 and counting)


She handed me what I could only assume was her list of grievances. I was lying on the couch watching The Simpsons trying to recover from surgery and the overuse of that little red button hospitals give you to kill the pain. Her list was written in tiny cursive handwriting in pale blue ink. I could not read it. I can not read people's handwriting. Sometimes printing but never handwriting. She knew that but still she would always write me notes, long messages on greeting cards, even shopping lists. Incomprehensible communications that would always provoke failure.

I don't know what her list said. I didn't ask. It was not the kind of thing I'd ask a friend to read to me. I can guess. There are logical guesses surely. We'd lived together for two years, tried merging disparate families, tried linking clashing lifestyles. She thought I was interesting and challenging. I suppose I thought she was safe and reassuring. I'm sure we both tried but it was probably a bad idea from the start.

She left for a week and I wandered the house angry and confused. When she came back I fled to a motel. On the night I went back for my stuff the house next door blew up. Some kind of gas explosion. I loaded the van in the light of the flames and all those flashing emergency lights.

© 2004-2005 by Ira Socol___________________________

Thursday, July 28, 2005

moments that create change (23 of 41 and counting)


On a cold Sunday morning in New York's deeply lamented Borough of The Bronx an illegal Jamaican immigrant I had never met before and had had no argument with up until that moment hit me with a two-by-four in my left knee. Hard. In doing so he destroyed what was left of the already damaged cartilage and tore through both my anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments.

Though after that point I really couldn't walk he didn't get away. As I fell I managed to grab his leg. I dragged him to the ground pulled myself up onto him, and using one of my pairs of handcuffs as brass knuckles, I beat his face in until it was barely recognizable as human.

That was my last day on the street as a New York City Police Officer. After going through a day long surgery and a full year of physical therapy I turned in my shield, sold my guns and the little cottage on City Island, packed up myself and my four-year-old son, and fled west to an unknown port on the eastern shores of Lake Michigan that I had visited a few times with friends from college. If anyone asked how I had gotten there I would simply answer, "by car."

© 2004-2005 by Ira Socol_____________________________

Sunday, July 24, 2005

homecoming


I got back to the Thru-Way Diner at five in the morning, the day after Easter. It was pouring and the Corvair leaked where the convertible top met the windshield. A slow but steady drip that fell on my right knee, which was now numbed from the cold weight of wet 501s.

The car had made it without a problem. That was very good. I still had four hundred and twenty-three bucks in my pocket, also good. And one and a half packs of cigarettes, including the one cradled in my hand as I ran limping across the parking lot. When I got to the door I paused for one long drag, and watched the wind drive ripples through the puddles. I doubted it was much over forty degrees. Too cold for spring.

From the booth and my perpetual smoke cloud I surveyed the scene. Five a.m. mixes early-rising go-getters with the flotsam of endless night. Half the crowd scrubbed clean, the other, me included, in the remnant clothes, smells, and attitudes of yesterday. At this point no one's off the late shift yet. It's just the last of those partying too long, those just sneaking out of girlfriends' beds, those with no place left to go.

With a double fried-egg sandwich before me and coffee splashing into my gut I could count what was against me. It seemed like a long list that had finally chased me from my new life attempt in Virginia. But all those things I tried to count came down to one. I began to whistle "If I only had a brain," softly, so that only I could hear.

© 2004-2005 by Ira Socol__________________________

Thursday, July 21, 2005

intruder


Unsafe in my own dreams I seek out yours. In my sleep I move from here to there; see you lying soft under the quilt, and slide beneath in spectral silence. Pause to hear your heart, feel your warmth, sense your body. Then slip through doors left open in your REM time and drift through your unconsciousness.

I am sorry to intrude. But I am so comfortable there.

© 2004-2005 by Ira Socol________________________
Blue and Grey by Mark Rothko

Saturday, July 16, 2005

just the footnotes

[there are many ways to write a self-portrait, no?]

(1) Grass Jelly Drink (very green and with strange chunks of something) was found next to Pennywart Drink in the cooler at the end of the "Fish in Jars" aisle in the grocery next to "Restaurant" - no other sign [behind the Shell Station, a cog in the multi-trillion dollar, multi-national Royal Dutch oil conglomerate despite the pretty yellow sign, corner of Douglas Avenue, which becomes Ottawa Beach Road and takes you to the State Park and of course Lake Michigan, and River Avenue, 49424]

(2) Though I'm a fan of "my new coffee shop" Buzz, I was initially confused by the sign, assuming it to be a drug store or a place with alarm clocks for sale. I had to drive up to it and look in the window to figure it out. "Oh, they're going to sell coffee," I said. "Oh my God, you weren't kidding," my companion said, "you actually couldn't figure it out." Later the owner asked, "didn't the next line of the sign, 'coffee and espresso bar,' give you a hint?" Obviously not. I only read segments usually. I am easily confused. Until I was 27 I thought "The Hospital for Joint Diseases" in New York City treated people with two diseases at at a time. [various random memory twitches]

(3) Dyslexia: probably a genetically based disorder related to inconsistent comprehension of symbolic language, especially written alphabets, which, I will argue, are not necessarily better than hieroglyphics or pictograms. You can find the genetic marker for dyslexia by looking for the node facing the wrong way on the double-helix of your DNA. [a Newsweek story from maybe three years ago twisted by an unlinked perceptual disorder]

(4) I'm relatively physically coordinated but still fall down a lot, mostly I suppose as a result of not particularly paying attention, or more specifically, not paying much attention to the things that might cause one to fall due to paying attention to too many other things. I lived in an apartment once on the second and third floors of an old house. The stairs to the third floor, where the bedroom was, had been attic stairs in original intention and were very steep. Every single morning, except three, I would fall down those stairs. The woman in my life at that point kept complaining of repetitive dreams of loud crashes. She never once got up to see if I was alright. Usually I was alright, though I had vast bruises on my body for two straight years. [ADHD being a fascinating issue, no?]

(5) Capitalism doesn't equal freedom. Christianity isn't morally superior to other religions. US Republicans are not more patriotic than US Democrats. There are other countries that do things very differently than America and they are not necessarily (allow me to emphasize this) worse places to live. Being poor does not represent a moral failing. Being rich does not make you a better or more deserving person. If you say people need to "succeed on their merits" and also claim that "inherited wealth and position are ok," I think that you're a hypocrite making excuses for your own greed. I think flat tax rates are stupid and that all fines should be based on ability to pay. I think we need fewer laws. Just a few basic rules that we can actually enforce consistently. I think most of what every US state legislature does is complete nonsense and I'm offended that I'm expected to pay these idiots for more than twelve days a year. I'll give the US Congress the same time limits until they prove they can do something useful, starting with impeachments and providing Americans with National Health Insurance. I think the US President is a liar and a really, really bad person who represents all that is wrong with the way people succeed in capitalist America. [My basic political thought, 101, except "all fines should be based on ability to pay" which is actually from the pilot of The Andy Griffith Show, which was really an episode of Make Room for Daddy.]

(6) Education in the United States is bad and is generally getting worse, but two things are terrible: First, the No Child Left Behind concept which is based in the idea that every kid learns at exactly the same rate and that every student needs to learn the same things. That's not just anti-kid, it's anti-human. Second, middle school. Middle school is universally awful and needs (as New York City has decided) to be replaced with smaller K-8 elementaries. Either that or we just take all 12-14 year olds and send them out into the field to experiment with alcohol, sex, drugs, and music. Let them get it out of their system. Then pull them back for high school after it's all cleared through. You may find that a strange thought, but then I'm the guy who told a caller asking for a donation to MADD, "Sorry, I'm a member of the opposing organization." "Opposing organization?" she asked nervously. "Fagot," I said, "Fathers for A GOod Time." [a range of odd experiences and odd thoughts]

(7) Mental stability is a fragile thing. At least for some of us. I drift back and forth between accepting that fragility as interesting and even valuable in many ways, and raging against the unfairness of the genetics/experience combination that leaves me perpetually uncomfortable. But, ya know, if you're still reading, there must be something intriguing in the view from this edge. I've gotten by - barely I'll admit - on that fact for years. [Information sheets provided with psychotropic medications have not contributed, except the one that was forced to admit that one subject patient was "struck by a bus," which is one ugly side effect when you think about it.]

(8) Many jobs held, including delivery boy (drug store and Kosher butcher, two different positions), department store stock clerk, lifeguard, urban park ranger, graphic artist a few times, paramedic, police officer, college admissions aide, college instructor, substitute teacher, newspaper reporter, newspaper page designer, soccer coach, computer network developer, web site developer, on the staff of a homeless support mission, carpenter, house designer, illustrator, assistive technology specialist. I've never fished for a living, never driven a Greyhound Bus, never sold my sperm. When I tried to join the Navy out of high school they looked at my transcript and laughed at me. I list these all as "valuable experiences," and I'm sure they are. Though potential employers are often confused. [my resume plus certain memories]

(9) My mother did not sing me to sleep with White Room from Cream's Wheels of Fire album, though I have chosen to remember that. I'm not sure my mother ever got me to sleep. I have never slept through the night in my life. When my son was born my mother was angry that he began sleeping almost immediately. [parental revenge thwarted by the wackiness of genetics]


(10) One way or the other a book written by me will be published by the end of 2006. There are now almost three, and shouldn't somebody buy them? Well, I need to say that. I expect that when that occurs all of you will buy it, read it, and promote it. Whichever one it is, I swear, it will be entertaining. Really. [the theory that we need to provide self-affirmation, especially those of us who are clinically depressed]

© 2004-2005 by Ira Socol_____________________________________

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Sunday


When I was a little kid and it would be summer and Sunday and my dad had summer hockey practice so we'd be out at Long Beach and mom or dad would lay out money and the four kids would scatter to get breakfast - one to the delicatessen to get lox and cream cheese, one to the bakery for bagels and huge thick warm from the oven crumb buns, one to the grocery for anything else we might need, eggs, bacon? The milk and orange juice and cheese all came from the milk man I realize. I was sent two blocks down to Arizona Street to get the Sunday papers. We needed four or even five of them. My grandmother got The News and The Mirror, the tabloids that my father disdained and my mother mocked. My parents wanted The Times and The Tribune, the big broadsheets filled with the news of the world. If my grandmother and sister asked then there was also The Journal, which had both great comics that weren't in The News and the TV guide for the week. I'd walk there with the money jingling in my shorts pocket, usually barefoot, either wearing a shirt or not, it was a place where shirts and shoes were rare things, passing the Frosty Top custard stand where Max would be unrolling the awnings in anticipation of opening in an hour or two, and I'd go down the main street, already starting to fill with the cars of daytrippers. The little store at Arizona was crammed with papers and magazines, candy and cigarettes, the trinkets of summer tourism and the lotions to make people brown or keep them white in the sun. I'd collect the papers from the rack, they seem, in memory, to have weighed in total almost half what I did. If dad had left the money there'd be a little extra, baseball cards and the "punks," those incense like pre-cigarettes that we'd smoke, finding their way into my pockets, and I'd struggle home, stopping to rest on this fence or that wall.

It was the only day of the week we ever ate breakfast together. The bagels were thick and the lox deliciously salty. The crumb buns so sweetly wonderful they are remembered in absolute perfection all these years later. Sometimes my dad might even look up from his newspaper and tell us a story...

Friday, July 08, 2005

re: London - July 7, 2005

For those in London, for those around the world who are suffering with violence, you are not alone. And if we know that we are all humans, and begin to act that way, this will stop. For today I'll re-post this old story...

in moments

(1) I am looking up. No particular reason. I have long ago discarded the conceit that natives don't stare in wonder at our own tall buildings. I'd no more not take every opportunity to see the Trade Towers, the Chrysler, the Empire State, Citicorp, Woolworth, then a Colorado
resident would keep the Rocky Mountains out of his vision.

I'm pretty close to work for this time in the morning. Coffee in hand and drifting down Church Street past the Century 21 Store which must have been a bank when it was built. I'm supposed to be at work in those borrowed offices on the 17th Floor of One Liberty Plaza at 8:00 but obviously I'm not. I'm never there on time. I refer to it as a theoretical eight hour day and because of a lot of things assumed about me by my superiors, good and bad, true and not, this is accepted.

So my vision is vertical, and I hear the plane before I see it, too loud and too unusual and I let my eyes start to expand taking in this enormous blue morning sky. I might be the only one on this block staring into that scene right then, I have no way of knowing. In the way we do when something we see makes no sense at all I just stand, frozen, watching.

And then I run. The coffee I suppose falling, one hand pulling the shield which hangs around my neck out from inside my shirt. A cab comes close to killing me as I step off the curb. A radio car almost gets me too but doesn't and I spin briefly one hand holding up my detective's shield the other pointed skyward but I don't know if they get it.

I feel like the only one moving. Half the people on the street are still in normal patterns, the other half now staring up, and I run among them as if in a video game heading for Tower One.

Before I can pass between the low buildings that frame the plaza screaming sirens are already filling the morning. As I start across I find myself joined by other cops, cops in uniforms, Port Authority cops I guess, all racing from different compass points.

(2) Fifteen minutes later there is orderly evacuation. We have been through this before and the cops who were there that day eight years ago know this is better if only because the lights seem to be staying on. On the plaza level of the lobby we debate coordination though and someone has just actually brought coffee from the little place in the concourse just outside the tower doors. I wander away, not being a commander of any kind, trying to find my boss because I'm not sure we understand what's happening here and that's supposed to be my little group's job. Firemen are flowing through the scene in their heavy black and yellow coats, pushing through the stairwell doors, A, B, C, as everyone else pushes their way out. In this corner there's no one else so I start pointing people out towards the bridge to the World Financial Center.

Then the world shakes again. I do not see plane two. I only almost hear it. But I feel it and turn around and see a snowstorm of debris falling onto a plaza I now see is already covered with papers and dust. I hadn't noticed before.

(3) We are supposed to be gathered into a crime scene unit. Somebody has brought me a radio. I have never heard this many sirens or seen this many firemen. People have been jumping from both towers and no one wants to be looking at the plaza anymore. A Detective-lieutenant looks at the roll of yellow "Police Line" tape he has been holding at least since I first met him a half hour ago and finally says, "I don't think this is long enough." Two World Trade Center makes a strange sound, the top starts to tilt. For the second time today I watch something inconceivable. And then the building simply falls.

(4) On the other side of Building Five, I am back on Church Street. Someone has told me that I'm bleeding and I press a borrowed handkerchief against part of my face but I'm more concerned with whatever it is I'm now coughing up and how my back hurts because I know I got bounced off something from that blast of air. Our gathering has become meaningless except that we have joined those helping people find their way out of the exits from the concourse and subways. "Just go that way," I say two hundred times, pointing toward Broadway. I am saying this to a woman with three kids when I hear one cop say "motherfucker." As I turn around all I can see of Tower One is the TV antenna. I see that it is moving down. For the first time this day my instincts work. I grab two of the kids, the mother grabs the other, I push her in front of me and we run.


© 2004 by Ira Socol________________________________

Saturday, July 02, 2005

nicotine


Exhausted with their lives they find themselves sharing seven minutes of intimacy smoking in a cold rain outside a coffee house neither of them want to be at. He grading papers for high school history classes that just don't seem to care. She bored with everything in this stupid little town she's been dragged to, staying away from her house and seeking past acquaintances on-line though the only wi-fi connection around.

Water falls on her dark hair and his artificially tan face and on the thin white t-shirt that shows beneath her jacket and on the tops of his beat up Reeboks. He tans because he hates the winter here and needs sunlight. He goes to the worst place in town with the dullest bulbs in the oldest beds because they let him lie in that warm Plexiglas coffin for a half hour at a time. She wears shirts that let her equally thin bra and in this weather she knows nipples as well show through because it gets her husband mad and at this point she'll take any attention she can get. Even the kind of attention that would have made her feel like kicking a guy's ass maybe just two years ago.

He stares at her but somehow it is not obvious. He stares with the edge of his sight as he looks past her shoulder at the steel gray sky and the Burger King end of a faded downtown. The old "Standard" gas station sign with the torch is now a "bp" sign with green leaf shapes. The only change apparent. She looks at the ground, mostly, but manages, with each drag, to pick up details of his face, his hands, the un-ironed nature of his shirt, the way the blue is worn away at the knees and fly of his jeans.

He knows there's a bar across the street. He wants to say, "fuck the papers." There's not one kid who'd give a shit if he threw them all away. As long as he gave out As. Most even if he didn't. Maybe one kid. Alright, maybe four. Does that matter? He'll give out As anyway. Who cares. He wants to dump the papers in the bin with the remnant disposable plates and napkins and plastic forks and take her to the bar and drink with her and talk with her and take her home and have sex. He doesn't know who she is. He noticed her a half hour ago and thinks she is equally lonely. He imagines that. He likes the way her hand curls around a coffee mug, the length of her fingers, the way she pushes the hair from her face. He doesn't care. He wants conversation with an adult outside a teachers' lounge. He wants to be drunk. He wants to be touched.

She thinks there's a place in the next town. She's driven past it. It looks old, kind of Chicago neighborhood Italian and she wants this guy to take her there and drink real espresso with Sambuca, not this semi-Starbucks crap, and deep red wine and eat extravagant pasta and she wants him to reach over and touch her hand and talk to her and say the kinds of things she used to hear but doesn't now. She's been watching him for almost two hours from across a room full of small-town pretenders. She's making assumptions based on a vaguely familiar look, on the hurt in his eyes, on the way he sighs with frustration, on the fact that she thinks teaching is a noble thing. What she imagines is diligence, empathy, and care. She's not sure how much she wants to get back at her husband. Has no plans for an affair, really. She just imagines that getting "picked up" that way might restore her knowledge of her sexuality. And fill her time tonight.

He drops the butt of his Camel into a puddle and it makes a tiny sizzle. He shakes the rain off his hair. She flicks the remnant of a Newport into the street. He turns toward the door, his features highlighted by the typical red and blue neon "open" sign. She turns toward the door. He opens it and holds it for her. She walks back in to cold coffee and two messages from friends 1,700 miles away. He sits down and picks up "World War I and Woodrow Wilson," sighs. Writes an A in red at the top, picks up the next.

© 2003-2004 by Ira Socol________________________________

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

one day countdown (structured poetry)


5x5

I ran downstairs, tripped, fell.
No time for breakfast today.
Hurting every time I shift.
Should be at work early.
Decide to get coffee instead.

4x4

Good Kenyan, very hot.
Computer plugged to internet.
Reading the Times online.
And some blog sites.

3x3

Shouldn't I work?
Do need pay.
Don't want to.

2x2

Hours pass.
Many refills.

1x1

Lazy

© 2004 by Ira Socol________________________________

Sunday, June 26, 2005

geography

Because his teachers knew that he could not learn, he spent his school days staring at atlases. In third grade he lay on the floor in the back of the classroom and floated down the Ohio, from Pittsburgh, through the tiny towns lining its banks, past Cincinnati, along the divide between Ohio and Kentucky, and finally to that amazing spot where the waters poured into the Mississippi.

Those names meant nothing to him, he could not read them, but he instinctively understood the shapes of cities, the paths of roads, the rise of mountains. At first he didn't even look at pictures, just the maps, and most often one page for weeks or even months. This was assumed to be by all around him to be proof that he was at best sleeping, at worst someone with an extraordinarily low I.Q.

The kids laughed, the teachers and his parents looked at him with the expression usually reserved for injured dogs, and he knew all of that. But it did not matter. What was important was where he went. And he could travel.

He would pick something, most often rivers, but sometimes the roads or a mountain ridge, and he would move along, finding the contours that the maps expressed, and imagining the places, the scenes, the histories and the people.

From the earliest he most liked the smallest places. He could never really understand Pittsburgh. He saw it only as a crowded triangle with the mountains threatening to crush it. A mark that thick seemed unknowable. He preferred the smallest points. The tiny dots with names he could match up to the population lists with adjoining numbers like "48" or "267" or "124," and he could be in those places. He could stroll the dirt roads, or eat at the local restaurant, or, best, walk up the mile-long driveways to see his friends.

He moved from the battered old atlases of his school rooms to the World Book Encyclopedia his brothers and sisters used for homework. Pictures in the articles now merged with the map pages. He would carry a volume outside, and cross the yard to the little outcropping of stone that could hide and shelter him, and look for countries. Knowing no other way, he took the first book first and began: Afghanistan, Algeria, Argentina, Australia. Gliding down rivers, hiking through mountains, riding through valleys. He got lost in the Sahara and rode a train across a continent before he ever got to "B."

His parents took this turn of events as proof of progress. "Nate! Nikolas is reading the encyclopedia! Now he'll do much better at school." But this elation proved short-lived. Nothing changed at school, and Nik never spoke nor wrote nor even drew pictures of anything from the worlds he passed through.

By high school he had learned to mix the maps and pictures with carefully deciphered captions and he gained more control. On spring and summer Saturday mornings he ventured out on his moped and wandered through garage sales, seeking unusual documentations of the earth's geography. The money he earned bagging groceries at the IGA went into the Atlas of European History (1922), Central Europe Today (1902), L'Indochine (in French), and a pile of thirty years' worth of maps from National Geographic. Now he went by boat the whole stretch of the Elbe in 1900, finding a momentary home in that break in the Sudeten Alps that is the "Moravian Gate." There he lingered many spring weeks in a little and very ancient city called Ursi. There he ate lunch with Austrian army officers, drank Plzn Beer with Bohemian nationalists, and fell in love with the blonde daughter of the Imperial Postmaster, whose name he knew was Kyza, and whose thin, warm body he saw and felt in his bed as he shot semen into the night.

Parents, teachers, special ed directors declared him lost. They started to push him out. He had a job, which was enough for them, enough for him. Maybe that was so. He had Kyza that season and with her he climbed the cliffs of these boundary mountains, and made love in alpine fields of wildflowers. They poured cold, white Bavarian wines into each other's mouths and laughed as the sun set behind them, sending its last sparkles into the river below. He wondered at this place. Wondered how long he might stay.

And still drifted through the Saturday yard sales, piling up choices for when it would be time to leave.

© 2004 by Ira Socol________________________________________

Thursday, June 23, 2005

suicide

The way I want to die is this. I want to choose the moment. I want to go to the beach at Long Beach off Pennsylvania Avenue, the "No Togs" rocks between Dalkey and Killiney, Lake Michigan from Duck Lake State Park or the Pacific on that one day a year when its warm off San Francisco, and I want to walk in to about balls high, just when the cold tightens the scrotum as Joyce put it, and the cool rushes through the body, and then do an easy surface dive into the shallow water and start to swim. And swim and swim and swim the way I did as a kid, with only forgetting as a destination, and go way out onto the easy waves offshore. The sun will be brilliant overhead, the moon will be full, it will be blindingly hot, it will be a soft warm night with the Milky Way lighting the world like a theatre marquee. When I am so tired that I can not swim anymore - this could be a couple of miles but there was a time when I could do ten with ease and maybe that skill would return for this parting shot – I will drop into my favorite position on this planet, the dead man's float, and lie there surrounded by the silence of God's sea, and let myself stop breathing.
© 2005 by Ira Socol________________________________

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

love on the longest day

Colette promised to meet him after dark on Tuesday, at the little shelter in the park, and so the night before he'd gone out and bought wine and Trojenz because this must be the night. It had that sense of magic to it, or inevitability, and she had made it Tuesday which was not a "take me out on a date" kind of day of the week. And Tuesday was the solstice. But Matthew lived in Sioux Lookout, Ontario, almost as far west as you can get in North America's Eastern Time Zone. The North American Eastern Time Zone stretches for 38 degrees from eastern Quebec to western Ontario. Time zones are supposed to be 15 of the earth's degrees, which is how you divide 360 by 24. Maybe New York was the center of this zone. Maybe in New York at the Equinox if it wasn't daylight savings time the sun would be straight up at noon. But it was daylight savings time so even in New York noon would be one in the afternoon, and out here, two full sun hours later, noon was at least three. And at this latitude, if noon was three and this was a day with 18 hours of daylight...

Matthew thought of Colette's hair, her legs, her smile when she looked at him, thought about the way she kissed him, how with each night they had been together she had given him just one bit more, and pushed a little more into him, and he did the arithmetic. If noon was three and there would be 18 hours of daylight. "Damn," he sighed. "Midnight," he announced outloud. He rubbed his left hand across the crotch of his jeans in frustration. Then went back to painting Mrs. Devallier's yellow house.

© 2005 by Ira Socol________________________________
just an unimportant quickie from a Writers' Group exercise, one of those 15 minute stories. for the solstice.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Baby Blue

Sometimes it's just so fucking hot in the city you don't know what to do. So we cruise the afternoon's sizzling streets behind sealed windows, air conditioning, and deep mirror sunglasses. And for reasons unknown the world is cooperating. No call in the past hour has required us to step out into the 96 degrees and 98 percent humidity. Then we see him. Kind of like a tiny mirage at first in the heat waves that rise from the sidewalk on 233rd Street just east of White Plains Road. He's probably just under three feet tall. Really thin. Completely naked. And he's running down the street in the direction gravity makes easiest.

At home Carolyn is pregnant. In the seventh month. We're going to birth classes. We're seeing midwives. In a tiny room by the kitchen I'm re-painting garage sale furniture purchases in bright white and primary colors.

We get out of the car into the blast furnace heat. Beneath the bullet proof vests the sweat immediately starts running down our chests. The boy is skittish and starts backing away but we close in slowly and carefully, talking softly. A crowd is starting to gather. When I finally scoop him into my arms there's a short cheer. Colin grabs a blanket from the trunk while I look at those around me. "Anyone know where he belongs?" There's no answer. "Anyone?" The only answer comes from a ten year old who appears to be lugging a quart of Miller in a paper bag, hopefully, I guess, back to mom or dad. "I never seen him before."

There's been one lost baby before this for us. But as these months have gone by the nerves have calmed and confidence has appeared. In the last week we've even started playing with names.

I wrap up this mystery child and tell Colin to drive. Colin's single. Cruises the most interesting Manhattan clubs on off duty nights. Forgets his handcuffs when he comes back to work. I'm not knocking it, of course. Probably I'm a little jealous. But now, the kid is mine to take care of. He circles the block. We look for frantic moms. We open the windows to the summer and ask endless questions. Then we circle two blocks, then four, then eight. We ask on the radio. He looks ok, except for no clothes. Doesn't look sick or abused. Then I look at him again. Guess his age, and realize he hasn't said a thing.

I guess I want lots of kids. That's always been this idea. I imagine, in completely unrealistic form, some big farmhouse with a huge porch and five or six children running around. This fantasy is not shared by Carolyn, who seemed almost reluctantly pregnant this time around, though she's warming up to it.

Back at the Station House I fight off attempts by female cops to take over. Sending them out instead for diapers and clothes and food. He and I play on the floor of the squad room, using the patrol guide books as blocks. The bosses keep coming in and asking what we're doing. "Waiting for mom to call," I say. Our shift ends and turns into overtime. There is no call. We send other cops out for dinner. After four hours I've gotten him to imitate the car noises I make while pretending our portable radios are cars rolling past our notebook structures.

Carolyn wanted to have the baby at home. I've refused. I put up a brave and insensitive front, saying, "Who's gonna change the sheets?" But honestly I'm too scared for that. Not that I haven't delivered babies. I have. But as a cop what you mostly see is what goes wrong. I've seen too much go wrong.

Five hours into overtime the lieutenant tells us we've got to find a place for the kid. "The mother's not calling," he says bluntly. It's almost eight hours. No missing kids call. Nothing. Colin points to me and says, "He'll take him home." The lieutenant says, "No. He won't," and leaves. Colin starts to make phone calls. He's on the phone for three hours. In a city the size of New York you'd think there'd be space for one not quite three foot tall boy.

She says Emma if it's a girl. It would be the name of her great-great-grandmother, still alive out in the midwest. Dozens of names flow through my head as possibilities for a boy. Ethnic, literary, friends, relatives. What does a name add to a child? How does it direct their life?

Finally, close to midnight, the boy with no name has fallen asleep in my lap and Colin has found the one available shelter. It is in Coney Island, almost as far away as is possible within New York City. OK, I guess we could be heading to the far end of Staten Island, but otherwise... Colin drives. I hold the kid. He is fascinated by the brightly lit red button. So I let him push it. The siren yelps. He laughs. The laugh amazes me. He keeps pushing the button. I keep switching the siren: "Classic American," I say. "Martian." "Nazi." Am I the first adult to share language with him? Across the Whitestone Bridge, around Queens, over the Kosciousko Bridge into Brooklyn, we roll under all those East River bridges sparkling in the night. It is dramatic enough that he stops playing with the siren and coos in delight. Past the Verrazano, along the ocean shore, then down along Surf Avenue past a still humming Cyclone and Astroland and Nathan's Famous.

At home we have conceived of everything. The colors. The shapes. The mirrors. The way one can see the window from the crib. The aquarium that will be night light and humidifier. A carpet assembled of remnant patterns for extra interest in eventual crawling. The books that are already waiting. The music our child will hear from birth.

The shelter is really just a big apartment. There are at least twenty cribs, plus other beds. It might not be describable as filthy, but it sure isn't clean. It is way too hot. The kid holds onto my neck. I hold on to him. I'm not sure whose grip is tighter. "You have to let him go," Colin whispers to me. But it takes a long time before I can. I glare at the person I hand him to. I am about to say something. To warn them. To swear vengeance if anything goes wrong. But my partner pulls me out the door.

"I need to drive back," I say. "We probably need beers." "You need to go home," Colin tells me, "you need to think about your own kid." I drive to the nearest bodega, grab a six, and slam the first one. I drive back the long route to The Bronx, trying to decide why I am not crying.

© 2004 by Ira Socol____________________________________________

Sunday, June 19, 2005

jello story

We decided to move in together. There were plenty of reasons, plenty of pressures to do so, not a lot of thought. One of those things.

So I packed up my stuff and moved. Among the stuff was lots of "pantry-type" food, you know, the minimally perishable stuff of dark kitchen cabinet shelves. I always have lots of this stuff, bought with intentions of meals that never come true.

Dinners were, more or less, cooked alternately. We both liked to cook but made very different things. There was no reason to piss off either my kid or her kid two nights in a row. Whenever she cooked, she made Jello. My kid and I thought this odd, we never ate much Jello, and never for dessert, more a "I'm sick and can't keep anything else down" solution. So every other night, leftover Jello would pile up.

Finally I said, "What's with all the Jello?" And she said, "Yeah, what's with the Jello?" And I said, "What?" And she said, "You brought all this Jello, I figured you guys loved it." And I said, "Hell no, we had all this Jello cause I bought it years ago and we never ate it." And she said, "You're really weird."

When I moved out a year later I took no Jello at all.


© 2004 by Ira Socol____________________________________

Saturday, June 18, 2005

edge of night

My father had talked about putting a dormer, or at least a skylight, over the top of the stairs, but it had never happened. He'd talked about putting dormers on both sides and maybe making a bathroom upstairs but that clearly wasn't ever going to happen. It was an accomplishment to nail two-by-fours together and sheetrock to those to make walls and to put some insulation in the roof and sheetrock under the rafters. It was a big accomplishment. There had been three of us in that one bedroom, with my brother on the couch in the living room, my parents in the tiny
bedroom behind the kitchen and my grandmother in the little room up front by the porch that was probably the nicest. Now my brother was gone but the rest of us had our own rooms, Alice at the back of the attic and me at the front, and my grandmother, she'd be gone in a year or two, that was obvious, but the stairs were still totally dark unless you turned on the hall light at the top or the light on the wall at the bottom, neither of which I'd do because then I'd give myself up.

If my dad was home my mom would sleep. If he was gone she wouldn't. Not really. Every siren that she heard would drag her from bed. I'd hear her steps as she'd move across her room and look out the back, then move down the hall, through the dining room, the living room, to the windows on the street. What frightened her? Did she imagine her husband dead? That they were coming for one of us? That fire would spread through the crowded alleys where wooden houses sat six feet apart?

What in her childhood or adulthood had given her these fears? I'd listen. I'd sneak through the dark and down to the turn in the stairs. I'd wait for her to return to her room. Then I'd retreat to my own window, and stare out across a silent street, with maybe a dim flash of red light moving somewhere on the periphery.

© 2004 by Ira Socol__________________________________

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

staying

He wondered if the only way to get himself to give up was to be cruel enough to get her to cut off contact, but he couldn't do it to her face, couldn't possibly do that, so he packed up everything she'd ever given him, even the drawings he'd done of her and printouts of every email from her to him. He was surprised by the weight of it all, humbled by it, especially by all the words, and then he took her key because he still had that, and knowing that she was at work, he slipped into her bedroom and placed the pile neatly on the green chair in the corner.

Of course he couldn't stop crying as he did this, and he wouldn't look up, wouldn't look around at the room, surely not at the bed, and he turned and started to leave knowing how hurtful this would be, because, well, obviously, because, well, he was fighting what he thought was rejection with what he knew was rejection, and he got three steps outside her bedroom door and knew he couldn't do it.

He'd walked away from relationships before. Walked away from ones that had better chances, that made more sense than this one. Walked away from ones that had lasted longer. Walked away from ones that had included far more commitment on both sides. But he also knew that in this region of the ways of the world, logic was no help.

He turned once more. Once more entered the bedroom without really looking. Went to the chair. Picked everything up. Carried it all outside. Locked her door carefully. Carried everything to his car.

Wadin’ through the waste stormy winter,
And there’s not a friend to help you through.
Tryin’ to stop the waves behind your eyeballs,
Drop your reds, drop your greens and blues.

He knew he'd get hurt. Of course he hoped somehow he wouldn't. But he didn't believe in that. Still, he had no choice. And so he drove back home. The Stones' Sweet Virginia offering a lonely soundtrack.

I want you to come on, come on down sweet Virginia,
I want you come on, honey child, I beg of you.
I want you come on, honey child you got it in you.
Got to scrape that shit right off your shoes.

© 2005 by Ira Socol____________________________

Thursday, April 14, 2005

flight

I suppose it is a reaction and not a decision but life works that way some times and so I spend two hours of a long flight making out with a woman I've never met before and never will see again as the giant airbus bounces on the unseen turbulence as we fight the jetstream and whatever it is that brings each of us to this moment. Her lips are tinged with a taste that tingles and her tongue tastes like American gum and her body pushes toward mine and mine toward hers in ways that offer heated access but maintain a certainty that this will go no further; that we will not even exchange last names much less phone numbers or bodily fluids richer than saliva.

In between a continent so wealthy we barely use anything twice and a nation traditionally so impoverished that the earth itself is burned on the hearth for warmth there is the vast emptiness of this storm-filled ocean and the universe of pale blue above. When I get home I will be welcomed by a silken-black sky filled with millions of stars, a sky I now know is North American in nature, for where we stand tells us what we see.

Later we both drift to sleep in adjoining seats 34H and 34I and sometime while we slumber we cross the continental shelf and salt waves breaking onto cold beaches and the thick megalopolis that is the north-eastern rim of the U.S. and then the dense green of the mountains, more trees concentrated here than all of Europe has seen in three or four centuries and the plane's wheels have touched the concrete at O'Hare before we open our eyes and perhaps I am just slightly embarrassed but she does not appear to be.

I wonder if being open to any adventure really means being closed to another set of possibilities. If being committed means being trapped or simply trusted. If an erection is different in some measurable way when it is linked to love and affection than when simply engorged with frustration sparked by lust. If movement is in any way compatible with constancy. Or freedom with safety.

She puts fingers on my crotch. Leans toward me. Whispers, "a pleasure groping you." Reaches for her bags from the overhead compartment. Slides out of sight in the crowd.

Outside the little window it is raining. Around me people are bringing cellphones to life, dialing loved ones, I imagine, though as many might be business connections or simply rides. I wish that this vehicle was like a subway. I sit in the seat with three thoughts flipping in my head: a candle lit in an 800-year-old cathedral, the smell of the wind slipping onshore over a wall of rocks smoothed by eons of slowly falling rain, and words said with respect and perhaps love that never-the-less dismember me with the sharpness of the swords of long-lost kings. And I wish that this vehicle was like a subway. That I could just stay in the seat and ride the route back the other way, and repeat as necessary. But this is not that path.

Still, I'm the last passenger off the plane. I tell the attendant, "nice flight." She looks at me with recognition and laughs, "yeah." But I'm not smiling, and so she stops.

© 2005 by Ira Socol__________________

Monday, April 04, 2005

Sex

There had been a time when he could barely stand to brush his teeth and thus wash the taste of her out of his mouth and after lunches like this he'd go back to work wrapped in the scents of her body and revel in them and surely she still did it all for him physically but now as much as he was conscious of trying to appear to be staring at her body as she moved above him he was also quite sure that he was tracking the pattern of hairline cracks that spread south-east to north-by-northwest across the plaster ceiling.

A shallow river carved through the dry parts of his brain, lubricating lost sensations, letting a riot of life loose in still pools that gathered on newly black mud, his sight now having rushed beyond her stomach, breasts, neck, face, arms, hair, and found its way to safer places, the way he had driven discretely imagined cars down glorious boulevards that ran in the cracks between classroom floor tiles in order to escape life as a student.

She moaned orgasmically and the combination of her muscle contractions and his decision to relax and then run let him go off as well and he lay there as she sprawled across him and thought only about the old joke about the statue of the famous Russian-Roulette champion: On the pedestal, underneath his name, was his record, "73-1."

Was that really a joke?

On his way back to work he stopped at the Barnes and Noble. Went into the bathroom. Washed his hands and face with antiseptic smelling liquid soap. Bought odd French mints, a container of frighteningly bitter Starbucks coffee, a two-dollar discounted book about the Nile.

She took a fast shower, as she always did. Got dressed. Went back to the school she worked in. Spent much of the afternoon flirting with the math teacher who also coached wrestling.

© 2005 by Ira Socol_____________________________