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


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


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


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


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________________________________