Tuesday, April 29, 2008

meeting family

The present I brought, a two-DVD set of bootlegged copies of The Aristocats and The Aristocrats wrapped in a custom designed collaged cover promising “entertainment for the whole family,” made only half the people laugh, and they really didn’t appreciate the Belgian beer I’d spent a fortune on. “Belgian?” I realized that they neither knew where Belgium was nor knew anything about monks brewing beer nor what a Trappist was nor had they seen – or heard of – the funnier of the two movies. After all, we’d been the only two people in the theatre the night we saw it in town, and it only played three nights.

The sun was out and it looked like spring and I sat in the room wanting to be outside, but the wind was wicked and it was really just a degree or two above freezing, and so I snuck out on each half hour for a cigarette, and went to the bathroom a lot, and nursed the great beer because an already uncomfortable event can become a disaster mighty easily if you speed the drinking to ease the pain.

“Wanna get out of here?” she finally said. “Uh, huh.” “I think we’ve put in enough time.” “Uh, huh.” She circled the room, saying goodbye. I offered small waves and smiles and perhaps two, “it was nice to meet you”s.

As we reached the driveway I handed her a DVD so I could light the cigarette. “You stole the movie you gave them?” I found the keys and unlocked the car. “Thought it might be best.” “Might not have been the best idea in the first place.” “Maybe not.”

We drove home from that small city to this. “You really don’t have to like my cousins, we’ll only see them once or twice a year.” “No problem,” I said, “next time I’ll bring cheaper beer.” I turned a corner, there was clanking from the back seat. “You stole the beer back too?” “Uh, huh.”

copyright 2008 by Ira Socol

Saturday, April 26, 2008



"You should meet me at the Apple Store on 59th, right now." I can tell this is about to become a really stupid conversation. "I'm in City Hall Park, why don't you carry your damn new Macbook Pro down here. It's hot, I don't want to get on the subway." "No, no, no..." he stutters this, "I've got this video I shot last night on two of the big cinema displays, it's gorgeous, you've got to see it." "But I am a long, long way away from you right now." "I can wait." "I bet you can."

I've just walked from Brooklyn, over the bridge. It is ninety-something, and I fried out there above the East River, even succumbing to buying a dollar bottle of water by the New York tower. Now I sit in the park, in the shade, and the breeze is blowing mist from the fountain over me. I have kicked my shoes off. I have even pulled an ancient paperback of The Great Gatsby, just purchased from the used bookstore on Montague Street for twenty-five cents, out of my pack, and am flipping through looking for the greatest lines. My own literary YouTube. I really do not want to go anywhere. But.

The phone rings again. The Persuasions, "I Just Want to Sing with My Friends." Him.

"You on the train yet?" "No." "You're not still sitting on some park bench drooling like some old man?" "That is exactly what I'm doing." "Fuck man, c'mon, I can't be waiting for you forever."

"Fuck, fuck." I shout this. Now I really am the crazy old man. I close the book, drop it in my backpack. Pull my
shoes back on. Stand up. Pull the pack onto my still sweat-soaked body. I walk over to the fountain, lean in, scoop up water, and dump it on my neck. I consider direction. My first thought is to walk over to the 6 train, but that's old memory, going the other way, catching the R, will get me right there.

It's only fair, I suppose. I have called him up at four in the morning, his time, often. Telling him to get up, check his email, read a paragraph or a story, and tell me how to fix it. I have stumbled into his homes at many bizarre hours, drunk and depressed. He has done the same to me. The drunk and depressed. When he wants me to see things they are always visual. Photographs, films, videos. It goes way back to him as a film student at NYU when he dragged me through abandoned ancient Lower East Side synagogues as he shot his senior thesis. He filmed. A huge old 16mmm camera lugged on his shoulder. I scared him by pulling out my gun and shooting at rats the size of fat house cats.

And there was the joint venture in illegal Irish immigration filmed on the streets of Belfast and The Bronx. And there were those early moments, when I showed him my initial attempts at cop stories. And then, later on, those first tries at the childhood stories.

The subway station is damp but cool. The train is mostly empty and crisply air-conditioned. I sit with my pack between my legs, watching the tunnel lights flash by, and the stations roll into view, one by one. The R reaches from 95th Street in Bay Ridge out by the Verrazano Bridge and goes all the way to Forest Hills near the leafy parts of Queens. It used to go to Astoria, terminating among a sea of Greek diners, but then Mayor Bloomberg decided to confuse everyone , and switched the way the N and the R go on the Queens ends. Either way, I'm sticking with Manhattan right now, so I'm wasting thoughts.

I get off at 59th and Fifth, and climb out into the sun. The Apple Store looms ahead of me. The great glass cube with the Charley and the Chocolate Factory glass elevator (the book or the Gene Wilder movie - not the Johnny Depp one). I cross the street. Enter. And glide down.

He is waiting. He has been connecting and conniving as well. As I approach his video of one night at Nathan's Famous explodes across twenty huge screens. It is him at his visual best. The camera sweeps and lurches, the colours explode, the people's essences burst through. He has even edited it pretty well already. And thirteen minutes later it concludes to loud applause.

He bows dramatically.

"Four hours last night, barely left the place at all," he says. "Wanted to do the beach on a night this hot, but I got sidetracked." We spend the next three hours re-editing. I help - I suspect. In little bits. In saying, "no, that one," when he might have picked something more for just him. We show it big four more times. People like it again and again, even those who have been here, working on whatever, the whole time.

Then he says, "got anything?" I pull a jump drive off from around my neck, and plug it in. The lanyard lies on the table, still wet from sweat and fountain water. "I'm struggling with this, been fighting this chapter for a week."

'"You've never looked at a city the way I have," I told her, as I took in the entirety of the street, the entirety of the moment, in a way most people never learn to do but which is the key to survival if you find yourself chased. "Thank God for that," she said, "you know, you may be getting a bit scary." We were right there. At the spot. The rain polishing the footwalk's pavement. If I saw ghosts and Caitlin did not, what of everyone passing by in the rain this afternoon? If I saw ghosts here could I walk the eight or ten blocks over to Donegall Street and make it through that? "I am more than a bit scared," I said in surprising confession. "I do not like this city at all, and I want it to stop raining. I want fewer reflections." "We should find you a pint," she said, "we should find pints for both of us. And maybe you need to tell me a story I have yet to hear." '

It appears on the screen, this paragraph filling the pixels.

He grabs the keyboard. Changes some things. Hands it to me. I change some more. He takes it back, a touch violently, and types for thirty seconds.

'"You've never looked at a city the way I do," I told her, grabbing the entirety of the street in my eyes, the entirety of the moment, in a way people never learn to do unless they know what it is like to be chased. "Thank God for that," she said, "you know, you may be getting a bit scary." We were right there. At the spot. The rain polishing the footwalk's pavement. If I saw ghosts but Caitlin did not, what of everyone passing by in this rain this afternoon? If I see ghosts here can I walk the eight or ten blocks over to Donegall Street and survive there? "I'd be a bit scared," I said in surprising confession. "I do not like this city, and I want it to stop raining. I want fewer reflections." "We should find you a pint," she said, "we should find pints for both of us. And maybe you need to tell me a story I have yet to hear." '

"That is better," I say honestly. "It is," a woman nearby says, and now I realise that my words are illuminated across an entire wall, "but either way it's beautiful writing, really, a book?" "Shut up," he says sharply, "this is private." I look at her, past him, and mouth, "Thank you, and sorry he's an asshole." She smiles - she may be older but she is very beautiful - and goes back to her email.

"You're a fucking eijit," I say. Pushing a few keys, shrinking my words back to just this display. "Yeah, he says, "but people ought to be paying to read your shit."

"We should all be rich," I tell him. "Then it wouldn't matter." "And we could do this shit all day?" "Yeah, and we could do this shit all day."

copyright 2007-2008 by Ira Socol

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


(an old favorite in honor of all those grading papers these weeks)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 through 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.

copyright 2003-2004 by Ira Socol
Michellious Peyne 2008

Monday, April 21, 2008

the weight

an meáchan

Taj said he'd meet me in the Sheep Meadow at four, but I was there by two, feeling kind of loopy from the too early summer heat that was saturating the city, and I pulled off my shirt and lay on it on the grass with a bottle of Gatorade and the Daily News and a book of Gregory Corso's poems that had been jammed in my back pocket.

Over there a father kicked a soccer ball to his two sons, maybe two and four. Over here a baby climbed from mom to dad. In the distance three preppie types, no doubt from private schools in New Jersey or Connecticut, tossed a ball back and forth with their expensive lacrosse sticks - posing with every catch. Beyond them four Koreans practised a slow-motion Asian exercise routine.

"I stand in the dark light in the dark street / and look up at my window, I was born there. / The lights are on; other people are moving about. / I am with raincoat; cigarette in mouth, / hat over eye, hand on gat. / I cross the street and enter the building. / The garbage cans haven't stopped smelling. / I walk up the first flight; Dirty Ears / aims a knife at me... / I pump him full of lost watches." and I fall asleep, the smell of just cut grass fueling the softest of dreams.

In a wide glen an hour west of the old stone city my Da played football with us in the thick clover. He was teaching us how to get air under the ball, how to pass over the midfield, but really, we were just playing catch in the sun. And over there Ma sat and read in the quiet of having all four children occupied by things other than herself. She smiles to herself - it is the most vivid of memories - as if all the cares had been lifted.

I woke up with a shadow thrown across my face. "You're probably claiming you're on the clock right now, aren't you?" All I could see was a looming figure against the sun. I closed my eyes and re-established which grass I lay in. "Some job you've got." "It's tough, ya know, but someone's gotta do it." He threw a thick pile, held together with rubber bands, down next to me. "Check out the pics of Hunt's Point," Taj said, still looming. I pulled the package apart, opened the string closure on a department reuse envelope that was stiff to bend. Photo paper. "When were these taken?" "Wednesday night into Thursday, maybe twenty-three hundred to oh-two-thirty." "You ran all the plates?" "Yeah, that's in there too." I followed along by pulling out the print outs.

I got to my feet. Pulled the shirt back over my head. Taj continued to loom. He's got a foot, maybe more, on me. "Mighty tall for undercover," I've said, but he could be a Bronx goon, so he's not out of place prowling the terminal market in the off hours. "Where you off to now?" "I'm supposed to try and crash a birthday party in Long Island City. You know, work, I hear you used to do some of that." "Not really." "Yeah." "Yeah, well, I guess I should go downtown and see how this adds up." "Gonna let us know?" "We always do." "No, you don't." "Well, we've got funny rules," I told him this, but nobody really understands what the Intelligence Division does. "Yeah," he said, and walked casually off toward Fifth Avenue.

I bent down and picked everything up and slipped the papers into the middle of The News, somewhere between Dear Abby and the classifieds. I stuffed the book back into my pocket. I'll go back downtown, I figured. I'll walk down toward Rockefeller Center and find something to eat in an air conditioned restaurant and catch the train and go start adding this stuff into a database that might suggest the details we need on these particular dope dealers. And then I'll see if I can make some assumptions. They were paying me to make assumptions. But I knew that I wouldn't do that for a day or two. It was too hot, and I felt too lost in time.
"Of course I tried to tell him," Corso wrote, "but he cranked his head / without an excuse. / I told him the sky chases / the sun / And he smiled and said: / 'What's the use.'" All around me I heard the sound of kids free on a summer day. I drained the Gatorade as I walked through the field, and tossed the bottle in a trash bin. It made a hollow "thunk" as it hit the rim. But the still air remained silent, and my footsteps on the lawn made no sound at all.

copyright 2007 by Ira Socol
first poem is Birthplace Revisited by Gregory Corso from Gasoline.
second poem is Poets Hitchhiking on the Highway by Gregory Corso from The Happy Birthday of Death.

Saturday, April 19, 2008



In this night as the storms rage above and below and I climb the boxes and then the shelf in the closet and slip through the hatch into the attic, my own passage through the wardrobe I find myself believing, and push the blankets and pillow I have dragged up as far into the eaves as I can fit – I could not have been more than seven and so I needed very, very little space – then I know that the fear from downstairs might begin to soften.


Wrapped in this nest I absorb the rhythm of the wind-driven rain on slate roof shingles so ancient they have been thinned visibly by centuries of Atlantic precipitation. The air is sharp and cold but inside the blankets my body warms and relaxes. In the full-dark I fumble for my secret box, a tin that once held chocolates brought by a cousin from London but now holds votives secreted from the cathedral, matches from the pub, and all of the postcards received from cousin Michael in America. With blind dexterity born of too much experience I set out the candles, and strike the fire.


The trinity of flames create more shadow than light but I hold the postcards. There is New York, and the dome of the Capitol in Washington, and a fold-out set from Cape Kennedy, a boat on the Mississippi by New Orleans, even the Astrodome. But the one I always hold is just from a hotel in a place called "Arizona." The building is so new. Palm trees stand in front. The cars are like spaceships to a lad who knows no one who even owns one of the tiny boring cars people have here. And the sky. Oh the sky. It is bigger than any I have seen and a kind of blue I have never imagined.

ar maidin

That postcard is in my hand as I fall asleep. It is still clutched there when the first ray of dawn cuts under deep gray clouds and throws itself through the dusty attic window and for just one moment makes my world absolutely my own.

copyright 2006 by Ira Socol

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Morning Arrivals

1:28 AM One World Trade Center, New York, New York, USA

The party was in that artist's space on the north side of the 67th floor and I'd walked through the late summer storm all the way from the Canal Street Station on the BMT because it hadn't been raining when we'd crossed the Manhattan Bridge and I hadn't considered that possibility. I was soaked: t-shirt and jeans stuck to my skin, water squishing out of my adidas. The elevator up to the 44th floor skylobby was cold, and I shivered. I noticed the trail of water I left on the polished floor as I changed to the 'local' for the rest of the climb.

The music shook the walls when I stepped out onto the floor. Flashing light leaked into the central corridor. There was a girl I desperately wanted to be with inside. And at least two guys I did not want to see at all.

5:23 AM Craigovan Bridge, Derry, Ireland

Behind the sky was just beginning to be touched with the sun now dawning over the Netherlands. Ahead it was a pure dark backdrop to the pinprick lights of the bridge and the city. I had left Belfast too late and too depressed and probably a bit too snoggered for my own good, but I'd kept the music roaring and my eyes open and the almost vacant A-6 hadn't thrown me anything I couldn't handle.

When I curved through the rotary just east of the Foyle I already felt like I was home, but I didn't want to show up just yet. So I crossed, drove through the Ferryquay Gate and up the hill. I parked at the Diamond, and sat on the car. The war memorial seemed reproachful, the streetlamps blocked the stars.

8:23 AM Dublin Airport, Dublin, Ireland

The flight from Chicago had crossed a cloudless night. I had watched the cities and forests of North America run beneath in the fading evening light, had noted the tiny spots of light that mark Canada's Atlantic coast. I thought I woke up at one point and saw a ship crossing the ocean, the smallest flare of illumination in a vast, deep universe. Or maybe I dreamed that. It doesn't matter.

Ireland glittered as morning struck the plane, the Shannon silver against the fabric of the land which held it. Only Donegal smothered itself under tufted grey. I knew she would be there at the airport. We'd said we'd meet them by the giant winged pig by the car park. I thought that suggested many things. The line for those with EU passports went this way. The line for others was over there.

11:41 AM Indian Trails Bus Station, East Lansing, Michigan, USA

I'd taken the first plane from LaGuardia to Metro. American Airlines. "Fly the American Way." Everyone else was wearing a suit and carrying briefcases. I had a backpack and a pillow and had checked a dufflebag. It was just about everything. The stewardess thought my nervousness was about flight and was very nice. At Detroit I claimed the duffle and found the bus going north and west. Not Greyhound or even Trailways, but 'Indian Trails.'

East Lansing emerged out of an empty landscape. The tops of the football stadium visible long before any other object save huge chimneys. It was the end of the summer and the air was hot and full of dust. I felt myself start to sweat as I lifted everything onto my shoulders. Around me others were being be greeted by old friends or family. And still others walked off as if they knew where they were going.

copyright 2008 by Ira Socol

Tuesday, April 15, 2008



There had been so many chances to get killed this year, and last year, and the year before. I just thought about that. Not as a list or anything. Nothing specific. Just a vague sense of a life uncertain. A life lived just a few steps beyond the razor's edge. These things flashed through my head as the landscape of Brooklyn wheezed outside the windows of the F train as it drifted along the el above McDonald Avenue, heading south, toward the sea.

Night was just starting to fall. It was getting late, but not late enough. Still, I was going now. I didn't want to ride out here later, in an empty subway car, being one of just two or three getting off a train. The best way to be anonymous is always to be in a crowd. So I was on my way. I could surely kill five hours on Coney Island. Anyone could.

The meet wouldn't happen until two, over in the abandoned lots past the Thunderbolt. This was a scary buy. Anytime you're buying guns it's fucking scary. I mean, if you're buying guns there's no doubt that there'll be guns around, right? But these guys made me twitchy. They seemed less like people interested in getting money than like psychos. Maybe that was cultural. I might have been misreading Eastern European shit the wrong way. They might just be sane criminals. I'd keep repeating that to myself, hunting some shot at calm.

I got off at West Eighth Street and walked. I walked all the way to Nathan's. Grabbed two dogs and a beer and walked along the boardwalk, going back east. The sun had vanished, the neon was exploding. The night was hot and the crowd smelled of alcohol and sweat and baby oil and Coppertone. The boardwalk felt small, and I decided to get above it.

So I got in line for the Wonder Wheel, and climbed aboard with two twenty-something girls who said they liked my earrings, and rode up into the August sky.

We laughed. They rocked the car. They shared some toxic liqueur they were carrying. I pulled out a joint and shared that. The ocean breeze cooled us, quickly, in a way that heightened the moment of sexual tension. I looked down blurrily on the scene. Three and a half hours ahead I'd meet these guys. I'd be so scared sweat would be pouring down my body, but it would come off clean. I'd drop the evidence on two cops sitting in an old Ford Galaxie stopped at the boardwalk stairs west of the Parachute Jump. And then I'd walk away - on the empty streets - not even really knowing where I was until I found the Brighton Beach station and boarded a train back north. There were never any arrests. The three guys I bought from were found dead in Sheepshead Bay two days later - we were never sure why - or I was never told - or I never asked.

But now I was just looking down from our date on the neon-carpeted night. Girl Two had her hand on the inside of my thigh. Her little finger just brushing the denim that covered my balls. "Wanna come party with us tonight?" she asked. The way her hand was placed she knew I was ready to do something, and I knew she knew,
but I just said, "Sorry sweetheart, I'm working tonight." "Working?!" Girl One laughed. "Working? You a cop or you clean up at Nathan's?" "A cop," I told her. "Yeah right," she said, as Girl Two removed her hand. "Think of me and whack yourself off when you're cleaning up the french fry machine."

We were back down at the bottom. "I'll do that," I said, grabbing my crotch as they climbed out of the ride. "I'll think only of you."

copyright 2007 by Ira Socol
images from The Bridge and Tunnel Club

Friday, April 11, 2008

Tea in Dublin

Tae sa Baile Átha Cliath

She had the organic porridge with Drambuie and cream. I had the "famous" Irish breakfast. We're both coffee drinkers but on this morning we had a pot of tea. It seemed more proper. And if we were actually meeting again and actually spending the money for breakfast at Bewley's, it seemed important, or perhaps simply logical, to be proper.

"What about ya?" I asked. An unconscious fall into northern phrasing. Her laugh was just as I had left it seven years ago, a dangerous combination of lovely and vicious. "You'd think after all these years you'd have learned how to speak." "Ah," I answered, "you wouldn'a have changed at'all." She only looked at me then, her dark eyes slashing though they barely moved, and sipped her tea.

We'd been lovers. Briefly. Wildly. Cataclysmically. I had been in Dublin short term. She had assumed that meant a meaningless fling. I had deluded myself into believing something else. I had deluded myself into believing many
things. I flew home shattered. What's that song, "I awoke with a broken heart and a ticket home?" Maybe, but, in retrospect, she was not truly the object of real love. It was my fantasy of conquering the high-powered Dublin woman, bringing her to love me. It was that which had likely mattered, and it was that which had ended up broken. So, in my memory I was not fair to her. It is always more reciprocal than we want to admit. Always.

There was much less conversation than I had imagined or prepared for. She looked much older, much more tired. I might hav
e as well. She seemed less self-assured, less confident, and that made me sad. Her angry self-centeredness had made her attractive at the start - in that way that I often seek out the bad drama - and thus she was easy to hate in the aftermath. Now there seemed less of a point to all of the emotional energy that had been expended.

"There's a rumour," she said, "that you want to go to UU." "Nuh," I told her, "well, perhaps. I'd go back to Derry if something came up at Magee, and maybe to Coleraine, but I wouldn'a necessarily move to take something at Jordanstown." She wasn't really listening, it had just been her habit of repeating stories. So I asked about her new book, and she described that in detail. She likes her work. She's damn smart. And that was always attractive.

There were some other things exchanged. Her kids, mine, in surface description. Her research and mine, again, skimmed. A few places she'd been, places I still was.

And then, breakfast was done, and so was the second pot. And it was time. She hugged me momentarily at the door, I responded with one arm. She walked on up Grafton Street, back into her own world. I looked her way, then looked the other. It was nearing noon, and the street was aflood with shoppers and walkers and buskers and tourists. I walked back toward College Green, stopped for afternoon pub cash at the ATM at the Bank of Ireland. I said to myself, "I should go into this building more often - it is so beautiful." Then I crossed the street, and walked through the gates of Trinity. From the light of the day, to the dim of the ancient corridor, and back out into the light of the day.

copyright 2007 by Ira Socol

Thursday, April 10, 2008

pizza on Tuesday

Thirty-six hours into watching we are all going insane. We moved into this filthy space above an abandoned pizzeria on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Kevin at two or so, me at six, the others in between, and now it is a rainy Tuesday morning, colder than it should be, nothing is really happening, and the roof is leaking.

"You gonna do anything here?" Mario asks me, "Watch, maybe, or listen to the phone?" "Nah, you guys are all much better at this stuff than me." "Then could run go get more coffee and lunch, none of us fits into this neighborhood like you do." "I could," I say sighing, "You assholes all do look like cops." "Go get coffee and pizza and fuck yourself while you're at it," Kevin suggests smiling. "Ní dhéarna mé coir," I say, repeating the basic phrase we used with the RUC and Paras back in Northern Ireland years ago. They don't get it. I barely do. But as an adolescent lad it suggested both innocence and rebellion in the same short sentence, and I feel like proclaiming that status at this moment. Nik throws two twenties at me, "Get your potato eating ass in motion." I get up literally as slowly as possible. Climb the stairs to the roof, cross to the third building to the west, and head back down.

I emerge into the downpour in a trash filled alley and pull my Mets hat deep over my eyes. When I was small I had this old cap from my Uncle Eamon. It was way too big, and I could barely see when I wore it, but I always kept it on my head. Eamon was in prison in Long Kesh having done nothing wrong, and the cap was a connection to someone special to me and a quiet argument. But the adults in the city just thought I looked stupid.

I walk two blocks to what might be the best pizza place in New York City, which is saying something big. I order three pies and five coffees to go and one for here, carefully describing the required contents. "Two regular, Two no sugar, one black no sugar, and black no sugar for here." And I sit twisted and hidden in a booth by the window, looking out, both hands wrapped around the hot cup.

Minutes pass. Then a scene begins to play out. And even from underneath the hat brim I see it before it occurs. An elderly woman with an umbrella and a grocery bag and a purse on her arm, and a kid who wants quick cash. And suddenly I bolt. I yell, "Call 9-1-1 with a mugging and I'll be right back." I grab the shield out from inside my shirt and pull my gun from an ankle holster as I swing through the door and race down Neptune Avenue, my sneakers slapping the wet pavement. Just as the kid strikes I dive into a tackle and take him down. The woman screams. The kid starts to fight until I punch him in the face with everything I've got. Then he says, "Yo man, I didn't do nothing." Blood runs from his broken nose. I smile. He takes my memory for dangerous insanity and shuts up. A radio car bends around the far corner and rushes over. I let go of the kid with one hand to hold up the shield to I.D. myself before I get taken out.

I get up. My jeans are soaking wet. "Your collar," I say to the smaller of the two cops, "I gotta go." People are watching, and that, in my line of work, is bad. I back away into a gathering cluster of watchers, then turn and slouch back to the pizzeria. "Thanks," I tell Nunzio who waits behind the counter. "Nice work," he says. "You've never seen me," I say, and carry the pies and coffees back to my more observant partners.

copyright 2006 by Ira Socol

Monday, April 07, 2008


He sat in the back of the classroom. Sometimes staring at the fluorescent lights flickering and humming above. Sometimes looking out the window toward the traffic flowing on the street beyond the playground. Sometimes following patterns invisible to others in the woodgrain of his desk or in the tiles of the floor or in the cotton of his jeans.

Beyond him he knew the teacher was usually talking. That other kids were reading or writing, passing notes or hitting each other, talking or rolling pencils off the desk so that they could bend down and pick them up. He knew that numbers and letters and words were being tossed around, but none of it could really touch his attention. He knew that he didn't need them anyway. He told his own stories as he watched his worlds, he added and divided his own sums as he let time wander, he found his own sciences as he watched the earth spin through its day. And he knew that the teacher knew that if she tried to force these things his way, he had very good ways to resist.

So there he sat. Holding an uneasy truce with his captors. Waiting for the best days, the rainy days, when water would streak across the window and the passing cars and trucks would toss spray in the air, and when he was finally paroled at the final bell he could walk slowly home, letting the water from the sky bathe him in its chill embrace.

copyright 2007 by Ira Socol

Sunday, April 06, 2008

on Flatbush Avenue

Nobody really gave a shit that Carlos sold smack from the corner table in the back of the cafeteria in the Sears on Flatbush Avenue, except that Carlos was getting his dope from a guy who was also selling discount assault weapons from Virginia to all sorts of bad guys around central and southern Brooklyn.

So I went there a few more than a dozen times I guess. Drinking the bad coffee, eating the just a bit too chewy to be real meat hamburgers, and after seven visits Carlos and I talked, and on visit nine I made my first buy.

After the third buy - the ADAs always wanted three - I showed up a day or two more just for cover's sake and then vanished. I was on another task, five weeks later, when they busted Carlos at his apartment on Church Avenue and dragged him to Brooklyn South's major case detectives and scared him to fucking death and got him to talk. He was nothing, of course, just a tool salesman with a bad habit and a need for a little extra cash on the side. That's just like all of us, right? He was no more selling heroin in a Brooklyn department store by choice than any of us were doing anything by choice. We'd all been sucked to this capital of the American Empire by forces so massive they were invisible. And we were all committing crimes and finding ways to collaborate as we tried to survive. It's the way it is.

The information from Carlos proved valuable. It led to a series of very good arrests. He got cut loose as carefully as they could - a faked "dismissal of the evidence" in court. Everybody tries. There are few real villains here.

Still, Carlos was dead twelve weeks after I last saw him in the cafeteria. Shot from a car as he walked past the Kenmore Theater on his way home on a dim and wet January night. Another murder never solved.

The next summer, buying a drillbit from under a disguising Mets cap, I overheard another Sears clerk say that his wife had fled back to Puerto Rico with the two kids. I felt sick. So I went up to the second floor, and found a corner table in the cafeteria. And drank two or four cups of the bad coffee. Around me the city swirled and pulsed, moving on, as it always does.

copyright 2007 by Ira Socol

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


Once, a generation ago, very drunk and very desperate about far too many things, we’d lain near this tree, by this gravestone, in this cemetery, and made love in a very dark night. Not just shagged. Not just. It was more than that. It was, I want to think for both of us, an act of dressing wounds, of offering sanctuary, of providing respite.

Today the sun is bright and it touches us with warmth and we are older, safer, surer. Fuchsia climbs wildly up the ancient marker. Birds serenade us.

“I am so glad that you rang me this time,” she says, her voice not having changed at all, “I’d’a begun to imagine you were avoiding me.” She laughs, a perfect laugh. “No, I’d much more than begun. But now, it is wonderful to see you, to hear you.” I look down into the not cut recently enough grass. “I was nervous about it, too nervous, you were my mate’s girl, even if he was away.” I wait. I listen to the silence of her breathing. “I thought we shouldn’a done it.”

She puts a finger to my lips. “Don’t,” she simply says. “The best friends give the gifts we need when we need them.”

In the sun, in this place, we sit beside one another and say nothing. Later, in other places, we will tell each other of the twenty years past. Not now though. Not in this sanctuary.

copyright 2008 by Ira Socol