Monday, December 27, 2010

Cold as hell

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

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

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

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

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

(copyright 2004-2010 by Ira David Socol)

Monday, December 20, 2010


He'd skate backwards and we'd chase.

Ten, twelve, fifteen, twenty - eight, nine, and ten-year-olds boys, sometimes leaning on their sticks for extra stability as we tired, following my father around the lake as sisters and mothers played at figure skating in the center and the teenagers played real games along the south shore.

The snow clouds had blown away, the sun spread light but not warmth, the air held a mix of ice and salt and the smell of wool soaked with sweat.

(copyright 2010) by Ira David Socol

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Between Dreams

The day had turned stunningly cold, and the salt was rising into the air from Long Island Sound, announcing a coming storm, but we had said Greasy Nick's so I sat there outside, picking a table with a bit of the shelter of the building, and waited.

She would come, as she always did, in sadness. I never saw her in happiness. Only between lovers, between jobs, between houses, between dreams. Today, I already knew. A mutual friend, a hospital nurse, had whispered "cancer" to me at Dudley's last night, as we sat on the deck over the water and drank to the Equinox.

I watched spots of rain start to spread across the road, coming from the shore. I thought back to our first meeting. In the park. In the rain. Both of us bruised and battered by the fists of men we worshipped. I had held her then. I had promised that it would all get better. Maybe it had. Though not together, as I had desperately wanted in that first moment.

Now the rain exploded, waves of water merging sea and sky. The other few customers fled inside. But I sat there, cold in a now wet t-shirt. And I waited.

(copyright 2010) by Ira David Socol

Monday, October 11, 2010

Orion at 3.40

The window of the bedroom looked east. Toward the DART tracks and the Strand of Joyce's imagination and the sea and far beyond that to the chaotic Welsh coast. If I had to I could see the whole way in the moments before sleep.

But tonight sleep would not come, though Orion slept above. Resting on his left, the celestial archer framed by the thin panels of the upper sash. The glass slumped by age differently in each, creating a quintych - would that be a word? - with a strong sense of doubt about the nature of heaven.

Glass, like pain, is unstable. A super-cooled liquid which always flows. Gentle, despite its fragility.

The pain which haunts my nights shifts in form as well, though direction is less defined.

The woman beside me breathes in soft swells. The beagle snores. The cat watches the great hunter from the window ledge. His tail slicing through the thick of the dark.

(c) 2010 by Ira David Socol

Sunday, September 12, 2010


The fog rose from the Irish Sea and crawled ashore, chasing me from the Strand. I walked St. John's Road then turned north along Park Avenue and, no longer moving west, was engulfed in the salt mist.

(c) Steve Conway - Fog on Dublin Bay
The senses shift in the night. And I followed the smells, turf fire on the grate by turf fire on the grate, as I moved toward Sandymount Green. And I followed the vaguest of sounds, an infant's cry, an apology too loud, the sound of water draining through the pipes. All held close to me by the vapours which now soaked my hair and jumper.

"You understand," my Ma had told me when I was very young, "that the pattern of the jumper is our family's. It is how we recognized the bodies of the fishermen when they washed ashore." It took me decades for the intricate cabling to not cause nightmares, and for me to ask Ma to knit one more.

My mobile told me it was 3.45 when I saw the Green, soft yellow lights glowing in a black night. A hundred years vanished under the weight of this cloud come to earth. I lit another cigarette. Wondered why sleep never came anymore.

Turned left, and fished in my pocket for the keys.

copyright 2010 by Ira David Socol

Saturday, September 11, 2010

September 11, 2001: in moments

a story crafted from the accounts of friends in New York on that day...

(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__________________________________________

Wednesday, June 30, 2010



The platform was cold. Not freezing. Not winter or anything. But all I had on was a T-shirt and jeans - the day had been one of those autumn days when summer had rushed back in on a Gulf Stream wind but as the evening had set the wind had circled - and a chill night air was dropping from the streets down into the tunnels, and I was shivering, waiting for the train to come.

I was working, but, it was hard to really understand that. I wasn't carrying a gun or a shield or even an ID card. I didn't have a bullet-proof vest on. I sure wasn't wearing a uniform. I hadn't been in a police building in almost two weeks. I was young and very thin and dirty and jumpy. There were no displays of confidence dressed with mirrored sunglasses. Just small wads of cash spread here and there among my clothes and six cigarettes and four joints in the Camel box jammed into my left front pocket. If I might have been professionally identified at all it was by a small code stamped on the back of a driver's license that had a name that wasn't mine anyway. But no one outside a very few would know that. If a cop busted me, and ran either that name or my name through the system though - they'd assured me of this - they'd be told to call a special number. "What happens after they call?" I'd asked. "Well, that depends," they'd answered.

Today I'd sat near Tompkins Square. Getting high, drinking awful beer from a paper bag, and just listening. Trying to find the right group to slip into. No, not that fast. Trying to find the right group to target, so I could think about slipping in. I was new to this depth of disguise. And scared. and cautious. "Where you been sleepin?" Short-Leg Johnny had asked that afternoon. We'd shared smokes three of the last four days. I figured he'd lost a chunk of his leg in Vietnam? Maybe, but you couldn't really know. "Just on the trains for now," I'd said. "That's bad shit," he told me, "You decide you need something better you talk to me." I'd wondered if I should. Johnny was no target, but Johnny had a rep that would give me a rep, and that might help with the guys over there by the corner of Tenth and B. Guys that probably were the targets. But I had to wonder, if I did that, could I get Johnny killed? I already knew he wasn't gonna outrun them.

When Johnny went to the church for dinner, I slid the other way. He knew I didn't much like being inside. He told me he'd seen that in my eyes "right away." You know, you try to hide everything when your act is in play, but you just can't. Trying to think, I'd just started walking: south on Avenue A, across Houston, right on Stanton. I walked along the crumbling buildings of Eldridge Street down to Delancey. Everything was grim and grey and clouded over with confusion. Even the occasional neon lights just bounced off that fog spinning in my head, and pointed to nothing. At the Bowery I'd climbed down the stairs and jumped the turnstile on the run, sticking to character. It got me out of the wind, but not the cold.

I knew that I really could go home from here. Get clean. Sleep in a safe bed. Eat like a real person. But I just didn't think I should this night. So I got on the train. I guess going uptown. The doors closed. And I just rode along.

copyright 2007-2010 by Ira Socol

Thursday, June 17, 2010


for Arizona, Israel, and all the other wall builders...

The street is as filthy as it is abandoned. The clouds foretell rain. And the wind bristles, sending shivers along my spine.

If you walk the "peace walls" of Belfast you can smell the failure. The failure of community, of leadership, of religion, of humanity. It is all written beneath the grubby graffiti on the cold concrete that long ago replaced the simpler fences, and then began to climb higher. Because once you build a wall, you quickly discover that it cannot truly be high enough.

I have many times walked the seventeenth century's attempt to separate Catholics and Protestants along Protestantism's frontier on the River Foyle. Those walls are massive. Carved stone. Incredibly thick. Powerfully armed. You can walk along the top of these walls today, Europe's last truly walled city, and look down on what was once a Catholic ghetto and what was once a battlefield where the native soldiers of Ireland almost drove the English into the sea, but not quite.

These twentieth century dividers in Belfast are less picturesque, and when, someday, they are gone, they will be no more mourned than the Berlin Wall, but like that structure, perhaps we should preserve big sections so that future generations will know.

Walls do not work. Walls are proof only of the fact that you have run out of ideas. It does not matter if the intent is to keep people in (Berlin), keep people out (the US/Mexico Border), or keep people apart (the north of Ireland or Palestine). Behind every wall anger and frustration build and resentment festers and dangerous myths grow. Humans do not like boxes unless they are free to go in and out. Of this there is no doubt. And humans separated by walls simply will not learn to get along. This is also true.

The street is as filthy as it is abandoned. And now the clouds have started spitting cold water. I have walked from one rusting "peace gate" toward another, sticking to the Catholic side, since walls force that type of decision. Over there is grim poverty. Over here is the same.

copyright 2006-2010 by Ira Socol

Saturday, June 05, 2010


The Library had been a parking garage. Really. I sort of remembered this. The old Lawton Street with the dark stone courthouse that was right there, and the ancient Western Union office that leaned against the back of the First National Bank for a century before anyone outside of England had heard of Barclay's Bank that now operated the massive arch-windowed brick building at the corner of Main, the Te-Amo Cigar Store that sat across from it and, the length of the block away the crumbling stone ruin that contained both the elegant stairway where we'd first tried shooting up and the Post Road mile marker "17 miles to N. York" that described a very much smaller big city from centuries ago. I was a small child held by my dad when Bobby Kennedy came to town one winter and held a rally right below this very window. It was a cold winter night and I sat on his shoulders and looked around and, yes, a dirty concrete parking garage towered above me covered with incomprehensible lettering.
I'd been away from home, off guarding the North Atlantic from foreign threats, when they'd ripped down the courthouse, remade the concrete hulk, and moved the library from the elegant Carnegie building with the marble staircase at the far end of Main Street. I didn't miss the old place. I'd always been terrified of it and all who worked there behind giant counters. At best I'd run in and point to Mike Mulligan or The Little Red Lighthouse or The Cat in the Hat and ask one of my siblings to take it out for me. I'd never had a library card. They wanted you to write your name and address to get a library card, and by the time I could do that, I was no longer interested.
But I was back now and as a not-so-gentle mid-fall rain streaked the third floor windows I looked out on an urban area transformed though I wasn't sure if for better or worse. The library was nice, the plaza below me looked pleasant enough, a couple of restored old buildings sat along the street, but it lacked the urban weight I'd come to know, and the tightness of the alleys I'd sprinted through day and night as I'd grown up.
In a couple of months, assuming nothing went wrong, I'd be in the New York City Police Academy, and already that was separating me from my past and the world I knew. My friends had understood the join the Navy decision, they weren't too blind to know I needed to get the hell out of here. They felt even better about that when I'd come back for visits and describe all the places I'd gotten high; from Amsterdam to Istanbul. But this cop thing was different. Every day I was barraged with "why you want to be a narc?" questions and "so you're gonna be a storm trooper" statements and the inevitable "you know they're gonna expect you to bust people for all the shit you've done your whole life."
So I'd chosen to hide. I'd taken the paramedic certification I'd gotten in the Navy and picked up a job on the ambulances that worked out of the New Rochelle Hospital ER. And if I was working at night, like I was tonight, I'd kill the day in places my friends would never find me, like here, hidden among the obscurity of the local history collection. Dougie, who somehow had a job here and who, though he called me "The Pig in Waiting," seemed vaguely sympathetic, had tapped into my curiosity by piling old maps of the city and the sound on this table and asking if I'd sort them for him by category and time period. Empty day after empty day I kept coming back and pouring over these ancient documents as summer became autumn and autumn marched toward winter.
In the earliest maps the coastline was a bizarre mix of wrongly assumed shapes and all the words were in French and what was now North Avenue was simply called "La Ligne Moyenne." The Middle Line, separating this Huguenot farmer's fields from that Huguenot farmer's fields. I'd inhale the slightly damp scent of long-stored paper and watch progress intrude. The road from New York to Boston, the clearly defined harbors with accurate depth soundings and a clear understanding of the tides, the properties being sub-divided and subdivided again. Then the railroad clattering east on maps now wholly English, and lots devoted to schools and more and more streets spreading from where the station sat close by the original church. For a hundred years farms vanished steadily on revision after revision, replaced by blocks and blocks of houses, and even "municipal improvements," parks, more schools, rail yards, reservoirs. One giant drawing on engineer's vellum still satiny to the touch showed in dazzling detail the tracks where steam engines from Boston were swapped for electrics bound for Grand Central in 1908.
By now I had reached the first maps to bear the logos of gasoline companies and grocery chains. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine trolleys clanging up the Franklin Avenue hill, the gentlest slope that was still the bus route down to the waterfront. I considered a community so linked to walking that the A&P map showed six stores across the three miles of Main Street. It was long ago but no longer incomprehensible. Most of the buildings from these maps, even some of the blue-stone sidewalks and granite curbs, were still out there on this rainy morning. The tiny rural settlement of odd foreigners had already changed over its first quarter millennia into a crowded suburb barely distinguishable from the vast city that had spread to its doorstep.
A gust of wind splashed a rainburst on the glass and I began counting the days til the January third swear-in. In a little over two months I'd be transformed too. It had already been eight weeks since my last joint. I hadn't smoked a cigarette in a month and was back up to swimming two hours almost every day over at the high school pool. For a dozen weeks I'd been a dependable medical professional. I traced what I guessed the path of I-95 would be on a 1927 Socony-Mobilgas map, looking at all the streets lost to 1960s progress, and thought of why I was doing all this.
Yes, I was switching sides, I supposed, but I wasn't seeing it that way. I wasn't a thug joining the FBI, everything was grayer than that. I thought of New York cops as heroes people liked to have around. I thought of myself as a wandering survivor, not a juvenile delinquent. If the cops could forgive the juvenile record why couldn't the friends understand the adult target? To me I was simply choosing to keep playing in the streets, as I always had, but finding a way to get paid for it and to do it without risking ending up in jail.
Dougie appeared next to me holding out coffee and donuts. He sat down and I tossed the map and the vanished streets north of the railroad tracks onto my 1920s pile. "Thanks," I said. "I figured I'd help get you onto the pig diet," he answered. I laughed. He smiled.

copyright Ira David Socol, 2005-2010

Thursday, June 03, 2010


I heard about it, of course, before I knew who was involved, and when you hear something like that you immediately do what everybody does: You blame the guy.

"I wouldn't make that mistake." "I wouldn't of been in that position at all." "I'm smarter than that." "My vision is better." "I would've waited."

Because if you don't blame the guy, it means it could happen to you.

Denny was the kind of guy you just didn't expect in the academy. He'd been working as a nurse at Sloan-Kettering. He had two little kids. He was really, really smart. And pretty quiet. Sometimes he and I would stand at the edge of the parade deck during meal and watch the city below and talk about complicated things. We were never close pals or anything, but he was a friend.
It was a robbery in progress call. That's a bad one. You know there are weapons and you know you've got innocents involved and you know there isn't a lot of time. The first car went to the front of the Liquor Store down on 183rd. Denny and his partner went around back. A guy came out a door pointing a .357. They said "drop it." He didn't. Denny took him out with two shots.

They teach you all these things about pointing your gun. "Never" they tell you, "point your gun at someone unless the next thing you're going to do is shoot them. Because if you point your gun and tell the person to do something and they don't… what'cha gonna do?" So there are all these steps. Put your hand on the gun. Break it from the holster lock. Take it out, pointed down. Move your finger to the trigger guard. Intermediate positions that allow you to keep upping the ante. But that all goes out the window when someone comes at you with a gun. In that case it's all about self-preservation.
Yeah, it's the wrong guy. The store owner. The robber already having booked. And the moment it happens. The very moment. Denny knows. Of course he knows. People in the neighborhood wail. They scream about "killer cops." It is the whole front page of the next day's New York Post. "Cop Mistake Kills Robbery Victim." Big letters. Long bio. The crying wife. The crying kids. The angry merchants of the street. "They're never here when things happen, except this time, then they kill the wrong guy."

Six months later Denny's wife Rebecca told me about how he'd been so desperate to get away from nursing cancer patients. No one ever lived, she said. He'd see them come back every six months, just getting worse. He wanted to get out into the air. She said he'd said, "At least as a cop they'll die quick if they die."
It is a "clean shoot" even though it is horribly wrong. No one in authority is ever going to say they'd do anything differently in that situation. Even the neighborhood witnesses admit he yelled "Stop, Police" and even that he yelled "Drop it now." There's no grand jury, no big long term investigation. He gets the requisite week off. And during that week one department chaplain talks to him once. And during that week six of us who knew him in the academy call even though we haven't seen him in the year since but we don't push Rebecca to make him talk to us. And during that week one guy from his precinct stops by his house but when there's no answer he just goes away. And during that week Denny stops sleeping at all.

Four months later I see him downtown in the Property Clerk's Office. It takes a while for him to know who I am. Then he says, "hey, how ya doing?" and disappears. I wonder whether his eyes are like that because of meds or just... Another two months go by before I find Rebecca. By that time Denny is on psych sick leave. He sits in his bedroom watching game shows. He doesn't leave the house except for the necessary doctor's appointments. By the time I've gotten there Denny is gone and isn't coming back.

(c) copyright 2006 - 2010 by Ira Socol

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Transit of Venus (five very, very short stories)

Celestial happenings simply didn't interest him. As a schoolboy he had even been unable to locate Orion's Belt in the night. This made him stand out in undesirable ways. So he ignored the event and drove towards work, his visor pulled down against the glare.

He tried to watch the transit of Venus. Seven-thirty a.m. with a welding helmet on his head he stood on a table in his back yard trying to get closer to the sky. A cloud blocked his view for a moment and he gave up, went inside, put on his pants and ate Rice Krispies in front of the Today show. With a banana and two percent milk.

At seven-twenty-three she rolled over, kissed him, and said, "get up you moron, Venus is crossing." He laughed, pulled her on top of him. They missed the show and were late for work.

She parked her car at the "scenic overlook" by the Delaware Water Gap. Pulled the homemade contraption out of her trunk. Her father had made it for an eclipse of the sun twenty-six years before. She hadn't yet gotten over his death three years ago. Nor the death of her lover just four months ago. How to resolve the suicide of one you'd had sex with just fourteen hours earlier? The tiny movement of the black speck calmed her. The radio was playing "Tommy can you hear me?"

Ten minutes afterward he walked into the coffee place that pretended it sat on a far more sophisticated street in a far more sophisticated town than reality indicates. "I'm tired of living here," he mumbled to himself. "What?" asked Dan behind the counter. "Hey," she said, "how was it?" "A big Nicaraguan," he said, "like a little dot, but it was kind of cool."

copyright (c)2007-2010 by Ira Socol

Wednesday, May 12, 2010



His watch didn't work. Well, it worked, but randomly, and offered him facts meaningless, useless, and, in this moment, reassuring. At 10:30 in the morning on the second of August, Irish Daylight Time he might say to be specific, because, he could be that specific if he put in the effort, his watch could say that it was 6:12, either a.m. or p.m. on the seventh of that month, or perhaps another, for the date was represented as only an analog number - 1 through 31 inclusive.

"Why do you wear it?" she asked. He considered the standard answers; that people expected someone like him to wear a watch, that he liked the jewelry aspect of it – it's thick, clunky, cheap Soviet style, that it reminded him of which hand not to write with, but he didn't want to lie. "With this," he tapped the crystal, "time can be wherever I want it to be." And she smiled the way she did when he said things like that.


She had two cigarettes in her hand by the time her first foot landed on the platform and he had a lighter out of his pocket just as quickly and though an overprotective mom with two very young kids looked angrily at them they were inhaling nicotine charged smoke and exhaling it's second hand variety before the crowd leaving the train could disperse at all.

"I'm sick of anti-smokers," he offered, "I'm tired of the looks." "She's got kids, she's new at this, she probably doesn't even let them eat off the floor yet."

"Everybody's got problems," he thought, but took an intensely long, deep drag instead of talking, banged his left hand on the guard separating him from electrocution via the wires of the transit power system as they walked up the ramp, looked at her and smiled in a slightly sad way. "But you just need the drugs," she told him. 

"You too," he said defensively. "Yeah, me too."


What had they been waiting for? It wasn't a train. There just were not trains around back when he was kid. It must have been a bus. But they were waiting and then, yeah, they'd started yelling at each other, they did that, and then, he'd done something because, well, was it because he always did something? 

Was it because it was how he hoped to change the scene? They'd been waiting, kind of like he was waiting with her except it was the bus not this train and there were all these kids, of course, and the weights of their lives piled on them and they fought and then that kid, yeah, that kid did... that doesn't matter, does it, and he'd hit the other kid, hit him that hard, sent him sprawling into the edge of... Don't remember, the kerb probably, that's what always did the damage, the kerbstones. Remember the blood, the screaming that followed. Not much more. Maybe getting hit. Maybe the edge of a building... yet nothing that looks like anything here. They were waiting, is that the only connection?
He shook, violently, as if a frigid wind had just blown along his naked spine. She looked at him just a little nervously. And he wished he could explain all the things that made him afraid.

(c) copyright 2006 - 2010 by Ira Socol

Saturday, May 08, 2010

callings: dunluce

It was out of season and the gates were locked but we pulled the car off the road and climbed the fence, letting the night's fog envelop us, and the world vanish, and the pain disappear along with a thousand years.

There are places you return too. Not the scenes of crimes, if you're smart. Not the scenes of triumphs either, for what would that be but a pale reflection, guaranteed to disappoint? But the places of sanctuary - where escape was made even momentarily real - those are timeless.

Below us the waves read the insistent poetry of history. Above us a Bealtaine moon struggled to tint the sky orange. Briefly the wind rustled the grass, telling us to be quiet, to rest, to be at peace.

(c) copyright 2010 by Ira Socol

Thursday, May 06, 2010


In exile in the North American Midwest I am robbed of the essential smells that gave me shelter as a child. Surely there are memories made up of images and memories made up of songs and memories made up of stories remembered as you lay in bed on the cusp of sleep. There are memories that flood the brain from tastes and those that rise out of textures that have soothed or scratched. So the right kind of mashed potatoes can make me feel truly warmed on a cold night, and black pudding is all about my father, and there is a certain spin of wool, that which matches the Hudson's Bay Blankets that kept the night air off our child bodies, that instantly makes me tired. But I can not find the smells.

Lake Michigan is beautiful and wondrous, but it does not smell like big water to me. There is no salt in that breeze to fill the nostrils. There is no gently rotting mix of seaweed and fish either. The scent of the truly far away does not hang there, in any version, not the slightly sour scent of the Foyle, or the cold briskness of the Donegal beaches, or the sharp notes of the salt-water marshes that define the archipelago that is New York City.

And the smell of wood burning in iron stoves is great on a cold afternoon. That is redolent of the pioneers carving their paths through the vast continental forests and of the kind of nineteenth century Americana so often depicted on Christmas cards. But it is not my odor. More than anything I miss the clinging aroma of peat burning on the grate. What could define an impoverished history more than the need to burn what is really just the earth itself? Peat doesn't truly burn anyway. It smolders and smokes and the scent covers you and wraps you. And when I smell it now, on that first night back each trip, in the pub or as I walk down a residential street, a brief reverie built on a thin trail of smoke, it ignites precious corners of my brain. The house on St. Patrick Street springs into ethereal life, with ma, the aunts, the uncles, my cousins and me running in and out, the sisters laughing, my brother learning to be the adult he would barely get to be. I can touch the hard stone of the streets climbing the hills, and the old wallpaper and the cold wood floor, and the deeply worn polish of the handrail on the stair, and the rough strength of my father's hand.

(c) copyright 2007-2010 by Ira Socol

Wednesday, May 05, 2010


I go first, sprinting from the car to the door of the project. Colin follows, but races across the width of the doorframe to put himself on the other side. Then I kick the door open, it is not locked, I already know that, we have watched them run inside, but I need the door to explode open, I need it to make a lot of noise, and I burst through and flatten myself up against the wall and the mailboxes, the stairway providing cover. I duck around and look up, gun in hand, and see no one. Using those old WWII hand gestures I let Colin know. He bounds past me and up to the first landing.

We'd been drinking coffee, and eating doughnuts. And Colin was complaining about editorials in The New York Times, "it's just the government paper," he said, as usual. We were, I suppose, hidden by the El pillar, and the early morning newspaper trucks, but not so hidden that we couldn't see the drive-by hit, six or seven shots, sounding like a nine, blowing up the windows of two stores across the street and leaving two people lying in blood on the street.

Colin called it in, asked for a bus,* asked for someone to check out the bodies, asked for back up. I spun the car away from the curb, pulled a wild four lane u-turn, and chased the Beemer with the dark windows. Six blocks later we have ended up here.

As I do the next run, to the second floor, the radio crackles that the two on the street are D.O.A. Then a round rushes past me, and I hit the floor, hugging the antique railing, hoping its old oak posts will stop bullets. Colin is calling "shots fired, shots fired" and sirens are whining from two or three directions and I hear footsteps heading up, so I go, and now tactics have been lost to anger and Colin is right behind me. The hall lights up here are out, we can only see by the footlights of the floors below, rising in the slot between the stairs.

Now both of us hear a metallic click, and now, knowing someone is reloading, we pounce. Colin's tackle hits his hand sending the gun and the clips flying. I hit him in the gut, slamming him against the wall, but in this moment we both know we have blown it. This is one. where's the other?

He is standing in the corner. In almost total darkness. Just feet away from us. Holding a Mac-10.

But it has jammed. And he looks at us, while we look at him, then he throws it at me and runs. Colin says, "got him?" and is off. I hear the take down one more flight up, perhaps by the stairs to the roof. The I hear a skull being s
macked into a wall, repeatedly, then I hear Colin say, very calmly into the radio, "Seven-Adam Central, we got two under, we need a bus here too."

I handcuff the guy I have. And sit on the floor. And light a cigarette. And now six more cops come running up toward us.

(c) copyright 2007 - 2010 by Ira Socol

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The Giants' Causeway

"It is not closed because it is closed," the old man says, "it is just closed for your safety because of the rockslide." And so we, and everyone else, climb over or around the woodworks sealing off that path up the cliff and go, trekking up the equivalent of a ten-story building as we rise from mid-way above the Giants' Causeway to the top. There we breath more heavily than we should, and I light a cigarette, and we look down to this most incredible scene below us as the North Atlantic surges out of a breathtaking blue and then we look that way as mother sheep chase their new lambs across fields so green you know they have been painted by gods. "Ma'ahahahahah," the sheep bleats. "shusssshhh" the sea replies. We look back. From here you can see the Dunluce Castle and the White Rocks Beach and Portrush, and all the way beyond to the Donegal Highlands and Inishowen. Here the first Celts came as the last Ice Age ended, crossing from the gray of ancient Alba to the white cliffs and green pastures of Eirann. There the people fled by steamer to America over a century, trading poverty and degradation for hope and possibility. But that is not the story. "When those ancient giants walked ashore," I say, "carrying St. Patrick and the sheep, and, of course, the pigs for the Irish Breakfast, they threw the snakes out, then rested right here, forming these gentle soft flat-lands." Her smile is brilliant, and her laugh, though derisive, is so sweet. "You all just keep telling your stories, whatever they may be. You sure can talk your way through anything." The North Coast sun illuminates us and warms us. "You can only tell the stories," I whisper to her, "if you truly believe in them."

(c) copyright 2007 - 2010 by Ira Socol

Monday, May 03, 2010

the razor's edge

We considered the possibilities as the rain exploded in tropical storm ferocity and the streets turned into exquisite mirrors. There are points in our lives of perfect balance and points of ferocious balance when no choice looks as bad as standing exactly where you find yourself.

"Didn't Janis Joplin sing, "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose?"' I asked. "She did." "I heard her sing that in Madison Square Garden," I said. "And then we went back home and then she died. Everybody dies." "Don't get weird on me." "I'll try."

There is a long silence as traffic whooshes through the water piling on the street. The Seagram's Building, modern perfection, casts a warm glow into the puddles that creep under Lever House where we sit, staying dry. Somewhere over there a really bad trumpet player plays. Behind us a tourist struggles with a hot dog stand that is both "Kosher" and "Halal." He wants ketchup, but this being New York, they do not seem to have it. It's like asking for tartar sauce for your fish and chips at Leo Burdock's.

"Well, I'll do one or the other," I whisper, "or not." "Just pick one," she says,
the touch of anger flashing from her eyes as they reflect the traffic signal changing from green to red, "it doesn't matter, you just need, we just need, a plan."

"I want French onion soup," I announce. "Real french soup and like I'm an airline pilot in 1965."
"What?" "We're going to the Brasserie across the street." "Isn't that really expensive?" "Sure, but I'm gonna do something, and whatever, they'll pay me." "I suppose they will." "See, all it takes is faith." "Sure."

We run across Park Avenue amidst the rain, forcing cabs to brake and honk, splashing in the gutters.

(c) copyright 2007 - 2010 by Ira Socol

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Taxi Service

 The radio asked us to "ten-one the house," so we stopped at the diner and I used the phone to call in. It was hot but not crazy, summer and very busy, but workable, just after dark on a Tuesday. I listened to the lieutenant, hung up, and called central. "Seven-Adam's going to be out on a job from the house," I said, "we'll advise."

The rumor had flowed through the department an hour ago, the way it always does when a cop gets shot. A rookie in Manhattan was all we knew, but as we always tried to do, we'd all stopped and called home. The "I'm ok," call because the rumors spread through cop families too.

I was home one night, sitting watching TV with Carolyn, and at 9:45 during a commercial break the news guy came on with his teaser. "Cop shot in The Bronx, details at Eleven." I looked at Carolyn and she looked at me and I understood something I simply hadn't before.
I told Colin what was going on and we headed north toward the edge of the city. We'd only gotten a couple of blocks when Sergeant Hobart called us on the radio and said to meet him at 223rd Street. He immediately started yelling. "We're holding twenty jobs and you guys are putting yourselves out on bullshit?" "Hey Boss," I looked at him, "C'mon, who are you talking to? We've got to go grab some super radiologist out of Eastchester and bring him down to New York Hospital for that kid who got shot." The Sergeant's face went from red to white instantly. "Shit," he stumbled, "I'm sorry guys, get the fuck out of here."

We drove on. We crossed from the gray of The Bronx to the verdant green of Pelham Manor, back into the dull colors of the dirt-poor suburb of Mount Vernon, then back into the Republican-wealth of Eastchester. The passage through these zones of economic success and failure grimly dramatic on this night. The radiologist climbed in and we sped south, lights flashing, down the Bronx River Parkway, winding onto the Bruckner Expressway, blowing through the tollbooths on the Triborough Bridge, and rolling down the FDR Drive. There was small talk. Meaningless chatter filling vast empty places.

One of the tricks to being a rookie is the belief that you are safe, that nothing will happen to you. You are, as they say, too smart, too good, too young, too important, to fall victim. It doesn't even cross your mind. Then, one night, it happens to a friend, or in a precinct near you, or in a place that looks just like where you work, or in a situation you're in ten times a day, or, you find yourself on a wet sidewalk trying to push the brains of a friend back into a torn skull. And then you start to get afraid.
The radiologist asks us to come up with him, so we climb into an elevator that rises fast and opens into a corridor with a huge window looking into the operating room. A kid is on that table, his chest cut open, a machine doing his breathing. The medical team moves just slightly too quickly and nervously. Near the window a line stands: pregnant wife, father and mother, squad members, sergeant, lieutenant. Faces blank. No words. Our passenger leaves us and we stand there as well, and because we are new, the line of mourners turns and looks at us.

It was his first month out of the academy. He was on a quality of life patrol in the north of Central Park by the lake called the Harlem Meer. Lots of New Yorkers know the park from the reservoir south, many fewer north of there, especially back then. His rookie squad had been told about a bicycle theft, and this guy, the new cop, the new husband, the soon to be father, walked up to a fourteen-year-old boy and asked a question. The boy pulled out a nine-millimeter and shot.
We've handled lots of things. We've seen lots of things. But we cannot handle this. If we knew him we might be part of it. But we don't. If it was five days from now. If he dies and there's a funeral then we'll be welcome. But now we are simply intruders. We have stepped into a private grief too deep. Our eyes flash from the operating table and across the faces of those now watching us. Then we hear the "bing" of the elevator and we step backwards, and out of this event.

The night is cloudless and there is no breeze. The East River lies perfectly flat reflecting a moon just past full, the city's lights drifting along the water's surface. Three times on the way back Colin turns to me to say something, but there are no words until we call the dispatcher and say we're available again.
(c) copyright 2005 - 2010 by Ira Socol

Friday, April 02, 2010


I got off the Q train at Avenue U for reasons not really understood. The goal had been Brighton Beach when I got aboard at Dekalb Avenue, but I'd already - ah the MetroCard all day thing - hopped off and back on at Prospect Park, Beverly Road, and Newkirk Avenue. Well, at Newkirk I retraced old steps and walked through Midwood Park, down East 17th Street, crossing under the tracks at Avenue H, and then across the old footbridge on 15th Street and down to Avenue J for great if incredibly overpriced pizza. But that's one of my "old neighborhoods." And when I'd gotten back on at the Avenue J station, I'd planned to next get off at the ocean.

But hitting the sidewalk at Avenue U was confusing. I either didn't remember this at all, or maybe it had all changed. Was this a Chinese community twenty years ago? Is this Chinese? I mean, is it "mainland" Chinese or the more traditional Taiwanese Chinese? Or am I confusing Asian cultures. I wondered if I should know better.

The doughnut shop sign was in English so I went in. There was something "once Greek" about the faded colors of the interior but the staff was not from there at this moment. The coffee was overcooked sludge, the doughnuts themselves lacked, hmmm, whatever makes doughnuts great. A Daily News, left on the counter, offered a few minutes of entertainment.

And then I knew that there was a bank on the corner on the other side of the tracks. What bank it had been "back then" escaped me, but I remembered the chase from the cash machine mugging that had interrupted something else, something "far more important," I'm sure. And I remembered the violence. And I remembered how young he was, how there'd been a smear of chocolate on his hands, that rapidly got covered in his own blood.

So I got up, wiped off my own hands, left a small tip, went outside, got back on the train. And then I was at the beach, and the salt air blew across my face.

(c) 2010 by Ira David Socol

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


This was written in 2006 for an early version of my fiction blog. It came back to mind last night after I watched a House episode centered on a deep cover cop...

I really, really want to live to get to my kid's first Christmas which is all I can think of right now. Five in the morning on December 22 and way too cold and the whole case I've been creating for six fucking weeks now, the whole thing, all the drug buys, all this time spent undercover when I just want to get off on being a new dad and on being young in New York at Christmas, all blown up cause the number two mark has gone nuts and killed five people and the A.D.A. announced "take him today," so I've got to do it. That means I might never get the main guy. It means that instead of piling up three or four more strings of evidence and drifting away while others make the busts I'm in the lead banging on this door cause I'm the only voice that might get us in. It means all the guys in the huge shock-plate equipped bulletproof vests, all the guys with the bulletproof shields and the big guns, all those guys are behind me, flat against the house front or hidden below the stoop, out of sight and, I know, the line of immediate fire. I'm in both, shivering in a borrowed little vest and a denim jacket desperately trying to keep my nine millimeter stable enough that I don't look that scared.

I knock. I knock again. I hear stirring. My mind runs. There's a white aluminum tree in there, lit with purple lights. There's Chilly. He's moving toward the door now, I'm certain, Pistons shorts and that monster .45 in his hand. There's that fucking dog too. "Yo," I yell, "yo, open up. I got to talk to you." The best street performance I can pull at the moment.

"White boy," I hear, "whatch'you doing here now?" "Let'me in," I answer, "let'me in, I need shit right now." Locks start to click. There's a deep rumbling instead of words from Chilly's throat, but he trusts me, I've worked hard at that, really hard, and what I hear is more frustration than anger. I'm on the right side of the door, the side that opens, the gun's in my left hand, down and hidden and now I swing it up as the door cracks.

It's so quick. I see Chilly's eyes. He's stunned as he sees the gun, my only advantage. Still, before I can react, or simply because I cannot react that way first, he brings the .45 up and then... then his chest explodes. I see that before I hear the rifle shot from behind me, even before I feel that round blow past me. It happens as he's in the middle of pulling his trigger and the huge automatic roars as a round passes my head going the other direction.

Everybody rushes past, on their way to Dingo in the back bedroom.

I don't go in. I stand there instead, looking at Chilly's body spilled on the green carpeting, at the tree, at the spacesuit looking silver stockings hung by an electric fire. I've spent a lot of time in here. Getting high, buying dope, talking about real feelings even if they came from a fake personality. The dead guy on the floor was the muscle behind a heroin dealer. That didn't make him a bad guy.

I slip the nine into the holster at my back. I pull the Velcro straps and toss off the vest. I think of going home but that doesn't seem possible. Instead I walk the six blocks over to the Five train and ride silently downtown. When dawn arrives it finds me in the Channel Gardens of Rockefeller Center. The giant tree rising above me. A golden Prometheus telling me of man's aspirations. The Christmas angels whispering of a savior come for my sins.

(c) 2006-2010 by Ira David Socol - all rights reserved