Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Just thinkin back

Me free-associating about my childhood in Forest Hills, Queens. It's interesting if you're feeling patient.

My grandma coming to pick me up from school because I say I'm sick but I'm really just faking sick so I can go home and play "Super Mario 3." The plants that were in that area near the Zenith TV and how the air-conditioner always sounded so nice and it was always so cold and when you looked across the street you saw a parking lot with yellow lines separating the spots, and cinder blocks. Oh, and in the back there was a fire escape and we had this giant metal gate behind the window that let out onto the fire escape so no one could break in and there was a padlock on this gate and the key to the padlock was on the dusty windowsill and how my mom had put a chunky plastic keychain on the key to this huge gate. I was always scared to unlock that gate. I think I did it once. And all the pennants I had on my wall. I had Mets pennants on my wall and the way I used to stare out at my mom in the living room from the bedroom. She was watching TV on the couch but in the railroad apartment at night I always liked to look out at her and how it made me feel good if I could see her. And that humidifier we had. I was always fascinated by it. It was green and what was a humidifier? And why did we have it? But I knew the name, I learned that word, "humidifier." And how when I would flush the toilet it would always make this sound: "Joo-weh-jeh." Strange, right? And there was that time when I had gotten up in the early morning to pee and started thinking thoughts like, "Where did language come from?" and how, after I told my mom that I was thinking thoughts like that, she told me she was impressed that I was thinking thoughts like that and asking questions like that. And that fuzzy couch that we had in the living room and how it was, like, grey and black or something and the rug, which was red and huge and had some kind of Native American pattern on it. Whoa. And how I'd look out of the window at night in the winter and there would be snow on everything, on the branches, on the railings, on the air-conditioner boxes, in the streets, and how everything would sort of glow with a pinkish glow and you'd hear the crunch of one person digging his car out of the snow and how the window was so cold and how the window was not new and how the window frame was made of wood and the wood was rotted away in one or two places and how it looked like if you threw a stone at the window, it would definitely shatter. The whole damn thing would definitely shatter. And then there was that caged staircase across the street that I once dreamt about. I once dreamt that my aunt and I walked down this staircase. In reality the staircase led to the basement of a laundromat or a supermarket. But in the dream the stairs led down to a diner and my aunt and I sat at blue, plush, swivel stools and ordered lots of food and lived it up down there, like it was a hot spot, like it was a social club or something like that. And I swore, I swore that we had really been down there together. And how I once wanted to sleep over at my aunt's apartment, across the lobby, on the other side of the apartment building, but then chickened out when it actually came time to do it. I told my aunt I wanted to go back to my apartment, to my mom, and she took me. And how I was once told that someone once swiped my aunt's purse from off her fire escape when she left it on her fire escape. And how I just could not understand that. What would she ever be doing on her fire escape? (She was smoking.) And how exactly did it happen? Did a hand just reach somewhere and grab it in the night or something? And where was everyone when this hand, this disembodied hand, stole this purse? And that was why we kept the fire escape locked. And yeah, you had to walk up to my aunt's apartment. She was not on the first floor. And you walked up there and once you arrived at the top of the stairs, you did an about face. And if you kept walking straight you'd arrive at her doorstep. Just remember a smothered type of feeling in her dining room. But nothing bad. Oh, but remember pictures of the same scene but with my mom wearing a sweatshirt that she'd gotten made up that said, "I Love Chad Reid." How about that, huh? And playing handball with myself in the hallway and how the big Eastern European immigrant families would set up tables in the hallways -- in the hallways -- and eat in the hallways because they couldn't fit all of the guests into their homes. Georgia, Ukraine, Lithuania. These people were from these places.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Pretty darn good



My mother is an interesting character. She loves literature, can identify great writing, can write incredibly well herself -- just ask the New York Daily News; it has published about 10 of her "letters to the editor" -- but she doesn't "enjoy" writing. So she doesn't write that much, or as much as I think she should.

Still, there are some times when she'll be on a trip overseas or walking on a beach, among driftwood and a myriad of unique sea stones, and she'll get inspired and put pen to paper. When such moments of inspiration strike, she often writes haikus because she believes that the format "focuses your mind and helps you find a succinct sharp description…."

Recently, she emailed me one of her haikus. She was on a trip out West -- my mom loves it out West -- and she was visiting a place called Antelope Canyon, in Arizona. The site is known for its spectacular sandstone rock formations. Inspiration struck -- after all, did you see the picture above? -- and, boom, I had a photo of the site and a poem describing it in my inbox.

But my mom, you should know, is modest. So in the email, she sent the following message alongside her poem: "Not great poetry, but I was looking for a verbal description."

Well, Ma, I beg to differ. I thought the haiku was pretty darn good. Here it is:
Swirling waves sandstone rock
Crimson tight sharp corkscrew turns
Antelope Canyon

Friday, August 09, 2013

Gun violence hits home: thoughts and memories

Wow. The old saying "you never think it can happen to you" is unfortunately resonating with me now. On Monday night, a man armed with a gun shot to death three people, including a person I know -- at a municipal meeting in Ross Township, Pennsylvania. Ross Township was a township that I used to cover when I was working at the Pocono Record. Four townships were under my charge; Ross, a rural community with rolling hills and long country roads, was one of them.

Sadly, I know that gun violence is endemic in America. But you're not prepared -- just as many say -- when it happens to you or people you know. And, to top it all off, the reporter who was hired to replace me was at the meeting and barely escaped with this life.

Anyway, in recent days, I've done a lot of thinking, especially about one of the victims. I knew him personally, as he was a township official with whom I often worked. His name was Dave Fleetwood. But let me not go any further. Below I'm going to copy what I wrote in my journal on Tuesday, the night after the attack. I wrote the entry -- which focuses mostly my interactions with Dave -- sitting in my kitchen late at night. The text is verbatim. I hope you get something out of it.

Well, what can I say. Today I got some fucked up news from the U.S. I learned that a gunman stormed the Ross Township building during a monthly supervisors meeting and killed three people, including someone I used to know. The gunman killed Dave Fleetwood, who is the supervisor of Chestnuthill Township and the zoning codes officer of Ross.
But anyway, yeah. I'm stunned and sad. Real sad. This guy, Dave Fleetwood. He was a good guy. He liked to joke around, in his funny dry way. I spoke with him several times and was really hoping that he wasn't going to be one of the victims. But he was. When I learned today that it was Mr. Fleetwood who in fact was killed, I yelled out "fuck." I didn't even mean to yell that. It just sorta came out.
Anyway, I just can't believe he's gone. I don't know. Dave wasn't that outgoing, but he definitely acknowledge me when I would show up to meetings while working for the Pocono Record. Some supervisors, believe it or not,  wouldn't acknowledge me. But Dave did. I also remember he gave me a story tip. I had showed up to the Ross Township building one day looking for someone but they weren't there. But Dave was there and he recommended that I do a story on the E-911 readdressing stuff. I said that I'd look into it and did. The story didn't materialize because it had been done. But still. It was nice of him to have given me a tip. 
One of the strongest recollections I have of Dave is also, ironically, one I can't exactly remember. It was at the Chestnuthill Township building and it was at night. Oh, wait, I think I know what happened. I showed up to the Chestnuthill building at around 8 p.m. in early April. It was for a supervisors meeting and it was a rainy night. When I got there, I saw through a glass door that no one except the supervisors was in attendance. Anyway, all the supervisors were sitting at a long table at the front of the room, the town-hall room. They were sitting under a light, talking. The door to this town-hall room was locked and I was outside, looking in, getting rained on. I knocked on the door, which, again, was made of glass, and Dave Fleetwood, who along with the other supervisors was able to clearly see me, pretended he couldn't hear or see me even though he and the other supervisors obviously could. (They had a direct line of site at the glass door, which was about 15 feet from their table.) And so I, the unfortunate butt of this little joke, stood for a few more moments in the pouring rain. Eventually, one of the supervisors -- it might have even been Fleetwood -- got up, let me in and we all had a big laugh about it. 
Another memory I have of Fleetwood: I was at another meeting and there was a heated discussion going on and I was sitting in the front row and I wanted to ask a question but for some reason I couldn't. Dave, who was sitting at the head table in front, saw on my face that I wanted to ask a question and he actually knew from the context what the question was. Once he got all this, he actually interrupted the meeting and said, "But wait. I think Chad wants to ask a question and I think I know what the question is." He did, and answered it. I remember being very impressed.

Two other people were killed in this attack that claimed Fleetwood's life. But Fleetwood was the only township official. The other folks were regular citizens. The gunman, apparently, was someone who had a long-standing feud with the township. I guess the township condemned his property or something. The Pocono Record quoted the gunman as saying he wish he would have killed more people. A Pocono Record reporter was even at the meeting! My replacement!
But anyway, yeah, Dave Fleetwood. I'm really sad. And the gun culture in America...something really needs to be fixed. But Dave was a good guy. And now all this. And now all fucking this. 

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Little helper



Today, I had the coolest little experience.

I was sitting in a cafe with a cup of coffee, trying to kill some time. I had an appointment at 11 a.m. but it was only 10:15, and so I decided I’d hang out at the cafe, get some coffee and play chess on my MacBook until I had to leave.

Now, the chess program that comes with the MacBook is very powerful, and I sorta have a rivalry with it. The program doesn’t make any mistakes, per se, so you really just have to overpower it to win. Your play must be sound and aggressive.

I had the white pieces and I therefore made the first move. After a few minutes the program and I were deep into the game and I was lost in thought. Just so you should know, the computer and I were in a “French Defense”-type position. In such positions, the board is pretty cramped with pieces and players are forced to do much maneuvering before any attack can be launched.  

After move 12, I had gained the “initiative,” meaning I had a slight advantage and was controlling the flow of the game.

Anyway, so there I was, deep into the game and doing well, when this cute little kid -- he must have been 9 or 10 -- just sorta floated over to my table. 

I really had no idea where he came from. He was a small, mixed-race boy with light-brown skin and frizzy black hair.  I think he walked into the cafe with a white woman.  
At any rate, before I knew it, the boy was right beside me, looking at the game on the screen.

I didn’t really mind -- although, admittedly, having this curious kid right by my side was a little distracting -- and I just kept on playing. When I’m into a chess game, I don’t stop to talk with anyone.

But then he started talking to me.

“Spielst du Schach?” he asked, German for “Do you play chess?” I said, "Yeah." Then I asked him if he played. He said he also did, and we went on looking at my game.

I told him what I was aiming for, what my strategy was. My bishop and my queen,  I said, speaking in German and also using hand gestures, were working in tandem and were taking aim at black’s pawn on h7, the pawn right in front of black’s king. 

After I told him my strategy, he recommended a move; he recommended that I use my pawn to chase away the black knight on black's kingside. After all, he reasoned, this knight was protecting the black king from checkmate.

I told my little buddy that I appreciated this idea, but if I actually put it into practice, it would be a waste of a move because the knight would be able to retreat to a square where it could still protect black from checkmate.

But then he said something really, well, sweet, I guess. He said in German, “Let’s just see what happens.” And even though I knew the move he was proposing wasn’t the best, I appreciated his curiosity, so I made it. 

And, well, yeah. The black knight retreated to the exact square I thought it would. Yes, you could have called it a pointless move. But, then again, maybe the move wasn’t such a pointless one for my young friend.

At any rate, with the black knight now settled into its new defensive outpost I tried to find some other attacking moves. I found a few good ones, but I didn’t make any of them without consulting my little friend first.

And together, we forged on. I told him my thoughts on the game, he his.
I tried to find a way to win; I really did. But it was a bit difficult because, even though I wanted to make the moves I wanted, I also didn’t want to discourage this kid by not paying attention to his ideas. And so what wound up happening was I made some of the moves he recommended despite my better judgment.

And, well, because I did this, our initiative started to disappear. The computer stabilized its position and things began to look bad for us. But that was OK, I thought, because by that point, I had to leave the cafe and get to my appointment. 

I told my friend that I had to go and therefore we unfortunately couldn’t finish our game. But he asked me to stay just for a little longer. He wanted to play more. I couldn’t help but find a few more minutes.

Owing to the fact that I knew the game was totally lost at this point, I let him take over completely. I let him make a move that invited a nasty check from the computer. Even though the consequences of making such a move were obvious to me, he was totally dumbfounded. But that’s OK.  

And then, finally, I saw what the computer was setting up for. It moved its bishop to c5, and now had our king directly in its crosshairs. The computer was setting up for the coupe de grĂ¢ce.

My little friend, though, still didn’t think the game was over. But I told him in German that we were in serious trouble. “Uh oh,” I said,  “Wir haben grosse Probleme. “We have big problems.” I told him to look at the enemy bishop on c5 and how we would be in “discovered check” -- a very bad thing to be in -- once the enemy rook moved away from the square right near our king. The end was clearly close.

But still, my buddy was not discouraged. I pointed to the bishop and I showed him how the enemy had coordinated its pieces to checkmate us.  And then I said, “Guck mal. Wir sind tot. Aber es ist schoen.” “Look, we’re dead. But we’re being killed in a very elegant way.”

Finally, the little fellah saw. “Ahh, ya,” he said. “Schachmatt” – “checkmate.”

And so I moved, and then black moved its rook, just as I had thought, and indeed we were checkmated. 

After looking at the screen for a few seconds, just to see exactly how the deathblow was dealt, the little kid joined his mom or guardian -- I’m not exactly sure who this  woman was -- and I said, “Chess is fun” in German, and he agreed.

I then cleaned up around the area where I was sitting and said goodbye to them both.

It was the coolest little experience.  

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

My rejected poem


Here's a poem of mine that recently was rejected by the New Yorker. I think it's good, damn it.

Judgment

Ring-ring!

Yes;
Speaking;
This is he...

But never.
God, never.
Please, please never.

It is him.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Simple but very cool

This footage I found on YouTube of Nirvana's 1989 Bleach tour is super interesting. Though the video pretty much just shows the band on the road, doing their thing, and the moments that are captured might seem mundane, I feel like the video feels kinda special. If anything, it's a testament to the coolness of technology. I mean, video cameras capture and can transport us in an instant back to these moments that probably would have otherwise just fallen through the cracks of our fingers like fine sand.

Check it out. I think the video gets really cool around 1:34, when Krist says, "We should move in our stuff before it starts raining."


Saturday, February 09, 2013

Funny how things work


Normally, I don't usually write about the dreams I have. Everyone knows dreams are crazy and everyone's dreams are crazy. So it's not usually that interesting. But last night I had a dream that was, well, yes, crazy, but also gives a lot of insight into how the mind and things work. So I'll tell.

It all started on Friday night -- in real life now -- when was I sitting in someone's living room. I was hanging out with a bunch of people, we were all drinking wine and I was a bit buzzed. As we sat there, someone recommended we put on a British sitcom. At first I moaned because I just never found British humor funny.

Anyway, this person, a girl, eventually put on the show, and, as I had suspected, I didn't find it funny. It was all, well, British. But the girl kept on raving about it. I told her I didn't get it. Then I told her that I wondered if it was me. Did I just not get it or something? Was British humor an acquired taste? I just didn't find any of it funny.

This girl said that she didn't think that British humor was an acquired taste, but she did say that if you watch British sitcoms, you really have to pay attention to find it funny. Another person in the living room chimed in and said, "Yeah, you're not going to turn on a sitcom like this"  -- referring to the one on the TV -- "and go in the kitchen and cook yourself dinner while keeping an ear on it." They both agreed you really need to pay attention.

Sensing that I was still a bit frustrated with this answer, the girl said, "Well, in all honesty, maybe it's not good to start you off with this kind of show. It's a bit sophisticated." So she quickly went to YouTube and found something that she thought was simpler, a British humor skit that was perhaps more accessible to an American.

She clicked play. The skit all about this guy who goes fishing at night. And something strange happens. This guy, he's fishing and he is out there on the water and all of a sudden some sort of fish creature, some sort of ugly, scaly, half-man-half-fish, drag-queen looking creature with seaweed on his head jumps on his boat.

The creature guy, whose wearing a pink tutu, mind you, exposes himself to this man and a ray of light  shoots forth from his genitals and hits the man in the eyes. The ray of light knocks the unconscious. When the guy wakes up, he is now in the swampy lair that this creature, this loathsome, detestable funky creature calls home. 

The guy tells the fish man that he wants to leave, that he has places to be and wants to go home but the swamp-thing stalls. The creature tells the guy he should have some Bailey's Irish Cream -- it's pretty much the only thing this creature has in his "home" -- and he has bottles and bottles of it! 

Anyway, the two talk and the creature -- who says his name is Old Gregg -- suddenly asks the guy -- "Do love me?" And the guy flatly answers no. But then the creature says, "Do you think you could ever love me?" Again, the guy says no. The creature keeps going, "Do you think you could learn to love me?" Same response. Then the creature finally says, "You do love me." The two argue and the guy finally says, "I find you slightly pathetic, so deal with that." The creature, slightly stung, says, "Maybe I will deal with it, hmm. Maybe I'll deal with it the way I dealt with Curly Jefferson!" and points to a spot in the layer directly above the guy's head. The guy looks up and, directly above him,  a few feet up, is this guy, like, glued to the ceiling, dead. The dead man's face is a bit mutilated and frozen in a horrifying grimace. 

So the guy, now scared and probably fearing for his life, says, "You know what...maybe I was being a bit hasty there when I said I didn't love you." Just as quickly as he said he didn't love him, now says, "Perhaps now, in this light, with you, in the tutu, and the...water playing off your...seaweed...maybe I... could love you. Maybe I was lying because sometimes when you do love someone you...say you don't because...you're playing hard to get, playing a game." 

Eventually, after a little more talk and a musical number that the two perform together, the creature says that he'll take the guy back above ground, back to dry land, the real world, if he agrees to "take my hand" -- which is really a flipper -- "in marriage." 

Seeing a way out of this hell, the guy agrees, and the creature puts a ring on him and the two go back up to the real world. The skit ends with the creature in a wedding dress standing on top of a moving van driven by the guy. (Don't ask.) The creature, standing up there on the roof, wind blowing in his sea weed,  lifts up his skirt. His genitals again emit a ray of light and he gives off one final, thunderous shout, "I'm Old Gregg!"

After the skit ended, I was bewildered. I didn't think it was really very funny -- all right, maybe a tiny, tiny bit. But I really thought it was strange, almost disturbing, that people would actually think such a skit was funny. "What's up with those people in Britain," I thought.

Anyway, skip ahead a little to later in the night. I get home, brush my teeth and go to bed. And I have this dream. And in my dream, I'm telling my mother about having watched this skit. I'm saying, "Ma, you should have seen this British humor skit that I watched. It was really awful." And then I start recounting the details. The guy, the freaky fish creature, his swampy lair. And then I start telling my mom that the only thing that this creature has in his lair is bottles and bottles of Bailey's Irish Cream. I tell my mom how the creature keeps on offering his "guest" more glasses of Irish Cream. 

And, all of a sudden in my dream, that seems kinda funny. 

And then I tell my mom how the fish-man suddenly asks his reluctant guest through blubbery, red lipstick-painted lips, "Could you love me?" And how the guy dryly says "No." And how they go back and forth with that. OK, I think in my dream, that's actually pretty funny. Then I tell my mom how the guy gets scared by seeing the last person who refused the fish-man's advances and how the guy then quickly changes his tune and says, "You know, I think I could love you...Maybe I was just playing hard to get."

And all this starts to seem really, really funny. As I tell my mom all these details, the skit, in fact,  seems more and more like a riot. 

So yeah.

Now skip ahead to my waking up today. I wake up and I realize that I had this dream, and I think to myself, "Holy crap, was that skit funny? I think it was. I think it actually might have been one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time." And I really, really want to watch the skit again. And so I do. 

And now I think it's funny as heck.

But first I had to recount the details in a dream and think they were funny in a dream before I could process it all and think it's funny in real life.

***

Here's the actual skit. Let me know what you think.