Friday, November 18, 2005

Friday With Frank

(It's a cold Friday night here, the children are in bed and Sheila's off to a weekend away with her mother and sisters. And I'm reminded of evenings in Philadelphia, Friday evenings after my sister stopped going to dance rehersals with our Aunt Marion and we hung out at home listening to the radio like it was the thirties or something. We had one of those humongous console numbers, with the record player and radio, plus storage for a refugee family in it. It was a great time, just me and my sister, floating on the music and enjoying the last moments of our childhood together.)

It was heavy metal and had several locks and it opened onto a small, box like vestibule with one door just like it about eight feet across from it. The door was gray on the outside, off white inside, and when you turned right after stepping out through it there was an even heavier door, gun metal gray with a small, wired crossed window about three inches across and a foot long about five and a half feet above the floor. It looked into an elevator shaft. Across from that was a plain wall, blank with an industrial color you can’t remember to this day. The floor was that industrial, mostly black with white marble-like swirls linoleum.

You were on the eleventh floor…with three floors above you, and all up and down this particular shaft each floor looked exactly the same. There were seven other elevators exactly like it and two that had one more gray door around it on the either end of the building where you lived. If you were across the river, say riding by on the Schuylkill Expressway, the building looked like something a child would have designed and built with an erector set or kids’ blocks. It was ugly by the time you left but when you moved in as a kid it was wide open with possibility, full of new kids to get to know and play with. You remember, don’t you?

It’s gone now, torn down with its twin building and the smaller garden apartments to make room for yet another housing project, but this one was designed for more middle class type living, something less institutional, less foreboding. No more high rises. You were there a little while ago with one of your old friends from those old days, wandering through, inspecting the new buildings, each no more than three stories tall. None of them have elevators, none with heavy metal doors locking out the world, locking in young bodies, supposedly protecting them from the evils of the outside world.

Standing across the river from the new buildings you could feel the memories washing over you, could hear voices echoing in your heart. You turned to drive home, but you couldn't stop looking at the place where you had grown up, couldn't stop thinking about what the good times were like there...

“C’mon, dance with me!” she’d ask you, almost pleading, wanting a human touch, a human response to her moves.

“Naw, you know I don’t dance”, you said to her countless times, as many times as she ever asked you.

During weekends and some nights when your father wasn’t there you and your sister played the stereo-that-looked-like-a-piece-of-furniture just across the small living room from that heavy door loudly and she'd throw the latch on the door onto the locked position and use the door knob to hand dance since you were not inclined to do something you thought looked so damn silly. Hand dancing was bad enough, but the thought of doing it with your sister was too much to even think about for you. So you sat and watched, marveled at her, and listened to the music. Sometimes you even sang with it. Remember?

She could do wonders dancing with that knob and you were secretly jealous but you couldn’t decide if it was with the knob for its stoic presence or of your sister’s dexterity with such an inanimate object. You watched as she danced with girl groups like The Shirelles or The Marvelettes, or with Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, and Sam Cooke and others too bland to remember now but very important in that teenaged world you lived in then. You can remember, can’t you?

You can still see her twirl around and hit just the right move with the music. When she danced she was radiant and intense with the look of classical dancers on her face. She was so damn cool and so damn innocent. She was lost in the moment and movement the music inspired in her. She was captured by the steps she practiced, her body enslaved by style and sound. She couldn’t wait to get out on the dance floor. She practiced for when she could but you could tell she practiced just to be doing it right then and there; she was so complete, so herself, dancing with the metal door knob anchored so firmly by that front door.

But she didn’t always dance. Most of the time you both just listened. You listened to all kinds of music, catholic in your taste, so jazz and popular music, rock and roll, pop, yeah; you listened to all of that. But most of all it was just one voice that captivated the both of you.

Frank Sinatra.

Neither of you ever got enough of Sinatra and you never knew why ‘til lately when you came to the autumn of your own years. “Friday with Frank” found you in front of that old funky console stereo your father bought you even well after your friends started having things to do on Friday nights and you were old enough to actually go out with them without the old man going off on you when you snuck back into the apartment very late at night or very early the next morning.

No, you were in front of the radio, like some throwback to time before television, like a Norman Rockwell painting without mom or dad carving the turkey, sitting there listening to the master sing his visions of love, heartache, human folly and joy.

And you never told any of your friends, never invited them over to hear what you heard. Neither of you shared that time with anyone else…it was just the four of you; you, your sister, Sid Mark of WHAT FM in Philadelphia, and Sinatra; safe inside that door.

“Who’d you blow off to hang with me n’ Frank tonight?” She wanted to know if you had an answer when usually she knew that you made no plans other than to be right there with her and “Old Blue Eyes”. You were sitting there in your dad’s chair. It was dark in the apartment with just the table lamp switched to low. Mood setting, ready for the sonic journey.

“I couldda gone over to Haney’s with the Mouse. They wanted to watch the Friday night fights and sneak beer but…you know…”

“Teddy wanted to come over…”

“You told him?”

“No, he just wanted to come over. I think he’d like to do this with us someday, he seems cool.” She slowly moved across the floor to the couch, dropped her book bag and slouched down, reclining with her coat still on.

“So what? One day we won’t be able to do this, and we got a good long string going. Let’s not break it until we have to, until we go away to school or something like that, okay?”

“But he’s so nice to me…”

“A really long string, sis. Please let’s try to keep it just the three of us, you, me, and Frank, alright? We’ll be out of here soon enough on our own. Away from here and all of this.”

You remember, even now, so far away from all of that. You can remember how safe and warm it felt. Just the two of you and that fabulous storyteller and the DJ that brought him into your lives. It's Friday night. Go put on some Sinatra and remember.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Worth the Wait?

In our hurly-burly lives how much can we actually say is worth waiting for? I mean after all, if we can’t get it right away, is it really worth having?

The concept of delayed gratification has been lost, somewhere back in those traditional value days I keep hearing about. Come to think about it I have a lot to say about that expression but that’s for another entry!

There have been several things I discovered were worth the wait:

More than several years ago Sheila and I flew up to Massachusetts to tell my in-laws Sheila was pregnant with Robert. Anne, my mother-in-law, cracked wise with me about being a new dad at my age. She said something like,

“Why, at your age, would you want to father a child?”

Since she’s only nine years older than me I tend not to take the grief she sends my way. After all, she was crying and hugging Sheila with the initial report of baby-in-the-oven news. Why couldn’t she afford me the same weepy reception?

Regardless, I came up with a retort that still scores points, even if it’s only in my own mind. I said,

“Because I’ve always given Sheila what she’s asked, and this is the first time she asked me for a child!”

Scoring on my mother-in-law was certainly worth the years of aggravation I took from her. And it was something that wasn’t even intended! Plus now I was the one getting tears and hugs from the two of them!

The other day I was raking leaves, one of my least favorite activities with my allergies and all (really bad knees and worse lower back). Regardless, there I was, trying to beat the rain and cold. Being a good dad and husband, I was bagging the red, yellow, and rust colored reminders of fall so Sheila and the kids wouldn’t have to when they got home from having whatever fun they were enjoying. Wet leaves are a major pain to collect and bag.

I was using Robert’s technique for getting the leaves up into the yard bags: turning the rake over and using it as a shovel so I wouldn’t have to bend over that much to use my hand with the rake. He was about four or five when he showed me that trick! There I was in my fifties learning from a kid.

It was worth the wait.

I was thirty-six when I met Sheila. Definitely worth the wait! Probably the better timing too as I was a complete idiot when it came to the women I had loved before then. I learned some damn good lessons and had my heart broken a time or two (to say nothing of the hearts I busted up!). When I met her I had just broken up with a woman who had been a great friend for a number of years before we became romantically involved. She and I moved in together and I honestly thought I found ‘the one’.

Well six months later it was clear I hadn’t. I was convinced that I was going to be single forever.

Then I met this young, feisty (well, she was then!), intelligent, beautiful woman who seemed to like me. Twenty-two years later she still seems to like me. (And every once in a while she still shows flashes of her feistiness!)

Worth the wait, huh? No doubt.

While there may still be things I want (that forty foot RV will remain close to the top of my wish list!) I am very content right now. There are aspects of desire I hope I never lose but I’ve learned that being really attached to those desires only causes pain and suffering. Living with the openness I’ve learned has taught me that. (I still covet a lot of toys that I will collect, only I’ve learned that I can wait to pay cash instead of putting them on my credit card!) I am something more than my possessions. Way more.

I am a father, a husband, a friend, a colleague, a team mate, and a kid from the projects of Philly who has made a good, no, make that a great life for himself and his family. Yeah, I am a kid from the projects in Philadelphia. I still root for the Philly teams here in the heart of Washington, DC!

With things going the way they are though, I don’t think I’ll wait any longer this year for the Eagles to win the Super Bowl!

When they finally do though it’ll be well worth the wait. Just like when the Red Sox won it all last year. I remember when someone in Sheila’s family (they are all from the Boston area) asked my why I was rooting for the Sox I said I had been ever since ’67.

They said I was such a newbie! After all some of them had been rooting for them since the last time the Sox won the Series.

Worth the wait?

I think so.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

My friend, Fotoboy, took this some time ago. He is a confirmed urban guy, preferring to shoot city scapes and people (please check out the links section on this site to go visit his site!). While this is not something I do regularly (write very few words...) the shot says it all, don't you think?