Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Dia de las Muertes

"Why are these cars so fucking high? Who needs a car this damn tall?"

I'm standing on the tire and just barely making the roof rack trying to tie on two cornstalks for some dumb suburban broad.

"Stop being so fucking short." Smartass.

I give him the finger as he leans against the fence, and he smiles.

I finish tying the stalks up, and I see her brake lights glare and she drives away. "Your welcome!" I yell after her. I fucking hate when people don't say thank you. If anything, I say it constantly just to make up for her assholes like her.

The brake lights click on again and the car halts to a stop. Fuck.

She gets out and starts screaming. "I said thank you!" she says viciously. And I heard you talking about my car! BLAH BLAH BLAH!!!" Huge thundercunt. Great.

"Well, I'm never coming to this store again!"

"Good", I say. "Go to Home Depot instead."

"This is terrible service!"

"Anytime lady." I point my fingers at her like a six shooter and wink.

I almost got fired for that incident about three years ago. Ryer got in trouble too, because when that damn broad asked him what my name was after I walked away, he shrugged and never told her. After that incident, everyone at that store had to wear nametags. They hated us because of it.


I am driving the forklift in the early morning, severely hungover from too many drinks at the pub and irritable as hell. My grandfather died today twelve years ago, and my mother just called my cell to tell me that a single blossom appeared on the gardinia outside the house, just as it always does on Halloween. Gardinias were, of course, his favorite flower.

"He's watching us today."

And then the sunlight charges through the clouds and laces into my face, and something inside me finally breaks, and a voice inside me audibly says it: "Today is the day. You must finally do it. Today. This is not a choice."

"You've never been there? Going on Halloween huh?" my boss asks.

"Yea. Time to put some ghosts to rest."

I'd quite forgotten that today was Halloween. It's kind of like realizing that the Fourth of July is tomorrow while you're lying wounded during the last day at Gettysburg.


I'm driving down Totowa Road, and it's now almost 5:30. If you live anywhere in New Jersey, than some poor soul you used to know lies in Totowa, for it is home to almost all the massive cemetaries for a few miles around- it's the only town in America with more dead residents than live ones.

The whole day, I have been tearing up and choking it back, steeling myself for what I must do. Now, I can't hold it back anymore. This dam, which held fast for so long, has burst.

It's on the right hand side off the road.

As I slow down, I see the massive building, the gray stone square lurking over the road. I begin tearing uncontrollably, and nearly lose control of the car. I pull into the circle driveway in the front where all the roads spider from, and my left arm goes numb from the elbow down. I am hyperventilating, sobbing, and my lungs tightens as if a wire were were tied around my neck like in the Mafia hits. I pull onto the road that I know goes to his grave. Now my right arm turns numb and I can't feel the steering wheel anymore, my hands are shaking violently and the tears pour down like old water from a broken fountain.

Two lefts. A right. Park by the garbage can. There's a green marker on the grass. Go straight.

I am wandering, wandering, "Where are you motherfucker?" These headstones are too old to be yours...

Suddenly I turn and see it, and I know it's his before I read it, a bronze plaque embedded onto a patch of marble. When I see the hints of the initials my knees buckle under the cold October sunset and I fall on his grave and start weeping, unadulterated wails coming from someone who has just held this all in for too fucking long. I have broken.

Forever in Our Hearts
Ryer W. J-------.
November 21, 1982 - January 19th, 2005
Beloved Son and Brother
It all dumps out, all the hate and anger and pain and bitterness, it seeps from me as the feeling starts coming back to my hands, starting from my elbows, as if the rage is draining out of me and into the dried brown dead grass where my best friend lies, my brother, in his eternal rest.

I am so sorry, my old friend! I am so sorry it took me three fucking years to get here, three long years to be able to handle seeing your name engraved on this patch of metal! I am sorry I couldn't fix everything with your old girlfriend, I am sorry I couldn't straighten out your brothers like you could have! I am so sorry!

And then I begin to talk....

"You know all the answers I need to know man. What's God like? He better be cool. That would suck if he wasn't... I hope you didn't feel anything. I hope it was quick buddy, you just passed the fuck out and never woke up, never felt anything, ... I know it wasn't the coolest death you could have had... getting killed by a pirate would have been a lot cooler of a way to go... or even a ninja... even though they're kinda gay and all." This is a conversation I could only have had with him, and he is smiling somewhere at the overwhelming irony of me.

I tell him about his ex. I tell him how I hate that she's living with the guy she is, and so I keep my distance, but I watch her from afar to make sure nothing bad happens to her. I may not like her anymore, may not agree with her chosen path... but he loved her. And that's enough for me.

I tell him about her sister who was a little sister to all of us. "She is a knock out now, Ryer, you should see'er. She is no longer that young, awkward 16 year old you had to carry out of Chud's house after she drank too much.... she has grown into a beautiful, strong woman. You'd be proud of her."

I tell him about my father, how the only time I saw the old man cry in my life was at his funeral, and how he told me once after a few beers that he loved him like a son, would have let him live with us anytime he needed to without question. "He drank that twelve pack of Yuengling you bought him for driving him to work all those times... he drank it on the day you died."

I tell him about how the bosses miss him, still talk about him once in a while, with a twinkle in their Scotch-Irish eyes.

I tell him that me and Jenn broke up. I tell him how I selfishlly wish he was there to help me with that, because I needed a guiding hand, and he was always wiser than I was. "I didn't know what to do... I hurt her so fucking bad, I needed someone to tell me I was doing the right thing."

I tell him about my new endeavor, the great challenging woman who has made a mess of me for the last year. "Ryer, you should see her. She's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen, she looks like an angel put on Earth, luminescent and glowing and wonderful. I don't know if she'll ever be mine... but she is everything to me. Ryer, I'm sorry about the jokes I made after your ex left you. I never understood what it was like to love a girl so passionately and unconditionally, and then to lose her. I'm sorry... I never understood. I understand now. Oh, man do I understand."

Lastly, I told him about me. How much it fucking murdered me that he died, how I thought for a while that I should have died in his place, or at the very least died also, just so he wouldn't have to be alone over there. How I haven't slept well for years, how many times I would break down and tears would stream out and I would just want this life over. How many times I cursed off God in gin induced rages, or how I was thrown from the Church by that voice in the bushes on that hot night where I knew God was angry at me. How many times I was hopeless.

It all falls away from me like an angry shell, shattered into pieces and for the first time in years I feel like myself again, the young hopeful kid with dark cunning eyes who was quick with a joke and had a jovial spirit about life. I haven't felt like this in fifteen years. I draw the smoke from my cigarette, sitting just above the line where the dirt settled so many years ago. There is a prescence here, solid, like he was. I am comforted by it. I get the feeling that in the Otherworld, he has met my stout Italian grandfather, and no longer wonders how I came out so short and dark when the rest of my family is tall and bright. I get the feeling that things are ok.

"My friend, I would have never told you this during life, but I always wanted to be just like you. Strong, tough, a good head on your shoulders, a gorgeous girlfriend, hopes for the future. I will live the life that you should have been able to. I will do all the things that I promised myself I wouldn't, I will get married, I will have kids, and I will raise them to good, strong, righteous people with a sense of purpose, because I am so lucky, so fortunate to carry breath in my lungs, that it would be a sin for me not to. You never had the chance... so I will take mine. I will live."

I take his nametag out of my pocket, slide my thumb over it one last time. Like Goose's dog tags. RYER, printed in big black letters on the white background, faded now from being in my car for so long, from having so many tears fall and hit it. I smile, think of that stupid broad in the car, amazed by the fact that if she hadn't cause such a commotion that day, I wouldn't have had this last reminder of you that I grabbed from by the time clock the day you died.

I lay it next to the headstone, pin it to the ground as best I can. I take out a cigarette and leave it on the base of the headstone. This is the last cigarette you'll bum from me, fucker. But this one is my gift.

I lean over on bended knee and kiss his headstone, and the wind whips on my cheeks that are strewn with dried tears.

"I love you, brother. And I will see you soon. But not yet."

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

On Hope

I have a cousin who fought in the Easter Rising of 1916. I don't know much about him. I don't know his name, or how he is exactly related to me, but it is a family story that on that Easter Sunday so long ago, he strapped a cold, gray rifle to his back and marched into the city streets of Dublin, knowing that the day Jesus rose from the dead could well be his last day on this Earth.

Over the centuries, many had cried and lamented and wished and hoped that one day, one fucking day, Ireland would be free. My cousin, well, somewhere down the line, he stopped hoping for a free state... and decided to make a free state. He took it upon his shoulders, as did Joseph Connolly and Patrick Pearse, for as they raised that Green flag of Ireland in Dublin Square, they lowered the noose onto their veritable necks. They knew this. They did it anyway.

Hope is a word that is thrown around far too carelessly today. People hope for things when they should be changing things.

"I hope I get a better job."

"I hope I find a better mate".

"I hope I can fix this."

My friends, I do not knock hope. It is a powerful thing, perhaps the most powerful of things. It kept Edmund Dantes alive in the depths of his cell in the Ch√Ęteau d'If, and burned through Frederick Douglass' veins on his race to the North. It glared in the steel heads of the sledgehammers that shattered the Berlin Wall, and flashed in the swords of Brian Boru. It runs thick and deep, and lies in the heart and soul of every oppressed people in all the world.

What it is NOT, however, is a catchphrase. Hope is for those who have nothing left, who have no strength left in their taut muscles, and therefore must resort to believeing (often somewhat irrationally) that some miracle will happen, that some great cataclysm will occur, and change their situation. Hope is for when all other avenues have not only been exhausted, but for when they have become barricaded and wired to explode and have cannons pointed straight down the cement.

If you have the power to change things, then you must do it. Don't hope that it happens, because hoping is equivalent to a begrudging surrender and a dependence on a higher force to do it for you. There is nothing so useless as a hopeful dreamer.

Emerson once said, "Your actions speak so loud that I cannot hear what you say." Like Randle McMurphy, you must put your hardened fist through the spotless glass dividing your current life from the life you want. There are many who can play poker all night and stay in the game, but when it comes to the one hand that they could take the pile, they fold under nerves and pressure, and choose security over victory. You could lay down your hand and lose, or you could fold it... and then what happens? Nothing. And that is the worst fate of all.

The only difference between my cousin and the other few million people in Ireland was the fact that he was willing to take the chance, to try to accomplish the impossible dream. That is what heroes are. They are not superhuman, nor are they born with some extra gene that endows them with talents that are beyond comprehension. They are mere mortals, but mortals that have a sense of conviction, a sense of urgency, and a sense of truth. They realize that their feelings, their lamentations, their voice, is not wrong, no matter what anyone does to attempt to brainwash them otherwise. They realize that their thoughts have relevance, and that they are all too aware of the miserable, anonymous fate that awaits them should they say nothing, even in the face of overwhelming odds. There is nothing in the world that will shut down their cries, and the cry is, as always, for all of us, "Freedom! Happiness! Equality! Truth!" We wish to live how we want, to love who we want, to believe what we want. If we do not have this, then struggle will ensue, and like all good things worth doing, it will be hard and it will be desperate and senseless, but the right side will always prevail, for the spirit of a person with such convictions cannot be broken by bullet or chain or whip or word, but only by a surrender of the indominable will.

The future of all things lies in your hands, in your fists, for though there may be many billions of people, what you do counts in a way that you must understand. The human spirit is forever marked by the need for freedom. Yours is no different. The only difference between you and anyone else, between you and the warrior poets and heroes of the generations, is how far you are willing to take it, how hard you are willling to fight. Look at your hands; they are strong hands. Do not underestimate them.

Friday, October 26, 2007


We want them to know that we went down, standin' up.

"Ideas are bulletproof"


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Tell Me

"Well, you know... I see dead people." She whispers it with a smile, mocking the movie.

"Ha. Oh do you?"

Her expression changes, suddenly serious. "Kind of" she says quietly.

I give her an odd look. "The fuck do you mean?"

"It might sound strange. But yes. They come to me...ghosts... in dreams. People I don't know, never met, but who had some large effect on the lives of those around me. It happened with my ex a couple times... people that he knew that died. They came to me, with messages for the him and his family."

She tells me a couple stories that are creepily disturbing, and I remind myself that she has no reason to lie. I also remind myself that it's no more irrational than believing in some great omniscient force in the sky that runs evey detail of our lives... although being the supersitious Irish prick that I am, I never had any trouble believeing in ghosts or spirits or whatever you want to call them.

"So that's why you have no fear of death? It has nothing to do with you being a nurse, does it?"

I see the hulking figure, the red goatee covering the smirk that adorns his face as he leans against the four by four.

"How often does this happen?"

"Once in a while. Ghosts have better things to do than haunt people... but they do have a presence around me. They want to pass on something, a message, or whatever, to the living. I read up on it a lot when it first happened to me. Most things said that most people are too close minded to be able to hear them, or let them in... and because I'm so open minded and free spirited, I guess they can get through."

Tell me Ryer, tell me that there are green fields where the red poppies dance where the dead children of the Famine never yearn for food, never utter a solemn plea for life.

"I would have so many questions... that's probably why they don't bother with me. They'd never get a word in edgewise."

Tell me, tell me that there are green plains where the Native Americans hunt an endless supply of buffalo, tell me that there are city squares made of gold where Jews live and fear neither suffocating gas nor white hot oven. Tell me that there is a place, a merry place where the booze flows and the air is free of flying lead, for the World War II verterans who saved us from the iron grip of fascism, who saved civilization. Tell me there is something beyond the flawless rows of white crosses, and tiny American flags that flap in the warm breezes of Normandy. Tell me there is a home for the million mutilated dead at Verdun. Tell me there is a quiet reprieve for the persecuted, shell shocked veterans of Vietnam.

"It makes you look at things differently. Changes your outlook. It's like... when they die, you know they're not gone, you know? They are just... somewhere else. It really is very selfish to wish them to be back with you, but then that's what humans are. It's what we do. It's the human reaction to death."

Oh Ryer, tell me there is a place without cholera or cancer, with clear water that runs forever free of the blood of the innocent. Tell me that Captain Pollard and his men swim in seas of fresh water, and at night wade up on shores filled with midnight feasts. Tell me that there is a place, a gentle home and hearth, for every Molly Maguire that was murdered trying to unionize, for every Zapatista that decided to die standing up, for every Union soldier that caught a bullet in the teeth in order to set other men free.

"I couldn't handle that gift."

"No you couldn't. But God wouldn't give it to you if he didn't think you could handle it."

But most of all, Ryer, tell me that I did a good job. Tell me that you know I did my best, I tried to help her, I tried. I tried to keep her safe, to keep her from making mistakes, the mistakes that I know would have turned your insides. Tell me that you know I tried to help your brothers, I tried to keep them straight... but they have all slipped through my fingers.. it was like trying to hold the rain in your fist. There was too much, it all fell apart too fast. I'm sorry.

Tell me this is all worth it. Tell me Ryer...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


I have found the only American equivalent to Paradise Lost, and it lies in between the cover pages of the Pete Hamill novel Forever.

The very basic plot is that a young man immigrates from Ireland in pursuit of the man who killed his father. After the initial voyage, he helps a slave escape, one who, in return, endows him with the gift of immortal life. The only condition is that he remains only on Manhattan Island- if he leaves the island for any reason, he will die, and it will be considered suicide, thus barring him from the Otherworld, the Celtic version of the afterlife. Thus, Cormac O'Connor remains on Manhattan Island for over three hundred years, and sees it change from a village on the tip of a wild island to the Metropolis it has become.

The bits of Irish and American history strewn about its pages make it seem more like reading a history book, albeit one with a thriving plotline that twists and turns with the times.

If nothing else, you will come away from this book realizing, truly realizing, that we are alive for the last time.

Things will never be perfect, but they are beautiful because we are here, we are living, we are eating and breathing and fighting. Time passes regardless of what we wish, and events will come and go. O'Connor watches all the people he loves die, and comes to wish for death. We need none of that- we should desire only life, and a good one at that, a wild brawling one that will live forever in the pages of history.

We think our stories are unique. We think that no one has possibly lived our life, felt our pains so severely, our joys so emphatically. We are wrong.

Our story has been told a million times. All of them. A strong kid who dies years before his time in a blink of an eye... that's happened. A wannabe writer who wishes for both extraordinary life and a quick death... fucking cliche. Star crossed lovers who are cursed by outside influences and even worse luck.... even Shakespeare wrote about that.

What makes the stories different are the nuances of our personalities. There are some who will not go quietly into the night. There are some whose personalities will not dictate the plot, but will write the words on the page, filling in the gaps between the covers in a way you didn't think they could.

We all die. It's hard for me to say it, but we all fucking die. Even me- I will be under a big, cold Celtic cross one day But our job as people is to live as passionately, as forcefully, as we possible can. We must make our choices, and forge our own paths, whether or not we think we can, or whether we believe we are capable of doing it well.

For in the end, unlike Hamill's character... we don't have all the time in the world. The clock is ticking to make this shit interesting... and for me to make myself happy. You too.

Make it fucking worth it.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


The crowd roars and screams and rocks and the chords of "Tessie" pump over the loudspeaker and no one is leaving Fenway and they cry, "WE SING ANOTHER VICTORY SONG" and beautiful girls are waving their signs and tears stream from my eyes and life is fucking beautiful.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest has imparted upon me another hero to be added to my pantheon of greats- Randle McMurphy. That brawling character embodies the best and worst in men, but in the end, the good wins out in a triumph when the psychos in the ward realize that Mack does actually give two shits about them, and that they themselves would rather die standing up then live kneeling down, just as he would. A beautiful thing that Kesey created... I should have read it years ago.

Forever by Pete Hamill is an intense story that I am about a third of the way through. Hamill is amongst my favorite writers of all time- if you are bored, pick up A Drinking Life, which is still the only autobiography I've ever read that's worth a shit. This story is full of turns... we'll see how it ends up. 600 goddamn pages... thank God work is slow.

Monday, October 08, 2007


I am careening up the side of a massive mountain on a road that lies coiled in the high hills of Northern New Jersey while "Last Dance with Mary Jane" serenades me from the radio.

The woods here are full of a dense undergrowth, one that has spawned repeated legends about wild albinos descended from Hessians and runaway slaves that live in them. In a bit of irony, from the highest promenade you can see the brazen lights from the New York City skyline. That only happens in the winter, though, when the life has fallen from the trees in a million fluttering yellow raindrops and leaves a wall of toothpicks along the sides of the road. In the summer, everything is obscured, and you can see little except the fifteen feet of road that your headlights illuminate.

The wheel begins to shake as I hit the brakes on a downward hill. I know my ball joints are bad, and the replacement parts sit on the floor behind the passenger seat. I have no idea how to change them. The check engine light also glares at me. Glare all you want motherfucker. I'm ignoring you until inspection.

I shut the truck off and head towards the house. It strikes me that there are more stars visible here than anywhere where I live. The Big Dipper stares down, a mute spectator to our mundane lives.

I'm not sleeping well lately. I think it's because I'm bored. Unfulfilled. I can't seem to hook a decent job. Martial arts and other athletic endeavors keep me occupied during the day, but as the lonely night arises (slowly at first, and then in a flood), I realize that it's just me and those stars. It is as if when I close my eyes, I'm scared that they will not reopen. For the first time in years, I can feel myself drifting into sleep, with my warring mind fighting at every step.

The other day, a hundred birds flew through a willow tree, little black bullets darting between the limp foliage. I envy animals- life is so simple to them

We are here to live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Walk Off

You want to know why I love basball? Watch this clip. The first ball is low and away. I sighed. I was at a bar drinking dollar beers, with my hands folded like I was praying. I was the only one rooting for the Sox, and, as usual, the bars were filled with slews of useless Yankee fans; this year, they are significantly quieter.

I'd been useless the whole night. I couldn't hit on girls, because I knew that nothing they were going to say was going to keep my attention from the game if something big happened. Some broads, I have found out, consider this "insulting".

If you freeze that clip at 31 seconds in, it is why baseball is, and always will be, America's game. There are 38,000 fans in that stadium, and they all have their own sets of problems. They have their own addictions, hopes, dreams, dissapointments. Their fathers have died, their kids are in college and they don't know how they're paying for it, the mortgage is due and their husband just got laid off. There's a few million more Red Sox fans watching in bars across the country, like me. We have problems with women, we don't know where our lives are going, and we are paranoid for the world.

But at 31 seconds into that clip, Manny hammers that ball and it flails towards the Charles River like it was shot from a brass cannon, and the crowd stands and roars with their hands up and I punch my hand and scream at the TV "GET OVER! GET OVER!" and a million guys in a million bars are yelling and dying and "Dirty Water" begins to blare over the massive Fenway speakers and Manny comes around third and flips his helmet off and leaps onto David Ortiz and the team mobs him and jumps up and down on home plate... and for ten seconds, just ten seconds... our problems are gone.

"It feels great, man. It's been a long time I don't do something special like that. But I haven't been right all year round. But I guess, you know, when you don't feel good and you still get hits, that's when you know you are a bad man." - Manny Ramirez

Damn right you are Manny. And Red Sox Nation loves you for it. I love October.

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