When you’re young at heart…

No rice was tossed. No music played. That’s because they weren’t in a church or a wedding chapel. They were in the library of a small town in northeastern Massachusetts. I looked up from my writing and research — and lo and behold, there they were, an older couple, I’d guess late 60s, maybe early 70s, both dressed in their Sunday best, the bride carrying a bouquet of spring flowers. They stood together in front of a fireplace and the town clerk began to read the wedding vows.

The soon-to-be-husband was serious and steady and composed as he repeated the words being read by the clerk. The about-to-be-bride looked so sweet, so happy, so nervous — and, when she had to repeat that she would take this man to be her friend and lover forever, she began to cry, love in her voice, tears of joy.

At the clerk’s behest, they both said “I do.” And when the clerk told the new husband that he could kiss his bride, he did — and then handed the clerk his small camera, so she could snap their first picture as husband and wife. And then they walked out of the library together, amid congratulations and applause from the two pleasantly surprised people working at tables in the reading room.

I wish them happiness and peace. I hope they will find contentment and comfort in the warmth of their companionship. I hope the bride always cries tears of joy when she thinks of their love.

Some love seems sure to last forever. But love can die, sometimes by accident, sometimes from natural causes, sometimes from neglect or lack of  care.

Love can  be like alchemy,  a magical alloy, a miracle for the ages, which all seek but few find. But  gold’s glitter can turn suddenly  leaden, dull and gray, too heavy to lift, precious jewel turned into sad and precious dreams.

And love can be steady and clear-eyed and hopeful, an unexpected blessing, a sweet surprise, yin and yang, passionate but also calm, past but also present, heart but also spirit and mind and soul.

I hope the library newlyweds find the true alchemy, the real secret to eternal love. I pray that they may know the comfort and strength of two hearts beating as one.

May God bless and keep you always/May your wishes all come true….May you build a ladder to the stars/And climb on every rung/May you stay forever young. Bob Dylan

And remember:

Fairy tales can come true/They can happen to you/If you’re young at heart. Riley B. King

 

 

“And the lights all went out in Massachusetts…”

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Robin Gibb

Yes, disco sucked. And the Bee Gees were among the worst offenders. As Barry Gibb suggested in a recent interview aired after the death of another Bee Gee brother, Robin, it became practically dangerous for any of them to be seen wearing white suits in public. The shame of it was that the Bee Gees actually produced some good music in their pre-disco incarnation, including “I Started a Joke,” “Holiday” and this song, sung by Robin Gibb. It dates from the late 1960s; when I heard it a decade or so later, it conjured up thoughts of a beautiful girl I’d loved and lost, who hailed from the land of Red Sox and dropped R’s.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lD7L4gplnI

 

Blessed Handkerchief is nothing to sneeze at

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Mama Rosa, who discovered the Blessed Handkerchief

I am lucky enough to have in my possession a wonderful pamphlet which proclaims the wonders of something which appears to be a simple square of white cloth but is actually the miraculous Blessed Handkerchief.

Turn out that the pamphlet was produced and circulated by The Universal Church, which some folks accuse of being a cult disguised as a religion. The group has locations in a bunch of towns within driving range of where I live. But I won’t be attending any Blessed Handkerchief services. I’m too busy googling “blessed handkerchief” and discovering that THERE’S MORE THAN ONE!!

Pay attention to what follows. At the very end there will be some important information, which I’m saving until the very end to get you to read to the very end.

According to a website I found, back in September 1961, in San Damiano, Italy, the Virgin Mary visited the home of “Mama Rosa Quattrini” and cured her of an incurable and fatal disease. About four years later, the Mother of Jesus Christ appeared again above a pear tree — and promised to come to that spot on the first Friday of every month “until the end of the world.”

About a year later, the Madonna appeared again — this time with God the Father Himself! — and instructed Mama Rosa Quattrini to dig a well. Where? Well, naturally, right at the stop where special guest star St. Michael the Archangel plunged his sword into the ground.

A year later, in 1968, the Holy Mother sweetened her offer to save the world from sin and rescue everybody from eternal damnation, issuing this order to Mama Rosa:

“Bring in quantity some little squares of white material, for example, some little white handkerchiefs.”

The Mother of God then explained (I quote the Virgin’s statement verbatim):

“These little white squares of material are to be given to the numerous sick enabling them to dry their tears. These handkerchiefs will receive a great gift from Me! Those who wipe their eyes will receive the light of Heaven and will understand that Jesus calls them. …Come, come My children, I shall wait for you on October 7th (the Feast of the Holy Rosary). Bring handkerchiefs with you!”

I know I’m probably stating the obvious, but it occurs to me that these handkerchiefs are special hankies. Don’t — I can’t stress this enough — DON’T ever use these to blow your nose or wipe your brow.

The bad news is that Mamma Rosa died in the 1960s. The good news is that the Blessed Handkerchiefs are still available for $2 from some outfit in Wisconsin. Why Wisconsin? No idea.

And here’s the VITALLY important information I promised you would find at the conclusion of this piece. It’s what the Virgin Mary herself revealed this to Mama Rosa about the Blessed Handkerchiefs:

“Use no bleach on them either.”

And so my children….If someone says “Achoo!” what do you do? Don’t hand them your unbleached hankie. Just say “God bless you!”

 

Gordon Lightfoot and me, yesterday and today

Gordon Lightfoot…then

Gordon Lightfoot…now

I’ve got this vague memory from my college days in western New York. It has to something  to do with this guy I knew who was looking for someone to hitchhike with him to Ontario where Gordon Lightfoot had supposedly been busted for pot possession and was supposedly waiting for someone to come bail him out of jail . That was so long ago that now I can’t remember if I actually went with the guy, or whether it wasn’t even me involved in this escapade but one of my friends, or whether Lightfoot was actually even in jail. I don’t even remember the name of the guy I think I somehow knew, although I do remember that, if he really existed, he was sort of sketchy and was not a student but just hung around campus and looked mysterious and had longish very dark hair and a dark complexion and wore dark sunglasses all the time.

This was in the days when I hung out at bars in Niagara Falls with names like Dew Drop Inn (a country-western place patronized by western New York good ol’ boys and Native Americans from the Tuscarora reservation)  and The Frog Pond, where factory workers from Hooker Chemical and Carborundum Steel spent their paychecks and where the design motif, for some lost-in-the-toxic-smog reason, was FROGS — paintings of frogs, frogs on the napkins, drink stirrers with little frogs sitting atop the tip and little plastic frogs glued to the inside bottom of beer mugs. Come to think of it, the frogs weren’t the only mystery about The Frog Pond. It’s also a mystery why those big burly dirty grown-up shot-and-a-beer-drinking factory workers allowed a long-haired Southern Comfort-drinking college kid to hang out on their turf and didn’t push him out the door and drop-kick him into the bubbling and gurgling and beautifully named Love Canal.

The point of these musings and memories, I guess, is that it was all a long, long time ago, and many memories have faded, but somewhere in there I remember liking — really liking — an album called “Summertime Dream” by Gordon Lightfoot. I still love that album, which is one reason why I was thrilled to have the opportunity to attend a performance by Lightfoot last night in New Brunswick, N.J.

But  I had to deal with some issues.

One of them was the feeling I get every time I see one of those PBS television specials featuring pop and rock performers from the 1950s and 1960s — specifically, that these people in the audience are really friggin’ OLD. I can deal with this when I see the doo-wop fans — I mean, if that music was the soundtrack of their adolescence, these folks had to be born right around the beginning of World War II, right? So they’re all well into their 60s and even their 70s. No wonder they look old. Even the 1960s revival on PBS sort of bothers me, but not really….I mean I wasn’t even close to being a teenager when the British invaded, so why should it bother me that Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits and Eric Burdon of the Animals and every single member of the Moody Blues looked like they were all allowed to leave the nursing home for this concert but had to promise not to play the music too loud and to be back home by 11.

I dealt with this hang-up last night by telling myself as I studied the audience that I looked way younger than that white-haired guy with the cane and that “dark-haired” guy with the obvious and very bad hairpiece. Etc.

I then watched with some alarm as Gordon Lightfoot walked out on stage and I realized he was moving like AN OLD MAN. A quick Google search revealed that Gordon’s nearly 74 years old. In recent years he has dealt with a nearly fatal abdominal aneurysm and a mini-stroke (suffered while he was on stage performing, for God’s sake) and an episode (I think related to the aneurysm) in which he was actually in a coma for six weeks.

But then…as I marveled at all of the old folks around me and pondered the notion of Gordon Lightfoot being just six years away from being EIGHTY YEARS OLD…I focused on something different. Sure, Lightfoot’s voice had lost of some of its richness and depth. Sure, he looked a little shaky up there and seemed to get out of breath quite easily.

But he’s still talented and still a good performer. I loved the show. And I ever make it to 74 years old and I’m half as cool as Gordon Lightfoot, who’s still playing his guitar and singing his songs on stage in front of thousands of grateful fans,  I’d be quite happy with my lot in life.

So I sat back and just enjoyed some beautiful music: “Sundown,” “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Early Morning Rain” “For Loving Me,” Rainy Day People,” Carefree Highway,” “Christian Island,” and other lovely tunes.

My favorite of those songs he performed? “Edmund Fitzgerald,” which tells the sad and true tale of a freighter which sank in 1975 on Lake Superior, leaving all 29 crew members dead; the iconic “Early Morning Rain,” the stunningly beautiful “Christian Island,” and “If You Could Read My Mind,” if only for these verses:

“If you could read my mind love/What a tale my thoughts could tell…But stories always end/And if you read between the lines/You’ll know that I’m just tryin’ to understand/The feelings that you lack/I never thought I could feel this way/And I’ve got to say that I just don’t get it/I don’t know where we went wrong/But the feeling’s gone/And I just can’t get it back…”

I do wish Gordon Lightfoot had played these two songs:

Here’s his cover of Dylan’s beautiful “Ring Them Bells”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gFxxDOnsK0

And here’s what I think is the most beautiful song from the “Summertime Dream” album, “I’m Not Supposed to Care”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUkEpZ4mdQc

Crosswalk Empire

OK, I'll slow down and let them get safely across the street if I'm driving along and I see the Beatles are about to cross Abbey Road.

OK, I’ll slow down and let them get safely across the street if I’m driving along and I see the Beatles are about to cross Abbey Road.

Today’s pet peeve: Pedestrians who don’t cross streets at crosswalks. More specifically: Pedestrians who cross the street any damned where they feel like crossing or cross at the crosswalk when the WALK/DON’T WALK sign says DON’T WALK.

I don’t know if this is an issue all around the world — in fact, come to think of it, I know it’s not, based on a Travel Channel piece I happened to watch last night. The host of the episode was riding in the open top deck of a double-decker bus as it sped down a pitted dirt road in Bangla Desh. She was holding on for dear life and people in the way of the bus were just SCATTERING like in that old “Little Rascals” in which the Rascals in the homemade vehicle were in that downhill race with that brattty rich kid in his store-bought Soap Box Derby kind of car and adults who got in the way just went FLYING and SPINNING up in the air as they shouted “WHOA!” and “HEY!”

Well, I’d like to see a little more of that here — “here,” these days, meaning the places where I’ve been spending my time, in Massachusetts and New York and New Jersey. All three states, a few years back, started fining motorists who didn’t stop when they saw a pedestrian stepping out into a crosswalk.

This was, of course, not a bad idea, and maybe it was even a good idea. Too many speeding or distracted or psychotic drivers were turning pedestrian crossings into a race for survival — something like “Road Rash,” a video game my son and I used to play, in which motorcyclists raced through town and countryside and tried to improve their position in the race by whacking their fellow bikers with chains and clubs in an attempt to knock them off their Harleys.

But people have taken advantage of the new crosswalk laws . And so it’s time for police to start issuing tickets for…I know it’s an unenlightened and old-fashioned retro concept…but I’m tired of slamming on my brakes every time some dodo decides to step out into the crosswalk even though I’m five feet away from the intersection…or even though the flashing sign says DON’T WALK…

It’s time to tip the balance back the other way. It’s time for police to start handing out tickets for JAYWALKING.

 

 

 

 

 

Lost in Yonkers

Getty Square in Yonkers, New York

Getty Square in Yonkers, New York

I love my childhood home — Yonkers, N.Y., a gritty industrial city on the banks of the lower Hudson River, where I lived from age 3 through the end of my college years. I’ve still got family there.

I’ve many fond memories of the place. Every time I visit, including last week, I take time to drive through my old neighborhoods in South Yonkers: Seminary Hill, where I lived in the now-razed Mulford Gardens public housing complex; Park Hill, the old Italian neighborhood, where I went to school and where my father grew up; Nodine Hill, which had many Eastern European families when I lived there; and Getty Square, where I spent many boyhood hours at the main branch of the Yonkers Public Library and  fondly remember shopping at the three department/variety stores at the heart of that old business district, Green’s, Grant’s and Woolworth’s.

Getty Square and the neighborhoods have seen better days. There’s a lot of crime and poverty. Much of the housing is rundown and dilapidated.  It wasn’t an affluent place when I lived there years ago. And it’s less affluent now.

The ethnic and racial make-up of South Yonkers had changed, too. Both Park Hill and Nodine HIll now have populations that are mostly Latino, the latest in wave in the waves of immigrants who have come to seek a better life in America — just like my Italian grandparents when they left their impoverished and isolated village of Scerni in the province of Chieti.

Deep racial and ethnic divisions in my old city resulted several decades ago in traumatic battles in federal court over housing and school desegregation and equality. Sadly, as I was reminded again recently, those racial and ethnic divisions — and the accompanying ignorance and hatred — still remain.

A few years ago, I discovered a Facebook page called South Yonkers Photos, which featured great old photos of my old stomping grounds — now-defunct movie theaters and stores, old buses I rode so frequently, buildings now fallen victim to the wrecking ball…great stuff…I don’t know who created and runs the site, but I’ve loved visiting the page and looking at the vintage images of bygone days in a city that, in a certain sense, no longer exists.

Recently, a photo of a school play at St. Mary’s School prompted a comment from someone who remembered taking part in those school plays — including one in which some pupils were painted in blackface and performed an Al Jolson number, and then had to work home through Getty Square while still wearing that offensive makeup.

Another “friend” of the Facebook site then opined (I paraphrase) that it was a good thing that back in those days African-Americans were still referred to not as black people but as “colored.” To which she added: “LOL!”

Then,  a few days ago, the proprietor of the Facebook site posted a photo of thousands of Latino people, probably Mexican, celebrating Cinco de Mayo. The caption described the festivities as taking place in Getty Square.

The clear implication was that this was a commentary on the notion that Spanish-speaking immigrants have “taken over” or “overrun” or even “ruined” our beloved, old, used-to-be-mostly-white city of Yonkers.

I posted a comment on this thinly-veiled racism, calling it insensitive at best, bigoted at worst.

The only response: The same woman who posted the commented about “colored” people replied with a sarcastic slur written in pidgin Italian!

When I checked back a few hours later to see whether the unidentified person behind “South Yonkers Photos” on Facebook had perhaps risen to the occasion, had maybe taken a stand on the side of tolerance and against racial and ethnic hate, what did I find?

I found that I’d been “unfriended” — blocked from access to the Facebook page.

Here’s a quote for these small-minded people to ponder as they seethe and stew and angrily snipe at anyone who doesn’t look like them or speak like them or believe like them. It’s the greatest commandment, the most golden of rules: “Love one another.”