Dancing to the music of time


Here’s my latest essay for a book I’m working on for Blue Heron Book Works. The title is ‘Man Has Premonition of Own Death,’ which was the actual headline on a 1920s newspaper article about the tragic death of young mill worker Thomas Crooks, 23, who was my great-uncle.

 

My father’s cousin Carlo and his wife Marie, it seemed to me, would have fit perfectly in a movie made by one of those great Italian movie directors.

Carlo, who came to America from his small mountain village in Chieti province when he was in his late teens or early 20s and was the nephew of my Italian grandmother, was dark and handsome, his hair nearly black and always slicked back with Vitalis or Brylcreem, his cheeks well-splashed with witch hazel, his smile friendly, his voice smooth but foreign. As for Marie, I remember her with a big smile, lighter complexion, heavy but alluring Italian accent, a mischievous twinkle in her eye, and a luxurious mane of long red hair.

It saddens me a bit, even now, to think that they’re both long gone, both passed on to that great Fellini set in the sky. They’re splashing in the Tivoli fountain. They’re cheek-to-cheek in a gondola gliding through the canals of Venice. They’re running arm-in-arm through the Piazza San Marco as flocks of pigeons flap skyward.

Or they’re where I remember them still – in their tiny apartment in south Yonkers, hosting some kind of party – maybe a child’s birthday. I’m seven or eight years old, there with my parents, and I’m sitting in a chair watching the adults dance.

Carlo puts on a record, takes Marie by the hand, and they swirl and laugh as Dean Martin sings “Volare, oh oh/Cantare, oh oh oh oh/Let’s fly way up to the clouds / Away from the maddening crowds…

Some people die but also don’t die. They live on in someone’s memory, the way Carlo and Marie abide on in mine, young and vibrant and beautiful, dancing happily to the music of a hard-drinking Hollywood paisan, dancing to the music of time.

Lonely hunter

 

Here’s my latest essay for a book I’m working on for Blue Heron Book Works. The title is ‘Man Has Premonition of Own Death,’ which was the actual headline on a 1920s newspaper article about the tragic death of young mill worker Thomas Crooks, 23, who was my great-uncle.

—–

There’s a novel by Carson McCullers titled ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.’ It’s one of those books — I own it, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually read it, or at least I don’t remember it. The point is that the title came to mind — even though I don’t know what the hell it means.

It came to mind because it has the word ‘lonely.’

Songs, too. The early Neil Young song about the lonely boy out on the weekend. That crappy song by Paul Anka. That great song by Roy Oribison. And, of course, Elvis, asking ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’

The answer. Yes, Elvis.

Dealing with my illness has been and continues to be very hard. The treatments are working, thankfully, but the regimen sometimes wipes me out, physically and, sometimes, emotionally.

Related problems (soon to be fixed) with my vocal cords and voice have left me pretty much unable to speak for nearly nine months — and cut off, in large part, from people.

And I’m not that kind of person.Let’s just say that I could never live the life of a hermit — unless someone was paying me a lot of money.

Part of it, too, is that many of my friends and family are scattered around the country. I do have many dear friends who live nearby and would gladly spend time with me.

But there’s also a sort of self-imposed exile. I just don’t want to intrude on their lives. What’s more, pretty much no one except my family and a few friends has seen me since I became ill  — and I don’t want them to see me until I’m better…and I look like me again.

Usually I’m fine. I go out for coffee, for groceries, for the Sunday newspaper. Sometimes I get in my car and park down by river. I watch the Yankees on YES and old movies on TCM. I read a lot. I’m working hard on my book. And I even just co-wrote a song with my singer-guitarist son.

But sometimes I feel sorry for myself and sometimes I even wallow in it.

So, when Elvis asks his question, usually the answer is ‘No, but thanks for asking.’

Other times, though, I honestly reply: ‘The heart is a lonely hunter…’

 

 

Speak, memory

Here’s my latest essay for a book I’m working on for Blue Heron Book Works. The title is ‘Man Has Premonition of Own Death,’ which was the actual headline on a 1920s newspaper article about the tragic death of young mill worker Thomas Crooks, 23, who was my great-uncle.

 

I used to be able to speak. Some people, in fact, say that sometimes they couldn’t get me to shut up. They say this amiably — but it’s true. I love telling stories. I like to talk with people. I csn’t help myself.

But illness – a tumor, now shrunken and still shrinking, pressed against my vocal cords — did what friends and family and attempts at self-control couldn’t do.

I really haven’t been able to talk since January — eight months of sometimes being hoarse and gravelly, sometimes being barely able to whisper. Thirty-two weeks of living in an alien world of silent isolation. I rarely call people on the phone or answer their calls. When I try to order coffee at the drive-up speaker, the friendly folks at Dunkin’ Donuts have trouble understanding, then act like I’m some kind of invalid when I pull up at the window.
I can’t blame them. I sound awful — when you can even hear me.

But now the offending tumor has shrunk so much that I am able to undergo a relatively routine outpatient procedure to manipulate my vocal cords — and restoring my voice.
It’s scheduled for two weeks from today. I’ll be required to not talk for a day or two, and the throat doctor said it takes to a week for the procedure to take full effect.

After that? I’m ordering coffee. Then expect a phone call. You won’t be able to shut me up.