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Long Time Gone






Long Time Gone

I became convinced Harry or Hank or Harold—his name started with an H—was full of shit. He spoke nostalgically about how his youth was freshly cut lawns, five-cent candies, great family love, and a loyal dog named Duke. Officer McIrishman walked the beat, while he, Hamilton, slept in peace and dreamed of the carnival coming to town.

Before saying he was full of shit, I excused myself and left Howie to bedazzle the others seated around him in wooden lawn chairs that sat too low to the ground. I snaked through the dolloped gatherings of other small groups who shared their own lies and exaggerations, and wondered why I had attended such an event in the first place.

Henry the Horse’s outside bar, though, complete with bartender, was a fine amenity. I ordered a double rye neat from Ricardo—at least that’s what his nameplate boasted, I found out later his real name was Jesus, for whatever that’s worth—and walked to a stone wall that offered a marvelous view of a valley below.

While I drank in the scenery and my double rye, I thought of my own youth. Tried to recall if my upbringing was as glamorous as Hector’s. Were my memories as wonderful, as glorious, a perpetual trifecta of mom, apple pie, and Chevrolet?

They were not.

Not that they were worse, bad, better or different than most, but sunshine gave way to clouds, and clouds on occasion became storms. If childhood years can be labeled partly cloudy to partly sunny, my childhood was such.

I couldn’t blame my upbringing for my present faults and failures. I couldn’t curse a pedophile uncle or abject poverty, a pill-popping mother or alcoholic father for fucking up my mind. That burden and other succinct causes of dismay were of my own doing.

Still, I wandered into my past, searched for long ago memories. Pondered why so many inane occurrences are recollected with super clarity, while important, defining moments are often relegated to a recess of hazy images. Perhaps all of my remembrances were wrong, hidden from me. My brain implementing some primal defense mechanism that grays over the past to protect me from going mad in the present.

Perhaps none of it matters at all.

I needed another drink.

While Ricardo—I still hadn’t learned his real name was Jesus—poured me another double, I asked him about his youth. He gave me a wary, squinty-eyed look, and said, “Above my pay grade, sir.”

I walked back to the wall.
****
My father was a school bus driver and janitor—transportation coordinator and custodial engineer is how he described his employment. My mother worked in a silversmith factory polishing rings, medallions, and other such luxuries for the wealthy. She was proud to say she worked on the presidential swag jewelry given to a select few after Nixon’s inauguration; I was more impressed she worked on the championship rings for the LA Lakers, even though Wilt the Stilt and his teammates defeated Earl the Pearl Monroe and my precious New York Knicks in five.  

A polisher of silver and gold makes even less than a transportation coordinator/custodial engineer, but my parents made their salaries provide for my two sisters and me. We rented houses, never owned, drove used cars, never new, and thought surf and turf was something someone did at the beach. But as new-age latchkey kids, my sisters and I managed to survive. 
After local high school basketball games on Friday nights, my father was tasked with cleaning the gymnasium. Periodically, he would find and bring home for me an array of personal belongings left behind by the hometown fans that cheered or booed from the gymnasium’s worn wooden bleachers. Discarded artifacts hidden beneath the rollout stands.

Of the odd and varied gifts, I received second-hand from my father, most have been long forgotten. A few, though, have managed to make an indelible imprint in my mind. Jimi Hendrix’s album, Axis: Bold as Love, intrigued me with its trippy cover and then scared the bejesus out of me when I played it on my Caldor record player. I was still in my K-Tel-listening music faze, and a few years away from discovering acid rock. An old leather-worn baseball glove and two or three bald basketballs were welcomed additions to my athletic collection, even if our family mutt, Mike, made short work of the glove a few months later.

The basketballs barely bounced.

One find became the most prized possession my father ever bequeathed to me. A black and silver transistor radio with the name Moe DiBari scratched into the face of the radio, just below the tuning dial. I would meet Moe eleven years later in a local tavern and she—yes, Moe was a she—wistfully remembered her long lost transistor, as we knocked back Godzilla numbers of Jim Beam shots with ginger backs, and shared stories of our forlorn youth.
But that’s another memory, another story for a different time.

During the summer of 1973, that black and silver radio was my constant companion. Tuned to only two stations, WABC and WHN, I sang made-up lyrics to Crocodile Rock, learned to never trust a backwoods country lawyer after the night the lights went out in Georgia, and pined for a fine girl like Brandy. But what crackled the most from that angelic transistor were the voices of Bob Murphy, Ralph Kiner, and Lindsay Nelson as they broadcasted the New York Mets’ baseball games.

My friends and I would gather around that wonderful oracle and listen to baseball games of our Amazin’ Metropolitans. All of us zealously cheered whenever Steady Eddie Kranepool got a timely pinch-hit, or John (The Hammer) Milner hit a fastball that was soon going, going, gone, goodbye. One day, after an important and unlikely come-from-behind victory over the Cubs, we screeched so loudly, Mr. Blueit ran out his backdoor to see what was wrong. We all howled when we heard him mutter to himself afterwards, “I thought someone got murdered.”

Seven games out and in last place on August 30th, most everyone was convinced the Mets were done. Stick-a-fork-in-‘em done. But Tug McGraw told us all, Ya gotta believe, and we did. The Mets stormed back and won the Eastern Division. My friends and I were never as elated as when we heard on that small transistor the Mets had beaten the Big Red Machine for the pennant—Dan Driessen making the final out 3-1—and never so dejected as when Ralph Kiner announced Wayne Garrett popped out to Campy Campaneris to end game seven of the World Series, the Amazin’s losing to the Mustached Gang from Oakland.       
I trudged home after the defeat, my radio turned off.
****
I smiled at my memories. Top that, Hugo. I left my wall and revisited the outside bar.
“Aren’t you going to have some of Mr. Henderson’s famous pig, sir?” asked Jesus, still masquerading as Ricardo.

“Who? What?”

“The pig, sir. Mr. Henderson is famous for his roasted pig.”

“Who the fuck is Mr. Henderson?”

“The host, sir. James Henderson.”

“I thought his first name started with . . . never mind, give me another double, Ricky.”

“Jesus, sir.”

“What?”

“My name, sir. My name is Jesus. Not Ricardo.”

And hence the cat was out of the bag. Harry wasn’t Harold or Hector or Horatio, Ricardo was a Second Coming impostor, and I needed that whiskey more than ever.

“Next you’ll be telling me you were born in a tiny town named Bethlehem.”

“Excuse me, sir?”

I took my drink from Jesus and returned to my wall. I had to distance myself from all these double agents and talk of roasted swine. Next, they’ll ask me what gift I brought or if I had a drum to play. I needed more time with me, needed to be in another place.
****
After the World Series, autumn was quickly chased by winter. My black and silver, Moe DiBari transistor was tucked away in a desk drawer in my bedroom. I couldn’t listen to my radio. I still bemoaned the soul crushing Mets’ loss and became glum with the notion my mother might have to polish Charlie Finley’s World Series rings. My father, who hadn’t found or given me any new treasures, told me to stop moping around and go out and get some fresh air. A boy needs fresh air.

I left my house and headed up North Street to meet my friends.

I kicked through mounds of beautiful yellow and red and orange leaves piled along the road, and saw my two best friends with three guys I didn’t know. Eddie introduced me to his cousins, Matthew, Mack, and Paul who were visiting from Irvington or Edison or somewhere across the Hudson, over in Jersey. We decided to take a walk to the Old Dam—a large lake, never sure why the body of water was called a dam—just across the railroad tracks behind Meanor’s Hardware Store.

“Hey, Billy, you got your radio?” asked my friend John.

“No. But I can get it.”

And I did.

We walked beneath the cracked steel girders of Suicide Bridge and climbed to the top of Schaffer Slide, a large flat rock that overlooked our town. A sacred place where many youth lost many innocence’s of one kind or another.

I took my radio out and felt a slight pang when I saw the dial still tuned to WHN, home station of the Mets. Matthew tried to tune in an FM station, but received only popping hissing static. That was the first time that transistor was tuned to any station other than WABC or WHN since I had unceremoniously inherited the radio from Ms. Moe.

Mack took out what I thought was a cigarette, but quickly realized was a joint. With a jester’s glint in his eye, he said, “This is how we roll in Jersey.” To this day I still cringe at the magnificently lame statement. Nevertheless, I was surprised and taken aback at the presence of the drug. The sickly-sweet smell of the weed hung in the autumn air.

My turn was coming.

I had smoked my first Raleigh cigarette and shot-gunned my first PBR on Schaffer Slide, but marijuana seemed too advanced, was still considered to be dangerous dope. John and Eddie toked, but when the weed was passed to me, I declined. I stood up and mumbled something about being tired, or not feeling well, or both, and began my long descent down the Slide. Eddie asked if I wanted my transistor radio, but over my shoulder I told him to keep it. 
I walked past the falsely named dam, and trudged through leaves that were no longer colorful, no longer beautiful. They were damp and mushed and brown. Dying or dead. So many had fallen. The sun was hidden by dark clouds. A storm approached. 
I buttoned my CPO jacket up high against the cold wind. The fall was complete. I yearned for the summer, yearned for my magical baseball season, but they, too, were gone. Gone, gone, goodbye.
****
Strange how pain only familiar to twelve-year-old’s can still be murderously resurrected decades later. I chuckled to dismiss the foolish feeling of angst and stowed it away into my past where it belonged, where it remains.
I sought out Jesus.
He wasn’t at the bar.
He wasn’t there.
I couldn’t find him.
A small placard read, On Break: Back in 15 Minutes. I had had enough. Enough rye, enough of not-named-Harvey the host, enough of this damned suburban-cesspool jamboree. I walked to my car.
Jesus was leaned up against a stone pillar. A giant gargoyle, perched above him, sat stoic. On-the-ready to swoop down on unsuspecting children or stray puppy dogs or perhaps baby-swine piglets.
Jesus was smoking a blunt.                                                                                                             
He held the doobie out and motioned with his head for me to partake in the hitting of the weed, but I did not.
I smiled, walked away.
“Edison, not Bethlehem,” he said.
“What?”
“Edison. I’m from Edison, New Jersey.”
“Of course, you are.”
“What?”
“Never mind. It was a long time ago. A long time gone.”  



William Teets

William Teets is an author and poet born in Peekskill, New York, who has recently relocated to Waterford, Michigan. He immensely misses New York pizza, the Hudson River, and his beloved Mets. He will write. He will survive. Mr. Teets’ works have been published in Chronogram, The Deadly Writers Patrol, Cajun Mutt Press, Art and Life, as well as in numerous anthologies.    

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1 Comments

  1. Solid entry into the fiction world where the reality of today is met with the words of wisdom.

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