The Worly Building
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The glass is half-empty.
The glass is half-full.
So damn the glass.
like bits of confetti
scattered in a alley
where even weeds
We need a new metaphor.
The American dream
has run aground
yet the white whale
never was found.
Just a crazy pile
of fractured fantasies
that beguiled so many
opiate fiends who tried
to believe a mystic thing.
made with tears.
Puritans thought that demons
roamed the forests.
Nightmares sneaking from
to their dreams.
So they lived with fear
and a need for shadows,
like children hiding
beneath a blanket while
creatures banged around
They say all men are equal.
They say all men are free.
So why have we made
so many chains?
Even in the noontime,
we still live within
Principles were the bonds
forged in blood.
Guilt and amnesia became the glue.
Theft and ignorance were threads
to hold the tattered
conflicts in check
with some vague ideal.
But the demons remained,
hiding in the mirror,
lurking by our side,
waiting for that moment
when, like a worn out bulb
the soul goes dim
and fear rushes in.
I lived the first 18 years of my life in a small village called Olmsted Falls. Of course now it’s basically a suburb of Cleveland. But in the 1950’s and 60’s the town was a delightfully diverse community … with the big city some 20 miles northeast. The population consisted of upwardly mobile professionals … lawyers, stockbrokers and such (all men of course) who commuted downtown every weekday.
A large segment was working class fathers … like my own … who might work in a steel plant, the auto industry or small machine shop. Many a family had uprooted from the south to get steady work. And Olmsted Falls had its share of small business people … grocers, beauticians, barbers, and greenhouse operators. Family heritages ranged from New Englanders to Appalachians … Nationality lineages from Germany, England, Ireland, and Italy. We counted at least one Arabic family and three African American families as neighbors. Transplants all.
And we all got along just fine.
There were lines of separation to be sure. Back then school authorities divided students into groups … categories … compartmentalized us. Third grade saw 3A, 3B and 3C. The “A” being the “gifted”, “B” the “average” and “C” being the … well … you know. It was no accidental demographics … financial status … and race all entered into the equation. Add to that the high school requirement that a student either strive to be “College Preparatory” or choose instead “Trades”: shop class, drafting for boys or home economics … maybe stenography for girls. And of course times being what they were, a girl could always be a housewife and mother.
Starting off as an “A” myself, kept me from hearing much discussion about this formula. But acquiring a “Bad Attitude” around 7th grade changed all that. From then on I moved fluidly between the ABCs. I didn’t care much. I got to know a lot more kids and learned that life was better as a tapestry than a graph.
In my senior year I had a late lunch hour … the least desirable … Period 4C at 1 p.m. All teenagers are starving by then. And coincidentally, the table of guys I ended up eating with was a deliciously diverse cross-section of “A”, “B”, and “C” … albeit all white boys. While I don’t remember all their names, we were a motley collection of misfits, each unique in and of ourselves. College Preps to Shop Rats. Consequently our lunches ran a wide spectrum as well, ranging from one or two “bought lunches” to mostly ”brown baggers” with semi-sophisticated leftovers or the proletariat peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Two of my lunch mates stand out for me … even after four decades. Todd was a relatively affluent boy with an incredibly colorful grasp of language. He yelled “BIG PLATE O’ EGGS!’ every so often.
To this day I have no idea why.
And he’d sometimes brag that he walked into the North Olmsted McDonald’s (Our rivals to the north) and ordered a “cup a cum off me and a blow me sang gwich!”
I doubt that he did.
Then there was Carburetor Al.
Al was a quiet guy who loved working on cars. And while he was a shop rat he was NOT a greaser. I’m sure Al became that soft-spoken professional, qualified mechanic many of us spend a lifetime looking for. Since he had auto shop class right before lunch, Al’s hands had grease and oil under the fingernails, on his knuckles … all over. Hey … have you ever tried getting your mitts church goin’ clean after crawling out from an hour under a car? So we affectionately called him Carburetor Al. It was meant to be funny … and as a compliment.
One lunch we were all chowing down at the table in the Cafetorium (They could just have easily called it the Auditeria) … when Keith walked by with his girlfriend. Keith was a senior classmate of mine … a handsome black kid … athletic and charming. His girlfriend … whose name escapes me … was a pretty sophomore girl … a white girl.
You didn’t see biracial couples too often in 1969. I didn’t think much of it really. They seemed to care about each other as much … maybe more …. than any other pair walking hand in hand down the horny, hormoned hallowed hallways of high school.
Suddenly someone … from our table … I have no recollection who … said loud enough for all of us to hear:
“LOOK at THEM! Who would go OUT with HER after she’s been with a BLACK GUY?!”
There was an awkward silence. I suppose those who agreed were reluctant to overstate. Keith was … after all … a likeable guy.
Those of us who were offended struggled for a response. A minute felt like 10.
Then … Carburetor Al swallowed what he’d been chewing … lowered his proletariat peanut butter and jelly sandwich … cleared his throat …. and in a soft, yet determined … diplomatic yet forceful tone said,
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Hoping to sneak the week’s trash to the bin in the alley without getting noticed, I had ventured out wearing plaid pajama bottoms, a ratty t-shirt and dog gnawed house shoes. It was a warm September mid-afternoon … perhaps 2 p.m. … too early for the “We’re So Special” school kids (many with their doting “Aren’t They Special” parents) to be walking home down the cross street called Druid. The big, black bag was settling in the green garbage bin behind the garage … and halfway home in my disheveled state … when I suddenly heard the yapping of a small dog.
There to my immediate left I saw a white pooch … slightly spotted … floppy ears … a Heinz 57 that was small enough to be partially Gerbil. He was yapping at me … straining his leash back and forth … when I noticed a young leggy woman wearing short shorts trying to keep him under control.
“Hi Rick!” she cheerfully quipped.
It was Kerri from across the street. I see her every so often … usually walking Zeus … her mighty god dog that must weigh no more than 5 pounds. She’s called me by name every time we meet. I had to ask another neighbor who she was at first. And Kerri (I’m not even sure she spells it this way.) has a real knack for coming around when I’m looking severely retired. Like when I stumble out on to the front porch to get the newspaper … or in the backyard trying to get my own eight pound hound Freddie to poop.
The very first time Kerri shouted “Hello Rick!” my way, I was standing on the front porch … my head looking like Einstein’s on a bad hair day … with paper in one hand and my Maltese in the other. I apologized for looking bad but in a chipper voice she replied, “I look don’t look so good myself.” I immediately liked her for being self-deprecating and sweet. And truth be told … I thought she looked cute as a button.
On this sunny afternoon Zeus was in a particularly aggravated mood. Since I had already been outed as slob of the day, I put my hand down toward the little yapster and began praising him with pleasantries.
Still he growled … and yapped … and danced around maniacally.
Kerri motherly scolded Zeus then said to me, “So … how is your puppy?
To which I replied, ”Freddie is fine. He’s 14 months old now. But he STILL acts like a young pup. I guess it takes smaller dogs longer to mature.”
Kerri laughed knowingly … and with an air of wisdom pointed to Zeus … sublimely stating,
“Heeeeeeeeee’s … SEVEN!”