Monday, August 29, 2016

It was quiet at home last night. Pedro didn't hear the moneyed creaks of his mother's bed, each breath with a new man. He didn't hide from a drunkard father who beat him with his fists till the boy's eyes bled. Pedro was thirteen now. He had a rendezvous with a wanting girl. He walked down the apartment steps and waited for an imagined first love. His life a sidewalk opera lit under a streetlight.

In the distance he thought he saw her--but his eyes were bad. He wanted to run, but his legs were bruised too much. So Pedro went home last night and prayed his father would lay drunk in some other stairwell. That his mother would sleep sound in a quiet bed.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Old Photos
I keep old photos in a leather suitcase covered in newsprint that turned yellow years ago. The stories are from the eighties, the pictures just as old. They say negatives can last for hundreds of years. But digital images can die with the light.

I moved aside the newspapers and lifted the photo album from the suitcase. I opened it and turned the pages, each photo well preserved behind its wrinkled plastic covers. They were pictures of old friends from our days in Tokyo--we were all so young, so much in our twenties with our hopes undiminished. Some posed for photos, some were caught unaware--but there was always the clear skin, the thick, well coloured hair. Was that really me? Was that really us? Were we, from so many Western lands, really teaching English in Japan?

I wonder at times what happened to them. We had promised to write each other. But over time the letters stopped being posted. Most of us having moved on with our lives, I assumed.  I guess sometimes our hearts are hurt by the here and the now-- a loss, a broken romance, an email telling you of a friend who died. Then we look for old photos of Japan. Memories as a bridge to then. The photographic negatives ensuring their place for hundreds of years.

I held a photo of George and placed it on the table. He had long brown hair and a bushy mustache. There was a hung over look in his eyes. I remember his Brooklyn voice, the strange streetwise accent that went with his smarts and cynicism. We became the best of friends, doing what most young men do: closing bars, chasing girls, laughing at the world.

In his open New York character, he would confide in me of the troubles in his past. The Greek immigrant father who detested his New World ways. The girl he loved and who he wanted to marry had left him and gone to California with another man.  The horror of war, as the Marine barracks in Lebanon came crashing on him, killing most of his friends. Sometimes the trauma would come to him in his sleep and he would call to tell me of his haunting dreams.

Then one day he said he had to go back to New York. He'd be going in a couple of days. There was an emergency, something to do with his family, but he wouldn't tell me why. He promised he'd come back to Tokyo soon, maybe by the end of the summer. For sure he would write. We were buddies for life, bound by our Tokyo experience. I believed all that he said was true.

Within a few weeks I wrote him, but there was no reply. I wrote a month after that, and waited for the mail. But no letter arrived. He never returned at the end of summer.

Over the years, the decades, I couldn't shake him from my mind. I walked sometimes the bridge of memories back to Japan to wonder what went wrong?

I made a Google search the other day. I found George. His name listed as deceased. His place of birth. His date of birth. His place of death. His date of death. There for me and the world to see. Not hidden in a photo. Not preserved in a negative. But digitized, computerized in the US Social Security Death Index. What does a Death Index really say about a person. It says when he died, but it does not say how death took him. I know now he died days after leaving Japan, before my letters arrived.

I have his photo, and those of the others, once again buried under yellow newsprint and kept away in the leather suitcase. After all these years, the photos' colours are strong and vibrant. I've done no more Google searches for anyone's name. But I promised myself to look at the pictures more often. I know that with old friends you should never forget their faces, or their voices, or the stories that go with their names.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Drinking Eyes
Jack sat at home and ate alone
He read a newspaper and turned on the evening news,
His thin fingers pulled the tab of a warm beer
The foam floated his mouth and ran down his chin
--Like a Lou Reed song
Jack he was once a banker
He  loved a clerk named Jane
Now his working days are over
The clerk checked out years ago
The newscaster said the dance hall burned down,
where Jack and Jane swung all night
The banker took another taste of beer,
But the news said warm beer is bad for a human heart
As always Jack wore a white shirt
--He loosened it and  sang Sweet Jane

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Red T Shirt
A young man went on YouTube and studied the death grip of a thousand men, until he found peace and love inside a dead guru's mind. The book he read said breath is life, and life is to fell the monsters of fear with the medium of serenity. This pleased the man, as he was released from doubt and self loathing. He paraded around town with a bright red T shirt that proclaimed his joy--I am alive. This new love was freedom from want. He called an old friend, but discovered he died years ago--found dead by the grip of a thousand men.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

One Lucky Good-Bye
‘Beer Mugs’ Moran shuffled the last of the customers out of the One Lucky. It was 3am and closing time. Because many beers were ordered and much food was eaten, it would take longer than usual to clean up after the late drinkers. The bartender grumbled slightly as he lit a cigarette and rested on a bar stool. He lifted his aching right shoulder and pushed up his bent right elbow with an open hand. He thought he could stretch out the stiffness this way, but it did little good and caused pain to his fingers.

As he did every night, the bartender slid half eaten meat and soaked potatoes off a plate and into a bowl he would bring to the Stray Dog. The coldness of the back alley air surprised him as he placed the bowl on the cracked concrete. He expected the dog as usual to hobble to his meal. But ‘Beer Mugs’ looked at two stiff hind legs extended beyond the garbage cans. He had recognized much death in this alley. He dropped his cigarette, and placed his hand along the heart of the Stray Dog. The body was still warm but lifeless. He wanted to pet his crown, but he decided to honour the canine in death as in life, and left his head untouched.

The bartender lifted the bowl of meat and soaked potatoes and returned to the One Lucky. He had a mess to attend to, but he decided to come early in the morning and clean. There was a dead animal in the alley, and he knew he couldn’t keep his mind on washing dirty beer glasses. Besides, he had left the rest of his cigarettes at home.

The bartender locked the front doors and felt the first of an early winter’s snow. The key turned poorly in the lock. Perhaps he would need more oil to fix it, he thought. Or perhaps he would need a new lock all together. He also wondered if by morn’ the Stray Dog would still be warm—or if the steam of his soul would rise into the night.