Not Just Another Skyscraper

EmpireStateBldgNov'14

The Empire State Building has been linked to me, in one way or another, since before I was born. That may sound a bit confusing…but stay with me.

I am an American male, raised to hide emotional reactions.  But, I can say that the building has made me cry on more than one occasion.  When I was young, one of my favorite movies was King Kong.  I could quote lines…once upon a time…yes, I could.  Now I can merely paraphrase.  But as a boy, somehow I “got” the idea of why Kong did what he did to the people of this wonderful town.  He was frightened and he was in love with Faye Wray so he took her to the only place where he could save himself and, he thought, her.

It didn’t work. He died. She lived. And the hero at the end said something like: “It was beauty that killed the beast.”

So, I cried.

I cried again when Deborah Kerr was hit by a taxi on her way to meet Cary Grant in An Affair To Remember.  When he finally found out that she was paralyzed because of him, he cried.  “I didn’t see the taxi,” she said. “I was looking up at you.”

And, yes, I’m not ashamed to admit that I wept when Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan finally met (thanks to his little boy) on the observation deck in Sleepless in Seattle.  It didn’t help me when Jimmy Durante sang “As Time Goes By” at the end.  And, the lights of the building became a giant red heart.

[Tonight, the building is bathed in blue in honor of the Alzheimer's Foundation.]

I kissed more than one girl on the observation deck.  I got a parking ticket once when I left my MG on 34th Street…beneath a NO PARKING sign.  I once had to pick something up for my wife in an office of the building, so I wandered the hallways, not as a tourist!

The legends and lore of the Empire State Building are many.  Amazingly, it was built in only 10 months!  It was opened to the public on May 1, 1931. (May 1 is my wedding anniversary.)

Sixteen years and one month later, I was born.

According to Wikipedia, there were 30 attempted suicides by jumping.  It seems only four were successful.  The first occurred before it was even opened.  A worker was laid off.  He jumped to his death.  One jumper clearly was not on the “List.”  She jumped off the 86th floor deck but the wind blew her back to a ledge on the 85th floor where police brought her inside.

A slightly gentler breeze could have ruined her whole day.

On a foggy day, July 28, 1945, a B-25, flying in zero visibility flew into the side of the building between the 79th and 80th floor.  Fourteen deaths resulted.  Parts of the plane severed the elevator cable and the operator survived a 75 floor free-fall.  Look it up.  She’s in the Guinness Book of World Records.

On a clear day, in late 1930 or early 1931, a young man was walking along the streets of the west Village.  The man worked for Bell Labs on Bethune Street.  He looked up and saw the workers putting the finishing touches on the Empire State Building.

The man had come from a rather poor family who lived in northeastern Pennsylvania.  He had dropped out of school and left home to find work in the Big City.  The man lived in Bergen, NJ with a relative.  His wages were low but he sent what he could back home to help out.  After a year or two, the man returned to complete high school, court a young woman named Mary…and eventually married her in 1936.

I know this story pretty well.  The man was my father, Paul.

He told me all this when I was a little boy watching King Kong.

“No,” he told me more than once.  “I never saw a large ape climbing the building.”

As a little boy, I never could quite believe him about this.  How could he not have seen the ape falling?  How could he have missed it when beauty killed the beast?

The beast?  Well, I guess that’s where I played out my small role in my father’s contact with this great building.  Sixteen years and one month after he walked down Bethune Street, I was born.

Add two years to that…I would be entering the “Terrible Twos.”  So, my father gets the beast after all.

And, about 70 years later, I’m standing on 7th Avenue looking up at a very special building…washed in blue light…honoring those who have lost their memories.

That’s something I’ve haven’t done…lose memories.

 

Gratitude From A Dragonfly

It was one of those rare days in mid-summer here in the north country.  The sky was free of the clouds that seemed to linger…day after day after day.  I was walking across our front deck and something caught my eye.  It was a dragonfly trapped in a spider’s web.

I wrote a blog about it.  In the post, I discussed my dilemma: to free the fly and possibly starve the spider or to allow the spider to devour the fly…thereby lessening the number of biting insects that would be eaten by the fly.  [Go back in my older posts to see my point.]

I chose to liberate the fly.  It flew away, I could imagine, feeling safe and free in its tiny fly brain.

I saw a thousand dragonflies this past summer.  I tried to get close to study their amazing wings…but they flew away.

~~~

A few days ago, after we had several frosts and even a dusting or two of snow, I was standing at the railing of our back deck.  I had just finished blowing off the pine needles and leaves that constantly littered the deck floor.  I emptied our tomato planter (we got about 12 tasty ones, small but full of flavor that only comes from something you’ve grown yourself).

Yes, I was standing at the railing and looking up at the overcast sky.  Summer had come and gone.  A few leaves held onto their parent-trees…refusing to give up, drop and then to rot away into our sandy soil.  A slight chill came in with the breeze that came in off the lake.  The insects of the late summer had been dead for weeks due to the frost. Or so I thought.

I looked down on the 2 x 4 pine railing (stained a light-oak) and saw a survivor.  Not just any survivor, but a dragonfly.  It was motionless on the wood surface.  I blew on it.  It didn’t move.  I was sure it was dead…but why did it die on my railing?  And, why didn’t it get blown away by the autumn winds?

A small part of me was glad it had chosen to die (do they choose?) on my deck.  Now, I could take it downstairs to my “man-cave”, pull out my binocular microscope and take time to really study the intricate and mathematically precise structure of the lattice-work of the wings.  I could look closely at what I assumed was a compound eye.  I could sketch it.  Admire it.  Study it.  And marvel at it.

Just then, in the chill air of the deck, it moved!  It was alive!  How could this be?  By all rights of nature, it should have been food by now…or lying among the rotting leaves and ferns and moss of our yard ten feet below me.

I don’t know enough about a dragonflies’ life-cycle to think that it missed the Great Migration.  I don’t even know if they do migrate.  I doubt it.

But there it was…on my deck.  I coaxed it onto my hand.  It didn’t try to fly away…just yet.  I held it close to my eye.  It was then that I knew that whatever happened, I was holding a dragonfly that had only hours to live.  Something would get it.  It couldn’t survive much longer.

I stared into its eyes.  I had a thought.

Was this the fly I freed a month or two ago?  Was this the offspring of the fly I liberated?  How could I ever know?

But, I can say this, I had two encounters with dragonflies this summer.  Hundreds that sat on my knee while I read, or sat on the lip of my glass of sun-tea.  They filled the air of my deck space.  And their iridescence was magnificent.

I came eye to eye with only two.  There must be a connection.  There has to be a connection.  I want there to be a connection.

Did the fly stay around in hopes that I would find it?  Did it want to thank me for saving its life?  Or it’s parents’ life?

I’d like to think so.  I’ll never know.

After a moment in my palm, it flew away…slowly at first…and then it vanished into the needle-covered pine trees at the edge of our property.

DragonFly

 

 

Behind the News: Tarzan and Jane Locked in Bitter Custody Battle

Inside sources at the High Court of Nairobi were able to confirm that there has been no resolution either way in the tinder box case of Tarzan v Jane.  All that is known at this time is that the battle is raging and lines have been drawn in the sand concerning the custody of the mysterious child of Tarzan and Jane.

It was not clear at press time whether the two have ever, indeed, been legally married by an officer of the court.  Tarzan has stated on many previous occasions that the child, referred as Boy, was, in fact, a male child that could have been fathered by any number of Safari clients.

“She always went for those Great White Hunter types,” Tarzan was heard to comment.  “She was an easy make for me…I mean I merely rescued her from certain death at the hands of the giant ape tribe and the next thing she’s climbing the rope to my treehouse.”

Jane’s law firm, Ball, Buster and Reems of Philadelphia, claim they have abundant evidence that “this Tarzan guy swings between a large number of women who get caught in the quicksand or alligator pit…he has given the directions to his treehouse to them all.”

Jane’s attorney’s also claim that this Tarzan is a hunky fake.  They have mentioned they are in possession of papers that prove this vine-swinging jungle Lothario is none other than an English Viscount, whose real name is John Clayton, of Greystoke.  “Even his loin cloth is from Gucci, for God’s sake,” Jane was once quoted as saying.

Tarzan denies any and all of these claims through his Hong Kong lawyers, We, Got, Yu and Tats It.

The biological parenthood of the child in question…known only as “boy” has, unbelievably, not been determined by DNA tests.  Tarzan has been in seclusion somewhere at his jungle retreat and has resisted any attempts by law enforcers to provide a sample of any body fluid needed for the testing.  On the last occasion a medical team had him up a tree, he (Tarzan) put his hand to his mouth and yelled something like: “AHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAA.”  This seemed to bring out every savage and wild animal to defend his tree.  The medical team retreated from the retreat.

Meanwhile, according to sources “in the know”,  Ms Jane Tarzan (nee Porter) has been staying with her aunt in Great Neck, Long Island.  She has refused any comment and has only posted one Tweet in the last three weeks.  It simply read: “I may seem like a Plain Jane to many, but that jungle-hugger who calls himself Tarzan IS the father of “Boy”.  He simply doesn’t hang around long enough to be a proper father.  The first thing I’m going to do when I gain custody is to have the child’s name legally changed.  I’m going to drop the ” ” around his name.  Tarzan is a no-good son of..” [At this point, her 140 characters limit was reached].

The radical-academic feminist, Dr. Libbie Wolf said in a recent interview: “This just proves what will happen how an innocent woman named Jane will be turned into a sex-object and plaything when thrown into the patriarchal society of the deep jungle environment.  If it can happen in some wilderness in Africa, it can happen right here in New York City.”

A court date has yet to be set.

tarzanfamily_2349266k

[The Tarzan family in happier times. L to R--The pet Cheetah, "Boy", Mr. Tarzan and Jane Tarzan]

 

The Day I Saw My Heart

I am well aware that many people have watched their own brain surgery on a monitor.  I know people have watched their own heart being operated on…but I am not one of those people.  I understand the whole medical thing about blood vessels and nerve endings.  I totally get the concept that there are certain areas that can undergo the scalpel and not feel pain.

But, I have never had the opportunity to ‘see’ the interior of my own body.  That’s kind of strange in itself…since my body is mine.  Why should someone else have all the fun of seeing my spleen or my pancreas…or better yet…a significant part of my lower bowels?  Somewhere, in my files is a DVD of my lower intestines.  If I can find it, maybe I’ll post it as a ‘procto-blog” some day.  But I never saw it ‘live’ in real time.  It was like a bootleg of a famous concert.  Only this was a bootleg of my colon!

Well, all things changed a week or so ago.  I was having an unusual series of irregular heartbeats.  Lots of PVC’s (google it) and it was causing my wife (an RN) to become anxious and suggested to me that I go to the ER.  I stood firm.  No, I said, I’ve had PVC’s before.  But the next morning, my pulse was ‘all over the place’.  I walked out of the front door and sat beside my wife as she drove me to the Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake.  During the 10 miles ride, I didn’t need my hand on my chest to feel the extra pounding.  The last time my heart beat like this was when I saw an episode of “Game of Thrones”, or when I was young as I sat in the Tioga Theater in Owego, NY and watched “Beach Party”.  No plot.  No great acting.  Just Annette!  (Every male of my generation knows what I’m talking about here).

I was set up to have a stress echo-cardiogram.  I had to have lots of little sticky things places all over my chest.  The technician got me ready.  I made my way to the tread mill.  They wanted to get my heart rate up to 135.  By the time it reached 86, I was panting and hurting.  I felt like the only runner in a race that was held last week.  I hurried back to the table and the technician ran the hand held device all over my chest.  There’s your mitral valve.  There’s your tricuspid valve.

I was looking at my own heart.  I was watching it pulsate.  She turned the sound on.  It sounded like my mothers Maytag.  But, I was watching my very own heart…beating and moving blood through my body…to keep me alive!

I found it awesome to say the least.  I had her move the monitor a bit so I could get a better look.  I was looking for something.

I was looking for defects…not the defects that would cause my PVC’s, but defects that had affected my heart for the last five decades.  I looked close.  Was my heart really broken like I thought it was on more than one occasion?  Were there cracks in the frail, thin skin?  Were there cracks in my heart from things I’ve seen that made me cry?  Was my heart overweight or heavy from so many sad things I felt I had to carry?  Were there signs of a heart that was filled with happiness on countless dates in the past?

I could see none of these things.

Later, the doctor looked over the graphs and images and said he was happy.  I made his heart happy…

Just as I turned to the technician to ask if she could print out an image…she hit the OFF button.  Sorry, she said.  I just turned it off.

So, I had to find an image on the internet for you to see.  It’s not me, but it looked something like me.

Not on the outside, but on the inside.

EKGHeart

[Important Note: For any of my readers who are cardiologists, or who have recently purchased a copy of "Cardiology For Dummies" from Amazon, this is NOT my heart's image.  This is important to note because in this image is a very serious heart defect.  I do not have such a defect.  My only problem is my main circulatory organ breaks easily...so, with me and with all those you love...HANDLE WITH CARE]

 

Two-Tree Island (How Do I Live Without You?)

The physical geography of the place can be hard to describe.  One has to see it from the air…from the height of a soaring hawk or eagle, or, better yet, from the seat of a kayak or canoe.  But one can get lost in the words…just as easily as one can get lost in the miles of wilderness, mountains, bogs and small ponds.

There is a large lake in the northern portion of the Adirondack Park.  It’s linear, like a fat river.  Along its long axis is an esker, a glacial leftover of sand and gravel and topped with second-growth pines.  A notch in the esker leads to a long and ever-narrowing arm of the larger lake.  Another esker appears.  There is another lake…another esker and then the main lake.

Like I said, it’s hard to paint the scene in nouns and adjectives.

If you walked the crest of one of these eskers, you would come to a gap.  To cross the water and continue, you would need to wade, knee-deep in crystal-clear water to continue on your walk.  But this gap has a stone structure on either side.  It’s been reinforced…tampered with by humans.

And, this is where the story begins.  Decades ago, there was a house built on the “bridge” over the water.  It was a camp…but not one of tents and sleeping bags.  In the Adirondacks, “camps” were cottages or cabins.  Some of the “Great Camps” still exist, places like Sagamore and White Pine and Topridge.  Many more fell victim to fires and unthinkable and purposeful destruction.  They are wonders of the Rustic Style of architecture .

This particular camp that I’m thinking about was of an average size.  It sat over the short connecting flow of two lakes for decades.

Many families would come to the camp and stay in the guest rooms and out buildings.  Adults would hunt or fish or smoke and read.  The children would swim and then when they were dried and fed…would swim again.  A great campfire would blaze in the evening and stories would be told.  Songs.  Quiet.  Laughter.  Then all would retire to their beds…the children still moving their flannel covered legs and arms as they swam away to sleep.

A young girl came with her family one summer.  A boy, a few years older, came with his family that same summer.  The children became shy friends…then inseparable companions.  They hiked the narrow esker.  They climbed the sticky pines.  They swam the chilly waters.

They watched the roaring flames of the evening fire at night.

There was a small island about fifty yards from the main camp.  The boy and the girl would swim there everyday when the weather allowed.  They usually swam together.  She was a much better swimmer than he; one time he struggled to make the distance, short as it was.  He gasped for breath.  She turned around and pulled him along to the island.  After he caught his breath, he turned to her and said: “I don’t know how I could have made it without you.”

It was on this island with several rocks and enough soil to support shrubs of blueberries, they would sit and talk for hours…or they would lay back and watch the sky and the clouds.

Two small saplings grew on either end of the island.  Only a few yards apart.

The children returned to the camp by the lake for many years.  They grew up.  They watched each other grow up in their own special way.

The saplings grew rapidly in the sun and abundant water.

The island was a special place for the two young adults.  They named it Two-Tree Island.  The saplings outgrew the couple.

The boy and girl…now a young man and woman…found the pleasure and excitement of a first kiss on the island.  The couple found that as they grew older, they could sneak off and swim out in the night and hold each other.

She would often say: “I don’t know what I would do without you.”

The parents of the man and woman died.  The owner of the camp grew very old and soon moved to a nursing home.  The house was abandoned.

The young couple married.  They enjoyed a modest wealth.  They bought the camp and refurbished it with modern plumbing and electricity.  They spent many summers at the old place…and every day they would swim out to the island, circle it several times and then swim back.  This went on for many years.

“What would we do without this tiny island of ours?”  They said this often. The trees grew very tall and stately.

The couple grew old and missed more than a few summers at the camp.  They often spent summers with their children and grandchildren in Myrtle Beach.

Then one day at their home in Saratoga Springs, the man felt a lump in his testicle.  He had it checked.

They knew they had one more summer left together, so they decided to send their son and son-in-law to open and clean out the camp.  They arrived late one afternoon in July.  He was feeble but still able to wade in the chilly waters of the lake.

The two made plans to paddle over to the island, but when they had the canoe brought down to the water they saw the island through the morning mist.  They looked in sadness at the two trees.  One had died…but still stood tall and proud.

“What are we going to do without those two trees?”  They asked each other, without speaking, using their eyes to convey the question.

A year later, the old woman, returned to the camp.  She knew it was going to be her last visit.  Not that she was in ill-health…she just didn’t have any desire to stay more than a few days alone.  Her once slender and beautiful legs were now white and streaked with purple veins.  She slipped on her water shoes and waded toward Two-Tree Island until the water was over her knees.  Oh, how he loved my knees, she said to herself.

She looked at the island.  One tree stood alive and firm and unbending.  The other stood mute as a column of stone.

She thought of her first kiss, his hand on her back, his hand on her breast, his hand in her hair.  A thousand memories flew over and through her head like the clouds she and her husband used to watch…from Two-Tree Island.

“Oh, how can I live without you?”

She waded toward the island, the water came to her thighs and then covered her hips.  She kept walking, toward the island with two trees.  Only one of was living.  Then she saw the saplings growing from the base of both trees!

Her thoughts raced forward a hundred years.  She thought of her Great-great-great grandchildren.  She knew then that two trees will always grow on Two-Tree Island.  The tiny island where she held a young boy’s hand and kissed his young lips.

TwoTreeIslandRainbow

 

Where are the Corn Girls of Summer?

GirlsInTheCornField

In northern New York State, in late summer, hot sunny days are not uncommon.  It was the height of the corn season.

I practically left skid marks on Rte. 37 when I saw the corn stand to my right.  I had once been scolded by the robotic female voice on my GPS about making illegal U-turns, so I drove another quarter of a mile before there was a safe place to pull over and head north…north to the corn stand.

My father always told me: “Knee high by the Fourth of July,” when we were kids and awaiting the first crop of corn-on-the-cob.  My three brothers all had their own ways to attack an ear of freshly boiled corn.  Me? I usually went for the “Remington” style.  Approach the cob like it was the roller on a typewriter.  Chew non-stop from one end to the other and then drop the carriage and continue in the opposite direction.

Every once in a while I would stop to chew and swallow.

I had a deep hankering for fresh corn that day in late summer of ’13.  When a man knows what he wants…well, he has to turn around sometimes and go backward to get it.

And, that’s what I did.  I pulled into the dusty parking lot.  The little white stand was hard by the cross-roads (and we all know how magical cross-roads can be).  The small white shack sat at the edge of the cornfields.  The stalks seemed ten feet tall.  There was a faded red pick-up truck nearby…it’s engine idling.  A ruddy-faced farm boy of perhaps seventeen was unloading giant sacks of corn, freshly picked, and putting them on the ground in front of the wooden troughs where buyers could paw through them.

Two teenage girls, probably juniors or seniors in high school were working the stand that day.  An old cap and a bandana hid their hair.  The tee-shirts were plain, one green and one pink.  One wore cut-off shorts and flip-flops revealed dusty and sweaty legs.  The other wore unseasonable black pants.  As fast as the corn was unloaded by the boy, they would package them in bundles of a dozen…for those who wanted the corn quickly and didn’t care to peel a bit of the husk and peek at the kernels.  Cars came and cars drove off.  The dust made me sneeze.  I bought a dozen ears.  The girls took a rest.  They stood together in the doorway, safely out of the blazing sun.  I asked if I could take their picture.  They looked at each other and giggled.  Sure, they said, wondering why I was so interested in them.  I took a photo and posted it in a short blog about the “corn girls”.  Another middle-aged man with fantasies, they were probably thinking.

I thanked them and drove off.  The corn was memorable.

So, why was I driving north on All Souls’ Day in 2014…when the first dusting of snow had appeared on my lawn a few hours earlier?  I was going to look for a tree.  I had heard about a tree that held onto its golden leaves well into the early weeks of winter.  I wanted to see the tree.  I wanted to see the gold against the brown and grey of the already naked trees that covered the hillside.

I sat in the parking lot and looked at the shack.  The price of corn for the summer of ’14 was painted on the wall.

But, it was empty.  Where were the girls?  Where were the two teenagers that sold hundreds of ears of corn these past two summers?

I worried.  Were they well?  Did they graduate from the Malone High School and go away to college, perhaps ashamed to tell their new roommates how they earned their extra money.  Did either of them get pregnant and was pushed into a marriage they didn’t want?  Was it the boy who unloaded the sacks of corn?  Did their families move away to Rochester or Buffalo?  Did they find better paying jobs at the Kinney’s or Wal-Mart?

Most of all, I wondered if they were happy.  Did they still look forward to their lives like they did when they sold me a dozen ears in ’13?

I worried if their hearts were broken already.  Had they imagined the rest of their life while selling corn?  I wished they were still at the shack…even though it was empty of corn…I wanted to tell them that life holds more joy than sorrow…most of the time.  I wanted to tell them to look eastward (the door of the shack faced that way) and watch the sun as it rose, climbing to its noon.  I wanted to tell them not to look west where the sun set.

I got in my car and went looking for the tree that might still have its leaves.  The corn girls didn’t need to hear me telling them anything.

It’s just a fantasy of a middle-aged man.

CornGirlsStand

 

 

All Souls’ Day

The day after Halloween is All Saints’ Day (in the Catholic Church calendar).  The next day is All Souls’ Day.

The soul.  Many agree it is the mystical core of our being…our existence.  This is the blank slate that gets stained and marked and written upon through our deeds in life.  When our corporeal bodies are laid to rest…the soul ‘lives’ on.  In some religions, it is what gets passed along in the reincarnation cycle.  In Christian theologies, the soul is what gets looked at during the Last Judgement.

When I was in Catholic school, I was told that on All Souls’ Day, I could go into the church and, after saying a certain number of prayers, a soul would be released from Purgatory.  I could do this all day…freeing souls to continue onto Heaven.  The only catch was I had to get up and leave the church…then come back in to start over.  A hassle for me in foul weather, but a good thing for the souls stuck in the line to Bliss.

Then, quite to my surprise, the Church demoted Purgatory.  It wasn’t an item of belief anymore.  (I still think I’m destined for the place…so I fall back on the indulgences of the past, also on the “out” list of the official Church teachings.)  So, I let cars make turns in front of me to keep the flow of traffic going and to keep knocking off those million years I’m sure to spend paying for the sins of my youth.

But, the soul is also supposed to be the entity behind ghosts and hauntings.  These souls are “caught” between this world and the next…according to theory, anyway.  I tend to go along with this concept.  Especially when I think of  murder victims…who never saw it coming. That is why I think battlefields are probably quite haunted, indeed.  A poor 17 year-old gets hit by a mini-ball in the temple and…one minute he’s thinking of his girlfriend…and the next he’s looking down on the carnage below.

The soul.  I read that there was an experiment by a Doctor who put a terminally ill patient on a very accurate scale…and waited until this individual took his or her final breath of earth’s air.  He found, much to his astonishment that the soul had mass (weight).  For those of you interested in these things, the soul’s mass is 21 grams. (There was a movie made in the last few years with this title).  For you non-metric types, think of 21 average sized paper clips.  Heft those clips in your hand.  That is the mass of whatever it is that has been called the “soul”.

All the collective human experiences of sins, good deeds, pain, tears, fear, loss, joy, love, knowledge, hate, and pity are in that tiny mass that feels like the paper clips in your palm.

I’m not a religious person and I am a skeptic when it comes to ghosts and apparitions.  (But I love a good scary tale).

But, since science will never be able to explain certain things…then the power of belief must fill in the blanks.

The soul. I feel that something is within us.  Something that knows the difference between evil and good, love and hate and the satisfaction of forgiveness.

I think the soul and the heart are the same.  Not the heart of muscle and valves…but the heart that can be filled with joy and amazement…and the heart that can be broken by a single word.

The photograph below is one I found on several Internet sites.  It is purported to be the “soul” of a deceased person taken at the moment of death.  I cannot speak to its authenticity.  I just thought you’d find it interesting if you’ve never seen it before.

SoulAtTimeOfDeathHospitalPic