Friday, November 30, 2007

Interferon and me

Remember when I got my spleen removed? Not so long ago, really. End of May. Anyway the reason for taking out a perfectly good, working organ was so I could tolerate the medicine for Hepatitis C. That would be Interferon. It's one great drug. You know how most drugs say they can cause skin irritation or diarrhea or shortness of breath? Well this little concoction has, as it's principal contraindication, SUICIDAL IDEATION AND SUICIDAL ACTUALIZATION, and it looks just like that, all in caps on the rather lengthy label. Nice.
The secondary problems are pleasant as well. Flu like symptoms. Anyway I started my interferon regimen last night and spent the next six hours shaking like a leaf in a storm. Teeth chattering, heart pumping, holy shit kind of "flu like symptom". Then I got up and went to work.
Tonight I do it again. You might be asking how long are you supposed to take this nasty drug Jack? 9-12 months I would reply. Every fucking day for 9-12 months I get to induce flu like symptoms. We'll leave off the drastic personality changes and the likelihood my red cells will all die or that my hair, such as it is, will fall out.
Still and all, the alternative is being dead. So my friends, to bed, to flu, to life!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


The world of childhood is very, very small. One or two blocks, a school, some friends, your parents, your grandparents, your brothers, your sisters. Nothing much else. And as it shrinks smaller things grow. Like smells, like odors, like scents. Only an idiot wouldn't be on Proust's side. Of course his Madelaine's could conjure up a world. Of course.
But what smells and where. Start in our basement at 206 W. Mantua Ave. The chlordane wafting from beneath the porch, the smells of melting plastic toys over the ping pong table, the chemistry set and it's sulphur, the oil from the oil tank, the oil for the tools, the bleaches and soaps and detergents. The smell of Lava for removing the oil from the tools and the tank. Maybe the floor had just been painted deep red so there is the smell of the new oil based paint. The mildew. The cool rush of cold from the freezer and the smell of that cold as it fills your hot face on a summer's day. The smell of your dirty shirts and socks piled by the washing machine.
Then up the stairs and into the kitchen and of course there is the smell of food. But also the ever present cigarette smoke and the wax your mother applies to the linoleum and the dish detergent. Joy. And on the kitchen window sill there is an old ceramic bowl with an old, old hard boiled egg and one day the egg breaks and there is that dense sulphur too. And garbage on a hot summer day. Bacon frying on a Saturday morning and butter browning in the iron skillet to make scrambled eggs. On the holidays a turkey in the oven and stuffing and those glorious smells and then out the back door to the garage and the smells of all the things stacked there.
Around the garage the wisteria, purple and thick with scent driving the carpenter bees insane as each of them devour the garage. The tar of the roof shingles, the oil on the floor of the garage from the cars, the three in one oil for the bike chains, the smell of chrome polish, the odor of the wax candle as you rub it on your sleds runners. The paint cans, the cobwebs and dust, the dry smell of old, old wood, dry in the South Jersey heat.
Just to the side the smells of the vegetable garden, the rotting lettuce, the tomatoes thick with smell, the sweet corn, the deep rich brown earth, nearly black and thick with the scent of decay and rebirth, behind the garden the compost and the tree and the scents of barks and old rotting leaves. The air in fall always thick with the smell of rotting leaves.
When Johanna and I were in Barnsboro for Thanksgiving we sat and watched thousands of leaves swirling from the trees in the wind and she said it never smells like this in Jersey City and it never does. The smell of burning leaves mingled with the smell of the cigar from the man tending the fire in the street mixed with the scent of new macadam. Almost like licorice.
And grass and hay. New mown grass, piles of rotting grass, fresh uncut grass. Hay, and weeds, and skunk cabbage. Dead squirrels on a path. Dead mice under a log. The swamp smell of the creek and the creek mud. The smell of your wet woolen shirts and gloves.
The smell of your dog or your cat just in from the rain. The smell of the air just after a thunder storm. The smell just before it snows. The smell of the chlorine pool, the cedar lake water, the smells of my grandmother's paints.
Too many to name too many to remember.
Not enough time to sit back and inhale and recollect. They come rushing in like unwanted ghosts at inopportune moments. When I was very ill and lying in my bedroom I realized my room smelled just like it did when I was six. How odd. How unbidden. How unwanted.
The smells of your first sex and your first after shave and your first blood wiped from your nose in your first fight.
Breath them in. Breath them out. It's like watching or listening. Attend.

Friday, November 23, 2007


Yesterday was spent in the bosom of my family at my step brother Bobby Murphy's house in Barnsboro. He and his girlfriend Beth live there with Beth's son. It's a beautiful new home at the end of a long gravel driveway. Johanna and I drove down and after negotiating the NJ Turnpike and its traffic arrived at Mick's to meet Mick and my nephew Doug. From there it was on to my niece Louise house in Oak Valley to pick up Louise and her new husband Paul and their infant daughter Mackenzie. It was a warm Thanksgiving day and we arrived moments later at Bobby's. The house was full, my brother Ted and his children, Kelly, Mark, & Justin, my sister Mary, her husband Will, and their son Billy. And then all the Murphy's; Bobby and Beth, Kathleen and her husband Nick and their children, Nick & Victoria, John and his daughter Nicolle, Kenny and his wife Lori and their children, Owen and Gracie. Bah, humbug.
At any rate the garage had a tv in it with the football game on and there was a fridge stocked with beer and cheese and crackers and my sister's signature dip and veggies with other dips. Actually Kenny and Lori came just 45 minutes before the dinner but they were most welcome as they brought the two turkey's we would consume.
We drank and laughed and then sat down to the feast. My brother Mick was loud and big and funny as only Mick can be. He and I embarrassed Doug who was handsome and thoughtful. Johanna spent the night holding Mackenzie and looking beautiful. There were calls for more Beaujolais and beer and then the pies and coffee and more talk and laughter and then the sad parting.
It was a grand night.
Johanna and I drove back to Mick's where we couldn't sleep so at 11:30, a bit sobered up, I drove us home. Where we slept like babies with Cookie and Milo.
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you and most of all to Mick and Doug. You'll note your names occur more than anyone's. While I was in South Jersey Doug asked me why he was never in the blog. I reminded him it's primarily a memoir of my life in Wenonah in the early sixties. He said why don't you have me travel back in time and then I could be in it. Well, Doug, here you are and it's in 2007 and everyone is happy and there is no misery or sorrow and what could be better? What indeed?
God Bless us All! Remember those who have less than us and offer what you can, not just during the holidays, but all the year round.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

This has nothing to do with nothing. Everyone have a Happy Thanksgiving. It's a gorgeous morning in Jersey City and Johanna and I are off to Bobby Murphy's house for the Wiler/Murphy feast. We're gathering in Barnsboro for a great meal with people we love. May all of you have the same opportunity.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Enough serious crap. Let's move on to more important concerns. What to do during the cold months from January to March if you're a fifth grade boy. Models. And not Heidi Klum type models. No. Real, scale models of cars and aircraft carriers and monsters and superheroes. Testors glue and paint and instructions and newspapers strewn across a small desk under a little light at 8:30pm.
My first model was one my father gave me. A Sunbeam. That's this weird car made in the 60's that was half a Volkswagon, half a Fairlane. It was two toned, usually a pale blue with white. It was ugly and we owned one. It was the car my mother got to drive. I guess that's why he gave it to me. As per usual I was given the kit, the glue, and the paint and set to my own devices. Now, in fifth grade I was as awkward as I'd ever be which is to say unable to master any technical skill. Delicate was way beyond my fingers abilities. I could barely color within the lines. This meant I spent several days screaming and yelling at myself and begging my father for help till it was done.
My next model came that Christmas. The Visible Man. This was both an incredible gift and some horrible torture. It had ten zillion parts that had to be glued and painted and then carefully fitted together because it came apart! Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as my father would say. My Visible Man resembled the Terminator in late stages of decay. Some parts were painted, some were not, I may have left out the liver. Glue was smeared all over the clear skin of the Visible Man making him more the translucent, smeary man.
I moved up in class. Hot Rods. These were gorgeous models by Aurora that required incredible amounts of patience and skill. I had none. My friend Terry had all of them and more in reserve. He could apparently assemble a model in ten minutes, not counting drying time, and it always looked just like in the magazines or on the box cover. Tommy Jenkins actually spray painted numerous layers of candy coated red on his cars. They gleamed like they were in a car show. The wheels moved. You could almost see some cool cat from California in a white t shirt sitting next to a leggy blonde in a huge bee hive.
Mine looked they'd gone cross country with the Joads.
Up to monsters. Frankenstein, Dracula, the Mummy. Terry's looked real, mine like monsters, only gluey, misshapen attempts by pathetic, arrogant humans to take on the power of God. Stitched together, missing parts, dripping red everywhere except where it should be.
My room stank of glue and paint. My new desk was splattered with red and green and little hillocks of plastic cement. On the plus side one day Terry's mom found him almost passed out at his desk because he'd inhaled so much plastic cement fumes. That could never happen to me. Before that would have happened I'd have tossed the piece of shit plastic torture machine across the room in a fifth grade rage. Then I'd stalk downstairs and sit in my favorite chair reading Classic's Illustrated and sucking a jaw breaker in a stink of frustration. God, life was good.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


I'm going to cheat today. Because it's important, because it matters. The last post was about what we didn't know about in the homes we entered. What we didn't know about, more than anything, was secrets and those secrets were sexual in nature. We didn't know because we were barely sexual. Because we were children. Maybe we had inklings but it was that and nothing more.
For everyone in Wenonah being sexual was to be a freak. Odd. You married and had children and they came from sex but how that happened was never spoken of. If you had sex and it had nothing to do with making a child it was even more unspoken. Of course there were affairs. Of course there were men and women that had sex. Teenagers, young adults, men and women with great longing, men and men and women and women. But you never spoke of any of this because to speak of this made you a freak. Like Mr. Webb.
Why should this bother me. I'm a grown man who has been a sexual being his whole life. I think sex is normal and natural and important. I've never shrunk from expressing my sexuality. My desires. My needs. That is a lie. Of course I have. I couldn't speak of anything outside of sex which wants a child. Not hetero or homo or any other sex. To think of desiring another for sexual reasons was unspeakable and to think that you might be a person who lives for those reasons. Well. You're a freak.
I live with a gorgeous, generous, person named Johanna. She is not a woman. She is anatomically a man. She is a woman. She is a man. She is everything you could want in a lifemate but according to the world in which I grew up she is a freak. And that makes me a freak by association.
When I came home to Wenonah, sick with AIDS, none of my childhood friends came to vist me. My family and a few neighbors, my friend Crystal and my landlord Rachel and my neighbor Mrs Seville were some of the few who said even hello. I was first angry, then saddened. They didn't come because I was different. First, I might die. Second, I was clearly gay, Third, I was nearby. We can all take pity on those in suffering at a distance but to do so with those nearby requires courage and strength most of don't possess. I walk by people everyday who are in deep pain. So, with my childhood friends.
Johanna came to me some months into my recovery and brought me two bunny rabbits. She relished the joys of a spring in Wenonah. It was not where she belonged but she felt it's great beauty.
In a week or two it will be World AIDS Day. People with far less resources and family than I are dying and suffering everyday throughout the globe because of shame and secrets. The simple fact of the matter is that the virus of AIDS doesn't give a fuck about you or your desires or needs or virtuousity. It's a virus. By virtue of your inaction or stupidity or lack of knowledge it finds a host and lives and thrives and the host dies. Or doesn't.
All of us can do each and everyone of our fellow human beings a great service by remembering this. We can spend a moment on World AIDS Day remembering someone or perhaps more people we've lost and we can commit to never allowing secrets, shame, and being other to destroy a life. We can reach out to people that aren't like us and realize that all of us are exactly the same. Naked. In the eyes of the Lord. In need of prayer and succor.
So please, this Thanksgiving, take a moment to reach out to the people nearest you and least like you and give them some small kindness. And then reach into your pockets and give to those who die from hunger and AIDS and cancer because people don't give.
We can all of us give, everyday, in every way.
God Bless and Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 08, 2007


One thing about money and work. It brought you into contact with a lot of people you didn't really know and more than that it took you into their homes. Not all the way into their homes, just into their homes. Usually just inside the front door. From there you got a glimpse of their lives. Just that. A glimpse.
Wenonah was made up primarily of Victorian homes and a scattering of homes built in the 1920's. On the northeast corner there was a development built in the fifties. But for the most part we're talking homes with porches and entry halls. What someone in a Jane Austen novel might call a parlor. My own house had it's front hallway, complete with a small bathroom which we called the powder room, and the stairs leading to the bedrooms. Just to the right was a living room with a bay window. When people came to visit they entered by this front door and hallway. When friends came they went to the back or side door.
So it was with me and my friends when we went to earn money. When we knew the people, or more precisely, their children we entered the home from the side door or the back door. In Terry Fleming's case the side door was the garage door, for instance. When we didn't we knocked or rang the bell at the front door. Some period of time would elapse and an adult would open the door a bit, perhaps a foot or two, and say hello and ask us what we wanted. We wanted work. But in asking we were also asking to look inside and look we would.
We'd peer around the adult for the secrets within. Most of the homes were a little dark, maybe that was just a trick of the light, or maybe it was a natural inclination to save electricity on the part of older people. The furniture might be old or modern. You almost never heard a tv in the background. There might be a dog barking at their side. The Marx's dog once leapt up and bit me on the elbow. Hard. Don't come in too far. You never know.
Some of the adults were well dressed, some disheveled. Sometimes a man would answer the door on a weekday and that was strange. Sometimes they would hide from you. Especially if you were collecting for the newspaper. You could hear them inside and you would ring and ring yet no adult would come to the door. That was an interesting lesson.
Sometimes a beautiful young wife or stunning teenage girl would answer the door. That was scary and wonderful all at once. The smells that came from inside were also always different. Musky, perfumes, lavender, pinesol, all the different smells of a house. All just drifting two or three feet away, just past a hulking adult figure asking what did you want after all. What indeed?
Why was the door not opened wide? Why wasn't it flung open? Why didn't they ask us in for a coke or a little talk? It was the rare person who would do such a thing. They had something we wanted and they weren't going to give it up easily. We would have to work hard for what we wanted. To get beyond that door and have them open their wallet or purse and pull out a few crumpled singles for our little hands. Maybe they thought we wanted something more. Maybe we did.