Look What The Cat Dragged Out

LaSalle St #2

It seems like only yesterday that I moved from Long Island into my girlfriend’s studio apartment in Manhattan on the outskirts of West Harlem on the Upper West Side. My building sits between Amsterdam and Broadway, on the safe side of the street, barricaded in with, maybe twenty or so security guards. It’s across the street from the General Grant Housing Projects. Why would I risk my life and move into a neighborhood where I can’t tell if it’s gunshots or fireworks? Why would I subject myself nightly to hearing a man from 13 stories up blare out of a mega-phone, “Stay in your car.” It’s hard to explain. Since high school I’ve loved the sight of Times Square, the thunder of Broadway, the sizzle of excitement. I’ve always wanted to live here, regardless of the neighborhood. Public transportation has become my way of life now and I like the fact I can order food and have my laundry delivered and never have to leave my apartment. I’ve always loved the bright lights and have gotten used to the roar of the subway. It’s the people on my floor that I’m not so sure about.

Lady and Dog#1I saw Ramona the other day. She’s this short, doughy woman with thinning light brown hair and glasses in her mid-sixties who lives at the end of my hall. Somehow she’s always in eye view. It’s almost as if she sniffs my scent as I exit my studio. Most of the time she’s either waiting for the elevator with her dog Dirty Harry, or waddling down the hall ready to spill the latest saga of her chaotic escapades into my tenuously tranquil life. Sometimes she’s outside, rain or shine, shuffling down the path of least resistance. Nevertheless, she’s everywhere. Once in awhile her gossip makes me laugh. Other times I’m not coherent enough to even concentrate on her senseless babble. But, she’s nice so I try to listen.

This time she stopped me as I was heading to the subway to inform me that she had enrolled herself in BarberShop school. I stood there smiling as she walked away. “Yoga or Tai Chi” I thought to myself. But, BarberShop school? Before I continued my getaway she blurted out, “It’s the only way I’ll meet a man!” Somehow I can’t picture this lady giving a clip, shave, and an Aqua-Velva spritz to an older gentleman on a humid Saturday afternoon.

“Now that I’ve razored your scalp, will you go out with me?”

The following day Ramona told me she hired a woman to organize her closets. What does that mean? I imagined a female lumberjack in black high tops and a ponytail banging nails and ripping out floorboards. Ramona, her assistant, had a ruler between her teeth rolling in drywall, and Dirty Harry was covered in wood chips.

Then I thought, “If it’s closet space you need, why not stuff the dusty clothes into garbage bags and ship them off to the Salvation Army?”        Closet #1

Plenty of the financially less fortunate could use a smock or an old pair of baggy jeans, even if it is stenched in dog breath. I believe the organizer was going to gather and toss thousands of wire hangers Ramona had kept in boxes at the bottom of her closet. Don’t they have programs on TV about people like this? The stuffer was a woman she plucked from the depths of Riverside Park on the Upper West Side. In a matter of minutes, the good Samaritan must have been knee deep in Ramona’s dirty laundry and agreed to do this task somewhere in the neighborhood of three times without pay. Why would a stranger volunteer such a service? “Our dogs seem to have a chemistry,” Ramona explained. A chemistry. So, two dogs sniffing each other’s private parts in a park brought the hoarder and her helper together?

Then she stopped me in Met Food, our local supermarket to tell me she’d received an anonymous letter in the mail. The sender was foolish enough to scribble a return address.

“He said I was an effigy of the devil!” she cried.

Devil #1 I cracked a smile and held back a chuckle. “The devil?”

“What kind of a human would forward a letter like that?” she asked me.

Maybe Dirty Harry had crapped on the sender’s shoe by accident. Or maybe the letter writer became subjected to an earful of her mindless chatter and got offended at something she said. I shrugged, shook my head, and told her that the sender was probably drunk or stoned. She changed the subject and once again I was lost in her one-sided conversation.

 

I thought about Adele the other day. She was the 89-year-old Jewish lady with the white hair, walker, raspy voice, and coke-bottle glasses, who lived next door. Adele reminded me of an older Anne Ramsey in “Throw Momma From the Train,” only a tad nicer. I never knew Adele existed until the day she rang my doorbell. Unbeknownst to me, she’d been friendly with Jan, my girlfriend, for a few weeks when she decided to           Anita #1welcome herself into my life. As soon as I opened the door that afternoon, there she stood, sideways, hunched over, clutching her walker, in a white cloth nightgown, glaring at me as if I’d eaten her last chocolate chip cookie. We stared each other down for a few seconds, and then it happened. In a deep gravelly tone she belted the words, “Where’s Janice?” leaving out the “r” in a fairly heavy New York accent. I didn’t know how to respond, so I stared.

“Who are you?” she barked.

“Tom,” I replied.

“Well, where’s Janice?” she repeated.

I shrugged and with that, Adele wandered back to her apartment slowly hanging on to that walker for dear life.

A week later the bell rang and I just happened to be home alone again.

“Yeah, where’s Janice?” she snapped as I answered the door.

“Not here,” I told her.

She eyeballed me. I smiled. Then her gruff voice echoed in the hallway,

“Who are you again?”

“Tom, the boyfriend,” I answered.

She gawked at me for a few seconds and then decided to disrupt my evening with the Knicks.

“Tom, the boyfriend, could you help me? My remote is broken. The TV doesn’t work.”

Remote #2I agreed and told her I’d slip some shoes on and come right over. Adele’s pint-sized television had to be twenty years old and sat on a wooden table that was older than that. The volume was cranked up to the highest decibel, because apparently she was hard of hearing. Because of her poor vision, the TV remote was twice the size of a computer keyboard. I wondered how she was even able to lift it when attempting to change a channel. I mean, this contraption mirrored a heavy piece of slate you’d find in a quarry. Each number had to be eight inches in length, four inches in width. The sight of it was comical. I laughed. Then she belted out over the loudness,

“What’s wrong?”

I pointed the remote toward the tube and pressed the number three.

“Nothing,” I yelled.

And with that, the television was fixed.

As I was leaving she grabbed my arm, breathed in my face and said, “Tom, the boyfriend, can I give you some ice cream?”

Two weeks later I was back inside Adele’s neatly cluttered apartment taking the batteries out of her over-sized remote as this time it wouldn’t work at all. I took the elevator down, hopped over to Duane Reade, spent six dollars on double A’s and all was well.

Now she began spewing out phrases from her scratchy voice when I entered and left such as, “Come in, my good friend Tom” and “You’re a doll.”

Adele was in her wheelchair one night when she saw Jan by the elevator. She told Jan to lean down into her face.

In a soft, hoarse tone she whispered into Jan’s ear, “I love him, he’s such a mench.”

In a matter of weeks I had gone from “Who are you?” to “a mench.” What a priceless turn of events. Adele passed away about six months later. I think about her all the time.

 

Christie Smit #2I knocked on Chloe Stack’s door the other day. She’s the quick-witted, energetic, pretty African-American woman with a big chest who wears lots of jewelry and lives across the hall. Her quips are so instantaneous that sometimes I think they’re rehearsed. I could be at my mailbox, meandering down Broadway, or throwing out the trash. There she is, smiling and passing me, and at the same time tossing out some dig such as, “Who cuts your hair, Ramona?”

One morning Stack and I walked out of our apartments at the same time to go off to work.

She glanced at me and in seconds shook her head and uttered, “Look what the cat dragged out.”Black Cat #1

I yawned and with morning tears dripping from the corners of my eyes, responded, “How do you do it?”

As the elevator door opened she asked, “Do what?”

I answered, “Think of this shit. It’s like your brain is on cocaine.”

She smiled and as we hit the ground floor she threw her black leather bag over her shoulder, winked, and chuckled, “See you later, cowboy.”

I had accidentally locked myself out of my apartment one night throwing out the garbage. I’d forgotten to unlock the doorknob as we had a plumber come in to fix a bathtub incident that day. In a daze the door slammed behind me and by the time I realized the door was locked, my own private hell had broken loose. On the stove was a pot filled with water, the gas light on. The plan was pasta, not leaving my keys inside the apartment.

There I was, standing in the middle of the hallway, swearing under my breath, “Oh shit!”

20130314_201638I took the elevator down only to find the lobby empty. Where are the security guards when you need them? I rode the elevator back up and knocked on Stack’s door.

Through a tiny opening she stared at me, “What happened now?”

I stood there silently as this may have been the first time I’d ever knocked on her door. It felt strange.

“Speak up sonny, I’m not here to schmooze,” she told me.

“I locked myself out and…”

As I continued, she opened the door, mumbled the word “figures” under her breath, let me in, and was dialing security. It was only the second time I’d been in her place. There was no dust, not a spec. No newspapers, magazines, strewn clothes anywhere, just a 60-inch flat screen that looked like one giant piece of glass. At one point I thought about emptying a bag of chips onto her floor, and then eating them in front of her.

Still on the phone she turned to me and wanted to know, “Hey, hot shot, what letter are you in?”

I stared dumb founded.

“I guess the drugs have kicked in?” she asked.

Then I realized and smiled. “Oh, letter, OK, E.”

She hung up, plopped herself down on the other couch, threw her legs over the top and sighed, “So, what’s your poison, dude?”

I wasn’t thirsty so we sat and made small talk until security arrived. He opened my door and I immediately unlocked my doorknob as Stack and Mr. Security stood in her doorway and flirted. I scampered back into the kitchen and breathed a sigh of relief as the pot of water had just started to boil.

Stack had a 6’5” firefighter boyfriend for fourteen years. That’s right, fourteen years. No marriage, no kids, fourteen years. Talk about longevity. I’m not sure what ladder he affiliated himself with, but for some reason he was always here, and not out hosing down a luncheonette somewhere. The firefighter had size 18 shoes. They weren’t shoes really, they were muddy clodhoppers. They took up the entire welcome mat. We always knew when he was here. We saw the hoppers and heard his deep bass voice echoing from inside. I think I might have seen him twice. Both times he nodded. Several months passed and I hadn’t seen the big shoes or Stack in quite a long time. Ramona chewed my ear off one night and told me that Chloe and the firefighter were over. I guess there was no more spark. It’s been awhile since then and I rarely ever see Stack anymore. It’s sad because I miss her snide commentary.

 

20130314_201239“Choo Choo” Charlie crossed my mind the other day. I pictured him getting off the elevator with his 10-speed bike, wearing his psychedelic helmet and shorts. That’s right, shorts. He wore them even in the dead of winter. I’d see Charlie in the lobby or outside in sub-zero weather, there he was, in shorts, with his bike. That bike was Charlie’s life. I never saw him without it. But, what made Charlie so unique was that he didn’t work. He was a stay-at-home-Dad who took care of the kids, well, tried to. They used to run up and down the hallway and scream until all hours of the night and Charlie was summoned by his working wife to keep them under control. They’d play kickball, softball, dodgeball in the hallway. Their cackles were so loud our apartment door used to shake and balls used to crash into the wall just outside our door. I mean really, isn’t that what the great outdoors is for?                                                                                                                                                                                          Bicycles in Hallway

Charlie used to park his 10-speed in the hallway which was fine, until his working wife parked her bike next to his. Then one day as I got off of the elevator I saw the two bikes and a card table. The following day, a coffee table was thrown into the mix. Before long, half of their three-bedroom apartment was stashed at the end of the hallway. We were waiting for the book-shelves.

I said to my girlfriend Jan, “What the hell are they doing down there?”

They weren’t renovating. I mean, the guy didn’t work, so what was all of that shit doing in the hallway? And the shit kept moving, closer and closer to our door! I expected one day to come home and find good ol’ Chuck just outside his door, in a recliner, smoking a stogie watching a football game on his sixty inch plasma that he hooked up to the ceiling. The kids didn’t care. They were chasing each other underneath tables and slamming into lamps. Even Chloe pulled me aside one day and said, “That family’s a fire hazard!” Then one day, it was all gone. I stood, stared, and wondered where all the junk went. Days turned into weeks. I ran into Ramona who told me that Charlie and his family were packing up and moving to Israel. The moving trucks came and good time Charlie and his bike were no longer around. The hallway was quiet.

It doesn’t end there. The cat fights from below are horrific. God only knows what these women are fighting about. Every night it seems the same two women step out into the darkness and bark at each other. I just hear voices. You’d think by now they’d have figured out who the father was. Sometimes I hear screams, like someone has slipped off a balcony and is hanging from an air conditioner for dear life. I rush to the window, but all I see are lamp lights and television screens across the way, inside other apartments. I don’t have any idea where these voices are coming from.

Marbles on a floorFor the past two days I’ve heard something drop on the floor above me which just happens to be my ceiling. I’m assuming it’s a marble. Why would someone drop a marble onto a wooden floor? Is that normal? Then the damn thing starts to roll and I’m following this thing with my ears. I’m up and walking across the apartment following a marble. Suddenly, it sounds as if the same marble careens off of a table and smacks itself into something. I’m in the bathroom shaking my head. Should I take a broom and bang on the ceiling? I mean, what the hell are they doing up there? How am I supposed to sit still? The other day I had to crank the volume on the television because two cop cars decided to chase their suspect down Amsterdam Avenue right outside my window. I couldn’t hear myself think. Then, out of nowhere, a moth and a dragonfly decided to battle it out on the kitchen light. I must have left the window open by accident. The dragonfly was as big as bird. It scared the shit out of me.

The other day, someone from our floor taped a note to several apartment doors. The writer bitched more than once that someone pulled down the metal handle and stuffed the garbage chute with an oversized bag, then walked away without making sure the bag slid down the chute. The concerned numbskull who penned this prose stated that if it continued, they would complain to management. They also said they’d tell the office that they’re living with a bunch of “pigs.” So, now I’m a pig living on the same floor as the devil. Only in New York.

Pig #1Devil #3

A Bus, the Park, and Other Things

As I drove into Cunningham Park that humid, overcast morning in Jamaica Estates, Queens, back in June of ‘07, my mind became lost in a maze of confusion. The entrance was a long windy narrow road that veered off of Union Turnpike. Trees to my right, gravel, and abandoned dusty    Cunningham Park #5parking lots with boulders to my left. I lowered the driver’s window and a maple syrup scent trickled into the car followed by a smoky after-taste of acorns. There was more than one fork in the road and no sign of life anywhere.  I thought to myself, “Where is the Berkshire Hills lot?” At the end of one quiet lane I saw a Greyhound bus in a large parking lot, it’s driver leaning up against the side thumbing through a magazine. I got out of my Camry and walked up to him.

“Hi, I’m looking for the buses to Berkshire Hills Emanuel Camps,”

His demeanor was quiet and brief.  “Berkshire, who?” he asked.

“The camp buses, is this the right lot?” I questioned.

“There’s eight of ‘em. What lot you lookin’ for?”

I sighed and said, “That’s why I’m asking you.”

Greyhound bus“This is Greyhound, no camp,” he stated.

I shook my head, took a deep breath, and started to walk back to the car.

“North side, or south side?” the driver yelled out.

“What?!” I asked.

“What side of the park is the bus on?” he wanted to know.

I waved and kindly thanked him.

“It’s OK, I’ll find it…somehow,” I informed him.

One month earlier, on the drive back to Long Island, Marlee, my daughter, informed me that she was going to sleep-away camp. The day camp she’d been attending for the last few years had only accepted campers up until the summer after fifth grade. Marlee was nearing the end of her sixth grade year when she sprung the news to me on the Northern State Parkway. At first I found it hard to believe, but after several minutes, the conversation turned serious.

“Sleep-away camp?” I questioned.

“Yeah,” she said.

“Who’s idea was that? I asked.

“Mommy’s,” she told me.

Camp Apollo“Mommy’s? What happened to Camp Apollo?” I asked.

“I’m too old,” she told me.

“Too old?!” I exclaimed.

“Why do you keep repeating everything?” she asked.

I went silent for a few seconds then glared at her.

“I can’t go past 5th grade with them,” she explained.

“You’re kidding me? And you’re going to sleep-away camp?”

“I guess,” she answered.

“For how many weeks?” I asked.

“I don’t know, mommy found it,” she revealed.

Berkshire Hills #2Marlee’s mother had surfed the internet for weeks looking for a reputable camp without speaking to me. A successful on-going task she’d done on her own without any confrontation. In other words, she went behind my back and figured I’d never find out. I’d been separated just over four years and our and conversations were rare. When we did speak I would try to hold our verbal sparring matches to the bare minimum by hanging up in the middle. She’d either relentlessly text me back, or leave voice mail messages asking for an immediate response. The subject of sleep-away camp never came up in any of our bitter altercations. My mind went into a frenzy.

“How could she go off to sleep-away camp now? She doesn’t even know anyone who’s going. What if she gets homesick?”                                           Lake Owego pic #2

Then I remembered my summers at Lake Owego, the sleep-away camp my parents signed me up for in Milford, PA at the age of nine. What were my parents thinking back then? Why did they send me away to summer camp at such a young age?

I had attended for the entire month of July, four summers in a row, and learned to be independent and self-sufficient very early. By the time I had graduated high school, the transition to college in the mid-west was easy. Only then did I realize that my parents had made the right decision. The thing that concerned me was being stuck with a bill from a camp I knew nothing about.

Marlee’s grandmother phoned me a few days later and apologized for not speaking with me sooner. She told me the director had already been phoned, the fee had been negotiated based on several underlying factors, and the deposit had already been sent. Then she told me the details. The camp was in an obscure area of upstate New York in a town that bordered Great Barrington, MA, called Copake. Marlee would be going for seven weeks, and the bus would leave from Cunningham Park in Queens at the very end of June. She gave me the director’s name, phone number and email address in case I had questions. On the day of departure, she and her husband would drive Marlee to the Park, and I would have to meet them there if I wanted to see her off. Marlee and I spoke the night before.

“Are you coming?” she asked.

“Why wouldn’t I?” I answered.

“No, really, are you?” she whined again.

“Yes,” I insisted.

“What time?” she wanted to know.

“What time, what?”

“What time will you be there?”

“The time that it says the buses will be arriving. It’s on their site,” I told her.

“Which is?”

“Listen, enough with the questions, when you get there, you’ll see me,”

“Fine,” she blurted out and then sighed into the receiver.

Cunningham Park  #4   I printed out mapquest’s most direct route and ventured into an area I was unfamiliar with. As I entered Queens, I rolled down the window at stop lights and asked other drivers if I was headed in the right direction. No one knew English, and the ones that did, shrugged their shoulders and had no idea what I was talking about. “Where am I?” I thought. I had a picture of this Park in my mind as some tiny field in a run-down neighborhood with a rusty swing set and damaged monkey bars.                                                                                                                                                                   Cinningham Park #6

Oddly enough, I stumbled upon an endless forest minutes later filled with miniature gardens, baseball fields, eateries, tennis courts, bicycle paths, and countless parking lots. I’d passed a sign at the entrance that said, “Welcome to Cunningham Park.” After weaving in and out of several narrow crossroads and entering the wrong lot more than once, I turned into a small unpaved area and saw kids in tank tops, sandals, and baseball hats, with their parents. “This has to be the right place,” I thought. Car doors had been opened and trunks popped. Duffle bags, suitcases, and large cardboard boxes were scattered everywhere. I sat and waited until the bus pulled in. Marlee and her grandparents came shortly after. Camp was officially in session. As the bus pulled away almost an hour later, I waved goodbye as she looked out the window, a sad but definitive moment. Visiting day was four weeks later. Jan, my girlfriend, Marlee, and I, spent the day in Great Barrington walking in and out of shops, and eating lunch at Friendly’s. Then we took a sneak peek at the campgrounds. It brought back memories.

One year later I had an idea.

“Hey Colin, you live in Jamaica Estates, right?” I asked him.

“Yeah, why?”

“I’m thinking of taking the subway to Cunningham Park this year rather than drive,” I told him.

“Really?”

Yeah, my car is rattling from all the wear and tear I’ve put on it lately. It doesn’t sound too good. Besides, I’ll save on gas, tolls, and mileage. My daughter leaves for camp in two weeks.”

“Good idea, it’s easy,” he said.

A colleague of mine lived a few blocks away from Cunningham Park and rode the subway every morning to downtown Manhattan. He said door to door it was 90 minutes. I’d be going the opposite way but thought, “Can’t be much different. That’s almost as long as it took me last year.” The bus was slated to leave at the same time, 7:30am, from the same beat-up parking lot. Colin had given me vague directions that I failed to write down, but simple enough that it would be a smooth commute. I’d leave myself enough time to catch a train from Herald Square at 34th St. that would take me directly to Jamaica (the last stop) and then I’d hop a bus to the Park. I tried to explain to Marlee that it was much easier for me to ride the subway than to worry about my car getting stuck, or other cars on the road. I could sit and read for an hour or listen to music. There would be less stress and no aggravation. The night before she left for camp we spoke.

“But Daddy, you said you’d would drive to…”

“When did I say that?” I asked her.

“You said,” she whined.

“I said what? I’m taking the subway and…”

“But why?”

“Why does it matter if I take the subway or drive?” I wanted to know.

“Because you won’t make it,”

“Why would you say that?”

“You won’t and…”

“Listen, I’ll be there, probably before you,” I told her.

“Ugh, bring gum and magazines then,” she nagged.

“What?”

“I want gum, and magazines so I can read on the bus,”

“Alright, fine,”

I had stepped onto the downtown subway in West Harlem the following morning at 6:05. My Harry Potter book magically opened up and I sunk my nose into the fine print. Within minutes I was riding the express train down to Times Square. Ten minutes after that I wandered through the Herald Square station looking for the F train uptown to Queens.

I thought, “I should have done this last year. I’m so ahead of schedule.”                                                                                                                                       F train #3

On the F train platform, I couldn’t remember where Colin had told me to stand. Bits and pieces of his endless drivel floated in my head. If only I had paid more attention to his random chatter. His voice echoed inside my subconscious.

“When you get to the F, make sure you’re in the last car and ride that to the end…When you get to the F, make sure you’re in the first car and ride it to the end…When you get to the F, make sure you ride it to the end…”

I started talking to myself. My thoughts became scattered and I wasn’t thinking clearly. I paced back and forth, waiting, not knowing, which direction this train would be coming from, or where to position myself on the platform. My cell phone clock read 6:25, almost an hour to get to the Park. The bus would drop me at the entrance and I’d walk and somehow find the lot. Several minutes later I calmly sat on an air-conditioned F train anticipating a smooth ride. I got on somewhere in the middle and glanced up at the electric subway stops near the top of the wall and counted “14” stops until Jamaica. It was 6:35.

“This is the train to Jamaica, the next stop is Parsons Boulevard.” I peeked at the time. It was 7:10 and I was still sitting on the F train with two stops to go. The anxiety built in my system. I felt a wave of stomach cramps but knew that once I was on the bus to the Park, they’d go away. At the Jamaica station, I darted up the closest stairwell to the outside, looked left, then right, and couldn’t locate the bus stop. I saw a small crowd of people gathered in one area and asked someone where the Q17 bus stopped. Someone smiled and said “here,” and I quietly let out a sigh of relief. When I glanced at the time it was 7:17.                                                         Stress Pic

The Q17 pulled up and before I dropped my metrocard into the slot I asked the bus driver,

“You go to Cunningham Park, right?”

He gave me a blank stare. The passengers weren’t paying attention as I asked again.

“Cunningham Park, right?”

“Union Turnpike, not Cunningham Park.” he nodded sideways.

Q17 #1I stumbled over my words. “My friend is, lives a few blocks away. He told me that you go, uh, that this bus goes right to Cunningham Park.” I explained.

He stared, said nothing, then shook his head “not this bus.”

I got off and waited on the sidewalk without a clue. Two minutes later the Q36 pulled up. The bus driver shook his head. When the second Q17 driver told me that no line goes directly to the Park, I felt nauseas. My chest clamped up and I couldn’t breathe. Mild dizziness set in and I began to panic. My cell phone rang at 7:24. I squeezed my eyes shut, then opened them.

“Daddy, are you almost here?”

“Hang on cookie, just a few more minutes,”

“The lady bus driver said she’s leaving in five minutes,”

“Oh God, tell her to wait, please.” I begged.

“Where are you?” she asked.

“I’m here, in Queens,”

“Ugh, so, how much longer?”

“I’m not sure how I…”

As I was speaking with Marlee someone tapped me on the back. I turned and saw a short black-haired Asian woman in a tight black dress and high heels. She carried a handbag and pointed down the block.

“Excuse me?” I asked her.

“Daddy?” Marlee continued to talk.

I took the phone away from my ear for a second and questioned the Asian woman.

“What?”

“You need taxi?” she asked me.

Taxi pic“Taxi? Here?”

“Yes, down block, taxi,” and pointed to a place down the street.

“Marlee, let me call you back,” I told her.

“But Daddy, the bus is gonna leave,” she moaned.

“Hang on, tell her to please, hang on,”

I made a mad dash in the direction of this lady’s index finger and within a minute a half, found myself at a taxi stand telling a driver I needed to get to Cunningham Park in a hurry. “Two minutes,” he told me. He puttered onto 179th St. and within seconds was giving me a tour of some of School Bus with kidsthe most expensive homes in the nation. “That’s nice, that’s nice, please, faster.” He crept along as if he was a tour guide and I was his out-of-state tourist seeking approval. When we hit Union Turnpike it all looked familiar. He circled into the lot in the midst of a hundred parents and friends. The astonished look on their faces was priceless. I felt like a rock star boarding the bus before my 52 date east coast tour. I paid him, thanked him, and jumped out. I hopped onto the bus and noticed that every camper had boarded. The lady bus driver was perched in her comfort zone with the motor running. It felt as if the wind had been knocked from me as I traipsed down the aisle toward Marlee.

“I made it cookie. Do I ever let you down?” I said catching my breath.

“Hi Daddy!”

I opened the knapsack and handed her a package of chewing gum and three magazines.

I leaned down, gave her a hug, kissed her, and told her we’d see her in a few weeks on visiting day. I expected a round of applause but instead they all glared at me as if I was some famous celebrity. As soon as I stepped off the bus, it pulled out. “Another twist of fate,” I thought as I stood in a daze and watched as the Berkshire Hills carriage left that dirty lot. My cell phone clock read 7:40. Under my breath I stared into space and said, “Thank you.”

A few minutes later, my ex offered to drive me back to the F train. I opted against ten minutes of meaningless babble and wanted to walk and listen to my itouch. It was far, but in the moment, I didn’t care. As a Dad, I had crossed the finish line with pride and dignity, scored the winning goal, sunk the winning basket. With my headset in, the Cowsills played on.  I’ve never really considered myself a rock star. In Marlee’s mind that morning, I wasn’t anything else.

Cowsills....Marlee and Me #2Barrington Brewery