Sunday, November 30, 2014

Too Old To Play Basketball?

11/30/14 14:36

Yesterday, I drove out to Amityville to play basketball at Big Al’s gym.   It’s been many months since I played.  Months since I shot a ball or dribbled; so there was a sense of trepidation on my drive out there.  Earlier in the week, I confirmed I could play.  And yesterday, was a modestly free day.   It was an extended weekend with Thanksgiving and the dreaded Black Friday.  I avoid the onslaught of humanity; the shopping battalions who choose to ignore and lose sight of giving during the season.  Their selfishness lurks behind their deceptive intentions; what can I give him which would make him love me? I avoid the obsessiveness the craving and the vindictive maneuvers.   Instead, I escape to a gym. There is a group of us from World Courier who meet at Big Al’s in the winter and in the summer months outside at a court in Nassau County.  The games are competitive enough.  I am one of the oldest out there and yet the older I am the more I feel I have to hustle after the loose ball, an errant pass or a break away after a steal.  I am a glutton for the punishment since I know my aggressive play helps my team win. Let me correct myself, I believe it should help my team win.  Yesterday, out of the seven games we played, we lost every game.  And I try to console myself with the reminder, we are out here having fun, but maybe tossing the ball behind my back towards the basketball was not a good idea.  The games were competitive to a point.  I jammed my thumb in the first game and played through the throbbing and pain after that.  I didn't shoot very well and was not sure if it was months from being away from the action or my thumb.  Let’s say it was both.  But I felt in shape.  I've been running almost every other day.  On Thanksgiving I went out for a seven mile jog.  The glimmer of marathon is a twinkle in my brain.  Let’s see if I can do it.  I tell myself, you’re in good shape, ran a good mile and…let’s get back to the basketball.  There were a couple of new guys who we played with.  I like how one of them feels the need to give me pointers.  I’m 49 and don’t need pointers.  “You need to get under the basket and own the key.  Own the key!”  Got it.  But here’s the thing hot shot.  I don’t want to feel the punishment, the nails ripping into my arms, the elbows spiking me in the ribs.  Like I told you, it was the first time in months.  But in deference, the last games we played I took the advice from hot shot and posted down low.  The ball came to me and I turned and put up a hook.  It was close shot, but it did not bounce in.  That was the way most of my shots were yesterday.  After two hours of playing our rented time at the court had expired and we gathered our things and called it a day.  One of the best players Ryan injured his knee on the last game.  He collided with another player.  Ryan’s knee had blown up about the twice the size.  Earlier we discussed a 10K he was running in Central Park.  With that knee, I would be surprised if Ryan would be out there.  From my car, my thumb was swollen to the point I could not call Ali.  Eventually, I did.  I went to Book Revue to buy some books from Amanda and myself and felt more aches in my body.  I questioned my sanity.  Maybe I am too old for basketball?  I thought so till I just read that Mickey Rourke just boxed in Moscow.  The man is 62.  Shit, if he can box, I can play basketball.  Right?  Excuse me while I find a heating pad and some Advil.


Thank you for reading this.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Searching for traces of Thomas Merton on Long Island

16:10 11/23/14

Last week, I finally took Ma on the Thomas Merton tour which we discussed weeks ago.  For those of you not aware of who Thomas Merton was, in brief he was a poet, a catholic mystic and an influential writer, his most popular book was perhaps his autobiography, Seven Storey Mountain which described his life and how converted to Catholicism and became a Trappist monk.  Later he became interested and studied Buddhism and wrote leading books on this subject.
Our tour was not that bad.  To my surprise Ma sat in the front seat when I drove.  She has a fear of driving as a passenger.  I wrongfully assumed she’d sit in the back seat.  Little insight for you, before marrying my father, my mother was involved in a horrible accident which tragically took the life of one of the passengers in the car.  She was in the hospital for weeks and to this day one leg has the scars from the injuries which she sustained.  So, you can all understand her trepidations.
The first stop was locating the house which Merton lived on off on for years in Douglaston, NY.   It belonged to grandparents.  His mother’s parents.  The house is off of 25A, technically it is on Long Island but it’s in Queens.  With the white paint and black borders, it appears much the same way it did back when Merton lived there.  Well, most of the house is the same except for one noticeable change the trees which caught the wind and was depicted in Seven Storey Mountain were missing.  A young Merton’s memory had been cut down to the stump.  I assumed this was on account of Sandy.  There is still a stone wall which I assumed was there when Merton was a child as well as cement steps which were off the sidewalk.  There is not a marker on the house or on the street to mention Merton lived there.  The neighborhood is scattered with the new style of mansions which are built on small bits of property.  The broad mansions clash with the pristine suburban setting.  They are plastic castles.  Yet, within the neighborhood were other historic and original homes like the one we came to see and I imagined a young Merton climbing some of the old evergreen trees, perhaps even visiting some of the homes where his friends lived within the neighborhood.  We walked around the house and Ma took a few steps up almost into the back yard after I said Merton probably climbed up these same steps. 
Our next stop was Zion Episcopal where Merton’s father once played the organ during Sunday services.   We couldn’t gain access to the church, but walked around and went inside the hall where folding chairs were set up in rows in front of a small stage.  We went back outside and saw a woman approaching and Ma asked me if I thought she worked in the church.  No, I said.  But after we watched the woman walk into the church, I was proved wrong and Ma went up to the door where the woman entered and Ma knocked.  The woman came to the door.  I tried to protest.  “Oh, what’s the harm; we are here and may not be back.” Ma explained to the woman what we were doing (Merton tour) and if possible can we go inside the sanctuary?  The woman apologized and explained she does not have the key.  And I heard Ma say, “But if you did have the key, you’d let us in?”  Of course, the woman responded.  There were head stones surrounding the church.  We wondered if his mother was buried on the grounds…since she passed when Merton was only seven years old.
It was just as well we did not gain access.  I had the tour timed to last a few hours and wanted to get Ma back home before it was dark at five o’clock.  We had time for the last stop which is Corpus Christi church in Manhattan.  It is located at 529 West 121st Street.  This is where Merton was christened while attending Columbia and where he held private masses back in the early sixties when he came back to New York.  Ironically it was the 76th anniversary to the day when Merton was baptized into the catholic faith.  I only found this out earlier in the day and knew there would be an event that day at the church to discuss Merton.   
We crossed over Throgs Neck Bridge, with a view of the bay as well as King’s Point and we discussed Dad who graduated from New York Maritime.  The Cross Bronx Expressway was not too busy and we exited off the last stop in New York, took the Henry Hudson down to 125th and found the small church.  At the end of the street was Union Theological.  The church was open.  We walked up the stairs and I blessed myself with the holy water and we heard the lecture from outside the door.  We weren’t sure what to do, but we stepped inside and took a seat in the last pew and listened.  I grew inpatient since I wanted to get there and see the baptismal font where Merton was christened.  I looked around and noticed the black gate which led to the small room and knew the font was there.  I got up and checked it out.  Sure enough I found it.  I went back and asked Ma if she wanted to stay.  She said it was up to me.  I was thirsty and hungry and said I was ready to leave, but I wanted her to see the font.  We went into the small room.  There is a cross on the wall, confessional booths to the left and there was the font.  Ma was excited and we touched it.  I took some pictures and we quietly moved out from the church and made our way outside.  Mission accomplished, I said out loud. 
It’s difficult to pull my parents out of the house, taking them away from their familiar and comfortable settings.  I respect my mother for taking the trip and being gracious enough to thank me for suggesting the idea and acting on it.  She said, it will be a day she will never forget.     
Next year will be the 100th anniversary of Merton’s birth.  I expect there will be others who would take this pilgrimage.  Next year there will be events held at Columbia which I hope to bring Ma to.  Perhaps we can gain more insight into the man and monk and for some an inspiration to follow their calling.

Thank you for reading this.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Follow your Bliss

11/8/14 22:33 Follow your bliss

Earlier today, I went for a walk in the woods.  I needed to get in among the trees and the swirling leaves that tumbled down.  It was a clear day.  Originally, I had the idea to take Ma on what I will refer to as the Merton tour.  Thomas Merton.  There are a few places within our vicinity which we can stop at and make a day out of.  For now we are planning for next week.  Hope ma does not get too nervous with my driving.  I can sense the dread she may have of driving her into the city.  She will close her eyes and pray to Mary and Joseph and may choose to sit in the back seat; which she did when I took her to Plains Georgia to see Jimmy Carter. 
What is your bliss?  Joseph Campbell wrote, make yourself transparent to transcendent.  He wrote of having an energy flow through you.  All of us are capable of being conduits to this force or power or grace of God.  I was looking for this energy in the woods.  There were a few distractions and interruptions, a woman walking two dogs, one a pit bull.  Keep away.  Couples walked pass, I would nod to the man.  I walked to the edge of the lake and behind me over hear one woman who recalled out loud to her husband, friend, brother, when they jumped in the water last summer, which must seem like a hazy memory as the chilly winds rippled over the bare branches.   Did I find the bliss in the woods?  There were moments of peace.  Not enough.  It may have been due to the throbbing pain of needing to piss which was a mighty distraction.  I could go behind a tree.  But each time I thought I was alone, I would hear a panting dog or a voice and I tightened the muscles and moved over stiff roots which liked to pop up and trip me. 
It was a good hike in the woods.  It was the first time in Blydenburgh Park in what must be close to 40 years.  I searched for the camp grounds and could see some in the distance.  I had camped there when I was in the Cup Scouts and recall making the significant accomplishment of not sleeping with my blankie.  I suffered the painful withdrawal for a whole weekend for fear of being ridiculed by those malicious scouts.  I could imagine their twisted faces as they gazed at my fabric contentment.  What’s that?  I’d hold it up since I was caught.  It’s my…blankie.  With that, they’d take it away.  Truth is; I would do the same to some unsuspecting wimp.   I could see them hold it like it was a prize and tell me, See this?  This is my knife and I am going to cut it up and toss it into the fire.  I would not dare the humiliation or the loss of my precious blankie.   So, the moment when I was back inside my home, I heard, how was it?  No time for explaining.  I needed to get reacquainted.  I was on a mission.  So, I half waved at Dad, barely said hello to Dave who was happy to see me and Eileen who was springing around and Sheila who was in a high chair.  I needed it.  I ran full speed to my bedroom to find my filthy rag.  It was my rag.  My blankie.   It smelled the same.  I closed my eyes.   It was my bliss.


Thank you for reading this.


Saturday, November 1, 2014

Never Dream of Regretting

11/1/14 20:17


The fire was burning as the night descended on this town.  It was dark all day; one of those dreary days when waking up in the morning seemed like the middle of the night.  I watched from our bedroom window as the wind pushed off brown leaves that tumbled like chaotic birds for moments - before settling into the cold moist grass.   Ali was studying for her class.  Shea called from Mather Hospital. Eileen was up in the emergency room, her gall bladder is acting up.  Ali is there.  She can reassure Eileen since Ali had her gall bladder removed...almost ten years ago?  Joe and Bella are watching TV and I took advantage of this day, the weather, the rain to read the NY Times and wrote.  I’m editing my new novel and the task is slow and arduous.  I also looked into taking some classes at Empire State, finishing my bachelor’s degree with the eventual goal of attending seminary school in the city.  It has been an elusive goal of mine for more than ten years and like my previous attempts at school, I am motivated early and then after the work hits - I raise the white flag.  From my estimates, I must be close to 80 credits.  From getting credit from Stony Brook while in high school, to Suffolk Community to Purchase and back to Stony Brook for a year or so and now Empire State.  I have a coach who I have hired for three months.  It’s not a lot of time, but I am sure she will motivate me as I pursue this goal.  I just thought I would share this with you.  It’s not as if we should hang it up as we approach our mid-life and later years, fifty, sixty or seventy.  While reading last week’s New York Times Magazine, there are numerous articles on aging.  I recommend getting a copy.  T.H. White, the British naturalist turned novelist to write “The Once and Future King.” Speaking of the mind, “There is only one thing for it then – to learn.  Learn why the world wags and what wags it.  That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and dream of regretting.”  I think of Franciscan Brother Dunston who is at Little Portion and who I spent a couple of hours with last Saturday.  He is a man brimming with love and at 92 continues to warm the world.  I pray for him since he shared the friary is closing...