V.J.Q. the 1st
( in memory of my father’s dad)
Back from a gig-
Small house. Good check.
Got to have that money up front.
Six hours in the car out of nine.
It rained and the road was twisted
in glistening black ribbons
that bound your back up in knots.
Now I’m safe and sound lit pumpkin content
looking at the orange glow of the marigold
blossoms from my garden cut and assembled in pickle jars.
And I’m thinking of you.
You were the musician. The drummer. The back beat.
A member in the SUFFOLK SERENADERS.
You, asleep in the back seat of the car on the way
home from an engagement just after Christmas
that year. A drunk in the other lane crossed
the double line and ran the band’s car off the road.
You never regained consciousness.
You lingered in the hospital
until the afternoon of New Year’s day of 1939.
You died and left a widow called Dottie
who smoked Camels, who knew you screwed around
on the side and five kids, all under the age of
sixteen for her to raise by herself.
Your oldest son became and Artist.
His son a Poet.
Your son has told me stories about you.
The first Vincent James.
You were the grandfather I never met.
It is difficult to imagine you as I’m
older now than you ever grew.
Sometimes on nights like these when I’ve escaped your fate I think about it.
I think that the trio of us could have been
something in a room; I wonder if we’ll get the chance to find out in eternity.
the beer is cold tonight at my house.
White foam in a golden glow.
Maybe a little like it might have been in another glass in Southampton in 1923.
And on nights like this, at this hour, I can almost see
him smiling, saying with cool, hard shiny dark eyes,
“Yeah you’re bullshit, all right, a lot like your dad,
but in a different way, and if I had the chance and was
with you there tonight, I’d smack you in the side of your
head, with the back of my hand.
From Another Rubber Eden
V.J.Q. 3rd 11/1/91
How to Manage
(For my Father)
Ever wonder how to manage?
Ever wonder how we all seem to manage?
Ever wonder what you would manage
if you could figure out how to manage it?
I was born the son of a movie manager. When I grew older
he used to let me fill in for him on his nights off. He gave
me my first job. That was how I learned how to manage.
The theater was opened in 1938. It was a buffed
jewel stone of image land. Thousands of individual bricks
inlaid in intricate patterns that stood proud the edifice. The
marquee had an elaborate illuminated chaser system that
glowed and blinked orange and yellow brilliance in sequence.
The interior was a wild rich dance of flowered carpets, plush
deep red seats, opulent wall fabrics and soft mysterious
winking secret lights and shadows everywhere.
Such was the prime of the theaters’ life and many
were the nights that the people of the village waited in
long lines to get in to see the show.
Now forty years later it stands empty. It leans slightly
to the side like an old white elephant with Alzheimers..
It has become like a Deco-Desperado ghost hanger, where
the Zeppelins of showbiz Limbo past land just after
hours loaded with all the would-be actors and actresses and
little known extras who sit around all night in the empty
theater discussing why their careers never made it. Before
first light the Zeppelin comes back to pick them all up and
they all go out for breakfast at diners that no longer exist.
The theater is always glad to see these visitors of
the night, let’s just say that these long dead failed
performers remind the theater of when life was young and the
theater was in better shape. The years have taken their
toll. The weary, worn out wiring makes the house lights
blink in hot flashes and then dim during show times.
The huge proud curtain which used to part dramatically
to signal the start of the show and sadly slowly close in
a sweeping gesture of finality at the end of the night
hasn’t made a move in years.
This embarrasses the theater to no end.
It’s like having your zipper on your fly
open and broken all the time.
Upstairs in the projection booth, the operator still
burn carbon rods to show each reel of tonight’s feature.
Sections of the lodge seats are roped because
the ceiling plaster is crumbling.
Tonight I’m sitting in the Manager’s desk. I know this
office as well as it knows me. It watched me grow from a
child to a man. My father sat in this seat at the office
desk most of his adult life. The time he knew as a young man
blows into the office tonight like a forgotten
passenger of the Limbo Zeppelin who was left behind by
accident and now tries to hitch a ride on the cuff of the next out
bound July thunderstorm. Such was the passing of his years.
He met my mother in this place. She was the box-office lady.
She sold the tickets, punched the keys on the magazine of the
ticket machine. She was a honey haired hometown girl from a
large Irish/German family. He was a jet black haired guy
from out of town with a thin black mustache like a young
David Niven. At first, they used to steal shy glances of
each other through the little door between the Manager’s
office and box office. It was 1947 and they were in
Show Business together. After the show they used to have
dates to go out for beers and soft shell crabs at a place
that has long since burned down to the ground.
So with that in the back of my mind, I always wear
a white shirt and thin black tie when I manage here.
The lights blink and flash and I hear a voice calling
me from the foyer. So I walk out to the candy stand, which
is closed at this late hour but after looking hard and long
at the hopeful young faces of the little boys, I re-open the
stand to give them Frozen Milky-Ways or Sweet-Tarts. I must
seem like so much slow motion to their eager fresh candy
hungry eyes. I like telling them to be quiet in a serious
low voice. With their hands full, they disappear and I
wonder if they will ever know anything as well as I do every
brick in this theater.
I’d match my own ghosts here tonight
with any phantoms left to whisper in hushed tones that echo
in the ladies room.
One of my ghosts plays on the floor of the office.
That’s me at about five. Another ghost hangs out in the
alley next to theater smoking a reefer. That’s me at
about seventeen. If you were to walk all the way down to the
front of the theater you could go behind the huge projection
screen. You can climb up twenty feet or better in the air
on the fire escape behind it. I’ve sat upon the top steps of
the fire escape behind the white snowy screen with
thousands of tiny holes to watch the backward images of
the night’s features pass through and be
projected onto myself like the wildest suit of clothes in the
world. One night you might wear the skyline of Nevada.
The next Sean Connery’s smirk at Dr. No
or air support from THE LONGEST DAY.
Soon the show will be over. I know how to lock it all
up from routine, observation and memory. I’m waiting for
the credits to roll. I’m in the lobby looking out across the
street at the Italian restaurant. She used to come out in
her white waitress dress to wave at me. Her skin smelled
like every good and greasy temptation that ever came out
of a kitchen. Even that was awhile ago now.
The late crowd is on the exit. I watch their faces
for signs of satisfaction or disapproval. It just looks like
they all had popcorn, whether they wanted it or not. I wonder
what the faces of those exiting reflected when the theater had
first opened. Well the show is breaking, this is how to manage:
1. Show up early.
2. Reassure the Owners (if they call)
3. Joke with the Ushers.
4. Never get pissed at the patrons.
5. Passes for Friends. Scalp the acquaintances.
6 Remember your keys to get in.
7. Drop hot ashes on the desk.
8. Keep all beer as cold as possible and December
Holy in the ice cream freezer. (This is because
You never know who might show up.)
9. Look out the lobby doors through the glass
And sigh deeply if they never do.
10. Pin back the lobby doors.
11. Pin back the rest room doors.
(Either take a deep whiff or hold your breath)
12. Check all the panic bars on the exits.
13. Wave at the shadows that refuse to leave.
14. Walk down the empty aisles kicking popcorn
cups on the way down to extinguishing the blower.
15. Take a walk across the stage in front
Of the wide, white blank screen of the vacated
Theater and thank everyone for coming.
16. Flip on the answering machine in the office.
17. Turn out the house lights slowly one by one
saying each one’s name as you do.
18. Put on the ancient security lamp in the lobby.
19. Before slamming the office door with a
Resounding thud make certain you didn’t
Leave your keys on the desk.
20. Listen to the sound of your footsteps echoing
In the lobby as you walk out, re-check the
Latch pins on the front doors. Lock it up.
21. Go out and get a cold one.
This then is how I manage.
By the way, how do you manage?
From 21 Short Dog Stories 1983/94/2011
Greenport Christmas 1967
I’m walking next to my father
on a chilly, but clear Christmas Eve
down to the movie theater
just past supper time
under a brilliant canopy of stars.
The sidewalks are hard solid grey
cracked and buckled slabs.
We walk the mile
side by side
as we always have.
We have been doing this
since I learned to walk
and was able to keep up.
Tonight I’m going down to work with him.
The town glows silently tonight
The storefronts decorated.
We pass swiftly the last few blocks
down to the other end of town.
We can’t be late to start the show on time.
We stand in front of the darkened theater
as he fishes his keys out to unlock the lobby doors…
He has them attached on a long silver chain
There are a lot on the ring….
As I stand next to him searching for the right one
I can smell the low tide bay a block away
in the cool night air.
Once inside the theater is dark…
He goes in the office and I hear the snap of the circuit breaker
relays bringing to life the light the Deco Movie Palace
The orange chasers on the huge marquee dance in a mad circle
outside in the Christmas Eve night.
The movie theater is alive.
Gushes great sighs of forced warm air.
The crowd is sparse.
I sit up in the near empty
orchestra/lodge in the front row
of the one thousand seat house
eating popcorn and drinking coke
and watch a comedy farce
that I hardly understand.
Even the second time.
I sit through the two showings..
the Seven and the Nine PM.
There are even less people for the last showing.
A little after eleven I watch my Dad
kill all the lights
with the same circuit breaker snap
I watch the movie theater go back to sleep.
We ride home with Jimmy D
in his work van.
I sit in the back with all the tools
on a overturned milk carton.
He smokes cigars
and barks a hard husky throaty laugh
as he farts
which makes him laugh harder…
I like him
and the sound of his laughter
but I hope when I grow up
I don’t find that stink as funny
as he and my Dad do.
He pulls up
in front of our house
near the Sound Bluffs.
As the engine idles
They talk in the front.
I ask if I can go inside.
Need to go to bed.
It’s Christmas Eve
and I’m 12.
Too old for Santa
but not my dad.
From The Terrible Now 12/07
All Outta Orange
(For Frank O’Hara & my son)
I walk into the corner bar. Young artist are hanging their
work on the walls. The appear quite serious and sullen.
The dinner crowd strolls in. Ignores the paintings.
I have a look around at the art. Some styles appeal to me
more than others, however, I like the whole idea of it
just fine. After awhile the artists get up at the podium
down the far end of the bar to make a statement about their
work. Dinner crowd buzzes with small talk. Ignores the
Artists. Artists respond by cutting their mumbling short and
retreat to an especially dark corner in the back.
It’s business as usual. Bartender comes over bringing me
a fresh bottle of beer. I say, “I need you to do me a favor,
it’s opening day, could you put the baseball game on the
television.” She shrieks, “I hate you. “ My eyebrows flip
up. This is serious. I’ve devoted the better part of a
lifetime living by a simple, moral code: “Never piss your
bartender off.” I scramble for an apology. She meanwhile
is dutifully changing the channel while whining, “but
there’s a HOCKEY game ON.” I recover. “Not to worry, change
it back I only had a cursory interest in it anyway.”
She looks at me as her face twists into a question knot and
says, “A WHAT INTEREST???”
I give up. An “orange” interest, I riff out loud.
She shrugs. Tends to other customers. I scribble in my note
“When Poets speak in color they are stuck with ears.
When the Artist paints with pigment the picture is at the
mercy of the eyes. So it stands to reason that the latter
is an image with no sound and the former is all hearsay.
The punch line is, however, you can’t dream of deaf
awake anymore than you can ignore the blind into seeing.
The bar starts to fill up. A quartet of beautiful
women arrive. Sauntering studs strike attitudes
accordingly. Dinner crowd ignores them. Young poet takes
the position at the podium. Tries to work his stuff out.
Dinner crowd manages some variation on a theme. One of
them makes a snotty aside. Poet cuts it short. Smattering
of indifferent applause percolates like stale popcorn
smothered in excess vegetable oil.
Man next to me in backwards ball cap and earring smirks,
“Enough of that sorry ass shit,”scans the hockey game and asks
“so what’s the score?”
A twilight tide leaks into the bar room, it’s last gasp coats
customers, artists, poets with a radiant fragile vermillion
shroud and for a shimmering instant a brilliant painting is
born, gasps and dies. Dinner crowd ignores it.
Bartender comes back with a cold one on the house.
I sigh relieved. All’s well. We’re pals again.
Host of the evening lurches up dejected. The night that
showed such promise is deflating rapidly. I try and help
by saying, “You know this reminds me of last night. I woke
up at three in the morning and couldn’t get back to sleep.
I’m worrying. My wife has the baby in less than a month.
Not only is our house a little brown shoe box that needs
a new roof for a couple of grand, it’s way too goddamn
small. I’m worrying that the new kid’s bassinet will have
to go on top of the television. I’m worrying that any day
now an inter-galactic kidney stone asteroid will make mice-meat
of this teetering global psychoses and some anchor person
on CNN will shit their pants on air, live in front of
40 million viewers. And then what? A nuclear free
winter for the next four years. Might be a little rough
ordering a pizza. So I’m worrying more. What if I loose my job
teaching in the jail? Worse yet, what if I keep my job
teaching in the jail? I’m worrying. I’ve still go
many bad habits. I drink too much. I smoke too much.
I’m never gonna pass muster at the social behavior
inquisitions of the new witch trials of the year 2015
And to top it off, Bernie Madoff destroyed
N.Y. Mets !
So I get up and go into the living room and turn on
the TV. I find Fredrico Felllini’s Satyricon blazing away
life with the characters speaking in cryptic poetic verse.
As usual every other scene there is this set of eyes staring
out at you, watching you as you watch the scene. It took me
away. I forgot my troubles as I immersed myself in the story
of two young men having an epic adventure in grotesque Rome
as it shattered and collapsed under the sheer weight of
perversion, ignorance and brutality. It was great, ever
I looked up. I was getting the hairy eyeball all
around. The woman sitting next to me was looking at me like
I was an escapee from Heaven’s Gate and was fixing to order
a round of Phenobarbital and vodka’s.
The bartender was polishing the glasses
shaking her head, she had heard this all before; nobody
within earshot had the foggiest notion of what the hell
I was talking about. And my young friend, the host of the
evening was giving it his best shot, “aaaaah, think I can
rent that down at “BLOCKDUMPSTER?”….”and what was the name of it again?”
“Orange” I said, “just ask for ORANGE.”
Guy next to me had heard enough. “You know I’ve seen you in here
before, whatyamean Orange, Orange what? Oranges are fruit
just like you are, you fucking windy old weirdo.”
“Nah,” bartender interjects dumping my ashtray, “Orange is
just a color, not my favorite one at that.” Woman next to
me dismisses the entire discussion with a hiss, “and you
don’t know your ass from an Orange hole in the ground.”
Subject gets dropped. Hockey games ends in a tie
in overtime. Artists take down their paintings. Poet
disappears into a pitcher of beer. Dinner crowd is
already home asleep in front of the tube.
Owner of the bar walks in.
We pass as I’m walking out.
He asks “Hey, how ya doing?”
“Not sure,” I go, “but Samuel Beckett would be proud.”
Owner yells after me as I walk out the door,
“Now don’t you fucking start with me!!”
From Another Rubber Eden /97-11