my love, she speaks like silence

I NEED SO LITTLE from the world these days. My heart is reformed and realigned, so fat, plump, warm, and content. What a funny solstice, everything turns, everything is now like this. This is how it works. It comes into you and remakes you over. For just a few shimmering moments on the solstice night, she was the most beautiful person anywhere, who may have ever existed, and maybe even the most beautiful phenomenon in existence. If there were stars in the sky, then she was the brightest and most flaming of them, and if planets could be seen by the naked eye, then hers was the most incandescent. Of course, this phenomenon of love merits study. Love is warm, pulsating. It is not stagnant. Love wants to move, love wants to flow, love goes with the currents. Love is natural and as alive as nature. But what do we do with love, this phenomenon that requires nothing to be done to it? We try to contain it, define it with words and ideas, crank out paperwork and bureaucracy. We forge it into golden and silver rings. We try to make serendipitous and bizarre things out of love, sculptures and buildings. What comes of it? Does love seep into the upholstery? Can you spray yourself with it, like a fine perfume? Does it even deserve a word or words, ideas, concepts, shapes and galleries? Music boxes with a spinning ballerina, fixed in place, that you can take out from time to time and watch and observe? Wax figures on a frosted cake? I could just sweep this all away like chimney ash and reduce it to nothingness, but there is something here. There’s no more reason to talk about it though, this pure and undulating thing. It requires no words. Nothing needs to be done to it or for it. Love fulfils itself. Sometimes though when I see something or hear something, I am reminded of love. I recognize that it exists, just like that red planet in the sky, or those transmitting stars or you, sitting there quietly in a corner. It exists and it emits. I would rather just let it be and breathe, sit and incubate inside of me. I know it will hurt one day, if it is taken away. But we all know that good love never really leaves you. No, never. Good love never leaves. It lingers.

phil groia stories

PHIL GROIA WAS MAYBE the best teacher I ever had. He was an expert on 1950s doowop and knew a lot of blues players, like John Lee Hooker and Taj Mahal. He taught 9th grade social studies. I remember how we watched the film Gandhi in class, which is over three hours long. A student complained and Groia shot back, ‘Why don’t we watch a three-hour film about your life? I’m sure it would be more interesting!’ A young Groia was on the way to school in 1947 when he heard on the news that Gandhi had been assassinated. The last time I saw Groia was in Port Jefferson around the year 2000. He was complaining about getting harassed by Giuliani’s NYPD, and had befriended a much, much younger woman he met on the train. “I didn’t know how old she was!” he told me. Man, you were larger than life!

He passed away in 2014.

***

Groia had a longstanding misunderstanding with another teacher, who, incidentally, also did not like me very much. One day Groia took me aside and said, “Don’t listen to him. He’s not even a conservative Republican. He’s to the right of fascist.” This was probably how I was sorted into the left wing. I could have become another fascist, easily, but Groia intervened, like a liberal guardian angel.

***

Groia also liked to talk about his childhood in the 1940s and 1950s. He was born circa 1940 himself. Back then, in the Truman era, they would get small milk containers (you know the kind, in tiny cartons, the standard containers you get in public school) with their meals. But Groia and his classmates would weaponize the milk and launch the containers over the fence at other unsuspecting classmates at recess. They made good milk bombs, he said.

***

Because of his interest in doowop, Groia was at times invited to high profile events. He was the author of, “They All Sang on the Corner: A Second Look at New York City’s Rhythm and Blues Vocal Groups” (1983). He described being basically the only white person at one event, where he was seated next to Public Enemy’s Chuck D. Supposedly, he and Chuck D got on quite well. I wish I had been there.

***

After the ridiculous excesses of the 1980s, the ’90s were a time of sobriety and/or dark drugs, nihilism, and serious dudes wearing black clothing. Dayglo, hair metal, Lacoste, and acid wash were out, black turtlenecks and The X-Files were in. Groia would wear a black turtleneck and sit at the head of the room with his coffee cup talking about Gandhi. He no doubt drank his coffee black, as he was such a serious dude. The inscription on the cup read, “No More Mr. Nice Guy.”

one-eighth canadian

I HAVE BEEN PUBLICLY SHAMED for writing about my ancestry by numerous people, but I decided to write one more post. This post is called “One-Eighth Canadian.” It so happened that years ago in New York, I was out drinking with my friend Patrick O’Connor and a couple of floozies at the bar inquired if I happened to be the prime minister of Canada. I told them no, but explained that there is a reason that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and I look alike: we both have Canadian blood.

The Canadian blood in me runs thick, sweet, and deep, like freshly tapped maple syrup. Long ago during the inter-Anglo conurbation referred to by Americans as the Revolutionary War, some of my predecessors chose the wrong side and decided to make haste for the wilds of Canada, leaving behind New York for good, or so they thought. They made their home on the shores of Lake Ontario where for several generations, I imagine, they were quite cold. They were joined there by Irish from Ulster and English from County Durham and the West Country. They had boring English-sounding names and were Methodists, I think. While not attractive, they still had plenty of sex.

Many children were made.

Then, in the later years of the 19th century, a roving moulder or foundry worker named Frank, married the daughter of a machinist in Detroit. Her name was Annabelle. They had only daughters and one son and for whatever reason relocated to the Hochelaga district in Montreal around the year 1900. Here they briefly changed the family name to “Millar” and then back to “Menagh.” As most of the documents from that time are in French, I thought they were all chefs, but it turned out that “chef” just meant “head of household” up in Québec. 

Arl was one of the daughters. She married a fellow named Sinclair but then was divorced “pour cause d’adultère” in around the year 1910. Alphonse was the son. He held various odd jobs. In 1911, he was a “colleur,” whatever that means (internet search engines translate it as both “billposter” and “examiner”). He had also recently married a sharpshooter from a Wild West show named Lucy, who was actually from New York. She had pearl-handled pistols. This detail remains.

They had two sons and relocated to New York by the year 1920, for sure. But then Lucy died in the flu epidemic. Her sister Genevieve married the Canadian, and had five more children, one of whom was my grandmother, also called Annabelle. She’s the one who married the Italian, Abbatecola, who lived in the same community in Queens. And so the Canadian blood was diluted, first by New York Irish, and then by first-generation Italians. But the maple still runs strong. There is an affinity there, an unbreakable bond, a fondness for red things with leaves embroidered on them and silly hats. As an old Québécois once told me over croissants, if a person has a drop of Canadian blood in them, just a drop, then that person is a Canadian. Who am I to argue?