Lee Cobb, Marlon Brando & Rod Steiger On the Waterfront
New Year’s is fast approaching and I realized that I have been remiss in addressing my imaginary readers in San Jose. Its been so long that perhaps they have given up on me and now they are whistling some other annoying tune that I didn’t put into their head, but I can fix that right now...
Rain drops keep falling on my head, But that doesn’t mean my eyes will soon be turnin’ red...
Now there’s a song that could stick with your for days, maybe months, hell, decades! And whistling it in the halls at work might annoy your coworkers just enough that they skip asking you to lunch. Its another Burt Bacharach song, this time in collaboration with Hal David. What is it about Bacharach's songs that lend themselves so well to nesting in your mind? Bacharach and David wrote the tune for the 1969 classic, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and it won the Oscar for Best Original Song that year -- so its a tune of some merit, tell your coworkers that and maybe they will put you back on the Thank-God-Its-Friday lunch list.
But I have no interest in discussing those cute cowboys Paul Newman and Robert Redford on this eve of New Year’s Eve -- they both lived in my hometown, although Redford left some time in the late seventies, as Westport was just too small to accommodate two of Hollywood’s most gorgeous leading men ever. The women in the grocery store were unable to handle it, something had to give. I wondered when Redford moved away whether he had lost the flip of a coin. Ultimately it doesn’t matter how it was decided that he was to go and Newman was to stay, because Westport won either way -- we got our blue-eyed movie star!
But seriously, good folk of San Jose, I want to talk about On the Waterfront -- a movie that takes place far from sunny California. And there are no cowboys, only longshoremen and thugs and a blonde Catholic school dropout played by Eva Marie Saint, who despite her plain face, yes plain, boils down below...its her voice that tells you this, that same deep voice and wife-like cadence to her words she uses to seduce Cary Grant in North by Northwest. The opening credits announce that the movie is Introducing Eva Marie Saint and I noticed that for the first time last night. I’ve seen the movie two or three times and it was only last night that I realized this was her first movie...geez, her first movie and she gets to make out with Marlon Brando, I mean never mind that she moves on to Cary Grant, let’s face it, starting with Brando had to just make everyone else seem like a cheat.
So everyone is all about Brando in A Street Car Named Desire...sure, Stanley is sexy, swinging around in that muscle shirt and hollering for Stella, but I think his depiction of Terry Malloy is more appealing in its understated humility. Stanley is really an arrogant ass, I don’t want to know Stanley and I sure as heck don’t want to have a beer with him. But Brando’s Terry is so vulnerable when he takes Eve out for her first beer that you almost think he’s never had a glass of beer himself. He tears your heart out when he says to her, up there on the roof, next to the pigeon coop and the polluted landscape behind them, “I bet you ain’t never had a glass of beer. Would you have a glass of beer with me?” What girl in her right mind would say no?!
There are beautiful touches that Brando brings to Terry -- when he’s walking Eve home through the park, the grayness of the city is heavy, but the whiteness of her Catholic school gloves are astonishing. They glow as though they are lit by a lamp hung just for them and Terry takes one of those gloves as they are walking and puts it on his longshoreman hand...Eve wants to leave him, wants to walk the rest of the way home alone, but dammit, he’s got her glove. He makes small talk with her, tells her how he remembers her when they were in elementary school together, he remembers her braids, and the braces on her teeth, what a little mess she was, and its on the tip of his tongue, but he never goes as far as saying she had grown into a beautiful woman, he just implies that he’s pleased with how she turned out. All this while wearing that glove...he waves it around and gesticulates and you see her reach for the glove a few times and up goes his hand, but he’s not even aware that she wants the glove back, he is enjoying walking with her, remembering her as a kid. He blushes when she admits that she remembers him, he says "Some people just got the kinda face you can't forget." Ooof and that's coming from Brando!
Finally she takes the glove off his hand and puts it back on her own hand...its a beautiful thing the way Terry uses that glove to hold her attention. The electric charge that comes when she peels that glove off of his hand is unmistakable. And the whole time I was watching this scene, I was thinking she’s half his size, but her glove fits his longshoreman hand, his boxer’s hand...Terry was a boxer before he went to work on the docks, how could he fit this virginal church glove on his meaty fists? The glove builds a picture of Terry that is essential to you understanding him and sympathizing with him...he’s a good sweet soul, not a palooka.
The pigeons -- oh the pigeons! You cannot run from the bird imagery in this movie. Eve’s brother Joey is killed in the first five minutes of the movie by Terry’s bosses -- they throw him off the roof where he kept his pigeons. “Too bad he couldn’t fly” the thugs remark and laugh when Terry expresses his regret about his part in Joey’s death. But the pigeons and the stool pigeons cross paths so many times and Terry protects his pigeons from the hawks...Terry starts out as a hawk and then becomes a pigeon himself -- you cannot help but ache for him. Everybody, including Terry’s own brother, Charley, played by a young and still comprehensible Rod Steiger, take Terry for a stupid bird. But Terry knows the birds better than anyone, he knows the birds always know how to get home and they know how to fight. Every pigeon in this movie meets a terrible end, except for Terry, he’s the only pigeon to survive.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, the Workers Unite message of the movie is all there...its gripping and relevant. The story of the longshoremen taking their docks back is edgy and powerful. But its Terry’s story really. Terry embodies the proletariat message of the movie -- “I coulda been somebody. I coulda been a contender” -- in the end he’s bloodied and staggering, and he becomes somebody.
On a final note, who else in Hollywood can wear a black turtleneck sweater like Brando? Tell me who? Okay, I hear the Jayne Mansfield jokes, save ‘em, 'cause Brando fills a sweater better than anybody!
Okay, my good people of San Jose, there it is, my New Year’s message to you all. Thank you for your loyalty, all ten of you! I promise to bring you more stories in 2010, whether any of them will make any sense I cannot say, but they will be stories just the same!
It would be their last party together - there had been too many parties, too many bad parties - there was the one that he rammed into the Sketson’s car while leaving, he hit it so hard that he punched in the black driver side door of the Mercedes and then he panicked, in his scotch-and-soda-dreamy-stupor so horrendously that he clipped that black boy that washes dishes, who was standing on the edge of the manicured polo field to have a cigarette, the boy fell, unconscious but unscathed, but Paddy didn’t know this, he was certain he had killed the boy and so he drove the half mile up the road to George and Madeleine’s house, told Evelyn to get behind the wheel and go home - that long lonely drive up the Merritt Parkway, while he hid in the loft of George’s polo pony barn. Surely the police would not look for him there - he would pass out among the hay bales and George’s Harvard memorabilia so carefully boxed and by tomorrow afternoon the police would decide that the black boy was killed by someone who wanted him dead, not by some old drunk like Paddy. Evelyn, ever the good wife drove home crying that she would never, ever do this again and then she panicked and thought she should call the Sketson’s in the morning and just offer to fix the Mercedes.
The phone rang at dawn and it was George calling to say he had found Paddy asleep in the hayloft when he was throwing down hay to his ponies and did she want him to bring Paddy home? Perhaps he should spend the day with him and Madeleine, he of course had a set of clothes for him, since Paddy often slept in the loft, and as a precaution because the police had come knocking at 4 am and they had NO idea that Paddy was in the hayloft, so they said, “of course there is no one here from the party and you can look at our car, we came home at 10:30...long before the boy was hit...how did we know the boy was hit? well the Sketsons called us at 2 am and said the boy was hit and that you people, you people in the uniforms would be over this morning to ask us questions. What are you people trying to do? turn this into some civil rights scandal? This is Connecticut after all, we have no problem with the blacks here. That boy’s brother mucks stalls for me - they are nice boys, I certainly wouldn’t run him down with my car and not on the hallowed ground of the polo field. Nobody in their right mind would do that.” But it was all settled, the boy recovered and never identified Paddy’s sedan and that was that.
So the next party came, the last party, in late December, almost Christmas, it wasn’t a green hot summer night like the night he had hit the Sketson’s Mercedes and the black kitchen boy. The Mercedes had been fixed and the boy had moved on to parking cars at the Clam House down by the Long Island Sound, where he could see the lights of Manhattan at night and he figured “better to drive those white people’s cars than be hit by them.” Well, on this late December night, the club held the annual Hunt Ball and all the men and the fair women of the Fairport Hunt Club shined themselves up - the men wore their pink coats and the women, well, they wore Dior and god-what-have-you-as-long-as-there-were-pearls-on-top and they drank and drank and sang terrible Irish hunting songs, even though almost none of them were Irish, except for George and Paddy, who both went to Harvard when Harvard didn’t approve of the Irish.
But that night, Evelyn was growing tired, after 28 years of Paddy and the “mishaps” as she called them - after the money gone to bad horses, after the hiding from the police and the careening home on the Merritt Parkway, she decided that her Protestant mother was up in heaven telling her, Evelyn, you could have done better, my dear. So she sat there, in her black-chiffon-off-the-shoulder thing with the dyed-to-match-silk-pumps and her hair-done-by-Jaques-Eves-that-afternoon and she sipped her dry champagne and seethed as she watched Paddy kiss another woman, that young blonde Peerpoint woman, the one who had the perfect “boot leg” and the britches that were hand-made for her in London, the one who apparently could ride any horse in the country side. Paddy kissed that woman on the nape of her Dior neck and he fingered her pearls and whispered to her like she were a vixen fox in her lair. “He’s gone too far this time.” Evelyn thought and she raised her empty glass to the Hungarian bartender and said, “Another!” And the night wore on as the band became tinnier and tinnier playing String of Pearls and Tuxedo Junction and Evelyn thought, if Glen Miller was actually here he would spit on this band...she wished she was in Manhattan for the evening instead of boring Fairport, but this is what a passion for fox hunting and Paddy had done to her.
So she threw back her champagne cocktail and she sucked on an olive and when midnight came with a conga-line that raged through the hall and into the kitchen and out of the kitchen and back to the bar, she descended upon Paddy like an ice storm - “its time to go home Patrick, and so home it is” she tore Paddy from the arms of Miss Peerpoint and off they teetered...past the rising crackling fireplace, handing their empty glasses to the ever-so Polynesian boy that nodded and offered to get them their coats from the cloak room. Paddy buried his face in Evelyn’s powdered cleavage and she pushed him back, “i think you’ve had enough of that this evening” and Paddy whispered with a molotov-cocktail-of-air that he would never have enough until he was dead. The Polynesian boy drifted back to them with their coats and handily dressed them for the cold December evening that they were about to emerge in.
There was a delicate snow falling, the first of the year and it lit them up, the two of them under the stars that still twinkled somehow through the squall of flurries. Evelyn pick pocketed Paddy’s keys from his camel hair coat and despite his appeals, she took charge of the sedan - “we’ll have no damages tonight Paddy - its a straight shot home.” Then Paddy leaned into the passenger seat and sat more erect than a drunken man should, he primped his cashmere muffler and lit a cigarette, “Onward then woman, Onward!” and so they made their way through the late and dark Connecticut roads, where the stone walls slept, to finally drift elegantly onto the Merritt Parkway - the only travelers, quiet as a sleigh with no bells. Evelyn drove in a liberated way but realized that Paddy was beginning to enjoy his chauffeured existence - the way he dragged on his cigarette and looked out the window, longingly at the bare trees and the now accumulating snow, was beginning to infuriate her. And his silence, his silence was even more infuriating - how could he? how could he ignore her after kissing the Peerpoint girl, in front of everyone. They were half way between Fairport and New Canaan when she could no longer hold her tongue and she exclaimed, in a voice that only her minister father could approve of, “Well, Paddy, Well, here we are!” and with that, Paddy replied, “Already?” and he opened the door of the sedan and disappeared into the snowy evening, like a dance partner that had let go.
Evelyn slammed on the brakes and skid on the wet highway. Before the sedan came to a full stop Evelyn was out the door and running back up the parkway calling for Paddy -- the snow was blanketing everything now and there was no sound except for her coat against her chiffon dress and that lovely whoosh of her silk shoes in the powder. “Paddy! Paddy! You bastard where are you!” Suddenly all the terrible adrenaline that she had felt during the hunt season when her horse did unspeakable things like run away with her past the hounds and the huntsman and nearly dump her headfirst into stone walls was nothing compared to the fear that she felt at this moment. Surely the State police would say that she had killed him in cold blood for kissing the Peerpoint girl! But then, there he was, on the near-side of the median, face down, out cold, very cold and when she plunged her hand through his coat and his silk shirt, to his warm chest, she felt his heart beating and she put her lips to his and he uttered “ Woman, get me home for another day of hunting!” She dragged him by his patent leather slippers to the sedan and like a sack, she put him piece-by-piece in to the car. They wheedled home through the snow, the headlights throwing back all sorts of sparking light. In the morning, they would agree, while waiting for the ever-so-three-minute-eggs that the time of parties was over.
The following tale of a blizzard long ago is for young Isabel who, rumor has it, is currently stranded in New York City with her double dutch jump rope team. She and her team mates were whisked by the blizzard up the East Coast highways from North Carolina to Manhattan to compete at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem on Saturday night and now she is in the thick of a great snowy adventure...
Probably one of the reasons I like to stay put these days, is that as a child I traveled alot. I spent holidays and school breaks with my mother or my father -- and it was always stressful to decide where to go. They left the decision up to me and so early on I learned how to balance my parents. I spent more time alone in airports than probably most normal kids back in the Seventies. Today, of course, kids never go anywhere alone, and most especially not the airport.
I knew LaGuardia Airport like the back of my hand. I knew how to get there using the Connecticut Limo (I was 9 for my first solo trip on the limo service), I knew how to conduct myself at the Eastern Airlines counter, check my bag, how to go through security, get to my gate, get on the plane, fasten my seatbelt, enjoy a Coca-Cola while we flew, and how to get my bags when I arrived at my destination. I enjoyed all of it -- the process was orderly to me and there was adventure in talking to strangers in the limo car and on the plane. I was a “good shipper” as they say of horses that travel well.
One trip from Raleigh to New York proved my mettle as a seasoned traveler. It was February, 1976. I was 11 and my mother put me on a plane bound for LaGuardia. I had just spent my school winter break with her in Southern Pines, NC -- a week of riding race horses in the sunny pine woods. The weather was clear and beautiful and warm when my plane took off in North Carolina. But things began to deteriorate by the time we got close to New Jersey -- a snow storm was causing chaos at all the major airports. Our plane began to circle and the pilot announced that we could not land at LaGuardia, so we were either going to Montreal or to Newark. I stared out the window into the darkness...the land and little lights below us obscured by the snow clouds. All I could see was the beating red light at the end of the wing.
For some reason I knew Montreal was in Canada, but I had no idea where Newark was. So I asked the stewardess -- she told me Newark was in New Jersey. Okay, I told myself, my dad lives in New Jersey, that’s not far from home. I asked her if they had a Connecticut Limo in Newark? She replied very confidently that they did. Then she told me that I could spend the night with her if we went to Montreal. That was cool with me, she would be my knowledgeable companion in Canada. She said I could fly back with her to New York after the snow storm was clear. That was a plan I could deal with. Well, we didn’t go to Montreal, we landed in Newark.
I followed all the passengers to the baggage claim and the place was mobbed with people whose flights had been redirected. I felt tiny as I was bumped about by the tired and cantankerous crowd. I waited patiently for my bag. It was dark outside and it was snowing hard. I turned to see the taxi and limo service desks -- I didn’t see a Connecticut Limo desk. So I asked one of the taxi guys, “Where is Connecticut Limo?” The guy smiled at me and said “No Connecticut Limo here” but, but the stewardess told me...”sorry kid, I told ya there ain't no Connecticut limo here.”
Well, now I felt completely lost. How could she have been so wrong? Stewardesses were supposed to know everything! I just started to cry and then I remember this woman pointing at me. She was a tiny Asian woman in a short short skirt and an astonishing rabbit fur jacket. I was sure she was a hooker...my father had pointed them out to me once in Times Square. I didn't really know what the true nature of a hooker was, just some sketchy idea of their profession, but I did know how they dressed and she was definitely dressed like a hooker.
She laughed at me “Look at the little girl, she’s crying!” Her fat man companion just stared at me while chewing on a cigar stub. This just made me mad. The stewardess had lied to me and now a hooker was laughing at me. I dragged my suit case through the throngs of adults who seemed completely unaware of me. They were all trying to get home too and my predicament meant nothing to them.
My anger turned to determination -- I pulled myself together and decided to find out how I could get to LaGuardia, because I knew there was a Connecticut Limo there and as far as I knew, that was the only way I could get home to Connecticut. You would think I would have tried to call home -- that it would have occurred to me to go to a pay phone and call my worried grandparents, but I didn’t, I was a kid on a mission.
I looked out the big wide windows and saw lines and lines of busses. Their roar and squealing in the cold snowy night gave me hope. I could smell the bus exhaust mixed with the cold. I went to a desk and asked if there was some way to get to LaGuardia? The guy didn’t hesitate, he pointed to a bus loading up passengers outside...”yeah, that one's going to LaGuardia.” I was thrilled!
I ran out into the snowy night with my bag and got on the bus. By now it was probably 10 pm and little did I know that my grandparents and my mother were in contact with the New York and Connecticut State police.
I rode the bus through the snow storm with all these other displaced travelers and I might have even fallen asleep. I remember the snow lighting up the night. The lamps along the highway glowed in dirty orange. The turnpike might as well have been the frozen tundra. When we arrived at LaGuardia I felt like a sailor who had found her way around Cape Horn. I asked the bus driver to let me off at the Eastern Airlines terminal. I got off and dragged my big bag to the Connecticut Limo desk -- finally, a familiar beacon in my long night! The man behind the limo desk was the friendliest face I had seen all night. They had a car leaving almost right away. I got in with a few weary people -- a family returning a sunny trip to Florida and world worn business men, the kind who you saw all the time in Connecticut...standing on the train platforms in the morning with their brief cases and coffee...they all looked the same to me.
Suddenly the snow stopped falling and we were on I-95 making all the usual stops that the Connecticut Limo made -- pulling into hotels in Greenwich, Stamford, Darien, Norwalk and finally my destination -- The New Englander Hotel in Westport. I got out, payed the driver, went into the hotel lobby, dropped my dime in the pay phone, and dialed. Pop answered, quickly and out of breath, “Hi Pop, I’m home, can you come pick me up now?” It was 3 am and I had made it home.
Safe trip home Isabel! I look forward to hearing your story!
There are Loquat trees all over Bermuda and at a certain time of year they are laden with their fig sized fruit which is the color of an unripe mango. A loquat’s outer skin is not unlike peach skin, it is velvety and the slightly dry meat is spare and it surrounds a pit that seems too large for itself. During this Time of the Loquat, it is common to find groups of school children standing on the side of the various narrow Bermuda roads -- their navy smock-like uniforms slightly askew, their white knee socks making them appear like little birds - picking and eating the sun-colored fruits. School bags filled with homework assignments are piled and forgotten on the ground as the children stand on tip-toes to reach the fruit. They cock their bright heads and eat loquat after loquat until you imagine they are full and slightly sick and maybe even high on the sugar of the strong little fruit. Seeing them hoard about the sweet fruit trees reminded me of sucking on honeysuckle stems with my friends in the early summer days in Connecticut. And then the Time of the Loquat is over, probably just when everybody on the island has had their fill of the free sunny gift.
Casa Verde was the name of our house in Bermuda. Almost every house in Bermuda had a name -- the names could be nautical, botanical, something that evoked where the house was located on the island, whimsical names that said something of the owner’s personality or where they came from...names like Cat’s Pool, Hibiscus Hill, The Long Bird, Frangipani Cottage, Sea Breeze, Shady Palmetto, Kiscadee Cabana, Humdinger, Turtle Nest, Peppercorn Farm, Manchester Manor, Palm Grove, Hurricane Garden, Little Field, Salty Air, Lobster Lair. In our case, the house was mint green, and our Portuguese landlord simply called the house what it was: Casa Verde.
Py found the house with the help of an agent who worked for Gold Finger -- it was the perfect spot for us. Casa Verde was one of a handful of houses on Lolly’s Well Road, one of the last rural neighborhoods on the island. The road wound up from Harrington Sound and was adjacent to the highest point on the island, Watch Hill. There were little farm fields all along the road - one-acre patches that rotated with crops such as broccoli, small red potatoes, carrots, onions, and fennel. Bermuda carrots are the sweetest, fattest, shortest carrots you have ever had -- everyone raves about the Bermuda Onion, which resembles a leek, though much lovelier than any leek I ever knew. But it was the Bermuda Carrots that I would come to miss when we moved back to the States. The fields were maintained by a Portuguese man who visited occasionally to plant and harvest.
The first time I saw my neighbors Malcolm and Riddles they were walking along the edge of the broccoli patch in front of my house. Malcolm was repeatedly throwing a tennis ball for Riddles and as she repeatedly chased it up the road, he made his way into the patch and proceeded to take two bunches of broccoli. Then he and his fine fast lurcher disappeared up the narrow road, he with his green spoils and she with her well-worn tennis ball. I thought it quite brash to Night Farm in the mid-afternoon. I had only lived on the island for a couple of weeks, but I already knew that Night Farming , the stealing of produce and flowers from fields, was common and considered a punishable offense.
Lolly’s Well Road was bucolic with its few houses and its throng of Bermuda cedars, who’s needles spoke with the sea wind and were akin to horse tail. The road may have started way down the hill at ever-rushing Harrington Sound Road, but it ended approximately a mile away, on the other side of the hill with a small dairy farm, which was home to a modest gathering of holsteins, and finally came to intersect with South Shore Road. Lolly’s Well was home to a great population of feral chickens and they would leave their eggs in the same places every day...on top of limestone garden walls and tucked under frangipani and palmettos. But Lolly’s Well was defined by a feature greater than its rare rural nature and its high elevation. The Quarry. The Quarry was a grand hole in the ground that had been exhausted of its limestone for years, yet it was still a center of hyper mechanical activity five days a week. The Quarry teemed with work. Trucks coming and going all day. There was a working garage down in hole that repaired anything from dump trucks to motorbikes to mini cars. The Quarry even had a small training track for trotting ponies tucked into one corner of it. The ponies and their driver would briskly trot up the hill from a stable down on the South Shore and they would blast around the sandy track to prep for Saturday races.
Casa Verde had the mixed fortune of being built directly across the road from The Quarry -- and so day after day, from sun-up to sun-down, we were bombarded by the constant roar of The Rock Crusher. It was down there, like Godzilla, turning truckloads of demolition materials into fine dust. You see old houses and buildings never actually died in Bermuda, they would be recycled. Limestone was a precious commodity and it would return to The Quarry, where it had originally been mined, to begin over again, and take on a new life.
When Py first went to visit the house, he stood in the lovely green front lawn that looked over the little farm field and then stretched out to the road where the cedars created a thin veil that barely concealed the soaring pinkish white walls on the far side of The Quarry. As he stood there with Kim, the sharply dressed real estate girl with the long tan legs and the annoying habit of calling him Bruce, even though his name was not Bruce, and she would apologize and then after a while, he stopped correcting her, and he just became Bruce to her, he heard the deafening teeth rattling Rock Crusher doing its daily bid. “Does it go on like that all day?” he asked her.
“Yes, Bruce, yes it does. And that’s why this house, which would normally go for $10,000 a month because of its quality and size is only going for $5,000 a month. A real bargain!” Her earrings sparkled in the high Bermuda sun and she probably tapped her pointy high-heeled toe while she waited for Bruce to decide.
As Py tried to reconcile this bargain in his head, he looked out to the West, which offered up an astonishing view of the North Shore. The sun would set there every night he thought. And a sail boat drifted like a toy in the distance. Later, we would see Cruise Ships lumber by, so ridiculously big that their being afloat seemed like some trick of the light. The daily ferries would scoot by every day such that you could set your watch by them. It was this view, and the seeming loneliness of the road, combined with the willingness of the landlord to let us bring our 95 pound hound dog and two weird old cats along that sealed the deal.
In the fifth grade, on summer afternoons
Anita and I used to jump on Harry Reasoner’s trampoline
we would stomp through the woods behind Anita’s house
and emerge in Mr. Reasoner’s back yard
The house was white and rambling
We would pad in bare feet across his paved driveway
and up to the kitchen screen door where we would peer in to find
Reasoners’ housekeeper cooking – she knew what we wanted
She would come to the door in her neat white uniform
nodding her head
and we would ask if we could use the trampoline,
"yes yes, go go" she would smile impatiently
The trampoline was in the front yard surrounded by thick hedges
and shaded by huge old maple trees
When we jumped on it, we could see over the Reasoners’ stone wall
across the road to the stretching green polo field at the Hunt Club
If we turned to our left and jumped we could see over the hedge
and observe Mr. Reasoner’s driveway entrance
If we turned to our right and jumped we could see the neighbor’s pool
So we would scramble on to the trampoline
find our spots and begin
There was a rhythm that we would have to find
so we would start to jump
slowly and low, being careful not to catapult each other by landing
slightly before or after which always created a jolt through our legs
Then the rhythm would arrive and we would go higher and higher
into the green of the maple leaves and we would begin to turn
in the air – the polo field would appear and we would see someone
riding a white pony across it
Anita would jump high and tuck her long body together
so that she cannon-balled into the trampoline and
pop up again to land on her feet – not missing a beat
I would roll and spin and spy the neighbor’s pool
flashing blue and cool with nothing but a beach ball
floating on its surface – the water abandoned for the afternoon
We would raise our arms and laugh
and talk about everything
as we rose and fell and tried new contortions
to find new ways that we would hit and then be bounced
And then Mr. Reasoner’s limo would turn into the drive
Black and long and empty
except for a driver who did this drive everyday
As we jumped we would spin
back toward the house to spot Mr. Reasoner
exiting the house with his white hair and his thin body,
sometimes carrying a brief case
He would slide into the limo and it would drive just a little too fast
round the driveway circle and
back up towards us and the stone gate to the road
We could see Mr. Reasoner in the back with his reading lamp on
and we would wave to him
Sometimes he would see us,
sometimes his head was bent
already reading his notes for the evening news
I wondered if he was talking in his "news" voice to the limo driver,
trying out the news of the day to see how it sounded
Or did he keep it
all inside until he was infront of the cameras and America?
The sun would begin to sink lower and cast long shadows
out across the polo field
and Anita and I would be so tired from laughing
and bumping up and down that we would finally quit
We would head home to the smells of dinner cooking and the sound
of Mr. Reasoner on the television.
its raining and its cold and i know what’s coming the leaves are finally terminal they are billowing taking their last breath in gold the soybean fields are filled with crackling skeletons and the roadside is pungent with something akin to wine i saw the cows facing north today their heads up, watching and watching not grazing the rain rolling down their shoulders they know what’s coming i made the long walk to catch my horse in the field tonight his copper sides stained dark from the rain he shivered as i put on his halter back in the dark barn i boiled water poured it over bran and oats and sticky black strap molasses and mixed it with my hands i filled my horse’s bucket and the steam rose up around his eyes as he dove in i leaned on his belly and licked the molasses off my fingers as i listened to him eat i asked him if he knew what was coming? but he was too busy and too cold to answer nothing warmer than a horse eating dinner nothing... an owl spent last night just outside my kitchen window he flew in at cocktail hour he seemed to be suffering from a broken heart cause he played the same tune all night like his woman had done him wrong he knows what’s coming winter’s coming, man, winter’s coming...
I wrote this eleven years ago...not sure how to feel about it now....thoughts on Bermuda black youth...hmmmm
February 9, 1998
While walking my dog on a rural road in Smith’s a few days ago, I encountered the same group of feral chickens that frequent that road and noticed a hen of a totally different color. She was the usual burnished browns and reds that many of Bermuda’s feral hens display, but tucked neatly beneath her left wing was a collection of white feathers in the distinct pattern of what could only be described as a NIKE “swoosh”. I stopped. I looked again. There she was carrying the status symbol that has made millions and she carried on with no “attitude” and the other chickens treated her basically as one of the girls.
On my way home, I thought about the chicken and the wonder of genetics that caused her to have this birthmark. When I arrived home, I told my husband about her and said that next time I went down the road I might take a picture of “Nike Chicken”. But, my husband said “No! We’ve got to get the chicken. We’ve got to put her in a box and bring her home, because nobody will believe a photograph. They’ll think its fake.” And so we carried on for a time, joking about keeping “Nike Chicken” in the garage and then it occurred to me that she’d probably die from fright or loneliness if we removed her from her friends.
So, I came upon “Nike Chicken” again today. She was scratching away with the rest of the girls and under the watchful eye of two or three strong and well-plumed roosters. This past weekend we read in the Bermuda paper of the “inner city” attitude that apparently the youth of Bermuda are adopting from their American neighbors. They are taking lessons from television and movies and rap/gangsta music. They are spending their weighty allowances on baggy clothes and above all they have learned to worship the NIKE swoosh. Its everywhere; in their clothes and in their hair. Last Sunday, while waiting in line for tickets to “Titanic” my husband and I watched a handsome black Bermudian walking up the street with his little girl on one hand and his little boy on the other. This man and his children were dressed up for church and they were not a picture you see often in the fabled inner city of America. And then we noticed it, at almost the same time, my husband looked at me and I looked at him. The little boy, no older than 6 or 7, had a clean shaven head, except for a raised relief of hair that formed a NIKE swoosh over his left ear. Like a crucifix, like a tattoo in honor of “MOTHER”, like a scar, this NIKE swoosh was there to remind us what was important to the boy…what he believed in.
The trouble with the idea and the reality of Bermudian youth, especially, young black boys, imitating the inner city attitude of their American counterparts is that it lacks imagination and reason. The youth of Bermuda have never lived in the vast frontier of the American inner city. They may know the feel of drugs and of street fights. But they do not know the monster that inner city kids are trying to escape through drugs and gangs. Bermudian youth are surrounded by beauty: palm trees, hibiscus blooming in February, turquoise waters, and that sky, oh that beautiful endless sky. The elders of Bermuda are beginning to cry in unison that Bermuda’s children have nothing to look forward to and therefore they are sinking into despair and hopelessness. I'm not so sure.
With all this beauty around them, these children can only be destined to self-destruction, because they are so utterly spoiled and no one has taught them how to behave. Sure these children have problems, the problems of rich kids and not-so-rich kids. We all grew up with alcoholic, divorced, or troubled households. I, too, grew up in a terribly spoiled community where the kids behaved badly, because they could afford to. Real inner city kids are faced with the daily bombardment of the concrete jungle complete with garbage, decay, constant fear of being shot to death, 24-hour a day sirens reminding you that everyone around you is either going to jail or to the hospital, and many, many people sleeping in the streets strung out on one thing or another. Bermuda is not the hell of the inner city. Bermuda is blind to her affluence in relation to the rest of the world.And the adults of this island should not encourage their children to imitate the results of the awful desperation brought on by true down and out civilizations.
So, tomorrow I will walk down the road and visit “NIKE Chicken”. I will look upon her as though she is an apparition crying crocodile tears for the youth of Bermuda.
I want to thank Michael Crane of the British Isles Backgammon Association for running my story Backgammon in the Bahamas (posted here in September) in the association's November/December 2009 issue of their bi-monthly journal Bibafax. I am truly humbled by the publication of the story.
The following is a story from my mother that accompanies the above sketch -- this is a small excerpt from the memoir I am completing about my mother, who was a race horse trainer. Before she became one of the first women to be licensed as an NYRA trainer in 1975, my mother galloped scores of horses for Hall of Fame trainers such as Allen Jerkins and Elliot Burch.
Sun & Snow was a small 2 year old gray filly that belonged to C.V. Whitney. She was a very good filly, although over-matched when she ran against Ruffian. Once morning I was breezing her at Belmont. We were approaching the 3/8 pole all out when a flock of pigeons flew up towards us. I was frightened, expecting her to spook and perhaps hurt herself. She never blinked an eye slamming into the birds, killing several of them in her wake.