Monday, June 29, 2009

The Deal Maker

He would trade or sell anything he owned. His wife would leave their house and return to find pieces of furniture, rugs, pictures or kitchen items missing and learn that someone had visited, indicated a liking for the particular and her husband had sold it.

I only knew him for three or four years and I have no idea where he is now. But I found his idiosyncrasies quite fascinating.

Prior to our meeting he had read an ad in a New York City newspaper placed by a munitions company famous the world over. They had closed their operations, sold most of their stock and were advertising that anyone with a truck and twenty four dollars could visit their New York location, load their truck with whatever they could find there and carry it away. So he, I shall call him Carl, hired a truck, persuaded a friend to join him and drove to New York City.

Upon arrival, he found that the offer was legimate and he began to walk through the debris and items scattered about. there were several levels above ground, a basement and two sub-basements. He was disappointed. Very little of value was left.

Then he came to a small locked door barring the space created by a staircase running over it. Not being a respecter of locks he managed to open the door and at last found something to justify his trip - a roll top desk. There were two small paintings hanging over the desk and these he took as well.

After loading his prizes he returned to his foraging. Nothing else took his eye until he found twelve or thirteen cases in a dark corner of the lowest sub-basement. They were about two feet wide and six feet long. They were securely packaged with iron straps and Carl had no tools with him. He had room in his truck, so he decided to take them sight unseen. He and his friends struggled with the cases up the stairs to the truck, loaded them on and drove off after paying their twenty four dollars.

Curiosity gnawed at him once he was home so he got a crowbar, hammer and flashlight and began to unseal one of the boxes late at night. He pried the lid open and found something wrapped in oil impregnated material. He worked at unwinding the wrapping and exposed a rounded piece of metal. He continued to work until the whole length was exposed. As he stared, the realization of what he had bought thundered down upon him. Carl had procured, for twenty four dollars, more than a dozen items that were the central props in many a Western movie; mint condition Gatling guns.

He was consumed by his purchase and dove into research on Gatling guns. He became an expert on the origin, use and history of them and eventually wrote and published a book on the subject.

The roll top desk was as it appeared, but one of the two pictures acquired with it proved to be an oil painting by a minor Italian master.

Carl had made a very good deal.

The only deal Carl ever regretted, as far as I know, was when he sold his bear. Carl enjoyed collecting guns and he enjoyed hunting. One of his desires was to go to Kodiak Island, Alaska and bag a brown bear. Eventually he went, encountered a brown bear, rendered the bear hors-de-combat and had it skinned. He brought the skin back whole and had it stuff a la Teddy Roosevelt in the film "The Wind and the Lion". That is to stay, erect, on its back feet and looking thoroughly threatening.

One fateful day a visitor to his home expressed a deep interest in the stuffed bear. Carl immediately shifted into selling mode, negotiated a price and sold the bear.

But the ensuing months brought a strange feeling - he missed his bear. He fervently wished that he had not sold it. It became such an obsession that he contacted the bear's new owner and announced that he wanted to buy it back. The new owner shifted into selling mode, negotiated a price and Carl redeemed his bear. He would never discuss the transaction, but one got the impression that the reversal of that transaction had left a very severe dent in Carl's will to deal.

NOTE: I remember that bear when I was a kid. He was damned impressive and nothing could induce me to walk by him in the dark. S

Friday, March 13, 2009


They march in ranks, row on row,
All the hosts of men brought low;
No escape and none aspired,
Just peace of mind - they're all retired.

Youth considers, then rejects
Such lonely thoughts in all respects
To wake one day and find, somehow,
That they've been found and are in tow.

Years of labor, swiftly flown
Joyous moments gone too soon,
Years of hopes, mostly vain,
Time to think, too much pain.

Days gone past, too few remain;
Too little sun, too much rain.
Without God how stay sane?
Hallelujah, it's all inane.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Cedar Man

He wasn't really staggering; he just wandered from one side of the dirt road to the other. The movement forward was inexorable, though a straight line would have cut the distance in half.

"Everybody get inside". It was my mother's admonishing voice that broke our intense scrutiny of the approaching apparition. I was ten, my cousins younger.

Bob Hanson lived in a tar-paper covered shack on someone else's Shawangunk Mountains acre, quietly and alone. The trail to his abode was badly rutted and just barely navigable by auto. It came to an abrupt end about three hundred yards beyond his quarters.

Bob survived by constructing bird houses, flower pot holders and sundry items from fragrant cedar wood about one inch in diameter. He left the bark on. He would essay building anything to order and once built a high chair for my younger brother.

His shack was dirt-floored. It was redolent with the odor of wood smoke and cedar. It was utterly enchanting. Its magic was enhanced by several cages hosting chipmunks and other wild creatures from the surrounding forest.

About once a month he would walk to town bearing a load of his hand-made articles. He always sold all his goods, bought food, visited the barroom and then teetered the long path home.

On more lucid occasions, he told me he often encountered "catamounts" on his way home. I had no reason to doubt him. His talks of those events held me riveted and wondering as to how a lanky, elderly, unarmed man was lucky enough to have survived such dangerous situations. But there he was, living proof that his ability to survive had been tested and that he had prevailed.

I was much taken with his caged chipmunks and whenever I had the opportunity I would question him as to how the little creatures had been captured. I wanted to trap one for myself. He told me about his method and I asked if he would make a trap for me. It took several importunings before, one day, he stopped at our gate on his way to town, called to me and presented me with a small trap and a huge disappointment.

I had envisioned some kind of mechanical device that would attract the unsuspecting beastie and then automatically close, leaving the little animal to await my pleasure. What he had constructed joined two pieces of wood about eight inches long and five inches wide forming the top and bottom, with a piece of wire mesh forming the four sides. At one end was a small opening with a little door that swung on a pivot. The door had a lead weight to keep it in the shut position when it was closed. But it was not self-actuated. One would have to attach a string to the door and hide close by, waiting for the advent of the chipmunk, then close the door on the unsuspecting target.

The prospect of spending long, perhaps fruitless, hours chipmunk-waiting was not to my taste at all. Bob Hanson had had hours to while away. A ten year old had many important things to do and could not become, himself, entrapped in an endless, perhaps, waiting game. I never used the device.

I cannot remember how many years the spare form of Bob Hanson shared my summers. I cannot remember when he stopped coming down the road. I do remember, with the greater wisdom of adulthood, that he gave up some of his chipmunk waiting time to talk patiently to a young boy and devoted some portion of his life to fulfilling that boy's wish for a chipmunk trap.

It did not matter that it was never used. I remember that he built it for me and, for the time that remains to me, his kindness is appreciated.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Infinite, A Riddle

I think he was very proud of this one. He should be.

God made the sun and said, "'Tis good";
And God spoke truth.
God made the earth and said, "'Tis good";
And God spoke truth.
God made the beast, the bird, the toad,
And gazing on't He said, "'Tis good"'
And God spoke truth.
Then God made man and said, "'Tis good"'
Can God be wrong?

The Corporate Party

This one I love for the language...and picturing my Dad standing on the side, watching.

The man with the slicked down hair,
Ottered into the nearest chair.
A sharp faced rodent-like woman
Scurried to seem collegian.
A lion maned executive
Succeeded in acting restive.
The boredom was palpably real
Conditions were less than ideal.
Inanity was the watchword,
Truth struggled in vain to be heard.

The hyenas laughed in chorus
Both timorous and dolorous.
The climbers foxed, senses alert,
Seeking quarry, seeming pert.
The cheshire smiles were vacuous,
The observations fatuous.
The wise owled into the background,
The naive into the foreground.

Danger tigered the occasion
Mendacity stalked evasion.
Careers moled into the deep dark
Having caught the eye of a shark.
Pleasantries snaked in disguise
Mendacity lobstered crabwise.
Presence had been mandatory -
Truth stayed clear - supererogatory.

The Pool

I'm very fond of this one. He captured my mom perfectly.

I stood before her and said, "Hello,"
And suddenly was startled.
She was quite pretty, no cameo,
But her eyes - I was engulfed.
Wisdom, trust, kindness, but above all
Innocence held me in thrall.

Forty five years we have shared our lives.
In wonder I have witnessed
Strangers meet her and become captives,
Then open their most cherished
Inner selves for her calm perusal.
No thought of a refusal.

The why and wherefores I cannot ken,
But the evidence is there.
I can't question what my eyes have seen
And shared with my lady fair.
Some say they know, it's called empathy.
I know what it's meant to me.

The depths of the simplicity stirs,
Calling to the primal spurs.
Pure, undemanding, understanding,
Wholly a sense of sharing.
A gift given to only a few,
Awareness of me and You.

This Is A Gift for my Dad

This is a tribute to my dad. He and I didn't always see eye to eye. In fact, it's more accurate to say we didn't get along very well most of my life. We loved each other, but we often didn't like each other.

He died of cancer in 2003 and we became good friends in the last year of his life. Perhaps we finally could both relax enough to drop all the masks and expectations that no longer served us. We had a lot in common - a lot we didn't even know we had in common. One of the things we shared was a love of writing and a love for books.

He got serious about his writing a few years before my mother died. He wrote a lot of short stories and some poems. He dreamed of publishing a book one day. He didn't expect anyone would read it, he just wanted to get it published.

He had a lot of stories to tell. He grew up in a family that was Euro-Bohemian-Victorian, if there is such a thing. They had old world ideas and manners, a strong creative and intellectual curiosity, and some notions held over from the turn of the century. He grew up in the Bronx. He spent his summers in the Hudson River valley, a place where his heart took root. He was a Romantic working in the corporate world. He was a philosopher/poet who was too self-conscious to live the life he'd have truly enjoyed. He was not an easy man, but he was a good man and he felt things deeply.

Dad had a very organized file of stories painstakingly typed with two fingers on an old word processor, copied in duplicated and carefully paper clipped and sorted with little handwritten labels. I kept it after he died.

I sat on the floor in my dining room today and reread what my dad had written. It's a throwback to an earlier style, a more formal combination of sentiment and intellect than is fashionable today. But that's who my dad was. And I realized there's one last thing I can do for him. I can publish his work.

Like my dad, I don't expect anyone to read it. That's not the purpose.

It's just something I can do for him that I think he'd really like. And that feels pretty good.

So bear with me - there's a lot of typing to be done and things may show up here slowly. But they'll eventually get here.

World, meet my dad. Dad, go ahead and say your piece.