Away for a while, be back soon. Go outside.
The backside of our air conditioner is tattered and torn. The side that’s exposed on the outside of the window; it’s become a mess of twisted aluminum. Some people hone their graffiti skills on the backsides of air conditioners located closer to ground level. The soft metal bent and kneaded to spell out words like ‘cock’ and ‘ass.’ But ours, a good eight-feet above ground level, fell victim to lazy but resourceful upstairs neighbors. Upon moving out, the neighbors in question decided that the stairs were too tedious. One trip to the hardware store later, rope now being affixed to any items that would fit out the window, our neighbors lowered everything they owned down to the street level, bumping the various window sills and air conditioners in their path. Ours included.
The bedroom ceiling is collapsing. One day, a few months ago, I noticed a leak. A leak that wouldn’t stop, wishing to trade in subtle for more intense as a description. The pots went out. First one, then two, followed by a bucket. One call to the landlord later followed by two nights of leaking and emptying, the upstairs owner decided that enough was enough. He sent his mother to fix the leak. She did something upstairs and the leak stopped. And on her way out of the building, she knocked on the door. “They forgot to turn the thing on the thing,” she said, leaving me puzzled. I closed the door and returned to the bedroom. With a long broom handle, I reached out and pressed on the soft to the touch, water-soaked ceiling.
No one ever has keys. To get into the building requires but one key divided between two doors. At night, the outside door is locked from the inside. Without that key, a person cannot even enter the building to buzz someone’s apartment. During the winter, two men started screaming at me to open the outside door. One in a beret with a goatee. I refused and walked away and never saw them in the building again. I don’t think they lived here and I don’t think they wanted my key to the laundry room, which no one ever has either. Except us. And according to our lease, we’re not allowed to loan it out. Instead, people stick magazines in the laundry room door, keeping it from ever being locked. Ignoring the wall-mounted bi-lingual sign to lock the door on the way out.
The buzzer for C-1 also buzzes us in A-5. Always in the morning, always by someone looking for an apartment to rent. It used to bother me. But now I have fun with it. With each time the buzzer for C-1 rings, I speak into the intercom with my best little kid voice. “Mom, is that you?” I say. And wait to listen for the Spanish response from the would-be renter in the building’s hallways. Most of the time, they give up and walk away. It’s for the best. We honestly don’t need any new people hoisting furniture up through windows, causing bedroom ceiling leaks or harassing us for keys or entry into the building anymore.
We’re moving. Just not soon enough.
My back got sunburnt on Tuesday. Not so much towards the bottom, but across both shoulder blades and atop my shoulders. The upper part, I think it’s called the thoracic region. It’s my own fault. I went to the beach without sun block.
Larry David once said that Jews bought 85% of the sun block in the world, but he failed to include the Irish in that assumption. Or those of Irish descent for that matter. We’re fair-skinned. Now no medical literature will tell you to stay inside during a sunny day if you’re of Irish descent, but they will tell you that people at most risk of harmful UV rays and sun burn are “people with fair skin, red or blonde hair, blue or green eyes and freckles.” Let’s see. Fair skin, check. Blue eyes, check. Freckles, check. I score three out of four, so most of the time, I take caution and wear sun block. In fact, it’s something I’ve been really great at since the phrase “Celtically challenged” entered the vernacular courtesy of Ted Leo circa 2004, whom was also at the beach when he initially coined the term.
To be honest, we weren’t at the beach very long, and for the most part, I was in the water and not trying to readily get a tan. But it still happened. Tuesday night, I could feel the heat of my blood rushing to my sunburnt skin to work its healing magic, and by Wednesday, my back was sore. No problem I thought; it was bearable. I figured it would be fine without any special attention, and so I went about my days.
By Thursday, the temperatures (and the humidity) were climbing. At around 6 pm, I went riding my bike. My back was sore to the touch, but wasn’t exactly keeping me from being myself. Then something bad happened. On account of the humidity, I started perspiring more than usual. And as soon as the minerals, lactate and urea from the sweat hit the affected sunburnt area, my back went up in flames. Literal fire. To make matters worse, this wasn’t a gradual building fire. It started suddenly and painfully, forcing me to dump cold water into an extra t-shirt and drape it over my back, carefully rubbing it back and forth. But as soon as I stopped this exercise, the biting, stinging fire returned.
Panic mode took over. I had two options. Get the fuck home and jump in the shower, which sounds pretty easy, but I was far from home, at the bottom of a very big hill and in no shape to perspire even more from riding up the hill. The second option, well, I didn’t even consider it an option on account of the fire emanating from my back, was to run into a nearby supermarket and hope for an entire aisle of products dedicated to sunburn relief. I didn’t really weigh my options; I just went with number two. My only problem, of course, was that I forgot to bring my lock with me. So instead, I rolled my bike right in with me, found the first aid aisle, zeroed in on the Solarcaine First Aid Medicated Spray and Cool Aloe Burn Relief, grabbed both, ran to the self check out, dropped $12 and got the hell out of there. As soon as I exited the store, I grabbed the spray and aimed it over both of my shoulders, firing it in a downwards motion. And instantly, the fire was extinguished. It was the fastest I’ve ever been in and out of a supermarket. Probably the fastest anyone in the history of the world has ever been through a self check out aisle, which by and large treats each customer as if they’re at a second grade reading level.
There’s a select group of never-agains in my life; Jägermeister, American Idol, church and Air France, now joined by sunburn. I never want to deal with the fire of damaged nerves that erupted on my shoulders yesterday. And because of that, I’m turning the SPF up a few notches on my next sun block purchase…
On a side note, I don’t have any photos of my sunburnt back, but I do have the following gem. It’s post-cupping massage. Massage cupping is a modified version of “cupping therapy,” which has been used extensively in Chinese medicine for several thousand years. By creating suction and negative pressure, massage cupping is used to drain excess fluids and toxins; stimulate the peripheral nervous system; bring blood flow to stagnant muscles and skin; and loosen adhesions, connective tissue and stubborn knots in soft tissue. It also bruises like nothing else…
When I was 13 years-old, my mother and father separated. My father moved from our home in Matawan, NJ back to Staten Island, NY, leaving my mother, my two brothers and myself to live in our childhood home. As with most separations, my parents did their very best to retain normalcy within the family structure, despite the fact that the core of what myself and my brothers had grown up within was now gone. We still did the things that normal families did, only it was with one or the other parent.
Throughout most of the ’80s, the family summer tradition was to head south to Wildwood Crest, NJ for one week a year. We shared a group space within a motel, drank tons of no-frills soda, sunned at the beach by day and generally made the best effort we could to exist as a family and have fun. I like to think we did a pretty damn good job too. Even if funds were tight, my parents could throw us in the motel pool and leave three cans of RC Cola by the pool side. And this formula worked for our family unit of five. But by 1989, the unit had dwindled to three, leaving my mother, my brother and myself to take what would amount to our last vacation as a family unit in Wildwood, NJ.
My older brother, aged 20 at the time, was in no way going to be apart of a family vacation to the beach. This should be a given. He was growing up, worried about being perceived as cool and not about to jump into a 1986 Chrysler station wagon with his mom and two brothers. My father, as stated previously, wouldn’t be coming along as a by-product of the separation.
For all five of us, things were changing right before our eyes. At the time, I was 15. My older brother was 20 and my younger brother 13. We were not alike at all, but the combination of our ages; entering into, existing within and growing out of the teen-age years brought with it a certain degree of apathy and rebellion. Collectively, we all tried to not let the separation affect us. It wasn’t cool to care, an edict of teen-age suburbia that I’m sure only made the separation tougher on both of our parents.
And in the summer of 1989, my mother did what she could to hold onto the traditions of our former unit, booking a motel in Wildwood and driving the two-hour drive south. I don’t know if it was the same for other people whose parents separated, but something strange happened on the way to the divorce. Now, this might seem really petty, but you need to keep in mind that myself and my brothers are, at the time, hovering in and around the prime age when you start to realize that you need to define yourself through outward appearance, which will also undoubtedly be judged and misjudged by your friends and acquaintances. How does this tie into parental separation and divorce? Simple. Our parents became a lot more attentive to our needs as penniless consumers that wanted to look cool amongst our friends. They bought us cool shit. I know, it’s terribly petty. But there were some side benefits in retrospect. My parents became quite insightful into our evolving tastes as growing boys. They both separately knew: 1) where to buy Vision Street Wear and Life’s a Beach clothing, 2) why Vans and Reebok were better than Pro-Keds, and 3) where to find Led Zeppelin, They Might Be Giants, and Fugazi in the local record store. Not only were our parents becoming more cool and attentive; we were individually communicating better. I’ll break that down as another by-product of the divorce.
But I digress. My mother, my brother and my on a week-long vacation in Wildwood. I remember the feeling vividly. It just wasn’t the same. Not because my father and older brother weren’t there, but because we were all changing. All five of us had become more independent outside of the family unit we had created years earlier in Wildwood. And returning to the same motel and swimming in the same pool was not going to recreate what we once were. But not for the lack of trying. We took in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, played miniature golf and paraded around the boardwalk at night. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t the same. I only wanted to return home, not wishing to confront the memory of our family’s past, not wishing to confront the fact that our family was moving apart at a rate I couldn’t comprehend. I only wanted nothing to do with the changes.
What turned into the most difficult family vacation we had taken was also the last. And as the definition of our family unit changed, the traditions needed to follow. But we never made it that far. Outside of holidays, our family traditions died a slow death somewhere along the Garden State Parkway North in the late summer of 1989.
We’ve since moved apart even further, but I like to think that, for a few years in the mid ’80s at least, our family unit of five owned Wildwood Crest for one week each summer.
BMX filmer with patience. I’ve got some stuff that needs filming in the North Bergen/Weehawken/Hoboken area of NJ and absolutely no one to film with. I’d really like to get this stuff on tape so I can forget about it and move onto newer things. So if you’re bored and patient this week, get in touch!
Apologies for the lack of posts, I’ve been outside and trying to stay away from the computer past what’s already required of me. But something occurred to me today on the way home from riding: there are a fuck load of fires in this town. Not only do I see and hear the droning alarms of the fire company hourly, I’m now reaping the benefits of a fire truck’s ability to get people the hell out of the way.
Normally, the ride home from my flatland spot is through a quagmire of cars, shuttles, buses, bootleg shops on Bergenline Ave and people aimlessly wandering the street in search of purpose. But three times this week, I got lucky. Well, not lucky, but the ride home was a lot smoother.
The reason being, fire trucks and emergency vehicles were clearing the path, almost all the way back to my apartment building. Kinda like in Die Hard 3, when John McClain needs to get from point A to point B in NYC in a really short amount of time. It normally wouldn’t happen in a car, so he calls in “Officer Down” nearby a certain location where he needs to get to, then follows in pursuit behind the ambulance when it leaves the hospital. It’s sorta how my rides home have been lately. I’ll be getting close to the fire house, hear the roar of the alarms and pedal my ass off behind the fire trucks, avoiding red lights and traffic of both the vehicular and people variety.
Tonight’s victim was the Fiesta Buffet. It’s a few blocks away from me and directly on the way home. I didn’t see any fire. And people were still eating inside the restaurant. But three fire trucks had the street blocked off at Fiesta’s very busy intersection, which I gracefully glided through on the way home. It probably saved me a good three minutes of frustration. And it probably cost this town a little over $5,000 in tax payer’s money.
But I don’t actually think there’s a lot of fires in this town. On the contrary, I think everyone in this town is trigger happy for 9-1-1, and that’s not good for anyone, including the fire companies and the tax payers. In fact, the one and only time I actually witnessed a fire in this town (a car fire a few blocks away), the fire department actually didn’t respond in too much of a timely manner. I can just imagine the fire department sitting around the station and waiting for calls, thinking, “Oh great, probably another air conditioner that’s not properly seated in a window. Take your time suiting up boys…” The car was burnt to a crisp.
I won’t complain about the smooth rides home at night though. There is too much traffic of every type in this town, and the chance to get from point A to point B without being cut off by a lowered 1983 Toyota Celica blasting salsa music is much appreciated. So thanks 9-1-1ers, your trigger happiness is appreciated in a roundabout sort of way…
1. The taxi stand next door. They not only noise pollute; they horrendously pollute the air with cars that haven’t passed state inspection, can barely make it down the road and often come back to the garage via tow truck. If you’re in the market for a new apartment, I can tell you that I’ve learned the hard way to never live next to a taxi stand, an auto mechanic or the bane of 7:00 AM known as the air impact wrench.
2. People not wanting to use the door bell in our building, instead insisting on standing on the sidewalk out front and yelling upwards at the person they’re trying to reach. “Rosa!!!! Ignacio!!!!” (Yes, there’s a person named Ignacio that lives in our building, or who was at least here for a while…)
3. Ice-cream trucks. Randomly throughout the day, I’ll catch myself whistling the tune of the ice cream truck and kick myself for falling victim to his soothing shrill.
4. This one senior citizen bus that always comes down our street between 3:15 and 4:15 in the afternoon, laying on the horn for anything that might cross its path. (On a sidenote, I’ve noticed a paradox regarding the car horn. When it’s me beeping the horn, I think it’s awesome. But when it’s directed at myself or something else within earshot of me, I hate the damn thing.)
5. Fire engines. I swear this town has more 911 calls per capita than anywhere else in the world. Though I will say this. Everyone double parks in this town. Everyone. And coincidentally, the one and only time I actually witnessed the fire department extinguish an actual fire was because some dumbass had double-parked his mini-van, left it running, and come back only to find his family running out of said mini-van on fire. Unfortunately, they left the scene in a taxi from number 1 in my list…
I saw a wee bit of grafitti today which read “Life Rules!” And below the tag was ample room for me to actually create some rules, including “#1: You Must Breathe. #2: You Must Drink Water.”
But alas, I didn’t have a marker on me.