Just look at this ridiculous distortion. [Side note: I love the background.]

mirrorOver the weekend we were strolling the boardwalk in Seaside Heights. Inside an arcade, I came across a wall of funhouse mirrors. Each one presented a comic, distorted me. I studied each reflection carefully and realized that this is exactly how I present myself to the world. A series of preposterous exaggerations.

The people I work with have no idea who I really am and they never will. I won’t allow it. My daughters certainly haven’t a clue. How could they? They lack perspective. I don’t put my true self out here in blogland. Who does!? Don’t all posts contain a modicum of half-truths and boasts? I moved away from home decades ago so my siblings can’t know who I am anymore. My wife knows me better than anyone but there are still hidden crevices that remain unexplored.

Can we ever know our true selves? The voice in our head only tells us what we want to hear. Perhaps we’re all just a composite of these others selves. Maybe there’s no real true center. Just a series of funhouse mirror reflections.

When I was a kid, we never had a nice car. My dad bought a series of junkers that were ‘great deals.’ They were broken-down wrecks on their last legs. Rolling scrap metal. Time bombs. One car had a rusted-out hole in the floor. You could see the road speeding by underneath. We used to fight over who got to sit over the hole and watch the road. We finally had to get rid of it because we were on a freeway and the carpet caught on fire. The car filled with smoke.

Another time, my mom was driving the four of us kids to grandma’s house. While speeding down Fulton Street, the front axle snapped in half. We saw a tire rolling down the road and thought it was the funniest thing until we realized it came off of our car. We could have been killed.

Over the weekend we bought a brand new car. It’s a mid-sized SUV with only 96 miles on the odometer. A big, suburban snooze-mobile. 12-year old daughter expressed mild disappointment that we didn’t get the limited edition with second row captain’s chairs and leather trim interior. Can you imagine?!

Bullet Holes in the Cross

We made our semi-annual pilgrimage to my hometown of Cleveland and took a ride into the old Tremont section on the near west side where my parents grew up. 75 years ago the neighborhood was populated by poor, but proud, Italians, Polish, Germans and Slovaks. Robust, hearty European-types. Men and women with good, strong backs.

I drove down Buhrer Avenue past my mother’s childhood home. It’s amazing what the mind locks away for another day. I had completely forgotten that my father grew up across the street from her. That’s how far removed my dad is from my consciousness.

Buhrer Avenue is what I picture when I read To Kill a Mockingbird. There are plenty of houses with that Boo Radley vibe. I slowly drove past Grandma Meyo’s old, tiny, doll house and was suddenly hit with a wave of remembrance. Across the street, just a few houses away, was Grandma Polack’s house where dad, Aunt Reggie, and Uncle Marty grew up.

As children, we visited the grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins regularly. The streets were paved with red brick. There was a fruit peddler named Tony Ameto who would walk his fruit and vegetable-laden wooden cart through the neighborhood. One time, my cousin Kenny saw him urinating behind a garage. Thereafter, we would hide in the bushes and torment him with a ditty Kenny made-up to the tune of The Mexican Hat Dance:

My name is Tony Ameto
I live in a bowl of spaghett-o
My name is Tony Ameto
I pee behind garages!

And then we’d run. At the end of the block on the corner of Scranton and Buhrer Avenues was the Scranton Road Tavern. Grandpa Meyo had a drinking problem. Each evening, he’d walk the half block with his dog, Brownie, and take a seat at the bar. After a night of too much drink, Brownie would guide him home. As a reward, Grandpa would give him an Eskimo Pie. Brownie died overweight and of diabetes. An Eskimo Pie a day will do that. My mom said that after we were born, Grandpa stopped drinking. I never once saw him with a drink in his hand.

A few blocks down Scranton Road is St. Michael the Archangel; a 140 year-old Catholic citadel. That’s not old by European standards but there’s a lot of family history in that building. It’s where my mother and father went to elementary school and, much later, were married. My sister and brother-in-law were married there as well. See those two crosses on top of the spires?

st. michaelThey’re copper-covered wooden crosses. Each is 9 x 6 feet. They’re a beautiful shade of aged-green. That’s an old photo above. They’re not up there anymore. You can see one just inside the entrance of the church.

cross1They’re riddled with bullet holes. The neighborhood, no longer European, is now Latino and these new residents saw fit to use them as target practice.

cross2There are over 20 bullet holes in them. Rain water got inside and rotted the wood. They were structurally unsound and had to be taken down.

cross3The church is locked during the day because the neighborhood is crime-ridden. The only reason we got inside is because we lucked upon the caretaker and he unlocked the door for us. [My sister insists that mom put him there because we needed him.]

The old Europeans never would have shot holes in that cross. To what do we attribute this change of attitude? Is it a symptom of societal and family derogation? I think we can rule out economics because the neighborhood has ALWAYS been poor. Dare we suggest it’s cultural? Anyone?

Asbury Park, August 18, 2014, 2:30 p.m.