Our Young Hero Weeps Salty Tears

In this episode, the Emperor of Tender Hearts and Self-Pity rides in on his sad, gray horse. Hi ho.

bin3


April 27, 1995

A fun New York-y thing happened to me. I was on my way to work and because I’m working these crazy hours, it was midday and there weren’t many people on the subway platform. Near the center stairwell, waiting for the train, was a group of about 15 children with three or four teachers. They were around 6 years old, mixed races and genders. When I walked by, their conversations mashed together into a high-pitched buzz. Like tiny bees. I was annoyed because I wanted to read my paper so I started to walk off in a huff towards the end of the platform.

There was a sudden silence. They all turned to one of the teachers. She said something inaudible and they began singing Yellow Submarine in absolute perfect harmony. Their voices were sweet and angelic. It sounded like a choir but they were just children. No one voice was singing louder than the others. The acoustics in the subway were perfect. Their singing had a rich, full, echoy sound. Everyone standing around looked up from their reading material and stared. It was surreal. All those beautiful voices in that filthy setting.

They finished Yellow Submarine and began a song they were taught to sign. It was about how being here with their friends and singing makes them happy. There was a beautiful choreography of tiny hands, all moving in graceful unison. I started thinking of all those little children who were blown up in Oklahoma City last week. They’ll never see their friends or sing again. I started crying right in the middle of the subway platform. I had a suit and tie on and looked ridiculous. I was so embarrassed, but it made me happy that I live in New York, where crazy shit like this happens on a fairly regular basis.

May 1, 1995

The evening shift is killing me. I can’t sleep during the day. You can’t imagine how clean this apartment is. I’m a very clean person, you know? This morning, I ironed four shirts (medium starch) and scrubbed the kitchen and bathroom floors. You can’t use a sponge mop. Do you know who uses sponge mops? Lazy, wussy-pussy losers. You’ve got to get down on your hands and knees with a scrub brush and scrub that motherfucker until your knuckles and back hurt. I seriously think I’m losing my mind.

Ellis and Oswaldo are meeting a friend from college tonight for dinner. He became a teacher, taught all over the world but also had a secret life as “Miss Terry.” Get it? He’s HIV positive and can’t teach anymore. It’s only a matter of time.

Laura gave me a homework assignment. In one column, I’m supposed to list the things I like about the work I do and in another column I’m supposed to list the stuff I don’t like. I stared at a blank sheet of paper and couldn’t come up with any positives. I haven’t accomplished a damn thing. I’m going to spend rest of my life as an office drone. I want to seduce her, so I’d better make up some positive stuff. What is a good thing?

I remember sitting at that crappy presswood and tube steel table in that crappy apartment in Phoenix and writing a letter to Peggy about my Arizona adventures. The next morning, before dropping it in the mail, I reread it and was surprised at how good it was. A magic elf could’ve snuck in overnight and wrote it, but that didn’t happen. I wrote it. I thought it was my imagination but Peggy called the day she got it and said she passed it around the office and it made everyone laugh. She said, “You do know that you’re a writer, don’t you?” I got choked-up but she never knew, thank god. [Caveat: I’m not fishing for compliments or encouragement, all appearances to the contrary. I’m just regurgitating what’s in the binders.]

I accidentally/on purpose came across the studio shot of Karen. I couldn’t stand it anymore so I called the travel agency and they said she left four months ago. It made me wretch. I’ll never find her. To insure that never happens again, I took the photo outside and burned it. It was supposed to be cathartic but my memory didn’t go up in flames, like the metaphor promised it would. I still think about her.

There was an ad in the Village Voice personals by a girl who’s trapped in a corporate environment and looking for a writing partner. You have to call her voicemail and leave a message. I thought I’d fumfer if I spoke off the cuff so I typed-out a response:

[Redacted]

The voicemail message (which cost me $2.50 to listen to) said she’s looking for a “very smart, very sexy man who can write who’s not intimidated by a very smart, very sexy woman who can write.” I hung up. I couldn’t do it. She’d see right through me. I think what I’m looking for is a wilted violet.


I forgot to wear a belt to work the other day so I went to H&M at lunch to buy one. Have you ever been to H&M? My first and last visit. Their target audience is 15-year old girls tweaked out on meth. It’s like being in da club at 2:30 a.m. All mirrors and loud, thumping, headache-inducing “music.” I was standing in the checkout queue having a brain aneurysm, looked up and across 42nd St. was a Gap. A nice, quiet, gentle Gap.

The view from my office. The days are getting shorter. Autumn is here.

H-M

79 thoughts on “Our Young Hero Weeps Salty Tears

  1. That story about the children singing is wonderful. It’s amazing how we can be so caught up in our own grumbles, only to have something happen right then and there to show us it ain’t all about us. I can imagine how emotional that must have been.

    As for your floor scrubbing, with your dedication to the process, I have a few that could really use your attention…

    • It was a cold slap in the face, I can tell you that much. And something I needed. I momentarily stop feeling sorry for myself. What a treat!

      I’ve always been fastidious. Even as a bachelor, my apartment was always clean. I wonder how I got that way?

      • I wish my sons were that way. I’m very neat, and my husband has learned to be. Hopefully my boys will be someday too. But I’m not holding my breath.

      • My house was always kind of a mess when I was growing up. It wasn’t my mothers fault. She was single-handedly raising four kids with no help and didn’t have a lot of time for housework. When I left home, I told myself I was I was gonna live in a neat place. It stuck.

  2. Peggy knows. She called it back then. Of course, you’re a writer, silly. I expect that manuscript on my desk in three months, k? I can see why you recorded that story about the kids singing on the platform. That’s a sweet story. Funny, how those moments just sneak up and grab you, huh? I say let those tears roll.

  3. You give good memoir. On the heels of the OKC bombing, hearing those little kids spontaneously sing on the subway platform would have choked me up, too. Back then, I was working as a cog in the corporate newsmaking machine at ABC News when it happened. My niece was about 18 months old so my heart sunk when I thought of the children that perished and were injured as well as their families. It was so tragic. Then, my feelings of empathy were disrupted when the office loon, who coincidentally was a complete loser with people, began carrying on about no one caring if the daycare center had any fish or a canary.

    • Aren’t subways the best for acoustics? One wonders if that was done intentionally.

      I have a friend who’s a news editor NBC news and it seems to be an endlessly fascinating job to me (albeit, with no set hours). Why did you leave? To much of a cog? Or we chased away by the loon?

      That bombing was just the appetizer. The main course, as we all know, came a few years later.

      • Acoustically, the subway is quite nice.I often enjoy hearing musicians play on the platform as I’m waiting for a train.

        I did not have a dynamic job when I worked in News. It was low pay, long hours and there were a lot of weasel-types who would sooner pawn off their mistakes on others rather than accept ownership of their snafus. Also, I lived walking distance so I was called in to work every event. I rarely had a two-day weekend and was hammered with mandatory overtime because we were always short staffed. For example, when my relief didn’t show up or called in phony-sick (there was a lot of that), I was forced to work a double shift. It was impossible to maintain a relationship or any quality to my life under those conditions. I had a very low maintenance lifestyle (still do come to think of it) so it wasn’t hard for me to walk away from all that bullshit. From what I’ve gathered from my old boss, it was very hard to replace me. Masochists like me are hard to come by. Good.

      • Weasels in the media? Are you sure? My friend who’s an editor is constantly being called away. We make plans to meet and she cancels on me about 60% of the time because of her job. I can tell it’s starting to grind her down. Fun fact: It’s the same person who outbid you for the co-op.

        It PAYS to keep your overhead low. When I was laid off back in 2010, my Bride and I didn’t suffer hardly at all because we’re not swimming in debt. Our monthly nut is pretty low. We don’t have much in the way of luxury, but we sleep better at night.

  4. I always knew there was a little bit of John Boehner in you, Mark (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

    But seriously, I love the story of the kids singing — so heartfelt. I always wondered about that — targeting a building with a daycare center in it. Killing adults is horrific — but targeting kids? It takes a whole ‘nuther kind of warped mind to do that.

    And your writing is wonderful — always. Glad you keep at it.

    • Touché! Maybe it’s because were both from Ohio? I’ll miss his weepy episodes. Won’t you? Did you see him behind the pope this weekend? And I heard he shed tears in his closed door resignation meeting. All the crying! I wonder what’s going on underneath the hood?

      Thank you for your kind words. My main concern is that people think I’m fishing for compliments, which I am most certainly not. That lacks dignity, although I’ve been known to do it in my younger days

      • There is a certain lack of dignity in the whole writing schtict, IMHO. So we all do it. We all want a little bit of validation.

        When I was young, I was very reluctant to point out what I had done well. Until I learned that nobody else does. So I started tooting. Well, in a different way than I had always done — you know, where you blame the dog.

      • You know who doesn’t have a problem pointing out his accomplishments? Donald Trump. I don’t want to be perceived as someone like that in even a small measure. He was on 60 Minutes tonight and I missed it. That was going to be my evening yuck-fest.

    • If I carved out all the blogging (reading and writing) and my internet shenanigans, I’ll bet I’d have more than enough time to write a book or two. As it stands now, those activities have greatly reduced the number of books I read. But I won’t stop. I guess I need the eggs.

    • That DOES sound very Italian! You’re clever. I’m half Italian so perhaps I have a genetic predisposition for being mopey about women. I’m pretty sure I’m not a mama’s boy, so perhaps I was saved that fate by also being half-polish.

  5. Of course you are a writer. Your emotion over the children on the platform is heightened (for me)by your professed grumpiness. I am a veritable cross patch but at present well up regularly most days.

    • I don’t know how a softie like me survived in the city all those years. You can take the boy outbid Ohio, but you can’t take the Ohio out of the boy

      I always feel some residual guilt when a post included an explicative and I see that you’ve read it. I would never use that kind of language in your presence so it shames me a bit when it happens in here. It’s not as if you’ve never heard these words, but it’s not right. It’s not respectful.

      • Yeah, we have an H&M at our mega-mall Destiny USA. I keep my connection to staring at the strange millenial sights from afar. Nothing there for me, that’s for sure, Mark.

        You have one hell of a hobby. I wish I could golf or bowl this good.

      • Thanks, Mark. Much appreciated. You know it would be really cool? If I could pay for my daughter’s piano lessons or…what the hell…the mortgage by doing this. Many are called. Few are chosen.

  6. Well every one reading/following your blog thinks you’re a writer.I wrote that you should write a book quite a few months ago and I’m just a little oie Texas dummy and in no way near hep and New Yorkish. One day, perhaps you’ll wake to a revelation of doing something about your laziness and reluctance to write. Turn off the damn TV but, I’m with you. I would love to have seen Trump on “60 Minutes.” Everytime I see or speak his name I think of turnip. Strange connection- ha!

    Okay so much for that, I’m a sentimental person and cry about just anything. I hate goodbyes, funerals, and any animal story, human interest story and etc. can make me cry. So I had a few tears and sniffles as I read about the singing chldren on the subway. That must have been one wonderful esperience never to be heard or seen again. I am wondering if you ever learned where those kiddos went to school.

    • I really appreciate that but I want to stress that I’m not putting this out to fish for compliments. It’d be such a cheap and obvious way to look for praise. This is what’s in the journals and I just lay it all out there (after cleaning up some horrific spelling and syntax).
      The Trump/turnip association is now lodged into my cranium. Thanks for that. I’m hoping I can see it online on my commute home. He’s a circus. The GOP is on the road to self-destruction. The election is theirs to lose and if this guy is all they can come up with, lose it they will.

      Those kids passed into and out of my life in that one instance. I know nothing else about them. It was the slap in the face I needed. I get to self-absorbed that I don’t see the ocean, just my little tide pool.

      As always, thanks for the comment.

      • Mark, I’m glad that you like the Trump/turnip connection. Gee if that man is elected president we really have have dumb ass people in this country., Ooops, I probably stepped on lots of toes with that statement. On the othter hand, if he is elected he might just fool the doubters and I surely hope that would be the case.

      • I hope that would be the case, too, but something tells me we’d get exactly what we’d expect. And if he’s elected, then this country would get exactly what we deserved. I saw Obama and Putin slugging it out yesterday over Syria and imagined Trump on the other side of the table. It gave me a shudder.

  7. You seemed to be an emotional person back then… crying and pining for all of those women…and obsessively cleaning and all…I hope you’re more stable now! Just kidding, Mark! There is a big difference between messy and dirty, I always say. I like clean floors too! You have to remove your shoes when you come in my house like the customs in Japan. Actually, most of the people I know do that reciprocally anyway, and if you don’t, you seem like you’re from the woods or something! So it’s like it’s a custom here too, I guess! Interesting when you think about it. I don’t let my kids go barefoot either – they have to have socks or slippers on in the house. And that is my one and only pet peeve!

    • What do you mean back then? I’m still in emotional wreck. I think that’s why I got along in New York for so many years. It’s the city of broken toys. I’m still a neat freak. I walk into my daughter’s bedrooms and almost pass out because of their casual housekeeping.

      If that’s your one and only pet peeve then I’d say you’re pretty evolved. Well done. How did you do it?

      • Ha! Isn’t it the city of broken dreams?? And I do it by not letting stuff bother me…except dirty feet… don’t sweat the small stuff, remember? One day when your daughters move out you will want to see those messy bedrooms again (but I think that is a myth because my daughter is away at college and I’m fine with it)!

      • You are very Zen and very grounded, especially when it comes to your daughter leaving for school. I hope I handle it half as well although, who knows? I might so fed up with her room that at that point I might welcome it.

  8. (when you look at your stats, you’re going to see i was here for an insanely long time. i’ll explain later.)

    i loved that you shared the subway story with us! i was in government service (los angeles) when it happened and i remember all of us standing around the tv as the story unfolded. that one image of the firefighter carrying out the limp body of a little girl will forever be with me. there have been far too many images like that and every time EVERY.SINGLE.TIME. we have to witness/relive such needless death, i am crushed inside. i weep every single time.

    we keep a neat house, too. when each of the krewe became involved/married their partners always thanked us for such “neat freaks.” 🙂

    you are a joy to read and to know, sweetpea! xoxo

    • Stats?! Who looks at stats!? Actually, I look at them. Often. Too often.

      Do you know that incident took place 20 years ago? 20 years! Look at the arc of time. It passes by so quickly. We all knew where we were during certain landmarks, though. I can recall that photo. It won a Pulitzer for photojournalism.

      I’d rather be made fun of for being a neat freak than a slob. It’s the lesser of the two evils.

  9. Whenever I read your journal posts, I always look at the date and think – well it wasn’t that long ago, and then realise it’s like 20 years ago! I don’t think I’ve adjusted yet to the new millennium, I still think the year 2000 sounds futuristic. We have H&M here too. And I love that you clarified what level of starch you used on your shirts.

    • I hate to go dark but when I look at the dates of my journals and think about what I’ve accomplished in those decades it makes me a little bit sad. I mean, where am I? Now I’m asking myself big questions.

      I think we have the UK to blame for H&M. Wasn’t that store and export from you guys? Take it back!

      Medium starch, because I’m fussy like that. Is it any wonder took me so long to get married?

  10. Has your ego been stroked enough yet mofo? (that sound you hear is me laughing) oh how i giggle at the blogosphere but i’ll give it to you straight cuz that’s how it works in the Rust Belt, either you believe you’re a writer or you don’t, doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, what i loathe about the blog world is the bullshit niceties, so you tell me now, are you or aren’t you?

    I was sitting in an old house getting stoned and contemplating dropping out of grad school when OKC happened, that night in class the prof asked if anybody had followed it at all, i was the only one who had, some students hadn’t even heard about it because they were to busy working on papers and such, i quit a week later… and as usual i do enjoy the journals…

    • Honest to god, this is EXACTLY the vibe I was afraid this was going to give off. No, no, no, it’s not about that. I neither need or want hosannas. I was I big ole’ mess and I thought people would enjoy it, if not actually relate on some level. For the record, no, I don’t think I am. Do you know what separates the men from the boy? Or the girls from the women? People who put their stuff out there to get rejected and spit on. THOSE are writers. As Truman Capote would point out, I’m just typing.

      Another landmark day in a series of catastrophic ‘where were you when…’ events. Do you remember that famous photo of the firefighter carrying a child?

  11. hey man – I read in an earlier string here (and I never read these blog comments because I’m bored/lame but yours are the best) — something like, many are called but few are chosen. Fuck that you know. Choose yourself. No passive stuff here. Believe. You got it, go with it.

  12. Between the first part of this post and Bill’s that I read today, I was going to say you guys are killing me. But then in your next part you said the late shifts are killing you. So I can’t say it now, obviously!

      • I’m not working — haven’t, for a while. There is that. But I appreciate the kind words and props from you two. Hey, if we’re CSN can I get dibs on Nash? I think he may be the least of the dickery with the other two. That doesn’t mean I should be him, though.

      • Ugh. You can have Nash. He’s responsible for “Our House,” which is a blight on their catalog. There are other trinities we can emulate. Rush. Kirk, Spock and Bones. The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost.

  13. Almost every blog you post, I have personal memories for some of your topics. This time it is Yellow Submarine, scrubbing the floors and looking up a girl, starting where she use to work. See, you relate to the everyday man and that is why we enjoy reading you. Like it and accept it, you are a writer!!

    • We live parallel lives. I’ll bet that happens a lot more frequently than people think. There are so many common threads that run through us all. It’s what binds us together. Our different opinions aren’t as powerful as our commonality.

  14. I’m glad that those kids made you feel like that and humbled everyone for a moment. Bless ‘em.

    You ARE THAT CLEAN? Still? Want a job in England? Free bacon butties, high tea and top class gossip are perks…well?

    How many women have you seduced in your time? straight up – give it to me.

    How many times have you thought of Karen in the last 15 years?

    Nice view that.

    • Those kids provided a good kick in the pants. I was hating on them for being noisy. Serves me right for being a jerk.

      I am still that clean. I would give your offer serious consideration if circumstances were different, if for no other reason, to find out what the hell a bacon butty is.

      The vast majority of my secuctions ended in abject failure. Unfortunately, girls can smell a needy mess from 20 paces. They were right to flee.

      Oh, I still think about Karen once in a great while. I go through the memory Rolodex and think of all of them. But my rememberances are void of any real feeling. They were all so long ago.

  15. You’d get in to trouble for not wearing a belt?

    I understand about how burning the photograph doesn’t work. I still think of Donna every single day.

    You’re a true city person. I am too. There’s not enough, as you over there say it, “crazy shit” going on in the countryside.

    • Why, oh why, do I have to approve this? If commenting is a pain in the ass, don’t feel obligated. Life is difficult enough.

      Wearing a belt isn’t required but my pants might fall down. Plus, I’m more comfortable. And it part of my ensemble. I have a look, you know.

      I don’t have the photo but I still remember what she looks like. That was 20 years ago. I’ll bet she looks completely different, as do I

      Charles Bukowski has a great poem about how a day in the country almost killed him. Green tree after green tree after green tree. He couldn’t wait to get back to concrete.

  16. The first time I went to H&M, I focused only long enough to circle out the door and head into a Banana Republic. The lady said, “Can I help you?” and I wanted to hug her and say, “You already did.” Because oh-my-sweet-gosh-I-could-not-hear-my-brain-for-a-moment-and-it-was-terrifying.

    But that view? Gorgeous.

    Also, kids are miraculous. Oh, and the only four times I’ve been on a subway, I was crying… all for different reasons, but I’m thinking it isn’t that uncommon. I hope? 🙂

    • Who knew H&M was age-appropriate? And that I wasn’t the appropriate age? I’m finally out of a desirable age demographic for retailers and ad agencies. I’m in the crusty, no-count demographic.

      I do see a lot of crying on the subways, even to this day. People let it all hang out down there. There’s a certain freedom, which some folks take to an extreme.

  17. Back when my spawn were in grade school, i was a blubbering mess at every single school event where the children would sing. Every. Damn. Time. Flipping channels on the tube, if i stumble across a cable access program where children are singing, i sob uncontrollably. To me, there is nothing more beautiful, nothing more perfect, than children singing.

    Yes. There it is. i’m a big damn softie. Don’t tell anyone. i’ve got an image to maintain…

  18. I love the story about the kids singing in the subway. Life has a habit of smacking you in the face with a random bit of sunshine just when you’re feeling lousiest, doesn’t it? Damn life.

  19. After a particularly awful day at work, I was headed home on the DC metro and there was a man singing “Carolina in my Mind” and playing the guitar on the platform. I managed to drop a $20 bill in his guitar case before I lost it and practically ran away to cry by myself on the other side of the platform.

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