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.


A spiritual lesson written in sand

I visited the Asia Society on my lunch hour where four Tibetan Buddhist monks are creating a mandala. It’s a rare treat. I’ve only seen one other before; created in the lobby of the World Trade Center many years ago.


Do you guys know what a mandala is? That’s all SAND, friends. A mandala is a beautiful, painstaking, time consuming, spiritual work of art.


It’s being created in conjunction with The Asia Society’s current exhibit, Golden Visions of Densatil: A Tibetan Buddhist Monastery. The monastery was destroyed in the 20th Century and its reliefs and sculptures scattered to the wind. As Holland Cotter of The New York Times wrote in his exhibit review, “You have to hate or fear something a lot to do what China did to Tibetan Buddhism.” The pieces are now being gathered and the Monastery restored. They’re on display until May.


They started the mandala on Thursday and it was scheduled for completion on Sunday. A pattern is designed and draw in pencil. You can still see some of the outlines along the perimeter.


Colored sand in copper bowls is poured into copper funnels tapered to fine point. The monks tap or scrape the funnels with copper rods and the sand slowly pours out in small increments.

The mandala will remain on view through May until the exhibit closes. Do you know what they do with a mandala once it’s completed?

Mandala3They destroy it.

A ceremony is performed and the monks who created it take a broom and sweep it away. After all that hard work! It’s a meditative lesson on life’s impermanence. Everything changes, brothers and sisters. Nothing lasts forever. Trying to hold onto something, be it a shiny bauble, your fading youth or someone in your life, is an exercise in futility that will only lead to an unsettled and agitated mind.

The sooner we learn to LET GO of things, the happier we’ll all be. Reet?

You are permitted to stand along the perimeter and observe. The room is dim and a quiet respect fills the air. The monks talk amongst themselves in low tones and will occasionally chuckle over a private joke. They work seven hours a day.

Mandala10Their philosophy is the closest thing I’ve ever come to being moved spiritually. I sat in Catholic churches and parochial schools all throughout my youth. I was never touched and, more often that not, was just bored. These are not negative judgments I’m espousing. Just my own personal experiences. My mother was saved by the Catholic church. She died peacefully because of her deep faith. She was always sad that I didn’t embrace the church’s teachings, but what am I to do? You can’t manufacture enthusiasm. It’s either there or it isn’t.

7-Year Old Daughter had her first Holy Confession last week. It’s one of the seven sacraments you can receive in the Catlick church. In confession, you sit with a priest, one-on-one, and confess your sins. Afterwards, you are given penance, usually a series of prayers to recite. It’s cathartic for a lot of people. 

Before their confessions began, the pastor stood in front of the congregation and said:

“I’m addressing just the children.

We are all sinners. It says so in the Bible! And if you say you’re not a sinner, then you are calling God a liar.”

What a heavy trip to lay on an innocent 7-year old! Always the beat-down. This is the oldest trick in the book. In the military they do it in boot camp. In fraternities it’s called hazing. It’s at the core of most theologies. You’re torn down, made to feel lowly and unworthy, and then rebuilt. You feel grateful towards your tormentors—the very people who damned you!—for making you feel whole again. I should take her to a monastery and save her from all this wrath.