I Walk Alone (a true story)

Regular followers of this blog know that I suffered a heart attack in the middle of this year and am now the owner of two stents in my left anterior descending artery. I also happen to be hypertensive. Aside from fried food, savory snacks and sugary treats, the thing I miss the most post heart attack is walking.

For as long as I can remember, my mind has been a hornet’s nest of thoughts, worries, stories, alternative timelines in which I live the dream and face the consequences for daring to do so. It gets to be maddening every once in a while. To calm the hornets to a dull buzz, I used to take long brisk walks, but a few weeks before I was hospitalized and a few months afterward I was unable to do this without experiencing chest pressure and shortness of breath. Recovery has been slow but I’m finally at a stage where I can walk again with no ill effects.

Now, every morning I take a three-hour walk along the same crooked path through residential neighborhoods so I can set my body on autopilot while I lose myself either in my thoughts or in other worlds provided by audiobooks or radio plays. The only time that I am mentally present in the act of walking is when I encounter one of my pet peeves:

  • I cannot have anyone walking directly in front of me (within arm’s distance); and
  • I cannot have anyone pacing me (where they exist in my peripheral view).

This may seem strange to you but when I walk, my personal space area expands to provide me with the illusion that I am isolated from the rest of humanity. It’s also why I walk early in the morning when the streets are less crowded.

The reason I’m mentioning this is because on Christmas Eve while out on my morning constitutional, I became aware of a young lady in my side vision. I’m not sure how long she had been there before I noticed her but when I did, it bothered me. To be clear, she wasn’t within my expanded personal space, I was on the sidewalk and she was in the street but she was definitely pacing me.

Oh, I forgot to mention, at my normal pace, I can cover the route I walk in two hours flat. The problem is that I’m no longer a spring chicken, so at that speed, two-thirds of the way in, my legs feel like they’re transmuting into lead. I was forced to adopt a moderate pace, thereby adding an hour to my journey, and the woman keeping time with me was on rollerblades, which meant something was definitely off here.

When I looked over at her, the first thing I noticed was that she was maskless. Since March of 2020, the lower half of my face has been covered whenever I leave the house, even when I’m in an open space and no one is around. Reports have said it’s not a matter of if you’ll contract the COVID Omicron variant but when, and if that’s the case, I’d like to prolong that inevitability as much as possible.

Anyway, back to Roller Girl, who was smiling and waving at me. Now, I’m a native New Yorker and it’s been my experience that the only time people smile at you is if they’re:

  • From out of town
  • Pulling some sort of grift
  • Prepared to hand you a sob story to part you from your money, or
  • Trying to lure you into a van, Buffalo Bill-style, in order to turn you into a skinsuit

Deep, deep, deep, deep, deep down I’m a friendly person in the right social setting, just not on the city streets, so I returned neither the smile nor the wave and continued on my merry way. But Roller Girl maintained that spot in the corner of my vision, which disturbed my reverie enough for me to remove my noise-canceling earbuds.

“Can I help you with something?” I asked.

Roller Girl waved again and hit me with a smile packed to the rafters with pearly whites in what my mother used to call a gator-mouth. One of my many failings is that I have always been a horrible guesser of age, but if I was forced at gunpoint, I’d put her somewhere between late teens and early twenties. She had a young Rae Dawn Chong quality to her features. Dark wavy hair spilled from under a crocheted hat that matched her tan calf-length coat with fur collar. Jeans and a scarf reminiscent of Tom Baker’s Doctor Who completed her ensemble, and of course, the white rollerblades.

“Hi!” she said, enthusiastically, and stated who she was, something that began with a K but as I am the infamous forgetter of names, I’ll simply refer to her as Kendal.

This time I responded, “Hi,” apprehensively.

“I didn’t mean to bother you, it’s just that I see you walking this way at the same time every morning like clockwork, and since we’re headed the same way I decided to say hello.”

“Um, okay…hello?”

“On your way to work?”

“No.”

“To an appointment?”

“No.” I loved curt answers because they always let the listener know, I’m not interested in small talk so either quit while you’re behind or get to your blasted point.

“Okay,” Kendal said. “Then let me ask you a question: When you walk, do you walk alone, or do you walk with God?”

Oh, now I get it. Honestly, I should have caught on sooner because there were two types of people I tended to attract, the absolutely mental and proselytizers. Even with my hat and face mask covering two-thirds of my face, something about me must have screamed, This sad bastard needs Jesus in his life!

Among the many things I simply cannot abide, proselytizing ranks pretty high on the list. It always carries an air of condescension, despite the best intentions of the Born-Again speaker. Once you’ve asked and I tell you I’m not interested, your following action should be to move along to the next hopeful convert. This almost never happens. But Kendal carried an air of politeness about her, so I let her recite her spiel, occasionally answering:

  • “Yes, I’ve read the Bible, many years ago, but I can’t quote chapter and verse.”
  • “No, I haven’t accepted the Lord into my heart, just as I don’t take in any of the other belief systems I don’t embrace.”
  • “Yes, I’ve heard the saying, the greatest trick Lucifer ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

And when she noticed the standard approach wasn’t working, Kendal switched gears and attempted to relate to a wretch like me.

“I was raised in a religious household but I fell from the path of righteousness,” she said. “I lost my way and my faith in The Almighty, because I thought I was smarter than He was. What did I need Him for? I knew how I looked and how boys looked at me and I knew how to get them to do whatever I wanted. I filled my life with parties, alcohol, drugs and fornication, but the time came when I reached rot bottom [I didn’t have the heart to correct her by saying the phrase was rock bottom] and my soul was empty and nothing I tried could fill it. Then one day, a man approached me just like I did you. Supposably [again I didn’t correct her with supposedly] he was directed by God to save one particular soul, mine. Just like God sent me for you.”

When my path led me out of the residential neighborhoods and onto a commerce boulevard, I was forced to stop at certain corners to give way to traffic. Not once, but thrice did Kendal try to get me to pray with her at these stops in order to receive an instant release of all the burdens in my life. And like Peter, I denied her three times.

When we passed a Matrix Resurrection movie poster at a bus stop, I saw the wheels turning in her mind and she shifted her pitch, offering me the red pill/blue pill option, before trying to twist my melon with the Inception angle of this life being Man’s dream within Satan’s dream within God’s dream, before going off on a Jacob’s Ladder tangent that she couldn’t quite bring around to make her point. To her credit the one thing Kendal didn’t challenge me with was that time-honored favorite, “You don’t believe in God because you can’t see Him, but you believe in air and you can’t see that, right?”

But eventually, she did ask, “Well, if you don’t have faith in God, what do you believe in?”

“I believe I’m not smart enough,” I answered, as I always did whenever anyone bothered to ask. But it’s a poorly constructed answer that required clarification. I should change it, but it had become an almost automatic response at this point. That, and I’m just too damned lazy to do so.

Off her confused expression, I said:

“I, myself, am a non-spiritual entity who believes that when it comes to the origin of things—the universe, life, etc.—that I am simply not smart enough to know the truth. And when I say I, taking the full weight of ignorance upon myself, I actually mean we as in mankind or peoplekind or whatever passes for politically correct phrasing nowadays. This does not, however, mean that I do not applaud anyone’s attempt to gain answers, I’m just not satisfied with any of the options presented to date.

“And that’s not just with religion. Creationism versus evolution? I’ve got no dog in that fight. I proudly ride the ignorance fence when it comes to our humble beginnings because, in my opinion, religion and science both offer up a series of theories yet to be proven as fact.

“You believe differently? Good on you. I sincerely hope that works out for you, sincerely hope you’re right, and sincerely hope you receive your reward for being righteous.

“I’m not in the habit of knocking people’s spiritual beliefs. It’s none of my concern what system you choose to embrace, and with all due respect, I couldn’t care less who or what you worship. Totally your business and I’m cool with it all, especially if it gives your life some sort of balance and leads you to do no harm.

“This isn’t to say that I don’t find the Bible a fascinating read, but I view it as—again, no offense intended—mythology. Same as with Greek, Celtic, Aztec, African, etc. writings that deal with the human experience in relation to the worshiping of gods. I also enjoy apocryphal and pseudepigraphal texts, all of which eventually find their way into my work.”

Kendal didn’t agree with a lick of this blasphemous nonsense and after a good forty-five minutes of loggerhead debate, she gave the “stop and pray with me” one last-ditch effort.

“You know,” I said. “I will…if you can do me a favor. For the sake of argument, I will accept that God sent you for me, and God being omniscient, knows that I’m cynical, so what I’d like you to do is to ask Him to give you the words that will open my mind and heart to Him. Remember, He knows me and knows that a Bible verse won’t do the trick. So, can you please take a moment and ask Him, out loud or silently to yourself, I’m not sure how that’s done, and if what He directs you to say offers me even the slightest doubt that my belief system is wrong, I promise you that I will stop and pray with you.”

In all the times I presented this request, no one ever stepped up to the challenge. The response I usually received was that God didn’t have to prove Himself to me. The onus was on me to open my heart and let Him shine His light into areas I was attempting to hide in the shadows.

But Kendal actually remained silent for a moment and when she spoke, she said, “I see you, thou art beautiful, and I love you.”

That, I was not expecting. Kudos to her. It was said sweetly enough and damn-near convincingly but alas and alack, not enough to sway me. And I told her as much.

We ran into another traffic light and this time Kendal attempted to hand me a pamphlet, which probably contained pieces of the rhetoric she spouted off to me, along with a Bible verse or two and the location of whatever church she was affiliated with.

I told her she should keep it because if I took the pamphlet, it was only going to wind up in the first trash can I came across.

Then Kendal turned the pamphlet around and said, “My number’s on the back,” and sure enough there was a phone number handwritten in pen at the bottom of the brochure.

I couldn’t avoid chuckling. “That’s the first bad move I’ve seen you make in this entire exchange,” I said, shaking my head. “At the bare minimum I’m twice your age, probably even three times, so it’s safe to say that I’ve been around the block once or twice, and game recognizes game. Now, if I was your age, that number gimmick just might have worked on me, but I’m not, so you’re wasting your time.”

For the first time during our exchange, Kendal took in the measure of me. The thing I didn’t mention in all this was that when she wasn’t keeping her eyes peeled for obstacles in her path, Kendal maintained direct eye contact, which made me feel like I had her undivided attention. A rare experience nowadays, especially from a younger person. Finally, she nodded, shrugged, and said, “Can’t blame me for trying.”

She skated back the way we came and as she passed, said, “I still see you, thou art beautiful, and I love you.” To which I had no reply.

It’s been two days since that encounter and each time I’m in the vicinity of where I first met Kendal, my head is on a swivel trying to locate which hidey-hole she’ll emerge from, but since I do not walk with God, I continue to walk alone.

In honor of the noble, and slightly questionable, efforts of Kendal, I urge you all to go forth this holiday season and be true to your own belief systems (and should you wish to add this sinner to your prayers, I surely won’t stop you).

12 Plays of Christmas: A Tin of Snow

Tin of snow

There was a time many, many moons ago when I hadn’t yet become the noted curmudgeon that I am today, a time when I still believed in magic and Kris Kringle and I put a great deal of effort into crafting the perfect Christmas list, one that was sure to grab Gifty Nick’s attention. Many items on that list changed from year to year but there was one thing that always held the Number One position: A Pet.

And who could blame me? Nearly every book I read or tv show I watched at the time clued me in on the fact that no young boy’s adventure life was complete without an animal companion. Dick had Spot (oh, grow up!) the Cocker Spaniel, Timmy had Lassie the rough collie, Mark had Gentle Ben the American black bear, Sandy had Flipper the bottlenose dolphin, and Sonny had Skippy the bush kangaroo. Who did I have? N-o-b-o-d-y and I only had one person to blame. Somebody in the house was allergic to pet dander, and that somebody’s name was Trista, my middle sister.

Undaunted, I penned (okay, it was in crayon but same difference) many letters to Santa detailing my dilemma and making a request for a non-allergenic pet (don’t look at me like that! If anyone could have pulled off that miracle, surely it had to be the red-coated gent whose belly shook like a bowl of jelly) but year after year no little-boy-bestest-pal-in-the-whole-wide-world ever showed up beneath the family Christmas tree (don’t waste your time naming hairless pets in the comment section below. It was the ’60s and we didn’t know anything about that, or if my folks did, they kept it a closely guarded secret).

Since my pleas fell on deaf Clausian ears, I was forced to take matters into my own hands and come up with a different plan. To my credit (hey, if I don’t toot my own horn, who will? Again, get your mind out of the gutter!) it didn’t take long for me to devise a unique solution to my problem.

Tins were a wonderful thing to me. They were a depository where the things a boy kept precious could be secreted away and tucked into the backs of closets or under loose floorboards. Mostly the contents of tins included stamps, coins, marbles, smooth and colorful stones, and the bits of refuse that could be viewed as a treasure to the furtive imagination of a young mind.

I collected snow.

Not just any snow, mind you—I wasn’t some type of frozen vapor hoarding lunatic—I collected the flakes from the first snowfall of the year and packed little rectangular bricks in the back of the freezer. Why? Because of Frosty the Snowman, who came to life after being imbued with the magical properties of first-fall snow. But I wasn’t going to build some ratty old snowman, no sir, not me. My goals were slightly loftier than that.

I was going to build a griffin. Agrippa the Ice Griffin. I couldn’t see my parents objecting to that, unless Trista suddenly developed an allergic reaction to ice, which she might have done, just to spite me.

I’d be the envy of my neighborhood when Agrippa and I went for a walk, and since I read somewhere how griffins have the ability to sense and dig gold up from the earth, I knew we’d be financially sorted for life. And we would totally rule the airways. That went without saying.

Yup. I saw it all clear as day and my plan was foolproof. Since my childhood predated the internet, I had to go to the New York Public Library with sheets of onion skin and trace pictures from mythology books and experiment with PlayDoh so I’d know how to sculpt Agrippa accurately, and knowing he’d be curious about his heritage, I constructed a fascinating family history that would have made any newly birthed mythological creature proud.

As I collected tins of the first snow and carefully hid them in the freezer, I knew the world was finally mine and I was destined to live the most incredibly awesome life ever imagined, and nothing could have prevented it…

Until I discovered the hard way that refrigerators came equipped with a defrost feature. All my carefully stacked magically imbued briquettes had been reduced to not-so-magical freezer run-off that dripped impotently into a catch tray.

Needless to say, I have yet to bring Agrippa into existence. And life, well, it hasn’t quite reached that most incredibly awesome high watermark yet.

But this year’s snow hasn’t fallen yet in my neck of the woods, so here’s hoping I can still lay my hands on those old tracings…

The Widowmaker

The pain was slightly sharper than heartburn, lasted less than half a minute, and he felt perfectly fine after it subsided. He was of an age where unexplained body pains suddenly appeared and disappeared as a common occurrence, so he gave the chest twinge no further thought. But there was a saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know” and what he didn’t know was that he just had a heart attack.

It would be another two months until the pain returned, intensified to the point that it dropped him to his knees and led him to be taken to the emergency room. The cardiologist found two plaque build-ups that blocked ninety-nine percent of his left anterior descending artery, which was responsible for a heart attack known as the widowmaker.

In the intensive care unit, as he was recovering from surgery, mind swimming in a morass of anesthesia, a sound caught his attention. It was a heavy sobbing that seemed to be emanating from somewhere within the room. When he attempted to look in the direction of the whimpering, an unseen force turned his head away. Out the corner of his eye, he could have sworn he saw the night nurse’s shadow jitter and twitch in a jerky fashion.

At first, he thought it was an anesthesia hallucination, but came to believe that something unnatural was at play and his suspicion was confirmed when the nurse left the room…but the shadow remained behind.

The shadow struggled to break free from the confinement of the nurse’s silhouette and once achieved, it slid down the wall like obsidian mercury. It crossed the floor in a spidery fashion, tendrils of ebony arcing up and out, digging into vinyl flooring and pulling itself toward his hospital bed. The darkness that seemed somehow sentient pooled on top of him and he could feel its weight—weight that a shadow should not possess—putting additional pressure on his already weakened chest.

The black mass rose, building upon itself and transmogrifying into the solid form of a woman in tattered scrubs. Beneath its widow’s veil was a sorrowful face that wept tears of misery so black as to absorb the surrounding light. He wanted to turn his head, to stare directly at the creature, as his mother taught him to do when he was that young boy afraid of the monsters that lurked under his bed and in the closet.

“Look them directly in the eye, see them for what they really are, and make them disappear,” she said. But this beast was far more cunning than the night terror monstrosities of his youth, for it would not allow him to view it head-on, only from the corner of his vision.

“No fear, no fear,” the shape said in a voice as raspy as tires on a gravel driveway.

The weeping creature straddled him and splayed its fingers, the tips of which were flat like electrode pads and one by one placed them all over his chest. He could feel those fingers sinking through his hospital gown and grafting themselves to his trembling flesh.

“Feed, feed,” the deep timbre of its voice anchored his body in paralysis and he finally realized the creature’s purpose. Similar to the vampires of myth and legend, whatever this thing was, it gained its sustenance from the heartbeats of the living, as opposed to blood. This was the true Widowmaker.

He tried with all his might to struggle, to break the connection and throw this abomination off him, but he was too weak to prevent it from siphoning the precious beats that gave him life, an act that would continue for as long as his strained heart held out, an act that rendered him helpless and was inducing a deep and dreamless sleep.

His final thoughts, as he slipped into unconsciousness were how many heartbeats had the Widowmaker taken? How many hours, days, years, had been stolen? And would this mourning and hungry beast leave any behind for him to continue his existence?

A Meal And A Hot Shower

A number of years ago, I volunteered to man the telephones during a pledge drive for WBAI, a New York-based non-commercial, listener-supported radio station, whose programming featured political news, talk and opinion from a left-leaning, liberal or progressive viewpoint, and eclectic music.

During popular programs that offered nice gift incentives for pledges, the phones never stopped ringing. When a less popular show was on the air, the phones experienced plenty of downtime. This was when you got to meet your fellow volunteers. Most were friendly, chatty folks, happy to make connections with people who shared their political interests, some were dyed in the wool anti-establishment protestors whose roots were still firmly planted in the hippie movement, and then there was Dave. And he sat next to me. Because I am a magnet for the unusual.

It was the middle of summer, and a brutal one, if memory serves, and Dave was wearing a wool hat, and thick cable knit sweater, with a woolen scarf beneath his puffer coat. But that wasn’t the first thing I noticed about Dave. Not to be cruel, but Dave hadn’t quite gotten his body odor under control. But he was friendly, so we got to talking and in the course of the conversation, Dave admitted that he was a homesteader.

Now, to me, a homesteader was a person who lived and grew crops on land given by the government, so I bombarded him with homesteading questions because I was genuinely curious about the arrangement. He had to stop me in order to explain the modern usage of the term. Dave would break into abandoned buildings, run extension cords to the street lamps for electricity, and arrange to receive mail at the address for at least a month to prove residency in order to avoid being tossed out onto the street without undergoing a proper eviction process.

Squatting wasn’t anything new, and in New York there used to be a law that if squatters were able to restore a derelict building with everything (electrical, plumbing, etc.) up to code, then they could petition as a group to form a business entity and place a bid to purchase the property, using the cost of repairs as a down payment.

Dave wasn’t a part of any such coalition. He was a one-man army and he claimed that he was facing ongoing battles with the owners of the abandoned properties—throwing his possessions out on the street, re-padlocking the property, sending “muscle” to physically evict him, etc.—but this is not the true issue of the post.

Dave (whose name wasn’t “Dave” because I wouldn’t out him like that) had no income and he lacked the skill set to rig the pipes in the abandoned buildings to run water, so he cased houses, and when he was sure that the owners were either away at work or on vacation, he broke into their homes, took showers, and made meals for himself before he left. He claimed he never took anything besides food, always cleaned up after himself, and effected minor repairs if he saw something that needed fixing.

So, the real issue of this post (a bit of a departure from normal) is to ask you a question:

“Besides the obvious breaking and entering charges, how severe a crime do you think the use of the shower and the fixing of a meal is, assuming Dave entered your home without your knowledge or permission?”

Please let me know in the comments below.

©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Tales From The Set: “Call My Ex, Please?” (a true story)

When choosing some sort of creative art as a career, you find out early on that you need to find other employment opportunities outside your field of interest In order to pay the bills. And since I have yet to acquire the fortune that is my birthright, when I lived in Los Angeles briefly, one of those jobs was working background on tv and film sets — also known as being an extra.

Greys 1019
The simplest game of Where’s Waldo ever. Look for the clever clog in the gray suit on the left blocking his face with his own champagne glass. A star in the making.

As I had no aspirations of being an actor, I’m pretty easygoing regarding my placement in the crowd. Tucked behind tall people? Facing away from the camera? Set in a position farthest from the principal actors? Not a problem. I was glad to be working and I kinda liked being on set and watching the crew set up shots. Other perks include:

  • Absolutely no acting ability is required (thankfully)
  • Being booked on a series or feature gets me out of the house and breaks the monotony of my average day
  • I get to slip into the skins of different people (hospital administrator, construction worker, churchgoer, Muslim, parent, etc.)
  • I’ve seen myself on TV three times to date (freeze frame is my best friend)

The downside?

  • The pay could be better (but I’m non-union, so dem’s da breaks)
  • Lugging around your own wardrobe (always bring at least two options) on public transportation (guess who never learned to drive?) can be cumbersome
  • The hurry up and wait… and wait… and wait… and wait… can wear on your patience, especially later in the day
  • Craft services (the snacks and drinks table) for extras is a bit of a dice roll
  • And sometimes other background actors. Not all, mind you, you come across some interesting people chock full of stories and experiences who are willing to let you pick their brains… then there are the others.

Before I get to the meat of the nutshell, I need to set the stage. Picture a room that holds one thousand people. Only one person in that thousand is certifiably crazy. Do you know how you’d be able to spot the nutjob? It would be the only person speaking to me. Got it? Good. Let’s proceed.

One time I was on the set of a tv show named Grey’s Anatomy in extras holding (just as it says on the tin — a place where background actors lounge about while they wait to be called to set) minding my own business, when an attractive young woman stood close to me and started speaking. She clearly wasn’t looking at me, so I followed her eyeline to see if she was perhaps conversing with someone behind me. Nope, no one there. So, I assumed she invited her imaginary friend to the set to keep her company, and I shrugged it off.

For the record, I do not discriminate against people with invisible friends as I know full well the difficulty in making and maintaining worthwhile friendships, imaginary or otherwise. That, and I once dated a woman whose older sister was pretty chummy with Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Pluto and the rest of the Disney gang, and they would often go on Magic Kingdom adventures in the solitude of her bedroom.

A story for another day.

But this woman kept repeating the same sentence, loud enough for me to hear, but no one watching would ever had accused us of having a conversation. More like we were secret agents who daren’t risk breaking our cover, she was giving me the sign and awaited the countersign.

You’re not the first one to live in a strange place with strange people, nor the last,” she repeated.

I looked at her. She, however, refused to make eye contact and simply waited for my reply. Never one to resist the urge to poke the mental tiger, I finally said, “Sometimes it feels that way, though.”

The sluice gates were opened and I wasn’t prepared for the rush of conversation headed my way. Among the many topics she introduced:

  • How women are Christlike when they menstruate, as they suffer for mankind.
  • How she’s happy not to be dancing for biker gangs anymore.
  • How pigeons are truly blessed and carry our prayer up to heaven.
  • How she gave up selling subscriptions to a specialist magazine for ukelele players because she made a decision not to give up her integrity for money.
  • How the government was concealing the fact that chicken fried steak was the cure for cancer.
  • How her stepfather used to send Chinese pornography to her Toy Yorkie.
  • How July always smelled like shades of red.
  • How okra smells like sex before you cook it.

And a host of others I can’t recall at the moment (I’m sure they still haunt the nightmares I can’t remember). Throughout the day, I tried my best to avoid her. Trips to the restroom, striking up conversations with strangers, hiding within crowds of people, but she always managed to sniff me out and made other people uncomfortable to the point they drifted away and gave us space. I had been designated friend-of-mental and no one wanted any part of providing me shelter.

After the scene I was in wrapped for the day, I stood in line for one of the shuttle vans to take me from the set to base camp. Okra-Sex-Smell-Girl was nowhere in sight and as the van pulled up I thought I’d made my getaway. But the Transportation Captain held the van because there was still an available seat. I know I don’t need to tell you who the seat was next to, or who filled it.

Okra-Sex looked straight ahead. To my knowledge, her eyes never once fell on me. I was an entity that only existed in her peripheral vision. “Can you call my ex from your phone, please?” she asked.

What? No.” Okay, not the best response, but she blindsided me.

Please? I tried calling him but he won’t pick up the phone, probably because he recognizes my number. I think he’s still mad at me. I just want to make sure he’s okay because my friend threatened to beat him up.”

Call your friend and ask him if he beat up your ex.” Mystery solved. Columbo was on the case.

He wouldn’t tell me if he did. He knows I’d be upset.”

I shrugged an oh, well.

You’re not going to call?” She seemed genuinely surprised.

Nope. Not happening.” By this time I stopped looking at her, as well, figuring maybe the cold shoulder would silence her for the rest of the ride. As if.

Why not?”

Hmmm, because not my ex, not my problem?”

But he doesn’t know you. When he answers, just say you dialed the wrong number or something. Then tell me if he sounds beaten up or not.”

If he sounds beaten up. Under different circumstances, I might have let the exchange play out a little longer, but it had been a long day and I was both tired and hungry, so the best I could manage was, “What did I say? No? Then that’s what I meant,” before I officially checked out of the conversation.

Not that it mattered. Even without my participation, her side of the discussion continued without skipping a beat:

If you call, I won’t have to stop by his house tonight. You’d be doing me a big favor.”

You’re so mean.

Do you think I should just leave my ex alone?”

Well, you obviously don’t know what being in love is like.”

I’d do it for you. Do you have somebody you want me to call? Give me your phone, I’ll do it.”

And it went on like that for the entirety of the trip. When we reached our destination, she smiled, still not looking my way and said, “Thanks, for being sweet.” And maybe it was my imagination but as she walked away I thought I detected a spring in her step, like she’d made her decision on what needed to be done.

For at least a week afterward, I followed the local news for reports of a lover’s tiff gone horribly wrong in a room that reeked of sex… or maybe uncooked okra.

©2014 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

First Saturdays

child-watching-television-silhouette

Hi, my name is Rhyan and I’m a movie addict.

And an insomniac.

Native New Yorker, born in Manhattan, raised in The Bronx, and because I inherited my mother’s transient nature, I’ve managed to live in each of the five boroughs. Poor as a skunk’s misery, a church mouse, Job, Lazarus, and dirt. Hell, I’m still poor, and most likely always will be.

The best thing about growing up without anything is that you learn to make the most of what you’ve got and distract yourself from what you haven’t got. My major distraction was television.

It was my babysitter, my tutor, and my secret friend that entertained me as the rest of the world slept. Its siren call would lure me into the living room, where I’d toss my blanket over the both of us so the light didn’t spill out of the room and give away my position. Then I’d plug my mono transistor radio earphone into the headphone jack and marvel at all the noir, horror and science fiction movies that played on CBS’ The Late Show, The Late Late Show, and The Late Late Late Show.

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I was always a wreck in school the following day, but man was it worth it.

The only thing that trumped this near nightly process was the first Saturday of the month. Like most poor folk, we were on welfare and this was before the Food Stamp bill was passed in 1970 which meant everything, rent, bills, and food monies arrived in the mailbox in one convenient check. The Saturday that followed check day was always considered my day. Wherever I wanted to go, wherever I wanted to play.

My playground of choice? 42nd Street. The first stop was Tad’s Steak House. Sure, the broiled steak was thin and more gristle than meat, the garlic bread was oilier than Brylcreem, the chocolate pudding coated with that yucky skin and a fountain Coke served in a large red plastic tumbler that smelled like the previous beverage it held… but to me, it was pure heaven.

42nd

Then my mother gestured at the movie theaters that lined both sides of the street and said the most perfect thing anyone could have said to me at the time, “You can see all the movies you can stay awake for.”

These were once majestic movie houses that slowly transformed during the decline of New York City starting in the late 50’s into grindhouse theaters before grindhouse was even a word. Each one ran three films, usually one current and the others whatever was on hand.

On these magic Saturdays, I tore through Roger Corman flicks, Hammer Films, the Toho tokusatsu imports and so much more. All uninterrupted viewing aside from the occasional mom hand that would clamp over my eyes during nude or sex scenes. Only when I started to nod off was it time to head home, despite my protestations.

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On the way home, we’d stop off at the Horn & Hardart automat and my mother would dump tokens into my hand and send me off to fetch dinner from the individual glass door compartments. Even though it was only plain food — sandwiches, beef stew, and the like — there was something about slotting coins and retrieving a prize that appealed to me.

Optimo

The final detour before reaching home was the Optimo Cigars shop that had a spinning wire rack of comic books where I’d select my month’s reading material.

I realize this may not seem like any great shakes to you, but it remains the only positive memory I have of my mother — too long and too personal a story to go into here — and I can’t think of a better way to honor the anniversary of her passing.

Alice: Reflections of a Looking Glass Friendship (true story allegory)

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“Of course it hurt that we could never love each other in a physical way. We would have been far more happy if we had. But that was like the tides, the change of seasons–something immutable, an immovable destiny we could never alter. No matter how cleverly we might shelter it, our delicate friendship wasn’t going to last forever. We were bound to reach a dead end. That was painfully clear.” ― Haruki Murakami, Sputnik Sweetheart

They say you meet friends in the damnedest places when you aren’t looking for them and I thought this was utter nonsense until the day I found a friend in the reflection of a mirror. I know what you’re thinking and no, this isn’t a story about finally finding and befriending myself or coming into contact with the Supreme Intelligence that exists within me, because it wasn’t my reflection. This person, this woman who has no name as far as you’re concerned, that I will call Alice, stood beside the mirror version of myself, to the left. Always left of center. I should have taken that as a sign, but you never see the glaringly obvious without the benefit of hindsight, do you?

Before you mistake Alice for an imaginary friend, know that were I in a mirrorless room, I wouldn’t be able to communicate with her because she simply wouldn’t be there.

How she came to be trapped within mirrors is anyone’s guess and I doubt she truly knew herself, though whenever asked, she would always blame her fractured memory, splintered like the shards of glass of a shattered mirror that held incomplete images of her past.

She was fascinating in her way, Alice was. A brain filled with dark matter. Insecure to a fault. A high maintenance friend if ever there was one. Not only was she needy, self-absorbed to the exclusion of all else, devoid of a funny bonedespite the fact she claimed to have an excellent sense of humorbut she was also passive-aggressive and more than slightly obtuse when it came to the rules of the world that existed outside her own head. But as I said, fascinating in her own right.

It’s a shame that fascination wasn’t enough to carry through. I was determined in the beginning to plant our relationship in the soil of time, water it with patience and let it bask in the rays of understanding.

What sprang from the dirt wasn’t the flower of friendship, but the weeds of unwanted advice. It’s what broken people do, you see, they have an undying need to give others advice on how to fix themselves. I am by no stretch of the imagination a Bible scholar, but I am familiar with the passage:

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”

But I endured it. You ask me why? I couldn’t tell you. That’s what friends are for, I reckon. But then I started to notice that her reflection was dwarfing my own. She began taking up the majority space in the mirror, and I, trying to keep the peace had ignored the signs and allowed it to happen. My own fault, I plainly admit it.

But no more.

As I grow older, reluctantly wiser, and I reevaluate my life choices and take stock of my friends, I see with regard to the Alice matter that I will never get a decent return on my investment. Some people are a bad fit within their own skin as well as with other people.

Not long after, I noticed she wasn’t simply trapped within a mirror. Alice was actually trapped in a glass box of her own construction, caught within a mirror pocket dimension. And to add insult to injury, she was attempting to trap my reflection, and thereby me, inside one as well.

In the end, I did the only thing I could do, for she gave me no other choice. I placed her reflection in the only fitting place I could think of — my rearview mirror. The very last time I ever laid eyes on Alice, she was shrinking in the distance until she was little more than a dot on the horizon.

My sincerest wishes for her are to find her way out of her glass cage and strive to be more than a visual echo in the reflectors of others. But that first step begins with her. She has to want to be a real person, and I’m not sure she knows how.

In any event, adieu, Looking Glass Girl. Here’s not looking at you, kiddo. To the rest of you lot, go forth, make friends, and be mindful of mirror-lurkers.

©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Braiding Tales: We Built a World, Row by Row (a true story)

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“We gave the Future to the winds, and slumbered tranquilly in the Present, weaving the dull world around us into dreams.” ― Edgar Allan Poe, The Mystery of Marie Rogêt

I spent most of my early teens in the Bronx. The street I lived on, corner to corner, ran the length of three average city blocks and was the picture of diversity—the melting pot that New York had become famous for. It was all about migration. Italians were moving to new ground as black people nestled in and on their tail were Hispanics followed by West Indians. It was a neighborhood in transition where multi-cultures learn by cohabitation that differences in race didn’t make a person less human.

It was also the 70’s and I rocked a killer afro to end all ‘fros. Metal pronged afro pick with the handle clenched in a black power fist and a peace symbol carved out on the base, tucked in the back of my hair.

It drove my parents crazy. They rode my back constantly to get it cut but there was that preteen Samsonian fear that the strength of my personality—-my Madd-ness—-would be stripped away, were a barber to lay clippers on my precious locks. When I got the “as long as you’re living under my roof” speech, I knew I needed a solution and I needed it quick.

Enter: Cynthia Holloway. I mentioned my plight in passing and out of nowhere she offered to braid my hair into cornrows. So, we sat on the stoop of a private house and armed with only a comb and hair grease, Cynthia worked her nimble fingers like a loom.

She was one of those neighborhood girls that I’d never really spoken to before outside the odd hello. Not that there was anything wrong with her, she was simply a person that kept herself to herself. The type of person you’d have to make an effort to get to know.

It would take many years for me to become that type of person.

But in sitting with her I discovered she was both intelligent and imaginative, with interesting stories to tell. Her father was a retired Army Ranger colonel, who spent a great deal of his free time on the road in a jazz band.

I’m not sure how much of that was true. No one could ever remember seeing Cynthia’s dad, so maybe it was a story she invented to keep nosy kids at bay. Or perhaps it was one of the quiet lies that parents tell their children to spare them from the harsh realities of troubled marriages.

Since we had nothing but time to kill, we talked about our constricted home lives, mentioned the odd hobby, told a few jokes and had a couple of laughs, and when all the conversation wells had run dry, we told each other stories.

At the end of every month, when the braids began to look a little ratty, I’d take them out and Cynthia met me back on that stoop to repeat the process. And after a brief bit of catch-up, we’d go back to telling each other imaginary stories and without meaning to, wound up designing an illusory sanctuary from the burdens and pains of our everyday pre-teenage lives.

While we mentally terraformed our neighborhood row by cornrow, we got to know each other in those months as the monarchs of our fantasy world. We explored the surroundings, went on adventures, and basically forgot the world for a few hours a month.

Come the fifth month, I sat on the stoop and waited, my hair a wild crop of imagination waiting to be plowed, but Cynthia never showed. I later learned from a friend of a friend’s sister that she and her mother had moved away in the middle of the night without telling a soul where they were headed.

I tried to imagine all the possible reasons that would cause them to make a hurried escape under the cloak of twilight and seriously hoped it had nothing to do with her retired-Army-Ranger-colonel-jazz-band-dad. Nothing negative, anyway.

And yes, I eventually had no other choice than to submit to the butcher shop barbershop haircut. Much to my surprise, I managed to retain all of my Madd-ness afterward. I was still filled with my nerdy sameness and when I missed her a bit, I’d sometimes sit on the stoop and give an imaginary Cynthia updates on the latest goings-on in the world we created.

Thanks for humoring me as I wool-gathered.

PS. Cyn, if through some bizarre happenstance you should come across this, hit me up real quick. There’s a world in some need of serious upkeep.

I Put This Moment Here

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“If only there could be an invention that bottled up a memory, like scent. And it never faded, and it never got stale. And then, when one wanted it, the bottle could be uncorked, and it would be like living the moment all over again.” ― Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca

I have a memory like a sieve.  My recollections of the past come to me in flashes and snippets and I have to be mindful not to fall into one of the many great blank holes when traipsing around in half-forgotten yesterdays. Part of it is the result of a built-in self-defense mechanism, tamping down the harmful events that one never quite survives intact. The rest? Just plain negligence. I am a poor caretaker of retrospection.

And for a while, I wasn’t bothered by it. Then I reached a point in life when memories—–of love and pain and the whole damned thing—-became important because I found myself wanting to catalog my journey before I reached the end of the race (it’s always closer than you expect and they say you never see the finish line with your name on it).

But now, when I recount the tales of the various and sundry someones who impacted my life before blowing away like a leaf in the wind, someones whose names I used to be able to recite by rote, those names have now taken up permanent residence on the tip of my tongue but never so close as to venture past my lips.

I find that in order to remember a past event, I have to place it in a location that’s visible so that I don’t misplace it along with my keys and smartphone. I have chosen this place as the soil in which to plant my evaporating memories before they’re gone forever.

I put this moment here:

Of the girl that I fancied in the first grade whose name might have been Cheryl or Shirley but for some reason I remember it as “Squirrel,” whom I wrote about when the teacher asked the class to write about something we loved. And that selfsame teacher thinking it was so adorable that she took me to Squirrel’s class and made me read it aloud to her. You’re never too young to discover embarrassment.

I put this moment here:

Of the German woman who made me my first brown bag lunch for school that consisted of a healthy liverwurst sandwich which I enjoyed the taste of but stopped eating altogether after being teased at school by the other kids for eating dog food. It hurt her feelings and I wish I had a stronger conviction to continue eating the lunches she prepared with love.

I put this moment here:

Of the asexual woman I worked with at a car rental agency who looked like a young Peggy Lipton and lived in New Jersey. I remember riding the Path train to her house and we would regularly break dawn discussing her passion, serial killers. She didn’t own a television and instead had an impressive collection of serial killer and unsolved murder case books. I found her fascinating and in hindsight I suppose I’m lucky that I never went missing.

I put this moment here:

Of the woman I worked with at a banking institution, who I spent a bizarre New Year’s Eve with as we dropped tabs of acid that didn’t work and searched Manhattan for the perfect place to ring in the new year and ended up laying on the grass of Central Park making resolutions and wishing on stars for a better year to come.

Sometimes when my mind is idle, I struggle to recall the names of people and events trapped within synaptic pathways that withered from non-use, names and events I feel I should remember because of the emotions that linger despite the fact the memories have faded and recognition has faltered.

I lament the loss of these remembrances because they’re all a part of me and I’m afraid to learn the answer to what of myself will remain when all the memories have faded away.

Gather ye memories while ye may. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Text and audio ©2013 – 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

I Watched: Greyhound

In Greyhound, directed by Aaron Schneider, screenplay by and starring Tom Hanks, based on the 1955 novel The Good Shepherd by C. S. Forester, an inexperienced U.S. Navy captain must lead an Allied convoy being stalked by a Nazi U-boat wolfpack during World War II.

Only a few months after the United States officially entered World War II, US Navy Commander Ernest Krause (Tom Hanks) receives his first war-time assignment aboard the destroyer USS Keeling, codenamed GREYHOUND, to deal with the problem of German U-boats disrupting convoys of supplies in the Mid-Atlantic gap between North American and Britain where shore-based military air support is sorely lacking. Accompanying Greyhound in the assignment to get the 37 Allied ship convoy safely to Liverpool are two British destroyers codenamed HARRY and EAGLE, and a Canadian Flower Class corvette codenamed DICKIE.

When the convoy is three days away from Liverpool, Greyhound sonar identifies an incoming U-boat closing in on the convoy and the destroyer prepares to intercept. The U-Boat is able to launch a single torpedo before the Greyhound fires a full pattern of depth charges. Luckily, the U-boat torpedo misses, and the Greyhound depth charges effectively destroys the U-boat.

Before the Greyhound crew can celebrate their victory, their sonar picks up multiple targets slowly approaching in the distance. A Wolf Pack of six U-boats are stalking the convoy, staying just out of firing range. Krause suspects the Wolf Pack is waiting for nightfall in order attack under the cloak of darkness.

When night falls, the U-boat attack commences and a number of passenger and freight ships are destroyed by torpedoes. Krause has sonar on a few of the U-Boats but chooses to rescue the survivors of the downed ships rather than engage the enemy. And after their successful attack, the U-boats pull back to a safe distance once again.

The following day, the U-boats mount another coordinated attack and the Greyhound crew are now being taunted by broadcasts from the lead captain of the Wolf Pack in an attempt to affect ship morale. During the Wolf Pack attack, the Greyhound is barely able to evade the torpedoes deployed against her but the Dickie and the Eagle, are less fortunate. The Dickie takes some damage but still seaworthy, the Eagle, however, eventually sinks. Through the combined efforts of the Greyhound and Dickie, another U-boat is destroyed but Krause’s destroyer is now down to only six depth charges and their ammunition is running low and the convoy is still two days away from Liverpool and not yet in range of air support.

What happens next? They would be telling, and you know I hate dealing out spoilers (somewhat) but you’re free to head over to AppleTV+ and find out all on your lonesome.

So, would I recommend Greyhound? I have to admit that based on the trailer, I probably wouldn’t have gone to the theater to see this, COVID-19 notwithstanding, but, surprisingly enough, yes, this gets a recommendation. In fact, of all the films I’ve watched over the past week, I enjoyed this one the most, which is saying a lot because I’m typically not a war film kind of guy. I think it’s because this film takes a different approach by placing us inside the Greyhound along with the crew through the entire skirmish. The adversaries remain faceless voices issuing taunts over the airwaves, and when convoy ships are destroyed it all happens at a distance. There are a few explosions, U-boat destruction is typically marked by oil slicks on the ocean’s surface and I believe there are only three scenes containing blood and they’re minimal at best. Unfortunately, also minimal is character development, though subtle Tom Hanks plays to his strengths in portraying an ordinary man facing extraordinary circumstances, and I’m a fan of Stephen Graham and Elisabeth Shue, even though they aren’t given much to do here.

Another thing Greyhound is lacking (and this time it’s a good thing) is that mid-movie slump. You know exactly what I’m talking about, when a film comes out the gate strong, then sags in the middle and has to ratchet up the action in the third act to get you interested again. I can safely say, once you’re aboard the Greyhound, your investment in the story and the outcome remains consistent throughout. Despite its shortcomings, it’s a very well-paced film and I’m impressed by Hank’s handling of the screenplay.

In closing, if you’re looking for the intense, high octane tension of a 1917 or Dunkirk, you should probably go watch 1917 or Dunkirk. Greyhound isn’t that sort of war film and it doesn’t have to be. But it most certainly is ninety minutes of streamlined sea battle that’s worthy of your viewing time.

Ciao til next now.