A summer night could be no more still, quiet or fair to walk. Behind me the park playing fields were shrouded in shadows, and beyond them the home of a dear friend, where I’d left after watching a black and white episode of “The Outer Limits” on his parents’ TV. The barred windowed armory buildings rose castle like as I passed beneath the crescent mooned cirrus sky. Up the hill, lined with old trees and fine houses, I continued on as if in a peaceful dream. At Highland Avenue I turned left and proceeded along its flat and straight, residential way. Somehow, I did not feel alone. I looked down to my right and saw a large black, wolf-like dog striding along side, its glistening eyes shining up at me. It trotted ahead to the next corner intersection and waited for me to reveal my direction, which was straight. The pattern repeated itself three times. Far ahead the canine stood, nearly invisible, as I car load of trouble seeking punks slowed down and stopped to call out threats from open windows. I snapped my fingers and said, “Here boy”, and my companion immediately returned to my side, and the wood-be assailants sped away. The black dog followed me to the safety of my back door and vanished as mysteriously as it appeared.
In a bar one night, I bumped into a guy, Dave Johnson, from the old days at Amory Park. Twenty years plus had passed since our last encounter. We shared what we had been up to and stories of mutual friends; drinking pitchers of beer and having a good time. At one point he stopped talking to think, and looked at me, “Oh shit, what was the name of that fucking band from the sixties?”
I leaned towards him, looked into his eyes, squinted and said, “Mott the Hoople.”
His mouth dropped open and his eyes popped wide, “Get out of my head, Kirchner! Get out of my fucking head!
Late, on a bitter cold night, alone on river ice, I stood at the edge of an opening to black water flowing below. One brave moment, one plunge into the frigid void beneath the surface, and the current would sweep me away with no chance to change my mind. At eighteen years of age, I was indicted in a federal court and scorned by my father for refusing orders for me to travel to the other side of the globe to kill strangers. I faced five years in jail and a ten thousand dollar fine for my “crime” and was one jump away from a freed soul. My frigid body lost track of time and I found myself returning to land and walking through tall, brown, winter grass. A single light in the darkness beckoned me onward to the Unitarian Church. The illumination was from a single window. I had heard the minister there was opposed to the military draft and the war, and I thought perhaps I might find solace speaking to whoever was inside. I reached out for the back door handle and paused; I somehow new it was not locked. Opening it, I entered a dark hall, lit only by a red exit sign. Not wishing to startle anyone, I called out, “Hello. Hello. Is anyone here?”
I continued on to another similarly lit hall, still announcing my arrival, but it became clear I was the only one there. The bright glow that had drawn me there shone brightly through an open doorway to a kitchen. The warmth felt good, the clock read 3a.m., and I became aware of how hungry I was. Surely, if anyone were there they would have given me food if I had asked, so with a clear conscience I opened the refrigerator. It was spotlessly empty except for a small piece of white cardboard folded in half, allowing it to stand on its own. On it was a message written in black.
“This refrigerator is like life, you get out of it only what you put into it.”
I began roaring hysterically with laughter, and the sound of my emotional release echoed through the empty building. I experienced an incredible feeling that I had been manipulated that entire evening by some force for the purpose of realizing that epiphany. It was the revelation I needed. My future would not be determined by my family, friends, or the draft board. My future was in my hands. I left the complex the way I had entered, and walked home with a fresh resolve. I warmed myself with a cup of tea. The night sky began to brighten. I slept for the first time in nearly three days.
Howard lived with his wife in a modest house, on a dirt road in the country. For a living, he sold homegrown potatoes and firewood, but most importantly kept old trucks and tractors running for his rural neighbors struggling through hard times. He was a master mechanic with a storeroom of old parts and his main objective was keeping machines and men working, not making a lot of money. Howard charged what he needed to keep going and no more.
I received a call from him one day, telling me my 1970, Chevy, flatbed dually was ready, and as always, I was relieved at how little he charged. My buddy Jim drove me across the New York State boarder into Pennsylvania to get my truck. It was a chilly overcast morning. As is typical of men isolated in the sticks, Howard wanted to chat with us for a while, and we, appreciative of what he did for everyone, obliged. We stood in a small, dimly lit, garage between his house and workshop. Howard was leaning on the front fender of an old car, smiling and petting his dog that stood loyally by his side. Behind them was a small window with four little panes of glass that was the soul light source to that space. Jim and I faced him, with me a few feet behind and I noticed a bright golden glow to Howard that did not radiate around his car, his canine companion, my friend or me. Just as I was questioning this anomaly in my mind, it was as if I could feel an invisible someone whispering close into my ear, “You know, some people can tell when someone is going to die.”
Why would I imagine such a thing? I said nothing of my hallucination.
The following morning, I was told, Howard died of a heart attack while cutting a tree in the woods.
It was a sunny, summer, Saturday afternoon, as I turned onto Seminary Avenue on my way home from downtown. A block onward to Murray Street, I stepped off the curb to continue in a straight line when I stopped, and for nor clear reason, was compelled to turn left and head south to Leroy Street. As I walked out of my way, I kept thinking, why am I doing this? Why not follow the path I always follow? Several houses down, I met a friend’s fiancé as she stepped down from a front porch. “Joe!” she said in a tone of disbelief, “It’s you!”
She went on to explain that she had spent the last ten minutes trying to find my name and address in the phone book so that she could send me an invitation to their wedding, but was not successful because she was improperly guessing at the spelling of my last name. She was amazed, “I come out the door, and here you are!”
Along the tropical island coast, a deceptive feature known as “Bad Entrance” provided safe passage only for shallow draft craft to enter the lush lagoon. Small boats lay anchored in the still waters scattered as if tents in a camp ground, over whose sides dwellers defecated. Many were there in hopes of dry-docking in the boatyard for repairs, sometimes for nothing more involved than scrapping barnacles off a hull to increase glide. If the wait was too long, or the fee too high, Frog Man, heavily muscled with black hair and beard twisted together, was often hired to hold his breath beneath the vessels while chiseling away at the sea creatures. He was a quiet man, and not the sort to mess with.
An old wooden fishing boat, beached and leveled in the sand, was Ragged Man’s Bar. Its cabin served as a kitchen and cooler, its wide rails as the bar around which there were a dozen stools. Overhead, a canopy, woven from palm boughs, shelter one from the searing sun. Picnic tables were positioned around the bright hot perimeter. Owners of the more expensive cabin cruisers, secured on the high rent docking system, could step off the pier, on to dry land and into Ragged Man’s. Among was a most imposing man; Schmidt. He didn’t seem to have a job, but chose instead to lift weights in his stateroom to further pump up his huge chest upon which an American eagle was boldly tattooed.
I, exhausted after a day of manual labor in the sweltering heat, sat at a picnic table alone, sipping cold beer. “Hey, Joe”, a voice called out menacingly.
It was Schmidt the giant, a person I had never interacted with before, and knew only by reputation. He pointed at me with his bottle and grinned threateningly. Too tired to be afraid, I mustered my confidence and looked him in the eye.
He reacted with a sinister laugh, “Don’t even think it!” and chuckled loudly as I left.
Our next encounter began the same, except when I looked at him, I perceived him clearly as he was as a young child. I held my gaze and he turned quickly away and said nothing. He never even glanced back. That was our final confrontation.
My father’s father suffered with cancer for years and he requested to die at my parents’ home in Binghamton, New York, rather than the nursing home in Rhode Island, where he had been for months. A hospital bed and oxygen tanks were moved into our first floor sun room and my father rented a station wagon, put a mattress in it and drove to retrieve his mom and dad. My grandfather’s trip was difficult for him but he was pleased to be back in the city that for so long was his home. My grandmother, my mother, I and father and I watched over him in shifts so he was never alone. He would spit up and choke on thick phlegm that had to be pulled from his mouth.
I had worked a long Saturday landscaping (pick and shovel work not mowing grass) and I hurried home to shower and get a bite to eat. I loaded my drums into my car and was off to “The Flying Machine”, a bar twenty minutes away. The rock ‘n roll band I was in was to play that night. I went back into the house for one last thing and as I rushed out the door it was as if a huge invisible hand pressed its palm to my chest stopping me in place in what felt to be a defiance of gravity.
I slowly walked to my grandfather’s bed, sat at his side and gently shook a wrist exposed above the covers on his chest. His tired eyes opened. “Grandpa,” I said, “I have to go to work, but I wanted you to know I love you and to rest easy.”
“Oh, thank you Joey”, he said.
I was starting to set up my drums when I was called over to the bar phone to speak to my father. I knew what he was going to say. “My Dad died.”
I played the gig, grateful to have said my goodbye.
My father-in-law explained to me that working on my own doing manual labor would never lead to financial success. Following his advice, I took on a partner and a couple workers and contracted for a job, that for me, at the time, seemed to be a lot of money. My partner, Jim and I were mortaring in a three-colored slate patio behind a red brick mansion. He was ten years my senior and his presence instilled confidence in me for such an undertaking. We had two helpers working resetting stones in a curving walkway that lead to the front door, and I was concerned over their progress and workmanship. I walked around the side of the house to make sure they were not just standing around, and was pleased to see them focused on the job.
From behind, Jim set a reassuring hand on my left shoulder, and I felt more relaxed. I turned to thank him, but no one was there; just me surrounded by green grass.
Up the Creek
One cold November morning, I drove my pick-up truck into the belly of a creek to select what I hoped would be the last load of large rocks needed to complete a waterfront job at Quaker Lake. Beneath a gray sky, Ice crystals glistened on root systems along the banks exposed by erosion. Dressed in cut off jeans, a t-shirt, sweat shirt and raggedy old sneakers, I grabbed a metal pry bar, six feet long, from the truck bed and began sloshing around in knee deep rushing water in search of the right combination of pieces. I was being picky. A couple of labor intensive hours past and I was becoming quite cold. I maneuvered my truck with hydraulic lift gate to best accommodate each task at hand. Finally reaching my truck’s capacity of one and a half tons, I got in the cab, backed up a bit to get a good exit angle and in so doing lodged the transaxle housing atop a submerged rock. Neither rear tire touched anything but water. Several attempts to build up rocks beneath them failed to provide traction. Even if I emptied my necessary load, the truck would still be too heavy for me to push free. The situation was getting serious.
Chilled to the bone, I made my way to the nearest house and called my helper on that job, Richard. We were not scheduled to meet at work till afternoon but his mother answered and said he had just left a short time ago. I explained my situation to her and told her the next time she saw him to say I was stuck in the creek and needed his help. There was plenty for him to do at the lake without me so it wasn’t as if he would be waiting for me to show up. I went back to the rushing brook and while standing in frigid water, looked to the sky, closed my eyes in concentration and sent a mental message to the powers that be to have Richard magically appear. Forty-five minutes later he did.
He positioned his old truck in front of mine, hooked tow straps onto my truck’s frame, and with a series of violent jerks dislodged my vehicle with payload intact. In tandem we drove to dry land.
I asked, “How did you know I was here and needed your help”
He chuckled, “That’s a funny thing. I got to the lake and was walking down to the waterfront and realized I forgot my coffee so I went back to my truck, and when I did I heard air coming out of one of my tires. I didn’t have a spare with me so I drove all the way home to change my tire and my mom gave me your message. Then I had to drive all the way out here!’
Out on a Limb
A sickly elm tree, in my parents’ front yard, had grown near the front sidewalk. It wasn’t a giant tree, as I’ve seen them become, and I figured due to some sections with withering brown leaves and sap oozing from its base, it was struggling to survive Dutch elm disease. It was unsightly and on an ambitious summer day, I nailed a 2x4 ladder onto its trunk and climbed into the canopy with a sharp pruning saw; undersized for the task at hand, but I had young muscles and a positive attitude. One branch, about eight inched in diameter, arched over utility lines parallel to the street. I figured if I notched it right, I was strong enough to pull it toward me, snap it, and drop it on my lawn. After a few failed attempts, I was developing serious doubts. A retired man from a couple houses down came out to silently watch. I climbed down to reassess the situation. Walking away from what I had started was not an option, one strong gust of wind might finish what I had started and take out the electric cables.
I went into the kitchen and stood by the phone that hung on a wall, and considered calling friends to come help, but after several minutes of deliberation, I wound up on the sidewalk, looking up, rethinking my dilemma. Mike Cummings drove by and saw me. He stopped and got out and we discussed the situation. He went to his dad’s garage to get a rope. While waiting for Mike to return, Greg Bezek parked his Volkswagen and stepped out to see what was going on. As Mike Cummings returned, Bill Hogan walked onto the scene. As we stood discussing what to do, John and Tom Corino stopped their Camaro and joined us. I went aloft and tied the rope as far out on the limb as I could, then joined my friends on the ground. At the count of three, we gave a mighty communal tug and the limb snapped off landing safely on the grass. Everyone I contemplated calling, but didn’t, showed up anyway, within ten minutes.
After everyone left, the old man who had been watching things unfold, came over and gave me some cash and told me to buy myself some beer. “Joey”, he said, “I thought for sure you were going to knock out the power lines”.
It was evening, our band was in the basement practicing. We took a break and I went upstairs for a few minutes. The guys began working on a new tune so I headed back down, pausing near the bottom where the steps curved on an inside corner, I gripped a heavy pipe overhead that ran along the ceiling and leaned forward to listen and divine a drum part. I closed my eyes to concentrate and felt myself floating upwards. I watched as I passed through the first and second floors, looking through the walls to see that the mortar on the outside brick was not troweled smooth on the inside but was left to harden as it had oozed out. Through the entire experience, I was very calm but once at the attic roof, I became frightened at the thought of leaving the house. Instantly, I was rushed back into my body with a sudden jerk. I took my hand off the pipe, walked over to my drums and began to play.
In a Dream
Greg was a very close friend whose tragic drowning devastated me. His passing added another name to the growing list of important people in my life who had recently died. My life was at a low point, and suicide was always on my mind. One night, I dreamt I was driving down Riverside Drive in the afternoon and saw Greg on the sidewalk, going around a corner. “I thought he was dead?”
I went back, excited at the prospect of seeing him again. He disappeared through the front entrance of a brick apartment building. I parked my car and ran after him. Once inside the building, I heard a door close on the second floor. I rushed up the stairs and heard music Greg liked starting to play. I opened the door, stepped inside, and there he stood. I was overjoyed. “Greg!”
He became enraged. “What are you doing here?” he yelled. “You’re not supposed to be here!”
I woke up startled. Message received.
I was alone, late one night, in my dimly lit living room watching TV. It was “The Allen Burke Show”. People in the audience were allowed to approach the podium, one at a time, to engage the host in a discussion concerning the current topic. I went into the kitchen to grab a snack but was listening to the show. A woman introduced herself (was it Mrs. White?) and a vivid image of a bright white sphere flashed across my mind. I was compelled to rush to the screen. A black woman with large white globular earrings was speaking to Mr. Burke.
Waking in the Hall
It was a crowded corridor in Central High School, where I woke up that day in full stride, not knowing the time or my immediate destination. Two text books held in hand were cradled in my arm. “How did I get here and where am I going”
I stepped into a room full of empty desks, glanced up at the clock, and realized everyone was headed to fourth period, but I was at a total loss to remember what my class was. Rushing to my locker, I found my program card on the top shelf under a pile of paperwork, jarred my memory, and arrived at the bell.
I could not focus on the teacher’s spoken words, for I was a bit shocked. I had gotten out of bed, dressed, possibly ate breakfast, walked a mile to school, went to my locker and home room, then sat through three classes before being fully conscious. It felt as if I had been transported there.
My friends and I, after a long swim in a lake, spread our towels out on the grass and lay down to dry in the summer sun. I was on my back with my eyes closed and the muted orange color of my eyelids turned a brilliant gold. I felt as though I was floating on a cloud and an incredible sense of peace filled my soul, the universe was in perfect balance. I was savoring an alternate spiritual plain for about a minute before returning to my usual state. My companions did not share my experience. When I die, I hope to return to that golden light.