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Tuesday, July 08, 2003

In the gloaming, 17th and 10th …a sky blue-black as Superman's hair. Everyone's just gone in for the night except for teenagers -- in suede vestments anointed with Avonic unguents -- heading off in the general direction of trouble. Over now is a usual day's happy ruckus. Ice cream bells shingshinging, waves of kidly screams from atop the King Kong truck's great see-saw crescent, fat mothers in full window-lean titspill hollering for "Ant'nee" to "get ova heah NOW," stickball bats clattering aside after 2-sewer hits, the obscure chants of little girls skipping across chalk diagrams. After another day of all that, the street quiets down, all whirring window fans and a treble polyphony of television sets… 7 available channels if you don't count uhf.

This is any random summer night. It's not idyllic; what it is is unladen. Life has not yet been dried out and done in as far as I can tell; I'm as filthy rich with tomorrows as anybody ever was. It even feels that way already, and though I am but a boy unburdened by any true vision of the dark ahead, something tells me to stay alert and enjoy all that I can take in. I dawdle alone on a street now largely abandoned, with one more important thing to do before getting inside, where for a couple of blessed months there's no homework to avoid. (Homework is the deepest insult imaginable. They want your TIME. Doesn't matter what something means or doesn't mean; they want your TIME and they want your fuckin' SMILE. They always will. They'll be at you hammer and tongs from now on, until they've used up the one and warped the other.)

I have learned a secret. The other night in front of our home …ol' 606… I caught a glint off a neighbor's car, which he parks in almost the same spot every night. A beam from a streetlamp on the opposite sidewalk struck the taillight, which then forwarded the memo to my beguiled eye. I got up close… I dunno how come… knelt at the curb, closed one eye and pressed the other one against the dark glass. With one knee on the sidewalk and one in the gutter, shifting my point of view back and forth, angling up and then down, I finally saw it: a eruption of red… nah, Red… nah. RED… a Vesuvius of candyapple refractorescence flooding my vision. Several shades of glowing red… no, many shades… countless shades… so beautiful. So… Red. Go grab your Roget's and look up the word RED. See all those synonyms and specific hues? That's what I saw… all those. I saw red. Red red red.

I was a kid with his face smushed up against the back of a car, legs akimbo, digging the sheer redness of a… a taillight.

The physical contortion was pretty uncomfortable, so I drew back to stretch and take in the ordinary sight of an ordinary night on our ordinary Brooklyn street. Lovely, but ooh that red! Another peek, then. I had to find the angle again. It had to be just right in order to get the full radiance, but once achieved… wow! Not only was this sight magical, but the process entailed a feat of pointless precision satisfying in itself. It wasn't long before Mom called and I had to scurry home, but I'd have to investigate this phenomenon further.

Unfortunately, the car was not parked in that precise spot again over the next few nights and, try as I might, I couldn't find an angle that allowed any view other than that of the bumpy glass surface of a nondescript car part. Crass reality: ever the turd in the puchbowl.

Today, though, I noticed that the car seemed to be positioned pretty much exactly as it had been the night of my carmine epiphany. It's not like I'd waited impatiently all day, but as soon as evening came on I hoped the others would wrap up the games of cocolevio…*

(*Cocolevio: books and websites - consulted in the ACTUAL present, not the "past-present" device of this entry - refer to this street game as Ringolevio or Ring-O -Levio. This may be true, but on my block I never heard it called anything but "cocolevio." Perplexing.)

…and congarilla…**
(**Congarilla: no citation of this street game could be found under this or alternate spellings. It did exist, though, and that's no lie. Confounding.)

…early so I could get a jump on the bumper. Now's the time. I can tell that conditions are better, but it all seems so dependent on what may turn out to have been a one-time-only convergence of factors. I hunker down at the magic oval.
Some shifting and re-angling. Bupkis.
A move of the entire body so that I'm more curb-sitting than gutter-straddling. I lean in and decide to get serious about geometry the way some guys do while shooting pool or skipping stones across a pond with people watching. Aaaannd….
FLASH! Red! Glorious Red! Look at that, willya?

There's no question but that this is the newest in a series of "passageways" I've been stumbling across lately. These are portals into different kinds of perception, which can't be called "supernatural" but are surely visionary. For example, It has come to my attention that some music should be listened to flat on one's back with each speaker placed about four inches from each ear. Classical music: long, long works with no words. I have a record by a composer named Ligeti, and that's the stuff. Not 2 minutes in, the world melts away and one's body loses all sensation. Strange sights fill the head unbidden. The trick is not to zero in on anything… just to "zero out" and let the music's essence establish itself, send out its shoots and transform all. Instead of just hearing music you can roll around in it. I'm thinking this must be similar to tripping on acid, but there is no chemical agent other than what the brain itself generates. Thoroughly reliant upon the flow of sound and my determined avoidance of focus, the state is as delicate as a soap bubble. It's a gift that I need to protect from the world and my own world-drenched thoughts.

Such as:
"Man am I gonna get beat tomorrow when I show up without my homework!"
"Why do I get boners all the time?"
"I hope Bobby and Brian ain't getting all mixed up in drugs."
"Is God going to send me to Hell?"
"How can I get hold of R.Crumb comix?"
"Why am I so weird?"
"This Sunday I'm gonna walk up and tell her I love her. I'll do it!"
"Grandma's dead."
"Man I hope my world-drenched thoughts don't invade the bubble…."

The "music trips" have already inspired related techniques for enhancing certain pleasant circumstances and for surviving certain intolerable ones.
A ferinstance regarding the latter: psychic "relocation" during the frequent administration of physical torture by the good teachers of Holy Name School. Become an abstract thought removed from the body. Stare straight into Mr. Castaldo's eyes and never acknowledge any sense of the pain he aims to inflict. Hold those books on your outstretched arms as you squat, as instructed, on the balls of your feet. And stare at the bastard.
Stare him down like he can't touch you. Let your eyes do all the talking:
All this for showing up without homework?
You're a grown man?
A grown man does this to a kid for skipping homework?
Look at me.
I'm a kid staring back at you.
You lose.

One hopes that adults like that are rarities, but one expects otherwise.
Behind this apparently precocious cynicism lies a deeper and deadlier delusion bred and nurtured by terminal romantic narcissism: one expects eventual cosmic validation that, yes, there are far weirder things than staring into taillights on summer nights. You, young seer, will prevail over the full-grown Torquemadas.
Wrong. Nature and nurture have infected this boy with toxic concentrations of pixie dust and vanity. But I'm years away from complete defeat, and we're here to celebrate possibility while we still can. Besides, it's summer.
Cue sitar!
Look into that taillight!

The gemlike kaleidoscope facets soften and blur. Hard angles reveal parabolas …these become arches and curves. I am now looking into a cavern of glowing red rocks. Let go further… a river appears… lava lite wax, bubbling. My peekaboo vantage opens up until I'm surrounded by the red world. I'm swaying like a flame in it as living things appear all around; crimson bats flap about the scarlet stalactites and lazy cherrybomb bears loll on the opposite shore of the river. The more I stare, the more I see. The less I think, the more I imagine. Holy Moses, is this cool.

That's enough. Mom is calling. It was only a minute or so, but I was lost in bright red time and it could have been 4 hours. These portals don't want your time; they want to GIVE you time. I'll be back. I walk into the living room with my head zatzing like the antenna on a bumper car. Everything's fine. The folks are watching Gene Barry chase somebody. Maureen has already put Petey to bed. Brian and Bobby are off somewhere in the vicinity of trouble but they haven't dragged it back here yet. Grandma's dead, but I believe in heaven. Gonna listen to Shep on the radio and then tell Grandma ( in the nightly report I promised to pray up her way forever onward )of my red dimension.

I'll return to the taillight in nights to come, and hit it lucky as often as not. I'll even let a few other kids in on my secret. One will simply reject it as Murf being deliberately weird as usual and what kind of freak wants to stare into a dirty car taillight anyway? Dick.
The other will see the effect, and sorta admit it's kinda cool. But I doubt he'll ever see the bats… maybe because he can't. Maybe he doesn't need to or maybe he has his own thing that I wouldn't quite "get." This is OK though. This sort of respectful acknowledgment is friendship. You walk along the riverbank with your 6-foot invisible rabbit… there on the other side you see some other person who thinks there's a stegosaurus beside him. You nod at one another, smile and keep walking.
What you don't do is turn to your 6-foot invisible rabbit and say "that idiot over there thinks he's walking a dinosaur! Haw haw!"

But there are some who do just that, and I already know that you can be very, very cautious about who you show your dreams to and still wind up with a long list of your gone dreams and who killed them.
Time taken, smile shattered. World-drenched.
Yonder come:
Sarcasm and censure; the sneer and the fallamooka.
Custom and cool.
Insult and antagonism.
The freeze-out… the crucifix.
The glory of man's imagination.
But not yet.

Someday the car will no longer be there, or I'll have grown tired of the red world, or something. I'll have absorbed it into me fully or outgrown it, never to return, likeToyland in the old song. Or It'll just drift away like summer, and even the promise I made Grandma. In any event, I'll have completed my involvement with the taillight and that'll be that. It will not have been robbed from me. I'll only tell other people about it years and years from now, when it's too late for them to ruin everything. By telling them, I'll be reminding myself of something very sweet, meaningless and gone.

I dunno what they'll make of my tale. Nothing, probably.

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