The Furnace

      On an ordinary, run errands afternoon, I drove from place to place listening to Eli Wiesel’s recorded book “Night.” When Wiesel was fifteen the Nazi’s sent him and his family to Auschwitz. “Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky.” Wiesel used the word incinerator, and its meaning awakened a childhood memory.

The eerie cellar in our 3-family house on W. Runyon Street in Newark also had furnaces that sent smoke to the sky. Chunks of coal were incinerated and transformed first into heat and then into smoke. At the end of the cycle ashes were saved and mixed into garden dirt as fertilizer. Some ashes were stored and sprinkled on winter’s icy sidewalks. All those ashes at Auschwitz — what happened to them? I don’t know, but the story my mother and Wiesel told made the furnace an instrument of death.

When I was probably about nine years old, my mother wanted me to know about a woman, her baby, and a furnace. As a newborn I lived with my parents in an apartment building on South 15th Street. Ralph Martinelli, a roughly cut, good-natured Italian, or wop, as my father might have said, worked part-time hours as the building superintendent. Mazie, his wife sold lingerie at Bamberger’s, a downtown department store. Already married five years, Ralph and Mazie wanted a child of their own, yet nothing ever came of their desire.

On an afternoon of her choice when my mother and I were alone, she began a story. Upon reflection, I did not need to know about the Martinelli’s or their son. His birth and adoption made no difference to me, especially at age nine. The two couples stayed friends for years, even after Ralph moved his family out of Newark. I suppose my mother wanted me to know that families are formed in more than one way.

“Ralphie, Jr. is adopted. He’s not the Martinelli’s real child,” my mother began as if telling a secret. “Ralphie’s mother wanted to throw her baby into a furnace. Big Ralph saved the boy’s life, and they raised him as their own.”

My mother said an unhappy and poor woman took her baby to the cellar. I imagined a cellar likes ours on W. Runyon Street — a dirty, dank place with shadows, coal bins, and storage cribs where feral mother cats gave birth to litter after litter. On winter nights I hated going to the cellar. Scary down there when I had to set the damper and adjust the flue. A winter fire needed to be banked just right. 

Back to the story —the sound of someone in the cellar brought Ralph out of his workroom. As I listened to my mother, I imagined his shock. A woman stood in front of an open furnace fire with a baby in her arms.

“What are you doing, Anna?”

“I don’t want the baby,” she cried. “I’m going to throw him into the furnace.”

“Are you nuts, Anna? Gimme that kid!” Ralph grabbed the child from her arms.

“I can’t take it anymore,” she sobbed. ” He cries all the time. I’m going crazy. I don’t want him.”

The horror of what might have been had a happy ending. From the cellar to talks in the upstairs apartments, the Martinelli’s and the woman reached an agreement. My mother never explained the legal details, and those would not have matter to me. She said that after a few months and with great joy, Ralph and Mazie adopted the baby. The birth mother turned away, moved away, and never looked back.

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A Few New Images

I love the juxtaposition and humor of street scenes. Anonymous, creative people make travel fun, especially as I try to figure out what’s going on. Then there are those nuanced images I see with my own eyes and record just because they are unique. A few months ago travels took me to Boston, Quebec, and Montreal. That said, here are a few new images.

Woman texting on the train from Boston to Salisbury.

On a morning walk along Newbury Street, I saw two retail stores that might attract similar customers.

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Here’s an inspirational message left in the ladies room of North Station, Boston. One anonymous woman giving encouragement to another. Thanks for the kind words, sister.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts will exhibit works by Alexander Calder until February 24, 2019. Hens and roosters are favorite creatures, and here’s a Calder that makes me smile.

On to Old Town in Montreal with its cobblestone streets and plenty of restaurants. A great find was the Stash Café on St. Paul Street, W., serving Eastern European food.

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Last stop was Old Quebec. A funicular takes passengers up top of the city, then you can walk down. I did not photograph historic buildings or statues. Images of a clothing store with an audacious name and a restroom dispenser concluded my trip.

Windy Day

Tucson – November 13. All through the night an east wind battered chimes, shook the potted petunias silly, and snapped tree branches from their trunks. In early morning at Abby-walking time, I buffeted the wind with a jacket and an Annie Hall hat pulled down over my ears. A great day for sailing! Except, I don’t live anywhere near the sea. Let me share some images with you to show the beauty of wind, rain, and sky. You can almost smell the fresh, clear air.

Clouds.2 (2)                                                                                 *  *  *

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA                                                                            *  *  *

Wind.Rain.3

Robert Louis Stevenson:

O wind, a-blowing all day long. O wind, that sings so loud a song.

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New York City – Images.3

Here are a few signs that span amusing and practical to philosophical and sad. Each image is a message, a micro-story, in the big, bold City of New York. On my way by taxi from LaGuardia Airport to the city, I heeded the warning – do not assault the driver. Jorge was a lovely man who immigrated from the island of Jamaica years ago. Why would anyone want to harm him or any other driver?

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TaxiSign.1

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Sign.2 (3)Sign.1 (2)

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TeeShirts.2                                                         Tee Shirts – Little Italy

LittleItaly.Menu                                                                     Menu – Little Italy

RatsNYC                                                                    More Cats, Please

IMG_3494 - Copy (3)

Saddest of All, Asleep on 7th Avenue

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New York City – Images.2

Construction and teardowns are constant activies in the city. Sky high and stiletto thin hotels and apartment buildings welcome the wealthy.  Older neighborhoods along 14th Street and into the Meat Packing District are being dismantled brick by brick. ‘Way back when, my one-bedroom apartment on E. 18th Street between 2nd and 3rd rented for $240/month. Richard’s two bedroom, 2-bath at Quaker Ridge (21st & 3rd), now a condominium, sells for $1 million. As apartment buildings are demolished in low-income neighborhoods tenants struggle to find affordable housing. No matter its flaws, New York City is fabulous!

A friend recommended the Salisbury Hotel, an older hotel on 57th between 6th and 7th Avenues. Excellent choice as the hotel has large rooms — our room had two closets, all the amenities, including a safe that locked with a key. Great neighborhood with a Duane Reed on one corner, restaurants, and a subway entrance on 7th Avenue.

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57thSt.4

142 W. 57th Street

HighLineView

View from the High Line

WaterTower

View from the Whitney Museum of American Art

IMG_3353

West 14th Street & Ninth Avenue

LittleItaly

Little Italy

Molly's

Molly’s (Originally named Molly Malone’s)

 

Sailboat

WaterTaxi

Views from the Staten Island Ferry

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New York City – Images.1

I love New York City, no doubt about that! As a little girl, my merchant seaman father often took me into the city. He hung out on the docks and at the seaman’s hall. We’d have lunch at Horn and Hardart’s Automat. I loved choosing food displayed behind little glass windows.  I worked in the city, lived in the city, and met Richard’s at Molly Malone’s, a neighborhood bar on Third Avenue. I’m happy in the hustle and knocked myself out for five great days in September. These images are from that trip.

My cell phone camera is too easy to use. The images may not be Nikon sharp, and that’s how it goes. I like street photography — see something, press the shutter button! The moment will not repeat itself. New York City – Images.1 is about anonymous people who caught my eye.

Carneg.1
Debut at Carnegie Hall

Without.A.Home

Homeless on 7th Avenue

Balloon.3                                                                 Mylar Balloon

 

SanG.Festival

San Gennaro Festival, Little Italy

 

BlackShoes.3

Black Shoes – Staten Island Ferry

Chinatown

Delivery in Chinatown

At.Rest At rest in a subway

Vendor                                                             Sabrett Vendor

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Carlos – Part 4

 

 

 

Part 4 of Carlos’ story from the book “A Snowball’s Chance.” 

High school dropouts tell their stories.

Arrests and Probation

I’m on probation because I was drunk and got caught with a gun. A couple of nights before the arrest someone had broke into my house. Normally, I don’t ever have to carry a gun. I’ve got someone with me riding shotgun. After the guy broke into my house, I began to carry my good old .40-caliber.

Amelia, the kids, and me went to a family function at the Casino Ballroom. When we walked in there were a couple of girls I had messed with. They called out my name and my wife said, “Who the hell are those bitches?” I’ve always been up front about myself. I’ve never hid anything from my wife. She knows I was messing around with other women. She knows I was on the street hustling. But it’s like if you love me, then you are going to be with me. I told her, “This is the way you met me. This is the way I am. If you don’t like it, go and kick rocks. I’ll find someone else.”

I hadn’t seen the girls in a long time. That didn’t make it any easier on my wife. We had a couple of drinks. I was drinking Coke with Mexican brandy. She kept going off about it. I got to a point and said, “You know what? Grab the kids. We are going to leave.” We left and I got off at the Circle K. I told her, “You take the kids home.” I had a cousin that lived across the street. I was going to go to his house. She took off. I walked into the Circle K.

I was wearing a see-through shirt, and I had my gun with me. I grabbed a twelve-pack and went to pay for it. The guy didn’t want to sell it to me. He smelled alcohol on my breath and said, “Sir, I can’t sell to you.”

“What the hell is wrong with you? Don’t let this little six-dollar-an-hour job get to you. Man, I’ve got enough money to buy half of this store. Are you going to sell me this twelve-pack? You know what? Take this and shove it up your ass. I’ll just go to the next store.” I walked out and there were police cars in the parking lot. A security guard in the store called the cops. I had enough time that when I had seen the cars, I took the pistol and threw it. They asked me what was going on. “Nothing, I just came to buy some beer.”

One of the officers had arrested me when I was younger. He remembered that I was a convicted felon. He said, “You are not supposed to have a gun.” They booked me into the Pima County Jail. That night they charged me with prohibited possession. The next day I woke up with the biggest headache and the biggest hangover.  When I went to court, the judge read off three counts of attempted armed robbery, three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and prohibited possession. That’s six felonies! Three of them are Class 3s, and three of them are Class 2s. Class 1 is the highest you can get—it’s like a murder.

I’m in the jail cell. I said, “God, what did I get myself into?” That was the point where I made myself a promise. I was done. I can’t live like this anymore. Not only was I putting my wife through a lot, I was putting my kids through too much stuff. I have five kids to think about.

I had my own lawyer—someone I used in another case. The way I got my money to begin with was not right. If I wasn’t careful enough to set money aside,  then I would never be able to afford a lawyer. I would have been represented by the state, and I would be in prison for a long, long time. My first plea bargain was seven to twenty-one years. I turned it down and they came at me with five to ten years. “What are you guys talking about? I didn’t rob anybody. I didn’t hit anybody.”

My third plea bargain was under the bracket they were supposed to give me. It was below the bracket two to five years. I was still fighting it. My lawyer met with the prosecutor. They reached an agreement and gave me “probation available.” I went to my sentencing. The judge gave me four months in the county jail and four years of probation. The first year started off as intensive probation. If I violate, I go to prison. They could aggravate my sentence and give me the max—twenty-one years.

My probation officer is wonderful. I look at him like a father figure, as an uncle. He is understanding, and I’m blessed to have an officer like him. The worst part of intensive probation is that I have to have approval for everything. If I want to go somewhere with my kids or go out with my wife, I have to get approval. Yet, if it wasn’t for intensive probation and what I’ve gone through, I would not be the person I am now. I wouldn’t have so much hunger for success.

The last time I was locked up was a turning point. I knew that my daughter was looking at me. That’s a feeling I never want to have again. Seeing her come to visit, and I was behind that glass. Her expression nearly killed me.