Memory Speaks

Black Elk said: “Certain things among the shadows of a man’s life do not have to be remembered – they remember themselves.” He was right. If we’re lucky, we have both memories of good times and memories of important milestones at our command. But whether we’re lucky or not, certain memories come back of their own accord, whether beckoned or not. Many of mine in that category were first lived in a dream place, a middle place, and they come calling with some frequency.

I don’t really know why.

When I was in college, my now-wife and I lived in a nice apartment that happened to be located in the g-h-e-t-t-o with a capital “G”.

One of those sentinels of bygone days, a stalwart stone inner-city middle-class apartment House with solid brick balconies and spacious rooms, French doors, built-in bookshelves, etc. In fact, my own mother had lived in the same building with her parents as a teenager. (I didn’t know this when we looked at the place, but I maintain some strange feeling made me want to live there–call it a feeling of home. I had had no interest in moving, but when we saw this place, I immediately wanted it.)

We had the top floor, and the entry door locked, and it was cheap and our old Greek landlord was a saint, so we were good with it.

One day a couple of girls with…interesting wardrobes…moved in to the apartment below us. I learned later they were sisters, and both worked as strippers at a local club. They were both very nice looking in a surgically enhanced, tacky, over-reaching sort of way.

They moved in with a lot of expensive, brand-new furniture, then completely re-carpeted the place at their own expense. They both drove brand-new cars.

After a few weeks, I noticed they were having “parties” very regularly, lasting to about 3 a.m. It seemed only men attended these parties.

Yep, they were ho’s. And I’m pretty sure they didn’t actually live there. It was just their “business” address.

Anyway, while wondering what to do about it, I noticed one winter evening, coming home around 1:00 a.m. or so, that one of the girl’s new Mitsubishi convertible was parked outside with the engine running. I could tell because it was winter, and the exhaust was visible in the cold.

I went to bed and forgot about it.

When I got up the next day, I looked out my dining room window and noticed the car was still running. What’s more, just then some cops pulled up and started rummaging through it, opening the trunk and such.

I decided to be neighborly and go down there and tell them about it.

I had never spoken to them–we kept different schedules, to say the least. I went down the flight to their place and knocked on the door. I heard considerable shuffling and nervous voices, then a strained “Just a minute” from one of them.

She opened the door a bit, a sheet wrapped around her naked body, her blond shaggy hair all over the place, visibly wired or whacked out on something.

“Hey. I just wanted to tell you your car is out there in the alley, and…”

She interrupted–“My CAR!? Is it RUNNING?”

A bit surprised, I said, “Well, yeah, it is running, and–”

–“Are the COPS IN IT?” Sort of screaming, like we’re arguing even though we’re not.

“Well, yeah, the cops are going through it.”

“Ahhhaaaaayyyy!!!” She screamed in a sort of primal angst-ridding, rolled her eyes back and slammed the door.

Well, I thought, I guess she already knows.

They were gone a few weeks later. I heard the dark haired one had died, or was she murdered?

This was just one of the tamer episodes we had at that place. I would never want to go back, but I do miss the color and unpredictability of the old neighborhood sometimes.


The late Summer heat has settled in, and we do battle with it as we do the snow and ice when in winter’s coldest grip. The day divides into the early morning hours and evening–when it’s possible to walk the dog, mow the lawn, or play a game of golf–and the midday stretch, when we resign ourselves to that curious summer version of cabin fever, gazing out the windows at a formidable landscape as we listen to the hum of the air conditioner and wonder how they stood it out here in those first sod-busting years.

I remarked the other day on a rabbit, sitting in the near garden looking as rabbits always do whether winter, spring, summer or fall. All business, he sat still as stone and stared with his right side eye at me, while he surveyed God knows what with the one on the left side. Over 102 out there, and he remains at ease, not the least bit concerned, or at least appearing so. Is he hot? Is he saying to himself, “Damn, it’s hot out here?” No, because all he knows is “out here.” In the evening he will crawl into his warren, somewhere in my yard, and be cooler, though not cool. For now he watches, and waits, nothing but rabbit in late summer.

We time these days by the sprinkler. When did we last drag them out, when do we need to do it again? Is it really going to rain this time, or will it just be more sound and fury, a few stingy droplets on the sidewalk? Do I detect a brown patch? They come out of nowhere, despoiling an otherwise resplendent lawn and garden that grew without effort in April and June. This indifferent and unrelenting sun–it tries the living like the barker at a dance marathon. We have only so much stamina and patience for drudgery and sameness, for dull bright days of pounding sun and sizzling streets and sticky car seats.

But we know, like that rabbit knows his warren, of those evening times, and those morning times. In the morning the air is weighted with dew, it’s visible, it softens the landscape, and you can taste it. The mourning doves and robins and cardinals and sparrows all take advantage, and they look at you knowingly–“This is the time, eh?” they seem to say with that look. (Where do they go at midday?) At twilight the fireflies come into the yard by the hundreds this year, bobbing about slowly, clumsily, awkwardly looking for a date in the cool grass. Will-o’-the-wisps. As the yard darkens their glow increases, eventually becoming the defining pattern out there, always changing and chaotic with stop-and-go flickers of fade-in, fade-out motion. The summer’s night fire dance–its amusing repost to the day’s oppressive stillness.

And we dream the autumn will come, as we dream of spring’s first mud and tight budding in the depths of winter. We dream of cool breezes on skin warmed by the October sun, of swirling golden leaves and long walks in light jackets, the comfort of a temperate time. We know it will come, which makes today’s long sojourn between morning and evening something we can smile about. It will come, and we’ll forget the heat of long days, watch the moon come out like a huge clock face, and cherish that time until the first sprightly frosts of winter rekindle the cold fire of longing for change.