On this day in 1644, “The Globe” was demolished by order of the Puritan City authorities (and the site redeveloped by Sir Matthew Brand or Brend). The play-house had originally been built in 1599 …
Growing older has advantages, of which I admit to exploiting each one. Like senior coffee, being able to say, “I’ve forgotten your name.” without guilt and faking poor hearing to eavesdrop.
Oh sure, there are times when I search for my glasses with one pair on my head and another hooked from my neck, and others when I’d wished I had written down the reason I climbed up those stairs. I have learned to laugh at those moments (I laugh at a lot).
I remember when I awoke each morning in anticipation at what new adventure that day might bring. I recall running joyfully in the fields. But childhood days gave way to adolescence and I soon awoke with the uncertainty of the semi-anxious years.
Admittedly I then found history less important than if my pink sweater was clean. Khrushchev weighed less on my mind than Billy’s Chevy. I fretted about appearance… what my peers thought of me… when, no doubt, they were worried about exactly that, also.
Every adult told me with certainty that, “These are the best years of your life.” And I thought to myself, you mean it gets worse?
I can’t tell you all the stupid things I did in my twenties (no, I really can’t tell you). Because those were the days before my brain was fully formed… you know… when I knew everything.
It’s not so much that I enjoy growing older as it is a relief that I’m no longer young. I have no parents to appease, no pressure to marry and have babies. My days are my own, unencumbered with “Mom, take me to the Mall.” or “Hurry up, we’ll be late.” Now I can bask in the deliciousness of an afternoon nap, leave early from parties and no one ever asks me to help them move.
It’s freedom from the expectations that permeated my youth. It’s choosing which pictures to remove from my album and learning the fine art of selective memory. And as I sit here watching my cataracts grow I realize there’s advantage in being able to remove my glasses when a softer view on the world is preferred, like moving into an Impressionist painting at will.
I still possess hope for the future. I choose to keep love in my heart. I bask in the smell of a lilac, get lost in good music or poetry and marvel at the color of the sky. I liked these just as well when I was younger but I appreciate them so much more now.
Would I trade this bum hip to run in the fields? Maybe, but only for a day and I would not trade the peace that I hold in my heart for one minute of the angst I felt as a teen.
No, these are the best years of my life because I have the ability to make it so.
On a beautiful Sunday afternoon a group of hippies sat on Hampton Beach and all were “bummed out”, as we said so often in those days.
“How,” I hear you asking, “Could anyone possibly be bummed out on a Sunday at Hampton Beach? Well, instead of being grateful for a weekend full of fun, sun, music and pinball we brooded because it was the end of the weekend and we were preparing ourselves for imminent returns to the normalcy of our middle class households in the suburban neighborhoods of America. Since the idea of returning to said homes was so repugnant, we began to plan ways to prolong our weekend.
Brainstorming took on momentum (like it does in the young and should in us all) and somebody got the idea to drive into Boston. Cambridge Common had free concerts on Sundays and it was just the scene for a group of hippies like us, that summer in 1969.
Gasoline was thirty six cents per gallon. Susie had a car. We climbed in, pig piled on each other’s laps for the hour drive to Cambridge. Parking, like most of our lives, was free and we claimed a patch of grass, ready to listen to anyone who would play music for nothing. Life was good. It was ’69 and everything was groovy.
Someone lit up a doob and all thoughts of returning home burned up in that smoke as the next band began to play.
We started to move, nodding to each other at the quality of the rock music. Feet tapped, heads bobbed, people stood for a better view of the band and to dance, to dance freestyle and soon every able bodied person on that common was alive in that music, that music, so creative, so original, unlike any other sound we’d heard in rock at the time. It was a rendition of “There is a Mountain”, that old Donovan song but played by this incredibly tight band, in a way that Donovan could never have dreamed of from Scotland to County Cork. This was uniquely American sound.
The crowd was jumping in the wild free knowing that this was extraordinary, this happening, right here, right now at this place in the Universe when the stars were aligned just so and we were an integral part of it all.
The set ended, the applause subsided but our brain waves still cooked. We turned to ask each other in wonder, “Who were those guys?”
And the announcer said, “Ladies and gentlemen, those were The Allman Brothers, The Allman Brothers,” he repeated, “Watch for their first album, to be released this September.”
We were not mistaken. It was, indeed a moment like no other in time.
The Allman Brothers Band’s first releases were delayed, of course, but that jam landed on their Eat a Peach album and we were there to hear it before the masses… for free.
“I’m not kidding, Jonna, there was a different woman in his bed each morning! My ninety year old father, he’s in a wheel chair and the nurses were horrified. I kept getting complaints from the staff.”
“What did you do?” I asked.
“And did you?”
“No, I pointed out, to that old besom that those women were in his bed, he was not in theirs, so I asked her… I really did… if she had contacted those women’s families and asked them to curb their mothers’ behavior.”
I had to laugh, but later on (that story sort of stuck) I asked myself, when did it become so scandalous to sleep with someone, to just cuddle up and hold each other’s bodies, like in a bed?
During cave man times we must have huddled together for the warmth. It meant our survival. During the Middle Ages entire households, the master, his wife, their children and even the servants slept together under mounds of covers to conserve heat. Certainly indigenous families cuddled under buffalo skins in teepees. So what’s wrong with seniors cuddling up for warmth and caring and touch?
Because now we are civilized?
My mother told stories about cold nights when she and her well spooned sisters giggled, half thankful when one of them passed gas. Such was the need for warmth in Maine. Then…the miracle… of central heat and the simplest act with the greatest importance fell out of fashion.
To sleep with someone now has to mean you’re having sex with them. Is that dirty mind of ours rooted in not being held and allowed to suckle as a child? Even nursing your newborn fell out of fashion in the forties.
No mother’s milk for you, you twisted Baby Boomers! We never even had a chance!
But we are doing our best with civilization, improving it as we learn, and we have re-recognized the need for human touch. We hug our children more (as they cleave to their iPhone), free hug gatherings happen in public spaces and Rent-a-Cuddle services abound. Maybe half the people who attend church just go to connect physically in a non-judgmental way.
We need to be loved on. That need is basic. I suggest it’s primal and now we have come to understand that it is, indeed, therapeutic. We know hugs create a feeling of well-being by releasing oxytocin and that they reduce cortisol, the stress hormone. Guess what, folks, that need for a squeeze doesn’t end when the first issue of AARP appears on our doorstep.
I don’t have to tell a single one of you that Benjamin Franklin is said to have been sexually active well into his eighties’ and, founding father or not, who cares if he actually practiced the Art of Loving or if he only snuck a cuddle and a snooze.
Yet a teacher cannot hug a child, not even in the presence of others. That’s how suspicious we are about touch.
I had a man-friend who claimed to be seventy-eight but I swear that he looked every “Hard Day’s Night” of eighty-seven. As we walked to the car we paused to kiss… a tender moment… till a young kid walked by and made barfing sounds.
“C’mon, John,” I said, “we mustn’t frighten the young people.” We smiled in mutual fondness and held each other just a little more closely. Because both of us knew that hugs at our age… now… mean more than they ever did in our youth.
“Whatever you do, stay away from Hal Wallace,” he said as he drove. “Half the women will be ex-wives and the other half he’s dated… and they’re all still mad at him!” Peter laughed and Judy nodded. Hal was the noted compulsive liar of my sister’s social network.
I’ve had experience with this. Saw that movie and the sequel. I planned to stay as far away as possible from Hal Wallace. Who needs that in their life? Then I saw him. Hard as steel, wide chested in what was easily a six hundred dollar shirt perfectly fitted over abs. His shoes probably cost a week of my salary. He smiled and checked me from top to bottom, lingered his eyes on the interesting parts. Of course he did, I was probably the only woman at the party who would speak to him.
NO man had a right to be that handsome and he was so annoyingly comfortable with his sexiness. That’s the difference between men and women. Females obsess about slight perceived flaws but a handsome man knows when he’s got it. He is confident in his stature. Hal leaned against the doorframe hips jutted forward, fingers combed through silvery brown curls. Dark seductive eyelashes framed cool green eyes.
So I did what any gal should do when confronted with that much pheromone and aftershave… I ignored him… and it just about drove him crazy when I didn’t perform the anticipated acts of gaping and drool.
“This is Judy’s sister, Anna. Anna, Hal.”
“Nice to meet you.” I made to turn but he grasped my hand. His left embraced my forearm and a thousand tiny sparks grazed my skin like neurons afire. God almighty, this man had it going on. “Have you seen the garden? It’s beautiful this time of year.” He smiled with perfectly whitened teeth.
“Hey Judy,” I yelled, “Hal wants to show me the garden. Should I go with him?”
“No,” echoed the room, half seemed disgusted, the other half laughed.
He dogged me, as I dodged him. Not because I was special but because I was uninterested. That piqued his curiosity. That made me prey.
I admit that I enjoyed the game, but I am sooo over gorgeous men who think they own the world. Beauty is mostly an accident of birth. I want a man of substance, one who has acquired wisdom and kindness, not a border-line narcissist with evocative body language and insufferable pick-up lines.
I made quick getaway to the car to have a toke. Hal appeared out of nowhere and asked if I’d share. I handed him the vape. “This is my car,” he said, pointed to an E Class and expected me to be impressed.
“Couldn’t you find a reliable car like a Honda?” I asked acerbically.
“It’s a beautiful car.” He opened the driver’s door. “Just sit in it.”
“I don’t think so.” I shut the car door admiring the solid sound of German precision, and I was suddenly in his arms, kissing, kissing this handsome liar and enjoying it way more than a reasonable woman should have. I can never trust me on pot.
That’s how it started but I knew his game. There was no chance that I would ever love him. He had none of the qualities I’d look for in a friend, never mind a lover. But what was the harm? No one would get hurt. Hal was the kind of man that you had fun with but you didn’t get serious about.
That was four years ago. We have been occasional lovers for longer than most of his marriages have lasted. We have a great time. He’s a good date, great chemistry and once I learned to live with the lying, I was fine with it. I even thought it was funny and I would make up comeback lies just to amuse myself, to make fun of him. Sometimes I thought it was cute. Awe he made that up just to make me think he’s a better person, how sweet is that?
Last week he called me. “Anna, I, umm, I have FTD,” he said.
“What do you mean? You have an STD???”
“Not STD, FTD, you know, like the bread truck?”
“You mean like the florist?”
“That’s what I mean,” he said.
Oh, crap, my heart sank as I Googled it, Frontotemporal Dementia and he probably has had it for years. He fit the profile, a lack of empathy, an inability to connect, filling in memory loss with blocks of trying to sound normal. All the times that I’d laughed at the absurdity of his lies I’d been laughing at his illness. All the people who scorned his behavior loathed his disease. And it illustrated to me exactly why I should not pre-judge.
“I am so sorry.”
“I know. It sucks.”
“Hal,” I said. “I’m your friend and I will stick by you with this.” We ended the call and I cried. For the first time in four years I knew that I did in fact… love this man… just enough to make my heart ache.
Sad blue eyes and a fine even smile, his build bragged of gym dues and vegetables. This was one gorgeous specimen, a friend of a friend, that’s usually how these things start. He said he was recently divorced, forty years void of love. I believed him. If any man seemed starved for affection it was he and if anyone’s self-esteem had been ruthlessly damaged, it was his.
Both over sixty, an odd age for a summer love but astounding beauty like this is a gift. Was my judgment clouded by perfection, my sight blurred by superb? I wanted him and I wanted him to know that I wanted him, and the tastes of his kisses were pastries of sensory delight. I savored each one, found joy in his touch. I devoured this man from each graceful finger to his strong lovely legs. I gave him the tenderness he had learned to live without. Freely, without shame I admit to loving this man with all my might.
I guarded him jealously because I knew he would not be mine for long. As soon as he understood what a commodity he was in a world full of women, he’d be gone. Someone younger and prettier would get him that is exactly how it happened.
I got to love that man for only six months before he found her and it was painful as hell when he left. For three full months I cried, spent sleepless nights writing bad poetry, I even considered Prozac till I began to recognize a small spark of joy between each tear. I could be pleased for him because I knew that if anyone deserved happiness it was he. If anyone deserved to be appreciated, if anyone ever deserved to be loved it was this man.
Maybe Rumi was right when he said, “The wound is the place where Light enters you.” Or maybe Bob Marley when he said, “Truth is everybody is going to hurt you. You just gotta find the ones worth suffering for.” But I clung to one thought, maybe she deserved him.
I am impressed with my heart. It’s still open, still willing to endure injury in order to love. I’m proud that this weird world hasn’t jaded me and no barriers protect from deep feeling. I’m only slightly crazy, I don’t drink… and I’d give all the Prozac in Walgreen’s to have a chance like that again, to help a deserving man grow in confidence and realize he is worthy of love. This was life affirming and there is no experience more existential than skin to skin, heart to heart, face to face contact and sharing vital breath with someone you love.
Then I did the math. Six months of bliss minus three months of melancholy, I’m ahead by three months. Net positive, bliss, hell, ya, I’d do it again. It beat the heck out of crocheting shawls by lamp light.
If you must lose in love, lose to a woman half your age with long gorgeous legs and a doctorate. A large house on acres of land is a plus, an heiress maybe with a sports car or two for good measure. Or to a kind, sincere, loving soul who rescues animals, volunteers with the elderly and keeps a vegetable garden.
I saw them in the analgesic section of Walgreens. I peered through the endcap gaping. She had a fake set of boobs like two fishbowls, her hem was crooked and her eyelashes came from a box. I wished them well (him more so than her). Perhaps he has found the woman of his dreams or an adolescent-like crush on a cheap shiny piece or maybe, just maybe she recues kittens between hair appointments. So goodbye to my handsome, make your life happy… and love… love willingly, love passionately, love with everything you’ve got.
But, damnation, if I had lived forty years of neglect and had a body like his, I’d keep looking. In truth, I’d probably be messing around like Tiger Woods on hell fire.
I’ve had a great life. I was there for the good bands, even went to Woodstock. I’ve visited four continents- lived on two. I watched the moon landing, the information age exploded, the Berlin Wall fell… the list goes on.
I’ve been rich, I’ve been poor. I have loved, I have lost (insert Sinatra soundtrack, “… up and down and over and out, but I know one thing.”). But I don’t know one thing… not… one… thing.
I don’t even know if the chair I am sitting on right now in is real because Max Planck said that reality wasn’t real in 1918 and they gave him the Nobel Prize in Physics for it.
But here is what I think:
*I think it’s too easy to make the wrong turn (if there is a wrong turn to be made).
*It’s just as easy to make the right one (If there is, in fact, a right one).
*People are crazy, including me.
Today I got in trouble for wishing someone a Happy Birthday. No one was supposed to know. I knew. Now people want to know how I knew, when I knew it and who told me. Do I reveal my source? Do I apologize for knowing? Do I say that this is much ado about something stupid?
Last month I poured my heart out to someone, divulged deep secrets, even cried. She recorded it on her phone then shared it with others. I feel hurt by this but do I have the right to be angry? I don’t know why she did it. If I knew why, would I understand? I think she had a reason, but maybe not. It’s so easy to be hurt by someone turning either right or left.
And in a world full of Nine Elevens and Donald Trump should I really be sweating that someone heard my secrets? Is it always the small things that build a life and the large ones that build the world, or can one small slight turn into a Third Reich? I don’t know.
I’ve laughed at disasters, cried with delights; I’ve felt deep depressions and luminous joys. I’ve been to churches, sat with Gurus, communed with nature on mountain tops; did any of this make me wiser? I still get in trouble for knowing about birthdays and I trust the wrong friends.
Today I took a walk in the woods with my dog. My dog is sure of one thing, that she owns all forests. She knows that every other dog she sees is infringing on her property yet the minute they are out of sight… out of her reality set… they no longer exist. They have become reduced to a non-threatening odor on the side of a bush. I may have learned more from my dog today that in my sixty something years. You don’t have to carry the trespassers with you.
If my dog can live in the moment then so can I. If the other dogs no longer exist then neither do the bitches. If she doesn’t like the smell she moves on. I can do that.
I’ve heard it said that “What other people think of you is none of your business”. I think that what others do (or don’t) should not affect my sense of self. Maybe I don’t need their morality to match mine or for others to act in a certain way to make me feel better.
I get to choose how I feel about everything and I don’t even need an apology.
So this is my story, the birthday was supposed to be such a fabulous surprise that not even God was supposed to know about it AND my friend hit record by mistake then a group of her friends were so moved by my pain that they were altruistically compelled to listen to every single word. They are still crying.
I mean, if reality doesn’t exist then why bother with it? Let’s just make it up as we go.
We settled on the porch and listened to the sounds of the night. My dog eyed him skeptically. He sang a few notes of a song I’d never heard and scratched her head and back till she decided that he could be trusted. He then leaned back and began to play with my hair… I could have purred when he moved closer and cradled my chin in his hand… almost painfully slow… he guided my face to his. Sweetly, tenderly he kissed me. If first kisses could have second chances, this was it. This was the perfect kiss.
“That was beautiful,” I whispered.
“You’re beautiful,” he said and we walked to my room. I lit a scented candle and began to unbutton my blouse. His mouth nibbled my neck and he touched my breast as I peeled the fabric from my body. My skirt fell to the floor. He watched as I unfastened my bra and dropped that too. I stepped from the puddle of clothing and sank to the bed. He stripped to the skin within seconds and his mouth found mine. This was it, his kiss, mind altering and thrilling like a Tilt-a-Wheel on dope. I would have willingly consented to being sucked on into his face, down through his guts and full on down to China.
We walked into an obsidian night with thousands of tiny cut stars. He opened his jacket to protect me from icy winds and I melted in, slipped my arms into the soft silk around his back and absorbed his warmth with my body. His lips lingered on my upper cheek where the bone curves in towards the ear then kissed and kissed, over again, in just that… one… lovely spot.
“You have such beautiful hair,” he whispered as he slipped his hand behind my ear separating the locks with long probing fingers till his palm cradled the back of my head. Firmly he held my hair in his fist as his tongue traced my skin and those gorgeous full lips found mine.
I was about to meet Jack Kerouac, pioneer of the beat generation, the man who wrote On the Road in twenty days on Benzedrine, typed it on a 120 ft. scroll of tracing paper taped together like only a person high on Bennies would do, the guy who practically invented the style of spontaneous prose, was this the most exciting night of my life? Alas, I was just a seven year old girl. Meeting Jack impressed me less than knowing that I could stay up late that night at Aunt Mary’s party.
A man in a wrinkled trench with a Florida tan, a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other, he stood before me. Auntie Mary handed me paper and a pen, told me to ask for his autograph. He was creepy, his undershirt was showing and he was… wobbly. With trepidation, I did as told.
“What do you want me to write?” he asked Mary, cigarette hanging between lips and acting as though he’d been pestered by a bug.
“Write something nice about Jonna,” she said and spelled my name for him. He wrote just that. Jonna… just Jonna and tried to hand it back to me. “Come on, Jack write something nice,” she goaded. He wrote more words, signed the page and handed it to Auntie for perusal.
“Jonna is a goner in Glockamara. Oh Jack, you’re so silly,” she laughed and passed the page to me.
I may have been only seven but I knew that this guy wasn’t normal. I thanked him and retreated. With signature in hand I ran to my place, my place behind the large potted plants to try and figure out, with my seven year old mind, what the heck the famous writer meant by Jonna is a goner in Glockamara. I knew about alcohol. I liked when the people at Mary’s parties got wobbly, everyone laughed and danced. There was even some old lady who would sing when she was wobbly. I could watch everyone from my little secret place but tonight I was keeping an eye on him, this guy… Kerouac, this weirdo that everyone seemed to be so gaga over, I mean… somebody had to.
What was so great about him? Look at how he was dressed. People wore their best at Mary’s parties, how come he got to wear dirty old clothes? And he was wobbly but he wasn’t singing or dancing or having fun. He wasn’t… enjoying wobbly.
“Oh, Jack, let me fill your drink.” I heard from somebody.
I spied Uncle Dino, crossed the room and climbed onto his lap. He explained that Jack was an alcoholic and I comprehended that notion pretty well. “Well if he drinks too much then why is everybody getting him more?” I asked… when life was still simple.
“Watch what he does. He takes his drink then he sits over there.” He pointed to the chair next to my place in the plants. “Watch him”. Jack sat; hunched over, sipped his drink. I soon got bored and started playing with Uncle Dino’s face. “There.”
“You missed it. Go watch him from the plants like you do.” Well this just floored me. How did Uncle Dino know about my place? People never paid attention to me at a grown-up party. Wasn’t I invisible? I skulked back to my place, as close to Jack as a plant to dirt.
“Jack, let me freshen your drink,” said some lady I knew. I looked across at Dino. He nodded and I realized that Dino was sitting in his place. That seemed pretty funny to me, that Dino had a place where he watched people too. We smiled knowingly, one observer to the other as she served Jack his drink; he took a small sip and held the glass precariously in his lap. I watched this old guy sip his drink and it was still boring, but a small leather notebook peeked from his pocket and it caught my eye. Jack shifted his weight and it stuck out a bit more, then he may have crossed his legs or something and it was right there…
I can’t say for sure if the book fell out of his pocket or if I helped it out. I may actually have picked the pocket of Jack Kerouac and then I hid the journal between the pots. Uncle Dino gave me a stern look from his place then tipped his chin for me to watch Jack. That was about as exciting as watching ice melt. His drink of amber, still half full, Jack lifted his head sharply, looked around then he dumped his drink into the plant beside him. What? Why did he do that? I looked to Dino for answers.
Jack jumped up to argue again with someone about something and I flipped through his book, his book of scribbles. I couldn’t read any of it but I recognized one symbol, the crucifix and it was on most every page. I guessed it was a prayer book and I reverently placed it in his chair and made for the shelter of Dino’s lap.
Jack died about ten years later, in 1969, of cirrhosis. I refreshed that memory with Uncle Dino several times and he confirmed that not only did he witness Jack dump drinks frequently but that he often saw him transform from nearly passed-out drunk to completely sober within seconds in order to read a passage or a poem, perfectly enunciated, for the crowd.
That was also the year when I first read On the Road. I understood none of it. I’ve re-read the work several times since. What holds me to the pages is the rawness of his words, the feelings of how never did anything ever go right, the desperate a search to find meaning in a messed up life. In that way, I suppose, it’s every man’s story.
We were from Lowell. In 1959, the year I first saw Jack, Lowell was a distressed mill town of greyness and brick. Our family home overlooked greenery. About forty years earlier, he grew up near the smelly Merrimac which rippled its flotsam and side-floating fish. Everyone in town called him Jack… just Jack.
You can swim in the Merrimac River now. The mills are museums and trendy shops. Kerouac Park, downtown by the river… there, the homeless sleep. Monoliths engraved with exquisite quotes of his work shade the drug deals and wear spray paint graffiti. Somehow I think he’d be okay with that.
Jack claimed that his stories were about his search for God. I only know that I saw the crosses in his journal with my young impressionable eyes. To me his work will always be about hope, hope for the disenfranchised, hope for the oppressed, for the different, for the mad.
Glockamara, next I heard of Glocca Morra was from Finnian’s Rainbow. It’s a sentimental song about a fictional Irish town with little brooks, willow trees and a carefree boy with twinkling eyes, sounds heavenly.
So, how are things in Glocca Morra, Jack, since you’ve been gone? I imagine you resting by a gentle stream with a cool breeze on your face. I hope you found peace and I hope you found God, because when I saw you, Jack, you drank alone.
Pictured above, my Uncle and Godfather, Charles G Sampas, my beautiful Mother, Rachel Ellis and Jack.