Category Archives: playing

The truth and parallelism

photo 20

F Train—With Two of Us on the Run

I listen to angelic voices—while

she looks at her baby’s photographs
laying on a blanket just a few
weeks old—while

another fixes her ID badge
at the collar and two others talk
quietly—while

half-built skyscrapers slide behind grey
girders, old trestles against dappled
grey clouds in the late spring sky—while

noses dive into magazines and
books and fingers dance on touch screens, eyes
straining for backlit words—while

the conductor crackles with news from
up the line that we can’t hear about
things we can’t see—while

wet napes dry against cool air as hips
rock and jerk to absorb the shocks of
sliding underground—while

one man gets up so the woman with
a cane can sit down and apply her
makeup layer by layer—while

smells of coffee and sweat push against
each other hanging from straps on rails
hanging from the ceiling—while

the dark tunnel moves, its walls broken
by shallow wells filled with words read by
those who care what they say—while

a man wears a salmon buttoned down
shirt folded over his chest like a
kimono—while

headphones and earbuds build parallel
worlds far away from everything here
in the everyday droll—while

a really tall black girl in purple
clutches her diploma as her mom
smiles and sits down—while

strollers and bicycles park against
seats and poles and a backdrop of plaids
checks, stripes, and solids—that

wash the scene and keep it vivid, live,
connected. There’s no race there’s only
a runner.

—Brooklyn, June 2015

Notes and Credits

The opening photograph was taken during a raging snow storm on the F-Train’s Culver Viaduct overlooking Carroll Gardens and Red Hook. The train comes above ground briefly there to cross the Gowanus Canal, then diving back down underground in Park Slope. “Two of Us on the Run” is a song by the group Lucius, which formed and cut its teeth in my neighborhood here, Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. I saw Lucius at the Prospect Park Bandshell this summer and then I bought their CD over iTunes and had it on my phone while I took the subway to work over the last few weeks. Brilliant song, wonderful treatment, makes me wish I had a daughter to play it for, over and over again. And when I listen on the train, I think of all the stories traveling with, on the way somewhere in the city.

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10 years later, we remember

The Parkside School, Brooklyn, New York, September 11, 2011

Ten years ago, I went to work early.  I was in the office before 8:00 am.  I taught political science at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois.  It was a beautiful blue-sky morning, and I hoped to get a lot of work done.  My wife was in St. Louis on a work trip, so I was on my own.  At some point in the morning, our Administrative Assistant, Jane, came running down the hall and ran into my office.

“A plane crashed into the World Trade Center!”

We went to the seminar room and turned on the television.  Live coverage.  There was the building, with smoke pouring out of it.  Before I saw the pictures, I thought it must a be terrorist – but then once I saw the images I couldn’t believe it was a big plane.  So I thought it was an accident.  Maybe a small plane.  And then, as Jane and I sat there, gape-mouthed and gazing at the television, another plane came into the view and hit the second tower.  That was a big plane, and I couldn’t believe it.

After a bit, I went back to my office and put on the radio.  I was listening to NPR as American Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon.  At this point, I thought we were under attack, at war, and I was terribly afraid of what might be next.  We didn’t know who was doing this, and it was very frightening.

I was able to talk to my wife later that day.  She was stuck at the airport in St. Louis for a day.  She was stuck but okay, and I was relieved to speak with her.  By midday, we knew what had happened, but it was still scary and hard to believe.  A couple weeks later, we found out that she was pregnant.  We were going to have a child.

Ten years on, I spent this anniversary of the attacks in Prospect Park, Brooklyn.  My son, Noel, had his first flag football practice today.  He’s been waiting for this day for a long time – he loves football and so wants to play.  He was incredibly happy, happier than I have seen him in other sports, and it was a joy to watch him play.

While the kids were practicing with Coach Marc, the other dads recounted where they were on September 11, 2001.  One worked just a few blocks from the towers and managed to escape the area as the towers were falling down to the ground.  The other had witnessed attacks from his apartment in Brooklyn, where he had a clean view of the events.  He’d been taking photos of the skyline that morning, and only later, upon developing his film, did he realize that he’d caught images of the second plane flying into the second tower.

I didn’t live in New York then, but I do now.  Noel was born on May 28, 2002, and I am raising him here.  New York – or Brooklyn, more precisely – will be the place he always calls home.  He has no memory of 9-11, though he knows what happened.  All his life, his country has been at war.  When I think about his life and my life, this post-9-11 world seems like a weird and different place, and this America is not at all the country I grew up in.  Yet this is his country, and on this day that I remember with somber feelings and sadness, he had a great football practice.  Later, we went home and watched the games on television.  Then I called my brother and wished him happy birthday, like I do every year on 9-11.

Notes and Credits

Photographs by the author.  The first is of the flag at half-mast at PS 130, The Parkside School.  The school is just next to the entrance to the Fort Hamilton Parkway Subway Station for the F and G trains in Brooklyn.  It’s where we live, and the site of an earlier post, Without the Truth, You Are the Looser.

The photograph of the airplane in the clouds was taken in Prospect Park, near the “dog beach.”  That’s where my son’s team was practicing this morning.  Prospect Park is beneath one of the main approaches to LaGuardia Airport, and you can hear the planes fly over every couple of minutes most days.  Today, it was cloudy, low clouds, and the planes could only be seen in the haze, rocketing over us on their way into the airport.  Fifty-one years ago, a plane crashed into Park Slope along that flight path.  It was one of the worst disasters in New York history to that point; 134 people died in the crash.  From 2004 to 2006, I lived on Sterling Place, the street where the plan crashed in 1960.  My neighbor, Ms. Phipps was a witness that day and had told me about it. You can find a photo essay of it here.

Planes and clouds.  It seems we have always lived under flight paths.  In Minnesota, we lived just under main approach to the Minneapolis Airport.  Noel’s first word was “airplane.”  As we were leaving Prospect Park after practice, we saw a man selling bubble-making kits for kids.  He filled the playground with bubbles as he walked along.

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The truth and Legos (Good Things Come in Small Pieces)

You can make anything with Legos.   They are a digitized dream machine spawning infinite variety from a small set of mainly similar little pieces.  These plastic bricks stoke the imagination and allow minds—young and old alike—to turn ideas into things. Playing with Legos, one has a sense of creative power that is rare in my experience.  Hours and even days can pass just building, building, building—then tearing down and building again.

I don’t remember when I got my first set of Legos.  Nor do I recall when I stopped playing with them.  What I do remember is that Legos were always part of my childhood and then quite absent from my young adulthood.  That’s how it was for a long, long time, until I had my own child and, around the time he was two or three, I started playing with Legos again.

I noticed that Legos had changed a little in the thirty-or-so years since I’d last played with them.  The basic Lego blocks in all their bright colors were still the main pieces, 1x1s, 1x2s, 2x2s, 2x3s, 2x4s, 2x8s, 2x10s, in regular height and the one-third flats.  But they were packaged differently.  Now there were commercial tie-ins to Star Wars, Spongebob, Harry Potter, and Pirates of the Caribbean, as well as special theme sets of cities, oceans, or ancient Egypt.  Specialty pieces proliferated—hinges, odd shapes, and other pieces that gave Lego creations operational abilities (like flapping wings) and a verisimilitude that mainly existed in our minds when I was young.

Now, at 47 years of age, I look forward to each birthday (my son’s, that is) and Christmas for the Legos we’ll (I mean he’ll) get.  On quiet evenings when we can make the time, he asks me to “play Legos” with him, and we sit there in the living or in his room just making up new stuff.  We always make the items in the packages first, but these are torn apart immediately to build more interesting things and rarely do we redo them a second time (though we have all the directions in a folder, just in case we’d want to).

My favorite objects to build are houses—Legos are about dreaming and we all have different ways of dealing with the New York housing market.  My son embraces greater variety—everything from dinosaurs to kitties, houses, spaceships, cars, and even cities.  If I get busy, I’ll return to his room hours (or a day) later and find an entire theme park.  He’ll explain me the rules and characters, and these will remain for days or weeks.

Perhaps the best thing about Legos, however, is the moment when I tuck him in to bed after we’ve created a jumble of buildings and other things and he says to me, “Daddy, it was fun playing Legos with you.”  One day he’ll grow out of these Legos, but I’ll pack them away and keep them for my next turn at Legos in another twenty years.

Notes and Credits

Thank you, Noel.

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Filed under fathers, ideas, life, playing, sons, toys, truth, youth