Sister Mercedes and the Temple of Doom FREE June 6, 7 & 8

Image

 

My ebook, “Sister Mercedes and the Temple of Doom” will be FREE on Amazon on Friday, June 6th, Saturday, June 7th and Sunday, June 8th!  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00C479TN6/

“Sister Mercedes and the Temple of Doom” is a collection of blog posts from this very blog!  From the depiction of the author’s upbringing as a fat, shy Catholic school boy to the vagaries of family life to trying to live hand-to-mouth while on disability, “Sister Mercedes” is a sometimes hysterically funny, sometimes tragic and always human glimpse behind the veil of parenthood, marriage, pop culture and the world in general.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog, please spread the word to anyone you think would be interested.  It’s FREE!

Thanks,

Brian

 

Patty Duke Sipped Here

Image

I have a story to tell my friends.

It’s a show-biz story. A story of perseverance, fortitude and a never-say-die attitude. A story of pluck, determination, ambition! It’s about going out there a simple chorus girl and coming back a star!

Except the star is an end table.

Allow me to explain. Those of you who know me may have received one of the 10,000 or so emails and Facebook posts regarding my play “Echoes of Ireland.” We’ve been on a bit of a Spring tour, performing the show in Newburgh this March, Catskill in May, and coming up in June—Goshen! Get your tickets! While supplies last! Act now! JUST THROW MONEY AT THE PRETTY COLORS!!!

Sorry, I got a little carried away. Anyway, the reason why we’ve been able to pack up the show so easily and visit these fine villages is that we have practically NO set. It’s literally four chairs, or stools, or boxes, or whatever the theater has handy for us to put our butts on. We have costumes—I mean, we’re not completely without theatrical sensibility. And props! We have…well, we have a couple. More than one. The lights get dim and then bright again. OK, it’s a good show, don’t judge a book by its lack of incidental music. Oh, and there’s one table. Little dark cherry deal, ’bout yea tall.

The table belongs to Dana, one of our cast members. She brought it in two days before we opened in Newburgh, and we were very grateful to have it. Not too big that it blocked the audience, nor to small to rest a cup of tea upon (or some grammatically correct version of that notion.) Through the course of the show laundry is folded on it, and a fake cigarette and ashtray rest atop it. Good, hard-working table that keeps its nose clean, does its job and doesn’t kill you to the rest of the cast as soon as your back is turned. A mensch.

We liked it so much that we brought it with us when we went up to Catskill. We could have used other tables, but this one had proven its worth and deserved more consideration than the rest. Again it took its place among the stools and turned in yet another useful, utilitarian, hard-working performance. The show in Catskill was glorious. A wonderful, receptive crowd in a beautiful, brand new theater space. We received–along with our table—a standing ovation. I mention that fact only to adequately set the scene, not because of any prideful vanity about the show and my cast…(it was one of the best days of my LIFE!) There was a pleasant post-show buzz, as the theater owners supplied free shots of Bushmills and some very nice Irish music. We all packed our costumes up and returned home with the pleasurable warmth of a job well done. And some Bushmills.

And without our table.

The theater owners informed us of the missing cast member and we arranged to pick it up the next week when my wife had a doctor appointment in Albany.  However, that was when fate intervened and decided it was the long suffering table’s turn to enjoy the spotlight.  At the last moment, the owners (a charming couple named Steven and John) made arrangements to bring PATTY DUKE to the tiny, insignificant village of Catskill for a “one night only” performance.  Her only demand?  A small table! Where to find one…hey, what about the one left here by those idiot “Echoes” people?

Thus, the table will soon have an IMDb credit.  With Patty Duke. What a world.

I agreed to this on Dana’s behalf, which you may consider forward of me. But I took for granted that she wouldn’t want to deny her table this once-in-a-lifetime experience to star alongside the original Hellen Keller. However, I took pains to insist I was not responsible for any water rings left by Ms. Duke.

The fact of the matter is that the table will soon have a more impressive resume than I do. My closest brush with stardom was when I almost sold furniture to Dianne Wiest. She didn’t buy. Dana’s fear is that when the table finally returns to her it will be so inflated with its own ego that it will refuse to hold her jar of Q-tips anymore. And this, apparently, would be my fault.

I told her every time the table starts talking about “that time I performed opposite Patty Duke,” just start flipping through an IKEA catalog.  Actors need to know just how replaceable they are.

 

Echoes of Ireland at Ritz in Newburgh, NY March 21-23

Image

Hi Everyone,

My play Echoes of Ireland will be shown the weekend of March 21-23 at the historic Ritz theater in Newburgh, NY.  For my local readers, the show will feature Ron Morehead, Cat Barney and Dana Lockhart.  All the necessary information is below.  If you’re in the neighborhood, please stop in and say hi.

Best,

Brian

A Family Saga Resonates Through Generations

in Brian C. Petti’s

Echoes of Ireland

March 21-23 at the Lobby at the Ritz Theater107 Broadway Newburgh

Fresh from it’s production in County Cork, Ireland!

The sweep of the Irish experience from County Cork to New York City is on display in Echoes of Ireland, a drama about family ties, the immigrant life and the Irish-American experience. Written and directed by Ellenville, NY resident Brian C. Petti,Echoes will hold performances on Friday, March 21 at 7:30, Saturday, March 22 at 7:30pm and Sunday, March 23 at 2pm at the Lobby at the Ritz Theater107 Broadway Newburgh. Echoes of Ireland was recently produced in County Cork by the Skibbereen Theatre Society where it garnered rave reviews such as:

“Powerful …every emotion came to the fore during this story of pride and determination in the face of adversity.” Cllr Karen Coakley, Mayor of Skibbereen, County Cork, Ireland.

Tickets are $15, and may be purchased at www.artful.ly/store/events/2624. There is limited seating, so reservations are strongly suggested. The play is being presented by Safe Harbors of the Hudson and Hatmaker’s Attic Productions, through an agreement with Eldridge Plays & Musicals.

Echoes of Ireland is a series of inter-related monologues that follows the saga of a single Irish family from County Cork in 1860 to 2001 New York City. Beginning five years after the end of the potato famine in Ireland, Echoes follows the Cunyngham clan through their journey across the ocean to the ports of Manhattan, through the lowly existence of immigrant life in the States, to the assimilation and rebirth of their family as American citizens who never forget from whence they came. The journey is part tragedy, part comedy, part history lesson and all undeniably human. 

Show times are:

Friday, March 21 at 7:30

Saturday, March 22 at 7:30pm

Sunday, March 23 at 2pm

Echoes of Ireland features notable local actors Ron Morehead (Cairo, NY), Cat Barney (Kingston, NY) and Dana Lockhart (Middletown, NY). Additional information can be found at: pettiplays.wikispaces.com and http://www.ritztheaternewburgh.org/.

Brian C. Petti has had his plays produced Off-Off Broadway (Masquerade, The Love Song of Sidney J. Stein, Banshee) and regionally (Next Year in Jerusalem, The Measure of a Man, On the Expectation of White Christmases,) by such companies as Ten Grand Productions, The American Theater of Actors, Inc. and The Fresh Fruit Festival. Masquerade was staged at Cherry Lane Theater in NYC and Next Year in Jerusalem was the winner of the Humboldt State University National Play Contest in California, where it received a student production. Published plays include The Measure of a Man by JAC Publishing and Promotions, Banshee by Next Stage Press and Echoes of Ireland by Eldridge Plays & Musicals.

Safe Harbors of the Hudson is a nonprofit organization committed to transforming lives and building communities through housing and the arts in the city of Newburgh, New York. The Cornerstone Residence is a unique facility that offers support services and jobs training on-site provided by Independent Living, an advocacy and service organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for persons with disabilities. The Cornerstone Residence consists of apartments and artist lofts, with a mixed tenancy of single adults, including the formerly homeless, veterans, those living with a mental health diagnosis, artists and other adults in need of affordable housing. The building offers many amenities and programs including a fitness center, library, computer lab, classes and a GED program. Many of these amenities and programs are available to the public. The Cornerstone also houses several multi-use spaces that may be rented for special events of all kinds.

Future projects include the renovation of three commercial spaces and the restoration of the historic Ritz Theater. As the only remaining historic theater in the City of Newburgh, the Ritz will provide a venue for live performances, educational programs for our youth, employment opportunities for our community, and create an active cultural and tourist destination.

Founded by brothers Edward and William Gibbons-Brown, Hatmaker’s Attic Productions is putting the “community” back in community theatre. They’re working to build a positive and safe creative environment where all are welcome.

The play will be produced in cooperation with Eldridge Plays & Musicals. Eldridge, a leading play publisher since 1906, offers hundreds of full-length plays, one-acts, melodramas, holiday and religious plays, children’s theatre plays and musicals of all kinds.

Welcome to the Fishbowl

Image

I am not a celebrity, nor do I have any ambition to become one. Of course I’d like to become a wildly successful playwright whose plays are continuously showing around the world 24-7. But how many of those can you name who aren’t Neil Simon? Mostly I like to try to do good work and take that wherever it leads me.

I mention the topic because three “celebrities” have made the front page of the tabloids lately, three men whose work I’ve appreciated for many, many years. “Trust the art, not the artist” is a motto to live by, especially in this age when “celebrity” and “talent” rarely cross paths. Honestly I care about the product, and I have very little patience for the cult of personality surrounding most actors, directors and singers. To say I “know” someone because of a character they’ve played or a novel they’ve written is at best delusional and at worst dangerously misguided. Yet we all seem to know so much about the people who entertain us, and there seems to be an unending desire to consume more and more, to lay them bare and swallow them up and, ultimately, bring them down a peg.

The three men I’m speaking of are Philip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Allen and most recently Alec Baldwin. Very different men with very different talents, united in my mind by the fact that I almost always found them interesting to watch and supremely good at what they did. One of them is dead of a drug overdose, another has had his reputation forever tainted and the other is so fed up with the paparazzi merry-go-round that he declared an end to his public life.

I don’t pretend to know what demons drove Hoffman, or what Woody did or didn’t do, or whether Baldwin really used an anti-gay slur when he was chasing a persistent reporter. I wasn’t there. I don’t know any of the parties involved. What I do know is that an AWFUL LOT of people who also weren’t there have an AWFUL LOT of opinions about what happened. And in the reactionary fishbowl we call America, what we think happened and what really happened are often confused. We get our messages in quick flashing headlines and tweets, encapsulated in 140 words or less. The sources for these messages have become less and less reliable, and more and more urgent to capture our attention. “Reporting” has become “scandal mongering”, and it’s only getting worse.

I saw a documentary recently about the Watergate reporters Woodward and Bernstein, about whom was made the classic journalistic triumph film “All the President’s Men”. The story of how these two men methodically and rationally connected the dots to a conspiracy that ultimately led to the resignation of a President is riveting stuff. But what stands out for my purposes here is how careful they were. They knew the consequences of what they were doing, and so they (and their editor) insisted on two sources for every item of news, and they made judgments about the veracity of those sources. In other words, they acted in a sober, responsible manner, with the goal of ultimately revealing the truth behind this Watergate break-in and who knew about it when.

The documentary interviewed a current editor and asked him what would happen if the story broke today. He said it would be tweeted around the world immediately, and the worst would be assumed about the Republican’s motives instantly. All the parties involved would immediately assume a bunker mentality and make sure they got their stories straight. There would be a spinned response to the report and an effort by those involved to deny further information to leak. All this would happen in the space of a day, and ultimately the in-depth reporting that Woodward and Bernstein did over several months with phone calls and interviews would never happen.

Is this what journalism has evolved into? Is “first” more important than “thorough” or even “factual”? The answer to that question, of course, is yes. In the age of instant pictures on cell phones and instant video on YouTube and instant messages on Twitter, instant news is what we seem to crave. Where it comes from and how it is procured seem immaterial. If someone makes an unsubstantiated claim, that’s news. If someone posts an opinion about, oh, anything they feel like having an opinion about, that’s news. Innuendo? That’s now called “speculation” and it doesn’t need to be corroborated. And if a reporter sticks a camera in the face of a celebrity’s child and jostles his wife, then films the celebrity flipping out, guess what? He’s made news.

I know the impulse is to say boo-hoo, poor rich celebrities who have to deal with autograph hounds and paparazzi, cry me a river. OK, I get that. But how far does that go? Would you want people writing stories about your drug habit, and how you’ve left your children fatherless? Would you want people dredging up a case of your alleged sexual misconduct that was dismissed by the police fifteen years ago? Would you want someone whose only motive is to besmirch your character to publicly label you a homophobe?

Like I said, I wasn’t there and I don’t know what really happened. But I know that the sources for “news”, especially when it comes to people in the public eye, has become ever more questionable. Their motives are suspect and their methods are borderline illegal (and over-the-line immoral). And the scariest thing is that no one seems to mind.

For the record, although I have seen the horrifying effects of drug addiction up close, I think the only people who can stand in judgment of Hoffman are his family. And although I am staunchly a supporter of victim’s rights and I abhor the use of homosexual slurs, I don’t think Woody Allen molested anybody and I don’t believe Alec Baldwin is homophobic.  Just my opinion, I know, and aren’t we more than cluttered up with those. But I base my opinion on the lack of reliable sources.

I think we’re cluttered up with those too.

The Super Bowl is the Straight Man’s Tony Awards

Image

If nothing else, this blog has always stood for truth, acceptance and freedom from judgment. Well, mostly it’s stood for snarky comments and self-indulgent stories about my family, but stay with me here, I’m trying to make a point. When I see injustice in any form I MUST stand and speak its name. Only when we come to find intolerance intolerable will we ever break the shackles of tyranny and evolve as a species to the point where other intelligent life in the universe might want to hang with us and smoke a joint. It is in this spirit of mutual understanding that I make the following complaint:

My gay friends are bullying me.

I know, right? Who would have thought? Oh, it started out innocently enough. An arch of the eyebrow when I peeked at the TV to catch the score of the Mets game. A snicker when I was two years off guessing when Mame debuted on Broadway. That barely contained look of disbelief when I confessed my love for the comedy of Kathy Griffin. Words may hurt, but an askance glance from a gay man can kill your ass dead.

All this and more I could endure. But a certain day is on the horizon, a day myself and my kind celebrate as the holiest of holies. A day of reflection, ceremony, prayer and hot wings. Yes Virginia, I’m talking about Super Bowl Sunday. I’m not a football disciple like some straight men, but I would still rank Super Bowl Sunday in the top five were it a national holiday. Which it is in essence, at least every bit as much as Independence Day, and you don’t have to sit on a blanket in the heat getting bit by mosquitoes to celebrate it. Food? Check. Party? Check. Watching TV on a comfortable couch? Got it. Replace the turkey with a 6-foot Italian hero and it’s Thanksgiving with a better game. In fact it’s just a few presents and some garland around the flat-screen away from being Christmas.

So last year I’m enjoying myself, waiting for the game to start, when I begin seeing posts on Facebook with a common theme. No less than ten of my gay friends post something along the lines of, “Is there some kind of big game today?” The mocking tone was undeniable. Then I see five more that say, “I hope Mike Tyson hits a goal in that tennibasebasketsnookerball game tonight.” Oh, the lacerating drollness. The daggers keep coming: “Why don’t we just skip the game and make it a four-hour Madonna halftime concert?” “Know what I’m watching today? Real Housewives marathon on Bravo! Suck it breeders!” and the straightforward, “They’re just running around chasing each other. What’s the big deal?”

Needless to say, I began to feel…insecure. Am I really a mindless sheep, subsuming myself to the pomp and circumstance of this societal circus? Is the Super Bowl I’ve watched since childhood really sound and fury, signifying nothing? Am I now chronically uncool in the eyes of my cool gay friends?

Well, scratch that last one. I’ve never been cool to anybody regardless of their sexual orientation.

I lived shamefully with these doubts, being careful not to in any way reveal my straight-leaning tendencies. I hid in plain sight. I listened to top-40 radio. I became incompetent using tools. I got really bitchy about bad acting on TV, and bemoaned the current state of Broadway.

Wait, I was doing all of that already.

I tucked my love of sports way, way back behind the mothballs and the Christmas decorations. I became a closeted heterosexual. Until…

The Tony Awards! Spectacularness! Musical numbers! Choreography! Tony parties! Neil Patrick Harris! Radio City! Jane Lynch! Pippin! Complaints! Vicious, catty contempt! Sparkly gowns! Superiority! More gay men in one place than a Cher concert!

And then it dawned on me. The Tony Awards is the gay Super Bowl!

I immediately posted “Is there some kind of big awards show tonight?” on Facebook. Yeah, I’m a jerk.

But it got me thinking. Like Linus in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” or Stan in South Park, I’d like to sum up what I’ve learned today. We are all fags. All of us have that something they value that other people can’t understand. Whether it’s a love of baseball or a penchant for musical theater or a spoon collection, we have it. And we look at those spoons in judgment and think, what the hell is interesting about spoons, unless you’re trying to eat soup? What would possess a person to search ebay or a local flea market to find the perfect spoon? Knives I get, even forks to a certain degree, but spoons?

Yup, spoons. It’s all good.

Katy Perry’s “Roar” Explicated As If It Were a Shakespearean Sonnet

Image

Roar” by Katy Perry 

I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath
Scared to rock the boat and make a mess
So I sat quietly, agreed politely
I guess that I forgot I had a choice
I let you push me past the breaking point
I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything

In this opening stanza, we see the central issue to which the entire piece devotes itself, vis-a-vis the subjugation of the female by what is implicitly a male-dominated hierarchy. Though one may in theory “bite one’s tongue” OR “hold one’s breath” to keep oneself from speaking (and typically not engage both tactics simultaneously), this combination of metaphors for failing to speak one’s mind uses the tried and true motif of “more is better,” used ingeniously, and to undeniable satirical effect by Christopher Guest in his masterwork This Is Spinal Tap (wherein it is said of a set of amplifiers “these go to 11”.) Ms. Perry, however, seems not to intend satire.

This initial theme, expressed in first-person narrative, coalesces in the line, “I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything”. The ambiguity inherent in this choice cannot be overstated. The line has been attributed to Peter Marshall (the Senate chaplain, not the host of Hollywood Squares), Alexander Hamilton (the British journalist, not the American forefather) and Malcolm X (yes, THAT Malcolm X). In referencing this line, Ms. Perry aligns herself either with 1940s American politics, 1970s BBC or the militant Civil Rights movement in 1960s, depending upon one’s reading of the surrounding text. I would tend to suspect that, given the tone of subordination in the rest of the stanza, Ms. Perry actually sees herself as the modern embodiment of Malcolm X, seeking to throw off the shackles of male suppression by “any means necessary”. Although it is equally possible that Ms. Perry does not know the allusion herself and just thought it sounded cool.

You held me down, but I got up (HEY!)
Already brushing off the dust
You hear my voice, you hear that sound
Like thunder gonna shake the ground
You held me down, but I got up (HEY!)
Get ready ’cause I’ve had enough
I see it all, I see it now

What first appears to be metaphorical, emotional “holding down” of the protagonist in the first line of the second stanza is immediately undone in the second line with, “Already brushing off the dust.” This connotes an actual, physical holding down, the type which would necessitate the brushing off of dust. This image, existing both metaphorically and in actuality, brings to mind John Keats’ idea of “negative capability”, wherein two seemingly paradoxical elements can exist in the mind harmoniously. Is the protagonist actually being held down, or is she decrying the emotional manipulation of her male counterpart? Perhaps future literary analysis is necessary to solve this conundrum.

In this stanza we also see the first use of simile in the piece, with the assertion that the protagonist’s voice is going to shake the ground “like thunder”. The most obvious antecedent to this is Eddie Floyd’s “Knock On Wood” (“It’s like thunder, lightning/The way you love me is frightening.”) Although Floyd’s superb R&B classic references a mate’s love, while Ms. Perry refers to being really, really loud.

[Chorus]
I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire
‘Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar
Louder, louder than a lion
‘Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
You’re gonna hear me roar
 

Alas, the chorus. I must take a moment to explain that this is not the chorus of Greek antiquity, developed as a dramatic device to insert authorial explanation of plot summary and characters’ actions into a play. The chorus in modern parlance refers to the mind-numbing repetition of a musical and verbal phrase (colloquially known as a “hook”) designed to force an audience’s capitulation to the fact that he/she cannot, no matter what means are used, shake said repetition from controlling his or her brain. Examples are too frequent to mention, although radio advertisements that repeat the same phone number 87 times during a 15-second spot serve to explain the point. That, and the seminal mid-60s work of Lennon/McCartney. The stanza above is a particularly strong example of this latter definition of a chorus.

Divorced from its musical component, however, there are a few key literary issues. The images and metaphors are, to put it mildly, mixed. The “eye of the tiger”, an image most notably used by 80s pop band Survivor in its theme song for one of the twelve Rocky movies, leads directly to the the term “a fighter”, ostensibly referencing Mr. Sylvester Stallone’s boxing character. Then the protagonist imagines herself dancing through (a) fire, a metaphor for rebirth and the achievement of sexual maturity performed by such disparate cultures as the Chinese and Polynesians, perhaps intended to mirror the protagonist’s own bildungsroman. Then, inexplicably, the image is transformed from “tiger” to “lion”. There is some historical precedent to using these images together (such as “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” from Yip Harburg in The Wizard of Oz), but mixing them as Ms. Perry does here is unprecedented. Perhaps she is intending to convey a “liger”, the 900-pound behemoth resulting from a lion mating with a tiger in captivity. But there is no textual evidence to support such a theory.

What we are left with, then, is the image of a lion with tiger eyes who vaguely resembles Rocky Balboa in a hula skirt performing a ritualized fire dance. Whether this is what Ms. Perry intended is debatable, to say the least.

Now I’m floating like a butterfly
Stinging like a bee I earned my stripes
I went from zero, to my own hero
 

Yet another prizefighting image, as the protagonist references noted poet laureate and sometime boxing champion Muhammad Ali. Note that Ali was also a proponent of Civil Rights and a member of the Nation of Islam, as was the aforementioned Malcolm X, underlining the recurring motif that Ms. Perry seems to think she is an African-American symbol of social justice. Except, you know, with white prepubescent girls.

It is also unclear whether the “stripes” referenced belong to the bee or the butterfly.

At this point in the work the chorus is reprised for approximately 16 hours, in keeping with repetition theory of countless radio commercial advertisers.

Mention should be made of the lyric “oh”, which is repeated in Tarzanic fashion a whopping 90 times over the course of the piece. This can be likened to Shakespeare’s use of the phrase “except my life” in Hamlet, quite famously repeated three times by the title character. In contrast to this repetition indicating Hamlet’s desire to end his own life, however, Ms. Perry’s similar use of repetition serves to make one want to kill themselves. A fine point of disparity, to be sure, but an integral one.

(Authorial note: Full disclosure: I LOVE this song. I had a fight with my youngest son to keep it on the car radio, which is the first recorded instance, I believe, of an adult male arguing with a prepubescent in favor of Katy Perry. I suppose behind my Springsteen-fan street cred there is a pop-trash, knobby-kneed 11-year-old girl who just wants to stop the world and melt with you.

I also didn’t know what “bildungsroman” meant until I wrote this.)

When Gods Cry–A Christmas Memory

I was eleven and the world was not less complicated, despite what the nostalgics suggest. I was at the ICU at St. Vincent’s hospital. I was told I was born here, in some faraway place called the maternity ward, but I had never seen this building. It seemed huge and labyrinthine. The lights were too bright on this floor, and the nurses too quiet. It was marked in its difference from the rest of the hospital, and by extension the bright pulse of the city and the rest of the world. This was not a place for celebration, or health.

It was a week before Christmas. I didn’t believe in Santa Claus anymore, but I could still feel the impending joy the thought of him recently engendered. Outside of this place it was in the air, crackling like buzzing electricity above us and through us. A shared connection and liked-mindedness I’d only ever experienced in a sports stadium when the home team player hit a ball long and deep and the crowd stood and waited for it to descend beyond the fence. That anticipation.

This place was immune to it. In the lobby there was a tree with white lights. Ribbons and wreaths adorned the walls. It all disappeared when the elevator doors opened. In the ICU, everything seemed blue, the color of veins returning spent blood back to its source to become replenished. Death returning to life, the daily miracle. I imagined veins to be similarly subdued.

I held in my hands a piece of green construction paper cut into the shape of a Christmas tree. Taped to the middle of the tree was a Polaroid of myself, my sister and three brothers sitting on the stairs that led to our bedrooms, peeking through the banister supports decorated in evergreen. It was taken a year ago. We were smiling and looking off to our right at some real or imagined joy. We were evergreen as well.

Around the photo I had drawn colored bulbs, red, purple, orange. At the top was a yellow star. I was no artist, but I liked the way it turned out, and I liked my mother’s and grandmother’s reaction when I showed it to them. Would you look at that! Ah, the creature. It’s beautiful. I wanted to give it to my Grandpa. Not just give it to him, hand it to him myself. I wanted his validation.

But he was sick, which is why we all piled into our rickety car and drove to the city, to our grandparents’ four-room apartment with the tiny Christmas tree sitting on top of the television. We were there so my mother could visit her sick father. I wanted to see him too. My parents looked at each other indecisively.

I was the eldest of my siblings and my grandfather’s favorite, as I heard in whispered declarations from my Grandma. When I was small I would sit transfixed at the kitchen table and listen to him tell tales of his bartending days in his Irish brogue. I remember few of the stories, but I can recall the cadence and intonation. He taught me to play solitaire and rummy. When my grandparents would come to our house in the suburbs, bringing endless brown-paper bags of food and love, he would sit in a lawn chair in our back yard and throw me ground balls. I loved him with abandon.

Which is why I brought red, green and yellow into this blue ICU. Whatever my Grandpa’s condition, I was stubbornly convinced, it would not be worsened by seeing me. I was his favorite and I loved him and I made this for him. But in this hushed place where the air seemed dense, my convictions wobbled. I felt wholly misplaced, in my color, my redness, my youth. I was an interloper, armed only with a piece of construction paper, and I was overmatched. I was left alone in a sterile waiting room while my Grandma and my parents went to assess whether my Grandpa was up to seeing me. The television droned, unwatched and unheeded. I could feel each second pass.

Visiting hours were nearly over when my father came to fetch me. You have to talk really quiet, he said, and we can’t stay long. You’re Grandpa’s not feeling well. OK, I said. I had lost whatever small will I had to argue. His bed was coming off the right hand wall and my mother and grandmother were standing on the far side. My Grandpa was facing them. His glasses were off. His hulk was contained in a light blue gown and a white sheet. He had an IV in his wrist and a breathing tube in his nose. The room was dim.

Look who’s here to see you, my Grandma said, and my Grandpa turned in my direction. He couldn’t make me out without his glasses. Who? Who is it? It’s Brian come to visit you. There was a jolt of recognition in his face, then he turned away and began to cry. I had never seen him cry. I didn’t think such a thing was possible. Can gods cry? I wept myself for causing his tears.

I didn’t want him to see me like this, he said. He came to bring you something, my mother said, something he made for you. I was struck dumb and lifeless. My father took the Christmas tree from my hand and handed it to my mother. My Grandma said, put your glasses on and look. He wiped his eyes with the heel of his hand and reached to the nightstand to fetch his glasses. They were thick, and when he put them on his eyes were magnified. I could see the leftover wetness from his tears. Look at that Jeremiah, my Grandma said, it’s a picture of the kids. My Grandpa nodded. Ah now that’s nice, he said. We’ll tape it up here on the wall, my mother said, so you can see it.

It was dark when we left the hospital, but lights abounded. Taxi headlights, storefront blinking lights, the red and green of the the stoplights extending down into the recesses of Seventh Avenue, turning from one color to the other in a rolling, endless spiral. The city was impossibly big and vibrant, and I was infinitesimally small. Holiday lights hung in odd apartment windows. Reds, greens and whites, shining boldly with arterial life and expectation. The air was cold and bracing. Vital. There was no blue.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 123 other followers