I was asked why I do what I do . . .
I think for this text, it would be better to read my words and imagine them being read to you in the sound of a smooth, calming voice. Consider a voice that would sound the way a grandfather would sound while reading a bedtime story to his grandchild.
I, myself, never had a grandfather. At least not one that I met. I only have an imagination of what either of them may have sounded like.
I think for this text or any text, it would be helpful if you imagine the sounds as I describe them to you. I think your imagination, along with the facts of my story and description will be helpful.
. . .
No, I have never made much money as a writer. My name has never been anywhere near a Best Seller’s list or spoke about by a favoring critic whose opinion was enough to triple my audience. When I began this literary trip, I started with the intention of building on a childhood dream, which in some way, has become more than I ever imagined.
On my way to pull an early Saturday morning overtime shift, I drove from my place beside the mountain on Spook Rock Road, heading south, and came upon my favorite place on Route17. This is where the road sits high upon a hill. Straight ahead is a clear view of New York City standing tall in the distance. To the right and left of me were the stores, car dealerships, and strip malls that stem through the towns of Mahwah, Ramsey, and onward passed the town of Ho-Ho-Kus and straight through to Paramus, New Jersey.
Overhead, a crescent moon tipped upwards in the sky. I could see the oncoming light of sunrise approaching from the east. A soft bow of light pushed into the underbelly of nighttime to change the complexion of the sky.
Looking outward while making my approach to The George Washington Bridge, I wove through a brief congestion on Route 4 where a scattered bread trucks clogged the two-lane street with slow moving drivers on their way to make deliveries.
These morning drives are quiet. I hear nothing accept the sound of pavement moving beneath the car tires. I hear the sound of wind rushing against the windshield and the engines of other cars or trucks that share the road with me.
Odds are, most were sleeping during this time. The homes I passed were dark with dark windows and perhaps a porch light shining above a front doorway. I do not make this trip out of preference. If it were up to me, I would prefer to be driving someplace where the ocean is at my left and palm trees are on my right. Of course a drive like this would be better in a convertible with the top down—or maybe in a jeep with no top at all. At least, for now, my finances limit this idea to a dream. For now, my situation is this; I work for a living.
Several years ago, I wrote about the time my brother thought it would be fun to tie a rope around the bumper of his 1972 Duster. The car was brown in color with a rust-spotted chrome bumper on the rear. The engine rumbled loudly and the exhaust was shot back from the rattling muffler in clouds of thick, gray smoke. It was snowy out. My brother Dave was home.
“Wanna go skitching,” Dave asked.
Skitching is when a car drives down the snowy street. Dumb kids grab onto the back of the bumper while holding on for dear life with their feet, flat on the ground, allowing themselves to be dragged down the ice-covered road. It was a well know sport in my small town. Some drivers were unhappy when we tried to skitch from the back of their car. Other drivers were aware that they were also young once. They understood that often times, youth and logic do not walk together, hand in hand.
In this case, instead of holding on to the bumper, my brother Dave decided to tie a rope around it. Dave being the older, mature, and supposedly more responsible one, tied the rope in a knot with one end around the bumper and the other around my small, 12 year-old waist. Unfortunately, Dave was never much for the Boy Scout’s. His knot tying abilities were limited to slip knots.
The snowstorm was gone and the sky began to clear up. On the ground in our suburban part of the world, a covering of brilliantly white snow blinded the eyes. The roads were still covered and the snow plows moved through the streets, clearing the roads while shoving large mounds of chunky ice and snow in front of each and every residential driveway.
“It’s better if we go to the Eisenhower Park,” suggested my brother.
Dave said, “We can go to the parking lot on the Merrick Avenue side.”
“It’s shaped like an oval,” he said. “And there’s a few speed bumps that’ll make the ride more fun.”
Dave was more than my older brother. Aside from a dominant athlete and well-known in the neighborhood; my brother was one of my first heroes.
“Alright,” Dave said. “Let’s do it!” and off we went to go skitching
We pulled into the long, oval shaped parking lot on the Merrick Avenue side. Eisenhower Park is a large park with several hills, which other kids my age were enjoying a much safer and more reliable sport called sleigh riding.
Dave shifted the car in park from the gear at the steering wheel on the console before the dashboard. The car idled down, rumbling in a steady low rumble. The engine growled the way it would at a stoplight—it sounded mean and nasty, as if the engine guzzled down gallons of oil and gas by the second. The motor ran loudly, but not quickly. Dave’s car was no muscle car. Quite the opposite, the beat-up old rusted colored Dodge with dents, scratches, and a tan, plastic-like interior was in no other words, a total pig.
Once we pulled into the parking lot, I exited the passenger side door and slammed it shut. Dave left through the driver’s side and closed the door behind him, which echoed with a loud thud.
I wore a thick, blue down jacket with a hat knitted by my grandmother. The blue and orange hat, knitted with thick yarn, pulled down over my red, cold ears. I wore thick mittens, snow boots, and a pair of jeans that covered my long, bony legs. I was not tall by any means. I was small, in fact. My body had no definition and I was shaped like a string bean.
Truth be told, later in life, Bean became a nickname of mine. However, I outgrew that name once my metabolism decided to slow down to a drastic crawl.
Dave walked me around to the trunk of his car. The wind picked up with the cold whipping sounds of winter, whining in a high-pitched cry and snapping across my young pale skin. My lips were bright red and my nose began to run. Dave asked, “Are ya ready?”
Reluctantly, I agreed to submit to the danger of being tied to a rope with the other end tied to the end of a moving car. Dave tied the rope snug around my waist. He instructed, “Now, hold on tight,” as he ran into his car. His smile was the smile that belonged to a big brother experimenting the edge of life’s safety with his little brother.
Crouched down, I prepared myself for the ride. The brake lights flashed on as I heard Dave shift the rumbling motor from park to drive. White snow flipped up from between the treads of the rear black tires as the back end of the old Dodge began to fishtail and skid forward.
As instructed, I did as my brother said. I held the rope with my fluffy blue mittens wrapped around my hand and refused to let go. Once on the move, my body jerked in its small frame with the sudden inertia of quick movement. I could not tell how fast we were moving. I felt the wind rush around my face. The stage of adrenaline took a shine as I felt the courage of youth slip into enthusiasm while Dave rounded the first corner.
Not far from the oval driveway, I could hear the screams of happy children, perhaps my age and younger, sleighing down the hill which was next to a small place known as Safety Town.
Safety Town was a mock town with small, shed-like houses, streets, and stop signs, where young grade school children came to learn the rules of crossing the road.
In my several visits to Safety Town, at no point did I ever learn the proper or improper way to be dragged by a rope around the icy pavement in an oval shaped parking lot. Maybe, had there been a class like this; I would have learned how to and how not to fall.
Except for the first several seconds of my trip, the skitching was good. I was happy and proud that my big brother Dave was spending time with me. I was enjoying myself until my feet slipped out from under me. I fell to my side and lost grip of the rope. As my body hit the ground, I lost my position on impact. At this point, Dave had made the turn and my body was uncontrollably dragged over the first of a few speed bumps. This would not have been so bad had Dave understood the benefit of tying better knots.
It seemed the slipknot synched in tightly around my waist, restricting my air, and making it nearly impossible to breathe. In addition, each speed bump caused me to launch in the air and slam back down to the punishing cold grit of the icy pavement.
Suddenly, an inclination came over me. I was able to view the heaven’s sky through the snow covering my face. I saw pierces of light gleaming from behind a pillowy white cloud. In that second, I felt the calm, serene understanding of my own mortality. I realized something while breathlessly dragged around the parking lot with a rope tightly around my mid-section. Nearby, several onlookers witnessed and watched as the rust colored Dodge drove around the lot, bouncing over speed bumps, launching me into the air, and slamming me down hard on the unforgiving pavement.
“Holy shit!” I thought to myself. “My brother didn’t take me skitching because he wanted to hang out with me. That son of a bitch took me skitching because he wants to kill me!”
There is nothing more incredible than the resilience of youth. I was not hurt much. I could not breathe. Fortunately, Dave stopped the car. He walked over in his fluffy white and red ski jacket. His slightly-curling hair stood up high. I assumed Dave thought the ride was a fun thing. At least I hope he thought that.
Dave apologized. First, he apologized because he did not want me to return home and repeat this story to our parents. Second, I am sure that Dave did not want to hurt me. At least, not that way.
Big brothers and little brothers have a connection. Whether the connection is hostile or docile, there will always be a connection. Yes, I grew up with bruises from dead leg punches, and dead arm punches. Dave used to lift me up by my ears, which of course, sounds cruel. However, I admit to being a deserving recipient of Dave’s punishments. I was the typical, obnoxious little brother who instigated and poked. And though he was rough on me, Dave was equally protective.
One day after school, I walked over to the newspaper distributor to begin my paper route. It was there where I saw a young, stick figured kid like myself named Joey.
Joey and I were about to have a fight, which was not to prove which one of us was tougher than the other. Neither of us were tough. And same as the tough ones fight to see who is toughest; Joey and I fought to see who was weakest. And naturally, I felt I won that fight.
The fight was broken up by Joey’s father. He was a tall, half-balding man with a mustache. He hit me in the face—supposedly an accident, and then yelled at me to get away.
Not long after, I saw my brother Dave. I told Dave what happened. At the time, Dave was curling 40lbs dumbbells in his bedroom and punching the wall with them. Dave took me to the newspaper distributer. Except the distributor refused to give Dave the Joey’s address.
Dave, this time in more aggressive fashion expressed to the distributor, “If you don’t give me that guy’s address, instead of beating that guy up, I’m gonna beat you up.”
The distributor agreed to Dave’s demands
I wrote about this story on a website a long time ago. Days later, I received a message from a woman in Iceland. She read my post and truly enjoyed it. She went on to explain about her older brother. She told about the times she ran around the house, sometimes playfully, and sometimes angrily running either after or away from her older brother. Then she thanked me for the memory. She thanked me for reminding her of the good times as well as the bad. Sadly, her brother committed suicide. The young girl was left without her sibling, or as she called him, “Her hero.”
No, I never made much money as a writer. I met my wife through my writing. I met a woman named Rita, who I affectionately call my Painted Nana. Like myself, Rita is heavily tattooed. More importantly, Rita is one of my biggest supporters. I do what I do because from this, I have met truly incredible people. I have friends like Denise who always refers to me as her favorite writer. I have my friend Vin who refuses to let me quit
A writer writes because this is what a writer has to do. This is my art. This is my way of making peace with myself. This is my form of spiritual balance.
No, I may never be near a Best Seller’s list or spoken about by a favoring critic, but I will always have you. And to me, that is more than enough.
In the beginning, I asked you to read this with the idea of a voice reading my words to you like a grandfather would read a bedtime story to his grandchild.
These are my bedtime stories, which is why I call this collection “Bedtime Stories for The Insomniac.