January 26th, 2009

The Joyce Clan of Ireland

The news of my mother’s death came from Marian Ewing, the daughter of my uncle, Jack Joyce. She said the viewing would be Friday, January 20, 1993, and burial would be on the 21st.

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Some White Blue-eyed Cats Are Deaf

On a winter morning the comfort of a functioning laptop, a hot cup of herbal tea. Then comes a vivid barrage of memories of my early childhood. There was in the dining room of my house in Youngstown, Ohio, a player piano—the exact model in the photo—with a collection of enlongated spools of yellowed paper with tiny vertical rectangles cut into strange patterns. Song titles: Good Night Irene. Jelly Roll Blues. Jimmy Crack Corn, and I Don’t Care. I tired several times to get the thing working by threading in one of the rolls, pumping the pedals furiously, and thumbing the little brass levers below the keyboard, but I got nothing but silence. No matter, because it was dreadfully out of tune, and many keys simply didn’t work.

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A Most Serious and Unsmiling Cat

A young woman named Gia escorted me up a narrow, carpeted stairway to the second floor of a brownstone on Manhattan’s upper east side. George Plimpton was barefoot, in a loose fitting t-shirt and pale bluejeans, dictating to a young man who tapped rapidly on a laptop.

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Filthy Words

The war officially began in 1950 when North Korean forces crossed the 38th Parallel and attacked the south. I was eight, and at the house next door when the disturbing news came on the radio. A lot of people were there in the kitchen, smoking, drinking coffee. Mike said beating back those invaders was gonna be real tough on our troops, and everyone sagely nodded, and said things like yeah, war is nothin' but hell, it ain’t just a piece of cake, and who knows what’ll happen next? Huh?

The conversation turned to some of the less fortunate among them who’d returned, five years ago, from WWII. Joe Lapinski, and Marty Rodginski, and Sam Koslowski. They’re just not right, you know? Marty hasn’t been sober for five years. These guys got seriously messed up over there, even thought they weren’t wounded, and that’s what happens after combat. But now here we go again, another friggin’ war. Those goddamn Koreans!

It was getting pretty gloomy in that warm room, so I chimed in with something that I thought might cheer them all up:

“We’ll kick the mustard and ketchup and the shit and piss out of ‘em!”

That sentence froze everyone in the room. They all stared at me with their eyes wide, their mouths open, and their jaws slack. How in hell could a little eight-year-old kid still wet behind the ears come up out of the blue with something like that?

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