Straight to Hell

As a boy at the god-awful age of 16, I lived on Staten Island, the forgotten borough of New York City.  I had a cluster of maybe five close friends and some peripheral ones who occasionally appeared, and we would hang out. Being the bad guys we were, we often did our hanging in front of the library, which if the truth be told, was close to home: I lived behind the library. Sometimes we sat in my dad’s car, which was even closer to home and never moved, and listened to “Cousin Brucie” Bruce Morrow and “Murray the K” Kaufman and a host of others, double entendre intended. We were all great students and athletes, and we never drank or did drugs, and sometimes I wonder what kids today would think of us.

 One of the songs that hit the charts and the hearts that summer was “Sherry” by the Four Seasons, released in the heat of August to add steam to the life of an already hot and bothered 16-year-old male. I remember one night as we stood on the corner in front of the library, looking more intellectual than tough, one of the new neighborhood arrivals came by, a girl to die for, whom I suspect many may have died for by now. I knew then that I would never forget her and I haven’t, but her family left town about as quickly as they had arrived, which happened a lot in my neighborhood. I don’t remember her name, and I don’t remember what she looked like either, but she was hot, I think. I bet you’re wondering what, in all that’s forgotten, I do remember.

I remember the song “Sherry” playing on someone’s transistor radio, I remember it being a very hot night, and I remember this hot girl. I was a very shy kid, but on this hot summer night as the Four Seasons heightened my senses with words about red dresses and twist parties and moving nice and easy, I found words coming out of my mouth, asking this girl where we were going (and I probably looked behind me to see who had actually uttered those words). With that she took me by the hand and walked me out into the middle of the road over a manhole cover and pointed down. “There. There is where we are going,” she said. “Where? What is there?” I asked, and she said, “Straight to hell.”

I may not remember her name, face, or what was so hot about her to begin with, but I remember those words, and sometimes on a hot summer night I can still see that manhole cover and hear the words “straight to hell,” and I wonder what she knew that I didn’t. That same year the Vietnam War was escalating, and many soon to be 18-year-old males were indeed heading straight to hell.

There are more thoughts on this and other things on the shores of Rambling Harbor. Join me there.



Major and the Zoo

http:BearandDan-B.jpgThe song “At the Zoo,” recorded by Simon and Garfunkel and released as a single in 1967, was intended to be in the soundtrack of The Graduate, written for the scene that takes place at the San Francisco Zoo, but the song tells the story of a trip to the Central Park Zoo in New York City. Perhaps that’s why it didn’t make the cut.  But it’s a song I like—the lyrics are fun, giving character traits to different animals, for example, portraying orangutans as skeptical and zebras as reactionaries—and it’s been the soundtrack in my mind recently.

I went to a zoo the other day, The Stone Zoo, which first opened in 1905 and in 1990 was forced to close after big-time state budget cuts. The public wanted the zoo, though, and kicked up a bit of a fuss, so the state senate, along with help from fundraising and other donations, set up a private, non-profit corporation to manage it. The Stone Zoo reopened on June 6, 1992. As I ambled about for the first time in maybe 30 years, maybe more, I noticed many of the attractions I remembered from the early-to-late 1980’s, when the zoo flourished, were gone. As I talked with some of the zookeepers, it became apparent the zoo is still in desperate need of funding.

During the transition from public to private, the zoo lost all of its large animals except for Major, a polar bear who stayed at the zoo until his death. Major had been the star attraction since his arrival at the Stone Zoo in 1975, and he was also the “poster bear” when the people wanted their zoo back. He weighed about 900 pounds, stood over 8 feet tall, and lived to be 33 years old — the oldest known polar bear in captivity. Major was the Stone Zoo in so many ways. He was put to sleep in June of 2000 after a long bout with cancer, but his presence at the zoo is still greatly missed. When I knelt by the black bear you see in the photograph, I felt we were both saying a prayer for Major.

The bear in my photo is a rescue bear. He and his brother were found without a mother and were sheltered with the hope that they would be returned to the wild, but they could not be rehabilitated enough to go to the mountains safely. So here they are, safe and content in a good-size area.

My friends thought I was bit whacked went I said I was going to talk to this big guy and proceeded to lie down and call him over, but as you can see from the picture we hit it off big time. I so wanted to touch him, and even though a thick piece of plastic hung between us, I know this guy and I were communicating, and it was good.

 Sometimes zoos bother me, particularly when the animals do not have enough space or the area they are in is poorly maintained, usually because of lack of money. It seems it has become more important to spend money to find life on Mars than care for the lives we have here.

There are more thoughts on zoos and other things on the shores of Rambling Harbor. I hope you’ll join me there.




My Name Is Regulus, and This Is a Whale of a Tale

My name is Regulus. I was named after the brightest star in the constellation Leo and nicknamed Reggie. I was born in 1983. My mother's name was Spoon. This is part of my story.

 It was one of those beautiful New England mornings in the North Atlantic ocean in the year 2005, and on this day I was out for a swim and stirring up some plankton. Unlike my mates, I never learned the proper way to do this. Most of the others slapped the water to bring food to the surface, but I slapped my side. This made me unique, and there I was, happily dining on plankton and small fish like herring or mackerel. Oh! Perhaps I should tell you I am a humpback whale.

On this morning, things were going quite swimmingly, pardon the pun, when all of a sudden, as I dove toward the ocean bottom, something went horribly wrong. I was caught on something strange, and it held me tight. The more I struggled to free myself the tighter it got, and it started ripping and tearing into my flesh. Oh God, how it hurt! What was it? I had never felt anything like this, and I was so scared, so very, very scared.

A nylon line formed a loop around my belly and back and cut into my right flipper. As I fought for my life, I saw people in boats and became even more frightened and began to swim away. I took deep breaths and then dove and stayed hidden as long as possible. After all, I had already suffered enough pain at the hands of the land animals. I stayed hidden in spite of the pain for a very long time. As my fear and pain drove me further out to sea and deeper into the ocean’s depths, I knew I was going to die, but I would die where I was born, deep in the ocean.

How was I to know I was avoiding those who were trying to help me? I later learned it was a research rescue team, who were forced to give up when they couldn’t find me. Then on the morning of November 28, 2005, four months after I had been discovered entangled, I was again sighted and the research team confirmed I was with another humpback whale and was gear free but in very poor condition with deep wounds across my back and in my flippers. Eventually I recovered and was seen using my unique style of flipper slapping. The rescuers estimated I had been struggling to live for as long as two months.

Once again I could swim and gulp in the North Atlantic, happy to face each morning alive and playing with the seagulls and other humpbacks. My story had a happy ending, but unfortunately many entangled whales die a painful, lonely death.

Fishermen need to fish and whales need to feed, they just need to keep a safe distance from each other. I hope fishermen find a way to protect whales while doing the work that brings them their own survival.

There’s more on Reggie in the podcast. Join me on the shores of Rambling Harbor.




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