Short Stories

Rank

He felt, for certain, that his father did not love him.

and this was a tortuous thing for a young, smart and curious boy from Queens, New York City.

His father’s body was covered with bled away World War II navy tattoos:

battleship across his grey haired muscular chest;

anchor on one sinewy forearm and a hula girl on the other,

US Navy insignias on ship-work chiseled biceps.

A museum of war art on a muscled body hardened from years living and working on powerful,sturdy steel ocean going tug-boats chugging about in far off and dangerous waters.

He brought his ink-scarred body back but his mind never returned from oceans and battles and the boy could not comprehend this male figure head emptiness in his small family.

After the pacific war ended the father shouldn’t have left the Navy but he began a family, one night, on shore leave in San Diego; leaving his true love, the high seas, behind for a life on dry land, which he never found legs for.

The boy got straight A’s in high school while the father took jobs on private boats taking him far from his wife and two boys for months at a time.

During these long stretches in time, home was calm and happy; the two boys and their warm loving mother; but when the crusty ex-sailor suddenly returned he always tried to whip the little group into his personal tug boat crew and his two sons resisted; rebelling against this stranger-father with his weird military disciplines.

In the navy, the father, never rose above the rank of “non-com” boat skipper; taking orders from officers stationed ashore and above him in the navy’s chain of command.

Unlike the land-lubbing navy brass, he was a true seaman; boats,foreign ports of call, cresting swells, storms, combat, heavy lines and the smell of thick marine paint mingled with salty air smells; freedom and fear.

He was a just skipper and a regular lower-rank sailor; he was not officer material.

When his oldest son turned eighteen the bright yet confused young man joined the army; just to get out of the house and away from his old man who just grunted when his tall, lanky, handsome son entered the home and that’s all he ever gave; grunts and old war stories from a tug boat past he was forever stuck in.

As fate would have it, a next war came, Vietnam, and the son was shipped off and sent to fight in the worst of the worst; a waveless ocean of deadly jungles.

Miraculously he survived ; returning to “the world” dressed in an officers crisp uniform adorned with medals of bravery, toting an over-stuffed duffle bag, body unscathed , ink-less scarless skin, but burdened with a memory haunted by a year long tour of hell duty in “the nam”.

The day he came back home to “the world” and queens from war, dressed in his crisp olive green Army Lieutenants uniform, was the first time in his life that his “non-comm” former navy tug-boat skipper father stood up proudly to greet his son, the officer, respectfully at the door …in place of a grunt.

From that day on things changed. The old world war II sailor-vet began paying attention to the army officer and the ridiculous house-rule orders ceased…… but the love never came.

 

©2016 Michael Domino

 

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Uncategorized

Rainbow Over the East Side

My cousin visited me from Seattle today

it’s been 3 years since we met last

we went to Vietnam together

he as a returning soldier

me as an adventurer and business person.

We had coffee and talked at my regular

restaurant on third avenue and east 33rd.

Our eyes took comfort in each others.

We caught up since Vietnam.

Much had changed

much had remained the same

most had changed.

The coffee was good and strong

and we talked shallow and deep

mostly deep and towards the end

our souls are not hidden from each other.

That would not be possible.

 

We left into the cover of light rain.

Michael went towards Park Avenue

to catch the uptown 6 train and I

just walked around the corner and home.

 

We hugged on the corner of 32nd

and 3rd then he said “I love you” and

I said that ” I love you too”.

 

We planned to meet again tomorrow

to bum around the streets on Manhattan.

 

I had to adjust to being alone in my apartment

on the 11th floor after this so I went out

on the terrace just as the rain got thicker

and webs of lightening threatened the Chrysler building.

 

Rain looks different from the 11th floor as it

does from the ground. You see it falling from above

as contrast against an array of colored brick and glass.

Today’s late day rain was light and steady and never

reached the “down pour” state. As Looked up

it was gentle and soft, more like small snow flakes than

rain droplets; motherly sprayed like a baby’s first shower.

 

A few more electric shots and a mix of every kind of cloud.

A strange mishmosh of weather. To the west the clouds

broke and sun projected an island wide rainbow against

the dark cloud screen to the east, over the river.

 

The treat of colors shown for just minutes before

the sun retreated and then the grey clouds were just

a blank screen again.

 

I remained to watch the end of the show after the climax

hoping that another miracle over manhattan might occur

but was content to see the hole thing blow over.

 

But I did see the nights of the Chrysler building flip on

like the light after a dark movie end in a theater.

Now the sky is blue and the sun is setting.

My cousin will be here tomorrow morning.

 ©2016 Michael Domino

 

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Uncategorized

A Lonely Bar in a Heat Wave

A Lonely Bar in a Heat Wave

105 F in Manhattan
street-heat smells like
garbage

a pub looks good at
2 in the afternoon
cool, dark, empty

one soul sits

the Barmaid
cranes up to see an
already-played soccer game

conversation is long since past

I order a cold draft,
pretend interest in soccer

“I’ll be over there soon,”
the lone soul offers.

“Where?” I bite.
The barmaid looks down from her game.

“Ireland,” he says.

“No kidding.”

“You didn’t tell me that,” says the barmaid, like,
what’s the big secret?

“Well I ain’t too happy ’bout goin’.
21 people, 10 days,
tourin’ around in a bus.
I get carsick, you know?”

How’s this guy who likes to sit alone in a bar at 2 in the afternoon ever going to make it for 10 days with 21 people?

I want to tell him not to go.
I say, “What you gonna see?”

“Castles, green grass. The
Blarney stone, I guess.”

My look says:
You’ll go crazy.

The barmaid shakes her head,
still miffed he saved his big tell for a
stranger.

“I hear if you wear a blindfold
you won’t get carsick.”

Now he looks at me like
I’m crazy.

“Tour Ireland
wearing a blindfold?”

“Well – will you enjoy it if you’re sick?”

I pay for my cold beer,
wish him good luck,
her good bye

heads roll up to the soccer game

back to brick-oven streets, stained doorways
and overfilled trash, I think:
That conversation wasn’t so bad.

A Lonely Bar in a Heat Wave
2015 © MICHAEL DOMINO

AUGUST 1, 2013 8:00 AM August 1, 2013 8:00 am
METROPOLITAN DIARY

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Park Avenue to Park Bench, Uncategorized, Writing about New York

The Veteran of The South Bronx

The Veteran of The South Bronx , by Michael Domino – Photographer

This man approached my car on E 32nd and Lex. He had a paper cup and a walking cane. He asked for money. I asked if I could take his picture. He said “NO”.

I said, “I’ll pay you a few bucks in exchange for a photo.” He agreed.

His face had many battle scars and one eye was cloudy white. I asked him if he was a Vietnam Vet. He said , “No, I’m a Vet of the South Bronx streets from the 1960’s and 70’s. It was worse than The Nam.”

As I drove of I did not feel so bad because we made this deal that worked for both of us. I intended to give him $5.00 but as traffic moved, I fumbled and tossed a $20.00 at him. He could not believe his good fortune and cried out to his buddy across the street in a wheel chair that he struck it rich. I heard him say, “I’m buying lunch today brother. ” They were surviving.

 

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Park Avenue to Park Bench, Short Stories, Writing about New York

Is This Seat Taken?

Is This Seat Taken?

 

The little neighborhood park I usually go to was fenced off for renovations one day, so, with coffee and morning paper in hand, I decided to sit on the steps of a random pre-war, rent-controlled walk-up apartment building on East 32nd between Second and Third. This place is what would have been referred to as a tenement back in the 19th century.

 

The city was very quiet since it was the Friday before Labor Day, so I sipped coffee and read the paper on the stoop. Even on the quietest days, though, New York still has a good amount of foot traffic, so I had to pull my newspaper back toward me to make sure that passersby would not brush up against it.

 

After about 10 minutes, a woman in a house dress and slippers ascended from the basement apartment to deposit a bag of trash. Then she started to eyeball me as she sauntered over to the steps, nit-picking the smallest leaf droppings off of the steps around me. I could tell she wanted to make her presence known and sniff out who this stranger on the steps might be.

 

Luckily, she left, and I was able to stay. Then a guy came out from behind me through the front door. He had long, blond, greasy hair. I could smell last night’s sweet booze oozing from his pores and breath. There were six steps on the stoop, but he chose to plop his big sweaty body right next to me.

 

I read and sipped on. Following behind him a curly-haired guy in a stained gray T-shirt came down the steps. He gave me a suspicious trespasser look-over – just like the old lady did. I was beginning to feel unwelcome on the steps, which I might have guessed wrongly were free for the sitting. I sipped and read on until he spoke.

 

“Hey, asshole!”

 

Oh no, I thought. Oh NO. Here we go again. But the blond guy turned around to respond to the catcall which I mistakenly thought was directed at me.

 

“Why don’t you clean up the fucking cans and bottles you left all over the stoop from last night instead of sitting there like a bum? This ain’t the dump. People live here!”

 

“Who you calling a bum? You’re the fucking bum! Leave me alone, bum,” shot back greasy hair with spit spray.

 

“I ain’t a bum, you slob,” gray T-shirt responded angrily.

 

A husky female voice emanated from under the steps. “Shut the hell up, you morons! It’s still morning!”

 

“Oh yeah!” said greasy hair to T-shirt. “Why should I listen to you anyway? You ain’t the boss of me and besides you don’t even have any fucking teeth.”

 

That was enough for me. I decided the conversation, of which I was in the crossfire, was just going to go further downhill after the “no teeth” insult. I got up and moved down the block to another stoop, unfolded the paper again, sipped to the bottom of my joe, and I hoped I might be able to finish my coffee and the newspaper before another performance began.

 

Just when you think you’ve found the perfect, private spot, you realize that every square inch of this city is spoken for.

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Park Avenue to Park Bench, Short Stories, Writing about New York

Streetwalker

Streetwalker

 

I walk the streets of New York.

 

I guess you could call me a streetwalker, but perhaps not the kind that word might bring to mind. I am looking for stories not pickups. It works for me. There is no membership required, no gear or team, no rules – sneakers are suggested, but not required. Walking related injuries are minimal; it’s healthy and therapeutic.

 

When I’m walking in the city I’m not eating and, instead of looking at myself, I watch others, and this is a good thing. Walking is simple and mindful. It sorts things out. City walking affords me the opportunity to do random acts of kindness just because there is so much going on and so many people, unlike walking in the suburbs where I always feel the people in cars are wondering why I’m on foot!

 

In Central Park the other day, I helped a lady carry her bicycle up the stairs to get to the reservoir. At the top, her husband, who was in much better physical shape, was already up there taking pictures of the skyline when the two of us sweated up the steps. He shot me a bad look – as if I helped his wife to make him look bad – but I kept on walking.

 

Did you know that it’s 2.2 miles to walk around the Jackie Onassis Reservoir?

 

On 34th Street, a FedEx delivery guy was pushing his overloaded box cart when it all came tumbling down. As oncoming traffic approached, I ran over and tossed him his packages while he frantically reloaded them into the cart. We both got out of there in the nick of time. “Thanks, brother,” he said. “No problem, man!” I said, and continued on my way.

 

Walkers in Manhattan rule the streets. Walkers in the suburbs make motorists angry. “Look at that crazy guy walking!” they say. They think that the only people who walk in the suburbs are either on medication that renders driving difficult, or have lost their license due to a DUI. In the suburbs, if you’re out walking without a dog after ten p.m., there is a chance that a bored and paranoid neighbor will call the cops on you.

 

Nobody cares in the city. Walking is a way of life here.

 

According to my calculations, it takes me roughly 40 seconds to walk one block, and twenty blocks is one mile, meaning I can walk a whole mile in just under 15 minutes!

 

It takes about 50 minutes to walk uptown from East 32nd Street to St. Monica’s Church on East 79th Street between First and York.

 

There are fewer people on First Avenue so I can walk faster up First. There are more people on Madison, so it takes me longer if I walk that way. I make sure to not stop and pet all the “designer dogs” – the expensive pure breeds that you routinely see. Just another example of class distinction, though I have to say, I prefer rescued mutts, in all walks of life!

 

It also slows me down if people talk to me, which they often do. I don’t mind if they are from out of town and lost. I’m always happy to stop and point them in the right direction. If you want to meet people in the city when you walk, then you need to walk with a dog; everyone will stop and talk to you. You will make new friends but you won’t get much exercise.

 

Of course, there’s lots of noise in Manhattan with the cacophony of sirens, construction, horns, whistles, helicopters, and cement mixers everywhere. People, though, for the most part are quiet and mind their own business. I hear glimpses of conversations as I pass and then fill the rest in from my own imagination. Occasionally, loud voices will attract attention, but it’s usually a dispute over a parking spot.

 

You have to be careful in the city, because I learned that, when violence does occur, it erupts suddenly. At times like these, it is best to move away quickly and keep walking. I once saw an angry-looking guy push a cyclist over into traffic near Union Square! When the enraged cyclist recovered, he immediately went hunting for the pusher, swinging a heavy bike security chain and lock. I happened to be standing where the pusher had been before he moved into the pedestrian flow. In an instant, the rider read my startled, fearful face and processed that I was not his attacker. While I was spared a chain across my teeth, he relentlessly tracked down the pusher, who took the bruising chain across his back. The whole thing was over in a flash, but remains burned in my memory.

 

Besides the parking space arguments, another, though less common, variety of street combat that I stumble into on long walks are what I call bum fights. A bum fight, like the parking spot disputes and bike chain incident, flare up without warning, sometimes right in front of your eyes. Drivers, riders, and cyclists may miss all this action, but when you walk, you see it all.

 

I’ve seen many bum fights, and have noticed a pattern. It usually goes something like this: There will be a few drunks on a street corner. One of the disheveled people will begin cursing and hollering, spewing out angry epithets. All heads will turn and look toward the commotion. The madness is almost always directed at another homeless person and often revolves around a territorial dispute or dereliction of duty. I heard one unfortunate homeless man accuse the other of spending all day long on the steps smoking and not doing what he is supposed to be doing– whatever that was! Another fight began over the arrangement of cardboard in a certain doorway, as one man accused another of horning in on his spot.

 

In the suburbs, neighbors fight over loud parties, disobeying property lines or barking dogs. The only difference between them and the bums is that the bums don’t call the cops or each other’s lawyers.

 

Just as I don’t stop and pet “designer dogs,” I don’t stop my walking to watch bum fights – I am too used to it. I know this is just their way of venting and getting things off their chests, but it’s best not to gawk. This is a live and let live city, which is why I love being an invisible “streetwalker.”

 

 

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Park Avenue to Park Bench, Short Stories, Writing about New York

Stop the Bus!

Stop the Bus!

 

My body was awake but my brain needed caffeine, and that’s just what I was aiming for at my local coffee shop that morning.

 

I could feel the presence of others gathering behind me as I looked across Third Avenue at East 32nd, waiting for the orange hand, the don’t cross signal, to become the walking man.

 

Manhattan was still slowly waking up, but the city has always had an uncanny way of catching us unaware, suddenly and without warning. A commotion erupted on the sleepy-eyed corner.

 

“Gramma, there goes the buses. We’re late!”

 

“No – those buses are white and fancy. We’re looking for yellow school buses.”

 

“Gramma, I think those are special buses they got for his trip.”

 

“Oh no, if those are the right buses, then we’re in big trouble. That first one is driving away! Oh, Dear Lord, your mother’s gonna kill me if your brother misses his trip to the country. She just gonna kill me.”

 

The words poured out of her like an open faucet, the only outlet for this woman’s pent up anxiety.

 

That was enough for me. I had to look back. This sounded important! What I saw was a grandmother squeezing the hand of a backpacked schoolboy – fifth grade, I guessed, as his older brother, a head taller, stood beside them. All their feet were pumping up and down in place, as if they were walking in quick-time, but they couldn’t move forward until the light changed. We were all stuck there, office workers, coffee junkies and school kids alike. Each of us had to wait for the walking man signal to let us go. We all had different reasons for wanting to cross Third Avenue but we were in the same asphalt boat together, waiting at the intersection.

 

It looked like a daily physical and emotional challenge for this woman, I thought to myself, early rising and just difficult to corale two young boys to school each morning.

 

“I have never seen any high-class, big ole buses like those for no public school. Where are the yellow buses? Maybe they’re around the corner?” Gramma wondered out loud.

 

The older boy assured her. “Gramma, those buses are filled with kids. They got special buses today, not the junky yellow ones.”

 

Their tension had become my tension.

 

“What’s going on?” I questioned the frantic faces fidgeting behind me. Gramma spoke first and without hesitation.

 

“I get these boys out for school ‘cause their momma gotta be at work uptown early. I live in the same building on 39th Street, but on another floor. We’re late and he’s got to get on the bus for a special trip.” She held up the smaller boy’s hand, meaning this grandson and not the other.

The older brother looked at me. “Those three buses right there, Mister.” He was very sure, unlike his grandmother, that those were definitely the buses his brother should be on and wasn’t – because they had gotten there too late.

 

Just then, I noticed the lead bus begin to slowly roll forward toward Second Avenue.

 

“Oh Good Lord! There they go. There they go. He’s gonna miss the bus for sure now. His mother is gonna kill me.”

 

Gramma was getting frantic, almost hysterical.

 

“Would you like some help?” I suggested.

 

“Oh, yes, sir – yes, sir – please help us!”

 

I inched my way off the sidewalk but the morning rush was heavy and I saw no breaks to make a mad dash for it, but I pushed forward, getting ready to run.

 

The second bus began to creep into line behind bus number one. They were on the move. I tried to will the walking man to appear. “Come on orange hand, CHANGE, CHANGE NOW!”

“Okay, okay, you guys take it easy. He’ll make that bus. I promise.” I promised? I just made a commitment to them. I could not fail now. Oh boy.

 

The light changed and I took off.

 

The three of them, linked together, ambled behind.

Bus three started to roll. I figured that the last bus would stay put just long enough for me to cross the street. That became the plan for my promise. But I was mistaken. I picked up the pace from trot to a full run, chasing after the coach as the hot exhaust rumbled into my face from its back end.

 

Gramma was shouting, “STOP THE BUS!” I could hear the rustle of backpacks closing in on me from the two brothers, but they were still too far back to be noticed by the driver to catch the attention of the passengers – his classmates. It was all up to me now. Just my promise and me.

 

The thought of this little boy sitting alone in a classroom by himself while his fellow students left the city was too much to bear. I had a vision of smiling kid faces jumping for joy as a game warden, in a green uniform, released barrels of little trout hatchlings into a pristine river somewhere in the woods.

Now, along with Gramma, I shouted STOP THE BUS and reached out and slapped the rear end exhaust panel…HARD!

To my surprise, the driver kept rolling along with no sign of stopping for us. So, quickening my stride, I ran faster alongside the bus, slapping it even harder as I made my way further close to the driver.

 

Can’t he see us in his gigantic side view mirror, a man pounding on his bus and a grandmother with two kids all over the place running down 32nd Street like maniacs? What’s wrong with this guy?!

 

He gunned the engine. I began to lose ground and, with all I had left, made one last desperate sprint and caught up to his window – finally.

 

“STOP THE BUS!” I commanded.

The window was wide open. Not only could he see me now, as big as life, but he could hear me too. I was right there! If his intention was to ignore me, hoping I would disappear, that was no longer possible. I was in his face.

 

“What are you doing?” he yelled down. “I can’t stop this bus. I got to stay in line with the other buses. Who are you? What the heck are you doing?”

 

“You see that kid back there? LOOK, LOOK! He must get on this bus! That’s his class in there, man!

 

He shook his head, “NO STOP.” The bus crept forward. At least it was at a fast walking pace now, but still he stubbornly would not come to a full halt.

 

“Is there a teacher in there?” I was quickly running out of breath – and road. A resolution had to come within seconds. I knew, or the four of us would be watching as all the buses drove away. I couldn’t accept that vision.

 

A teacher stretched across the driver’s steering wheel, craning her neck to look down at us on the street. Traffic was backing up behind us. Cabs started honking.

 

“Do you know this kid, this little guy here? Is he your student?” I said urgently.

 

She looked more closely.

 

“Yes – he’s in my class.”

 

“Then please tell the driver to STOP THE BUS and let the boy on!” I screamed.

She exchanged some words with the driver and the bus finally stopped moving.

 

The teacher came out to speak with the grandmother and the boy as I got out of the middle of the street. Clearly, the teacher was not happy and she was giving them “what for” and I didn’t want to hear or see that. The bus driver frantically checked and rechecked his mirrors as the cabs continued to honk.

 

Finally, the teacher took the boy’s hand and they boarded the bus. The deed was done, the promise kept.

 

I went to get coffee. The line at the coffee place was unusually short, so I got my container of hot java to go and exited where I had entered. The aroma was delicious, as usual.

 

As I walked out, much to my surprise, I saw the big charter bus number three, the one with the late kid on it, directly in front of me, stopped at the red light at Second Avenue. I figured they were long gone by this time. The bus appeared to me as a giant white rectangular room on wheels, filled with kids.

 

Every little face in every window was smiling at me, waving and pointing in my direction, as in “There he is.”

Excitedly, they bounced up and down in their bus seats as they headed toward the Midtown Tunnel and out of the city for the day. I nodded and smiled back at them all. I made direct eye contact with the kid I had promised to get on that bus. His smile was an ear-to-ear grin, and at the same time he gave me a “thumbs up!” I gave him my widest smile in return and returned the thumbs-up gesture as the driver made a wide hand overhand turn into the flow of traffic streaming along Second Avenue, leaving a wake of sooty exhaust behind for me to walk through.

 

I raised my fresh hot coffee to my mouth. The first gulp of the morning is always the best.

 

For about fifteen seconds, I thought, “This must be what it feels like to be a Super Hero.” Then I continued down the sidewalk, to carry on with the rest of my day.

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