I mentioned in my last entry that after attending a wedding in my old home town of Beacon, N.Y. with Karen we made a point of touring the city which has really transformed itself from a gritty factory town to bedroom community for New York City. Fear and faster trains since 9/11 have tipped the balance in the minds of commuters who are more willing to put up with a longer trip to work. There is actually a store that just sells home made pies. Thirty years ago the newspaper headline would have been "Insane Pastry Chefs Threaten Townspeople" I had once fantasized as a Beacon merchant what kind of store I would open if I was fabulously wealthy. I envisioned a moose store on main street nestled between the "We Sell Beer to Minors" bar and my other fantasy store-"Rent-a-Nun". The moose store would have a simple concept. There would be a row of moose in stalls with price tags-some with inexplicable "Half off As Is" tags and "Buy One, Get One Free". A salesman dressed in an elegant suit would wait on phony customers who are paid to shop. A couple of times a day a moose, with a large "sold sticker" on his rear end would leave the store with a typical looking Beaconite (someone down on his luck with no hope of a decent life). The reason for all this is to create unending gossip and hair pulling consternation among the townspeople who simply could not accept the idea that in a town where the typical business was on the verge of bankruptcy, a store selling new and used moose would be prospering. Others would like to use their fortune to book passage on the space shuttle, but this is what I would do. The "Rent-a Nun" store is a more practical concept. I read once that there are more nuns over ninety than under thirty because they refuse to die. They know a wrathful God with a giant ruler is waiting to rap their knuckles. I see them sitting in nice easy chairs in my store sipping tea and eating cookies bent over with wisps of gray hair trying to escape their habits. Now suppose you lived in Beacon and were being threatened with eviction-which is almost a given. For a modest sum you rent one of these ninety year old nuns and park her in your living room. The sheriff comes with some burly deputies ready to throw you and your belongings out to the curb, but you have a nun ensconced on your sofa-a maiden great aunt visiting for a month perhaps. The perplexed officials leave with their tails between their legs because their is no way they can throw a ninety year old nun out the door-well worth the ten bucks an hour.
Anyway back to reality or close to it. We drove by our old family home where my brother lived on the second floor in bachelor squalor all alone after my mother moved to Maine to open up a chiropractic office. I had a hard time recognizing the place where I grew up. There was a white picket fence with a small manicured lawn and a new porch. It was like Anne of Green Gables had moved to Beacon to escape the tourists on Prince Edward Island. I did recognize the roof over the porch and the bedroom window right above. My brother, God rest his soul, treasured his privacy and his freedom to have piles of underwear and socks heaped on a broken recliner. Our two daughters and especially our older daughter loved him and he was devoted to them often babysitting if we went to the movies. They didn't see the mess, the grime on the stove, floor, chairs, windows and cat. They just saw Uncle Bingo who loved them and did Elmer Fudd impersonations. The only intrusion into his idyllic world was the late night phone calls from my mother that drove him crazy. Finally, he got rid of his phone-money better spent at Off Track Betting anyway. The problem was the doorbell did not work and he locked the front door from the inside and there was only one way to get his attention. I would stand in front of the house and throw pennies at his bedroom window and over the years the roof was covered in pennies. My daughter wrote this poem looking back at those odd times.
Pennies on the roof
littered from Daddy’s overall pockets in winter,
the ones aimed at Uncle Richie’s storm window one
cent, a nickel, at a time
until he heard their staccatos breaking
up the television into Morse code.
we waited outside in the cold for the click of the lock
and a middle-aged, overweight bachelor who had
clam sauce and spaghetti on the stove
and his nieces on the fridge
and a picture of the child Andalib in
the school uniform paid with pennies
sifted from the sawdust and
paneling nails of his pockets.
The day there was only one left, enough to buy
a peppermint or a soul,
he called us up on the phone.
I cried afterwards, mistaking
the distance in his voice for sadness
But it was only the distance of a man,
The next morning, the pennies on the roof
were circles of gold . They glistened
in the morning
while we mourned the loss and gain of wealth.