Archive for animals

Valentine’s Dog Dagurreotype

Posted in real life with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 15, 2017 by sethdellinger
  1.  I know A LOT of people who hate Valentines Day, so it seems.  And every year, most of them feel a need to unleash an anti-V-Day screed of some kind via social media (almost always involving the word “Hallmark”, “corporate”, or “made-up”.  And hey, I get it.  In fact, I essentially ignore almost all holidays, and I’m quite fortunate that my life partner feels the same.  We don’t really hate any holidays, we just don’t really notice them (with a few exceptions).  But what I’m wondering right now, as I continue to see these same people with these same rants about these same holidays year after year after year…why not just ignore it?  Let it pass with zero comment from you.  There is little more that a holiday hates than a complete lack of attention from you, whatever holiday it happens to be that you hate.  Just a suggestion, of course.  Certainly I have lots I like to bitch about, too, but it just seems to me like bitching about a holiday is some wasted bitching.
  2. I sure love my dog.  Who doesn’t love dogs?? But I feel a very special way about Benji because I’ve been lucky enough to be brought into his life late.  Benji is 15, which is nearing the absolute oldest he can get for his breed (at the absolute most, he might live two more years but that is unlikely).  I spent almost all of my adult life wishing I could have a dog; almost all of that time, I lived alone and worked jobs with long and erratic hours and was hesitant to own a dog under those circumstances.  But, once I found my love Karla, she came not only with Boy, but with Dog, and my time with Benji has been very special.  Now, he is not without his quirks (a truly obsessive-compulsive licking thing that can literally coat an entire couch if no one is watching) but in just about every way, I could not love him more.  I’m sad that I don’t get more years with him, but the time I do have fills my heart.  Almost anyone who has a dog says “They are part of the family”, and never has anyone meant it more than we do.
  3. Here is the earliest known photograph (actually it’s a daguerreotype) taken in the city of Harrisburg.  It is from freakin’ 1860!:
    img_20170214_181755

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 23, 2017 by sethdellinger

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Have Yourself a Melancholy Christmas

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on December 24, 2016 by sethdellinger

For many years, I have posted the below clip of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to social media around the holidays.  It is far and away my favorite Christmas song.  For the decade-plus that I spent living and mostly being alone, the melancholy twinned with optimism in the song struck a special chord within me.  The song seemed to harken to a nostalgia of lovely, warm, joyous holidays, while acknowledging the fundamental hardship of life–of being alone, of losing track of people, or long, dark, cold winter days and memories that slide through your fingers (please note I refer here solely to the original lyrics made famous in this Judy Garland version, not the bastardized, senselessly happy remakes to come after it).  Today, I played it in the background while passing a lovely lazy day with Karla and I immediately began to choke up; the song was a companion in melancholy with me for so many years, the tears came like a Pavlovian response.  Of course, life is happy beyond my wildest dreams, exquisitely so–but that doesn’t necessarily mean the end of melancholy.  My love, the boy, and our dog make life glorious–but there are still long, dark, cold winter days, and friends I’ve lost touch with, and memories that slide through our fingers like the water in the swimming pool on Parsonage Street when my sister saved me from drowning when I was six years old.  Someday soon, we all will be together–if the fates allow.  Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow.

Merry Christmas everybody!  Life truly is grand–melancholy is the proof of it!

Why I’m Vegan

Posted in Rant/ Rave, real life with tags , , , on October 30, 2016 by sethdellinger

As most of you know, I became a vegan about four months ago (and before that, a vegetarian about a year and a half ago).  This development has caused no small amount of friction between myself and some friends and loved ones, mostly due to the fact that I’ve become not only a vegan, but a vegan of the outspoken/ activist variety.  This upsets people.  I understand that.  I figured it was time I detail the philosophy for you a little bit.

Here is really where the rubber meets the road, where the rest of the philosophy comes from, and why you feel I am attacking you:

It is my firm and passionate belief that all animals on Earth are deserving of equal moral consideration.  This runs contrary to how even the most compassionate non-vegans in our culture think.  We are raised to believe that, in some way–a way that usually rests just a shade outside our ability to explain–humans exist above animals, in moral or ethical importance.  You may have said at some point in your life, “I’m sad that animals got hurt, but at least no human lives were lost“, or “Of course animal rights matter, but there are human issues that are more pressing.”  I understand why you think that way; I did too most of my life.  Our society (and in fact, most societies) raise you to think that way.  We call this way of thinking speciesism.  Frankly, I don’t love the term.  It begs to be mocked and is, perhaps, a little too precious.  But that’s the term we use and it IS accurate. (also I’ve thought about it quite a bit and can’t actually come up with a better term).  Why is it that you think humans are more important than animals?  REALLY.  WHY IS IT THAT YOU THINK THAT?

There are, of course, many reasons that get put forth to justify putting humans above animals, which I won’t take time to detail here.  Suffice it to say we find those reasons to be poppycock.  Animals feel pain and suffering, and above all, are simply not ours to own, control, kill, or consume.  They are their own.

Having established a moral compass wherein all animals are weighted the same, eating animals, or imprisoning or torturing them, is the exact equivalent to eating or torturing humans.  It bears the exact same moral weight.  Which is why it is not a “diet” and why I will not acknowledge your right to do it as “your choice”.

Picturing a world where all animals are due the same consideration, imagine now a farm.  The manner in which cows, pigs, chickens, et al–who have done nothing wrong whatsoever–are imprisoned, given a horrible, painful, short life and are then butchered: this is like we are doing it to humans.  Factory farms do this on a massive level; hundreds of thousands of PEOPLE are, at any moment, wrongfully imprisoned and murdered.

Yes, we call them people.  It serves to rip further the veil we are all under, this false assumption that because animals are different from us that they are less-than, that we control and own them, that their lives are ours to take, and their suffering meaningless.  These are our ethical equals, these are people, and what we are doing is nothing less than a holocaust.

So yes, you may think it’s silly when we call them people, or when we talk about SLAVEHOLDERS, but the moral equivalency is very real.  The problem is one of urgency for the poor, doomed, imperiled people currently imprisoned all over the world.  And you want me to be silent?  You think I should “accept your choice”?  I would no sooner silently assent to you eating a human limb.  I would no sooner be quiet about American police murdering black people.  I would no sooner be silent about LGBTQ Americans not having equal rights.  I like to think, given a chance to go back in time, I could not have been silent about the Holocaust of the second world war.  I cannot and will not be silent about this holocaust.  Animal rights are human rights.

You feel personally attacked when I post a vegan meme to Facebook; I get it.  You feel judged.  I assure you I am not thinking about you specifically when I spread the message: how you feel about what you read and see is between you and the animals.  But when you engage me on the topic, I can not and will not be soft.  How could I?  Look at what is at stake!

Many in the vegan community also think we should pull back.  They say being in peoples’ faces turns them even more off of vegans and lessens our chances of growing the movement.  Except: every successful social change movement in history disagrees with you.  Stop being cowards (and suggesting I be a coward too!)–if these WERE humans being farmed, would you suggest the best way to stop it is posting “vegan gym selfies” (Look, I get plenty of protein, eat vegan!) and pinning recipes on Pinterest?  I refuse to treat animal liberation like some delicate flower because people might feel a certain way about it.  I IMPLORE THEM TO FEEL A CERTAIN WAY.

The best way to make large, lasting change is to cause friction with the status quo.  It is our goal to hold up to people the true vision of the world: the idea that what we are doing to animals is a needless atrocity.  Some “soft activism” is good, too (gym selfies, Pinterest recipes), but it’s not enough.

The world needed Martin Luther King, but it also needed Malcom X.

Why I Haven’t Eaten Meat in a Month

Posted in Snippet with tags , , , , on May 21, 2015 by sethdellinger

I’m finding that when one becomes a vegetarian, it’s fairly tempting to not tell anyone at all.  Few things in my life have encountered such unexpected pushback.  It seems like saying I’m a vegetarian somehow sounds to most people like you are saying I’ve decided that you shouldn’t eat meat either.  People get really pissed just because *I” have decided not to eat meat.

But it also seems a tad unlike me to let such a monumental decision pass by unmentioned or unexplored.  I have no intention of proselytizing on the topic, but I refuse to act like it’s not a part of me–no matter how sensitive it might make you feel.

Now for the elephant in the room: my girlfriend (she’s a lot more to me than that word implies, but she’s not my wife, so our culture doesn’t provide us with an ample word for our relationship. ‘Partner’ is nice but comes with its own baggage) Karla is an extremely passionate vegetarian.  A big part of my hesitancy to announce myself as vegetarian are the inevitable insinuations that I was simply doing it because she somehow badgered me into it or that I was in some way forced into it.  I assure you nothing could be further from the truth.  Firstly, Karla is not that sort of woman, and secondly, I am not that sort of man.  Karla made it clear from the start that this was something that was extremely important to her, but that she would never actually ask me to do it.

With that being said, being around someone who feels so passionate about something so often can make issues become your own issues.  As I said, I won’t go on too long about it.  I’m still very new to the scene but obviously there are many, many ins-and-outs and things to be known and whatnot–mainly the horrors of factory farming and our nation’s broken foodborne illness codes.  But it boils down to very basic things for me:

1.  I don’t want to hurt things (people like to argue with this but, again, I’m not asking you to not eat meat, so really, no need for debate here).

2.  The idea that I’m eating the flesh of a dead creature now seems to me a little weird, a little gross, and maybe even a little barbaric.

3.  The last dozen times I’ve been sick I am fairly certain can be attributed to meat.

4.  Meat tastes pretty good, but really.  C’mon.  Lots of other stuff is good too.  You’d be surprised how easy it is to live without it.

So.  There ya go.  I’m a vegetarian now.

Scenes From My Sojourn

Posted in Memoir, My Poetry with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2015 by sethdellinger

After a straight shot drive down a highway whose number I now forget, I crested a hill around six in the morning, it still being completely dark outside, and saw for the first time the city skyline of Cleveland. I had the day off of work, and I was still exploring my immediate surroundings, since moving to what I call the chimney of Pennsylvania, so close to Buffalo and Cleveland and Pittsburgh. More than anything the prospect of Cleveland intrigued me, because I had never really considered that I might go there, or that it might be close enough, or what might even be there. So I set the early alarm, and drove straight in there with no plan. All I really wanted to do was park somewhere right in the city, find a newspaper from a newspaper

A self-timer self-portrait I did on a bench in Cleveland.

A self-timer self-portrait I did on a bench in Cleveland.

machine, and a local coffee shop, and read the Cleveland Plain Dealer, a newspaper whose name I already knew from years of attempting to be media savvy. Somehow I managed to find just the right exit off the highway, and, with my breath still showing in my car from the early-morning chill, found a parking lot that cost just a few dollars, right in the heart of the city. I hopped out of my car feeling extremely accomplished, walking across the early-morning parking lot, and I noticed many other people on foot, traveling the same way I was, heading into the city for that morning’s whatever. This was the first time I truly felt the call of the city, the desire to move in that hive, to be one of those lemmings. Wherever they were all going, it seemed like it must be interesting, different from what I knew and was accustomed to, and terribly important. Everyone made their way into their assigned nooks and crannies, disappearing down side streets and alleys and into revolving doors. In an almost astonishing short amount of time I found the newspaper machine I was looking for, and I even had the quarters ready, as I had anticipated this even before I left my apartment back Erie. I got myself a fresh-off-the presses copy of that mornings Cleveland Plain Dealer, and in an even shorter amount of time, I found myself in a local chain coffee shop called Phoenix Coffee, drinking a large caramel latte, reading about the Cleveland Browns that year, and the big high hopes everyone had for Colt McCoy.

 

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Shortly after moving in with my mother in South Jersey, a hurricane was on the way. I can’t remember what its name was anymore, because you know, they name these things, all of them. So it was on its way, and after the big news stories that the last few had been, this was supposed to be a big news story too. All the roads were going to be shut down, everything was going to flood, and we were all going to freak out. We all watched on the radar as the thing approached, and everyone from my work kept calling and texting around, wondering if we were going to have to go in the next day, and just how bad

Putzing around in the rain during our hurricane in South Jersey

Putzing around in the rain during our hurricane in South Jersey

everything was going to be. My mother and I were concerned about sleeping in our upstairs bedrooms, there being trees near the house, and that they might crash through the windows, like some goddamn nightmare. Eventually, it was decided no one had to go into work, and I was home with my mother as the danger approached. It started raining, and more than anything I was just intrigued. I’ve been through plenty of different storms in my life, and of course I’ve got the obligatory Pennsylvania drenchings from hurricanes that are almost out of steam by the time they get to us. But this looked like it might be an actual hurricane. Every hour or so I would put on all my rain gear and walk out to the development’s drainage ditch, to check the flooding progress. It’s one of those perfectly manicured little drainage ditches, it doesn’t look natural at all, obviously something that a few men with small bulldozer patted down on a Sunday afternoon twenty years ago. As the afternoon progressed the drainage ditch kept not filling up and not filling up, and the rain, although incessant and quite wet, kept being just that: rain. As Mom got bored from being cooped up inside and watching TV, and I got disappointed by the weather nonevent, the afternoon meandered into just another afternoon, one of those days wiled away looking at images on screens, or reading words in a book, the type of afternoon that you think of as a fine relaxing afternoon, but ultimately one with nothing very memorable. After it had been raining for about four hours I took my final walk out to the drainage ditch, saw that it was in fact actually less full than the previous time, and I took a short walk out to the small woods behind the development, and stood listening to the rain hit the leaves, and the small creek at the bottom of a low-grade hill behind my mother’s house. It was nice to be there, I thought. It was a nice place, and a nice time to be alive, and a very unique, circuitous path to be on. But it was also one of those moments when you think yourself, how in the world did I get here?

 

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I had been working out and dieting for about two months at this point, and had lost about three-quarters of the weight I wanted to lose. I had been living on my own in the city of Philadelphia for about six or seven months, and summer was in full swing. My new healthy lifestyle coupled with the season had invigorated me like I had never felt before. My typically high energy level was now bordering on manic, with me needing only a few hours of sleep a night, and typically reading thousands and thousands of words a day, in magazines, newspapers, books, and that was just the start of what I was able to accomplish. I would often be caught telling people that the world was actually bending to my very will. On this particular night, I had been out riding my bike all over the city, all day long. Starting out in the sweltering heat of noon, riding all the way from my Pennsport

Taken around the time I thought I could control the universe.

Taken around the time I thought I could control the universe.

apartment to the Art Museum, then back again, then out again and down to the Schuylkill River Trail, making the entire loop, miles and miles and miles of riding. Every time I would come home I would just play Pandora radio, no television on this day, the universe and all its sounds and music coursing through me. At night I threw open the windows in my apartment and let the natural air flow through, stripping down naked and playing air guitar to serious and depressing Post-Rock music and laughing and crying, the music louder than my neighbors probably liked. I put my clothes back on and hopped on my bike, and went to a late night showing of a movie at the nearby multiplex. Afterwards I still couldn’t stop, hopped on my bike and rode down the side streets as fast as I could, the good paved streets, the ones you can really get going on. At that time of night, in that part of the city, you can really blow through the stop signs, when you’re really tuned into the world and the universe like that, you can pick out the headlights if a car is coming the opposite direction, at the intersection, and you can really get up a good head of steam blowing through all the streets, not stopping anywhere, feeling the ions and electrons buzzing, I felt like I couldn’t be stopped, like I could fly if I wanted to, like my tires could just lift off the ground and I could soar, maybe just a few inches off the ground but I could soar, like I could just tell the universe anything what I wanted to do. I still remember the exact smell of that night, of that bike ride down the side streets, the exact feel of that exact quality of air, the way that I knew I could not be that happy forever, the way that I knew in my heart that life is that good, but you just don’t always feel it. I rode faster and faster,  my bike going thirty miles an hour through the streets of South Philadelphia, the warmth, the music back at my apartment, the echo of the movie from the movie theater, the lights all everywhere around, everything still swirling around in me, like some great puppetmaster. Just like every stop on the sojourn, the question must’ve popped into my mind, how did I get here? But it wasn’t very important at that moment, I was almost flying.

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Here’s a poem I wrote while living in Erie:

 

A Slowing of Pace

 

 

For at least ten years you have been preparing

to feel comfortable here in your life,

not a shutdown but a slowing of pace,

a grace of peace, of stopping on your way

through rooms of your dailiness to touch

the woven basket, the plastic vase, walking

through the evening park without voices

intoning from the trees, you must, you must—

these same dreams of solitude since you were very young,

 

and you feel, have felt for years,

that this is how you most would live,

deliberate, considered, easeful, slow,

if your life will only let you,

which it won’t, and this last decade

you have been yearning toward it, plotting,

longing for the book resting on your lap,

pages spread wide, this cup, the open door,

letting in late September air.

 

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It was a rainy, cold day in early March in Erie, and I found my wandering car pointed in the direction of the Erie Zoo.  Although I hadn’t set out to go to the zoo, this new turn of events didn’t surprise me.  I found himself there five or six times a year.  Most people contented themselves with a few zoo visits in a lifetime, but the Erie Zoo was extremely affordable, and the even cheaper off-season price (seven dollars for a grown-up) seemed more than reasonable to spend some time communing with creatures that had no business being on this part of the globe.  It was cheaper than a bad movie, and these animals were real.

 

As I pulled within sight of the zoo, I became a little worried that, for whatever reason, it might not be open.  There wasn’t a single car in the lot.  It was around 11am on a dreary, cold Thursday;  I hadn’t expected it to be hopping, but I wasn’t expecting emptiness.

 

Optimistically cautious, I parked and got out into the barking wind, driving pellets of frigid rain onto my shaved scalp, and nearly trotted the 20 yards to the zoo entrance.  Sure enough, there was a woman at the ticket window, grinning from ear to ear, presumably thrilled to see a customer.  As I neared, I summoned my best “public smile”—my I’ll-

Having a moment with a giraffe at the Erie Zoo

Having a moment with a giraffe at the Erie Zoo

pretend-I’m-one-of-you smile—and returned the woman’s “Hi!” with unrivaled enthusiasm.  Then I said simply, “One, please.”  She paused, then asked “Are you a member?”  I kept his public smile on.  “Nope,” I said.  And then she got the look on her face.  It was a look I had grown accustomed to in this version of my life.  It was a look a clerk or ticket-taker or usher got on their face when they were fighting the desire to say “What, exactly, are you doing here?”

 

I was sure I wasn’t imagining this look.  Aside from being by myself at functions and attractions that normally attracted folks in twos or more, the willy-nilly nature of my work and sleep schedule allowed me to quite often be at attractions and functions on days that were marooned in the desolate middle of the week, when the sad rest of the world were eating sandwiches from vending machines on their half-hour breaks in cubicles and smoking cigarettes under concrete gazebos on the edges of company property.  I had found myself alone or nearly alone in places ranging from early-season minor league baseball games to the Flight 93 National Memorial to the Cleveland Museum of Art.  And almost always, the middle aged woman working the door was quite visibly wondering what me, in my yellow flannel shirt and black

The house I lived in in Erie--the very first day I saw it.  The For Rent sign is still in the door.  I had the top floor.

The house I lived in in Erie–the very first day I saw it. The For Rent sign is still in the door. I had the top floor.

knit cap and imitation Converse , was doing there at 8am or 10pm or whatever the case may be.  But they never quite did ask.  They liked to leave a big pregnant pause where they thought I might offer some form of explanation for my daring to visit their job.  “Just one?” they’d say, wanting me to reply Well, my father used to work here before he got struck by lightning or some other perfectly ridiculous but totally feasible explanation.  But I stubbornly never gave any of them any kind of explanation.  “Are you a member?” the woman at the zoo window asked.  “Nope,” I replied, and still smiling I stared at her.  She waiting a second or two, then said, somewhat stubbornly herself now, “Seven dollars.”  I handed the woman a ten dollar bill, and while she made change, she said “Looks like you’ll have the place pretty much to yourself today”, confirming my suspicion that, in fact, I was the only customer here.  Smiling as large as I could muster, I said “Yeah, I kinda figured that.”  I took my three dollars in change and walked into the zoo.

 

No matter how many times I found himself alone in public spaces, it never ceased exhilarating me.  It seemed to me like I’d won some kind of covert contest that nobody else knew they were playing, as though all of life were a silent jockeying for position in which, on this day, I’d triumphed.  Everyone else was being funneled through the cattle chutes of their typical lives to the choke points of the weekend afternoons and I was outside the chutes, watching from the meadow.  I knew this wasn’t true, I was being funneled by other forces, but my superiority seemed unquestionable in moments such as walking into a zoo I had to myself.

 

Of course, during the off-season, admittance was cheaper for a reason.  Almost half of the animals weren’t on display.  Too cold for them.  Lord knows where the zoo keeps animals hiding during this time.  Some sort of safe house or bunker, on imagines.  A smelly bunker.

 

But I knew where I was going.  I had been here enough times that I had “regular” stops.  Ten minutes communing with the Red Panda (so cute!), five minutes making cooing sounds at the baby (teenager, really) giraffe, and on and on, until eventually I ended up in the orangutan building.  The orangutans at the Erie Zoo were unique in that they were a bona fide family.  A mother, a father, a daughter, and a son.  In fact, the daughter was the older child, making the orangutans a mirror image of my own nuclear family.  The son, Ollie, was still a baby.  A toddler, let’s say.  He had been an infant when I first arrived in Erie, and I’d been able to watch Ollie grow up in little spurts, every few months when I’d visit.  It was when I visited the orangutans that I always got the weird and ecstatic feeling of really, this is right here in Erie.

 

Today was a little different, however.  As soon as I walked into the orangutan building (which was completely empty of humans), Ollie and his mother were right against the glass, in the corner nearest the entryway, Ollie sitting atop his mother’s shoulders.  They looked at me from inside deeply human eyes, and both smiled, as if to welcome me.  “Oh my,” I heard myself say.  I walked slowly to the glass, so as not to scare them away.  But they showed no signed of going.  As I reached the glass, Ollie (who, on his mother’s shoulders, was eye level with me) placed his hand flat on the glass.  I, sensing a moment was occurring, put my hand where Ollie’s was—like we were visiting in a state prison in some sappy movie.  But it wasn’t sappy.  Ollie and I made eye contact and kept our hands overtop one another’s for what must have been a full minute, an odd communion between a man and a baby orangutan in northwestern Pennsylvania on a rainy March morning.  When Ollie finally pulled his hand away, I turned to look behind me to see if any people had come in and maybe witnessed the sweet, unexpected moment.  But there was only an empty walkway and the silly tape recorded sounds of an African forest.  I thought the lack of a witness was both incredibly sad and completely amazing, to equal degrees.

And it was not sappy.

 

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A poem I wrote shortly after moving out of  South Jersey and into Philadelphia:

 

Cage

headphones in, I walk Old City

as if in the presence of an intelligence,

concentrating.  I imagine myself

scrutinized and measured closely

by the passers-by, the foreign tourists,

the horses with their carriages,

the sky and the earth.

my multiple reflections from shop fronts,

high windows, and bus glass stare back at me,

show my belly, my too-long hair, my crooked nose.

wind sweeps off the Delaware, bringing with it

Camden, Governor Christie, and further south,

my mother’s cooking.  home swirls around

this new city, this birthplace city,

where I am so far from everything.

but I keep walking and walking

and it gets darker and darker

and there is a flicker of light or two

far above and beyond my cage.

 

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My mother and I did so many things together when I was staying with her in New Jersey, it would be difficult to boil those myriad lovely experiences down to a moment indicative of them all.  We would typically do one thing together a week—from something as small as going to a movie together to an all-out road trip.  We unabashedly (ok, maybe a little abashedly) called these Momma Days.  I think we both knew these were numbered days of a grown form of childhood for both

Mom and I at a Camden (NJ) Riversharks game (minor league baseball)

Mom and I at a Camden (NJ) Riversharks game (minor league baseball)

of us, but they were golden days unlike the first childhood (when nobody knows how great things really are).  I remember every moment of the Momma Days, but the best memory is my ritual: every time we were going to spend a day together, I’d wake up, roll out of bed, and promptly run down the stairs, clapping my hands like a happy toddler, chanting rhythmically Momma-Day-Momma-Day-Momma-Day in a little kid voice.  It seemed, at the time, like something just between the two of us, that we could never tell anybody, because I was 36 and she was older than that even, but here it is, in my blog, because you just don’t get a whole lot of golden days.

 

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Just a few short months after moving into Philadelphia, I was riding my bike home from work on the night of New Year’s Day. About halfway between where I work and my home, one encounters Washington Avenue, one of the last large arterial streets that cuts through Philadelphia, before you get into what I called the Deep South. When I got there, about 10 o’clock at night, there was a police barricade, preventing me from going further down 2nd St., past Washington, which would’ve taken me directly home in about a mile. But it wasn’t an accident or a crime scene, and I quickly remembered what was going on. There wasn’t a whole lot that was notable about the neighborhood I lived in in Philadelphia, except the fact that it is the Mummer capital of the world. And the Mummers are basically men who dress up in very opulent costumes and dance around and ride interesting floats on a New Year’s Parade, as well as play in old world-style string and brass bands.  It is a tradition that only occurs in Philadelphia, and at that, only South Philadelphia, and at that, almost only my neighborhood. But it also turns out, that the whole city loves this tradition one day a year, that being New Year’s Day. And then on the night of New Year’s Day – not New Year’s Eve, mind you but New Year’s Day night – my neighborhood and just my neighborhood

Mummers in the 2014 Philadelphia 4th of July parade

Mummers in the 2014 Philadelphia 4th of July parade

becomes the largest party in the city all year. I hopped off my  bicycle, very interested in what this would look like. I was a bit unprepared. I’ve never been to Mardi Gras, but I am told it is much like this, and people who have been to both say that the Mummers party in Pennsport almost outdoes Mardi Gras in some ways. The crowd down Second Street was so thick, I had to quickly chain my bike to a mailbox, as there was no getting through the crowd. Huge, almost one-story high speakers dotted every-other block, where sometimes electronic, dance or house music played, and other times old world Mummer bands played corny but danceable string music. Enormous floats, gaudy and opulent, set in the middle some blocks, some of them decorated in modern ways, with heads of what looked like aliens or monsters, while other floats simply looked like a gilded golden things, big Faberge eggs on wheels, and all about everywhere strode Mummers, men and the occasional women wearing  long flowing robes of  shiny satin fabrics, embroidered gold and silver tassels, enormous red buttons, masks that looked sometimes scary, like out of a dream masquerade, or sometimes comical, or sometimes indecipherable. It was loud everywhere, chants got taken up out of nowhere that I couldn’t understand, songs were being sung like pirates about to board a weaker vessel. Everyone was drinking, the whole world was there, not just Mummers but teenagers and people in their twenties, kids with funnels of beer going to their stomachs, people on drugs screaming about things, people wearing beads as though it were Mardi Gras but it wasn’t, and nobody was taking their shirts off, weed smoke was an ever-present cloud.  There were food stands on corners, big sliced-open mangoes on sticks that you could buy, heads of pigs roasting over spits. I kept taking pictures and videos with my smartphone and sending them to people who weren’t there, people I wished were with me, people I hadn’t seen in years.  Somewhere around Dickinson Street I hung a left, popped out onto the relative calm of Front Street, walked six more blocks down to my street, stuffed the key in the lock, went inside in time for Anderson Cooper.

 

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In the winter, Erie is a cold, desolate, sometimes dangerous place. It’s not the ideal place to live alone with no friends or relatives within a five-mile drive of you. It snows almost all the damn time, and it’s so cold, and the wind just races across the lake, whether it’s the summer or the winter. Wether the lake is frozen or open, it is 7 miles wide, and there is nothing to stop the wind. On one particular winter morning, I rose to an early alarm clock, to work the morning shift at the restaurant I was a manager at. Our day start pretty early, and it’s always hard to get up, but especially when it’s dark outside, and the wind howls like a coyote, and you know there’s snow out there, and maybe more on the way, and maybe more falling even right then. I crawled out of bed, put on my work outfit, poked my head through the

Snow tubing at a work function in Erie--essentially the ONLY perk of the brutal winters.

Snow tubing at a work function in Erie–essentially the ONLY perk of the brutal winters.

blinds, and started my car with my remote start, one of the best features that car had. Five minutes later I was down there to hop in, excited about the warm inside of my car. It had snowed the night before, but not a whole lot, maybe four or five inches, which isn’t very much when you’re living in Erie. But it was just one of those things, one of those moments where your car and the tires are sitting just right, or just wrong, and despite the fact that you see no perfect reason why, your car is stuck. I had not left myself a whole lot of time with extra to get to work, and I was in quite a bind here. Being late is sometimes easier than others in that line of work, and I can’t remember the circumstances now, but I do know that I absolutely had to be there on time that day, and my car being stuck put me in a moment of desperation. With nobody to call – not even any small friends or acquaintances, really nobody that I knew – I wasn’t sure how to proceed. I was out of my car, looking all around it, shoveling the snow out from the tires as best I could, trying to rock it a little bit. All the small things one can do by yourself to get your car unstuck, but there’s only so much of that. Then, in the predawn darkness I saw approaching a young man walking down the center of the street that I lived on. I recognized the speed with which he walked and the

Lake Erie and the Presque Isle beaches are actually an incredible hidden gem (during the summers!) in Pennsylvania.

Lake Erie and the Presque Isle beaches are actually an incredible hidden gem (during the summers!) in Pennsylvania.

direction he was going as a man heading to catch a bus. Yes, there were buses, but I had never even looked into that. As he came to pass me I walked onto the street, and sent to him, “Hey man! Hi!  Hey man, excuse me!  I’m in a real bind here, my car is stuck and I really need to get to work.  I’m really screwed here.  Can you help me push it out?”

He stood still and wooden, looking at me through my pleading screed.  After a pause, he said, “But, see, I’m on the way to catch my bus to go to work myself.  What if this makes me late?”

This was one of those very touchy moments in life for me.  I absolutely, 100% needed this guy to help me.  But he had a point and I knew it.  Why should he be late to work simply so I could be on time?  I was sure if he helped me, the car could come out quickly and we’d both be on time, but time was crunched so badly, there wasn’t even the moment needed to explain this.  I analyzed my chances, as well as the look of the kid, and rolled the dice.  I said this:

“That’s a chance you’ll just have to take.”

 

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A poem I wrote in Philly:

 

Just Past St. Augustine’s

 

where the elevated train slows

just past St. Augustine’s church

off the Delaware river

a row of busted windows

only a single one still whole

open and darkly curtained

 

that’s where I once saw this arm

slip out between the frames,

the hand open to feel for drops of rain,

another time there were two arms

raising a small naked baby

for a breath of evening air

 

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I took a trip to Niagara Falls by myself once, while I was living in Erie. It was only a little over an hour away from there, and I figured I might as well take a look at it. It was a beautiful day, and I was much more moved by the wonder there than I expected to be. I did the whole shebang, the whole big tourist thing, the boats, the ponchos, everything. But the thing that I remember most, the thing that resonated most with me, was Goat Island. It’s a small island in the middle of the Niagara River. You can take a little pedestrian bridge over to it, and walk around. When I was there, I was mostly alone, and the bulk of the island is very unassuming. It’s got a big green lawn, some pasture. You can walk around and not really know that you are

Selfie from my solo trip to Niagara Falls

Selfie from my solo trip to Niagara Falls

so close to those enormous rushing waters, and the touristy sites, and the boats and helicopters. I walked over to the shore of the river, all alone in the little clearing, looking out at the rushing Niagara just a hundred yards or so from where drops into oblivion. I couldn’t believe it. There I was, so close to the river, so close to those falls, and nobody around me. I was happy as a clam but I thought to myself, I can jump right in there. I could just end it. Death has always felt like a very close spectre to me, I’ve always sensed the razors edge that I am on, that we are all on. In that moment, I don’t think I’ve ever sensed that more, I saw it like an actual looming knife: just a few feet away, just one slip or one jump, and there it is.  I went to Goat Island by myself and for a split second I saw through the door.

 

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A few months ago I met the most wonderful woman I’ve ever known.  Her name is Karla and I’ve been gifted with the good fortune of her loving me as much as I love her.  She’s from “back home”, so now, that is where I will go. Not only to spend time with my love and her marvelous son, but to now spend more time with my father and other relatives and long lost friends.  My sojourn ends—and an incredible new one will begin.  I don’t believe “everything happens for a reason”—in fact, I believe quite the opposite.  But I do believe that my lengthy field trip away from home has fulfilled its purpose in the finding of the love of my life.  I think my mom will be happy that, in fact, I am going to get even more golden days now.

 

The love of my life, Karla, our golden days stretching out ahead of us.

The love of my life, Karla, our golden days stretching out ahead of us.

 

 

 

 

Dance

Posted in My Poetry with tags , , , , , on February 19, 2015 by sethdellinger

In all these tiny useless shops, with all this
torn and tattered furniture and too-small coats and
half-working vacuum cleaners, I have never come across
a velvety orangeish curtain like the one we hung
in the living room on Big Spring Avenue; it was
wide and garish like a Lady Pope’s vestments
and it kept the heat from pouring down between the
hardwood floor slats into the musty dirt basement;
likewise, in none of these big city shops have I ever
danced around with a cocker spaniel like I did
with ours–Cocoa–one bright Saturday morning
when I was all alone with her.  I did the funny dance I
only ever did with Cocoa, one hand in my armpit,
jumping on one foot, the sound of my skin half-drum,
half-fart, the world at last and for a moment a perfect
sun-filled room, a dappled meadow, Cocoa just
staring with all-black eyes, shimmying just to
get out of my way, me whirling and singing a song
I can’t recall, then laughing and laughing in the
sun beaming through the windows, falling down
with her, as if we were dying, as if we could
never stop–in 1984, in Newville Pennsylvania–
beautiful strange small-town Newville,
home of Laughlin Mill and the Bulldogs–
a hundred miles and thirty years away from
this dingy city thrift store I stand in, remembering
the orangey curtain and the drafty floors and the
sweet temperamental dog so confused with her
round voids of eyes, she’s gone now, so gone even
her dust is gone, oh giant universe, oh wild universe!

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