Word Count: 2,075
Category: Short Stories – Non-Fiction
Latest Version: April 8th,2021
It’s quiet but a couple pockets of conversational mumble and the occasional chalkboard-like echo of desks shuffling across the classroom floor tiles.
I already appreciated his music, but I didn’t know what to expect from this class. Every other day of the school year, this was grade seven history with Mr. Walker but for the next few days, it was the lyrics and music of Bruce Springsteen – a middle school elective.
A few days earlier, these four walls were but a pale backdrop for the deep, commanding voice of our teacher, and a curriculum void of the darkest stories of our country’s past. Today, as the mid afternoon sun makes its way overhead, grasping at our west facing windows, a curious ray pushes past the small cracks of the dark drawn curtains and rests for awhile on the checkered floor tiles. I imagine this space is a New Jersey sound studio and life beyond that door suddenly wasn’t the gathering of pre-pubescent young boys and girls dressed in neon, donning jean jackets, doused in hair spray, with ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’ as an attire fitting backdrop. The yellowish glow of the fluorescent lights seemed dimmer – that one bulb flickering for it’s life out of the corner of my eye. The world outside but a distant pastel memory.
The door closes with a gentle thud. The period four bell rings.
Mr. Walker makes his way over to his vintage 70’s high fidelity stereo system at the front of the class that I imagine the evening before, was otherwise surrounded by hundreds of records and books with their well-read edges worn, complemented within a mahogany bookcase and a comforting smattering of residue from his pipe. He flips a switch, and the brief silence is broken by a quiet thump and then a continuous hum as the amp kicks in. All eyes are on the tiny red glow signifying that power had been initiated. There is a soft click from the needle as it’s raised from its resting place, followed by that soothing crackle of precisioned diamond searching for those first sounds that will awaken our anticipation.
The Professor sends our hearts drifting as he mesmerizes us with the soft, romantic touch of his piano. The melody of the ebony and ivory slows as Bruce begins to haunt us with the blows and draws of the Aeolian harp. I was infatuated by the sound it made and the way it reached into my young soul. Somehow it’s impact was greater in these confines than the wood paneling of my basement bedroom. I don’t want the harmonica to end but then this gruffly voice of an elder enters and the lyrics are more imaginative than any I had yet known. They inspire me – move me, and leave me screaming ‘Yes!’ inside. At least I hope that wasn’t out loud? His music affirmed my innermost thoughts and described in it’s own experiences, my intimate details.
As the music continues on, as the tracks spin through one by one, introducing a multitude of instruments not common to the electric sounds our 80’s ears were accustomed to, I appreciated even more that this wasn’t just drums and a guitar or an overabundance of synthesizer and drum tracks. It was a real glockenspiel, piano, saxophone, and an assortment of other instruments intrinsic to the complexity yet simplicity of the stories his words told. The Boss’ grass wasn’t just green. It was lined with crowds of emerald poaceae. His sky wasn’t simply blue, but a pale reflection of the cold ocean’s calm.
The orchestra of musical mechanisms and the poetic wisdom of his words reflected back into me and fulfilled me like few elders and teachers with the best of intentions were ever able to. Maybe Bruce was the music our father’s listened to, but his words were the understanding we had longed for at home, in the classroom, and now this suddenly larger and growingly intimidating world outside the once comforting confines of home.
It wasn’t always about the words. No band I had heard up until that point used the array of tools this band did to tell their story. The melodic piano overtones, the haunting bends and vibrations of the harmonica that introduced me to Hohner, Suzuki, and Lee Oskar. The billowing echoes of the Big Man’s sax, and the child-like tappings of Roy Bittan on the glock.
The bell sounds with the usual thuds of books closing, quick zips of pencil cases, and the screeching of chairs being hastily shoved away from desks, replaced with sighs of disappointment that the needle had found it’s static repeat at the end of side one of Mr. Walker’s music elective.
Down the hall, earlier that same day, Mrs. Demming would be leading us in inspiration all of her own with an elective in creating writing where by years end, one-hundred double-sided foolscap pages showed the first signs of an aspiring writer. I can’t remember this class in the same detail as Mr. Walker’s, although I can picture us sitting in her room looking out onto the playground – ‘The Hill’ waiting patiently in the distant backdrop for the next round of middle school fisticuffs.
Looking back now, the story may have on the surface carried the theme of a young life so far mostly aroused by a frozen rubber puck, but never-the-less it bursts with the influence of these two educators. It hints at the songs of Bruce Springsteen within the romantic and artistic undertones of the words that lined those now worn and somewhat washed out pages. The faded text sings of an early crush and a certain innocent, carefully directed smile that inspired the previously unknown poet in me.
Back home that evening, I can almost hear the thud of my dad’s fists against my hollow bedroom door, and his deep voice shouting to ‘turn it down’, as my Born in the USA album blares through the wood paneling, drowning out the crumple of discarded ideas swooshing their way into my wastebasket . ‘Two points’.
I had it good at home really through how difficult I made it for myself. I had both my parents together under one roof for starters. My mom worked in clerical, my father the third of what would become four generations of steel workers. I played travelling hockey. By high school, I had my own apartment of sorts in the basement, but misguided infatuation, the wrong crowd, and drugs turned my world upside down. From failing my classes (even art), to fights with my parents, I pushed every proverbial button on a path to self-destruction; all the while doing anything and everything to make my parents hate me though they never did. I wanted the world and those around me to know me and understand me and I was angry because they didn’t, even though the truth was that I had no clue who I was myself or what I wanted them to know.
I graduated after evening and summer studies – and basic senior year courses, helped me clear a path to secondary freedom. Not before a high school teacher said I was worth something at which point the ride suddenly stopped spinning, the clouds subsided, and the sun once again illuminated my recently dark and haunted basement dwelling.
I fancied myself the rebel Bruce Springsteen and his E-Street Band portrayed through photos and lyrics, but I lacked any real purpose to my madness or cause to justify the way I treated my parents. By education’s end, I also wasn’t going to be a writer or a musician. I didn’t know what I wanted to be anymore, so I went to work.
At twenty-five, I returned to college, ended a long time love, and started all over with passion and optimism alive again in me. I dropped out after a year, reacquainted with my first love, broke her heart once more, and found myself in my late 20’s without a plan, a family of my own, or a clear dream.
My childhood home would once again feel safe and comforting after the distractions and self-destruction of high school, a whirlwind of 20’s exploration, and as age turned confusion to calm. This feeling would truly come full circle in my early 30’s when the innocence of grandchildren turned my parents into goofy, doting, and smitten versions of the folks we missed out on being kids ourselves.
I did pick up the written word again at the cusp of thirty, and writing has mostly always been there since. Other than a few courses, writers groups, an occasional opinion piece, community newspaper submissions, blog posts, and a handful of contest entries though, hundreds of thousands of words are still mostly unseen.
I’ve talked over the years about regret, but without the things I thought I would change, is regret intertwined with the best parts of the you its misgivings and heartbreak have gifted us?
I’ve recently decided that I don’t have regrets, aside from forgiveness sought for the pains life’s navigation leaves in its wake. I’ve got everything I’ve truly ever dreamed and more, but yet there is this one forgotten aspiration lost in the void between my phono needle in an 80’s basement bedroom, on fire from the constant echoes of my Born in the USA album, squeezed into my old size medium white undershirts and tapered jeans, acid dreams, and a hundred double-sided fading foolscap pages that speak to a dream constantly censored.
I’m very happy at closing in on what my youngest just reminded me is almost a half century of existence, but there are a few things that still remain from 1985. Bruce’s lyrics, a harmonica that I try and emulate with some success, and a voice inside wanting to break free perhaps louder and more desperate than ever before; longing to dance in the dark on the backstreets of this 10th avenue heartbreak while the mind and the body creek into borrowed time.
Everybody has a hungry heart, but I’m tired of these thoughts being alone in the dark. Tired of being only inspired. Of dreaming about doing. Maybe I’ll fail but what is failure but trying? What is the harm in that?
Springsteen has been a constant these past thirty-five years. These records bearing stickers with my childhood postal address and phone number hand written on them, have always been in rotation and were there to comfort me, remind me, or help me find my love for music again when life took away the joy of everything this artform once represented.
Springsteen and his E-Street band, and a new love for words had awoke the intrigue that every child should know through these monumental years of development. Then that sensation was gone. What had happened to that dream? The confidence and the desire to write through the light of awake and through the darkness of day and life? What had become of getting out and making something of myself? Not because I had it bad, but because I had suddenly felt there was more. That I had a gift.
The backspin of a record spinning uncontrollably three decades into the past. It stops at a mirror reflection of a vibrant thirteen year old me holding a bright stack of foolscap paper. Every line – both sides, defines hope and passion.
What does little Larry think looking looking back at the weathered reflection of the past thirty-five years? Of my forty-eight year old self holding those same pages, looking over the tops of his glasses with tiring eyes. Everything staring back into the past a little worse for the wear, yet the only thing that hasn’t grown old is the dream of making it real.
So here goes. One last shot. The dream’s alive. Quick, before depression strikes and self-worth is lost forever. Before this glucosamine pill wears off.
Whatever the result, there will always be this story. That moment where my middle school wasn’t an empty field and I could still hear the laughter of these same teachers chaperoning our winter camping trips to Camp Wanakita. Where childhood dreams were once again raging like teenage hormones standing tall against doubt; if only for the time it took to not just simply write, but remember the poet that used to live within words that once flowed with abundance.
Messages keeps gettin’ clearer.
My curser blinks …. | … … |
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