My parents rent a small, furnished bungalow on Rockaway Beach, at the outer edges of Brooklyn, with Marion and Sidney Star, a couple who also live in our apartment building in the Bronx.  Rock-a-way, I like that word and the play on meanings it provides.  Rockaway. 
          The smell of the ocean is wonderful.  The warm sand is wonderful.  I chase sea birds along the shore and make believe I can fly.  I am two years old and there is almost no place I cannot go and not much I cannot do.  I like that.  I spend a lot of time climbing up onto my bed and climbing down out of my bed.  I bounce and jump.  I like to bounce.
          The cottage is nestled in toward the end of a long block of cottages, each cottage packed tightly in close to the next, all connected directly to the beach by a narrow sandy asphalt street.  The Stars have an infant daughter, Louise.  Sidney is a schoolteacher.  He has the summer off, and works part time at a day camp.  My father is a New York City fireman.  He is not yet twenty-eight years old.  He is on duty for twenty-four hours and then off three days in a row.  He and Sidney walk with their children on the beach.  They play competitive handball on the neighborhood courts.  I watch them from a bench, sometimes seated with my mother.
          In the cottage there is a small kitchen with a metal table and chairs, one bathroom, and two bedrooms separated by cardboard thin walls.  No one lives in the cottage year around.  At night we draw closed the window shades so that the shoreline is darkened and the coastline protected from the view of attacking enemy submarines or aircraft.
          There is always talk of war, of friends and uncles serving in the war.  There is great anger, uncertainty, and fear.  My father's brother, Uncle Sol, is in the army.  He is a raconteur with U.S. forces in Europe and North Africa, the colonel's driver, the supply man, the securer of fresh vegetables, women, and wine.  I am sent photographs of him in his jeep, in his uniform, with young women smiling at his side.   
          Uncle Al is in the navy. 
          My father's youngest brother, Bill, tells me proudly he is going to war and joins the air force when he turns eighteen.  I have photographs of Bill looking dashing, a young pilot smiling from the cockpit of his plane,   pictures of him in India with a dead tiger, pictures of him with his tee shirt sleeves rolled up leaning against a car, a Bronx tough with a thin moustache.  Uncle Bill brought home lovely clay figurines from Asia.  He became a New York City narcotics detective who married the most beautiful woman I ever met, beat his family regularly, and put the barrel of his service revolver inside his young daughter's mouth. 
          My father's best friend Sam, who was a pacifist but joined the army anyway, was killed landing with the allied forces in Italy.  My sister, born before war's end, is named after him.  I am told stories and shown pictures of airplanes diving through slate gray skies, of infantrymen with bloody bayonets rushing forward on beaches.  Beaches like Rockaway.  The irony of a world at war is not lost on a boy born on Armistice's Day.  It puzzles me how men can fight in horrific battles where thousands of lives are eradicated and destroyed.  I also don't know where I go when I am sleeping ... and worry I won't come back.

          I am bouncing on the coach in the living room of the cottage, home alone with my father, Marion, and the infant Louise.  Mother has gone off for the day, which is unusual.  Perhaps they’ve had a fight.  I am lifted playfully high into the air by my father and held at the end of his extended arms looking down into his upturned face.  My rump brushes the ceiling.  He is smiling.  I am screaming with pleasure and joy.  He swings me around and sits me down in the high chair in the kitchen.  I am secured there by a little wooden tabletop attached to the sides of the high chair with aluminum arms.  The tabletop acts as a restraint that rises up and down to let me in and out of the chair.  There is no security strap between my legs.  My lunch of apple and cheese slices is placed on this high chair table top along with a full glass of milk.
          Sidney is not at home. 
          Marion is wearing a floral bathing suit.  Her breasts are beautiful and obvious.  Her thighs are naked.  She is a very pretty athletic woman with dark hair pulled back from her face.  My father is wearing his blue bathing shorts and a pair of black ankle high sneakers.  He is very handsome and strong.  He is aware of Marion's body, as she is of his. 
          I remain seated in the high chair as Marion and my father move self-consciously about the small cottage kitchen.  They have never seen each other in bathing suits before this summer, never shared a bathroom before, and surely never slept a paper-thin wall apart from one another, nor have they ever been alone with each other half naked on a hot sunny August afternoon, on a crystal clear eye squinting day, on a day father has promised to take me to the beach.

          Father and Marion are shy and self-conscious around one another.  Their tension squeezes the air out through the screen door of the cottage into the street.  They speak in words that are tight and stiff.
          "Maybe I should take Bruce to the beach before Louise wakes up," father says.
          "No, stay here with me.  I want to go with you when she awakens."
          He cannot take his eyes off of Marion or her breasts, their slope, the remarkable beauty of her shimmering flesh.  He has never seen Marion this way before, perhaps never been half naked and alone with a woman other than mother before.
          Father does not want to be caught staring.  There is nothing else he can do.  Marion looks father in the eye, as if to say, "What?  What will we do with all this feeling?"  Father rubs his hands together as if he were cold.  He cracks his knuckles.  He stares at his fingers.  He looks at the floor.  He looks at me and winks.
          "Eat something," he says and I dutifully pick up a piece of cheese but don't put it in my mouth.
          "Aren't you hungry," he asks, and I shake my head from side to side as far as I can, exaggeratedly saying "no."
          "Don't you want it," he asks me.
          He looks at Marion.  She blushes.
          "Okay then, why don't you get down and get ready for the beach.  Get your pail and shovel and we're off."

          In one hand he picks up the apple and cheese pieces off the high chair table.  With his other hand he gives me the nearly full glass of milk to hold and then lifts the high chair tabletop up over the chair to let me down as he walks back across the kitchen toward the sink.

As he reaches the big kitchen table he turns toward Marion who is still standing with her back pressed against the cast iron sink.  Her hands supporting her as she rests against the sink top.  My father tries to get past her.  He is taking funny sliding side-to-side steps.  He is facing Marion leaning against the sink.  There is barely enough room for him to slide by.  I sit in the highchair watching them.  Father stops and leans back against the metal kitchen table.  He folds his arms against his chest.  His breathing raises and lowers his arms.

Marion says, "Maybe I should wake Louise."

"No, let her sleep," father says.

          They are facing one another, standing and staring, leaning away with their bodies, nearly touching with their feet.  They are in that same position for what seems a long time when the tension eases out of them.  You can see it.  Their bodies soften.  Their faces break into smiles.  They say nothing to one another but clearly enjoy the opportunity to be this close.  Father drops his arms to his side.  He opens his mouth to breathe.  Marion's eyes sparkle.  They are each smiling broadly.  Marion asks, "Yes?"  There is no other sound in the room.  No sound outside the cottage.  Not a plane overhead.  Not a car passing through the city streets.  Father raises his right hand to his face.  He wipes it down across his nose and chin.  Marion's breasts swell and lower as she breathes, like the ocean on a quiet day pressing and retreating against the sand.
          "Marty," she say softly.  His name a prayer, a praise of god in heaven.  "What should we do?"

          Father takes a very deep long breath and lets the air out slowly through his nose as I start to ease myself out of the high chair.  I try to turn so that I can use the arms and the rungs of the chair to let myself down backwards, as I usually do.  But I have the full glass of milk in my left hand and find myself sliding too quickly forward out of the seat.  I grab at the arm of the chair with my right hand but am pitched forward out of the chair, my legs tangled and slipping from the rungs.  Falling.
          "Marty!" Marion yells as she sees me, her mouth and eyes wide opened.  Father turns and moves toward the chair.  His arms reach out to me.  He is too far away and too slow to stop my fall.  My butt hits the edge of the seat.  I lurch forward from the high chair holding tightly to the glass of milk.  I reach out with my left arm to break my fall and land hard on the glass, which shatters into large shards, driving a large wedge of glass deeply into my left hand and wrist. 

          I feel intense pain instantly and see the spurting arterial blood pulsing out of my arm turned quickly red and wet.  There is an open gash in my palm, which runs up through my wrist and arm.  I imagine I see bone through the parted flesh.  Other shards of glass skitter across the floor.  My head bounces hard onto one of them and glass is stuck into my forehead, which is also bleeding.  Blood is spurting furiously out of my hand and wrist.  I grab my left arm with my right hand below the wrist and scream.  There is only terror.

          Father lifts me up.  "Oh, shit!" he screams.  "Oh shit!  Oh God Marion Jesus help me.  Please help me.  Oh god.  Oh shit.  Get me a towel Marion.  Please, Marion get me a towel.  Oh god."
          Father's arms and hands are red with my blood.  His left shoulder is covered with blood.  There is blood on his chest.  There is blood on his sneakers.  There is blood on the floor.  I do not hear myself screaming.
          Father wraps a bath towel around my left hand and wrist.  He says, "Tourniquet."  He says, "I don't fucking know."  He says, "Marion, where's the nearest hospital?"  He says, "Oh shit."  He says ‘oh shit’ a lot.  He says, "Don't cry boy."  He says, "don't cry boy you're gonna be fine."  He says, "don't cry,” but it is he who is crying and he doesn't even know it.
          And I am decidedly not fine.  I am terrified.  I am hurt.  I am frightened and blood is pouring down my face and spurting out my wrist.  There is blood in my eye and blood in my mouth.  I am really not fine, I know.  I am, in fact, bleeding to death.  So I scream again, even louder.  I scream again and again.  I scream to blot out everything in the world but my scream.  I scream to scream … and then I grow quiet and still and cold.  And it is my father who is frightened, which is perhaps the most terrifying of all.

          "No no no," father says.  "Oh no."
          "The hospital is on One Hundred and Eighteenth Street and Rockaway Boulevard," says Marion.  She throws a shirt at my father as he runs with me in his arms out the door of the cottage into the sunlight of the August day.
          Carried in father's arms running up Rockaway Boulevard I am no longer terrified, no longer screaming, no longer in pain.  I bounce uncomfortable and dazed against my father's chest and shoulders.  I seem suspended, outside myself, watching myself and my father running, watching the towel now completely red, wondrously red.  My father is running.  Running.  And I am bouncing over his shoulder.  His breathing heavy, he paces himself.  He does not speak.  He cannot speak.  My head bounces up and down as father jogs along the Brooklyn pavement.  The blood is warm in my mouth.  It takes fifteen minutes to get to the hospital.
          Father runs with me into the emergency entrance corridor.  It is dark and cool inside the building.  I am quite cold on this hot day.  Shivering even.

          "I am a fireman," father gasps.  "My son is seriously injured.  He needs a doctor.  Immediately.  Please.  Somebody help me."
          A nurse in a white uniform takes me from my fathers arm.  I am trembling.  She unwraps the towel from my arm.  Her uniform is quickly stained with blood.  “Jesus Christ!” she says.  “Get a doctor in here!” she says to the air.  “I mean it.  Immediately.”

          I am placed on a cold metal table.  There are wide bright lights.  I am shaking.  I try to run away, to climb down, to bounce, but the nurses' arms hold me.  I scream again.  Scream as loudly as I can.
          “Daddy!  Please don’t leave me.  I promise I won’t cry,” I say as my father leaves the room filled with people in white uniforms moving around the room talking.  I lose track of myself.  Some little boy is being bandaged and sutured.  I lie above myself looking down at the boy on the table shivering and crying.  There is concern I will lose the use of my left hand.  I hear the whispering.  Then I am taken home.  We leave the hospital together, that boy and I.  My arm in a sling and my head bandaged.  I feel considerable pain.  My father gets a cab and we ride home.  Mother is predictably angry when we walk in the door at the cottage.  Father is angry too.  It is the emotion that comes easiest to them.
          “What happened,” mother demands to know.
          “It was just an accident,” my father says, “he was climbing out of the highchair and then it happened.”

          In the photograph taken later that week the boy is seated alone on the edge of the Rockaway cottage’s front stoop, precariously perched three or four feet above the ground.  He is smiling, but there is a faint look of anxiety on his face, a reflection of his fear he will fall because he is not securely seated.  The boy props himself up and braces himself with his good right arm.  He is wearing a small pair of the brown ankle high leather shoes that kids wore when they were two years old in the forties, a part of shorts, and a long sleeved pull over shirt with the left arm sleeve flopping down.  There is a large bandage over his left eye running halfway up his forehead.  His left arm is in a sling and his hand and wrist are extensively bandaged as he sits in harm’s way.
          Father has posed the boy on the stoop’s edge to take this picture.  He has told the boy to smile.  He is proud of his injured boy, his only child.  He has disregarded, or is devoid of awareness, of the child’s feeling of anxiety, so deeply in love with his son and his own emotions when he is aware of them, he is unable to attune to or acknowledge the boy’s vulnerability. 

          Where is that boy who was with me in the hospital, that boy sitting obediently on the stoop?  Here he is, inside this scar on my wrist, inside the scar on my eye, inside the scars on his vision and his heart.  Now again on the beach.  Now bouncing and jumping.  I like to bounce.


        I move from the Freshman Annex of the Bronx High School of Science to the main building on 183rd street.  I ride the bus to school each morning with Fred Greenberg.  I stop by the second floor apartment of his walkup apartment house to get him each morning on the way to the bus.  I wait in the kitchen, right off the front hallway.  He is never ready.  His mother, an Old World piano teacher, is always preparing his breakfast of cereal, eggs, milk, juice, and toast.  The apartment is always silent and dark.  His mother calls to him that breakfast is ready.  He clomps into the kitchen wearing very loud loose fitting black engineers’ boots with taps on the heels.  His footsteps in the apartment are those of a giant in a dungeon.  His boots make an unbelievable loud sound on the wooden floors.  He never eats any breakfast.  He drinks as much juice or milk as he can swallow in one impatient gulp.  He grabs the toast and takes his first bite of it as he pulls on his jacket.  His mother asks if he has all his books, what he will be doing after school, and if he needs anything.  She speaks quickly.  Freddy never answers.  His mouth is stuffed with milk and toast.  His hands are full of clothes and books.  He mumbles a one word unintelligible answer to his mother’s inquiries, something like, “umrrph.”  He looks at me and jerks his head toward the front hall.  As we walk out he slams the metal door to their apartment closed.  It shakes the walls.  He clomps down the tiled corridor and the marble stairs of the walk up apartment house with the sound of his footsteps a literal racket, a jackhammer being run on very low speed, but striking hard.  It is 1956.  Our Lucky Strike cigarettes are hidden in our jackets.  We will not light up for the first time that day until right before we get off the bus.  We will go into the candy store and deli on the corner of the Grand Concourse and 182ndStreet.  A dozen of our classmates will be crowded into booths talking and smoking and eating sugary donuts.

          I cut out of school quite often, especially study halls where attendance is not taken.  I hide out in pool halls and the apartments of friends where parents are never home playing cards.  I master forging the signatures of my parents and of Mr. Rae, the high school guardian of discipline.  And although I am not the most adept forger in my H.S. there are so many forgeries of Mr. Rae floating around that no one who matters knows what his real signature looks like.  And the one time I get busted I only do five days detention.  And therein another tale..

The American Elders Meet the Hadza

The Discovery of Origins – as told to B.R.Taub by Craig Neal

A group of thirteen all white American men, all over the age of 55, travel together in East Africa on an "inventure.”  The goal of the trip is to meet with male tribal elders from three separate African traditions - a pastoral, an agricultural, and a hunting and gathering society - to ask the elder men what they "do" and what their role is in their society.  The trip grows out of travel and anthropological curiosity, as well as an explicit effort on the part of the American men to make this adventure a part of their experience of transition into elderhood, to find meaningful ritual, to acknowledge and honor the psychological, sexual, and societal transformations that mark becoming an elder male in America, the equivalent of a tribal elder. 

While visit with the Hadza, a hunting and gathering people who live in the Lake Eyasi basin area of Tanzania in Paleolithic hunting and gathering bands, as we all did 15,000 years ago, the Americans and the Hadza sit around a campfire on the second night of their gathering.  They are drumming, chanting, singing, and chatting.  The Hadza songs are spirited, rhythmic, and harmonic.  The Americans find songs they all know but are not as spirited, “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” for example, and “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”  They are aware of their limitations, how song and chant do not play the same role in their lives as it does in the lives of the Hadza.  Still, the Hadza quickly pick up and join in singing “Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.”  
            "So, what do the male elders do here," the Americans in their brash direct manner ask the Hadza.  And after huddling together to discuss how best to respond to such a question, when the Hadza do answer, it is to share their creation/origin story, how in the beginning was the Darkness.  Then the Great Elephant stepped on the serpent and the valleys were formed.  Then the elephant took a piss and the rivers were formed, that sort of stuff.  Only the story goes on for about three full hours and contains its fair share of begats.  And as they’re listening the Americans recognize that at least one function of male elders in Hadza society is that of oral historians who store, share, and perpetuate the legendary and historical origins of the Hadza people.
            "And where do you originally come from," the Hadza ask the Americans, "what are your origins?"
        So the 13 American men over 55 huddle together to discuss what story they can tell, because, truth be told, no one has ever before asked them this question in such a way.  And there are only two origin stories they know.  One is called "Genesis," where the earth was without form until the spirit of their God – the Great God - moved within His kingdom of heavenly emptiness to form on one day the darkness and the light, and on the next the firmament, and on still another day the sky and oceans, and on the fifth, or is it the sixth, all fowl, cattle, great whales, humans, and a woman, the great mother, from the rib of man.  And on the seventh day He rested, whereafter all human knowledge of death derives from the biting of an apple, brothers slay brothers, there is a great flood, first kings as children kill giants with pebbles, people wander the desert, bushes burn, commandments are handed down from mountains on tablets, and some poor kid dies on a cross to expiate everyone’s original sin, leaving us free to come to terms with God on our own.

            The American male elders decide the Genesis story is just too "unscientific," not truly representative of their beliefs, and probably a story the Hadza have heard in some form from missionaries anyway.  The only other “origin story” they know is called the "Big Bang," and they begin to tell this tale, which surprisingly also takes hours, a story where in the far, far distant past, so long ago it was before Time, there existed the great and infinite Nothingness. And from this Great Nothingness there arose a faint and unexplainable vibration that acted inside the perfect vacuum, so that a very Dense Singularity was formed, something about the size of a pebble, only extremely, extremely, extra extremely dense, so dense in fact that the pebble explodes (or implodes, a fine semantic and scientific point they don’t argue before the Hadza).  And from that first explosion of the tiny Dense Pebble the entire mass and emptiness of space, the entire universe, every star, mountain, zebra, ocean, and planet is formed. 

This, the Americans say, is much more "scientific.”  This, the Americans say, really happened.  This, the Americans say is “true,” because, although they don’t say this, they know that rivers don’t come from elephant piss, although they accept that something came from nothing to form the first pebble, made of invisible teeny, teeny little atoms that have teenier, teenier electrodes spinning around their nucleus, and from this very small pebble, came a very big bang, out of which sprang the hottest fire and the fastest moving expanding “energy” ever known, more powerful than a million suns, that then cooled over the course of billions of years so that all matter, all planets, the stars, the mountains and the oceans of earth were formed. 

And then, the American elders say -­ this part being essential to their narrative -­ some of the inert matter on at least one small planet in this vast and expanding universe of billions and billions of stars, a universe which may in fact be only one exhale to be followed by a massive redensifying inhale or contraction to form a new Dense Pebble, to be followed by another big bang, in an endless series of fourteen billion year long cycles of godly eternal inhalation and exhalation, creation and destruction - some of this inert matter on one lonely planet becomes “alive,” by which we mean it can reproduce itself.  

The Americans tell the Hadza that this is much more "scientific” than the Genesis story. They say they know it to be true because their "scientists" have proven it with things called waves, pulses, and radiation, and that over another billion years or so ­- that’s one thousand millions the Americans tell the Hadza -­ tiny one celled organism arose, organisms that could divide and reproduce themselves, which over billions of years then become multi-celled organisms that emerge onto land from the warm sweet sea.  Which brings us, the Americans say, to about a billion years ago, where organisms have gotten so complex that the ancestors of worms and shellfish, of antelope and cattle and humans arise, a time where terrible beasts ruled the earth, dinosaurs, and pterodactyls, and tyrannosaurus rex, and anyhow, rushing ahead about a billion or so years, about one million years ago on this very spot in East Africa the ancestors of humans, one of whom was an Australopithecus named Lucy, who were themselves hunting and gathering people, much as the Hadza are today, were running around making stone axes and arrowheads and becoming men and women..

        And as the Americans relate this story they realize they are indeed very near Oldivai Gorge, in the great rift valley, where the Leakeys first found Lucy, the common ancestor mother, and that these Hadza people may well be direct descendants of Lucy, as are we all, only they live here, here where Lucy lived, on this very spot, on this very planet, under these very stars.  And the Americans tell this to the Hadza, but before they can get into more evolution, into fire, and cave drawings, and the domestication of plants and animals, to the invention of airplanes, and George Washington the father of their country, and rock and roll music, and nuclear weapons which mirror the powers of the sun and the great exploding pebble, the Hadza elders begin to stir and beg the Americans stop.

        "Stop," they say.  "This is too incredible, you are saying that we Hadza are the descendants of the first people, living here, where the first people walked, hunted, gathered and reproduced, we, the Hadza.  It is all too much to take in,” they say, “too much to integrate into our origin story.  We must share this news with our people.  We will have to think about what this means, about our ancestors, about ourselves, about our obligations and the future.  You have shocked us,” they say, “and we must think about it together.”  And they leave us to do so while we Americans are left at the dimming fire, thirteen men over 55, in the immense darkness, inside the vast emptiness, under the same very stars as Lucy.