The Disappearing Stairway

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It was in the Summer.

When I was a child and my parents were both at work and my grandmother was an invalid and I was tall enough to reach the chain hanging from the ceiling in the hallway and pull it and lower the door and catch hold of the ladder leading up to the attic and draw it down then climb up it and pull the string to illuminate the naked light bulb at the top of the stairs and snoop around, I came upon an Ouija Board.Screen Shot 2017-09-04 at 8.34.43 AM

As I kneeled down and looked at it, suddenly I felt the little blonde hairs on my arms stand on end and I stood back up and, leaving the light on, held onto the hand rail and quickly went back down the stairs and went straight into the room with my grandmother who by now was sitting in her wheelchair crocheting.

She looked up at me.

“Where have you been?” she asked.

“Nowhere.” I lied.

Just a Scrap of Paper

phone.numberAfter my father died, my mother lived alone in that same old red-brick house she had lived in since she was 11. Although he was almost 13 years older than she was she only outlived him by about 5 years.

My wife and I (and the kids) would make a point of seeing her at least twice a year. And for at least ten days each time.

She was never a bother or a burden. I was busy with work or busy with the kids and I’ll confess, I didn’t call her as much as I should have. And she only called me if she had a good reason to call–never to chat.

She wasn’t a “chatter”.

She called me early in the evening of the day she died to tell me she was dying and to ask if I could get down there to be with her. (I was an only child). I told her I’d get there as soon as I could, but she died in the middle of the night.

Today, as I was packing up some of my things in preparation for a move, I came across a crumbled-up piece of paper with her handwriting on it. She had always had a beautful handwriting, but the handwriting on the little slip of paper was shaky now. It had obviously been written after my father died and she was well into her 80’s.

At the top she had written “Tel” and then she wrote her sister’s address and telephone number and that of her two nephews followed my my name and number.

I always thought mine was a confusing phone number. Two many 6’s and 3’s. Even I couldn’t remember the number for the first three weeks I had it.

As I looked at the paper I realized she had transposed two of the last numbers in my phone number.

Now I wonder how many times she might have tried to call me with that wrong number.

She’s been gone for 12 years– and can no longer be reached by telephone.

Friends–if you are fortunate enough to still have a mother or a father, call them up, even if you don’t have anything important to say.

Trust me, they’ll be very happy to hear from you.

Promises Unbroken / Words Unspoken

Rick.Mask.italyI promised the dead man’s grand-daughter before I married her that I would take her to Italy if she would but marry me.

I just didn’t say when.

But after twenty-five years of waiting  it was she who finally took me there.

Indeed,  something of the old man remained in the little hilltop village to which we ventured.

Or rather something of the boy.

Something in the green tops of the tall pine trees or in the dark grey of the cobblestone streets or in the pale orange of the little town’s buildings in the late afternoon sunlight. There was something of him in each of the big wooden doors along the streets–the ones with the big polished brass lion-headed knobs on them–or in between the louvers of the ancient wooden shutters through which old ladies with pale grey eyes peered at their world from darkened rooms which bore the scent of candles.

His two cousins, two little brothers who were a few years younger than he was, had already died–first one, and then the other. No doubt he worried he would be next.

He was just fourteen when he awakened before dawn one morning in the little house next to the castle. He packed his small suitcase and had a little something to eat and a little more to take with him wrapped in white paper. It was from his mother. His father may have given him a little money for his pocket that day in case he needed it on his long journey to America.

No doubt he hurried down to the town square where now old people, the ones who were not yet born, but whose grandparents may very well have seen the boy hop onto the back of a wagon for the long winding ride down the mountain to the town where he would catch the train to the big boat which would take him to the even bigger boat that would take him to America.

He was never to see either of his parents again, except in his dreams.

But they would write to him– and he to them and in time, they would come to lie side-by-side in that same little town with its steep, cobblestoned streets and their sad, worn faces still gaze out at those same mountain vistas through porcelain eyes on small oval plaques attached to white marble slabs in the little cemetery, their final resting place.

He made his way to Maine and grew up lean and strong and tanned. He set big explosions with dynamite and sold the Feldspar and other minerals he mined to the government.

He married a woman from this new land they called Maine. On Summer evenings he would sit on his porch by the side of the main road and play his banjo and his mandolin and drink home-made wine and sing with his friends until it was time for bed and sometimes until after it was time for bed.

His wife, a dark-haired beauty bore him three fine children. His eldest son worked with him in the mine and the younger one went off to Maine’s biggest city to find work while his daughter, with her beautiful eyes and long black hair married a young man from the merchant marine academy and had children of her own.

They said that the boy who became a man came back to his little town only once many years later, long after his children had children of their own, no one is sure exactly when. What is certain is that he was greeted with kisses on both cheeks by the men and women of that town as is their custom to this very day.

Afterward, he went back to Maine and worked in his mine and sold his Feldspar and sat on his porch and played his music and laughed and sang with his friends, just as he always had and in time his children grew up and would bring their children to see him.

They would look at his dark hair, which was unusual for an old man and sometimes they would fall asleep in the bedroom next to the porch listening to his singing . And then he would lay down his banjo and he would lie down next to the woman with the long black hair from Maine.

And he would dream of a land far away where mountains hid behind other mountains and where cows wandered back home for miles each evening through thick forests and where the laughter of children and the voices of the townspeople greeted one another like music echoing down the winding streets and fell softly on the pink ears of the old men sitting on benches in the late afternoon sun.

“Take a RIGHT!”

Screen Shot 2017-05-06 at 3.19.50 PMI once got into a fight outside the Tin Palace in 1975 when I was a cab driver.

But he hit me first.

It was about four o’clock on a hot summer afternoon and I was headed up the east side of Sixth Avenue when a young man came dashing toward the street waving his arms frantically. Usually, when someone is too anxious to hail a cab, it can be trouble. Heedless of trouble, I pulled over. He got in the back seat. I pulled away from the curb.

Where to?” I asked.


I had been driving a cab in New York City long enough to know that there was no right turn for a few blocks and continued driving casually up the avenue.

“Really….where would you like to go?”, I asked again.

He said the Tin Palace.

I knew where that was and in about eight minutes we were there. I looked at the meter. It was $1.65. He got out without paying and started for the door. I threw it in park and got right out and went after him.

“Aren’t you forgetting something?”, I asked him.

“What are you talking about?” he said.

“We had a bet coming across town and YOU lost….”

We stepped out of the doorway onto the sidewalk and I asked his name.

“Bruce”, he said.

“Look Bruce,” I said, “….it’s going to be a long night. Why don’t you just pay the fare and let me go on my way?”

He handed me a dollar.

“It’s $1.65,” I said.

He took out another dollar and said, “I’ll match you for it.”

I just looked at him in exasperation. He threw the dollar bill onto the ground and then he said, “Pick it up.”

I was beginning to lose patience. “No….YOU pick it up”, I told him.

“No, YOU!” he insisted.

I reached out and grasped his sleeve with my right hand and gently but firmly tugged his arm in the direction of the money. Then, with his left arm, he swung and hit me in the face with his fist. I backed away from him and assumed a fighting pose.

He did the same.

He was standing there with his fists clenched and holding them in front of his chest.

“I could kick this guy in the balls and it would all be over”, I thought.

But being a nice guy, I decided to kick him in the stomach instead. ( I wore combat boots in those days). He grasped his stomach and doubled over. I rushed toward him and grabbed him with both hands and slammed him into the side of the cab.

He went down.

I took a couple of steps back and then rushed forward and kicked him as hard as I could in the side. That’s when I noticed all the faces in the window. They had been watching. I always liked having an audience.

I decided to get back into my cab and drive away when I noticed his wallet lying on the ground.

I picked it up and threw it as hard as I could.

It landed in the middle of the street about fifty feet in front of my cab. The engine was still running. He got up and stumbled toward his wallet. Just as he was about to pick it up, I jumped back in my cab and stomped on the accelerator.

Then I screeched to a halt, my bumper and headllight just a foot from his face. He was on his knees.

Before driving off, I spoke to him through the open window. “Don’t EVER mess with a cab driver.



I still have that last dollar which is stretched and ripped in half.

Photo: Carin Dreschler-Marx, 1981.

The Happiest People in The World

Screen Shot 2017-04-22 at 11.01.43 PMI guess any trip isn’t really over until after you unpack your suitcase, and I just unpacked mine.

Now that I’m back in my own bed, or was, until a few minutes ago, my experience of the last ten days is all starting to seem like some kind of strange dream. Not an especially bad dream, exactly. But a dream nevertheless, and a dream that I knew, even as I was having it, was a dream from which I would eventually awaken.

And in a little over a week, I did.

Prior to our trip to Denmark, I ran through my usual laundry list of depressing thoughts. The same ones that I experience every time we go anywhere on an airplane. I imagined being killed in a terrorist attack before we even left the airport or once airborne, sitting helplessly, strapped in my seat, as the plane carrying my family crashed into the sea.

“It’s safer than driving”, my wife explained to me, when I confessed to her of my growing sense of dread a day or two before leaving New Jersey.

She had a good point. Anyone who has ever been a passenger in a car driven by my wife could appreciate the wisdom of her statement.

As we boarded the flight, and I squeezed my overweight and uncontrollably aging corpulence into my seat, I felt somewhat relieved just thinking about her previous comment.

My wife and children  accompanied me on this trip– or maybe I accompanied them. At this stage of my life, I can never be too sure who is with whom.

After seven hours or so, the plane touched down and rolled to a stop. We claimed our bags and went through security without incident.

Glancing absentmindedly out the window of the taxi at some of the older buildings, many of which have ivy-covered walls and red tile roofs, I started to imagine myself in a movie about World War Two and I half-expected to see an occupying German soldiers around every corner.

In fact, everything seemed a little strange until the taxi from the airport pulled up at our destination and let us out at Tom Christensen’s Vej. A man in a light green shirt eating a banana exits the building just as our cab pulls up. I think to myself, “That must be Tom.”

The apartment in which we are staying is located on the top floor of an elongated seven-story structure and is reached by taking the small stainless steel elevator in the lobby or by climbing some white stone steps in the brightly-lit and graffiti-free sky-lit stairway. My sons take the elevator and my wife and I take the stairs. From then on, I always take the elevator and my wife walks down fourteen sets of  stairs. It annoys the children, but I like waiting on her, as it gives me an excuse to greet her warmly after being reunited after even so brief an absence.

The weather is near perfect. Lots of light and sky. The sun comes up a little after four in the morning and it is light out until about ten-thirty at night. The area in which our apartment building is located– and indeed our apartment building itself– seems to be undergoing some kind of major architectural re-design. Within a day or two of our arrival I see something move where before there was just light and air. It’s a steel pipe. A workman suddenly appears outside the balcony where the previous evening there had been only a precipitous drop. He is in the process of building a scaffolding on the rear of the building.

I sit in my underwear drinking my morning  coffee and peeling an orange. I try not to establish eye contact with the young man who is busily building a platform outside the window out of boards. I look up. He smiles at me briefly. Can’t say the people here aren’t friendly.

There are many large industrial-looking buildings under construction in our general area and pipes and large sections of uprooted chunks of asphalt are piled here and there. I toy with the idea of making art out of them in the middle of the empty parking lot, but then realize someone might arrest me.

It was how I always imagined life must be in the Soviet Union, even though we were in Scandinavia. Anywhere outside the United States might as well be Russia to me.

It isn’t as if the apartment buildings and other architectural structures designed for the inhabitants of this particular region of the world remind me of prisons, exactly.

The clean, modern straight lines of the structures I began seeing all around me seemed to have a decided emphasis on function and not ornate decoration. The more time one spends in this type of an environment, though, the more one starts to admire and appreciate the simple beauty and functionality of its design. Someone over there knows exactly what they’re doing design-wise. The whole impression is one of sublimation to the importance of, and in quiet service to people.

People are riding bicycles everywhere. There are wide lanes set apart from the main roads in which a good many people of all ages are bicycling here and there at a brisk pace, but not recklessly so. Little bells sit atop every set of handlebars and tinkle with a lovely frequency as the faster ones pass the slower ones. Turns are signaled with a casual outstretched arm. No one, even the people in the cars and trucks, seems to be in a particular rush to get wherever they are going. And there is no honking of horns as one might expect in a busy city. That would be impolite.

Some cyclists don’t even bother with so little as a casual glance over their shoulder before cutting across a busy street where numerous small, modern cars could easily hit or run over and kill them. That would be even more impolite. And the Danes are a polite people who tolerate strangers in their midst.

And I felt strange.

The bicycles waiting for people to ride them are grouped in racks or abandoned haphazardly in small parking lots or leaning unlocked against fences. Some have toppled over and you have to step around them. I pick several up and place them back on their kickstands. “Once a marine, always a marine”. But in my case, once a boy scout, always a boy scout.

The only variable in the entire physical environment seems to be the Danes themselves. And here, it can be said that there is a surprising similarity in the beauty of their anthropomorphic physical design. I can start to understand to a certain degree why some of these people from this region of the world might have gotten the idea that they were superior to all the rest of us. Each person I see (with the exception of my own family, of course) seems to be better-looking and in better physical condition than the individual I just saw a moment or two before.

It’s amazing. I play this game silently with myself for about three minutes until I get too depressed to go on.

Denmark is a socialist democracy, but there are no large photographs or paintings of Bernie Sanders anywhere to be seen.

We went out for lunch and I asked the young man who was our waiter if he was a college student. He said, “No, I graduated from college already.”

I asked him how he likes his job. “I love my job,” he told me.

Later, I asked him, what was the custom regarding tipping. He told me that he was paid well enough that he did not need to be tipped. I took another sip of my Tuborg and looked around. People were continuing to walk the streets as if everything was normal.

Everywhere we went the people I saw and interacted with seemed under less stress and were calmly and quietly going about their lives. They regard me as if I am invisible. I check my reflection in a store window as I walk down the street just to make sure I am still there.

Someone told me the Danes are the happiest people in the world.

Suddenly, I think I know why.

They are not out of work– or struggling to find a decent job just to make ends meet or to pay for college for themselves or their children–or to pay medical bills or their real estate taxes–and their existence and self-worth are not predicated upon how much or how little money they are making.

I kind of wish the US was more like Denmark in that regard.

I don’t know if the Danes are the happiest people in the world, or not, but they seem happy enough to me.

His Dream Was To Work in Comics


I was straightening up my studio today and going through some old paperwork, when I came across a Polaroid® photograph of a friend I once knew in New York.
I had lost track of him, but over the years that old photograph of him sitting on the steps of my place petting my dog, Homer, has re-surfaced many times.
Each time I came across it,  I would stop whatever I was doing and look at that old picture.
I felt a little bad that I had had a long, successful career in comics that I didn’t particulary want, while he had given up on his dream of working in comics and gone back to California to work the family farm.
In those days, I didn’t have many friends. I was living alone with my dog in a storefront in Lower Manhattan and doing freelance lettering for Harvey Comics for five dollars a page.
I had worked for Marvel for a year and a half, but quit my staff job to freelance, but the art director didn’t especially like me, it seems, and would not assign me any work. So I went over to Harvey Comics and started getting five-page stories to letter.
I first met Jack when I placed an ad on a bulletin board in the supermarket for a rocking chair I was selling. A young woman and her sister came to my place to see the chair.   When she realized that I was working in comics, she told me,
“You should meet our friend, Jack. He’s really interested in working in comics, too.”
I’ll admit, I wasn’t all that interested in working in comics at the time. I still thought of myself as a fine artist and dreamed of getting my work into a gallery in New York. I thought of comics as just a way of making some money to pay the rent until that happened.
The next day, I was lettering a Richie Rich story when there was a knock on my door.
The two sisters were back to pick up the chair and they had brought Jack with them to help carry it.
I never saw either one of them again, but Jack began showing up at my place regularly and just hanging out. Once in a while he seemed to have had a little too much to drink. But that didn’t bother me, sometimes I had a few too many beers, myself. I could relate to him.
He would often sleep on the couch. He didn’t talk much and spent a lot of time drawing from his imagination in his sketchbook while I lettered comics pages.
He’d have a beer with me or maybe two or three and occasionally something to eat, but he wasn’t much for conversation. But he was easy to get along with, and I enjoyed having him around.
One day he asked me if I could give him a ride in my truck back to his place in Dover, New Jersey.
I asked him, “How far is it,  Jack?”
“Not too far, just over the bridge”, he told me.
We drove up the West Side Highway and crossed the George Washington Bridge and drove and drove.
“Jesus–How much further is it, Jack?” , I asked.
“Not much further”, he said.
He was a man of few words.
Finally we arrived at The Joe Kubert School, which at one time, seemed to have been a sprawling estate of some rich person, but had been converted to dormitories and classrooms. Jack introduced me to a few of the guys there and then I drove back to New York City alone.
On one of his stays at my place, he had given me one of the drawings from his sketchbook.
I have it around here somewhere.
It depicted a man in a fedora hat. The man was looking down so you couldn’t really see his face. But I knew when I looked at the drawing that the man in the picture was Jack. He had his sleeves rolled up and he was busy unloading boxes of fruit from the back of a truck.
Over the years, whenever I would come across that drawing, I would think of Jack. I wondered how his life had turned out.
Today when I ran across the photo again after maybe ten or twelve years, I googled him. There was a photo of a middle aged man on my computer screen. It sort of looked like him, although it had been 40 years.
I clicked on it, thinking I’d send him a fb message.
It was his obituary. Jack died four or five years ago.
Apparently, he never married.
The newspaper said he “was a local apricot and peach farmer and talented artist and blended his old-fashioned rural lifestyle with his passion for comic book art, study of dinosaurs and love of science fiction. He was more than happy to keep up with the news of the day over early morning coffee with locals and daily lunches with friends.
I feel bad that I didn’t stay in touch with Jack, but, sometimes, the friends you make in life, like the years, have a way of just quietly slipping away.
But I am happy to know that he got together with “locals” early each morning at some coffee shop in Brentwood to talk over the events of the day and that he regularly had lunch with “friends” and probably made a decent living for himself as a farmer with peaches and apricots–
–just like the man in that drawing which he gave to me so many years ago.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night


eliz-roomWas written by the poet Dylan Thomas who was born on the exact same day as Elizabeth R. Goodson. October 27, 1914. Over 102 years ago.

She was the third child of David Spencer Goodson and Nelle Cole Goodson and was born in the upstairs back bedroom of the old house at 210 West Hall Street in Savannah. When she was nearly four, her only sister was born. Her grandmother had come down from Atlanta to assist with the care of the children and she and her grandmother were sitting in the parlor when the doctor came in to deliver the baby. He was carrying a big black doctor’s bag.

“What’s in that bag?”, the little girl asked her grandmother.

“He’s bringing in the baby.” explained the old lady.

This no doubt pleased the little girl and put her mind at ease. Later on, she would find out where babies really came from and in her life she had three. Two of them are now old men by most people’s standards.

It’s a wonderful thing to have a mother and an even more wonderful thing to have a mother like “Aunt Sister”, or “Goody”, or “Bunk” or some of the other names by which she was affectionately known.

And no one ever had a mother like her.

And few for so long a time.

She was the type of mother who made children who knew her want her instead of the mother they had. She had a beautiful way of looking at the world and the people in it. She made people feel she really cared about them because she really did. She loved life and wanted others to share that joy with her. She was someone who had an iron faith in what was right and wrong and knew how to focus her energy on the good in the world. She embraced it. She saw the good in herself and in others and she built on that.

She was a teacher of children and she played the organ in the church.

When she was a young lady, she met a young man, a “Yankee” from New York, and loved him, and followed him all over the country as he went from place to place in pursuit of a successful career in the hospitality business. That man, to whom she was devoted to for the last 60 years of his life loved her back and knew better than anyone that of all the important decisions he had made in the course of his long life, that marrying her was the best one. Together and with a little help from the staffs of a number of hotels and resorts, they raised two fine sons.

As a family, they struck out for  California in a white 1955 Ford Station wagon, sleeping under the stars along the way. They made it to the top of Pike’s Peak and felt the spray of Old Faithful together on their faces. She cooked scrambled eggs for them in Yosemite National Park and vienna sausages in a can over a Sterno stove in various motel rooms. She watched helplessly as they threw rocks into the Grand Canyon and at each other–and firecrackers from the upper floors of the hotel. She may not have seen the latter as she was busy playing hostess to the merrymakers and guests.

She cared about her sister and her mother and would spend weeks at a time visiting them. While back in her hometown she added to the excitement of her old friend’s lives just by being there. She was always loved by her friends and others wherever she went. And wherever she went she made it her home. She cared about her children and made it her business that they should have fun and interesting things to do growing up. She’d think nothing of stopping the car alongside a deserted highway in the wilds of The Everglades so that her children could jump out in search of ancient Indian burial sites. Alligators be damned!

Once, she was even rescued from a burning building by a fireman who carried her down the ladder on his shoulder. There was even a picture of it in the local newspaper. It was even fun to accompany her to the supermarket, because she was outgoing and friendly and wherever she was, she made it a better place just by her presence. She made people happy. She made them feel better about themselves. She made the world a better place, not by curing cancer or solving world hunger, but simply by being in it, and she wanted it to be a good place not just for her, but for the others around her and she did everything in her power to ensure that it was. And her power was her personality, her charm, her love and her iron will, her positive way of looking at life and her good heart.

She wanted it to be a good place for you, too.

And it is and forever will be.eliz-room