Confessions of a Crazed Crackhead

February 23, 2009

Usually I fill this kind of crack with coffee. Run downtown. Spend too much time. See my people. But I’m at Peggy’s and Uncle Tony’s, Jo’s brother and sister-in-law, in Yorktown Heights, New York. We’re here for a Valentine’s Day wedding, it starts at three, we got in last night and Tony wants me to go with him this morning to the lumber yard and get some materials for a job I’ll do for him later. He’ll be up soon, and ready to roll. So I go for air instead, take a walk, on the cross street, and the right turn down to the cul de sac, along the path that Peggy used to walk with Sassy their beloved yellow lab. It’s cold, but not Vermont cold. The air is still, there are no sounds except my footsteps and the odd rustling leaf. No snow. The grass all looks the same, from yard to yard, short, stubby green, the houses all back from the road with doors and windows shut. No cars visible, they must be in garages. Everything is inside. No voices, no kids bouncing basketballs, no cars up on cinder blocks, no tools left unattended — not even a garbage can by the curb.

A crack in time, nothing to do, waiting for Tony, filled with a bit of solitude to collect my thoughts, stare at bare branches, and yes, look down. I am always looking down, and up, and I tell you– no matter how nice the neighborhood, how clean and gently curved its streets, you can always find cracks in the asphalt, rippling, spidering, crazing up, down and across, in pockets, singular, riverine; great deltas of cracks, fractal lightning bolts of cracks spreading and branching, chaotic webs, odd lace.

I’ve always been drawn to cracks and crazings. On a similar head-clearing cold air walk near my home on Block Island ages ago, I came across a 4×4 wooden post sunk in the ground by a curve in the road. At night, in a car, you would see a bright red reflective square warning you that the road is turning, to turn your wheel. But in the daylight, standing there, you see the most beautiful thing, a red square of some kind of film crazed in the most delicate and random fashion placed precisely on top of and centered on an older, slightly larger equally crazed silver square. A little red square in a silver frame stuck to a deeply ridged driftwood-gray post. It didn’t have grain, it had grooves, hard smooth arcing grooves. The soft wood of summer growth was long gone, leaving the curving gray ridges. Water, sun, earth, cold, heat, memory, time, seasons, life, age, red, blood red– all looking back at me from this post.

Back at Tony’s, crazed walk over, he showed me a crack in his wall. It was not as compelling as the red square, at least not to him, nor, I suppose, to me or Jo if we had to live with it — but in all his house, with all its rectangles and planes and perpendiculars, with all its frames and molding and baseboard, here was a fourteen inch bit of lightning arcing from above the corner of the door to the edge of the overhang. The elements were breaking through. Expansion. Contraction. Winter. Summer. Gravity, the least understood of all the forces, the one that holds the planet together, keeps the moon in orbit, the solar system in motion. The universe. Everything.

“Something must be moving,” I said.
“Don’t you remember?” he responded. “You fixed this two years ago, and it cracked again. And over here, on the other side, there’s one just like it.”
He was right, and the other crack was deeper and longer and more beautiful.
“I’ll fill it,” I said. I’ll use something stronger, some different mud, and put more on. Spread it farther. Maybe it last for a while. Don’t worry, the house won’t fall down.”

And then its off to the lumber yard to get materials, and the wedding, and the reception, where we sat with friends of the mother of the groom. The man on my left was an engineer who had just been laid off after twenty-seven years with IBM. Forty-seven years old and a crack has suddenly opened in front of him. The man on my right, no kidding, had spent his entire working life sawing grooves in pavement and concrete. “We just do the cutting. That’s it. Other people come and do the other stuff. Nice straight lines. Mostly squares, whatever they want. You can see my work all over Lower Manhattan. But it ruined my hands, can’t do anything with them anymore. Arthritis.”

He showed them to me. They looked strong enough, but they weren’t, all worn out inside, cracked, crazed, and sore. He was able to hold a cup of coffee though and had eaten twice what I had. So we shared another cup as my eyes wandered and began to scan the ceiling.


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