PIZZA ON HER HEAD

In 1985 President Ronald Reagan begins his second term in office, Mikhail Gorbachev becomes the General Secretary in the Soviet Union, Jason Robards stars on Broadway in Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh,” Boris Becker becomes the youngest man to win the Wimbledon’s single’s championship, and Yankee legend Roger Maris dies. In 1985, I can not get myself to leave my home.



The idea of taking part in life outside my home is not just preposterous, it’s terrifying.



Those who pass my second floor apartment door often see a sign taped there that reads, “DO NOT DISTURB FOR ANY REASON.” If someone does knock when the sign is posted, I do not answer the door.



My friends, many of whom live in the same building with me at 286 East 2nd Street, take me under their wing. They keep me supplied with food, coffee, cigarettes, pot – anything I want and need.



Sometimes, when I wake up in the morning and shuffle into the kitchen wearing only my bathrobe, I see an envelope has been slipped under my door during the night. In it, there is always cash and occasionally, the cash is accompanied by a joint. Sometimes a particular style of knocking on the front door signals me that someone is leaving bags of groceries for me.



I am blessed to have friends like this. Dane, my brother in the heart. My apartment mate, an amazing chef named David; my landlords Dorrill and Kathy Semper, and then an array of loving friends: Hart Faber, Kenny Mencher, Arty May, Dominique Nadel, Zeke, Joshua and a scattering of others.



I am kept fed and protecting which is wonderful because I am afraid to leave my home, I am afraid to live; at times, I am afraid to get out of bed. Sometimes I don’t.



The only person on the planet who can get me to leave the house is Michael. From the day we met there has always been something about Michael that lets me know I am safe at all times being me with him.



One time after several days of flashbacks, hideous events that leave me freezing cold and sweating profusely while wrapped in a pyramid of blankets while I wait for the terrors to pass, I call Michael and tell him what is going on.



Michael, who lives in Staten Island, says, “I’ll be there in a couple of hours. Listen for the horn. Hang in there Babaloo.”



Less than two hours later, I hear his Karmann Ghia’s horn. I rush down the stairs, out of the building, and into his car.



We drive off and fire up a joint. Moments later, stopped at a red light at the corner of Avenue A and East 2nd Street, Michael says, “Hey, you’d agree the two of us are a little fucked up, wouldn’t you?”



“A little I suppose, sure.”



“I mean you’ve got a bullet in your head, hole in your skull, I’ve got no legs and a bunch of shrapnel in me, I’d say we’re a little fucked up.



“That’s true.”



“You think so? You see that woman?” he says, pointing at a woman who is crossing Avenue A holding hands with her boyfriend. Both are model gorgeous, beautifully dressed. He looks like he just stepped out of the pages of GQ and she looks like she stepped out of the pages of Cosmopolitan. The one curious thing in this image is she is walking across the street with a pizza balanced on her head.



Michael says, “You see that? That woman’s never stepped on a fucking mine and she’s never been shot in the head and there she is walking across the street with a pizza on her head. And you think we’re fucked up?”



We dissolve into warmly welcomed and, for me, desperately needed, laughter. The light turns green, the car behind us honks, and off we go.



A few minutes later we are parked on 2nd Avenue drinking coffee. We in one of our feigned debates over the WWF, the World Wrestling Federation, with the likes of Hulk Hogan, the Rock, and a muscular beyond-belief female wrestler named China. Michael believes China is as hot as a woman can get and strenuously feigns an insistence that the wrestling is real. I, of course, insist it’s all a bunch of phony position.



“Phony! Whattaya mean phony? You call yourself an American and say something like that? That’s real blood, bro. How can you call yourself an American and call a real American hero like Hulk Hogan a fake? And you don’t think China’s hot? Are fucking crazy?”



“Hot? She looks like a clenched bicep with a head on top.”



“Do me a favor, Peter,” he says, his eyes twinkling laughter a mile a minute, “Don’t embarrass yourself by talking like this in public. Keep it in the car. You’re going through enough as it is. You don’t want your country turning on you.”



“That’s true.”



“Not real… You know that bullet fucked up you’re thinking, bro.”



I am, for the moment, happy again.



There is an unspoken understanding between the two of us. We know things like flashbacks, the darker moments of life, are things you simply need to go through, or let them go through you, I’m not always sure how it works. It’s kind of like sweating on a summer day, it’s unavoidable. Thinking and reasoning never spared anyone their life experience. You just keep going, catch the breaks you can, and remember the basics like bathing, eating, brushing your teeth, washing you hair, keeping you clothes and your bedding clean. Other than that, you let the storms of life have their say and then move on.



Michael pulls up in front of 286 to drop me off. “Hey, listen, next time you start having those flashbacks?”



“Yeah?”



“Just stop it.”



I laugh. “Why the fuck I didn’t think of that is beyond me.”

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Memoir Excerpt: The Boy

I am born October 2, 1953 in the French Hospital in New York City. My mother was a single 20-year-old woman who seven days after my birth would, as the expression goes, surrender me for adoption to the Spence Chapin Agency. I was placed with a foster mother for a view weeks and then, when I was about five weeks old, I was adopted by Sanford and Virginia Kahrmann, then residing in a place called Shanks Village in Orangeburg New York.

My father worked at Bell Labs in New Jersey and taught English at Columbia University. He was a World War II Army veteran. Long after he died I would learn he was among those who liberated the people in the Dachau Concentration Camp. My mother was a Columbia graduate who had married and later divorced an RAF pilot she met while living in London during the war. She would later tell me that one of the reasons she divorced her first husband was he had no sense of humor. I remember wondering why she didn’t notice this until after the wedding.

My mother was 10 years my father’s junior. He was born in 1914, she in 1924. They’d met after the war when she was a student in one of his classes.

While I don’t remember the first time I saw the boy, he was there as long as I have memory. He was rarely around when my parents were there. I knew my father would love him, I was not so sure about my mother. I don’t know if my mother ever saw him. He was rarely around when she was.

I can’t tell you the first time I saw him because I don’t remember when that was. I knew I liked him and I knew he liked me, and for me, that’s all that mattered. I never told anyone about him because I didn’t think anyone would believe me. I never had to say anything to my father because I secretly believed my father saw him too, and anyway, there was never a need for words when it came to things like us . It was like that between me and my father. With the three of is, me, my Dad and the boy, it was like that too. The boy loved us and although we never said it out loud, we loved the boy.



Now it’s not like I could see him all the time. He’d just kind of show up. Sometimes I wouldn’t see him at first. I’d be doing something, playing in my tree house, listening to music, walking in the woods, and there he’d be. A lot of the time he was smiling at me. He always seemed gentle to me, very kind and gentle. I knew he was kinder and gentler than I was. It’s not that I thought I was terrible, well, maybe a little. The boy looked plenty strong, but I knew from the beginning I’d protect him with my life. I don’t know how I knew. I just did. I also knew he had answers to questions I wasn’t ready to ask yet, or hadn’t thought of yet. Maybe there were answers I wasn’t ready to know and the boy knew it. He was smart. We were both smart.

___________________________________________________________________

THE GREATER FAILURE

There are at least three people whose presence in my life is so precious and miraculous that I know any attempt on my part to tell you about them will fall short of its mark. It is impossible, at least for me, to set down in words how much I love them, how each of them is as vital to my being as my vital organs are to my body.

I can name them for you. My father, Sanford Kahrmann, was the greatest gift life has ever given me. Poppop, my mother’s father, Prescott Beach, had a Jimmy Stewart like warmth to him, and was, like my father, one of my life’s angels from the beginning. There is my friend, Michael Sulsona. He and I have been friends for more than 30 years now and do not think a brother can love a brother any more than I love Michael.

I am in the midst of writing a memoir and the end is in sight. I know I still have writing to do when it comes to my father, Poppop and Michael. Sometimes stillness comes over me and it is as if my body freezes in place. I cannot move a muscle. I cannot even get my pen to move. I know I will fail in any attempt to write the three miracles in my life just mentioned.

I know, too, that the greater failure would be not to try.

THANK GOD FOR MIRRORS

Thank God for mirrors, they remind me I am still here. When you are struggling with depression and your body has been jumped by the flu, it is easy to believe that you are alone in the world and, if you are not careful, doubt that you even exist in the first place. My fight with the flu is approaching two weeks. My struggle with depression has been going on somewhat longer. How long, I am not exactly sure. What is its cause? I would say loss and the recognition of betrayal.

In a memoir I am working on there is a line the begins, “Loss wields a merciless scythe…” And so it does. It happens to us all and is sometimes, too many times, generated from unexpected quarters. But it is part of life, not the end of life. If you find yourself in a battle with depression, it may feel like everything is gone. It is not. Look in a mirror, you are still here. And that, my dear reader, is a good thing. You may not think so or feel so at the moment, but hang in there, it is true, the world is better off with you in it.

Thank God for mirrors, they remind me I am still here. And that is a good thing.

KAHRMANN MEMOIR – CHAPTERS 1 & 2

Chapter 1

I DON’T UNDERSTAND

I am dying on the ground bleeding to death and I don’t understand. I wasn’t bothering anybody. I was just going to work, minding my own business. I wasn’t doing anything wrong and now I’m on the ground dying.

I’m 30 years old and just a little while ago I’m walking down Bergen Street to pick up my cab from the fleet garage. I have a block and a half to go. I hear the sound of keys behind me. A hand grabs my shoulder and a kid with wild floating eyes is pointing a gun at my head and he says, “Don’t fucking move.”

I say, “I won’t,” and I look away because I don’t want him thinking I’ll remember his face.

The gun’s against my head and somebody’s behind me now going through my pockets and getting the sixty-three dollars I have to lease the cab today. I’m waiting for wild floating eyes to hit me on the head with the gun because I know he will so they can get a running head start. But he doesn’t hit me at all. He shoots me.

I’m on the ground and feel nothing neck down. Nothing. I can’t see. The top of my head feels like it’s been blown off there is so much pressure. I open my eyes and I can’t see and can’t feel and I know I’m going to die.

There’s Jennifer’s face listening to someone tell her Daddy’s dead and maybe if I can get up and die trying to get to the hospital she’ll know I didn’t give up. She’ll know I tried the best I could. I can leave her a courage note that way – if I can only get up.

A dark damp blanket tightens around me and I think of Daddy and how he died when I was fifteen so if he can go from here to there, from life to death, maybe it’s okay then. Maybe it’s not so bad dying. Now I feel less scared. Now I can see smoky light and dark images and shapes and they make little sense to me. Jesus fucking Christ I’m dying and I’m seeing a black and white movie and I don’t understand.

The smoke clears for me and I see I’m on the sidewalk on my right side. I see a tree near me.

I’m standing and I don’t remember getting up, I’m just glad I’m standing. I lift my hand to my head and blood hits my hand before it gets there. I untie my blue hooded sweatshirt around my waist and press it against my head to stop the bleeding.

Chapter 2

“OOF!”

I am six years old watching my father at his desk reading and marking college papers. He teaches English in Columbia and John Jay College for Criminal Justice. I am sitting at the foot of his twin bed because it faces his desk. He and my mother have separate rooms. They say it’s because my father snores which is true and my mother is a light sleeper which is also true.

I love watching my father work. He wears half-glasses and a draftsman’s light is clamped to his desk. Smoke from his cigarette curls like a white snake up to the light and rolls along the length of the flourescent bulb before rising up and disappearing into thin air. Behind him is a wall of books. I feel a surge of love for him, do an end run around the desk and throw my arms around him. He says, pretending I’ve knocked the wind out of him. We laugh and hold each other and then I go back to my seat on the bed and return to watching him. He returns to his papers. I run and hug him a lot like this and he always hugs me back.

I am two, three, four and I already know my parents are God. Everybody knows their parents are God. I’m on to this right from the start. My mother isn’t even looking when she catches me doing something I’m not supposed to.

She says, “I have eyes in the back of my head, young man. I do. Don’t think I don’t know what you’re up too.”

I know those eyes are in the back of her head somewhere because she says she never lies so I know they’re ther. I can’t find them no matter how hard I search her graying hair, but they’re there alright.

My parents are in charge of everything, of course, because they are God. On Sunday’s we go to the Naurashaun Presbyterian Church. I don’t understand this because my parents are God and they live with me. The Reverend Bill Daniel talks about God like he is invisible or something but I’m not fooled for a minute because I have God sitting on either side of me. Why don’t they just say so? Why don’t they just admit it?