Words Are My Bricks, And I Finna Throw One Through Your Window
Michael A. (646) – Not quite the epitome (or anything near it) of a Jersey Shore guido, Mike is Italian, and a proud Staten Islander. I first made acquaintance with him in Chicago, where we were both architecture students and pledge brothers in the same fraternity. Eventually, both of us left college, and as I returned home to the seedy streets of Joliet, Mike moved back home to Staten Island, or as I jokingly nicknamed it for the sole purpose of pissing him off, Northern New Jersey. Apparently, Staten Island residents frown upon Jersey, and punch you in the face if you liken their celebrated burrough to the Garden State. Of course, Mike was half my height (almost literally) and not the most buff individual in town (much like myself). What I’ll never forget is his accent: A thick New York drawl with a most flamboyant lisp.
In the rural and expansive working towns of flyover country, a pastime of mine is aimless driving. In New York, I know that Mike enjoys sitting on the subway and taking it from one end and back again. Last night, I was in Chicago, riding the L train. A long trip that begins at U.S. Cellular Field and stops just before Wrigley Field, it’s the L commute that I take for comedy writer sessions in which I’m involved. Lately I haven’t had the money for both gas and train fare, so I’ve had to sit a few sessions out. Fortunately I made it a writers session last night, and on the ride home, I wrote this poem, but sent it to him today. My phone doesn’t get service when the Red Line goes underground. At 3:15pm.
Life is dim
by the glow
of signs in
I’ll have to admit that I enjoy riding the L. Sure there are times when the train cars are absolutely packed, but it’s such an amazing point of view of the city. It’s a tour into the essence of the soul of a city, and how everchanging it is. You don’t even need to look out of the windows for that perspective. Just look at the commuters getting off and on the train. Hundreds of faces I see each day, and all at once, I feel as though I’ve met this absolute stranger at least twice in my life.
But Mike never responded. So much for discussing the beauty of a city train commute.
Mike from Sig Eps (630) – That’s his “name” in my phone. I don’t know his last name. He was a fellow architecture student and a pledge in another fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon, which is well known for being the dickheads of the Quad. I was a rather detached sort of “Greek”, and didn’t parry any of the competition and who’s better and who’s ping pong table looks more damaged as a result of excessive beer pong games. Didn’t give a shit, to be honest. I liked my fraternity because there were good guys who were also quite nonchalant. But a lot of the “Sig Eps”, on a personal level, were pricks. Now this Mike wasn’t such a bad guy. Like I said, he too was a first year architecture student, and hadn’t lived among buffoons long enough to be corrupted. During the fall semester, me, Mike, and a poem recipient from a few weeks ago, John J. (816), worked together on a group project. We found a spot on campus where a few trees were intentionally planted to form a golden spiral, and we traced the path using several thousand rocks that we took from the landscaping at John’s fraternity house. “Guest” judges showed up for the review and they said we had done a fine job. Whoopdie-fuckin’-doo.
So the man accredited with making my former college such a respected institution for architecture is Mies van der Rohe. He’s a German born son of a brick layer, who taught young Mies everything he needed to know about building structure and design. After high school, Mies got a job drafting floor plans, and fast forward a couple of decades…became the “Father of Modernist Architecture”. Funny that a man with no more than a high school education, who learned how to make a building stand up by his brick laying father, would rise to such notoriety. Really, I respect Mies for that. True, authentic genius. I do find it funny that it costs an average of $150,000 for a five year program that focuses on Mies’ philosophy. I’m not too rapturous on Mies’ style, Pardon me if I’m sounding pretentious, but I must say that his earlier designs back in Germany are more elegant. Modernism is basically glass cubes with exposed steel framework. I’m picky about glass cubes with public bathrooms. At 3:38pm.
A cardboard box
was settled by
a vagrant. A
square of steel was
drawn and the world
called it a shrine.
Both were cold
that’s my opinion.
3:40pm, Mike: “Who is this?”
3:43pm, Me: “Does Mies van der Rohe’s work really impress you?”
No response. I already offended his idol of obligation.
4:17pm, Me: “I’ll take that as a no, or a smug yes.”
4:18pm, Mike: “No it doesn’t at all. But who is this
4:28pm, Me: “Architect of language. Words are my bricks.”
4:35pm, Mike: “Mmmk”
Mike did most of the project anyway. Saying who I really was would’ve likely pissed him off.
Mike N. (708) – Most of my friends could be defined, however loosely, as those of the punk rock scene. Musicians the lot of them are, coupled with a fondness for hipsteresque lifestyle choices (i.e. scarves, thrift store chique cardigans, black-rimmed glasses, a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon at every party a.k.a. shin-dig a.k.a. garage jam session). The Beat Poets, too. Not to forget the Beats. And lots of cigarette smoking. Clouds of smoke in those garages. Mike is an accomplished guitarist, has a successful, fledgling band, and often plays in his garage to an audience of few. Another difference between me and these friends: I have no musical talent. Once, another friend let me borrow his bass guitar with the hopes that I would catch on quickly and hopefully cover the role of bassist for shows. Never happened, because I always set the guitar down so I could write. The pen — my finest instrument.
So I’m the antithesis of much of what my friends like and embrace. I’m not saying that my differences are a positive thing; in fact, I’d deem it more a social hindrance and thin veil that stood between me and those with whom I’m acquainted. The only common ground I had with this microcosm of suburban angst/punk rock sub-culture was my own personal fondness for Charles Bukowski. By far one of my favorite writers whether you like it or not, Bukowski is a writer that was an antithesis of much of his own generation and unlike his peers in a helluva lot of ways. I relate to Bukowski in more ways than I’d care to digress from this poetry and explain. I will tell you, though, that since reading Ham on Rye, I’ve read almost every word printed under Bukowski’s name. And I discovered Charles Bukowski by the suggestion of Mike N. He even lent me his copy of Ham on Rye. In time, Mike had lent me two other copies of the Buk’s work, such as Women and Post Office before I went out and bought up all of Bukowski’s short story collections.
I hardly speak to any of my friends these days and as of recently I’ve sort of made myself disappear in some sense of the word, barely speaking to anyone. I feel very somber about it, especially to specific people, but it is another lengthy topic best left as a digression avoided. However, I do miss Mike. I recall both warm and cold nights, sitting in his garage, and he’d strum at his guitar and play a bunch of punk rock ballads that I don’t know the names of. I enjoyed them, however. What was so intriguing to me, and I can’t rightly explain why, was that Mike always placed his smoldering cigarette between two guitar strings as he played a song. The music poured from the instrument and rose with the smoke. I’d sit there in his garage and stare at that cigarette, and to this day, I’m not sure why I did that. I gave myself a reason this afternoon. At 3:59pm.
cried in minors
and the melody
rose to garage
ceilings as the sad
dance of smoke did
from a cigarette
two guitar strings.
Mike never responded. I guess I can’t blame him. I’d like to say thanks for introducing me to Bukowski. Much love.