Two Cities, Two Streets

Just about one year ago, Soranny from the blog Sorysworld and I found each other working on our first collaboration, a blog post called Two Cities, Two BridgesWe set a date, a time and place, each in our respective cities and we picked our favorite bridge…you see we kind of have a thing for bridges, we like taking photos of them. The post received a great response, and it wasn’t too long before we thought about working together again. One probably drunken night, we came up with the idea of shooting Canal Street, using the same idea behind last years project, but with a different subject matter, since both cities share streets of that name. We decided to choose 5 photos that in a small way represented what Canal Street is all about, both in New York and in New Orleans. We hope you all enjoy our selection, or that at least this post inspires you to come visit our cities.

Robert writes-

First let me say what a thrill it is to be working with Soranny once again. She remains one of my favorite photographers, and I urge you to check out her other posts and her Instagram. She does a wonderful job capturing her love for New Orleans through her camera lens. You really feel the sense of life in her shots. Canal Street in Manhattan is an interesting place. Historically it was built over a poorly considered canal downtown. In time it became the early location of the jewelry trade, before becoming more of the commercial district it is today, full of vendors selling ‘genuine’ Ray Ban sunglasses and ‘Gucci’ handbags. Canal Street also divides the neighborhoods of Little Italy and Chinatown, which provides a great cross-section of cultures to soak in. Having only 5 photos to choose from, it was impossible to showcase all of my walk on Canal Street. What I did come up with were some of my favorite things I saw that day-old buildings and signs, different cultures and people. That is a cool thing that happens when you explore a street like Canal-everything comes to life-sight, sounds and smells. I enjoyed seeing such a well known street through my camera lens, and I hope you enjoy it too. Here are my choices-

Soranny writes-

So here we are again, about a year ago Robert and I found each other thanks to the magic of WordPress, and right away respect and love for each others work developed and of course the desire to work together no matter the distance. Last year we published our first collaboration, Two Cities, Two Bridges, with a great response from everyone, and of course we are back at it again. I love New Orleans, that is no secret, and I love New York, so what better way to express that love by showing off Canal Street! Something that both cities have in common beside that word New in the name. While in New York, Canal is a chaotic commerce center where Chinatown and Little Italy come together. Here in New Orleans Canal is where the French Quarter’s meet the Central Business District (CBD), where old meets new, and life becomes history. You can see how the industrial revolution and the 21st century took over just crossing the street and leaving narrow streets meant for horses and wagons behind to be replaced by modern architecture and businesses. Colonial houses become straight line glass buildings, but 100 years does not seem that long ago. A lot happens along Canal Street in New Orleans-restaurants, shops, doctors offices and hotels all in one strip, the 9-5 workers give way to the erratic night life that starts where Bourbon meets Canal in a never ending circle of ‘regular’ vs ‘eccentric’. Definitely Canal is one of the best examples of how New Orleans traditions adapt to the modern world, how we work hard but still know how to have fun, and how this wonderful community remains up to date with the changing world but never leaving behind what makes us New Orleans.

Soranny’s photos

Here’s Robert and a Canal Street sign in New York-

And Soranny with a selfie and a Canal Street sign in New Orleans

 

 

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Water Is Life

Aman Iman-Water Is Life

A drip

A drop.

A tear.

A shower.

A flood.

These are just a few of the ways we think about water in the physical sense. The cooling relief of a summer rain. The gentle bead of moisture on a flower. Tears of joy and sorrow. A soothing dip in the ocean or a pool. A refreshing glass of water on the hottest day. An invigorating shower or bath. So much of our daily life revolves around water in fact. From the water needed to make that first cup of coffee in the morning to plumbing, we rely on our ease of access to it.

Recently I have found myself taking close up photographs of water, toying around with my camera settings to alter the final appearance. It has been a surprising experiment seeing the end result. I have always taken shots that involve water of course, be it a walk along the river here in New York, or the Atlantic Ocean from the steep cliffs of Ireland. But taking closeup photos of the movement of water has been enlightening for two reasons.

First, on the photography side, the closeup shots reveal different colors and textures. Ripples of water caught in the suns reflection became almost like alternating blocks with multi-colored patterns dappled with little pinpricks of light. Or in even the smallest waterfall, the free flowing ‘dance’ the water makes as it runs down to the next level. One moment it is a mere trickle, while the next it splashes in all directions with exuberance. Using the tools on the camera, these moments can become frozen in place, preserving the movement as though it were cast in stone. For an element that is defined by movement, water can look interesting when the camera traps it in place.

 

Fountain Waterfall

Second, it has made me think about water itself.   For most of us  we have an overall abundance of water. We can swim in pools, water our lawns, and we can even indulge in drinking flavored or special water when mere tap water won’t do.  The fact that  I can take artistic photographs of this resource while so many people here in parts of the U.S. and throughout the world struggle daily with having both a constant and clean supply of water has left me conflicted. Beyond the headlines in places like Flint, Michigan, and drought in California, is the reality that water has become a real serious issue now throughout the world. It certainly is a common theme for the musical choice for this post-the mesmerizing Tinariwen  who come from one of the driest places on earth-the Sahara Desert.

For over 10 years now, no group has dominated the World Music scene more than Tinariwen has. The accolades and admiration for them from the likes of Robert Plant, The Rolling Stones, Carlos Santana, and U2 among others has helped, but the sheer power of their music transcends the star factor. The music is born out of hardship and a life most of us could not imagine, all set to a dynamic guitar sound. Driving rhythm punctuated by nothing more than a simple drum and handclaps.  Above it all, honest lyrics not aimed towards producing hit records but focused instead on the reality of their lives. It is fierce. It is powerful. You want real music? There is nothing more real out there now than Tinariwen.

Tinariwen are Touaregs, nomads of the Sahara, sometimes also referred to as the blue men of the desert by way of the often richly colored robes they traditionally wear.  Though Tinariwen themselves come from Mali, they consider themselves of the Sahara, calling themselves the Kel Tamashek, meaning ‘The Tamashek speaking people.’ The origins of the group go back to 1979, when the Touaregs were at war with the Malian government after seeking some level of territory and autonomy. The original founders of the group, led by the wide eyed, wild haired and compelling figure of Ibrahim Ag Alhabib formed in a refugee camp. As the legend generally goes, they put down their weapons and picked up guitars instead, bolstered by the cassettes being passed around of Algerian Rai and by musical rebels such as The Clash, Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix.

As time went by their music spread throughout other Touareg areas, from cassettes passed around. The songs spoke of their history, their struggles, and life in the Sahara.  Over time more people became aware of their unique music, which became part invention on their own part combined with a bluesy sort of sound. Its a gritty, guitar driven music, fueled by both African and American influences. After hearing the first few chords, you know you are hearing something truly special, the authentic sounds grabbing you deep in your soul.  The trance like grooves carrying you to the Sahara on a wave of guitars, funky bass and percussion. Seeing Tinariwen live is to witness something very special. The band are in fact a collective of musicians and singers. A core group literally tours the world, while other members only record, so you never know quite who will be on stage when you go to one of their concerts. Regardless, it is something truly unforgettable. Either because of circumstances, or foolhardiness on my part, I never saw The Clash, or Bob Marley, or Johnny Cash live, true musical rebels who had the power to grip you emotionally within the first few moments. But I have seen Tinariwen and I carry those performances with me still.

Despite the political upheaval and turmoil, the group still love the Sahara, and their songs sing praises of its beauty. But as you can imagine, water remains an issue for the peoples of the Sahara. As I did research for this post and read the lyrics to the songs again, I realized this remains a pivotal issue. In the song Djeredjere- “This year I’m at rock bottom. My soul is thirsty, Give me water.” In Awa Didjen-“The sun, the wind and even more, But the worse for them is the lack of water.” In Enseqi Ehad Didagh-“I have travelled for days across the desert of anxiety. I’m thirsty, parched, my heart and soul crave water.” They named an album Aman Iman, which means ‘Water Is Life.’ Perhaps the most succinct point however, comes in the song Arawan  from an album called Amassakoul-

“The world is in flight

Nobody cares about the peoples of the desert

Who are suffering from thirst

So what mysteries make the water flow so abundantly in their city

And even more so in their fields”

 As I have been walking around and experimenting with these photos of water, taken in a place where it is an abundant resource, I have also thought of these words from Tinariwen. In parts of the Sahara there are deep underground aquifers that could provide some relief, but that would require considerable time and resources to develop. So the people of the Sahara like the Touaregs continue on as they always have,  struggling in a beautiful, yet harsh landscape.  On the other hand I am afforded the luxury of flavored water, swimming pools, and a hot shower. It is a harsh realization at times, and I felt conflicted in sharing this post for this reason-the beauty of water for me, the shortage of water for others. You can’t do much to change the situation half way around the world personally, but collectively we can at least be aware of the differences. At the end of the post  below is a link to a few worldwide organizations working on these issues.  I would urge you to support any of them if you can.

Perhaps no better example of this issue through Tinariwen’s eyes came with their song Tenere Taqhim Tossam, from the Tassili album. Featuring guests Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe from the band TV On The Radio  the song states-

 “The desert is hot, and its water hard to find. Water is life and soul.” 

As noted in the liner notes, the sound at the end of the song is of the first rainfall in 5 years in the southeast corner of Algeria where the band was recording the album. Five years….. Aman Iman-Water Is Life.

 

Here is a link to some great organizations working on water issues around the world-http://www.goodnet.org/articles/1000

Arawan-Written By Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni

Tenere Taqhim Tossam-Written By Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, Eyadou Ag Leche, Kyp Malone and Babutunde Omoroga Adebimpe

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Fountain and Waterfall

Photo Shuffle-The Crossroads

I pressed play on my Ipod and this is what I heard…Standing At The Crossroads By Dave Edmunds

Standing At The Crossroads

I’m trying to make an effort to get back to these shorter Photo Shuffle posts after a bit of a gap, as I mentioned in my last post. The song and artist that came up today is a great pick by my Ipod if I do say so myself! In this post from earlier this year I wrote about Nick Lowe. That included the long time musical partnership he and Dave Edmunds had in Rockpile. When I was younger I came across Dave Edmunds’ music before Nick Lowe’s, though not by much if I recall correctly. There was probably something in Edmunds love of 1950’s and early 60’s Rock & Roll that made me pay attention initially compared with Nick Lowe’s more contemporary sounds. There are many things to admire about Dave Edmunds. Musically he can do a great cover of a Chuck Berry song one moment, then put a little country twang on the next song, and then follow that with a hard edged guitar stomper.  In addition he is a great guitarist and though his standout performance will probably always be considered a rocking version of the classical piece ‘Sabre Dance’  I can make the case for many more. He is also a top notch producer. When The Stray Cats ‘Rocked This Town’, it was in large part because Dave Edmunds had produced the album. Not to mention being asked to produce albums by some of his own musical heroes like Dion, and The Everly Brothers. 

Just a short list of classic Edmunds songs includes I Hear You Knocking, Trouble Boys, Girls Talk, Crawling From The Wreckage, Queen Of Hearts (his version predated the hit by Juice Newton), The Race Is On, A1 On The Jukebox, If Sugar Was As Sweet As You, Slipping Away, and dozens more. He’s just one of those musicians that really understands that the simple approach is often the best approach. No screeching guitars or complicated rhythms. Just Rock & Roll pure and simple.

Though he has dabbled with writing songs over the years, he has been more adept at choosing good songs to interpret. Such is the case with Standing At The Crossroads, by the equally great British rocker Mickey Jupp. It is a song replete with typical blues subject matter-love gone bad- “I’m not the man she was looking for, but just the man she found,” anger, and confusion. But its the chorus that really takes it to classic blues territory-standing at the crossroads with Robert Johnson who of course famously sold his soul to the devil in exchange for mastery of the blues. At least that’s how the legend goes! Also there is Elmore James, who later revived Johnson’s own songs. Like a true rock and roller though, Dave Edmunds doesn’t sing the song as a blues, but rather as a jaunty little rock number. The photo I chose above represented the best photo I could find that I have taken of something akin to a crossroads. Should you go forward? Back? Left or Right?  Whenever I come to a rural crossroads like this, I often think not only of Robert Johnson’s ‘crossroads’, but also to one of my favorite all around musicians-Dave Edmunds. If you are unfamiliar with him, I urge you to go check his music out.

 

Standing At The Crossroads-Written By Mickey Jupp

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*Photo Shuffle is a new, very short slice of my regular blogs based on setting my Ipod on shuffle and matching up one of my photographs to whatever comes up.

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Photo Shuffle-Watch The Weather

My goodness, has it really been since May when last I did a Photo Shuffle? When I realized that a few days ago, I thought I better correct that oversight as soon as possible. I almost felt like I needed a refresher myself since its been so long! So for my own benefit, and anybody who has only started following me more recently, Photo Shuffle is an idea I had last year where I set my Ipod on random, and let it choose a song I then pair with one of my photos. It is the reverse of how I write my usual posts, and is a lot of fun to do. So here we go…

I pressed play on my Ipod and this is what I heard…Watch The Weather, By The Health & Happiness Show

Alabama Rain

Like many people I enjoy sitting back and watching the weather roll by. Provided of course that I am in the comfort of my own home and not fearful that it will turn into something more serious. There is something oddly soothing about watching the snow pile up outside your window.  Or rain pouring down, punctuated by the occasional burst of thunder or lightning.  The eerie sound of the wind circling the surrounding landscape. To some the notion of watching the weather might be more akin to watching paint dry, or a pot boiling, but for me it can be better than any TV show or movie.

Weather also makes for interesting photography. Thinking about that more carefully, it is probably because weather causes something that was not there moments before to suddenly dominate, altering the scene rapidly. That is obviously something appealing to anyone who has ever picked up a camera as clouds darken the sky. We recognize that sudden change as something new we want to preserve. I certainly did when I pulled my camera out and took this photo a few years ago in Alabama when the sky was clear one moment and then pouring the next. That idea is similar to music in many ways and in an older post I explored this idea further.

Watching the weather is also a metaphor for watching the world go by, and ‘weathering’ the changes. I think this is the idea behind the song by The Health & Happiness Show. There are lots of references to the weather-snow keeps falling, never seen a summer this long, April rain keeps coming on and on… But the key line relates both to the actual weather, and to life itself-

‘Some changes come without warning, Some changes you can’t really see.’

The song was influenced in part by Sadie and Bessie Delany’s biography ‘Having Our Say; The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years’ and viewed in that context, this idea really makes sense. Especially since it was written by one of my favorite and  one of the most criminally underrated artists of the last 30 years or so, James Mastro.

The Health & Happiness Show formed sometime in the early 90’s in Hoboken, NJ by guitarist Mastro and drummer Vinny DeNunzio while sitting around a table and playing Hank Williams songs so the story goes. Both had been members of bands that had put Hoboken on the map as a music destination and received some critical acclaim-Mastro in The Bongos and DeNunzio in The Feelies. Both were feeling disillusioned with the business side of music and wanted to get back to just playing music however. Soon the core of a group formed, and they took their name appropriately enough, from a series of radio shows by Hank Williams. A strong debut album called ‘Tonic’ appeared in 1993 which garnered some attention. With an alt-country, Americana meets Celtic sort of sound and Mastro’s beautifully crafted songs this was not a surprise. Two more albums followed-Instant Living in 1995, and Sad & Sexy in 1999. The sound had changed slightly, moving away from the alt-country to more of a rock sound, but James Mastro’s songs remained a force, with wry observations and subtle humor.

This can be heard in his song ‘Watch The Weather.’ To me the mark of a good songwriter is many things- being able to tell a story you want to hear as the listener, to write about different subjects, to make observations, and most importantly, to not resort to the same cliches and observations others do. It is not easy to maintain that, but gifted writers like James Mastro, together with The Health & Happiness Show pulled it off to dedicated fans like me. How I wish I still had my T-shirt, which was a knockoff of a Bayer aspirin box! These days James continues to play with a variety of artists in the Hoboken and NYC area, as well as around the world with Ian Hunter (of Mott The Hoople fame), while also running the popular Guitar Bar in Hoboken. Easily recognizable by his wide ranging collection of hats he has always worn, if you see his name on a bill anywhere, make sure you catch him.

Now, I think I’ll throw some Health & Happiness Show on the stereo and watch the weather. Do you like to weather watch and dream?

Watch The Weather-Written By James Mastro

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*Photo Shuffle is a new, very short slice of my regular blogs based on setting my Ipod on shuffle and matching up one of my photographs to whatever comes up.

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Voices Of The Haudenosaunee

Natural Wonders

Awhile back I was given the gift of a book called Encyclopedia Of Native American Tribes by Carl Waldman. It was one I had seen on a visit to the Museum Of The American Indian in downtown Manhattan some time ago.  Ever since I received the book I have spent time thumbing through it,  sorting out the history and the hierarchy of the many North American Indian tribes. Though not a scholarly work,  the book does a good job covering a lot of basic ground. I had long been intrigued by the connections between tribes.  Whether joined by language structure, cultural similarities or geographical area, many tribes do have these sorts of connections in some way. I encountered this in a small way while travelling with my family across the U.S. one summer years ago.  In South Dakota we primarily came across the Sioux (or as they are more properly known, the Lakota). While in Arizona and New Mexico we saw some of the beautiful art and culture of the Southwest tribes such as the Pueblo, Navajo, and the Hopi.

It was probably my first real exposure to Native Americans that I can recall. Sure we learned one ‘interpretation’ of Native American history in school though it was usually skewed towards people like Sitting Bull and Geronimo that they felt obliged to teach us.  Sure I also lived in a part of New Jersey where Native American town and place names were common-Mahwah, Ramapo, Ho-Hokus. But that was essentially just a legacy. I’m sure if I had looked there were deeper signs of the culture around, but until I was out in the American West and saw real Native culture, that I really began to understand that there was so much than what felt was force-fed to us in school.  I turned 11 on that trip, so I was too young to truly appreciate the culture, history, language and  traditions fully. One thing I do remember clearly however was the rich variety of art, imbued with rich colors and patterns.

Years later I discovered some of the traditions of Native American music. Just like with the variety of tribes and cultures, the music is also diverse. From the Great Plains, to the forests of the Pacific Northwest. From the Deep South to New England and the cold northern tundra, the music of Native Americans reflects this diversity. Pow-Wows, chanting, flutes, drums are the typical sounds, but just like with the variations between tribal customs and culture, I have learned that there is great nuance to the music as well.  Added to that, just like other traditional music from around the world, Native American music is likely to be heard in different contexts now, combined with styles such as rock or even hip hop while still maintaining connections to the ancient. Early on as I began listening to Native American music (and there is a lot of it!) I really came to appreciate the voice and music of Joanne Shenandoah, an Oneida Indian.

The Oneida, along with the  Onondaga, Seneca, Mohawk, Tuscarora, Cayuga and Seneca tribes comprise the Iroquois Six Nations, the origins of which go back to the 1500’s.  Collectively they are also known as the Haudenosaunee (People Of The Longhouse). Though each Nation has its own unique customs and identities, singers like Joanne Shenandoah see the inherent unity between them. The liner notes to her songs freely mingle between each. Though Joanne herself is Oneida, she sings the stories of the Haudenosaunee-not just Oneida,Seneca or Onondaga, but for all its people.

Such is the case with the song I have chosen here-an absolutely stunning traditional Mohawk Friendship song called I Am Your Friend. Within a few seconds of listening, the simple chant becomes more insistent, more mesmeric. I find myself lost within its charms, transported away from whatever distractions in my life at that moment by the beauty of Joanne Shenandoah’s voice. Awhile back I wrote a post about the simple charms and restorative nature trees provide me. There is something inherent not only in Joanne Shenandoah’s music, but Native American music in general that is similar. We all know of the great respect and honor all Native Americans have shown for the land, and the spiritual healing related to it. As I have read more from Carl Waldman’s book, I am also learning about the great respect most tribes had initially to outsiders as well. History tells us of course that outsiders seeking land and fortune did not always treat their hosts with the same respect. It also tells us that many tribes had deep resentment and conflict with one another for long periods of time.

But hearing a beautiful song like ‘I Am Your Friend’ reminds me that at the heart of Haudenosaunee culture,  even the heart of Native American culture are some simple truths that we need reminding of, especially in the tumultuous world we are in today. First, we really do need to honor and respect the land we live on. The photo I chose for this edition reminded me of this- plants and trees thriving in a natural environment. Yet more than ever before we are abusing our land in ways that will eventually ruin it. Denial or pushing it aside gets us nowhere. Native Americans understood centuries ago when to plant crops, or when to hunt. They knew because they observed. They learned, and their thinking evolved as a result.  The scientists observing our planet today who issue the warning signs of dangers to come often hit a brick wall from people who quite frankly don’t learn, evolve or think much. Rather than argue we need to trust the observers of our planet.  Second, we need to really understand what simple words such as ‘I Am Your Friend’ truly mean. Does it mean a social media connection, or does it mean someone who truly understands the word ‘friend’ with honor and respect. In this increasingly angry world we live in the choice is ours.

Postscript- In the last year Joanne Shenandoah has had a number of health issues and is currently waiting for a liver transplant. Like many independent musicians not signed to a major label, medical costs can be staggering. She and her family have a GoFundMe site where you can make a donation to help with these costs. Every little bit helps-https://www.gofundme.com/joanneshenandoah

I Am Your Friend-Traditional Mohawk, Arranged By Joanne Shenandoah

Encyclopedia Of Native American Tribes-Written By Carl Waldman, Third Edition Published In 2006 By Checkmark Books

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Irish ‘Noise’

Muckross Head

Muckross Head, Kilcar Donegal

Last week I returned from a short trip to Ireland. The main reason for being there was for my great aunt Brid’s 100th Birthday Celebration. It was wonderful to be with my (large) extended family for such a special event, and it was also wonderful to be back in Ireland again. It had been eight years since my last trip, which was for our honeymoon. Even though I was there for only a few days after flying in, I made sure to make the most of it. That is something you just seem to do when you visit Ireland. Especially in Donegal where my family is all originally from. It is a place of wondrous beauty- all rugged coastlines and rolling hills, flowing streams and deep glens. Its hard to see it all, especially on such a short trip, but I made an effort to try. Of course I took my camera with me nearly everywhere I went. Below in the gallery are some highlights of the trip.

At this point I have written a few posts based around Ireland or the other Celtic countries (here and here). Like my other posts they were based around the idea of finding a musical pairing or match for the photographs I took so I do not want to repeat what I have already written about. On this trip, in between various family events, as I wandered around, I became aware more than ever before about the sounds of Ireland, or Irish ‘noise’ if you will.  When I thought about  new ways I could write about the country I thought that this idea was interesting. It starts innocently enough when stepping outside in the morning-the chirp of a bird, the incessant baa of sheep which are…everywhere, or the deep rumbling echo of a cow in the distance.

Cliffs Of Slieve League

Cliffs Of Slieve League

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The Book…

 

Part 3

Lowell, Massachusetts, May 14, 1969

 

Johnny Leary was desperate now. He needed a fix real soon. Even though his body was letting him know he desperately needed food and rest, Johnny didn’t care. The shaking and the cold sweats would subside if he could get one more hit he told himself. Just one more, and then I’ll go straight. It was a promise Johnny had made many times before, usually on days like today when he had all of $5 in his pockets. His ‘job’ at the bar would not be paying him again for another week so he knew he had to come up with something. He looked around his ramshackle apartment for more things he could pawn. His eyes glanced towards the stack of books in the corner.  It was not always like this of course, and when he was younger his mom had read to him at an early age all kinds of books. She took special delight in delicately pulling out the older books, which she explained to him had belonged to the grandfather he had never met. “It’s not just the words inside the books that tell a story” she had told him. “Sometimes the books themselves have a story.” For a while he treasured the books as well. Mom never minded when he borrowed them in those days because she knew they always found their way back to the bookshelves. Eventually though, marked gaps in those rows of books started appearing. “I’ll bring them next time,” Johnny always promised when she asked him, but gradually she realized they would not when she saw the condition he was in with every new visit.

These days, Johnny could give two shits about things of sentimental value like old books. In all honesty he did not even think about his mom that much since the last Christmas at her house, when disappointed with his behavior she had told him not to come back until he had straightened himself out. Whatever the hell that meant, Johnny had thought, I’m perfectly fine, she’s the one that has a problem with me. As he scanned the room he started making a pile of the things he thought could get him a few bucks. Records he had bought as little as a year ago, a fishing pole his dad had given him when he was fourteen, a plywood guitar he had once happily strummed along to the Beatles with. And the books. He grabbed them indiscriminately, not even pausing to see which titles they were.

Johnny Leary was desperate now. He needed a fix real soon. He packed everything in a box and headed out the door…

 

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