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| Excerpt from Practicing
JOEY RAMONE IS DEAD
Reach out, pierce the fine fabric of the
sheltering sky, take repose.
It's hard, sometimes, to recognize the difference between mercy and murder.
I was standing in the foul-smelling "lounge" of Bock Marine, a seedy little marina on an eastern-Carolina stretch of the ICW, when I heard, by telephone, that Joey Ramone was dead. When I hung up the phone, I turned to my mother and told her the news.
"Oh," she said. "I heard that on the radio the other day. I didn't tell you because I figured it would bum you out."
Joey Ramone was dead.
A few months later, Converse declared bankruptcy. I reacted by ordering several pairs of Chuck Taylor All-Stars from their North Carolina factory.
Before long, a company in Asia picked up the Chucks line. But sitting in my closet are the last pairs of Chucks I'll ever own. If I ever get the itch for mass-produced footwear from an Asian sweatshop, I'll buy a pair of Air Jordans.
In September, the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City were brought down by two planeloads of fanatical assholes. It didn't take long, naturally, for another group of equally fanatical assholes to retaliate. Now fanatical assholes of all persuasions, who couldn't have given a rat's ass about New York a year ago, or found it on a map, are screaming for one another's blood.
Regardless of whether they have work or not, or food on the table.
It seemed to me a bizarre trinity: the deaths of Joey Ramone, Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars, and a pair of uninspired buildings in the financial district at the south end of Manhattan.
"It's spooky," my friend Brian said. "New York looks like Philadelphia now."
I was helping my folks move their boat - their home - last year, which is how I came to stay that night at Bock Marine. Two nights, actually. And although I had never met him, or seen him perform, it bothered me, about Joey Ramone. I don't know why, particularly. Maybe because, on top of everything else, Chucks are great to wear for working on boats.
When the job was done, I went home to Maryland.
Almost a year later, my folks split up - again. For good. The same reasons, nothing new. My aunt has since moved to their zip code. Today, when I drive eight hours to Carolina to see my family, I have a choice of three different places to stay, all within a mile-and-a-half.
I used to be an editorial assistant a couple of years ago, working for a place that paid me to sit in a cubicle for eight hours a day reading bad poetry.
Really bad poetry.
The company's shtick was to solicit poems from people, primarily those without prior literary accomplishment. Most seemed to come from the American Heartland, and started with lines like "When I first saw you that night, standing at the bar."
In time, the company would notify the authors by mail that their respective works had been selected for inclusion in a forthcoming volume of poetry.
To see it, all they had to do was buy the book. This is how the company made its money.
From bar queens to social outcasts to nascent murderers, their words were often, if nothing else, heartfelt. Saying something well frequently took a far second to meaning it. I read a lot of poems that were dedicated to the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing, a good five years after the fact.
After last September, I thought to myself, "If you still worked there, think of what you'd be reading now."
I don't know if the books do well in New York, or how far Nikes go toward stopping Evil. They might be working ten-hour days in those cubicles, now, for all I know, just to meet supply with demand.
But Joey Ramone is still dead.