Angels of Ocean City

I can relate to two of the main characters in Toni Morrison’s book, Jazz: Joe Trace , Violet Trace, and Golden Gray. I shared the same kind of feelings these characters experienced in Morrison’s book. I understand the “nothingness” that haunts Joe and his search for unconditional love, the acceptance and attention that Golden desperately seeks from his father and the journey they both take in search of their identities, Violet’s decision to stop living a lie and develop her own identity. In this paper I will write about how I relate to these characters and how, like them, lived life through what Jazz symbolizes; love and desire, anger and blues, and ultimately forgiveness.

In Morrison’s Jazz, Golden Gray becomes confused about his identity when True Belle reveals his father to him. He comes to realize that he has been living a false identity since his birth and tracks down his true identity. His desire for his father’s acceptance and sense of legitimacy troubles him. The narrator of the story begins to realize that he has misjudged Golden Gray and makes this known to the reader:

What was I thinking of? How could I have imagined him so poorly? Not noticed the hurt that was not linked to the color of his skin, or the blood underneath it. But to some other thing that longed for authenticity, for a right to be in this place [as a Son], effortlessly without needing to acquire a false face, a laughless grin, a talking posture. (160)

The narrator becomes aware of Golden Gray’s desire for acknowledgment from his father, and his need to identify with him without feeling like an outsider. Furthermore, the narrator reveals that Golden Gray’s anger toward his father has more to do with the fact that he grew up without him and less to do with the color of his skin. Golden Gray’s heartache is exposed when he arrives at his father’s home, “Only now, he thought, now that I have a father, do I feel his absence: the place where he should have been and was not” (Morrison 158). Golden looks into his past and becomes aware of his father’s unclaimed place in his life and his loneliness. Golden’s knowledge of himself is shattered, and he begins to piece together his identity through his father.

Golden and I share the same emotional frustrations in the relationships we have with our fathers: the anger at feeling rejected, the overpowering sadness of feeling unwanted, and the confusion of ourselves. Like Golden, for most of my childhood I grew up without a father and a true sense of who I was. I disliked being alone and hated to be rejected. I wanted the attention of a son. I wanted a father; and I needed the same attention the other kids received and when I did not get it, I acted out. At six, I despised school, mainly because I was the forgotten kid in the class, a ghost at a desk. No one, not even the teacher spoke to me. The loneliness I felt was overwhelming. one-day, I became so frustrated I threw a chair at the teacher just to let her know that I was real. As you would expect, I got her attention and a seven-day suspension that I cleverly hid from Momma. Yet, most of the time no one cared if I was there or not and for that reason, when my seven-day suspension was over, I chose not to go back.

My classroom became the streets of Ocean City, New Jersey where I was the center of attention. Ocean City a narrow seven-and-a-half-mile-long barrier island with a long sandy beachfront on the east and marshlands facing the bay on the west was my world and I knew every inch of it. I knew where the cracks in the sidewalks were, where each grain of sand was placed, the names of every street, which planks on the boardwalk were loose or needed a nail, I knew the names of the boarding houses, restaurants, and churches. I knew which beaches were best for flying kites, where the seagulls kept their nests, and which bridges were best for fishing. I knew Ocean City like the back of my hand; and the island was my best friend. Only four bridges connected the island to the rest of the world, two to the mainland and two to the other barrier islands one to the north and one to the south. In 1879, four Methodist ministers chose the island as a Christian retreat and dubbed it “Ocean City.” From the city’s humble beginnings, it was intended to be a family retreat. Ocean City’s Blue Laws were passed and effectively banned the sale of alcohol on the island and prevented business from opening on the Sabbath.

Ocean City had more churches than any other business on the island and on Sundays, the churches filled to capacity. I remember the first time that I attended church; a young family that I met on the beach invited me; they were very pleased to have “saved” me. I did not understand what it meant “to be saved” but I soon found out. At the end of the service when the preacher asked if anyone had been saved, I stood up and declared that I was. At that moment, the entire church erupted in roars of “Praise the Lords” and waves of “Hallelujahs.” The preacher came over, shook my hand and welcomed me. The parishioners overwhelmed me with so much praise and attention, that tears streamed down my olive skinned face, I savored the moment and the attention. After that, I was saved at every church in town.

The two-and-a-half-mile-long boardwalk provided me with all the rides, amusements, and video games a kid could want and if the streets were my classroom, then the boardwalk was my playground. I loved the boardwalk; it became a place for me to meet new people, make friends, and entertain. It was a place where I was real and felt alive, a place where I was more than just a ghost behind a desk.

I was an outgoing little kid back then and I made friends easily. I would go anywhere, and do anything for attention, and every once in awhile I would even make a buck or two. My Momma worked as a nurse at an old folks’ home across the bay changing bedpans and linen. She worked hard to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table, and at times was not able to do both. Momma, exhausted from six twelve-hour shifts, slept when she was not working. The only time that I saw her was when she came into my room early in the morning to give me a kiss on my cheek and remind me to stay out of trouble. I was always getting into trouble back then and Momma constantly received phone calls from the school or the hospital. Sometimes she would hear my name called over the police scanner. She kept a red, white, and blue leather belt that my sister and I christened, “Old Glory,” with our backsides. She would only bring it out to whip us whenever we were bad. Momma stopped using “Old Glory” on me altogether, mainly because she was too tired by the time she came home or found me. Instead, she would give me a stern lecture and a word of caution, “keep it up Joe, and you’ll turn out just like your father.” Those words echoed in my head throughout my childhood, little did I know that is exactly whom I wanted to turn out like, and if I wanted to find him the last place he would be was at my school and that was the last place I wanted to be. For that reason I disobeyed Momma’s order and skipped school to roam the streets in search of my identity [unknowingly at the time], and my father.

I was an industrious youngster and although my sister was older than I was; I always looked out for her. At the end of the day, I would count the nickels, dimes, and quarters that I earned and buy her something to eat a fish sandwich from Mickey Dees, a hoagie from the corner deli, or a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos her favorite. I remember a time we were so hungry that my sister attempted to cook french-fries on the old dilapidated stove the sat in kitchen. Neither of us knew how to cook and when the stove erupted in flames, we threw anything and everything we could at it to put out the fire. We spent the rest of the night cleaning up, we quickly tried to get the kitchen back to the way it was before Momma came home, we attempted to hide the partially blackened counter top, hoping that Momma would be too tired to venture into the kitchen before she went to bed. That point on I made sure that I brought something home every night for us to eat and we promised each other never to try that again. I shoveled snow in the winter, sold newspapers on the beach in the summer, raked leaves in the fall, and gave directions to lost tourists in the spring. Unknowingly I was satisfying two needs at the same time, the need to make money for my sister and me, and the need to satisfy my addiction for attention. On Sundays, I would walk twenty-three blocks to the supermarket on 16th Street and help the little old ladies carry their grocery bags to their cars. They would make an effort to offer me a buck or two, but I would refuse. They had already paid me. They had given me something that I needed much more than money: their attention. I would only accept the folded bills and worn pocket change from their aged hands after they fussed and insisted. It did not feel right taking their money; so to relieve the guilt I would put half of the money in the little wooden box at St. Augustine’s on East 13th Street and spend the rest on something to eat for my sister and me.

I met all sorts of people growing up in Ocean City; good ones, mean ones, and evil ones. I conjure up a memory from my childhood that I have buried under years of depression, self-hatred, and isolation. I have grappled and fought with a forgotten (repressed) memory that has misled and twisted my reality, one that has corrupted my childhood, haunted my soul and condemned me to the chasm of misery. This moment in my childhood devastated me; a moment that could not have taken more time than it takes to say good morning or hello to friend or neighbor. It happened so quickly, but the memory is so vivid and full of detail that when it invades my consciousness I am transported back to the moment it happened; the moment when I was lured under the 11th Street boardwalk by an evil creature and molested. The lessons that I learned on the streets of that small seven-mile island saved me. I had the street smarts to take advantage of the opportunity to flee when it presented itself. I kicked the devil in the groin when he tried to unbuckle his belt. He flew backward into a sandy patch of concrete blocks and broken beer bottles smashed into his head, neck and back; I could hear his screams as I rushed out from under the boardwalk and his curses as I scampered over to the summer police officer walking his beat. I never felt so ashamed and worthless in my life. I knew that if I did nothing, I would have been battered, murdered, and buried in a shallow grave of sand, broken glass, and seashells. The police caught him that day but let him go because he was a Veteran. It was the first time the Justice had failed me; but not the last. Every now and then, this memory invades my thoughts, and I cry, as I did that day twenty-eight years ago. Every time that I do, I pry a finger from its grip around my life. I take away its power and its control over my identity and destiny. That moment haunted my childhood from then on, repressed from my consciousness; it corrupted my life in other forms. Even after all of that, I still needed attention; and I needed my father even more than before.

There were more angels in Ocean City than demons, and I practically met them all. Mostly men, divinely sent, who provided me with the attention that a fatherless boy needed. Three such Angelic beings crossed my path back then and provided me with guidance; they unintentionally acted as father figures for me. The first, a soft-spoken fifty-year-old African American man named David who always had a kind and encouraging word to give me. He drove the Philadelphia/Wildwood bus every weekend. I would meet him every Saturday morning when he drove his bus up to the station platform. He would greet me with a warm smile, invite me to eat lunch with him and inquire about how I was doing. He would give me the extra nickels, dimes, and quarters that jingled in his pockets.

Every now and then, I would take the trip to Philadelphia with him. We would stop along the way to eat lunch at one of the diners that sprung up along the way and talk about football and politics over a coke and a ham sandwich. I would sit there and listen to him go on about anything and everything Philadelphia. I would look him in his eyes and nod my head to let him know that I was paying attention. I enjoyed riding his bus and meeting his passengers; I would ask them where they were going, where they were from, and tell them all about Ocean City. I would tell them about the boardwalk, the beautiful beaches, my favorite jetty, and the seagulls that filled the sky on sunny days, and the stars that took their place at night. After I spoke every word I knew, I would sit back and look at the window; watch the apple trees, tomato fields, and farms go by as we drove along the country roads. I would poke my head out the window and breathe in a lung full of country air while the sun warmed my face. The day would end, when we pulled up to the bus station in Ocean City in the early evening. Dave and I would say our goodbyes and I would hurry home with the leftovers from lunch and the change in my pockets.

A parking attendant named Gus was the next angel that I met. He worked the parking lot at Wonderland’s Pier, a popular amusement park on the boardwalk, on the weekends. Every Saturday night in the summer, I would help him park cars on the small graveled lot behind the tilt-a-whirl and the bumper cars. Gus, a tall and stout man had a laugh that would make you smile from ear-to-ear. He had given me one of those aprons, with three pockets in front, to let everyone know that I worked for him. At six o’ clock, when the lines of cars began to line-up at the entrance of his lot, he would call my name and tell me to get ready. He would collect the money and I would direct the cars to their spots and guide them into their spaces. When the lot was full, he would order us pizza pie from Mac and Mancos on the boardwalk, and we would eat until we were full. He would talk about baseball, complain how bad the Phillies were doing, and tell me stories about the times when his father took him to Connie Mack Stadium to see the Phillies play ball. His stories were exciting and gave me hope that one day my father and I would do the same. I would close my eyes real tight and pretend we were there, watching the Phillies play, enjoying a hotdog or a bag-of-peanuts. At the end of the night, Gus would give me a five-dollar bill, for me that was a lot of money, and I would scurry home to share my good fortune with my sister. We would sit and look at it for hours until our stomachs began to grumble.

Mark Soifer was by far the archangel of them all and was the one who had the most impact on me as a boy. He had written a story about me entitled, “The Waif of Ocean City” and published it in the local newspaper. I remember the day we met. I was walking the hallway knocking on office doors selling newspapers when I came across his office; it was the last office at the top of the stairs and my last stop for the day. His office filled with the amber light of the setting sun and the light from a small lamp that sat on the top of his large wooden desk. A bookcase filled with old books hugged the wall behind him. He invited me into his office with a firm handshake and a warm smile and spoke to me as if I was a head of state. His kindness and sincerity made an impression on me and when I spoke, he gave me his undivided attention and respect. In Mark’s company I felt like I was worthy of being, worthy of occupying the space that I existed in, worthy of being alive. He gave the impression of someone whom I could trust. Perhaps it was the old books, or the smell of his large wooden desk that brought me back to his office countless times, or maybe it was the kindness and the respect that he granted me that beckoned me to visit. Whatever the reason, I would plan my day around the chance to speak with him.

Mark always had an encouraging word for me and displayed a sincere concern for how I was doing; it was at those times I would pretend that he was my father, I would close my eyes and imagine it, hoping that when I opened them, somehow it would become true. I hated the end of our visits, and I think he knew that; so to distract me he would buy whatever I had to sell that day or he would give me his apple and a few dollars. Mark recalls me as a hard-working boy; and I think he did not know the motivation behind my diligence, which was not the dollars that he gave me or the shoes he bought for me. It was because he cared about me, fathered me (unknowingly), and gave me hope. Mark writes, “I recall you as a hard working little boy with street smarts, who sold newspapers. One time you came into our office and your shoes were torn and ragged. I took you to a shoe store on Asbury Avenue and bought you a new pair of shoes” (Soifer). Mark always looked out for me, one winter he bought me a coat, a grey and blue London Fog. I remember because it was the first new coat I ever had and the name sounded funny to me. On holidays, he made sure that there was food on the table, a tree to put up and decorate, and a few presents under the tree. At Christmas he would invite my sister and I to the Music Pier for the annual toy giveaway. Every year they would have a stage full of toys to give away to all the kids who showed up, and my sister and I would always be front and center.

Over time, the memory that I had of my father had faded; I kept him alive only by piecing him together from the bits and pieces that I gathered from the Angels of Ocean City over the years. For a while until I had a complete mental picture of him, the shadow was all that was left of him. On sunny days, I would pretend that my shadow was my father; and I would talk to it wherever I went. I would break only when the clouds blocked the sun and continue when the sun broke free from the clouds grasp. Unlike Toni Morrison’s character Golden Grey, at a young age, I was fully aware of my father’s absences and knew what it felt like not to have him around and unlike Golden Grey, it was more than just a “missing arm.” I had a crack in my soul that grew larger and larger over the years and there was nothing I could do that would ever fill it in, no matter how much I ate, or how much stuff I bought, took, or stole nothing ever filled it. I became aware of my nothingness at a young age and it corrupted my thinking, led me to self-destruction, isolation, and hatred. It led me to places I did not want to be, it changed me from an outgoing energetic little boy to a depressed, negative, and lost adult.

On the days, I felt depressed, I would skip school, run down to the corner deli and buy fresh Italian rolls with my lunch money to feed the seagulls. I would climb the 5th Street jetty, toddle over the rocks, sit down close to the edge where the big windswept boulders kissed the ocean and toss pieces of bread in the air. The seagulls always cheered me up; they made me laugh every time they snatched the bread from the sky. They comforted me, made me feel wanted and welcomed. They were my family; I could always depend on them to be there for me. After the bread was gone I would stare at the horizon, where the sky met the sea and think about my father, and imagine what he was like, wonder where he was, what he was doing and why he did not care. I would pretend at the same time that somewhere, he too was looking at the ocean and thinking about his son. I would imagine that he was thinking about me.

Like Golden Grey, Joe Trace also struggled to find his identity. According to Freud, the first and most important relationship in life is the bond between mother and child: the relationship that all future relationships are based upon. Joe never experienced this type of bond with his mother nor did he experience a mother’s unconditional love. It is clear that Joe, after taken in by Rhoda and Frank Williams never received any maternal love from his adoptive mother. He is just a toddler when the “nothingness” begins to grow. He reveals this when he describes his relationship with Mrs. Rhoda:

She never pretended I was her natural child. When she parceled out chores or favors she’d say, ‘you are just like my own.’ That ‘like’ I guess it was made me ask her—I don’t believe I was three yet—where my real parents were.
(Morrison 123)

This lack of motherly affection from Mrs. Rhoda, combined with the understanding that his real mother abandoned him, inflicted the psychological wounds of an unmotherd child upon Joe (O’Rielly 162). The paternal role for him is fulfilled by two male figures in his life, first by Frank Williams and then by Hunter Lestory. Joe reveals this when he recalls his relationship with his surrogate father: “I didn’t miss having a daddy because first off there was Mr. Frank. Steady as a rock, and showed no difference among any of us children” (Morrison 124). Although, Joe had a positive relationship with a father figure his need for a mother’s love grows into an uncontrollable obsession. He never receives this love from his mother, Wild, or from his surrogate mother. It was that kind of love and relationship that he stalked in the forests of Vesper County Virginia; and years later in the streets of Harlem. It is that kind of love and relationship that he mourned the loss of after Dorcus’s death.

Joe and I share the same feeling of nothingness, though his much more destructive and violent then my own, both were equally devastating. We both sought after our mother’s love. I remember the day my “nothingness” began. It was a cold and dank wintery day; I was eight then, living with my mother and sister in a small third floor, two-bedroom apartment on 4th and Atlantic Avenue in Ocean City. I remember the words my mother said to me the day I was taken away. I recall my futile pleas for clemency, my frantic promise that I would be good, and the hopelessness I felt when my mother told me there was nothing she could do. I remember the warm tears that poured down my face as the three of us embraced for the last time. Most of all, I recall the unbearable sadness, rejection, and “nothingness” that engulfed me as I was carried out to the awaiting car and the overwhelming loneliness that stunned me as I looked with watery eyes through the rain-spattered window and realized my sister was not coming with me. That was the last time I cried as a child, and the last time my sister and I were close. Joe Trace and I share the same emptiness and “nothingness.” Joe, denied his mother’s unconditional love, and I torn from mine; we were emotionally wounded forever. It was the first time I would be apart from the only two people that I have ever loved, and the last time we would be together. It was the beginning of my “nothingness” and the end of my childhood.

I was placed in the home of the Granger’s, a well respected African American family that lived in a dull gray two story house on 4th and West, only two blocks from the elementary school that I hated and five blocks from where my mother and sister lived. Emotionally abandoned, It felt like they were a million miles away. I shared a room with the Granger’s two sons Jonathan and David. Mrs. Granger, Mary Jane as I came to know her, ran a day care and a small grocery store from the house. Mr. Granger worked for the city as a dogcatcher and drove around the island looking for strays; for a while, I believed that I was one of those strays. The only time that I saw Mr. Granger was at night after our bedtime when Jonathan, their oldest son, persuaded him to bring us honey buns from the store. He would sneak them up the stairs to us in a brown paper sack and then parcel them out along with the spare change from his pockets. I was envious and resentful of their relationship, and in the beginning, I refused the sticky sweet treats but eventually gave in to the curiosity of what it tasted like. After that, I was hooked.

After a few months at the Granger’s I started attending school again, and Momma was allowed to visit me on the weekends. I looked forward to our visits and the chance to prove myself to her and demonstrate that I was worthy to be her son. On our first visit, she picked me up on her blue bicycle: a Schwinn cruiser with one of those metal saddlebag baskets that hung over the rear wheel. I was a small boy, so my mother placed a quilt on top of the metal basket and I sat on top of it, one foot in each basket, knees up to my chest. From the way, I was sitting and the vibration from the bike my legs and backside fell asleep instantly. Momma asked if I was all right; I lied and then tightened my hold around her waist. We rode along the boardwalk as the sun shone upon us and the ocean wind blew through our hair.

Our first stop was Jilly’s Arcade on Twelfth Street; for a game of skee-ball. We took turns playing Mrs. Pac-man, Momma’s favorite, and then shared an ice cream cone, vanilla with chocolate sprinkles. Next, we went on to Putt- Putt golf on Tenth Street where I made my first hole in one. Momma was proud of me then when she gave me her best smile, I loved making her proud and looked for every chance to do so, I was Momma’s boy then, and I am a Momma’s boy now. After that we took a break at the bench on the far end of the music pier facing the ocean, we talked about school, the Granger’s, my sister, and other things as we fed seagulls stale peanuts. Our last stop was Shriver’s on Ninth Street; we shared a box of saltwater taffy and watched the sticky confection being made. My childhood for that moment restored and I wished that I could go home with her. At the end of our first visit, Momma gave me her portable 8-track player, a white box with a shoulder strap and the only 8-track she had: Hotel California by the Eagles. It was the only thing that I had of hers, and it provided me comfort when I was lonely. I knew every song and every word by heart. Somehow, I felt closer to Momma when I sang the songs and listened to the music. I felt important knowing that this was hers and that she entrusted me with it. However, my nothingness still lingered and spread like cancer, as I grew older; it mixed with the other phantoms and haunted my soul until I finally exercised them in my 30s.

Everything changed the day my father showed up. I was so flabbergasted: I did not know how to behave; one moment I had a smile from ear to ear the next a frown. I learned that my sister had moved to Indiana six months before, and he came to take me to live with him. Three more sisters and a brother were waiting for me; I was happy to go and sad to leave my mother behind. It took five days to reach the little town of Orestes Indiana. It was the best five days I ever spent with my father, and the only happy memory that I have of him. Orestes Indiana is a small town right smack in the middle of farm country where the tomato and soybean fields stretch into the horizon and the sky is blue as the ocean. We lived in a small four-bedroom country house with a two-car garage on the edge of a soybean field. A large oak tree, with a tire swing, grew in the front yard. That oak tree became my time machine, my safe place; I would climb its limbs to escape the anger and aggression of my older brother and sisters. I sat high up in its branches out of their reach and pretended that I was back in Ocean City on the end of 5th street jetty skipping seashells off the waves and feeding the seagulls. I would close my eyes tight and imagine that I was sitting in front of a large wooden desk inhaling the musty scent of old books and wooded desk as the setting sun filled the office with its last rays of light. I would sit up in that old oak tree until my father came home from work, he would ask why I was up there, and I would shrug my shoulders and then he would ordered me down.

Even though I lived in the same house of my father, he was never there: not emotionally, spiritually, nor physically. Sixteen-months after my arrival we move to a two-story, six-bedroom house in Alexander Indiana, about ten miles south of Orestes. Three months after that, my father began an affair with the neighbor’s wife. My stepmother, fully aware of his infidelity never confronted him, either out of fear, or lack of backbone; she instead redirected her anger toward my sister and I, she used her children to mistreat us, they hated us. They mistreated my sister more than I and after six-months of abuse, she fled. Forsaken for the second time I was left to defend myself; alone in a house full of hatred. My father did not care, he was too busy with his mistress, and I never forgave him for that, not for what he did not do for me, but for what he did not do for my sister: protect her. I missed her and the closeness that we shared when we lived in Ocean City. I miss the time when we flew kites together on the beach, and the time she held my hand as we rode the rollercoaster because she knew I was scared. I miss the times we shared a sandwich from the corner deli, and the times we stuck up for one another. I miss her and the closeness that we shared, all of that is gone corrupted by the devastating events in out childhoods.

What I remember the most about my father is his broken promises, let downs, and betrayal. I remember when he promised to sign me up for baseball; “I’ll meet you there” he said, and never showed up. My stepbrother came to tell me that he was not coming, I did not want to believe him but I knew it was true. It was the only time my stepbrother and I were close; we both knew what it felt like to be disappointed by our fathers. After my father’s divorce he and I moved into a small one bedroom apartment. With my sister and his ex-wife out of the picture, I was the only one left in his way. He had joined the local VFW (veterans of foreign wars) and convinced them that he was a veteran. He manipulated them into sponsoring me into the VFW National Home in Eaton Rapids, Michigan. Where he discarded me like a piece of garbage three years after I moved to live with him. He never came to visit me there. He left me there with no identity, no self-esteem, and no family. He had casted me away and forgotten all about me. It was the third time in my life that I was discarded and the last time I saw my father. He never did live up to my expectations and maybe at some level I never lived up to his. A notion they I had lived with all my life, one that shattered my self-esteem; and had done more damaged to me than the demon from the boardwalk.

Even though the best thing my father ever did for me was placing me in the VFW foster Home in Michigan. I still needed a fatherly influence in my life someone to look up to and count on. I knew that I wasn’t going to get that from my real father, but from someone like I had pieced together as a boy. A father who would take me on bus rides to Philadelphia, treat me to lunch, would be happy to see me and talk to me as if I mattered. A father whose laugh would make me smile from ear to ear, listen to me when I had something to say, would take me to see the Phillies Play at Shibe Park and buy me a hot dog or a bag of peanuts. A father with a large wooden desk in his office and bookshelves filled with old books that smelled funny. A father, divinely sent, that shared the characteristic and qualities with the Angels of Ocean City. I never did find him. I looked far into my adulthood and my even my own fatherhood. Along the way to adulthood, I picked-up parcels and pieces of mental baggage. Suitcases filled with disappointment and heartache. Duffle bags packed with self-hatred and isolation. Garment bags crammed with ghosts and goblins, and footlockers overflowing with “nothingness.” I carried these bags every step of the way to my adulthood each bag bursting open at different at critical moments in my life corrupting my emotions, manipulating my decisions, keeping me isolated, alone, miserable and desperate for attention.

Golden Grey and I never experienced what Sigmund Freud calls the “Oedipus Complex.” Freud thought this was the most important event of a boy’s childhood, which would have a great effect on his subsequent adult life. Described as a moment when a son identifies with his father and begins to develop his own identity (Oedipus Complex). Golden and I never experience this, and by the time we met our fathers it was too late. Already lost, living with a false sense of being, we had to father ourselves, we had to make choices that would re-direct our lives, and we had to discover our potentials and develop our own identities. Joe Trace and I mourned our childhood; for Joe he mourned the loss of his mother and the relationship that he never had with her. I have mourned my childhood it seems ever since I was a child. My mother always told me that I worried too much, and I did and I still do.

What Joe Trace, Golden Grey and I share now is forgiveness. That last piece in the Jazz puzzle. Without forgiveness, there is no new beginning, no fresh slate, and no hope for the future: Just sadness, anger, and insanity. It took me twenty-five years to forgive those who have harmed, abandoned, rejected, and despised me. It took that long to forgive myself for not paying attention to the little boy inside to little Joe. When “little Joe” acts out, I do not ignore him anymore, reject him or treat him as a ghost, I hold his hand as we stand at the edge of our favorite jetty and point to where the sky meets the sea and tell him that everything is going to be alright. I tell him that we are going to be just fine and that there is hope for our future, that there is nothing holding us back anymore.

College has changed my life; in the short year that I have attended Union County College, I have come “anew” three times as Joe trace puts it. First, with Professor Maxwell who taught me how to write (ENG 099), the second with Professor Tharney, who helped me exposed my self-deceptions (PSY 101), and third with Dr. Russell who helped me to discover myself and gather the courage to leave a few duffel bags at the curb and to never look back. I have experience tremendous success as a college student within my first year of college, and look forward to becoming the father, son, brother, and man that I was meant to be.

Works Cited

Matus, Jill. Toni Morrison. Manchester: Manchester Unitversity Press, 1998.

Morrison, Toni. Jazz. New York: Vintage Books, 1992.

O’Reilly, Andrea. Toni Morrison and Motherhood: A Poltics of the Heart. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004.

“Oedipus Complex.” Microsoft® Student 2007 [DVD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2006.

Soifer, Mark. “Re:(no subject).” Email to Joseph Eulo. 19 February 2007. A remembrance of a Ocean City Childhood. Email to the author. 19 February 2007

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Response to: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

I watched this movie four times. The first time, I listened to the language read the captions and understood the story. The second time I paid attention to the choreography, action scenes and serenity; a third time to catch the parts I overlooked and/or missed, and finally a fourth time to mentally bring it altogether. I am enchanted by Chinese culture, traditions, people and the martial arts. I remember when I was a boy I would always make it home in time to watch Kung-Fu Theater on Sunday afternoons. I enjoyed watching the heroes beat up the bad guys, save the girl, and win the day. I would pretend that I was a Kung-Fu Master with a long white beard that could leap in the air and fly beating up bad guys and teaching them “lessons” along with my favorite heroes. Ang Lee presents Kung-Fu and the Chinese culture to his audience like no other. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is much more than any of the movies I watched on Kung-Fu Theater; it brings the martial arts together with matters of the heart, through the magical powers of a sword the Green Destiny. Two loves clash each other in a mishmash of Chinese martial arts styles that seem more poetic then violent.

The loyalty to a dead friend keeps the feelings between Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien from becoming a reality. Li Mu Bai returns from Wudang Mountain and never experiences enlightenment that he expects during his meditation, Shu Lien questions Li about experiencing enlightenment and his response puzzles her:

No. I didn’t fell the bliss of enlightenment. Instead…I was surrounded by an endless sorrow. I couldn’t bear it. I broke off my meditation. I couldn’t go on. There was something pulling me back. (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)

I think what was pulling him back was his inaction to act upon his love for Shu Lien; and the endless sorrow that he was surrounded by belonged to Shu Lien for the lost unexpressed love: his. Li comes to the reality that he will never get the chance to express his love to Shu Lien. I believe that during his meditation Li perceived his death at the hands of the Giang Hu underworld and attempts to give up his sword the Green Destiny, the object that starts the story, to prolong the inevitable. There are only two times in this movie where Li Mu Bai and Shu Lien profess their feelings to another and both times interrupted indirectly by circumstances surrounding Li’s sword the Green Destiny. Could this magical sword be jealous of their love? I think so, the Green Destiny wants to claim Li and through events of the story seduces Jen to cause controversy and Li to pursuit of it.

Jen fascinated by stories of the Giang Hu underworld planted in her head at a young age by Jade Fox corrupts her reality. Jen rebels and steals the Green Destiny and is seduced by its power. Lo and Jens forbidden love intertwine throughout the story and fatally clash with the other love. Rebellious Jen runs away from her prearranged marriage to live the warrior’s life but finds out that she is not ready for it. I enjoyed watching Jen fight the big tough guys in the restaurant and beat them black and blue. The very next scene when these big beat up tough guys are crying to Li Mu Bai and Shu Lien about how she beat them up. Overall I enjoyed this movie, I understood the ending but didn’t like it, a double tragedy, the only ones left standing at the end was a lonely Shu Lien, a heartbroken Lo, and the Green Destiny.

Works Cited

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Dir. Ang Lee. Perf. Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen Chow Yun-Fat. 2000.

Response to: Capote (Revision 2)

Truman Capote is a very charismatic person, one who would say or do anything to win the hearts and minds of his audience. Capote cleverly manipulates people into revealing personal and poignant facts to him by revealing something personal and poignant about himself. He becomes an omnipotent character in the book he writes, a character that he never writes about in his book. He purposely takes himself out of the story, never mentions his involvement or his relationships. Capote deceives and manipulates everyone, from the police to the residents of Holcomb and Garden City and ultimately Perry Smith the convicted murderer, in order to gather tidbits of information to use as ammunition to write his book.

Capote’s attachment to Perry haunts him as he comes to realize that he shares the same kind of devastating childhood experiences with Perry. This becomes evident when Capote responds when Nelle Harper Lee questions him about his relationship with Perry: “It’s as if Perry and I started life in the same house, One day he stood up and walked out the back door while I walked out the front” (Futterman 69). Capote believes he could have become Perry if he had made the same choices that Perry made, and he sees himself in Perry. The fact of the matter is that Capote chose a different path, which leads me to believe that his obsession with Perry and his choices led to his creative and psychological destruction. Capote begins to manipulate himself into believing that he and Perry are alike and becomes emotionally attached to him.

The attention and affection that Capote desperately needed but that was denied to him by his mother haunted him. He saw the same ghosts in Perry that he felt inside himself. The lack of affection and attention from his mother deformed his personality, which became a powerful force behind his peculiarity. This unmet need for attention and affection forced him to satisfy it any way he could and he did so through his writings and his unusual behavior. It seems it was an addiction for him to receive attention from everyone good, bad or indifferent. I believe he enjoyed the challenge of manipulating people and forcing them to deal with him.

Even though Capote identifies with Perry, he further manipulates him to get the details he requires to finish his book. I think that there were two opposite but equal emotions that were at work inside of him. Capote reveals these emotions to Nelle Harper Lee at the end of her visit in Spain when he says, “Jack says I am using Perry, but he also thinks I fell in love with him when I was in Kansas. How both of those things can be true is beyond me” (Futterman 69). I think that Capote was using Perry but eventually empathized with him and began to see himself in Perry and wanted Perry to live. However, I think the manipulative and peculiar force inside Capote wanted to see Perry hang so he could finish his book and get the praise and attention that he desireed from his mother but received from his audience.

Capote’s decitful and manipulative view of the world dictated the last words spoken to Perry. Moments before Perry was executed with tears streaming down his face Capote squeeks, “I did everything I could…I truly did” (Futterman 104, 105). Capote tried to persuade himself at this moment, that he did everything he could to save Perry but knows that he did not. I think what finally broke Capote was seeing Perry hang. It would be devastating to watch a person hang even if one did not know him. I think what Capote saw when the floor of the Gallows dropped under Perry’s feet was the death of himself. The conflicting emotions raging inside of him corrupted his soul and led him to Alcholoism and eventually to his death.

Works Cited

Futterman, Dan. Capote. New York: NewMarket Press, 2006.

Response to: Capote (Revised)

Truman Capote is a very charismatic person; one who would say or do anything to win the hearts and minds of his audience. Capote cleverly manipulates people into revealing personal and poignant facts to him by revealing something personal and poignant about himself. He becomes an omnipotent character in the book he writes, a character that he never writes about in his book. He purposely takes himself out of the story, never mentions his involvement or his relationships. Capote deceives and manipulates everyone, from the police to the residents of Holcomb and Garden City and ultimately Perry Smith the convicted murderer, in order to gather tidbits of information to use as ammunition to write his book.

Capote’s attachment to Perry haunts him as he comes to realize that he shares the same kind of devastating childhood experiences with Perry. This becomes evident when Capote responds when Nelle Harper Lee questions him about his relationship with Perry: “It’s as if Perry and I started life in the same house, One day he stood up and walked out the back door while I walked out the front” (Futterman 69). Capote believes he could have become Perry if he had made the same choices that Perry made, and he sees himself in Perry. The fact of the matter is that Capote chose a different path, which leads me to believe that his obsession with Perry and his choices led to his creative and psychological destruction. Capote begins to manipulate himself into believing that he and Perry are alike and becomes emotionally attached to him.

The attention and affection that Capote desperately needed but that was denied to him by his mother haunted him. He saw the same ghosts in Perry that he felt inside himself. The lack of affection and attention from his mother deformed his personality, which became a powerful force behind his peculiarity. This unmet need for attention and affection forced him to satisfy it any way he could and he did so through his writings and his unusual behavior. It seems it was an addiction for him to receive attention from everyone good, bad or indifferent. I believe he enjoyed the challenge of manipulating people and forcing them to deal with him.

Even though Capote identifies with Perry, he further manipulates him to get the details he requires to finish his book. I think that there were two opposite but equal emotions that were at work inside of him. Capote reveals these emotions to Nelle Harper Lee at the end of her visit in Spain when he says, “Jack says I am using Perry, but he also thinks I fell in love with him when I was in Kansas. How both of those things can be true is beyond me” (Futterman 69). I think that Capote was using Perry but eventually empathized with him and began to see himself in Perry and wanted Perry to live. However, I think the manipulative and peculiar force inside Capote wanted to see Perry hang so he could finish his book and get the praise and attention that he desireed from his mother but received from his audience.

Capote’s decitful and manipulative view of the world dictated the last words spoken to Perry. Moments before Perry was executed with tears streaming down his face Capote squeeks, “I did everything I could…I truly did” (Futterman 104, 105). Capote persuades himself at this moment, actually convinced that he did everything he could to save Perry but knowing that he did not. I think what finally broke Capote was seeing Perry hang. It would be devastating to watch a person hang even if they knew them or not. I think what Capote saw when the floor of the Gallows dropped under Perrys feet was the death of himself. The conflicting emotions raging inside of him corrupted his soul and led him to Alcholoism and eventually to his death.

Works Cited

Futterman, Dan. Capote. New York: NewMarket Press, 2006.

Response to “The Kite Runner”

I was disgusted when I read that Amir did nothing to help Hassan that day in the alley. I could understand his fear, but I can not understand his lack of action to help his friend. The outcome and the decisions that Amir makes in this story, stem from one character choice not to show affection toward his son. Amir longing for affection did anything he could to win approval from his father. Baba didn’t give it that often, and when he did Amir had to make sacrifices for it. I, like Amir, ached for my father’s attention and love when I was a boy; I acted out, behaved badly, and got into trouble. I understand how Amir felt growing up. But I never did what Amir did in this story. I felt the fear the Amir felt, when Baba stood up to the Russian soldier, and I cried when Baba died. The author tells this story very well, I wonder if this is his story.

Response to The Kite Runner, chapters 19-25

The confrontation in chapter seven between Assef and Hassan in the alley was disturbing and shocking. I was disappointed but not surprised by Amir’s cowardice. However, as I thought about it, Amir has gone through life having other people fight his battles for him, so could I really expect him to stand up to a person like Assef? The answer is no; throughout the rest of the story Amir is haunted by the choices he has made. I was saddened to hear that Hassan was killed, and shocked to find out that Hassan and Amir were brothers. It made me see Baba in a different light; it made me think of him as a Hypocrite. In some sadistic way I was happy that Amir got his “ass” kicked by Assef, he finally took the beating that he should have taken for Hassan in the Alley, It is Ironic how and by whom Assef become one eyed. Amir in my eyes redeemed himself, going to Kabul, risking his life for his nephew, and then stepping up taking responsibility, finally being a man of character and conviction. I thought the ending was a little drawn out, it was a touching ending when Amir ran the kite for Sohrab.

Response to “No Name Woman”

I am flabbergasted to hear how the villagers in this story treated the pregnant women, even if she did get pregnant from a man that wasn’t her husband. What was even more shocking was how the family just forgot her, dismissed that she was ever alive, after she killed herself and her baby. No mourning for the lost of a family member, no sadness for the lost life of a child, just disgust for the disgrace she brought to the family. That is the difference I think between American culture and other cultures. In America it is easier to forgive the wrongs of others. Family is more important than how something looks or is perceived by others. In America “blood is thicker than water”. The unforgiving Chinese culture is harsh on its women; I do not see how a culture could treat women that way, as servants or second class citizens. I am glad I read this story, it increased my awareness of the societal mores that other cultures have. I am glad to live in the United States where everyone has the opportunity to be accepted as who they are and women are considered to be the mothers of humanity