Monday, April 7, 2014

"Best Of Monk" is on Facebook

We're running the Best of Monk In The Cellar Part 1 on Facebook.  It's a chance to sample the story.
Click here:

Sunday, October 13, 2013


No, we're not asleep, just working on too many other projects.  We'll continue the story  in a little while.  

Meanwhile, enjoy Part 1.  Part 2 is no longer available.    But stay tuned because a modified Part 2 is next on our list of projects.  You'll see why I needed to modify the second story when you read the new Post Nos. 168 - 171.

Part I begins with Post No. 1, here:

CLICK HERE to read the new Post No. 168


Friday, January 6, 2012

171. End Notes

You may read this at some date in the future, but not soon.  I’ve stopped blogging for a while and instead write in this diary when I feel the need. I find the Internet to be too time consuming and I’m busy with other projects as well as answering the phone.  People I’ve met in the past 20 years who read the blog seem to want to call me up and tell me how much fun it was to sit and talk with me at the drop-in center or on a bench in town or in the hot dog place where I work a couple of days each week scrubbing pots and pans and continuing to work on my Spanish.

We’re still listed in the phone book as Our Lady’s Monastery of West Saugerties.  No more Ardent Brothers, St. Anne and M&M were shut down by a Dublin commission and now live in England.  They are lucky to not be sitting in a Dublin jail.  I haven’t heard from either of them and such may be part of their agreement with County Cork’s prosecution solicitor.

I haven’t seen Sally Prendel since the night of the fire.  She has written me a note every once in while, however.  She married a man from Woodstock who stole her heart and gave her babies.  He is a fairly successful musician in the area and the two manage a small recording studio while she continues to sell real estate occasionally.  This particular note I will always keep.

“Dear Jesse,
You ask me what I do with my life.  I spend a good deal of time with my children and often take them with me on walks in the woods. I pass by the two old stumps from time to time, but have never seen anyone seated on them since the afternoon I walked by, heard a noise and turned to find you sitting there. I sometimes wonder if indeed our meeting was my dream, but you have said it was yours.  I also wonder if indeed it was a dream. For two strangers to happen upon each other in the woods and be moved to confess everything about themselves, the minute details of their joys and worries, is indeed miraculous. I walked back down the mountain trail that day, troubled but convinced I had met my guardian angel. I have since decided such a notion is too complicated or too simple, maybe both.

Not long ago on a soft summer afternoon, as I passed the stumps I heard a small sound and turned to see absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. I sat down on the damp surface of one stump while my little boy knelt on the forest floor twenty feet away and scooped up armfuls of leaves, tossing them into the air. My four year old daughter climbed up on the other stump.

“Mommy, there’s a word here on the seat,” she said.

I stood, took a step and looked down.

“Where do you see it, Jessica?” I said.

“Over here, near the back,” came the answer.

Crudely dug out with a knife was one

word, “Immanuel.”

“What does it say, Mommy?” she asked.

I was unable to respond for a moment. Then I told her, “It says He is with us, honey.”


I remembered your phrase, “a manifestation of God personalized for my feeble mind,” but I told Jessica the word had been left by her guardian angel.

Is a guardian angel real or someone we’ve made up? Maybe it is woven into the fabric of who we are to each other as humans. Or could it be a manifestation for our feeble minds? Does it matter? Maybe it’s just part of the dance.  Love, Sally.”

Julio turned legitimate and joined the Xaverian Brothers, finished college and taught high school in Malden, MA for three years before joining a mission in Kenya, where he remains today.  I asked him a year ago if he remembered the smell of orange jasmine.  He laughed and said he tries not to.

Lance’s lawyer helped me to create some kind of legal entity where I administer the money discovered in the accounts on the day we drove to the bank in the village.  We’ve changed banks. 

The third letter I mailed for Agnes before the fire, the envelope addressed to a solicitor in Fermoy, named me the sole heir of Agnes’ personal estate, a portfolio of bonds from the original Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company, purchased by his grandfather and later held in trust for Agnes (Michael John Moriarty) by his family’s law firm when he entered the Ardent Brothers many years before.  It’s market value at the time of his death was somewhere in excess of $4,000,000 USD.   For this money, Lance and I became co-executors and within five years he doubled its value.  The fund is run as a charity and benefits a wide variety of those with temporary financial needs.

The fourth and final letter from Agnes arrived at the office of a local attorney wrapped in a note requesting the woman send it to Jesse after Agnes’ death.  She promptly forgot it until running into me in the hot dog parlor while I cleaned her table.

Agnes wrote:
My dear brother in Christ, Jessica.  I am not sorry  for what I’ve done, despite your fretting and whining. I have harmed only myself.  As for your uncomfortableness with my opinion of your behaviors, I was only the light shining on the person you had become.  I am about to saddle you with more responsibility, this time financial.  Perhaps you feel I should let you alone and leave you to your old age, but it’s precisely because you are coming closer to death year by year that I intend to goad you even from here, wherever I have wound up.  Before you die, you need to amount to something.  I’m sure that was  your intention when you were a young man.  It remains His intention for you to this day.  I have come to believe that God requires nothing heroic of us, let alone saintly.  He wants only for us to leave the sidelines and to join the dance.  This may be your last invitation.  Don’t refuse as I did.

Aside from your proclivity to run and hide, a trait so remindful of myself, I thank you for being a splendid abbot to me.  Your Brother in Christ’s Love, Agnes.”

The brothers decided to remain in Saugerties.  We bought an old farmhouse in Blue Mountain and five of us still reside there today: Izzy, Bouncer, Beep Beep, Kickstart and myself.  Harpo died a year after the fire and the other brothers drifted off to one mission pursuit or another.  Two, Headless and Raiser, are no longer religious brothers.  Both are married and have children.

Modern chemistry has saved Beep Beep in the form of effective new drugs and as long as he takes them he is fairly normal. He hasn’t taken his clothes off except for showers and bed in the past three years. He works part time at the little market in Blue Mountain.  He tells me his favorite customer is a trucker named Sally who stops occasionally.  She’s a Red Sox fan.  When Beep talks about her, Bouncer gets very quiet.  I hear the toot-toot of an air horn from time to time when a truck passes the house.

Terd entered the Capuchin Monastery in France and has never been heard from since.  I hope he is launched on his true path, but I can’t say I’d be terribly surprised to see him again staring in our kitchen window.

And me, I’m just getting older.  I went up on the roof of this house once, but the view from down here in the valley is boring and my knees aren’t as trustworthy they used to be.  Besides, this house has a terrific cellar!  Laid up stone and lots of nooks and crannies.  For an old house, the cellar is quite well sealed and stays cool in the summer and warm from the furnace in the winter.  Tapioca and I just love it.

                                           F I N I S

170. Never Again

At some point early in my childhood my father lived for a year a few doors down the street, and both he and my mother went to their graves without explaining why.  It’s been more than sixty years, but I remember the first summer morning my mother let me walk down to his house by myself.  I started just after breakfast.  The katydids were still asleep in the trees.  Cool air had settled overnight on the grass and wrapped the neighborhood in a cloak of moist smells. 

The early sun cast my shadow on the sidewalk up ahead,  pointing me toward my destination.  At age four these were the first important steps of my life.  I hadn’t slept the night before, excited to be on my way when the sun came up.  I knew the route to
Dad’s: straight down the sidewalk until I stood in front of the old brown house that could be seen from our front porch a block away.  I had been allowed this far from home only with my mother or older brother.  Now, like a novice swimmer paddling farther away from the dock,  I felt a nervousness in my gut just short of fright, and I almost turned back to where I knew my mother would surely be waiting.   But I looked down at my feet and willed them to keep walking. 

When I raised my eyes again, I saw him deep inside his doorway, waiting for me, watching me.  When my courage began to falter, he could tell.  He stepped forward out of the shadow to show himself more clearly just when I was about to turn back a second time.  My father wore a shirt in style that year with large panes of pastels, blue and pink and yellow and green, colors I associated with safety the rest of my life. 

My father could encourage me, because he knew me well.  As a child,  I sometimes wondered if he read my mind.  Later in life I recognized we had almost identical ways of thinking and brooding, doubting and procrastinating.   Mentally, we might have been twins born thirty years apart.

I  wasted much of my youth in a manner that would scandalize a modern parent, intent as they are in ensuring their child's efficiency and productivity.  When I look back on my high school days, I see misty mornings and lazy afternoons, with time on my hands during the long stretch of summers.  The early hours of a day held so much promise, but my young fires burned hot and quick, leaving me drained, spent on myself.  There were myriad mornings in July and August when the hours lay before me full of interesting tasks … things to write, to draw, to plan, to accomplish.  But as the day warmed and the katydids raised their whining voices in praise of the hot sun, I squandered my time, letting it drift away until I burned with disappointment.  And having wasted the morning, I would fritter away the afternoon, first in self pity and later dreaming about the wonderful day coming tomorrow and all the projects I would finish. 

My father didn’t push me.  I was fifteen before I wondered why he never complained about my lethargy.  Perhaps he remembered his own youth and knew I would survive, that inside me a small clock was set to ring at the right time.  And it did, although by then my father was gone. 

I was still a young man  when he died.  I stood beside his bed as he sighed for the last time.  His soul got up and left for I knew not where.  I felt as I had years before as a little boy when I sat  crying on my mother’s porch in the hot afternoon sun,  hearing the mocking katydids as I stared down the block and wished my father would come home.

After Dad’s grave-side service, workmen stood by ready to roll up the fake grass and lower the casket into the earth.  I didn’t care if they waited all afternoon,  I wanted a few more minutes with my father.  I needed to say things to him I had neglected, because he would never be here again.  But I had no words. I thought only of that early morning when he watched as I walked to his house, and how he stayed in the shadows until he was sure I couldn’t go on without a little help.  Of everything he ever did for me, I remember that as the most caring.

As a chilly spring wind blew through the rows of headstones,  I walked up and placed my hand on the casket.  To the east, the clouds broke on the horizon and scattered into pinks and warm greens and golds.  Inexplicably, I heard my father shout and I swung around to the west where his voice had come from.

In the distance, over the roof of the little chapel and beyond the tall pines that circled the cemetery,  I saw Eternity in a sunset emblazoned on a sky of deep indigo blue, and knew my father had gone there ahead of me. A majestic bank of purple clouds rolled up and away from the fiery sun into the blackness of the gathering clouds above me. The harsh, dark colors spoke of danger, power, birth and death. Long overdue, my nativity as a man flooded me in an  exhilaration of tingling from head to toe. A strong spirit like a woman beckoned me away from the boyhood skies behind me to an inevitable life ahead under a tumultuous expanse. I could have refused, but my psyche burst from my soul and my head spun with delirium at the possibilities to be lived.

Born in that moment was the day I call my life, a bright morning of promise and an afternoon of achievement, love, loss and times of failure.  I often forgot I had the same mind as my father, but with different opportunities.  Still, I would make many of his mistakes. 

I seldom noticed the slanting sun telling me the time was getting late.  The hours rolled on and on and seemed not to be numbered, but they were.

My day has now reached its evening and someday when the purple sunset rolls up to crown my life, thundering upon me as a great cloud of blackness, I will dread it and I will have no words. But I will have to accept it is finished. It will be time to leave and, like my father, I will never be here again.


The Call - Celtic Women

168. Trail's End

Bouncer and I got off the Thruway at the Utica exit and proceeded south to the Cornhill section of the city.

“The first place I want to see is my old neighborhood,” I said with quite a bit of enthusiasm.  My mood had lifted tremendously since leaving Saugerties a little over two hours before and I was excited about seeing where I lived as a boy and also the house in which my grandparents lived when I was quite young..

But what a tragedy Utica has become.  We scooted south down Genesee Street and promptly got lost somewhere over Bagg's Square, which isn't really there any longer.  It's somewhere beneath a traffic ramp that flies over a few hundred years of history and lands at the foot of John St. You get dumped on John St. only if you aim for Genesee St. and vice versa. I wondered if that was the city’s self constructed omen.

We drove up through an empty intersection that was called the  Busy Corner.  The Hotel Utica sat quietly off to our right a few blocks away. I wanted to stop the car in the middle of what used to be a very busy thoroughfare, get out and shout, "It's OK, everyone can come out now! We won't hurt you! We bring greetings from another planet."  But Bouncer talked me out of it. 

We continued up Genesee St., myself driving. 

“Have you seen that tractor trailer that’s been following us since we got off the Thruway,” Bouncer asked.

“Not really,” I said. I was too busy watching the storefronts glide by as I hoped to recognize at least a few names amng the businesses.  There were none that I remembered.  Bouncer  scrunched down in his seat and looked behind us.

“It’s an older woman wearing a Boston Red Sox hat, “he said.

“That’s nice, I replied,” but I wasn’t really listening.  Where the hell was that ice cream shop we used to go to after school when I was a sophomore?

At the top of the hill, we turned left on Eagle Street and that's when I began to realize the Cornhill before my eyes in no way resembled the Cornhill I remembered.   Half of the homes were gone, burned down I had heard, some by residents and some by the city.

How does that happen? An entire section of the city that once housed working men and their families, church goers for the most part who kept regular hours, who took vacations in the summer, bought books for their kids as well as movie tickets and tried to raise them to be responsible adults. How did it all disappear, to be replaced by poor families, many of whom accepted social welfare benefits as a right rather than a loan? What rights did the current residents possess that men and woman of our parents’ generation did not have?  What society or government had allowed it to happen? And why?

We stopped the car on Steuben Street in front of my  grandfather's small bungalow. The man had died there in 1948 and Grandma came to live us. A black man sat on the front porch. I saw him reach his hand under his jacket and leave it there as the two of us got out of the car.

"Hi, we're religious brothers," I said unnecessarily, since we were wearing our robes. "We stopped to look around. My grandfather lived in your house," and I waved to indicate the house.

The man on the porch said nothing, but continued to look from one to the other of us.

"Many years ago," I continued. "They lived here back in the 1940's. And Thirties and Twenties ...."

No response came from the porch.  I looked up and down the steet and wondered when was the last time it was filled at mid day with children playing.  Girls drawing hopscotch diagrams on sidewalks and boys darting in and out of driveways and down the sidewalks on their bikes.

"What do you want?" the man finally spoke.

Under his breath Bouncer said, “Gun, Jesse.”

"Uh huh,” I answered.  Then louder to the man on the porch, “Nothing, Thank You." I was watching where the man’s hand had disappeared under his jacket and I didn't plan to take my eyes off that spot.

"Well, Thanks," I said. “We’ll be going now.” 

It was then I heard the tractor trailer engine roar to life and an air horn begin to blast.

“Take this with you!” screamed the man on the porch and I could see something in his hand glinting in the sunlight that I assumed was a gun.  Bouncer and I stood frozen as the truck pulled up behind us.

The man on the porch swung his warm around behind him as if he was winding up for the greatest baseball pitch of his life.  When his arm came down he caught his gun hand with the other and stood in the classic firing pose, slightly crouched, arms extended out in front of him, aiming at us.

A terrible sadness crept over me as I watched the agent of my destruction prepare my death and I could not tear my eyes away. Behind me air exploded out of the brake cylinders and the pads slammed down inside the wheels.  Bouncer stood slightly ahead of me and I could see he had turned to look at the truck.

“Holy Shit,” was all he said.

The man on the porch fired off three shots in quick succession and I heard at least one of them strike metal behind me.

“Oh, Jesus, Jesus,” Bouncer was murmuring.  We were both still standing and I didn’t think either of us was hit. The man on the porch turned and ran in the front door of the house.

The sound of a truck door slamming behind me brought me back to earth. The tractor trailer crunched into first gear as I turned around and it slowly began to move away down the street.

“Did you see her?  Is she OK?”  I asked Bouncer.

“Was it a woman?”  he asked.

“What did you see, Bouncer?”  I asked  as I grabbed his arm and turned him toward me.

“I don’t know,” was his reply.

I tried a few times to get Bouncer to describe what he saw that afternoon on Steuben Street, but he would shrug his shoulders and remain quiet.  I’m convinced he witnessed something sacred and indescribable. 

“I don’t want to ever see anything like that again,” he said, out of the blue, as we were returning from the village not long ago.  I immediately knew what he was referring to.

“You probably won’t,” I said.  “We always worry about events repeating, but it turns out the important things in life only happen once.”

“That’s probably true,” Bouncer replied.

“I think so,” I said, “the good and the bad.”

Back In The USA

167. Stand

I’m glad McDonald’s no longer charges for the use of their WiFi.  As I sit here with Bouncer on his second large chocolate shake and me typing away, I’m happy to be able to enter my thoughts on the laptop within an hour of my having them.  That’s kind of scary and not necessarily useful to anyone reading this.

I feel moved to continue to pour out my thoughts on the theme of being a player.  There came a time when I withdrew from life’s battle and it coincided with my arrival in West Saugerties. I thought I was enacting a grand sacrifice by living a life of total obedience, but what I really did was refuse to follow my unique path. Even an obedient monk has to live his own life. But I wanted to sit back and let an abbot lead me. Sparky knew how to lead a man, but he also knew I was still an adolescent in my early thirties. He died before he could finish raising me.

I think Agnes saw me for what I was, and still am on many days. Despite his own problems ... or maybe because of them ... Agnes saw a soul wasting himself well into his sixties. He did not let me get away with much, I remember. He put me in the crosshairs of situations needing action a number of times. His final act of coaxing was his plea to let him die the night of the fire. One last time he asked me to stop hiding my head deep inside the cowl atop my monk's robe and to instead just be a brother. To do what I knew to be right without anyone's approval. To stand alone and be a man.

166. The Trail

By the time our SUV descended to the river and was passing through Canajoharie where the Beech Nut Baby Food factory used to be, I was busy thinking nostalgically of the valley and remembering my time growing up within its borders.  Only a few Brothers were aware, if they remembered my mentioning it, but Utica is my home town.

The visit seemed like a good idea when I awoke this morning, but as the sun climbed higher in the sky I began to wonder what good would it do to visit Utica and bring up all those old memories that couldn’t possibly matter worth a hill of beans.  Lima beans.  We had no real business there, after all.  Utica to me was simply a figment of my past.

When I live in the past, I attempt to force fit myself to a reality that didn't exist. I have visited Utica as an adult two or three times since I left it for good in early 1960's. Like most people, I've gone back to the neighborhood of my younger years, found all the dimensions much smaller than I remembered and then sat and read the local newspaper and wondered why I didn't recognize any of the names printed anywhere in its pages.

It came to me that the Utica I knew no longer exists.  It never existed. What I remember is a small city as seen through the eyes of a child, where I thought I knew or at least had heard of almost everyone and had been down every side street and byway and heard all there was to hear and knew all there was to know about the town. But in truth, I knew very little about the city, existing as I did in my tiny child's world. And to be honest, as an adolescent my attention was focused down the railroad tracks that ran through our neighborhood as I thought of the wide world out there ripe for the picking, of growing up and driving a convertible and dating pretty girls. Utica may have been happening all around me, but my head was in the clouds. It's a wonder I saw anything at all while a movie constantly played in my mind of a young man climbing his mountain and reaching the top.

Somewhere up the trail I found challenges to overcome and later realized there were some I would never surmount. Sometimes I would back down a hill and find another route around it. Other times I would not accept defeat and would bang my head against a rock trying to move it out of my path. Sometimes I learned from my experiences. Other times I didn't. The revelations of my limitations were thankfully parsed out to my awareness slowly by a kind and loving God.