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One Step to the Next Question

Ten-year old Mike Burns remembers at the beginning of THE FIRE ESCAPE BELONGS IN BROOKLYN...the fear...the questions...decision about whether to take that next step. He looks down the fire escape, through the mysterious gap between him and the sidewalk below. One step is all it takes to move from one question to...what?

Dangling from the last rung of the fire escape, staring down at the short drop to the scruffy Brooklyn sidewalk below, afraid

to let go, my ten-year-old brain raising fears in the night (Suppose I slip when my feet hit? Suppose it’s further down than it

looks? Suppose I land on my face?), my twin cousin, Sally-Boy, calling to me from below (“Come on, Mikey, I done it, so you

can do it! It’s easy! You just gotta let go, you drop, you land. Let go, Mikey! Let go!”), so I finally do it, I reluctantly release my

fingers, I feel the brief emptiness of space and summer’s suddenly cool air, I fight back a brief gasp when I fear the sidewalk

has disappeared, and then my sneakers absorb the impact of the concrete, my knees bend slightly, I hold my balance, and

Sally’s laughter echoes, “Hahahaha! Mikey, we did it, Mikey, we did it! We made it all the way down! Hahahahaha! I knew we

could do it, I knew it!” and I laugh with him as we punch each other lightly, and then the haunting blackness of the street

hovers except for a few flickering lights in the tenements surrounding us and a distant street lamp shining its yellow-tinged

glow, so I sit on the warm sidewalk with him, doing nothing, talking the idle chatter of two ten-year-olds enjoying the rush of

having broken yet another rule, and I look up at the fire escape lining the outside of the apartments, all the way to the top

and beyond into the starry sky, and suddenly I think, but I do not ask, “Where do we go now, Sally-Boy?” 

THE FIRE ESCAPE BELONGS IN BROOKLYN in paperback and ebook: 

copyright: chuck cascio; all rights reserved

This Is My Father...

dad

      This is my father, Morris (Modesto) Cascio. He was born on August 19, 1919. He passed away far too young in 1994. I think about him every day, but recent events in our country have brought him more to mind than usual. Why? Well, I keep imagining how he would be reacting, what he would be saying, what his hopes and fears would be for the lovely great grandchildren that he never got to know.

     See, he was an Italian kid off the streets of New York whose name was changed from Modesto to Morris by the school system as a way of assimilating immigrants in those days. Along with his siblings, Dad stood in bread lines during the Great Depression to bring food back to the tenement in which his family lived. Once a week, the family shared a dessert--a tiny cake that my immigrant grandfather would cut into six equally small pieces so each member of the family could enjoy a bit of sweetness.

     World War II was swelling when Dad graduated from Grover Cleveland High School in Brooklyn. There was no money for college, so he did some work as a photographer, and then just before entering the Army, he married my mom, a woman he had know for several years, the younger sister of two guys who were friends of his. The story goes that he charmed her by approaching her when she was sixteen and asking her suavely, "Feel like a soda?" That was a line she never forgot, and in later years she admitted that her instinct was to provide a smart-aleck response, but she was enamored at the time and said, "Sure." The rest, for our family, is history.

     Dad entered the army, was trained in communications in various locations around the country, my mother traveling with him--two kids off the Brooklyn streets finding themselves in places like Kansas, Texas, and California. But then my father was sent overseas to the "Burma, China, India Theater," stationed in a remote outpost in the Himalayan Mountains, channeling secret communications with a small group of other soldiers. He sometimes flew with the Flying Tigers, delivering important documents to various outposts.

     Many years later, when talking with me or my brother or sister or anyone else about his army experiences, he never bragged, he never complained about the emotional pain of being removed from his young wife, he never spoke of the hardships of being as removed from the busy streets of his youth as he could have ever imagined.

     No. Dad, like thousands of others, did what he had to do. He fought for democracy. He fought against hatred. He fought the dictators who were trying to mold the world in their image when, he knew from personal experience, that the world is made of many images, many colors, many beliefs. Dad believed instinctively that all that matters in the end, whether in a Brooklyn tenement or the Himalayan Mountains, is how you carry out your beliefs, how you treat others, to what degree you value fairness, equality, opportunity.

     After the war, my dad, one of my uncles, and two of their Brooklyn pals all took jobs with the government in DC, careers they valued, work they saw as important, roles they took pride in. Dad was no fool--he was not afraid to question those in power, but he also knew that in that post-War era, many of the people in power were inclined--for whatever reason--to listen. Dad, and others who experienced life events similar to those he experienced, had an instinct about what was essential to maintain the joys of life for all--joys such as the opera music that floated through our home every Sunday as Mom prepared an Italian dinner, or the dancing that he would do with Mom complete with moves that made others on the dance floor stop and applaud, or the powerful affection he was not afraid to display openly for his family, friends, and anyone he felt was helping to move the world in a more understanding and equitable direction. He did not judge by political affiliation, race, creed, or any societal designation. He valued actions.

     Once, when a friend of his criticized the fact that an African American family had moved into an all-white neighborhood of Vienna, VA, my father calmly looked at his friend and said, "That man is moving into a bigger house than you or I have and in a better neighborhood. Instead of asking if his neighbors will associate with him, you should be wondering if he would want to associate with us."

     So these days, as I read the childish tweets of a vindictive, small-minded president whose actions fuel the hatred that lingers in our population, a president who denigrates the very people who work diligently day and night in the interest of all people in this country (as my father, uncle, and their Brooklyn pals did), a president who does not have the courage to acknowledge that he was born with a sliver spoon in his mouth but not everyone was, I think increasingly of my father and the men and women of his generation, the ones who helped save the world from the very dictatorial actions and societal hatred that we are now seeing arise in our own country.

     Dad was not one to make big pronouncements, so he would probably not have said, "This is no time for silence," but he was a man of action and belief and he would have helped figure out a way to promote equity, empathy, sympathy, and understanding, even if it was just on an individual, personal level. Even if it just meant saying, as he sat with friends listening to opera or jazz, or as he rested from a dance with Mom, or as he toiled into the wee hours of the morning in his CIA office, something along the lines of what he said to his friend that day about the African American family. Dad would have helped spread the word of fairness through modest, meaningful actions, actions learned from a life whose roots he never forgot, always valued, and used as a way to direct his own life.  

     Sitting in his backyard just a year or two before he was diagnosed with lung cancer, Dad was savoring the last bite of a steak he had expertly cooked on his grill. My mom, my wife, and I chuckled as he made a show of slowly savoring it, swallowing it, and sipping the last bit of his wine. When finished, he pushed gently away from the table, looked at his empty plate, and said, "That steak was so good, I hated to see it end." 

     I thought then, as I think now, "Yes, Dad, exactly...it was too good to end."

 Copyright Chuck Cascio. All rights reserved.

Ode to a Golf Ball in Ireland!

Ahhhh...the joys of playing something called "golf" in Ireland inspired the following ode after two friends and I lost approximately three dozen golf balls in four rounds of golf! With deep apologies to great Irish poets like Yeats, Heaney, Joyce and others...

Ode to a Golf Ball in Ireland
By
Chuck Cascio
You were good to me
This is true
We played together elsewhere.
You landed on flat grounds
I found you in the woods
You buried yourself in sand
You wound your way home
I bathed you clean and watched you gleam.
But now, my trusted friend,
As I place you on your throne
Ireland's cruel winds howl
The ocean laughs
And tiny raindrops splatter my face
Though the sun shines and
A canyon looms below,
Housing creatures that mock our effort,
And countless traps of sand surround our hoped-for destination,
We know the cruel fate that does await...
I will swing
You will fly
I will curse
You will curve
I will sigh
You will disappear 
Drowned
Eaten
Lost
So I say to you, dear friend,
Thank you for your service
Your friendship
Your dimpled presence.
You will be missed
And now, go meet your destiny
One shared by thousands of other balls
Buried in the cemeteries Ireland calls golf courses. 

(copyright Chuck Cascio, all rights reserved)

A TEACHER'S COMMENTS ON BETSY DEVOS

NOTE: The following commentary was written by my son, Marc Cascio,a veteran teacher in the Fairfax County (VA) Public Schools. It is printed here with his permission.

     The saddest thing about Betsy DeVos getting voted in as Secretary of Education is that it doesn't surprise me at all. Thevery idea that someone who has no public education experience whatsoever should be in charge of public education isindicative of how many people in our nation seem to feel about educators.

     I watch some of the extraordinary young teachers I work with busting their asses constantly and can't help but think they should be doing something else. They should be doing something where their superhuman work ethic is nurtured, cultivated, and rewarded both financially and emotionally. They should be doing something where their creativity isn't stifled by having to prepare for the next standardized test, and where they can express their individuality through their work without having to acquiesce to the demands of a "team" for fear that parents will raise hell because the number of assignments or the amount of work isn't completely even from room to room. But mostly, they shouldn't have to endure the ultimate insult: being told that a moron who has never taught is fit to hold the highest rank in their profession.

     DeVos's attainment of that highest rank isn't the worst thing that will happen to public education: The worst thing will be the fallout, when many of the extraordinary young teachers I was just writing about give up and leave the profession in droves.

© Marc Cascio. All rights reserved

Comments? Please send to chuckwrites@yahoo.com

Interview with Books Go Social

Books Go Social, a very effective online book promotion organization, interviewed me recently about writing in general and The Fire Escape Stories in particular. The interview gave me the chance to reflect on a number of factors that have influenced me in my writing career...and a couple of unique situations, including a surprise lunch interview with Elizabeth Taylor, that go hand-in-hand with this crazy profession! Take a look for yourself at booksgosocial.com/2017/01/04/the-fire-escape-stories-an-interview-with-author-chuck-cascio/ .   

Also...I am pleased and proud to announce that I have been invited by the Reston Historic Trust and Museum to read from, discuss, and sign copies of The Fire Escape Stories, Volumes I & II on Thursday, January 19, from 7PM-9PM.  The event will be held at the Reston (VA)  Museum, 1639 Washington Plaza on Reston's iconic Lake Anne. Bring your copy of the book(s), or purchase one or both volumes there. Hope to see you on the 19th!