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the fire escape stories

  • ENLIGHTENED...by "BLINDED BY THE LIGHT"

    ENLIGHTENED...by BLINDED BY THE LIGHT

    By

    Chuck Cascio

         My students were adamant: "You have to listen to this guy, Mr. C.! You love Dylan, so you have to hear this guy!" One young woman waved a cassette tape in my face.

         Me: "Whoever this guy is, he is not Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan is a poet, the voice of the heart and of the conscience."

         Students: "But, Mr. C., you always tell us to try new things! You always say: 'Trying new things broadens your thinking and creativity.' So come on!”

         It was 1973 and I was a young English and Journalism teacher at George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church, VA. I loved my students' reactions when I had them analyze lyrics by Dylan and apply them to the socio-political climate of the time, or when I would play a Beach Boys song and ask them something seemingly bizarre like, “Equate their harmonies with the textured flow of a Dickinson poem.” At first, they would look at me confused, skeptical, but gradually they would dig in and they would come up with analogies I never dreamed of. Now, they were convinced, it was my turn to grow.

         So I relented: “Okay, so who is it that you want me to listen to? This ‘Dylan Equivalent?' "

         They did not waste a second. A cassette player appeared, the  tape was snapped in, and the entire class stood in a circle, smiling in anticipation as they awaited my reaction.

         The first sounds I heard from the recording were surprisingly appealing--a couple of engaging guitar riffs, a subtle drumbeat, another guitar floating through, hinting at something different. A few seconds passed and I was interested--not yet hooked, but interested. Then I heard the raspy, almost whispered words…

         "Sandy, the fireworks are hailin' over little Eden tonight

         Forcin' a light into all those stony faces left stranded on this fourth of July..."

    …and just two lines in, I knew I had to hear the rest. I listened intently, while my students nudged one another and some softly sang along with Bruce Springsteen's "Fourth of July, Asbury Park."

         My students did what they knew they could do--they hooked me on Bruce, and over the years I have thought often about that classroom experience (and many others)—and about how much we all have to learn by listening, looking, sharing. 

         That day, and those feelings, rushed back recently when my wife and I went to see the movie Blinded By the Light, which is based on the true story of a young Pakistani man facing the racism of late 1980s England. A friend turns the young man on to Springsteen, and his life is changed by The Boss's lyrics and music. 

         In the movie, Springsteen’s songs contribute to the young man’s development of personal strength. He experiences new insights into society. His thinking is influenced by many of Springsteen's lyrics, including one that especially hits home with him…and me… from the song "The Price You Pay": 

              “Now they'd come so far and they'd waited so long

             Just to end up caught in a dream where everything goes wrong

             Where the dark of night holds back the light of the day

             And you've gotta stand and fight for the price you pay…”

         I won't go into what are, to me, the rather obvious applications those particular lines have to life today. But it makes me think back to the 1970s when the kids I taught were experiencing a continuing era of overt racism, conflict over segregation versus desegregation, worldwide economic turmoil, a foreign war that was not formally termed a “war” by politicians of the time, talks of impeaching the president and more...and I wonder:   

         Exactly how far have we come? 

         Those kids in my classroom found a reality in the songs of Springsteen, and they shared that reality with one another and, fortunately,  with me. But they also heard and shared an element of change and a sense that life is fleeting, that people must determine what is right and what they want to pursue, and that the opportunity for personal or social change always exists…though sometimes with a price.

         Sure, they might metaphorically catch their shirts, as “Fourth of July, Asbury Park” says, on that "tilt-a-whirl down on the south beach drag" that "kept me spinnin'/I didn't think I'd ever get off…" but there is also this bit of hope at the end of the song:

              “…the aurora is rising behind us

             This pier lights our carnival life forever

             Oh, love me tonight and I promise I'll love you forever…”

         None of this is to imply that Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan or some singer-songwriter today has all of the answers to the looming socio-political issues we face or to the vast personal questions today’s youths confront. But the movie Blinded By the Light  emphasizes the importance of capturing the elements of hope and change, grabbing onto them, and not being afraid to “stand and fight for the price you pay.”

         Our natural instinct is to hope that the price we pay is not too high and that what we pay for will have a lasting positive effect for us and for all. As Springsteen warns in his song "Better Days," we shouldn't be "just sittin' around waitin' for my life to begin/While it was all just slippin' away." 

         I don’t know what happened to most of those students I had all those years ago, the ones who felt comfortable enough to have me listen to Springsteen, knowing that I would be captivated by The Boss. I do hope that they are all and that they still enjoy his music, that they also see how his words apply to today’s world, and that they have lived with this simple lyric in mind from Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark”:

              “You can’t start a fire without a spark.”

         If you want to rekindle that fire, go see Blinded By the Light. It brings back memories, but more important, it serves as a reminder that art can spark meaningful thought, and that we are all responsible for starting our own fires.

    Copyright: Chuck Cascio. All rights reserved.

  • Free Previews of THE FIRE ESCAPE SERIES

    Summer's gone. Fall's looming. Time to find some moving, thought-provoking books for the months ahead. Allow me to humbly suggest that you do this for FREE:

    TAKE A WALK ON A BROOKLYN FIRE ESCAPE...SEE WHERE IT LEADS!

    With more than 100 5-star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads combined, the three books in THE FIRE ESCAPE SERIES will make you laugh, cry, and remember. You can purchase just one book or two or all three: For a limited time, the entire package costs less than $10, including the Indie Award for Excellence Finalist, The Fire Escape Belongs in Brooklyn. To help you decide, here are links to FREE previews of all three books in the series:

    >The Fire Escape Stories, Volume Ihttp://a.co/84dhMFd

    >The Fire Escape Stories, Volume IIhttp://a.co/53BnS1G

    >The Fire Escape Belongs in Brooklyn ( A novel based on The Fire Escape Stories)http://a.co/5hV5Z0G

    Two cousins. One fire escape. Can it save them both? 

     

  • 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!
     
  • Jonathan Edwards on Bob Dylan

    My friend singer, songwriter Jonathan Edwards (www.jonathanedwards.net) had these rather eloquent comments in reaction to my Blog about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. I think Jonathan provides a unique insight as to what Dylan meant not only to a generation with his social commentary through song, but also what Dylan meant to artists themselves:

    Bob was the guy who spoke for us, gave voice to our ever-churning, urgent desire to have things make sense, for our burgeoning culture to achieve the peace he let us know just might be possible. I don't think any of us really knew what each and every song was about, but he engendered in us the will and the curiosity to endeavor to find out and to see ourselves to be as little like Mr. Jones as we could. And he did it all within  a range from smirking satirist to humble servant of the truth and everywhere between and beyond. And all of this contained and illustrated with a reverent music accessible to us all...an entire grateful hungry generation. Thanks Bob, you're the best!

    Your thoughts are, as always, welcome by writing me at chuckwrites@yahoo.com. Be sure to check out Jonathan's ever busy concert schedule and new releases at www.jonathanedwards.net.  

    © Chuck Cascio

  • Named as an "Amazing Read" for August!

     
    MIKE’S ‘FIRE ESCAPE CONFESSION’—
     
    An Excerpt from the novel, THE FIRE ESCAPE BELONGS IN BROOKLYN
     
    Named by BooksGoSocial as an "Amazing Read" for August!!!

     

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         You knew it, Sally-Boy, you knew it all those years ago, and you said it into the hot, black Brooklyn night on the fire escape we loved, the fire escape that reeked of rust and iron and our own sweat from wrestling on it, drinking on it, pumping iron on it. You knew it then, before everything changed, before the last boosted beer was drunk that night, before I left you and you left us all. You always seemed to know so much and you knew it then, and you said it, Sally, as we swigged the last can of Schaefer we shared:      

        

         “Remember this night, Mikey,” you said, mysterious Brooklyn noises swelling around us like a concert of benevolent memories, “remember it because it won’t ever be like this again, never—too much going on, too much is, like, confused and gettin worse. So, my cousin, my brother, take it from me, take it for what it’s worth and sip that beer real real slow…’cause Mikey, it ain’t never gonna be like this again…never, not ever ’cause everythin changes…it just does.”

         

         In my head, I see him sip, burp, smile. I know what is coming next, and I hear myself saying, Don’t say it, Sally. You scream it out, it means ‘fire,’ and the lights go on all over the neighborhood.

       

         I hear his laugh, his voice rising: What the hell, do I know, Mikey? I am just Salvatore Fuoco!!! Fuck-a-you! Salvatore fuck-a-you!!! Salvatore Fuocooooo!!!  Lights flick on. People shout, “Is there a fire? What’s goin on, for crissake? Shut the hell up!”Then I laugh and say, “You always do it…”but when I turn to see him, Sally-Boy is gone. The neighborhood slowly turns dark again.

         

         Still, every dawn, the thought of Sally-Boy leads me to my Fire Escape Confession:

         

          I committed a crime, but I know it was right.  

        

          I went too far, and then I stopped short.  

        

          I failed to speak, when words were needed.

         

          I spoke, when words meant nothing.  

         

         I let people disappear, because confusion overwhelmed me.  

         

          And now all these years later, I still talk to you, Sally-Boy. You, who gave me fear and courage; you, who somehow knew when everything had changed for you, when nothing would ever be the same; you, who disappeared. And now I know when everything changed for me…and nothing has ever been the same…

         

         For me, the changes began in January of 1968, the second semester of my sophomore year at Sinclair College. I can now see how the new me emerged as I left the old me behind, a time and a change that I could not have predicted…but that’s how it happens, right, Sally-Boy?

    To order, go to www.amazon.com/dp/B074V8CRGX

    Copyright chuck cascio all rights reserved. 

  • 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

  • THE FIRE ESCAPE...IN MY MIND by Mike Burns

         
    THE FIRE ESCAPE...IN MY MIND
      by Mike Burns         
         Yes, it is hazy, that fire escape, but it is real. The smell of the grates is real. The rust that stuck to our shirts is real. The rickety stairs leading to...who knows? The street? Trouble? Danger? Safety? I never knew for sure. I still don't know. But it is real. Hazy...but real.

         I still visit it...in my mind. Still scan the blocks of the neighborhood from it. Hear the a cappella voices rising from the corner. Wonder about what was said, what we did, why we did it, how we laughed, how we argued, how long innocence lasted, when it left exactly. The stairs shook when we walked on them. They creaked, they felt as though they might give way at any moment, a structure meant to protect could destroy with a single step. But it was, ultimately, our step to take or not to take. Hazy even then, I guess.

         We leave people and things behind, but some remain. They are not always clear. They are not always exact. They are often flickering replicas of what we once knew. But they are real. The people. The decisions. The results. The remnants.

         Hazy...but real. Like that fire escape in my mind.

    Read The Fire Escape Stories, Volumes I and IIamazon.com/dp/1537411128 

    © Copyright Chuck Cascio. 2016. All rights reserved.