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Queens,

  • 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? 

     

  • 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

  • Prof. Staunton Speaks on the Day of the MLK Assassination-1968

    Prof. Staunton Speaks on the Day of the MLK Assassination-1968:

    An Excerpt from the novel THE FIRE ESCAPE BELONGS IN BROOKLYN by Chuck Cascio

         “Langston Hughes asks us if dreams deferred dry up like raisins in the sun or if they stink like fetid meat and, of course, he must know the answer is yes to both—we know both are true because we see those truths in people every day, people who dry up with their dried up dreams, shrivel with their emaciated love affairs—and yet Hughes tries to convince us that it is wrong to give up on dreams because if we do, as he puts it in another poem, ‘Life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.’

         “So the same man who poses the question in one poem, ‘What happens to a dream deferred?’ warns us in another that without dreams our lives will not fly. If you are writers, you are dreamers by definition, so you must wrestle with Mr. Hughes’s thoughts—some of you will, some won’t, some will be haunted by dreams deferred, some will forget about dreams altogether, some will look around and dream of outrageously ostentatious houses—the measure of opulence today being size and amount whether in square footage of homes or horse power or number of cars—and exotic vacations and perhaps beachfront mansions and cabin cruisers.

         “So many of you will be fickle to the dreams and words and passions that move you now, and by letting it all dry up or trading it all in, you will become vulnerable repeatedly to what we should have seen coming:

        “The squeezing of the trigger of the rifle whose scope was focused on Martin’s round black head, the assassin waiting, holding steady, calm, a horrifying distortion of Hemingway’s grace under pressure, slowly focusing on the hairs that covered the epithelial cells drawn tight across the cranium that stored one man’s extravagant and bold dreams—the perverted assassin turning his perverted dream into reality as he fired and felt the powerful kick of the rifle butt warm against his shoulder, and in the instant that he blinked from the explosion and smelled the acrid odor of gunpowder, he watched through his scope Martin’s exploding head, while inside that broken head confused and gasping dreams now spun madly in milliseconds into blackness and then hurtled out the exit wound or dripped out of the entry wound.

         “The assassin ended those dreams, betting that all of us will let them all dry up along with our own dreams, which we will trade in for comfort; in so doing, the assassin hopes to turn you all into assassins, murderers, killers, hypocrites. After all, he had the courage to act on his perverted dream and to gamble that we are not as courageous about pursuing dreams as he is. So what happens, I ask you, to a dream deferred and deferred and deferred and deferred…” 

         Staunton repeated the word, banging his fists on the podium while we sat in a silence only death itself could duplicate, until, finally, after screaming the word “deferred” one more time, his voice cracked into falsetto, and the blue veins in his neck bulged like tree roots, and his face shone like a beacon, and he looked up, panting, into the face of the tall woman with the long hair, who was noiselessly crying, and extended his arms to her. She embraced him, his white hair touching just below her mouth.

    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.

     

  • THE LIGHT OF BROOKLYN (a reflection)

    THE LIGHT OF BROOKLYN

    (a reflection)

    by

    Chuck Cascio

         At first the only light would be the final ivory beams of moonlight, blurred by my still sleepy eyes, and then came the traffic lights of Washington, DC, flashing yellow because it was too early for traffic. Maybe dawn's first light or the roar of a truck or my parents' whispers in the front seat of the car would eventually fully awaken me, and then I’d remember with a rush of excitement that we were headed for New York—Brooklyn to be precise.

         Brooklyn, where the talk was tough and the hearts were tender, where bagels were soft and pretzels were hot, where porches were "stoops" and base­ball was "stickball'' and where the "yard" was no half acre—hey, what half acre? who you kiddin’?—it was a fenced lot behind an apartment building, just a short drop off the fire escape steps.

         Trips to Brooklyn, where I was born, were filled with so much. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, and so many cousins who taught me the games of the street like stoop ball, stick ball, and fire escape jumping, and, when I was a little older, dance steps that were almost suggestive enough to get me expelled from school back home in Virginia.    

         I could always find a cousin to ride with on the subway to Ebbets Field or Yankee Stadium, or to rate lemon ice shops, or to pick up a “slice” on almost any corner. The reunions with relatives, all of whom spoke at the same time at staggering volumes in a combination of Italian and Brooklynese, were festivals of laughter, lasagna, cannoli, chianti (which you took at least a sip of no matter how young you were), and stories of questionable origin and veracity.  But I ate and I sipped and I played and I listened…and I believed it all.

         We'd arrive in Brooklyn at mid-morning. Daylight always exposed the city's scars—overflowing trashcans, multi-lingual graffiti, and odors so distinct you could taste them.  But none of that bothered me, because I chose to delight in Brooklyn’s charms—the gesturing people, the corner candy stores, and the sense that every resident of every block was part of a family.

         The corridor to the old first-floor apartment where my mother's parents lived was always dark. I'd knock on the door and listen for the comforting sound of Grampa's slippers scuffing across the floor, and then I'd hear his asthmatic cough and his familiar wheeze grow closer.  Grampa unlocked the door, and the apartment light sliced through the hallway's darkness.

         The thin little man with the sleeveless undershirt smiled. He spoke sparingly because his English was still awkward despite his years away from Italy, and the effort to speak was especially great on days when the asthma was bad. But the smile on the well-creased face was genuine, and so was the surprising strength of the hug. Then he would return to his seat at the table next to the window where he would smoke, sip vermouth, cough, and call out in an Italian rasp to friends who walked by.  If the asthma was bad, he would just wave.  But everyone stopped at the screened-in window to say “buongiorno” or “buona sera” or just to tip their hat.

         I would stare at Grampa—his little chest heaved as he sat.  I knew of no one else like him, no one so frail yet so essential to everyone and everything.  There were never any easy, involuntary breaths, only what seemed like conscious efforts to suck in air. Often, his Italian words would come in barely audible snatches, but no matter how noisy the room was, when Grampa spoke, people listened. He could start my parents and aunts and uncles talking by uttering just one throaty syllable. But then he could stop an argument with one gesture and a stare.

          Despite the visible strain of every breath, Grampa was steady with his hands. He would take a pencil and make strong delicate lines freehand on any nearby piece of paper—a napkin, a shopping bag, or the back of an envelope would do. I would watch him as he looked upward at the cracked ceiling, his mind creating a distant picture, and then his pencil would duplicate that private vision. Sometimes it took a few minutes, sometimes many, but he would eventually motion for me to come closer to him. He would then hand me the drawing—a clown or a cathedral from his beloved Italy or a smiling boy on a bicycle—and he would smile, his face a roadmap of lines, hug me, and dismiss me with a kind look or a squeeze on the shoulder.

          When the asthma wasn't bad and his stamina was good, he would make paper puppets for me, clever ones with sharp faces and clothing drawn in detail.  He would cut out the arms and legs and magically arrange threads so the puppet's parts would move. Sometimes he'd play with me by being the puppet's voice in Italian. I couldn't understand the words, but I understood the affection.

          Grampa combed his straight, thin hair with a tortoise-shell comb about three-inches wide and three-inches long. His clothing hung in an old wooden wardrobe where he also kept mints that he shared with me. Sometimes, after I had gone to bed at night, he would leave a stack of coins on top of a piece of paper with my name on it so I would find them in the morning when I awoke. They were mine to keep and to take and spend at the corner candy store.

         Grampa was the first to die. I was eight. We had been to Brooklyn for Christmas and a few days after returning to our home in Virginia, we received the phone call. We traveled back to Brooklyn by train instead of car. The train smelled musty, and the frost on the windows allowed me only a few glimpses of the water, tenements, and towering buildings that comprised the East Coast landscape.  My mother, whose was known as Blanche but whose birth-name Bianca, didn’t speak or cry during the entire trip, staring straight ahead, saying a rosary quietly. My father sat with his arm around her the whole way. 

        When we entered the little Brooklyn apartment, my beautiful Aunt Anna opened the door, and my mother, the youngest in her family, wept openly in her sister’s arms as we stood in the dark doorway.  Aunt Anna kept repeating through her own tears, “What will we do, Bianca, what will we do without Papa?”  Their brothers, my Uncle Joe (actually “Giuseppe”) and Uncle Gig (actually “Luigi”), discretely dabbed at their own red eyes as they attempted to console their mother, my wailing Nana Emma.

         Years later, Nana Emma described Grampa’s death to me, struggling with her English:

         "You Grampa, he sitting on his chair by his window, and he say to me, ‘Emma, where are you?’ I say, 'I’m-a right here, Michael.  But why?  Can you no see me?'  He say, 'But where? Everything is dark, Emma, I no see nothing.'  You Grampa, he’s-a breathing so hard, so I run out of the house; I looking for help; when I coming back inside in one minute…he's-a dead."  Confusion and loss and the resignation that life somehow moves on through death flashed across her kind, round face as she reached for my hand.

         I continued to go to Brooklyn until almost everyone else had either moved or died.  But I was growing up a child of the suburbs, and very gradually over the years, Brooklyn became a world apart, a world where apartments shrank, sky disappeared, and some family stories became too awful to believe…even though they were true. Then there was the car ride—it grew longer as I grew older and there was definitely no more thrill in starting the trip in darkness. Especially when I knew it would end that way too.

    © 2016 Chuck Cascio.  All rights reserved.