Farewell, Charlie

The Lazer Speaks

I had the good fortune a few years ago to reconnect with some old friends from my Greenpoint neighborhood through a music studio in Greenpoint (Williamsburg if you are a hipster) that was built by one of the guys. That guy’s family owned a house built in the 1850s on Graham Avenue, that he was able to convert into a cool studio. Several old friends would come by and before you knew it there was a full band ripping it up pretty good. What was better was the repartee between these friends of 40 or 50 years. Nothing was too sacred to make fun of; it was so refreshing and fun.

I had lost track of some of these guys over the years, especially the drummer, whom I learned was a kidney transplant recipient. Along with the new kidney came a bunch of prescriptions to help the kidney adapt. About two months ago he got another bad call. They found some cancer cells. But according to the doctors, there was a 95% cure rate with the chemo that was scheduled. So, no one was that concerned. Apparently, the kidney didn’t get the email though and within two months we lost Charlie.

I found myself taking the train to the old neighborhood to go to the funeral. The stops were familiar and the walk down Graham Avenue was too, although the new homes going up in cleared lots was a sign that those 1850s homes were on their way out. I forgot that it was August 5, the feast day celebrated by the local Italians from the village of Sansa, who believed that the Virgin Mother made it snow on a mountainside back in the old country. Our Lady of the Snows brings forth a marching band, floats, and a procession down the avenue. Charlie, you picked the right day.

As I got to Frost Street, I made a right to Humboldt and then a left on Humboldt and walked past Frost Restaurant, a must if you live in the neighborhood. A little further up, I came to a building that once was St. Catherine’s Maternity Hospital. I was born there, as were my brother and sister, and I suspect Charlie too. I made a right to North Henry Street and came to St. Cecilia’s School. I went there, as did my siblings, and Charlie did too. The building is now condos and so is the schoolyard where we spent our youth playing basketball, whiffle ball, learned how to play guitar, and tried to look cool in front of the girls. We were successful in the first three, but not the fourth.

North Henry Street was lined with the Building Unit vans of the FDNY. The whole block was closed. You see, Charlie was a plumber for the FDNY, and they had showed up in numbers. As I walked down the block, I wondered to myself how many times I had made that walk as a kid. I got to the church early and slipped inside. No air conditioning in this huge cathedral-like church, only fans. But there was a cool breeze through the church, and I sat in the dark thinking that this was the place I was baptized, received communion, received confirmation, graduated and went to Mass. It was the place my parents got married and my mom’s funeral was. And all this was probably true for Charlie too.

I was nudged by a uniformed fireman as a bagpiper began to drone outside and I knew it was time to go out and begin the ritual. The entire block was lined with the FDNY plumbers. It was quite a sight to see. The church was packed like it only can be these days: for a funeral. And I looked around and found familiar faces back once again in the old neighborhood. I sat with the fellow musicians who played at Charlie’s studio, feeling a certain kinship with these fellows. If you didn’t know, St. Cecilia is the patron saint of music.

Legend has it that her tormentors cut her head off, but she continued to sing. And once again, a fellow St. Cecilia musician has left us way too early. But what a send-off, you will be missed my friend. Farewell Charlie, never stop rocking.

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