Monthly Archives: December 2010

Life is a Beach

Life is a Beach!!!

Winter of 209 was the first year I’ve been away from New York for December.  Away from New York meant away from Christmas ghosts, or so I thought.  I was on a contract in the Middle East. On December 17th I got this email from a friend.

shit bro, oleg just called me and told me that Makarov jumped off the roof in coop city today around noon”

he just came out of the hospital a week ago, and i don’t have my cellphone so i haven’t spoken to him since and he called oleg a few times but he also dint pick up so noone knows why for sure yet

I couldn’t believe it, and yet for a long time I expected my friend’s life would not end well.  It’s been about six years since I’ve seen him..  Though I would ask about him from time to time,and see how he was.  It sent me reeling into the past and our childhood, the lives that ran parallel for long time, until they diverged. I began to think about those critical moments and reading that email wondering what difference would it make if Oleg answered, or if we were in touch and he called me. Could someone have saved him? This can’t be answered but the road that ended on December 17th, 2009 started long before that. And I was there during every bad turn in his teenage years. Sometimes I feel some responsibility.  Though I hold noone responsible for my life, even though there are tons of circumstances and influences. So I don’t think he would. This is probably just survivor’s guilt.

Attached is the only picture I have of him. I wasn’t into photography much in those day.  He sent to me shortly after he started serving his four year term upstate for armed robbery.  Got to love the “Life is a beach” part.  He had a great sense of humor. Always remember him with big smile on his face and making people laugh.

Growing up in the Bronx there was no one I considered a better friend the Makarov.

He was by my side whenever I needed him, and I always tried to be there for him.I’ll re tell a  critical incident that probably did more to set him on the path that 12 years later led to him taking his life then any other. This isn’t typical thing for us, our typical times, were just more like, playing pool, smoking, drinking, mind alternating experimentation, racing cars , camping, fights,  parties, playing cards, typical stuff for kids in my neighborhood.  This happened after about a year of his life spiraling out of control, where his daily life was ruled by addiction to Heroin, and feeding the cost of that addiction

He called me one day and told me his friend knew a place that he was planning to rob.  And he asked if I could drive as he didn’t have a car.  I contemplated helping him even though this wasn’t something I wanted to take part in, but we simply rarely would turn down a friends request for help.  But I did, I had a job, and the story seemed a little incomplete. I think I told him it’s probably not worth it, then he asked to borrow my realistic looking air rifle. I gave it to him.   Few days later the story unfolds. Some new “friend” of his suggested they go rob the place of someone he knew, he orchestrated the plan but had Makarov do the work while he sat in the car.   The story would be funny if it didn’t end so bad.   They went to the house that was supposed to be empty, Makarov goes there with the air rifle, and as he’s inside, the grown up daughter was in the house.  In panic he tells her to sit down, then starts scrambling for a way to subdue her so he can get away. They both knew at this point that his gun wasn’t real but he’s still a big guy so she does as she’s told.He finds some tape and asks her to tape herself up.  She does, as he wasn’t a pro he did a shitty job at checking that she was properly tied up,  all the while she’s cursing and threatening him.  Now he wants to forget all about this stupid plan and runs down to the car, as he does she’s already untied herself and is chasing him down the flights of stairs.  Then as they are about to get away she’s standing next to the car and starts cursing at the driver.  The story later reveals itself that this idiot, and scumbag actually lived with this family for a year when they sheltered him after he was thrown out of his house.  She recognized him.In the end they got away with their skin only.   We all had a laugh about it till six months later when he was arrested. Apparently his friend was taken in a week later cause the daughter knew who he was, and even though he came up with the plan and orchestrated it, he quickly flipped on Makarov. In court preparation she claimed that he took her hostage with a “deadly” weapon (the toy.  By that point Makarov was already on the straight, driving a shuttle bus, when a cop that got in recognized him and arrested him.   In the next couple of months he was on bail. I tried to do my part to help him one last time, I found a lawyer and offered him everything I saved for over two years, about $20,000 to work on his case. But as is the case in most cases in US. They offered him a plea agreement of four years upstate or fifteen if he went to trial.  He took the plea.   We had a going away party and that was it.

Over the following years I’ve visited him number of times in medium security prison upstate. As with many such institutions,  it was far from rehabilitating place. He came back more cynical,had a hard time getting a job, was depressed and started drinking a lot.  Something also broke in him.   He felt he was living on borrowed time from that point on. I had moved to a different part of the city and lives had diverged so greatly that there was simply little between us except the past.   I still loved him and wished his life would change.    I never stopped thinking about him, and wondering how different his life could be if this kid that was so full of life had just gone a different path.

His story and my story is both a case for self determination, and predetermination.   Our circumstances, our circles of friends, crime, drugs, addictions, money all played roles in how where our life initially took us.   We were moving down the same way for years.   Though I always felt another life beyond this one. And even though I’ve been through a lot of dark times myself I knew that there must be a way to the other life. Makarov tragically never did find his way back after that incident.   That incident was followed by string of bad jobs, bad relationships, depression, alcoholism, drugs again and rehabs.

But that doesn’t matter at this point. I’m simply very sorry you had to suffer so long before you found peace.  I will remember you as a fearless, funny, kind and loyal friend. You are missed and will never be forgotten.

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The bloc

The one year anniversary of death of Vlad Makarov one of my best friends from childhood is only four days from now and it got me thinking about the time when I was sixteen or so.   I grew up in the Bronx and at that time we had a large Russian crew that use to hang out on “the bloc”.  Going to the “bloc” was more of a state of mind and atmosphere then an actual Place.  There was an actual place that we referred to and ended up being the edge of Bronx Park East. Where nightly this group of people would come to.  We started just gathering on foot before we got our licenses, then our first set of beat up cars, by the end some of us were living the fast life.  Things changed, we changed, but the Bloc had a life of its own.  People that came there changed from time to time, new blood entered some left but for maybe two or three years it was the focal point of me and my friends. It’s where I’ve met new friends, it’s where I fought, it’s place where we got high, it’s where I fell in love.

My friendships that I thought that would last a lifetime were cemented, and cracked under different circumstances.  People whom meant a the world to me like Mita, Anton, Aloha, Igor, Yana, Genia, Vasia, Julia, and couple of Vlads and many others are forever connected to the bloc in my memories.   So many things that happened there that formed the person I am today. We chased glory, dreams, wasted time, and our minds. Forgot who we are, found our identities.  Found out what we’re made of, found out what others are really about. Where the bullshit ended and the truth began. Where we risked our lives for our brothers, and sometimes were betrayed by those we trusted.

It’s so hard to phrase in words what it was about now that I try.   Think  many people have this sort of place/state that’s beyond retrieval in their past.  This is mine. I think back to those days once in a while and wonder what happened to those people. I know few things of some and others are lost beyond. The place is lost as if it never existed and so are those bonds.   I speak to none of the friends that I had, it might as well been a movie or a story except that it’s not.

Sometime when I was fifteen I had a choice, there were two Russian clicks in the neighborhood.  One was ambitious kids that spent their days studying, and would sit in the park and discuss literature, play chess, and dream about asking some wholesome girl out, then there was another one. Where the the guys had a gang that would stand up to the Puerto Rican, and Albanian crews.  Fight on the rooftops of apartment buildings, get chased by the cops and dream about less wholesome girls.  Think most people in each group didn’t make much of a choice, they were who they were. I did make one though.  I chose the crazy, glorious one, one filled with adventures, risks, escapes. Each path has it’s consequences.  After few crazy years, I couldn’t turn anywhere without seeing those consequences all around me.  The fun turned into drama, with hospitals, jails and rehabs which left me wondering how a place that was so much about living life intensely and fully could end up wreaking such havoc on our lives.

Well the bloc had it awesome moments, where it was crazy place where up thirty people would get together to have fun. Blast music from the cars, smoke and drink and get high and stay up till early in the morning talking driving around, looking for adventures.  We were all connected while we knew that at the end of the day we’d see our friends out there.   Then when the oldest ones hit eighteen it disappeared.  Some moved to Brooklyn, some had enough of drama, others went away to college and overnight it was gone. I’d ask where’s so and so, and for a while few people stayed in touch with few, then the bonds weekend the memories an focus ended. And then it is as if it never was.


Ghost of Christmas Past

I

I hate December.  Of all the months of the year this is the one that I dread the most.   It’s somehow the perfect combination of things that play on me.  I wish always I was somewhere else..  Somewhere where there is no Christmas, where there are no ghosts.  For the last eighteen years like Scrooge I’m revisited by the Ghost of Christmas past. It’s a time for reflection.. But mine is of something else.

I used to love Christmas as a kid in Czech Republic.   My mom and my sister would spend days baking cookies of every variety so for weeks there would be the wonderful aroma of sweetness permeating every corner in the house, and my only tasks was to try to make it to Christmas before attacking them.   They’d bake enough cookies to last through February.   Then Christmas itself was amazing, my father being a romantic, he believed in making a grand and special day, with tons of presents and decorations everywhere.  He had this miniature log cabin that we’d build that my family brought over from Siberia, with the smallest details.  I’d look at it and think I’m staring at some fairy tale.  Tully an idyllic Christmas, at my mom’s work they’d have a giant Christmas tree and all the employees kids would come and we’d get socks full of fruits and chocolates from Santa Claus.  There was non of this commercial element, it was truly about the things that it’s supposed to be about and I’m not talking about Jesus.   Talking about love, and goodness, and celebration.

Perhaps that’s why the contrast became so strong.   No matter what my family’s circumstance were it was always special.  Even when we came to the states, and we were on welfare, and without a penny to our name.  My father still managed to make it feel as special.   That all changed when I was sixteen.

How it came to be is  a story for another day, but the week before the Christmas, I spent the week in hospital with my father on life support. For several days praying that he’d wake up from Coma, when i realized that it was hopeless, I prayed he’d die,  neither was answered.  That was the last time I spoke to God.  Then I decided that if he won’t listen, then I will act,   I decided that I’d take his life myself.  Fortunately the next day I found out that the rules here don’t  keep people in Vegetated state on life support, so we were called to say goodbye one last time and he was taken of the life support.

That year there was no Christmas.  Ever since my family fights to try to have go through the motions, partly cause it meant so much to him, so it’s done to honor him. But at same time we get together on the day he passed away to have a toast.  So those two events are irrevocably linked in my heart..We never quite succeed in either freeing ourselves of the holiday, or of his memory.

So I find myself in the same place as every year. Remembering the happiness of childhood and the burden of that Christmas eighteen years ago, wishing it was all in the past.