Monday, May 16, 2016

Introduction: The Norwood Avenue Chronicles

by G. Jack Urso

Norwood Avenue is located in the Pine Hills section of the small city of Albany, NY, USA. It is a short stretch of road about two-tenths of a mile long with 42 houses. It was constructed circa World War I as the trolleys moved uphill from downtown to the woody outskirts of the city. Most of the homes were built during the 1920s and are a mix of single- and two-family houses along with two squat four-unit apartment buildings. The upper half with an oval, wooded park is flat, but about half-way down the street dives at nearly a 45-degree angle towards Woodlawn Avenue and the Little League Park where on a long summer day the crack of the bat and the loudspeaker announcing the players could be heard as far up as our home in the middle of the block at number 42. Those are the plain facts of Norwood Avenue.

42 Norwood Avenue (in red), Albany, NY (Google Maps).
I grew up on Norwood Avenue for fourteen years, from the time of my birth in 1964 through 1978. Ostensibly, the Norwood Avenue Chronicles detail various chapters of my youth, and to an extent that is true; however, while the stories are true, the Norwood Avenue I write about only partially exists. Like all writers who delve into their pasts, we are selective in our recall. We cherry-pick and choose the memories that best meet our needs — the need for love, for validation, for redemption, for a place where the promise of what we could be was not lost to the passing of years.

Everyone has a Norwood Avenue of their own and walking down it every now and then is not so much as living in the past as it is simply acknowledging that the past always lives with us. Even as we go forward, it sticks to our heels like a long shadow in the late afternoon sun.

Schrodinger’s Cat, the classic thought experiment in quantum mechanics, is where one puts a cat in a box and closes the lid. In the box, there is a poison gas capsule and a radioactive isotope. When the atom decays it randomly releases a radioactive particle that trips a mechanism which automatically breaks the capsule and kills the cat. We don’t know whether the cat is alive or dead before we look inside, so in a sense both possibilities still exist, but we don’t know which until we open the box and all quantum realities collapse into one state.

Indeed, looking at the past is like trying to observe an atom constantly in motion — the only way to do so is to capture it, but in doing so we change its state. Sometimes, we can't capture the particle at all and are left only looking at the traces of where it's been or the impact it has made. Likewise, it’s not an accurate picture of the past we see, but rather just a shadow, and in searching for shadows all we find are phantasms.

When writing about our past, we are at that moment before we open Schrodinger’s Box — when all possibilities exist and what we believe doesn’t collapse as long as we don’t open the box and peer too deeply inside.

The stories of The Norwood Avenue Chronicles include: