The “Ladies’ Entrance” sign on North Lake Avenue is gone.


Ladies make their own entrances. Nikon Df camera, Vivitar 19mm f/3.8 lens. Photo (c) Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

Last year, my friend Muse posed in front of the side entrance to a long-forgotten tavern in Albany’s Pine Hills neighborhood.  As you can see, this tavern once had a “Ladies’ Entrance” that allowed the fair sex to enter the tavern through the back door.

Take that into consideration when you’re talking about far we’ve come as a society … but still have a long way to go.

I entered this picture in a couple of competitions, and it eventually sold at the 2018 BUILT charity auction, so that made me happy.  Plus, it was nice to work with Muse, she’s a good model and takes posing and direction well.

Ladies’ Entrance. Leica M3 camera, Red Dragon redscale film. Photo (c) Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

A few months ago, as I drove by North Lake Avenue, I saw that the Ladies’ Entrance sign was in distress – almost as if someone had tried to yank the sign from its moorings.  I took a few pictures of it at that time, and wondered how long the sign would last in that condition.  Heck, I’ve seen Capital District signage in tattered conditions last for years without update or removal.  Heck, the old L-Ken’s sign on Central Avenue survived for a decade after the business it promoted shut down.

Yesterday, while running some errands, I chanced to pass North Lake Avenue again.

I glimpsed over to see how the sign looked.

The sign wasn’t there.

No Longer a Ladies’ Entrance. BlackBerry KEYone camera phone. Photo (c) Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

Yep, it looks as if someone finally took the effort and pulled the sign out of its anchors.

Great.  It’s probably headed for someone’s man-cave, or perhaps it was sold for scrap metal.

No matter.  It’s gone.

And although I shouldn’t care about one little sign from a business long past …

It reminded me today of my mortality.

Today I will turn 56 years old.  As a kid, “56” meant a television station in Boston that I watched when I visited my Grandma Betty during summers when I needed to get away from my toxic family in Albany.

This will be my first birthday in which none of my parents or step-parents are alive, my last remaining parent passing away in February 2019 (of course, I didn’t find out until June 2019, so take that as it may).

In time, I too will pass away.  And what will I leave behind?

A decade of blog posts – which will most likely disappear the minute some online server upgrades their database.  I mean, there are still archived blog posts on MySpace, right?

A cadre of cameras, some of whom will find new homes, others will end up in the antique store or the thrift store, depending on the opinion of whoever finds them.  I mean, I’ve inherited a few cameras, and I’ve saved others from the antique store.  For now.

A few personal items, who know what will happen to them.  Computers, crafting tools, some books …

I suppose I’ll live on in memories of those who knew me, until there comes a time when those memories fade away.

And then, like the “Ladies’ Entrance” sign, I’ll be gone as well.

This is part of the aging process, I guess.  I’m technically old enough to get a free small coffee at various casinos around the area.  And I can legally order from the senior’s menu at Denny’s.

That too will fade away after the last coffee cup has poured and the last hash browns have cooked.

Normally I would be overjoyed at reaching another birthday.  Another trip around the sun, successfully navigated.

Heck, I’ve lived as long on this earth for the same number of years as Eddie Rabbitt, Tammy Wynette, Johnny Ramone, Abraham Lincoln, Ian Fleming, Steve Jobs, Warren Zevon, Rick James and Betty Grable.  Okay, I haven’t done anything close to what they’ve achieved … but still …

But in the end … we all return to dust.  Just like it says in the Bible.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Or as Red Skelton once told the story of a little boy who, after church services, ran up to the parson and said, “Father, is it true that we all came from dust?” “Yes, little boy, it is.”  “And is it true that we will return to dust one day?” “Yes, little boy, as it says in the Bible, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, why do you ask?” “Could you come over to our house and look under my bed, somebody’s there and I can’t tell if he’s coming or going.”

So what have I achieved in 56 years?

I don’t really know.  Maybe my true legacy will shine through ten years after I’ve passed away.  I won’t be around to find out about it, so someone will have to relay a message to me somehow.

And it brings me back to that little alleyway off North Lake Avenue.

The one that had a “Ladies’ Entrance” sign … a sign that isn’t there any more.

Maybe it’s a mnemonic that we don’t need signs of discrimination any more.  I’d like to think we’ve moved forward from “colored only” water fountains and “no Irish need apply” job applications and “don’t ask don’t tell” in the military.  Then I see murders and killings and viral YouTube videos of Barbecue Becky and Walmart Wally and I realize we haven’t taken a single step forward.  We’ve just moved sideways.

And then I’m reminded of how I got to this planet in the first place.

I’m not shy about telling this story.  Apparently “promising to pull out” isn’t considered adequate birth control.  And when I was born, my father assured me that had abortion been legal in 1963, I wouldn’t have been his problem.  And through all my journeys, through the Chestnut Prison and physical and emotional and any other possible abuses out there …

I learned that I only had one chance in life to make things happen.

And so I did.  Family members tried to keep me out of school to be their live-in babysitter and welfare dependent?  Fuck that, I’ll find a way to go to school whether they like it or not.  Take shadenfreude in my possibly failing a college course?  Screw that, I’ll ace the finals and you can pick your jaws up off the floor.  Because every time you hurt me, every time you wound me, every time you say I’m helpless and hopeless and worthless and useless and poor and pathetic and unworthy … I take that in my soul.  And I put in the Black File with every other physical assault.

We don’t get that chance to reach 56.  My brother Allen never didStacy Davis never did.  They are the reasons why I never touch alcohol.  Trust me, if a cop gives me a breathalyzer test, it’ll have more zeroes in it than in a Japanese WWII film.

But it’s just this fragility of life – that moment when you think everything’s fine, and then you feel the tap on your shoulder and you’re told, “Hey bud, your ride’s here.”

And it can be just as instant as noticing that a worn-out sign from a long-forgotten establishment – just disappeared without a trace.

I hope I at least left a trace in my lifetime.

Maybe there’s still a trace left to leave if I make it to 57.