Sunday, January 20, 2019

Dialing In

How did I ever survive the rotary phone?

Was there really time when I put my index finger in a hole, dragged the wheel around seven times before I reached the party to whom I was speaking?

And did I actually use typewriters for many years—along with Liquid Paper and White Out? And how did I ever get by without a DVR and only a handful of TV channels?

I also remember when people smoked on airplanes—actually they smoked just about anywhere they wanted.

These and other pressing issues rolled through my head the other night after I attended a Meetup event in Manhattan. I’m trying to keep that New Year’s resolution about getting out more so I signed up for a group that sounded pretty cool and had a nice time.

I figured I’d be the oldest in the room, which is something I’m getting used to, but I did run into one other guy who seemed to be in my age bracket.

We were sitting at a table with a young man and this geezer kept up bringing up all the ancient equipment from my childhood.

“You don’t remember rotary phones, do you?” he asked our young companion. “Or typewriters?”

The younger fellow, of course, didn’t remember these things probably for the same reason I don’t remember buggy whips and spats—they were obsolete by the time I showed up.

It seems like our devices are becoming obsolete at a faster pace. Or maybe that’s me just feeling old. My niece, Victoria, likes to remind of the passing years whenever I speak with her.

Of course, I suppose I’m partially to blame for this as I do give her straight lines that she quickly turns into weapons of mass derision.

Wheat and See

During a Christmas Day phone call last month, she mentioned that she had cooked dinner for my brother and his wife.

“Hey,” I said, “the next time I come out to Denver, I want you to cook dinner for me.”

“Sure,” she replied in perfect smart-ass English. “I’ll have Cream of Wheat and prunes…”

Yes, Victoria knows how to press my buttons—or dial my number. She told that she may be in New York in late May and when I mentioned that my birthday occurs at that time of the year, she promptly got the date wrong.

“I would’ve hoped you had that memorized,” I said, mildly miffed.

“Maybe you got it wrong,” she said “You are getting on, you know.”

“Stop making wisecracks about my age!”

“I’m helping you transition to the next stage of life,” she explained.

“I’m gonna transition my foot to your ass in about two seconds, kid!”

All, I might’ve sounded a bit grumpy in my response, but as my mother used to say, “I was provoked!

At the end of the meetup I bid my companions a good night, checked my smart phone and saw that the X27 bus back to Brooklyn would be coming my way in 15 minutes.

On the ride home, I did some net surfing before heading up to my apartment to work on my home computer. We didn’t have this stuff back in my day, but I’m not going to give them up.

And now it’s time for some Cream of Wheat and prunes.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Hey, Nineteen

I don’t like this.

The thought came to me this morning while I was washing the dishes.

My mind had been slogging through some negative territory—I honestly forget now what the hell was bugging me—and I suddenly realized just how uncomfortable I was feeling.

I didn’t like this state of mind and I told myself exactly that: I don’t like this.

It sounds like something a two-year-old says when you try to feed him vegetables. Four simple words, but they were enough to get me into the present moment and away from the hostile path I had chosen.

I believe this awareness is largely due to my meditation practice. I had a particularly relaxing experience this morning and I’m slowly seeing that peace of mind is more enjoyable than the internal turmoil I typically inflict upon myself.

The holidays are officially over and now the work on those New Year’s resolutions gets real. I want to be more positive, so I’m monitoring my thoughts more carefully because the bad intentions have a way of taking over before you know it.

I saw a recent sermon by Joel Osteen that has also been helpful. Yes, I know, he’s a televangelist, and these people can irate the ever-loving hell out of me, but I like this guy.

He’s a Christian with a positive, helpful message. After eight years of Catholic school, where the nuns and priests couldn’t wait to tell us what demonic little scumbags we all were, Joel Osteen is a welcome relief.

This particular message was based on the last words of Jesus on the cross: “It is finished.”

Joel said that Jesus wasn’t just talking about His life. He was also talking about us, the people for whom He died.

Row, Row, Row Your Brain

All the guilt, shame, bad breaks, foolish decisions, all the crap that we use to torture ourselves with, well, it’s time to say goodbye and start living a happy life.

It is finished. A simple phrase--kind of like “I don’t like this.”

Of course, this is easier sermonized than said, but I’m okay with that. It’s a good direction to follow—as opposed to blundering around in the dark like I have been for so long.

I’ve been scouring YouTube lately for self-help messages to keep my spirits up and I came across the author Teal Swan, who discussed the idea of fragmentation in our personalities. We think of ourselves as one person, she said, but actually we’re made up of a whole bunch of people.

This means that even though we call our self by one name and therefore identify ourselves as being one unified thing, the reality is that we are more of an amalgamation of fragmented parts or selves,” she writes. “We are more like a mosaic or a stained-glass window. Our degree of internal suffering is about the degree of harmony (or lack thereof) between these internal selves.”

So, for example, while there’s a part of you that wants to go out for a night on the town, there’s also that part of you that wants to stay home with a bucket of wonton soup and the latest Netflix selection, the rest of humanity be damned.

I would like to get all these various versions of myself working together, like a coxswain on a rowing team.

In my bid to get out more, I decided on Friday night to see a selection of one-act plays at the Gallery Players, a Park Slope theater company I've been meaning to check out for years. As usual, my inner introvert started complaining about the cold weather and late hours.

I didn’t argue, I didn’t try to reason with this guy. I just got ready, went out the door, took a 20-minute train ride, and had a great time. No agonizing, no worries, and all the drama took place on the stage.

I like this.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Booming Bust

So, can event be an absolute bust and a smashing success all at the same time?

This may sound like the Kobayashi Maru training exercise from The Wrath of Khan, but I’m here to tell you that the answer to this musical question is yes, yes, and hell, yes.

I really want to socialize more in this new year, which, admittedly, is a promise that I make every January 1 when the horn blows at midnight.

This year, though, my various vows are being fortified by a pact I made with my sister where we promised to help each other keep our 2019 resolutions in a kind of Mutual Yenta Agreement.

I have to confess I’ve suffering from New Year’s Resolution Syndrome, a sense of creeping panic that comes over me when I see that I’m not accomplishing every single thing I said I would in the first three days of the year. It’s ridiculous, of course, but I reckon it’s a requirement of the resolution ritual.

Whenever I get the heebie jeebies my shoulders tend to tighten and bunch up somewhere north of my honker. So, in addition to watching my emotional reactions—anger, hostility, fear—I keep my eyes peeled lest my shoulders start reaching for the sky.

Now the first Friday of the year started off looking like a lot of other Fridays with yours truly ass-down on the couch with the remote in my hand.

I tried to get out of the house—honestly. A new Meet-Up group had scheduled an event in Sunset Park and I cheerfully clicked "Yes" that I would attend.

Shoulder to Shoulder

The location was listed as TBD—To Be Determined—but I had no doubt that the organizers would soon fill in that spot with an exact location in short order.

Only they didn’t. Friday afternoon rolled around and the blank spot was still blank—even blanker if that’s possible. I could hear my inner surrender monkey unfurling the white flag and reaching for the remote.

Finally, the organizer emailed me with the location, which was nearly 40 minutes away—if I caught the train on time. To hell with this, I thought, heading for the couch, I ain’t doing it. But the guilt was getting to me. I said I wanted to change and yet here I was settling for the same old same old. I finally called my sister for advice.

“Get in a cab and go,” she declared. “Call car service.”

That wasn’t the answer I wanted to hear, but it was the answer I needed to hear.

I called for a car, zipped down to 36th Street to a neighborhood coffee shop and found…exactly two people attending this event. And one of them was organizer.

Apparently, everybody else was confused by that TBD business and decided to flag the entire thing.

Normally in a situation like this my shoulders would tighten, I’d roll my eyes and say woe is everything, but I’m trying to leave that attitude in the dust of 2018. I was already there, so I pulled up a seat and had a pleasant conversation for about 30 minutes.

It was such a strange experience. I was disappointed by the sparse turnout, of course, but I was so happy I had put the excuses aside and at least tried to change my routine.

It was like striking out and hitting a grand slam at the same time. Mr. Spock probably wouldn’t find this logical, but screw him. I'm just happy that my sister had yenta-ed me out the door to do something different.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Grand Trunk

I took a couple of photos on Christmas Day and I’ve decided they’ll serve as a nice theme for the New Year.

While on walking along Shore Road to my sister’s home, I spotted two old steamer trunks in front of an apartment building waiting to be carted off by the Sanitation Department.

Somebody was getting rid of their baggage.

Perhaps that’s twisting the metaphor a bit too far, but I don’t care. I just want to dump the junk I’ve been hauling around in my head for far too many years.

I’m not making any grand pronouncements for 2019 because we all know that most New Year’s resolutions hit the canvas in less time than it takes to make them.

I just want to check in with the progress—or lack of it—I’ve had in reaching my goals. There are writing projects, career objectives, and personal undertakings that I’ve let slip away from me.

I can do this any time of the year, of course, but New Year’s Day seems like a good jumping off point.

Now 2018 was a bit of challenge, as I was recuperating from my surgery, but I don’t want to harp on that for the rest of my life. It’s over and done, now let’s move on.

I got some good advice from Fred the Shrink a while back that I’m only now starting to appreciate. I was talking about trying hard to succeed and he flipped the script on me.

“You’ve tried hard,” he said, “now try easy.”

At first, I thought he was talking about slacking off or giving up entirely. But I see now he was referring to my attitude: I can chase my dreams with the same amount of energy as always, but I don’t have to get all worked up and psychotic in the process.

Baggage Claim

The frenzied approach hasn’t paid off for me anyway, so this might be a good time to give it the heave-ho.

I saw this principle at work last week during my boxing class. We had a low turnout due to the holiday, which meant the few, the proud, and the crazy got more attention from our instructor Abby.

In fact, instead of doing one circuit around the room, we got to do two of them—including a pair of one-on-one sessions with Abby and his mitts of doom.

In the first go-round I felt tight and awkward. I was putting out tons of effort, but I was disappointed with the results. I dreaded the next round because by the time I did a second run of the circuit I would be even more exhausted than I already was.

If only I stayed home in bed…

However, I was more at ease in the next round.

Abby complimented my technique and I relaxed, forgetting about fatigue and how I looked in front of my classmates—always a big issue with me--and just let my hands go. And it felt good.

I tried hard and then I tried easy.

I had a similar experience during my morning meditation. Lately, I haven’t been achieving the deep state of relaxation that I normally do and I wasn’t sure why.

And naturally the more I thought about this situation, the less relaxed I became.

But things were different this morning. I stopped thinking so damn much and decided that I would accept whatever happened—good, bad, or whatever. This is meditation, not The Hunger Games.

And by doing that, I was able to have the best meditation I’ve had in weeks. I was breathing deeply and relaxing every muscle in my body. It was epic.

So, I’m not going to swear on stack of bibles or cross my heart and hope to die that I’ll keep all my resolutions for 2019. I’m just going to pack up all my cares and woe and put them out on the corner for the garbageman to take.

I’ve tried hard and now I’m going to try easy.

Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Ship to Shore

At last my diet soda addiction finally paid off.

Every year around this time I vow to rid myself of these vile sugarless soft drinks that have been polluting my body since the Jimmy Carter Administration.

This year will be no exception, of course, but on Saturday, my weakness for caramel-colored chemicals actually had an upside for once.

I was at a local supermarket picking up some diet ice tea, which unfortunately for me, was on sale for a ridiculously low price.

The place wasn’t particularly crowded, but I sensed that it was all aglow with holiday excitement. Or maybe that was the caffeine withdrawal talking.

Anyway, I was online all set to checkout when I realized I hadn’t picked up an extra bottle of Diet Coke.

I loathe counter shoppers—these losers who dump their goods in front of the cashier and continue their buying spree- (I tell ya, there oughta a law!)—so I abandoned my spot on the line, dashed over to the soda aisle and bounced back with my prize hoping to reclaim my spot.

However, this older gentleman stepped up in front of with two cartons of eggs in his hands. All right, I figured, he doesn’t have much. I’ll be out of here in no time.

As I waited, I noticed that this man was wearing what appeared to be a veteran’s cap. When he turned I caught sight of “World War II” stitched into his cap and realized he was a veteran—just like my father.

I wanted to talk to him, but I felt a little awkward. I didn’t want to bother the guy. He’s just buying some eggs and minding his own business. Perhaps I should do the same—minus the eggs.

But several years ago, I saw a WWII veteran and his wife while riding the subway and I regretted not speaking to him. I decided to talk to this man at the counter. The worst that could happen is that I’d get pelted with eggs.

“You fought in World War II?” I asked.

Atlantic Crossing

No response. Apparently, he didn’t hear me. So, while Frank Sinatra sang over the sound system about chestnuts roasting on an open fire, I waited until the gentleman turned my way.

“You fought in World War II?” I repeated.

“Yes, I did.”

“My Dad served in the army,” I said. “In Europe. What about you?”

“I was in the Navy—on a troop ship going back and forth.”

“Well, thank you for your service,” I said.

Troop ships carried thousands of soldiers-like my father-to and from the United States, Europe, Great Britain, Africa, Asia and Australia.

My dad was a legendary pain in the ass on the way over to Europe and he proudly told me that his fellow soldiers got so fed up with his shipboard shenanigans that they dragged his mattress up from down below and threw it out on the deck.

It’s a wonder he made it to the war alive.

“I just made 92,” the old sailor said.

I wasn’t sure what he was saying at first, but then I realized he was telling me his age.

“Well, God bless you,” I said.

So, this man was born in 1926, the year that Houdini died, Hirohito was crowned emperor of Japan, and the short-lived Treaty of Berlin, where Germany and the Soviet Union agreed to stay neutral if one was attacked by any third party, was signed.

It’s amazing to think how the world has changed in that time.

The man paid for his eggs, wished me a happy holiday and went on his way. I’m glad I decided to speak with him and I’m so happy that there are still a few of these old timers still around. They did so much for this country, but their sacrifice is being forgotten.

In a week or so I’ll make another attempt at kicking the diet drink habit. I know that stuff is all kinds of bad for me, but it’s almost worth the internal abuse if it gives me a chance to meet a real live hero.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Down This Mean Street

I turned on to the short street one block down from Third Avenue on Friday morning and braced myself.

This was the one-year anniversary of my double-knee surgery, after I had fallen in the snow in front of a house on this street.

That was the start of a hellishly long hospital stay and a lengthy rehab.

As I walked, I had a powerful urge to bare my buttocks at the house where I had hit the deck and scream, “I’m still here, you sons-of-bitches!” at the top of my voice.

But I resisted.

This isn’t a time for anger; it’s a time for gratitude. There’s a lot of turmoil going on in my life right now, but at least I’m here to deal with it.

Yes, it’s already been a year. The event seems both distant and recent—and somewhat surreal.

How you much you like them pants?

That was what the EMT said to me after I had been loaded in an ambulance last year.

“Well,” I said, “I just got them…and they’re very warm. Why do you ask?”

“We may have to cut you out of them.”

It turns they didn’t have to slice up my blue jeans and I’m wearing them right now as I write this. Of course, it was a while before I could put on pants because I was wearing leg braces for months. Back then, I went from hospital gowns to gym pants.

I couldn’t use the bathroom in those early days after the surgery and I have this ugly memory of sitting on a bedpan in the middle of night and crying at thought of being bedridden for so long.

One of the doctors, a very nice Russian lady, encouraged me to think positively, saying that it would help my recovery. And she was right. Despair does nothing but dig you deeper into a hole.

Home Safe

My poor sister ran herself ragged getting the surgeon to examine me and hooking me up with the right people. And my poor auntie was worried sick about me.

After the operation, I went to the hospital’s rehab section every day, first in a wheelchair and then on the walker.

The young women who worked with me in those early, awful days were absolute saints and I wish them all the best.

I spent last Christmas and New Year’s Day in the hospital. I guess it was fortunate that we had such a bitter cold winter, since I doubt if I would’ve been going anywhere even if I hadn’t been injured.

When I came home I was a virtual prisoner, pretty much stuck up on the third floor, unable to leave, except for a daily stiff-legged climb up and down the stairs.

As I got better I felt a need to do some kind of physical exercise. My shrink suggested seated aerobic workouts on YouTube, which I had never heard of. But it turns out they’re a real thing.

At first, I felt rather foolish doing these routines. Sitting in a chair and waving my arms around—it was ridiculous.

But then it finally occurred to me that there are plenty of people in this world who have no choice but to do these exercises because they can’t walk—and never will.

People have been very kind to me when I tell them about my accident and they expressed their concern, but I remind them that I had I hit my head on that day last year I probably wouldn’t be here.

I’ve been back at the gym several months now, even though the original prognosis called for me to be laid up for at least a year-and-a-half.

So, there are plenty of things in my life to be thankful for and I’m not going to waste time with regret or bitterness.

And, rest assured, that while I won’t be baring my keester in public, I do want to let people know that, yes, I’m still here, you sons-of-bitches.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Past Picture Perfect

I wish I had a camera.

You don’t hear that line much anymore in this age of smart phones that take photos, give directions, translate other languages, send text messages, give mambo lessons, and, oh, yeah, make calls.

But I remember the days when you’d see something cool or exciting or beautiful and you’d stand there just awestruck by whatever the hell you were looking at for a few seconds until you realized you have no way of sharing this moment with others—except by telling them about it.

I’m not knocking story-telling by any means, but sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand clich├ęs.

This mini-rant is brought to you by a stray memory that came sliding into my mind yesterday and refused to leave. It was back in the Seventies, somewhere in the vicinity of a little town called Peru, Vermont, where my family and I were staying for a few weeks.

One night we were coming of a local restaurant and heading back to our car when something caught my eye.

It was two dogs sitting inside a parked car--one behind the wheel, the other sitting in the passenger seat.

They were looking straight ahead and they seemed ready to crank up the engine and go for a drive around town. A professional animal photographer could not have set this up better.

I quickly turned to my family and pointed at the car-bound canines, whereupon my mother let out this tremendous laugh.

“Look at them!” she said.

Unfortunately, none of us had a camera. Smart phones didn’t exist back then, of course, but why the hell didn’t one of us have a film camera? My parents had given me cameras as presents when I was growing up, but for whatever reason I wasn’t packing one of them.

It’s just so annoying because I’m sure a picture of these two dogs would’ve gotten some kind award or prize. But I guess photographs had more value back then because it was tougher to get good ones.

We had a good laugh, drove back to our motel, and eventually forgot about the two driving dogs.

Flash in the Pan

Last week I was tooling around on YouTube last week when I came across a video of Sting and Bruce Springsteen from October 1988 teaming up to sing “Every Breath You Take.”

I waste far too much time on YouTube, but I’m almost able to forgive myself when I come across gems like these. One of the people writing in the comment section made an intriguing observation.

Not a single freaking phone in the air,” this person wrote. “Only people actually enjoying the hell out of this amazing concert. Good times.”

I realized how right this person was. There were no raised hands clutching I-phones, no relentless flash attack, and no crappy amateur videos that people insist on shooting and posting.

This was 1988 bro,” another commenter wrote. “When life was simple and FUN!!!

I think this second person is getting a little too nostalgic. I have fond memories of the Eighties, too—mostly because I was younger—but does anyone want to give up smartphones and the Internet for fax machines and beepers?

Beepers were the killer device in that distance decade, but today they seem about as sophisticated as a flintlock pistol.

I confess I’m guilty of being a camera hound, as I take photos of nearly anything that catches my eye—mostly because I can.

You don’t have to worry about getting film developed or even taking a bad shot because you can either take dozens more or digitally doctor the original photo until it looks just the way you want it.

All this picture-taking could have serious implications down the road for our beleaguered brains.

A recent article in Vox warned that “in many cases, scientists are finding that constant photo taking actually diminishes our ability to recall our experiences, diverts our attention, and takes us out of the moment.”

I have firsthand experience with this phenomenon. My sister and I were watching a fireworks display at Coney Island one summer night when she pointed out that I wasn’t really watching at all. I was too busy taking photos of the rockets’ red glare.

“You’re not watching the fireworks,” she said.

Point well taken. I’ll try to enjoy experiences while they happen, instead of trying to memorialize them ever so briefly for Facebook.

Now I should mention here that I’m working on a story involving a dog, so I suspect that’s where this seemingly random recollection actually comes from. To be honest, I think my favorite part of that double dog moment in Vermont isn’t so much the dogs themselves, but the beautiful sound of my mother’s laughter.

And you can’t take a picture of that.