Sunday, June 19, 2016

Active Shooter

Today is Father’s Day and I’m thinking of my dad, a World War II veteran, who fought to keep this country safe.

He saw men die in great numbers and I’m sure it scarred him in ways I’ll never be able understand.

But after last week’s horrific events at Pulse, a gay club in Orlando, after yet another mass shooting in America, I’m wondering what was the point of all that sacrifice and suffering?

The Greatest Generation fought to keep foreign killers out of this country, but today we can proudly kill each other with terrifying weapons that my father and his comrades couldn’t begin to imagine.

So here we go again, another senseless fucking slaughter in the Land of the Free. There will be the usual candlelight vigils, and flowers piled up at the site of this latest abomination, and people will pray and vow that the victims will never be forgotten.

But why? Why bother with all that horseshit when we all know that there’s another mass shooting just around the corner waiting to happen?

Nothing’s going to change. The gun lobby owns congress and they won’t do anything to stop the carnage as long as the money keeps rolling in.

Hell, it was just a year ago that a racist lunatic killed nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. And look how far we’ve come since then….

The Second Amendment imbeciles, led by Donald “Agent Orange” Trump, got hysterical because the Orlando shooter was a Muslim who voiced support for ISIS, conveniently ignoring the fact that the vast majority of mass murderers are not Muslims.

But, hey, why let the facts get in the way of your God given right to be a flaming asshole?

Gun Play

And as far as this guy being a member of ISIS, it’s looking more and more that he was just “a typical mass shooter,” which is pretty sad when such maniacs are labeled as “typical.”

It doesn’t why these people are killing us; it only matters that we’re making it so fucking easy.

There have been so many horrifying images surrounding the atrocity at Pulse, but the one I can’t stop thinking about are the parents, friends, and relatives who gathered outside the nightclub as soon as word got out about the shooting.

These poor people were stranded in the most terrible kind of limbo, not knowing if they’re loved ones were dead or alive.

No one should have to suffer like that—no one.

I would like to see some of the swaggering gun lovers walk up to these people and tell them about the Founding Fathers desire to have us all armed to the teeth.

I want them to peddle that brain dead bullshit to their faces—not on a website, not while cowering in a radio studio or appearing in the Fox News fantasy factory—but out there among the people who are hurting the most.

What a perfect time to prove how brave you are.

If you’re looking for any good news here, forget it. Since the Orlando massacre last Sunday, there have been at least 125 gun deaths in America, including three men who were shot to death over a dispute about firewood.

Police identified the alleged shooter as Erick Shute, a self-proclaimed “sovereign citizen” and apparent non-Muslim.

I’m sure there are many more sovereign citizens out there legally buying all sorts of obscene firepower and preparing to enter a mall, a church, a school or a nightclub and start shooting.

And meanwhile the country my father fought for will rapidly fade away in clouds of gun smoke and gallons of spilled blood.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Atlanta Special

He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.-- Muhammad Ali

Sometime around 1984 I was walking through the mall at the World Trade Center when I noticed this man coming toward me in the opposite direction.

Of course there were thousands of people passing through that mall every day of the week, but this gentleman stood out.

I looked closer to make sure that I wasn’t imagining things and turned to a guy walking behind me.

“Is that Ali?” I asked, even though I already knew the answer.

It was indeed Muhammad Ali, the former heavyweight champion of the world, walking with another man, his hands in his coats pockets, avoiding eye contact with any of the scores of people who were gaping at him in disbelief.

He was so unlike the brash braggart I was used to seeing, the man who roared at the world “I am the Greatest!”; who floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee; and who gave us the rope-a-dope and the Ali shuffle.

It was a meeting of two icons: Ali and the Twin Towers. I thought they’d both last forever and now they’re both gone from this world.

Ali’s health problems were just going public then and when I expressed interest in taking boxing lessons, a coworker said to me, “you don’t want to end up like Muhammad Ali, do you?”

A decade or so later, a much weaker Muhammad Ali lit the Olympic cauldron during the opening ceremony in Atlanta, a city I visited for the first time last week while covering a conference for work.

Before departing, I told my boxing coach that I was going to miss Tuesday’s class and when we squared off for a round of mitt work, he advanced on me with a twinkle in his eye.

“I’m going to give to you the Atlanta Special,” he said, before wailing the tar out of me and giving me a chance to demonstrate boxing skills that would never be mistaken for Ali’s.

Maybe I should keep my travel plans private.

I had been dreading the trip to A-Town, worried about flying, fearful I’d miss my flights; and concerned about being able to pound out news stories on tight deadlines, which I frankly hadn’t done in a long time.

Puttin’ on the Grits

But I think it worked out all right. I covered several breakout sessions, cranked out my stories, and managed to have a good time in a new place.

I also ate grits for the first time in my life.

I also met some pretty nice, including the limo driver who picked me up at the airport.

He had moved to Atlanta from Nigeria many years ago and he proudly showed me a cell phone picture of his son, a cadet at West Point; and he told me about his daughter, who is graduating from Harvard.

There was a lovely young waitress at the hotel restaurant, who did everything she possibly could to get me to order dessert. I’m watching the calories now, but she did give me a free oatmeal-raisin cookie on my way out.

“It’s healthy,” she said.

On my last night in town, one of the hotel employees greeted as I was leaving the building.

“How’s it going?” he asked, sporting a genuine smile.

“Fine,” I told him. “I’m going back to New York tomorrow.”

“Oh, well,” he said, “enjoy yourself in the Little Apple before you go back to the Big Apple.”

The only real attraction I saw during this trip was the World of Coke exhibit, a kind of shrine-museum-commercial dedicated to the world-famous sugary beverage.

The only thing I found interesting were the vintage Coke posters from around the world, including one that featured Muhammad Ali.

My driver for the trip back to the airport was a young man who had grown up in Washington Heights. We talked about Ali and his connection to Atlanta and he told me about his girlfriend who had recently left him to go back to her ex-husband.

He believed she would be return to him and I gently encouraged him to consider other options.

One the flight back from the Little Apple, I got sudden bout of Xanax panic and popped a second little blue pill, even though the flight was only two hours long.

I was completely unconscious when the planed landed and the woman sitting next to me was loudly clearing her throat to get me to wake up.

And that was it. I was back at work in no time and on Thursday my boxing teacher gave me another furious beating. It wasn’t the Atlanta special but it was good enough.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

The Bystander Effect

Winston Moseley knew no one would stop him.

“I knew they wouldn't do anything,” he told police after his arrest. “They never do.”

Moseley murdered Kitty Genovese in Queens in 1964 in one of the most infamous murder cases in modern times.

The horrific crime gained worldwide attention largely because of a New York Times article that said “38 respectable, law-abiding citizens” did nothing while Moseley attacked Kitty Genovese on three separate occasions.

The story sparked worldwide condemnation and provided material for writers and composers, including the Phil Ochs song “Outside of a Small Circle Friends.”

There was talk of the Bystander Effect or the Genovese Effect and the words “I didn’t want to get involved” summed up life in the big city.

The Kitty Genovese case is the subject of a new documentary called The Witness that explores the mythology surrounding the murder. The film features Kitty’s brother, Bill, who was 16 years old at the time of his sister’s murder.

Bill Genovese has said in interviews that he wants his sister to be remembered as more than just a victim, that she had a life before her death.

Subsequent investigations found that many people didn’t hear Kitty Genovese’s cries for help and very few saw the actual attack.

There were two attacks, not three, and rather than dying alone in a hallway, a neighbor came out and held Kitty Genovese in her arms until an ambulance arrived.

Facts and Fiction

I’m a reporter and I can certainly see how the initial story got turned around. There’s the pressure of making deadlines and nailing a scoop that can often outrun the facts.

At first I wondered why it took five decades for the truth to come out. But then it’s nearly impossible to unring a bell.

People will believe what they want to believe even if you grab them by the scruff of the neck and shove them face first into the facts.

I remember when news of the Genovese case first broke. Or maybe I don’t. I’ve heard the story so often for so long that I really don’t know if my memories of the crime are real or not.

Fordham University psychology professor Dr. Harold Takooshian, who holds symposiums on the case, spoke about the murder on the public television Metrofocus and he noted the story is more exaggerated than false.

“Whether or not it was 38 or 8 witnesses,” he wrote in an article for Psychology Today, “Ms. Genovese felt horribly alone, and would have survived if inactive neighbors responded to her cries.”

Takooshian listed several other recent incidents where bystanders failed to help crime victims. He also staged fake muggings on city streets to see how people would react. All too often, they did nothing.

The murder is credited with helping to develop the 911 emergency call system and Good Samaritan laws that give legal protection to people who help those in trouble.

Winston Moseley died in March and Takooshian observed how chilling it is that a sociopath turned out to be a better judge of human character than psychologists.

The story is fascinating and I’m sure people will be discussing the Kitty Genovese case 50 years from now.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

War of Words

The greatest writers, philosophers, and statesmen of all time have made brilliant comments about the futility of war, but my late father had them all beat.

Many years ago he and I were watching a Memorial Day ceremony on TV when my dad, a World War II veteran, slowly shook his head.

“You know,” he said, “war is such bullshit.”

I think that’s sums it up perfectly.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day when we honor the soldiers who died defending this nation. All around the country people will lay wreaths, blow taps, and wave the flag.

There will be talk of never forgetting those who made the ultimate sacrifice, politicians will crank out the sound bites, and everyone will go to barbecues.

But you just know that sooner or later the chicken hawks, the war profiteers, and their idiotic followers will start screeching about invading some global hell zone, taking us down the road to yet another unwinnable war, and the body bags will start filling up all over again.

Some people will say now isn’t the time to talk about this kind of thing, that Memorial Day is a time to salute fallen soldiers.

Screw those people.

Memorial Day is the perfect time to discus this never-ending lie that we keep telling ourselves. War is about money, period. If you want war to stop, start drafting rich people and you’ll see peace break out with lightning speed.

When I was a kid my mother took my brother and me to Radio City Music Hall to see Gone With the Wind on the big screen.

Swords into Plowshares

My mother was this movie’s biggest fan bar none. She actually started the audience applauding when Clark Gable made his first appearance standing at the bottom of a flight of stairs.

At the time I was quite embarrassed, of course, but now it is one of my dearest memories of my mom.

I haven’t seen the picture in its entirety since then, but a few years back I watched a couple of minutes of a TV broadcast of the movie.
It was the scene following the Battle of Gettysburg where soldiers’ relatives in Atlanta are anxiously waiting for the casualty lists to see if their loved ones are still alive.

As copies of the list are distributed to the crowd, the air starts to fill with the cries and wailing of family members who have lost a son, brother, or husband.

The leader of a military band has apparently lost his own child and though this man is rocked to his core, he turns and orders the musicians to start playing “Dixie.”

Young people are being killed and maimed by the thousands, cities are destroyed, and entire generations are scarred beyond repair.

And how do we respond? We strike up the band. We cover pain with pageantry and nothing ever changes.

As the band plays on the camera tracks in on a young boy who is crying as he plays the flute. It’s a moving, powerful scene that made my mother burst into tears at the very mention of it and it perfectly illustrates my father’s point.

War is such bullshit.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Mission Impossible

Whatever you're meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible."--Doris Lessing.

Wow, does this guy know me or what?

I just read my horoscope as interpreted by Rob Brezsny on this, my 59th birthday, and his words went right to my soul.

He starts off with the above Doris Lessing quote and then tells me to take her advice to heart.

“It's senseless to tell yourself that you will finally get serious as soon as all the circumstances are perfect,” Mr. Brezny writes. “Perfection does not and will never exist. The future is now. You're as ready as you will ever be.”

Do it now? But I’m The Procrastinater, who puts everything off to some distant future time that will never get here. And now I can use my age as yet another excuse not to do anything about…anything.

Or perhaps not. Maybe I can take this celestial suggestion and make some changes. Why the hell not?

My company is very kindly giving employees their birthdays off in honor of the firm’s 100th anniversary so I treated myself to a long overdue doctor’s visit—where I learned I have to lose weight—and then a fabulous massage.

After that I went to the old Lincoln Savings Bank on Fifth Avenue where my mother used to sell life insurance and stood in the spot where my mother’s desk used to be.

I usually walk by this location quickly and surreptitiously bless myself as if I’m committing a crime.

But today I took my time. I stood on this holy patch of ground for several minutes and I thought about the woman who gave birth to me nearly 60 years ago this very day.

I got a few odd looks from the customers, but I didn’t care. I had every right to be here.

It’s been almost 14 years since my mother died and I still miss her so very much. I can’t have her back, but I can honor her memory by being happy and giving The Procrastinater the heave-ho.

The future is now.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Heavy Traffic

The young mother held her baby to the window of their Madison Avenue apartment one recent morning and pointed down at the hopelessly snarled traffic.

It was late by commuter standards, almost 9:30AM, and it seemed like everybody and his brother had decided to cram into this particular thoroughfare.

I was riding—or crawling—through that very same traffic and that mother and child were about the only pleasant sight during a particularly rotten morning ride.

It was such an odd contrast, seeing this tender scene in the midst of all this traffic and commerce.

I didn’t know there were apartments in the building, but then the realtors in this city would stick condos in the clouds if they could pay gravity to look the other way.

I was going into a work a little later than usual and I was paying the price. I knew the traffic would be bad, but I had no idea it would suck this much.

We had just crept by the Syndicate Trading Company building on 37th Street, which has become something of a low level fascination for me.

The company is no longer around, but like a lot buildings in New York, the present shares space with the past.

The only reference I could find to the place was in Nancy Lemann’s novel Malaise, which said the Syndicate Trading Company “traded commodities, then insurance companies, Caribbean utilities, newspapers, venture capital investments, and eventually natural resources.”

The company later moved to Midtown, according to the book, but the building and its distinctive sign is still with us.

Riding on Fumes

It’s a remnant of another era that conjures up images of old time stock tickers and men in top hats who smoke cigars in exclusive clubs.
The city is changing every day, or so it seems, but there are still plenty of old buildings to remind us of New York’s incredible history.

I wonder what the city will look like when the baby in the window grows up.

Will the building that he or she lives in now still be there? Will someone finally pull down the Syndicate Trading Company building and put up some modern atrocity and charge obscene amounts of money for people to live there?

I eventually got to the office, but it was a struggle.

And less than 24 hours I was flying up Madison Avenue in an express bus that was really living up to its name. I had gotten up much earlier this time to take a 7 AM boxing class at one of my gym’s facilities on 49th and Broadway and it was shockingly unlike the previous day’s slog.

The traffic was so light at this early hour and I couldn’t have been traveling through the streets of Manhattan any faster if I had been riding in a fire engine.

This wasn’t my normal gym day and I was tempted to blow it off, but ultimately I decided to rise and shine for my morning abuse.

That turned out to be a great move. The class was great and I ran into not one, but two, really great guys that I knew from other boxing classes and had not seen in ages.

“It’s like old home week,” I declared, just before the torture began.

I’m going to stay in touch with these guys because unlike Manhattan traffic time never slows down.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Christmas in May

She was born on Christmas Day and she believes miracles happen every day of the week.

I met an elderly woman on Saturday morning standing on line at a local supermarket.

She was behind me and I heard her speaking—apparently to herself—as the cashier rang up her order.

“I don’t know how I’m going to get all this home,” she was saying. “I didn’t bring my cart.”

The woman was walking with a cane and clearly needed a hand. I was tired and in a hurry, as I was going to the theater with my sister and auntie that afternoon, but I didn’t want to leave this lady on her own.

I still have fresh memories of a very kind man who helped me during a recent airplane freak-out and my auntie has trouble walking, so the least I could do was help this lady with her bags.

As we walked the half-block down 75th Street to her apartment, she told me that she had moved to the neighborhood five years ago from Eighth Avenue.

“I’ve met so many wonderful people on this block,” she said.

She recently had a hip replacement and told me how happy she was now that her life was relatively pain-free. My aunt is concerned about needing a hip placement so that caught my interest.

“My doctor said, ‘Gloria, you’re doing great,’” she told me.

“Oh, my goodness,” I said, “my mother’s name was Gloria!”

“Tell your mother that I believe in miracles every day,” she said.

My mother has been gone for many years now, but I didn’t want to mention that. Meeting this woman was like a late Mother’s Day gift—to myself.

Eight Million Stories

Gloria told me was born on Christmas Day and later on that day I recalled an episode of the old crime show Naked City entitled “Hold for Gloria Christmas.”

I’m sorry, but that’s just the way my brain works.

The story concerns a drunken poet, portrayed by Burgess Meredith, who is murdered while trying to retrieve a collection of poems that he wants to send to the eponymous Gloria.

The episode aired in 1962 when Gloria and I were both much younger and New York was a much different place.
In addition to Meredith, the show includes appearances by Alan Alda, Herschel Bernardi, Jessica Walter, Richard Castellano, the acting teacher Sanford Meisner, Candace Hilligoss, star of the horror classic Carnival of Souls, and, hanging up in a newsstand, a copy of Amazing Fantasy #15, which featured the debut of the Amazing Spiderman.

The comic sold for 12 cents back then, but a near-mint issue recently sold for over a million bucks. Amazing indeed.

The show is a bit dated, I suppose, but that’s such a minor issue considering the great cast and the fabulous location shots of old New York.

At the end of the episode—spoiler alert--we learn that Gloria Christmas doesn’t exist, that she’s a figment of the poet’s imagination.

My Gloria Christmas, on the other hand, is quite real and I’m very glad I met her.

“I call you my guardian angel,” she said, as we reached her door.

“Somebody recently helped me,” I said, “so I’m just passing it along.”

I walked home feeling quite good. I’m no angel but I’ll gladly help out if Spiderman is busy.