Sunday, July 24, 2016

Double Time

A dear friend came back to see me the other night and he brought along a twin brother I didn’t know he had.

I had this dream about Ben, my former next-door neighbor’s darling little boy, who could make me the happiest man alive just by smiling.

Ben was four years old when I left Senator Street in 2011 and I still miss him. He was such a sweet little kid, always curious and always so open and friendly.

He’d see me walking down the block after work and he’d come charging toward me, shouting “Wo-burrt!

It broke my heart when I moved to Shore Road, but wed'd sold our family’s house and it was high time that I moved the hell on.

I saw Ben once a short time later while walking down Fifth Avenue, and then he and his family moved away from the block and I don’t know where he is now.

But that didn’t stop him—or my memory of him—from visiting my subconscious late one night last week. However, in an apparent case of double your pleasure, there were two of them this time.

Yes, there were two Bens sitting next to me at a table in some crowded cafeteria. I have no idea where this was or what we were all doing there, and I didn’t care because I was just so happy to see my little guy(s).

He—or they—had a birthday coming up and I told the first Ben that I was going to get him a present. Then I reached behind him, rubbed Ben II on the head and said, “I’m getting you a present, too, buddy.”

Inwardly, though, I began to panic because I’d forgotten to get them gifts and I had no idea what to buy or where to buy them. I woke up a few minutes later and I confess I was rather sad to see that Ben really wasn’t with me.

Two For One

Why did I dream about Ben after all this time? Like any good detective, I reviewed my thoughts in the days preceding this dream in search of clues.

I recalled that just prior to seeing Ben I had gone through one of my self-inflicted funks about not having children.

It’s a familiar theme in my mind and I tend to play it like an old record. There are times when I really long to hold a child in my arms, watch him or her grow into an adult, and see this person develop before my eyes.

And then reality sets it as I recall the struggles I had with my physical and emotional health back in my child-producing years, and the difficulties I had finding my place in this world that still haven't quite gone away.

I always tell myself that it was probably better that I didn’t have kids, but clearly there’s a part of me that just flat out doesn’t believe that.

So why were there two Bens? I suspect they represented my schizoid views on having a kid—the joy on one side and the fear and anxiety on the other.

Fred the Shrink noted that I was also Ben, as we play all the parts in our dreams, and that I was looking for some fatherly affection. That certainly makes sense.

I can only imagine how Ben has changed in the last five years, how big he’s gotten and what he’s up to. I’m sure I’ve faded from his memory and, as painful as that is to admit, I also believe that it’s for the best.

As my sister-in-law pointed out to me when I first moved off the block, Ben already has a family that loves him. It’s my task to find someone who isn’t being love, she said, and open my heart to him or her.

It was great “seeing” the Ben twins the other night. God bless, thank you for making my world so much better, and please do take care. Grow up happy and successful.

And, as for the new object of my affection wherever they may be, please hold on. I’m moving as fast as I can.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Between Rounds

I sat in my writing teacher’s living room on Wednesday night and waited for my turn to read.

I usually don’t like to go out on Wednesdays as I have to get up ridiculously early the following morning to attend my beloved boxing class at New York City Sports Club’s City Hall facility.

The toughest part of the class is the one-on-one mitt session with the instructor, Abby, who cheerfully bashes me up one side of Broadway and down the other.

I love every minute of it, of course, so it’s really important to get a good night’s sleep.

But this was a very special occasion.

The evening was the culmination of the latest session of Five for Five, a fantastic series of writing classes that I’ve been taking since the fall.

As the name implies, the class consists of five people who meet for five weeks at the home of our instructor, Rosemary Moore, in Park Slope.

I’ve taken some excellent writing classes in my time and I’ve worked with some fine instructors. But what makes this class standout is the raw craziness of Rosemary’s approach.

Instead of bringing in writing samples and reading them to the other members, Rosemary has us write in real time during the class.

She reminds us at the beginning of every session that her home is a safe place; there is no fear, no wrong choices and absolutely anything freaking goes.

And then we write our asses off.

It’s amazing how many wacky things I’ve come up with working with Rosemary and my beautiful classmates—the kindest, most supportive, most talented people you’ll ever meet.

Float Like A Butterfly

I’ve discovered ideas for short stories and a novel lurking in the backwoods of my mind, but more importantly I’ve learned how to just let go and let nature take over. It is such a liberating experience.

I’ve taken four sessions with this group and on Wednesday we invited friends and family for a reading of our works in progress.

I was getting so nervous waiting for my time to read. My sister had very kindly agreed to attend the reading and I didn’t want to look like an idiot in front of her, my classmates or their guests.

I had done a few practice readings at home during the week and they were all terrible. I stumbled over words and phrases like a foreign exchange student reading English for the first time.

And then I recognized this tension I was feeling. It was exactly the way I feel when I’m just about to work out with Abby. I worried about messing up, looking stupid, and making a total fool of myself.

Now it was my turn to read.

I took a seat and started reading a sample I plan on developing into a novel and the words came out of me effortlessly.

There was that sense of being in the moment, of doing everything right, just like when I have a good round with Abby. Only I wasn’t getting smacked in the head.

I usually hate boxing analogies, but in this case it’s legit because writing and boxing both go much better when you don’t think.

Then it was over. The reading that had me worried all day was done and a short time later we were all drinking wine, eating snacks and having a great time.

The next morning I woke up rested and ready so I went to Abby’s class and got another joyful shellacking.

Rosemary is planning another session in the fall and God willing, I’ll be signing up for that one, too. The bell may have rung for this latest round, but I’ve just begun to write.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Radio Free Slaughter

Maybe I shouldn’t listen to the BBC anymore.

I start most days by switching on National Public Radio and tuning into the early morning BBC programs.

I enjoy hearing the news from another country and getting a different perspective on current events.

However, lately the BBC has become the bearer of some very bad news indeed as I first learned of the mass shootings in Orlando and now Dallas from British reporters.

On both occasions I was half-awake and hoping I was dreaming only to find that the horrific events were all too real.

So we have yet another mass shooting in America and it’s particularly upsetting to hear foreign journalists report on the blood-soaked insanity that’s destroying my country.

I have British friends and I have absolutely no idea what to say when they ask me what the hell is going on here because I don’t fucking know.

It’s seems so pointless to even mention this latest atrocity, and I know I’ve said this so many times before, but I can’t ignore what’s going on around me.

I can’t pretend everything’s okay while the bullet-riddled bodies keep piling up.

In case you were wondering, a "public mass shooting" is defined as one in which four or more people selected indiscriminately, not including the perpetrator, are killed.

I know these definitions are necessary but I find it rather disturbing that we are establishing parameters for this sort of mayhem.

However, when you look at the unstoppable spate of shootings, I suppose you have to set up some kind of guidelines so people don’t get confused.

This time five Dallas police officers were killed by a sniper bent on murdering white cops and he did it just blocks away from Dealey Plaza, where John F. Kennedy was assassinated 53 years ago.

Open Carry, Open Season

The killer, an African-American war veteran, said he was angry about recent police shootings of black men.

After refusing to surrender, the murderer was killed by something called a “bomb-delivering robot.”

Please understand that I have absolutely no sympathy for this psychopath and I didn’t want other officers to be killed or wounded by this bastard, but I’m not comfortable with cops wiping people out with bombs.

Yes, if this guy had killed one of my friends or family members I’d want him dead by any means available. And I’m very glad that he is dead.
But I’m concerned about crossing the line from law enforcement to vigilantism, from enforcing to the law to waging war. What’s next—drone strikes in our cities?

And now we have all the talk about healing and coming together, which we get after every mass shooting. But it’s impossible for us to heal when we keep on ripping off the bandages.

The gun-loving crowd is blaming President Obama—big fucking surprise--because he dared to express concern about police shootings of African-Americans.

I don’t recall Mr. Obama specifically telling people to go out and murder police officers—at least the BBC didn’t report it--but logic doesn’t matter to people who believe guns are the answers to all our problems.

I thought perhaps the fact that the victims were white cops might sway some of these firearms fanatics to reconsider their extreme positions and give serious thought to toughening the gun laws to keep some of the lunatics out there from getting their hands on these horrible weapons.

And then reality set in and I thought about all the other mass shootings in America in recent years—or at least the ones I can remember—and how ever nothing changed.

I can’t blame the BBC for all this bloodshed. I’m a journalist and I know that they’re just reporting the news.

I’ll keep listening, but I’ll say a prayer before I switch on the radio and brace myself for news of the next nightmare that’s sure to come.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Shuttle Shuffle

I took the longest shuttle ride in MTA history, but I ended up in a good place.

The shuttle train ride that connects Grand Central Terminal with Times Square is normally so brief I usually don’t even bother sitting down.

It’s like—what? Five minutes?

And then you’re on the opposite end of 42nd Street, ready to go home, catch a train, see a show or do any of a million other things there are to do this town.

But it was little different on Thursday.

I’m taking a fabulous writing course in Park Slope so one night a week I skip my normal Express Bus ride home for a simmering slice of subterranean slime.

It just seems that my week isn’t complete without the filth, the noise and the freaks that make riding our fair city’s subway system such a unique experience. And Thursday was a standout indeed.

I boarded a shuttle at Grand Central and decided to go against tradition by taking a seat across the way from this heavyset young man with earphones stuffed into his head.

People kept filing onto the train and we were seconds way from pulling out when this fellow started “singing” at the top of his voice.

I put singing in quotes because the noise was so awful that I feel like I’m offending singers all over the world, including the karaoke cretins and people who practice hog calling in the shower.

The guy was wailing out some kind of ballad, but it was atrocious. And I was getting angrier and angrier with this fat bastard who was crapping up my crosstown commute.

Of course complaining was out of the question, since I didn’t feel like getting beaten up or killed over such a lousy singer.

Pull My Finger

I suppose it’s a waste of time to ask what the hell is wrong with people, but I’ll ask anyway. What the hell is wrong with people?

Do they honestly think that everyone else will be entertained by their senseless screeching?

Are they so desperate for attention that they’ll do anything to have people look at them—even if those people are glaring at them with unrestrained loathing?

I didn’t feel like giving up my seat, partially because I was tired, and partially because I didn’t want to risk offending this loon in case he might storm after me and do an encore while standing on my chest.

He quieted down as three people took seats around us and tried to have a conversation. However, the shuttle man cranked up again, prompting the group to fall silent and stare at this loser in disbelief.

By this time I was fuming, cursing the fates, my luck, and most of all this palooka for failing to keep his yap shut.
But I’m trying everything I can to rein in the anger and one of the ways I’ve been doing is using a procedure called Jin Shin Jystsu that seeks to harness the body’s energy flows.

I only have a rudimentary knowledge of this fabulous system but one thing I do know is that when the anger takes over you, grab your middle finger—appropriate, no?—and hold on to it until the rage subsides

I did that on Thursday and found that I wasn’t mad at the shuffle crooner anymore. The rage I had been feeling just drifted away.

As we pulled into Times Square this fellow announced that he was accepting donations, which was strange because most MTA musical acts come to you for the money.

I’ve seen entire mariachi bands move between subway cars in search of loose change. This guy would’ve made more money and dropped a few pounds if he had gotten off his keester and walked through the train.

But he was clearly a mountain comes to Mohammad kind of guy, who gave us some important advice.

“Be positive,” he said, “test negative!”

I had to laugh and I had to give him a buck for his efforts, which was important since no one else gave him anything.

So I was able to get hold of the anger and actually find some fun in a tight situation. I know I’m still very impatient, but at least I can put my finger on the problem.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Way Up High

“Prayer is when you talk to God; meditation is when you listen to God.”—Diane Robison

The daring young man on the flying trapeze climbs to great heights, but the show doesn’t start until he lets go.

Letting go has been one of my biggest challenges.

I hold on to negative thoughts, old resentments, ancient anger and all sorts of emotional chazerai that makes me miserable.

I’ve been meditating regularly for the last two years after taking a mindfulness course at the Interdependence Project and I’m very slowly learning the joys and benefits of staying in the present moment.

It hasn’t been easy for me to sit quietly for 20 whole minutes and listen to nothing but my breath. Some days are better than others, but I believe I’m getting better and now my morning meditation is one of my favorite times of the day.

But now I’m taking a closer look at what goes on in my head after the meditation ends, thanks largely to a recent New York Times article entitle “Think Less, Think Better” that described how freeing the mind allows for more creative thing.

It sounds painfully obvious, but so many of us overload our brains—yours truly especially--and then wonder why we’re not getting things done.

Moshe Bar, the author of the article, said a series of experiments “suggest that the mind’s natural tendency is to explore and to favor novelty, but when occupied it looks for the most familiar and inevitably least interesting solution.”

In the Center Ring

I’ve learned the hard way that you can’t just stop certain thoughts from happening. Resistance just makes things worse.

But lately, when negative thoughts come to mind, I tell myself “let go.”

Notice I don’t say “let it go” because I’m not trying to get rid of one thought. I’m attempting to eliminate entire thought patterns.

There will always be an ugly memory or a misbegotten belief lurking somewhere in my subconscious, so popping them off one at a time is a waste of energy.

I’m looking to dismantle the clanking, rusting machinery in my head that thrives on fear, worry, and rage. I want to get to the source of all these twisted impulses.

And that’s why the acrobat imagery is so important because when my darker side emerges and I tell myself “let go,” the image of a two hands letting go of a trapeze often pops into my head. But I don’t fall to my doom; I rise.

I’ve tried this on several occasions over the last week and every time I do my breath gets slower and my shoulders drop as if I’m releasing a heavy weight.

I did this during my boxing class on Thursday and I was suddenly throwing punches faster during the shadow boxing session and pounding the heavy bag harder than ever.

I’m not promising an overnight transformation. In my experience the only “miraculous” changes occurred only after a lot of hard work.

I know I’ll be struggling with this for a long time, perhaps the rest of my life. I hope not, but I’m ready for the long journey.

The martial art of aikido, which redirects an opponent’s attack, is often described as “the Art of Unlearning” because it turns the idea of conventional fighting inside out.

That’s what I want to do—unlearn all the destructive habits and attitudes and move through my life with the greatest of ease.

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.