Sunday, March 18, 2018

Crack that Whip

I used to work with a guy who had a healthy attitude about tax time.

“I’m going home to do my taxes,” he told me one evening, “so if I get struck by a bolt of lightning, you’ll know why.”

I could use a little bit of humor now.

I’m slowly getting my tax papers together, so I can shoot them over to my accountant before an Internal Revenue SWAT team kicks in my door and hauls me off to Gitmo. Or wherever the hell they take (relatively) honest mathematically-challenged Americans.

I’ve never been good with numbers, especially when it involves the government, potential prison time, and righteous streaks of lightning.

Keeping track of bills and receipts is also another financial blind spot for me. Do you seriously expect me to hold on to a piece of paper from last February?

And, as spring follows winter, I make my annual oath that this will never, absolutely never happen again; that I will keep track of every single tax-related expenditure and hand my CPA a coherent presentation of my fiscal status…as opposed to sending him a bucket of “maybes” while cowering in the closet and listening for the sound of government helicopters.

Now all this tax talk reminds of a little incident that occurred at my gym one Sunday afternoon many years ago. Given my current physical condition, memories of the gym are all I have. (Cue sad music.)

I had just finished a particularly grueling boxing class and I struck up a conversation with an attractive woman who had also suffered through the same workout. I noticed she had a pixie tattooed on her arm, which I, shallow male animal that I am, thought was kind of cool.

The career question is one way of keeping up the talk, so I asked this young lady what she did for a living.

Deduct This!

“Oh, I’m a dominatrix,” she replied.

I thought I was hearing things, but I knew I hadn’t. This woman just told me that she was a dominatrix.

It was just the way she said it so casually. Like I’m a lawyer or an accountant, as opposed to someone who gets paid to put her customers through the sexual ringer.

Of course, I’m not really sure if there's a proper way of revealing this bit of intelligence, but I could’ve used a little bit of a warm-up before hearing the truth.

I tried, I honestly tried to pretend I wasn’t stunned by her response. This is New York, nothing shocks me. Dominatrix, alligator wrestler, professional sword swallower, yeah, sure, that’s great—do you have a dental plan?

We had actually moved away from the topic of jobs when my veneer of nonchalance fell by the wayside and I just had to know the whole story.

“So, tell me,” I said, desperately trying to sound slick, “What do you put on your W-2 form where it says ‘Occupation’?”

“I put ‘freelance worker.’”

That seemed logical enough and, hell, if it’s accurate then Uncle Sam should be satisfied. And God help him if he isn’t.

Then I took a closer look at that pixie tattoo and I saw that in lieu of a magic wand this little fairy was holding a cat o’ nine tails. You’d better clap for this Tinkerbell, or else.

There comes a time in every man’s life when you just have to say, “whoops, I think I hear my mama calling,” and make for the exit. And this definitely seemed like one of those times.

I wasn’t rude but the conversation faded shortly after my classmate’s revelation and I went home wondering just what the hell had just happened.

Now I swear on my tax returns that I’m not judging anyone. Whatever turns you on, as long as it’s not hurting anyone else is fine. If anyone is at fault here, it’s yours truly for freaking out so easily.

It’s just that after all those years with the nuns in Catholic school I don’t feel the need for any more humiliation. But do give me your business card just in case.

I still have to get a few more of my tax papers together and I’m going to work to make sure everything is aboveboard so I don’t get nuked by a bolt from above.

And if I hear any pixies knocking on my door I’m heading straight for the closet.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Dude Descending a Staircase

I stood on the landing outside my apartment and got ready for my big moment.

I was pretty nervous even though Ayman, my physical therapist, was standing right in front of me, ready to spring into action should anything go wrong.

This was an important step for me, literally and figuratively.

I was about to walk down a flight of stairs.

Last week I ditched the leg braces and now I was going to walk down from my third-floor apartment to the first floor by just…walking.

I wasn't going to rely on the stiff-legged sideways crab climb that I've been doing since December. No, I was going to use my poor battered knees to carry me up and down.

I can't begin to calculate how many times I've been up and down these stairs in the years I've lived here. I never counted the steps, I never really paid attention to what I was doing because walking up those stairs was effortless. Until it wasn't.

But in my current condition, the stairs looked like as scary as Mount Everest during a Yeti convention and I suddenly appreciated Jimmy Stewart's predicament in Vertigo. Only Kim Novak was nowhere to be seen.

Naturally I was overjoyed that I was going to be getting out of my apartment, if only to get to the front door. I'm very grateful for the progress I've been making, but I think the long recovery period is getting to me. I feel fat and fragile and I've been even crankier than normal.

I couldn't help but think about all the years I've been running, boxing, and lifting weights and now the biggest challenge in my life was this formerly routine act.

Walk Dem Golden Stairs

I recalled the good old days when I could fly up a flight of stairs two at a time without a second thought. At the gym I'd get on the Stairmaster and climb the approximate height of the Eiffel Tower or higher. But not today, mon ami…

Now I was going to take it one step at a time and focus carefully on every single one of them. This was a great opportunity to practice mindfulness, to stay present and pay attention to what I'm doing in the here and now.

I felt so awkward taking those first downward steps and it seemed like I was going to topple over with each move.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And so does a walk down the stairs.

"Take your time," Ayman told me.

No argument there. My two-stairs-at-a-time days are way behind me-perhaps forever.

We reached the bottom of the stairs and I was tempted to drop Neil Armstrong's "one small step for man" line because it was definitely a giant leap for me. And now it was time to reverse my steps.

It turned out that climbing up the stairs was much easier than going down. I guess not having to look down is a plus.

Ayman wants me to do this every day until I become a stair master. This was our last session together and this week I'm scheduled to begin my outpatient treatment. I feel indebted to this man, who took me through a dark period of my life. I'm going to miss his regular visits and his positive attitude.

"One day this will all be a memory," he said, during a particularly dark day.

Yes, it will. And now it's time for the next step.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

The Walk Cycle

I stood under the shower for so long on Saturday morning I wasn't sure if I'd ever come out.

My doctor told me last week that I don't have to wear my leg braces around the house anymore.

I've been taking full body washes in front of the sink since December, which really don't cut the mustard when it comes to coming clean.

I know it's wrong to waste water, but after feeling that heavenly H2O raining down on me after all those sponge baths, I just didn't want it to end.

In sports, being sent to the showers means you're being yanked off the field, but I felt like I was slowly returning to the game.

So, after three months of clunking around like the Tin Man in my Velcro leg irons, I can now stand on my own two feet-literally. No more wrapping and unwrapping my legs every time I have to do my morning stretch routine. I'm free.

It still feels strange, walking around without artificial support. My legs are still so thin that I was afraid they wouldn't be able to hold me up. But they can.

I walk slowly, that's for damn sure, nothing like the speed-racing pace I used to crank out when I went to the store…or the subway…or the bathroom. No, I'm taking the slow ride.

My physical therapist Ayman, has been visiting me at home for the last few weeks.

When the insurance company first approved a PT guy, I was expecting a musclebound young dude who would drill sergeant me into a frenzy, but this soft-spoken Egyptian man is gently pushing me to levels I never thought I could reach.

It hurts like hell, but I'm Catholic so it's all good. Or all bad. It's hard to tell.

Walk on By

He stopped by my apartment on Friday night after battling through the hideous nor'easter that had snarled traffic down to motionless misery. I wouldn't have blamed him if he had scrubbed our session, but he came through.

"You're walking like you still have the braces on," Ayman said, as I lumbered across the living room floor. "You have to bend your knees."

That felt a little scary after all the immobility. But I listened as he took me through the walk cycle, a seemingly simple act that I'd never appreciated until I had it taken from me.

I'm learning how to walk all over again. I feel like my parents should be here taking my picture and cheering me on.
I've spoken about the importance of gratitude and that's what I'm feeling now.

When I went to see my doctor this week, I waited in the hallway of my building for my sister to pick me up.

There's an image of Jesus on the door and I was so nervous I put my hand on the picture and prayed for good health and a speedy recovery.

But as I held my hand on that picture, I became calm and I thought about the people who are really suffering in this world, like the families of the shooting victims in Florida. And I went from being fearful to being thankful.

I have to wear the leg braces when I leave my apartment, so I'm still pretty much housebound. And after my sessions with Ayman run out, I'll have to continue the physical therapy as an outpatient.

I've got a long road ahead of me, but at least I'm not wearing those awful braces. Now it's time for a shower.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Dream Rock

I've always liked Chris Rock, ever since I first saw him on Saturday Night Live all those years ago, but last night he really pissed me off.

I suppose I should mention here that I've never met Chris Rock in real life, I haven't seen him on TV lately, and I haven't even thought about the guy in God knows how long.

And yet he walked into my head last night and wouldn't leave until I chased him the hell out.

I was in the middle of a strange dream, which sounds redundant in light of the technicolor skull busters I've experienced in my life, but at least this time it wasn't one of those horror show nightmares I've been known to have.

In this latest psychodrama I was sitting in a doctor's office, which makes some sense as I'm due to see my surgeon this week. However, this setting looked nothing like my doctor's waiting room and I wasn't wearing these godawful leg braces that I'm saddled with in real life.

And then Chris Rock walked in the door.

Yes, he did, and he sat down right next to me. I wasn't star-struck, but I was pretty impressed. We started talking about something which I have since forgotten and at one point I said, "there was a story on NPR about that last night."

"Oh, yeah?" the dream-edian snarked. "I didn't think bald guys from Brooklyn listened to NPR."

What the flaming fluff? I know these delusions aren't supposed to make sense, but even for a dream this joke bombed.

I've been putting up with bald jokes for far too long. Some people seem to think I consciously decided to start losing my hair one day, where in reality in was very upsetting for me. And believe it or not, rude, stupid jokes about it don't make me feel any better.

I recently tanked a Facebook friend request from some ass monkey I worked with 20 years ago largely because he was always making stupid bald jokes. I'm partially to blame here, as I've had trouble speaking up for myself, and I thought I should be a good sport-even though he was being a prick.

A Streetcar Named 'Yo Mamma'

Now I haven't had any contact with this dickwad in two decades and I didn't like him when I worked with him, so why in the five-alarm hell would I want to bring this putz back in my life after all this time? Delete, delete, delete…

In this age where fat-shaming has become a capital offense, and "body positive" has replaced "unhealthy," why is mocking someone else's hair loss is still acceptable? I want to join the oppressed minority and wrap myself up in a blanket of offense.

Don't get me wrong. Fat-shaming is a terrible thing to do and I was most definitely guilty of that in my younger days-something I deeply regret and sincerely apologize for. I just want a little understanding sent in my direction.

But first I've got to straighten out Chris Rock.

"Are you serious?" I snapped. "You're the bigtime comedian and that's the best you can do?"

I got so nasty that this world-famous performer got up and changed his seat.

I know I overreacted but on the bright side none of this was real-except for the lingering resentment I have stored up in my subconscious.

Dreams don't spring out of nowhere, so clearly, I've still got a lot of hostility buried in my psychological bedrock. I haven't figured out the Chris Rock angle, but perhaps my inner mind wanted to shake things up by pulling in a famous person.

The scene shifted and then I was watching very crowded trolley cars pass by me somewhere in downtown Brooklyn. I think I wanted to board one of them, but they were all so crowded I couldn't get on.

This seems logical since I've been watching a German TV show on Netflix called Babylon Berlin, which takes place in the eponymous city during the Weimar Republic. The show has excellent production values and sets, including a street scene with trolleys rolling back and forth.

And by the way, even though the trolleys were all packed to the gills nobody made any wisecracks about my hair.

I woke up, relieved I hadn't insulted a star and that I hadn't been run over by a trolley. I'm going to see my doctor on Tuesday and if Chris Rock sits next to me, he'd better keep his mouth shut.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

American Carnage

Too soon?

That's what we hear every time some heavily armed psycho gets hold of a terrifying weapon of personal destruction and kills innocent people.

While the victims' friends and family are still reeling from the unimaginable loss of their loved ones, the gun lobby and their whores in congress swoop in to make sure nothing ever changes.

It's too soon to talk about gun control, they say, it's disrespects the victims. We can't politicize this tragedy, they say, as if they actually give a shit.

And so the story fades from the news cycle, the dead are forgotten, and the scene is set for the next horrific attack.

But don't worry: these brave souls are ready to take action against the real villains here-computer games and movies. Yes, of course, that makes perfect sense.

Except when you realize that American movies and computer games are viewed and played all over the world and these countries don't seem to have the mass shootings that we do.

Gee, do you think it might have something to do with the guns? Nah….

The latest slaughter was in Parkland, Florida on Wednesday, where Nikolas Cruz allegedly gunned down 14 students and three staff members using the mass shooter's weapon of choice, the AR-15.

Cruz, who was photographed wearing a "Make America Great Hat," espoused "racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic views and displayed an obsession with violence and guns."

There's a brief cell phone video of students screaming and cowering in a classroom while the sound of gunfire rips through the air. Looking at this footage makes me ashamed to be an American.

The Las Vegas bump stock slaughter was in October, a month later we had the Texas church shooting, and here we are again with the funerals, the images of the fallen, and the sobbing survivors.

Gun Play

Oh, yeah, and of course, we get the "thoughts and prayers" routine, which for some strange reason don't seem to prevent these slaughters. Hard to believe, right?

The scumbag in the White House-I refuse to call him "President"-regurgitated some dribble about working with state and local leaders "to help secure our schools and tackle the difficult issue of mental health."

Why don't we start with yours?

Putin's hand puppet visited some of the wounded before dashing off to his compound at Mar-A-Largo, probably to play a few thousand rounds of golf and get his marching orders from Russia. It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it.

Making things so much worse was the news that FBI had received a tip last month that Cruz had a "desire to kill," access to guns and could be plotting an attack but failed to investigate.

And that scumbag in the White House is actually trying to use this screw-up to get out from under the Russia scandal. But what's really depressing is that you know there are vast numbers of idiots who believe him.

I would like to think that it's different this time, that the anger has grown to such a level that even those NRA stooges will be shamed into actually doing something in response to all these beautiful lives being snuffed out.

There are a lot of young people who are tired of seeing their classmates being gunned down and they're promising to make some changes.

I want to believe all that, I really do. But we've been down this road many times before and I still believe the pistol-packing pussy grabbers will stall and filibuster until the next massacre.

And then it'll be too soon all over again.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Future World

This never happened on Star Trek.

It was Thursday night and I was trying to attend my most fabulous writing class via Skype, but I couldn't make the magic happen.

I'm still wearing these awful leg braces from December's surgery, so riding the subway to my instructor Rosemary's house in Park Slope is out of the question.

But my classmate Joan, who is in New Mexico, and I were getting all 21st Century so we could join in without actually being there.

Or at least I was trying to join in.

However, I was having trouble getting online and the Skype calls kept crashing with this obnoxious noise that sounded like someone punching a heavy bag.

Rosemary called me to guide me through the process, but all I got for my efforts was another phantom punch in the ego.

Video conferencing has been around for ages, but to a techno-thal like yours truly it's something akin to voodoo and Buck Rogers. This seems strange, since I was such a science fiction fan when I was a kid, but then the computers in the books and movies were cool, not complicated.

I've been forcing myself to stretch my fossilized knees and I'm not the calmest fellow on this side of the ocean to begin with, so this latest run-in with the Internet was twisting me in all the wrong directions. I was seconds away from losing my Shatner.

Where's the transporter room when you need it?

"Just think positive thoughts," Rosemary said.

If only. While I think I've been making some progress with my anger management efforts, there's something about me and misbehaving machinery that just strips my gears.

I guess it's the feeling of helplessness. We're so dependent on this equipment that when something goes wrong we're pretty much screwed.

Captain's Log

And the fun really begins when you call tech support and find your warranty has run out and if you want any help you'll have to crack out the credit card. This never happened to Mr. Spock.

During the last few days I've also been battling with my TV remote and my printer, which decided on Saturday that it didn't feel like scanning documents anymore. It's a good thing phasers aren't real.

I got a rather disturbing example of my computer-driven rage when I was listening to an earnings call webcast and the sound suddenly croaked on me.

Naturally I did the mature thing-hurling F-bombs like they were beads at a Mardi Gras parade. The sound returned a short time later, but I kind of doubt if all that cursing was the cure.

I would've forgotten about my outburst except I was playing back the meeting on my digital recorder to check some quotes when I heard this psycho cursing and fuming.

And he sounded mighty familiar.

"What the fuck!" This freak shouted. "What the fuck is going on?"

Hearing myself freak out like that was unnerving because, honestly, I never really hear myself in a real time temper tantrum. I'm too busy savoring all that allegedly righteous anger.

I wonder if I should get another tape recorder just to keep track of my outbursts-a kind of captain's log where I essentially Watergate myself in the act of being a short-tempered loon. Fred the Shrink suggested a voice-activated device that would only switch on when I flip out.

I suspect that recorder will get quite a workout.

I never did conjure up those positive thoughts on Thursday, but Skype came to life nonetheless and the class was fantastic.

I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to write anything due to the odd conditions but once Rosemary read off her lists of prompts I picked up my pen and wrote myself into a frenzy.

I was so glad we got Skype to work. Of course, my technophobia still hasn't abated. I'm going to take another run at scanning some documents and if the printer doesn't work I'll give that buggy little bugger the Vulcan nerve pinch so hard it'll spew 50 dollars bill.

Did you get all that?

Sunday, February 04, 2018

The Good Life

Now comes the hard part.

I went to see my doctor this week, six weeks after he operated on both my knees, and got a new, more flexible set of leg braces.

My physical therapist had warned me not to be shocked by the sight of my emaciated legs, but I have to say it was quite a jolt seeing these two toothpicks attached to my body.

Still, my PT guy says the muscles will return just as quickly as they disappeared.

As my doctor examined my knees, a stray thought sailed across my mind like a shooting star on a summer night.

I've had a good life.

That sounds rather strange coming from a chronic complainer like yours truly, but this awful experience has taught me a lot about gratitude-or it can, as long as I allow it.

Before the accident I went to work, went to the gym, did some (but not enough) socializing, and worked on my writing. While it wasn't the perfect life-what life is?--I was doing well.

But I wasn't really happy. I was always worried about something, always rushing somewhere, always upset, annoyed, or angry about things in the distant past or possible future. I didn't spend enough time in the present being grateful.

Now that my life has been thoroughly disrupted I can finally see how good things were for me. I suppose it's better late than never for such insights, but I'd rather not live my life looking in the rearview mirror.

Shake All the Blues Away

Part of me believes that if I say I'm satisfied with my life, then I'll stop trying to improve. Last year I wrote in my New Year's Day post that I'm looking to achieve a state of striving gratitude, where I'm thankful for what I have, but always looking to better myself.

Maybe this accident will help me reach that goal.

My doctor wants me to stretch my knees and my PT guy has put me through a series of torturous routines designed to bring me back to normalcy.

I'm trying to do what he says, but I'm afraid of damaging my knees all over again. The therapist assures me that this won't happen, noting that the fear is holding me back.

I've been sitting in a chair for my morning meditation with my feet flat on the floor and it's been a real struggle.

On Saturday morning I was so down I wondered if I'll ever get back to where I used to be. Of course, that kind of talk pretty much guarantees that I won't get back to where I was, but it's hard to be positive when I look at these two wasted pins of mine and feel that agony in my knees whenever I try to sit down like a human being.

I came across an old quote I had posted on Facebook a few years back, but obviously didn't absorb.

It said the "The vibration of gratitude attracts more positive things into your life" and I have to say I am fascinated by this concept of vibration.

"Every thought, word and action carries its own vibrational frequency," according to the website Forever Conscious. "It comes back to the Law of Attraction- whether you 'ask' for it or not, you are drawn to situations, people or objects that are in line with your vibrational resonance."

The post says fear gives off a low vibration while love is much higher. In a list of the top 12 ways you can boost your vibration, guess which one holds the top position-yep, gratitude.

Now I'm going back to work tomorrow for the first time since Dec. 14 and I'm nervous as hell about that. And I'm worried about my recovery.

But I want to drive out these debilitating thoughts and boost the good stuff until I'm vibrating like a two-ton tuning fork.