Sunday, July 26, 2015

True to Form

Have no fear, Elizabeth; your prayers will be heard.

Elizabeth is from Yonkers and she’s suffering leg pain, hypertension, and sciatica, among other ailments. And she’s asking people to pray for her.

I’ve never met Elizabeth, but I learned a little bit about her this week when I was walking home and spotted a form she had completed on the sidewalk.

I was about to dismiss the folded sheet of blue paper as trash and continue walking, but once I saw handwritten notes across the back of the form I had to know what was going on.

I’ve been picking stuff up off the ground ever since I was child, much to my late mother’s consternation, and there’s nothing more exciting than reading the words of a stranger.

This probably qualifies as some kind of invasion of privacy, but I can’t help it. I like to read about other people’s lives. And it’s not just me: there’s an online publication, Found Magazine, that’s dedicated to this type of material.

It turned out that this form was a request for prayers from an evangelical church in Texas and apparently Elizabeth, who attends services at a church in my neighborhood, had dropped it before she had a chance to mail it off to the Lone Star State.

Please fill out completely,” the form said. “Write prayer needs on back. Our prayer team will continue to pray for you.”

I’ve never heard of the Texas church, which I shall refrain from naming. I did a little research and learned that the pastor is “an anointed healing evangelist who has devoted her life to carrying a message of hope, deliverance, and healing to the nations.”

Neither Rain, Nor Sleet...

The church’s website has an online prayer form, but Elizabeth from Yonkers elected to go by snail mail as she listed her health problems and asked for help.

A lot of people will roll their eyes at this sort of thing, but I know what it’s like to be sick and frightened as I struggled with chronic fatigue and other immune system problems for a large part of my life. You can lose hope very quickly and become hostile, angry, and quite depressed.

I look back on some of the awful things I said when my health was really bad, all this “why me” stuff, and I feel quite ashamed of myself. But shame just make things worse and it’s far more important to be grateful for every day on earth.

There are times when things are so bad and so far out of your control that all you can do is pray. I’m going through some difficult times right now and I’m spending a lot of time asking the Almighty for help.

I’m not overly impressed with this Texas ministry, but that’s not my business. Clearly Elizabeth sees something worthwhile in the organization and so all I have to do is pass the message along.

When I was in Colorado I came across a photo of some children that was stuck within the pages of a used book and I eventually mailed them back to the bookstore in hopes that the pictures might make their way back to their rightful owners.

And that’s what I’m going to do with Elizabeth’s prayer form. This afternoon I put a short post-it note on the front, slipped the form into an envelope and dropped it in the mail.

The Texas prayer team will soon be praying for Elizabeth’s health, and so will I.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Man on the Run

I was singing along with Paul McCartney in the Key Food this morning when my voice started to crack.

The supermarket’s sound system was playing “Band on the Run,” the title track from Sir Paul’s 1973 album, which dominated the airwaves back in those ancient times.

My mother knew the song from hearing it repeatedly on her children’s various radios but she managed to mangle the lyrics by singing “Man on the Run.”

I set her straight on her mistake and we had a good laugh over it.

But last week marked the 13th anniversary of her passing and hearing that song today was a sad reminder of the gap I still have in my heart after all this time.

Still, I don’t recommend crying in the produce aisle as you’re liable to upset the other customers.

This was my first full week since returning from vacation in Los Angeles.

The good times are fading quickly from my mind much too quickly as the problems I shoved aside while staying at my uncle’s house were waiting for me as soon as my plane landed at JFK, including a career issue that’s been clinging me to like a Siamese twin for far too long.

I knew I should’ve torn up that return ticket.

One of the things I miss the most from the trip was the morning walks my sister and I used to take around our uncle’s Mount Washington neighborhood. It’s a beautiful hilly area that’s so full of trees it’s hard to believe you’re in a city.

Like You, Mama…

We’d walk by these wonderful homes, trying to decide which one I should buy when—and if—I finally move out to LA. I talked to her about my terror of moving across the country without a job, particularly at my age, and my sister gave me a fantastic bit of advice.

“You should pray,” she said. "Pray to Mom."

Pray to Mom? The thought was totally alien to me. Each morning I pray that both my parents rest in peace, of course, but it had never occurred to reach out to the person who brought me into this world, who showered me with nothing but unconditional love, and ask for her guidance.

I took my sister’s advice this week, and not just about California, but about my current difficult situation.

The first days back in town were rough, very rough, and I felt like a drowning man. That’s when I prayed to my mother.

I know that she wanted us all to be happy and to stop tearing ourselves down, and asking for her advice reminds of me how much she loved us.

I finally got some encouraging signs on Thursday. Things are still pretty serious, but they’re perhaps not as dire as I had thought and I’m extremely grateful for that tiny bit of daylight in an otherwise very dark place.

This was also the same day that my mother left this world in 2002 and I’m sure many people would say that the good news arriving on this particular date was nothing more than a coincidence. Good for them.

I, on the other hand, intend to take it as a sign that I’ve got somebody very special watching over me.

The rain hasn’t exploded with a mighty crash and I didn’t fall into the sun. And if I ever get out of here and leave New York, I’ll be the man on the run, but I’ll always stay close to Mom.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Blue Rescue

My sister and I looked down toward the ground and spoke in one loud voice.

“Hi, Mr. B!” we said.

Mr. B, a blind Australian cattle dog, also known as a Blue Rescue, turned his fabulous bluish-gray head in our direction and began barking.

“Thank you!” his owner said.

It was our pleasure. We met Mr. B and the lovely woman who had adopted him on Friday during our walk around Griffith Park in Los Angeles and she told us calling out to him was a very helpful part of his training.

We were flying back to Brooklyn on the following morning and meeting Mr. B—who lost his sight at a very young age--did a lot to rescue us from our end-of-vacation blues.

This whole trip was a rescue mission for me as I got to spend quality time in a great place with people I love.

We stayed with my Uncle Joe and Aunt Sara, as we’ve done so often in the past, seeing some great sights, eating (too much) great food, and getting some much-needed rest and relaxation.

All vacations should work out this well.

We left town on July 1 and enjoyed a wonderful July Fourth barbecue at Joe’s house.

In addition to the great food and excellent company, the day featured a rather strange incident where Joe had a friend post a notice on Craigslist offering the long-unused piano in his living room to anyone who wanted it—and two guys actually came to haul it off in less than two hours.

In fact one of the moving guys, who’s also a piano instructor who had studied in England, tickled the ivories for us before he and his partner dismantled the instrument and loaded it into a van with seven other pianos.

I don’t know about the other guests, but this was certainly a first for me.

Palm Trees Grow and Rents are Low…

My sister and I hit Venice Beach, which is about as strange and wacky as people say it is and then we got a private tour from one of Joe and Sara’s friends of the incredible Hollyhock House, Frank Lloyd Wright’s first Los Angeles project.

We also visited the Huntington Gardens, one of my favorite LA attractions and I made a return trip to the California Science Center is see the Space Shuttle Endeavor. I had seen both of these places before and I’ll gladly see them again.

At my sister’s suggestion, we used more mass transit for some of the sightseeing this time, which gave our hosts a much-needed rest and brought us closer to LA’s everyday people.

I was amazed how friendly people were, especially the bus driver who took us down to the Science Center and this very kind gentleman who was working at the information booth at Union Station—which is a beautiful thing to see as well.

This man was actually leaving the building to go home when my sister called out to him. And instead of saying “my shift’s over” and storming out, he very nicely gave us the information we needed.

It hurts to say this, but that kind of courtesy can be hard to come by in New York. (And here comes the hate mail…)

We spent our last full day at the LA Zoo, one of those attractions that I had once dismissed as “too touristy”—and, of course, I loved it.

As always when I travel to LA, I agonize about whether I should move there or not. And as always, I do little else but agonize, replacing action and logic with excessive handwringing.

This time out, however, I am a little less fearful about making the move.

Yes, I loathe the hassle of driving and owning a car, and yes, the massive Mad Max freeways scare the screaming bejeezus out of me, but irrational fear has ruled my life for far too long.

Now moving to LA feels more like a change of address than a change of religion.

Mr. B’s owner told us that despite his blindness he gets around the house just fine. He’s found a way to adjust to his situation, which is something we should all keep in mind.

Look, I may never move to LA, but I am going to stop torturing myself about it because all self-abuse does is make life tougher—wherever the hell I’m may be living.

And you never know. Perhaps some day I’ll be greeting Mr. B on a regular basis.



Tuesday, June 30, 2015

On The Fly

Get me the hell out of here!

My sister and I are taking off for Los Angeles tomorrow morning and after the shellacking I’ve taken today I’m ready to ditch the plane and swim all the way out to the Left Coast if I have to.

This might prove difficult given the large amount of dry land between here and California but then I ain’t thinking too clearly at the moment.

Over the years I have come to expect misery of all stripes to strike as vacation draws nearer. It’s a working stiff’s rite of passage I suppose.

Massive bills, sudden illnesses, work woes, and all manner of busted plumbing are to be expected as you prepare for some much needed rest and relaxation.

But even I was stunned by the avalanche of madness that slapped me upside my life today.

First I managed to somehow wrench my hip at the gym this morning. And what really burns me about this is the fact that I hurt myself after the goddamn workout.

Yeah, that’s right, it was after the weights, after the boxing class, when I went down to the locker room and bent over the water cooler in some weird angle and threw my entire body out of alignment. It’s been hours and the lower right quadrant of my back is still hurting.

Now Boarding…

I went into work praying for an easy day and a chance to sneak out ahead of schedule but instead I received a hearty “Yeah, right!” from Fate and wound up being busier in those eight hours than I was in the last eight days.

Can I get a “WTF”?

At some point I was able to laugh at all the grief heading my way. Not loudly or for a particularly long time, of course, but I was finally able to see some humor in all the horror.

And I knew that had this happened at any other time, I wouldn’t have been anywhere near as upset as I was today.

It’s the pressure I put on myself when I travel where I let my fears gallop miles ahead of reality.

No matter. I’m home now, I’m nearly packed, and I’ve got our boarding passes at the ready. The car service will pick us up early in the morning and off we’ll go.

I still have the pre-trip agita but I’m trying to think of nicer things—like the trip itself, for instance.

I’ll probably fall behind in reading everybody’s blogs, but I promise I’ll get back on the job as soon as I am able.

Smile, keep your head down, and we’ll be together again soon.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Bright Cloud of Music

I never thought I’d say this, but thank God for Throwback Thursday.

Like the rest of humanity, I waste entirely too much time on Facebook, liking, uploading, and complaining. Every day I swear that I’m going to cut down on my Face time and every day I’m right back on the insidious social network service, clicking away like a set of castanets.

However, a recent Throwback Thursday, where people post old photos of themselves or their loved ones, brought back a fabulous 44-year old memory that I had totally forgotten.

Mary, an old friend, onetime neighbor and former grammar school classmate, had posted a photo of her late mother.

Now I love old photographs as they are just filled with stories, and, of course, seeing a friend’s golden oldies is even better. And this one was a real treasure.

As I looked at that photo I had this flashback to my grammar school graduation dance.

It was June 1971. Richard Nixon was in the White House and Our Lady of Angeles Catholic School in Brooklyn was giving its eighth graders a big sendoff in the gymnasium.

This was my first dance ever and I was feeling incredibly awkward as I watched the boys getting close with the girls under the big disco light.

I was confused. It seemed like just the other day having a girlfriend was a stigma, a source of shame that left one open to the merciless chant of “(Your Name Here) has a girlfriend!” or the equally awful “sitting in a tree” routine.

Now all of a sudden everybody’s hooking up like we’re on a sinking ocean liner. When did they change the rules? And why wasn’t I informed?

On The Clear Understanding

I don’t think I approached one girl the entire night. And late in the evening I was standing on the sidelines watching, just watching, all these young couples slow dancing, completely on the outside, like a chump.

That’s when Mary’s mother walked up and took me out for my only dance of the night.

I was stunningly clumsy, stepping on the poor lady’s feet repeatedly like an oaf and each time she told me not to worry about it. The dance ended, we all went home, started high school in that fall, and I never thought about the dance again.
I was so clueless at the time that I didn’t appreciate how kind and thoughtful Mary’s mom had been.

Only now, looking back through the decades I can see that she felt badly for me and wanted to help any way she could.

Obviously as time goes by you will forget things, but it disturbs me that I can easily conjure up all the bad times in my life while beautiful moments like these sink without a trace to the bottom of my memory.

Your outlook will determine what you remember, so if you're depressed and miserable you'll probably have trouble recalling and enjoying the happy days.

This gesture was more than just an act of kindness. It was a reminder to get off the sidelines, where I still spend too much of my time, and join the dance.

Even more importantly, it’s a challenge for me to reach out to others. You can’t hoard kindness; it only gains value when you pass it on to someone else. So it’s up to me to approach the people on the edge of the dance floor and get them out to where the music plays.

I started last night during a MeetUp in Bay Ridge. One of the members seemed to be stuck on the outside of the conversation. On the way back from the gents I stopped by and asked him how he was doing.

It was a few only moments of my time, but it felt good and I'm sure Mary's mom would've been proud.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Greater Adventure Beyond

I’ve always been of something of a dreamer, effortlessly slipping away from reality into a world of my own making.

When I was a kid my dad used to try to find out what was going on in my mind, which was pretty much a lost cause given all the strange activity going on in my noodle, but my father made the effort nonetheless.

“What are you thinking about?” he’d asked me every so often.

I usually just shrugged and looked away. I don’t remember the various scenarios my imagination was churning out back then—I can barely recall my thoughts from this morning.

However, on this Father’s Day, I find myself thinking about the time The Three Musketeers made my dad cry.

My father used to tell us about the books he read growing up and the Dumas classic was one of his favorites. And so when the Musketeers all left this world in The Man in the Iron Mask, it was too much for my father’s young self to bear.

“I read the ending of that book,” he said, “and I went into the bathroom and I cried.”

It was hard for me back then to imagine my father crying, as he could be something of a tough customer, but I’m grateful now that he shared that experience with me.

I’ve tried to picture him as a boy, locking himself away so no one in his family would see his tears. An iron mask probably would have come in handy.

I understand why he chose to hide because boys weren’t supposed to cry. They were supposed to be tough. And I certainly sympathize with his plight, as I am the uncrowned King of the Shameless Weepers.

I confess that I’ve yet to read The Man in the Iron Mask, but I am familiar with the climax of the silent film classic starring the legendary Douglas Fairbanks.

In the final scenes, D'Artagnan, portrayed by Fairbanks, is the only surviving member of the adventurous group.

All for One and One for All

He has been mortally wounded and as he looks into the sky with dying eyes he sees his companions, Porthos, Aramis, and Athos, who have preceded him in death, standing in the clouds, laughing and waving for him to join them.

“Come on,” Porthos says. “There is greater adventure beyond!”

The ending is beautiful in a way that only a silent movie can be. Directors obviously couldn’t use words back then, except in the title cards, so the images had to convey all of the emotions.

When D’Artagnan dies, he falls forward and as he tumbles out of the shot, the Three Musketeers reach down and pull him into the heavens.

People surround D’Artagnan’s body and begin sobbing, but the last thing we see are the reunited musketeers riding through the clouds in search of greater adventures.

It is an incredible piece of filmmaking and thank God I live alone because I’m crying even as I write this.

The scene is in even more poignant because it was Fairbanks’ farewell to the silent film. Talking pictures were taking over the movie business and Fairbanks retired from acting a few years later.

My father climbed into the clouds in 2007 and I like to think that he was greeted by my mother, my grandparents, and all others who were close to him.

This morning I had another fabulous energy session with my spiritual advisor, Kathryn Davis, and she encouraged me to shed all the old, negative energy that I’ve been carrying for so long and get in touch with my higher self.

I have bad memories of my father that I want to cast aside, since their constant repetition does nothing but weigh me down and tarnish the good days I had with my dad.

It’s so difficult because negative thinking has become second nature to me. Dark thoughts are so familiar that it’s a little scary to let them go, but I know I’ll be much happier if I can send them on their way.

So what am I thinking about? Well, I’m thinking about when my time comes to leave this world. And I hoping my dad will be there in the clouds ready to give me a hand.

Happy Father’s Day.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Detail Wags the Dog

I saw the sign one Friday morning as I crossed Broadway on my way to work.

It was on the back of Pepperidge Farm delivery truck parked on Fulton Street and I saw the words written especially for me: “God is in the Details.”

He is? Hell, I thought the Devil was the in details. Had these guys switch duties without telling me? And why is Pepperidge Farm suddenly preaching the good word?

I remember their commercials from the Sixties, which ended with some geezer with a straw hat, glasses and loose dentures telling us “Pepperidge Farm remembers…”

The ads were an attempt to hark back to a simpler time when food was pure and healthy and not mass-produced in factories with ingredients that seemed more appropriate for rocket fuel than anything you’d want to eat.

Then I looked closer at the sign and saw God wasn’t in the details. The slogan is “Good is in the Details.” Good God, I’m hallucinating again.

No matter. God knows I needed some good news and I decided to accept this nonexistent message. Reality is such a bore.

When my back went out not so long ago and I was barely able to walk, I suddenly noticed people with walkers and canes and crutches, all laboring to get from Point A to Point B. Where had all these poor souls come from, I wondered.

Well, of course, they hadn’t magically dropped from the sky. They were there all along, painfully walking right in front of me, but since I wasn’t sharing their agony, I barely noticed their existence. Once we were all on the same excruciating page, I became enlightened.

We’re Down Here

As I continue to ponder my future, I’m seeing more and homeless people. I do think there are more of them in this city, but I also think my own fears and doubts are causing me to spot them much more quickly.

Like the young woman who sits on Church Street near Century 21 with her dog, to whom I’ve been giving change for the last few mornings.

And there was a man outside my old building on Broadway who carried a sign reading “Every time you give change to a homeless person an angel gets his wings.”

I guess it’s good to have a sense of humor when you’ve got no roof over your head. And the sign actually had some fine print that cut through the funny business with a simple two-word question “Got karma?”

That little detail got my attention. Some people get through the day by pretending the homeless don’t exist, or that they’re some other life form that has no relation to the rest of humanity.

Of course that’s completely false. All it takes is a few changes in your circumstances and you could wind up in the same situation.

The people at my gym allow a local homeless man to use the showers each morning. It’s a very kind gesture and I give these folks a lot of credit.

But the first time I ran into this man I actually heard myself complaining about this…person in my gym.

I had to remind myself that I’m lucky to have a home of my own, that I can afford to go to the gym in a world where so many people struggle for food and shelter.

God is in the details but you must have goodness in your heart to find Him or you’ll never get your wings.