Friday, December 06, 2019

Free Yourself

Yes, those Ukraine girls really knock me out, but I’m heading west and I’m leaving them behind.

I’m taking off for Los Angeles tomorrow to visit my incredible Uncle Joe and his lovely wife for a week of R&R.

As always, I’ve got the pre-vacation, oh-Jesus-I hate-flying jitters, but I’m hoping this passes with a little faith and shit-ton of Xanax.

And, as usual, I’m running through my standard fears and worries.

I’m regretting my decision, I’ve got too much to do, the bills are piling up, it’s too close to Christmas for a vacation, and other such assorted emotional khazerai.

Of course, I’m missing some really cool-sounding events the week I’m gone, but that’s always the way with vacations.

If you leave home for any extended period, you’re bound to miss something because you ain’t there, Einstein.

Can I get “Duh!”?

Then on Thursday I received an e-mail that helped me see life from a different angle.

It was slugged “Date Ukrainian Lady” and it contained a photo of a lovely young woman in black leather overalls—and nothing else—looking teasingly at the camera.

“Free yourself,” the ad copy read. “Let’s have fun!”

Hello, Comrade

Yes, damn it, let’s have fun indeed. Let’s go out to California, forget all my troubles and woes and a have screeching good time.

“Be causal and relax with thousands of gorgeous Russian women!” the fine print said.

Russian women? I was just in the Ukraine a minute ago. What the hell happened? I’m getting jetlag and I haven’t even left my house yet.

There’s a button marked “Go” embedded in the email with a link to God only knows.

I didn’t press it because I don’t want to get involved with creepy dating sites and I don’t have any dirt on Joe Biden.

Naturally today was absolute an hell-fest where just about everything I touched blew up right in my kisser.

It started off early, when I got a staggering bill from the hospital for the surgery I had nearly two years ago.

I spent half the morning with various voices on the phone trying to get them to re-send the bill to the proper insurance company.

Even my commute home tonight was hexed as the normally reliable and comfortable express bus was late and stuffed with bodies. Once again, I’m forced to confess that this was not a good week for my anger management skills.

Oh, Saint Jerome, throw me a bone!

So, yeah, I’m nervous as hell, and feeling all flavors of guilty, but I’m still going on vacation.

That dating email ends with the promise that “13,000 women are online NOW.”

Sorry, ladies, I’ve got a plane to catch.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Skies are Blue

At some point in my childhood, I caught myself in the unthinkable act of enjoying The Wizard of Oz.

Today, of course, I’m proud to say that I love this magical film with all my heart and that the 1939 classic takes me over the rainbow every time I watch it.

It was a much different story when I was a kid.

Back then I absolutely hated this flick. I couldn’t stand Dorothy and her nitwit friends: the Tin Woodsman, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow.

Every time the movie was broadcast--usually on a holiday--I would sit and sulk in front of our old Motorola while these losers followed the freaking Yellow Brick Road.

My mother adored Judy Garland and I was stunned to learn a few years ago that The Wizard of Oz made its debut on August 15--my mother's birthday.

The flying monkeys were pretty cool, but I still had to put up with all those stupid songs and the dancing midgets. I kept hoping that Godzilla will wander in from another movie and stomp them all to death.

My biggest problem with the film, however, was that it was about…a girl and back in the early Sixties when I was growing up, boys simply had nothing to do with girls.

We wanted cowboys, cops, and spacemen; we wanted stories about monsters, wars, and UFOs. We had no interest in wicked witches and farm girls from Kansas.

I didn’t even listen to female singers—or “girl” singers as I said back then. Leslie Gore could cry at her party all she wanted, my radio was only set to the Beatles, the Stones, the Four Seasons and other male voices.

It was a very unhealthy time where stereotypes determined who did what with whom. If you crossed the boundary over to what was considered girl territory, you were a sissy, a fag, or a homo.

But then there was this one particular year in my life —I have no idea how old I was—when I found to my horror that I was actually getting into the story.

The exact moment happened late in the movie, when Dorothy is locked up in the Wicked Witch’s castle and a huge hour glass is draining out the last moments of her life.

Her friends outside hear her cries for help and the Tin Woodsman starts bashing down the door with his ax.

Skies are Blue

And that’s when my pulse started to speed up.

I forgot all about that line separating the girls from the boys, I forgot that I was supposed to hate this movie, I just wanted the tin guy to smash that goddamn door before it was too late.

I stopped, surprised at my reaction. Wait a minute--was I actually enjoying a movie about a girl? Good God, what would my friends think if they found out?

Fortunately, time and good sense began to slowly chop down that particular emotional door, and I finally reached a point where I could openly enjoy the movie with my mother and the rest of my family and not care what anyone thought.

I watched the movie again on Thanksgiving Day as I sat on my sister’s couch, stuffed with turkey, apple pie, and, well, stuffing.

I’m older now, and my parents are gone, so now the film has a melancholy side to it.

I knew I’d get all weepy when Dorothy said goodbye to her friends before returning to Kansas, but I got a surprise head start on the tears when the Wizard gives the Tin Woodsman his heart.

“A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others,” he says.

I have to confess that this line hit a nerve. I have a reclusive streak in me and far too often I choose to avoid the outside world in favor of the safety and deceptive comfort of my home and widescreen.

To be loved by others, you have to walk among them, you have to get out there and put your heart on the line, and I haven’t been doing enough of that.

As a film lover, I’m fascinated by the creative process behind The Wizard of Oz, but there’s part of me who doesn’t really want to know how the film was made.

I still want to believe that Oz is real and that a tornado can carry us away to fantastic new worlds.

I want to believe that I have all I need inside me and I always want to believe that there’s no place like home.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Crack the Sky

“There are no great men, there are only great challenges that ordinary men are forced by circumstances to meet.”-- Fleet Admiral William Frederick Halsey, Jr.

Who would have thought that such a minor decision would lead to such a fabulous experience?

Most mornings on my way to the office I stop by a local drug story to pick up my daily supply of that satanic beverage known as diet soda. (Yes, I know this crap is bad for me, but that’s not what this story is about.)

The store is vast and it is part of what was once the Bank of Manhattan Trust Building, but now it belongs to some orange-haired reality show psychotic whose name escapes me.

There are registers one either side of the store and I usually check out on the Wall Street side, rather than the Pine Street side.

On Thursday, however, I felt like a doing something different, breaking my routine even in the slightest way, to see if there’s any truth behind the whole Butterfly Effect business.

The Pine Street register is usually manned by an older gentleman named George, who is very outgoing and has a great sense of humor. On Halloween he wore some goofy hat and I can only imagine what he’s got planned for Christmas.

I was half-listening to George speaking with the woman ahead of me and it sounded like he was trying to cheer her up.

We started chatting as soon as I got to the register and George told me that “life is too short to be unhappy.”

“I was in Vietnam,” he said. “I saw some awful things, so I know how important being happy is.”

I was surprised to hear that he was a veteran and I immediately thanked him for his service.

Old Soldiers

“That must have been a terrible experience,” I said.

George paused a moment before speaking.

“Do you what the Tet Offensive is?”

“You were in the Tet Offensive?” I asked, not believing my ears.

“Oh, yes,” he said. “I saw men killed right in front of me.”

The Tet Offensive was a series of surprise attacks on cities and towns throughout Vietnam.

The attacks began on January 31, 1968, the first day of the Lunar New Year, Vietnam's most important holiday.

On the eve of the attacks, Viet Cong leaders told their forces to “crack the sky, shake the Earth.”

It is considered the turning point of that disastrous conflict because even though the North Vietnamese and Vietcong suffered heavy losses they scored a political and psychological victory because it contradicted the U.S. government’s rosy picture of the war’s progress.

Listening to George speak, I was taken back in time to those awful days, when the war dragged on and on while the death toll kept rising.

I recalled the expressions like "a just peace," “better red than dead,” and “honorable withdrawal”, while, each week, Walter Cronkite told the country how many soldiers had been killed in the previous seven days.

I thought of how the war tore this country apart, of the protests and riots that erupted on college campuses across America.

And here I was talking someone who had survived that terrible war.

“I had a lot of trouble when I got home,” George said, “but I had a my wife to get me through it. She was a good woman and she died from cancer five years ago.”

At that moment I thought I was going to start crying. I told George that my dad had fought in World War II and that I was certain the war had scarred him far beyond the physical injuries he suffered.

I had to get to work, so I gave George a fist bump, wished him well, and went on my way.

Thanksgiving is coming up this week and God knows I have a lot to be grateful for, including my family, my job and my life.

I’m thankful to George and all the other soldiers who served this country.

And I’m so glad I chose the Pine Street side.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Run, Hide, Fight

It’s hard to believe now, but there was a time in my life when the phrase “active shooter” did not exist.

No one told you to “shelter in place” and there were no such thing as bulletproof backpacks.

A security consultant came to our office this week to give us a rundown on emergency procedures. I’ve been in the workforce since the Eighties so I’ve heard these routines many times now.

The consultant covered such topics as blackouts, explosions, and natural disasters.

But then he started talking about active shooters, reflecting our changing times and deteriorating society. Mass shootings are not new, unfortunately, but they were a hell of a lot less frequent when I was younger.

And I don’t recall getting safety tips on what to do if one some gun-toting lunatic shows up at the office.

Now we have run, hide, fight scenarios, though I’d hate like hell to stand before an armed killer with nothing but a stapler and a swivel chair.

The consultant talked about sheltering in place, an expression that makes my skin crawl, and advised us to try and lock ourselves in an office to keep from being gunned down.

“Even if it’s a glass door, that’s something,” he said. “FBI statistics show that active shooters want to do as much damage as possible, so if they have to struggle with a locked door, they’re more likely to move on.”

and kill some other poor bastard, I thought.

Most of the offices in my company have glass doors and I thought about what it would be like to stand on one side of the glass while some AR-15 toting freak stood on the other.

Too many people in this country know the feeling having experienced it firsthand.

We had another school shooting in America last week.

Glass Houses

This time it was at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California, where two teenagers were killed on Thursday by a fellow student who pulled out a .45 and shot five kids before putting a bullet through his head.

The shooter, who allegedly carried out the attack on his 16th birthday, died on Friday.

The entire attack took just 16 seconds.

This was hardly the first time gunfire has erupted at a school this year. In the 46 weeks of 2019, CNN said there have been 44 shootings at schools.

I’m ashamed to say that when I first heard there were two victims I was strangely relieved, thinking, well, it’s not as bad as some of the other shootings we’ve had in this country, like Sandy Hook, Orlando, and Las Vegas.

This time there weren’t that many lives brutally and senselessly cut short; there weren’t dozens of families grappling with an indescribable nightmare.

Gosh, we sure dodged a bullet on that one—or at least some of us did.

The “thoughts and prayers” crowd have pretty silent on this on.

The body count probably wasn’t high enough and they know that even if 100 kids were shot, absolutely nothing would be done to change the gun laws in this country.

The alleged president tweeted his bogus condolences and his lawyer, who masquerades as the U.S. Attorney General, had the gall to suggest that the current impeachment proceedings have derailed any good-faith efforts to pass gun legislation.

Of course, that doesn’t begin to explain the lack of action before the impeachment hearings, but I’ve long given up getting logic or the truth out of these people.

So, active shooting drills are going to be part of our lives for the foreseeable future. Of course, I hope we never have such an incident at my place of business, but the cemeteries are full of people who thought the same thing.

Until things change, we’ll have to shelter in place and pray the glass door doesn’t break.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Charmed and Dangerous

"There’s a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally.”—Don Miguel Ruiz

That was one rough night in Charm City.

I’ve never been to Baltimore and after a hellish experience I had recently, I’ll be putting off the experience indefinitely.

Fresh off my vow to shine a light on my darker emotions, I went on an emotional search and self-destroy mission last week that was so hideous I ended up behind bars.

Fortunately, this prison stretch wasn't real. It was just a bad dream, although the word “just” hardly does justice to the heinous horror show I subjected myself to the second I closed my eyes.

The madness started Tuesday evening when I attended a get-together at a restaurant in lower Manhattan.

The room started getting rather crowded and I felt that reflex anger of mine starting to kick in, so I came up with yet another coping mechanism for my psychological tool box.

It’s based on an old fire safety drill on what to do in case your clothes catch fire: Stop, Drop, and Roll.

I decided that in cases where my mind goes up in flames—when I get angry or anxious--I can repeat that phrase and put out the emotional fires before they consume me.

I was so proud of myself for coming up with this ditty that I naturally assumed all my problems were over now and forever.

Yeah, right...

I was careful not to drink, since this was a weeknight, but I did make a meal of the various appetizers like sliders, crab meat puff balls, and lots of cheese. Stuff I would normally avoid like a tax audit.

Things spun out of control shortly after I got home. I fell asleep in front of the TV and when I woke up I was in this shockingly foul mood.

I was awake but still a bit fuzzy, and all my internal fire alarms had been switched off, so I found myself getting angry at people and incidents from years gone by.

My mind was like a malfunctioning sewage treatment plant allowing all this vile crap to flow right into my here and now.

I didn’t call out to St. Jerome, I didn’t apply the white wolf lesson, I didn’t try to stay in the moment, hell, I didn’t try anything. I just jumped right into the lava pit.

This happens a lot when I nod off in front of the idiot box. It’s like my subconscious knows the locks are off the doors, the CCTV is on the fritz, and now it’s time to bust out and raise hell.

I finally stopped, dropped and my rolled my way to calmness and went to bed, thinking it was all quiet on the Freudian front.

In the Jail House Now...

Oy, did I call that one wrong.

It seems like the second I closed my eyes I was immediately immersed in one of my world-famous, wall-banging, 3-D demented nightmares.

In the dream, I was arrested for some kind of assault and sentenced to four years (!) in prison. I didn’t know the particulars of what I had done, but I do know that I was guilty—and that I was in Baltimore.

I know it was Maryland’s most populous city because I recognized the police station from the old TV show Homicide: Life on the Street.

“Oh, God,” I wailed, rattling my handcuffs. “I saw this show on TV and now I’m going there for real!”

I absolutely love Homicide, but I haven’t seen it in ages and I don’t recall reading or even thinking about the program—or Baltimore--in the last few weeks.

I hadn’t told the people at work about my impending incarceration and I was trying to come up with a way to do my stretch and somehow keep my job—an insane notion, even for me.

Eventually, praise Jesus, I woke up and realized that I wasn’t going up the river after all.

I do believe in my anger management techniques and I plan to keep applying them. But there is still too much anger in my system in the first place and that’s something I need to address as well.

I think that part of that includes reaching, or working harder, toward my achieving goals, both personal and professional.

I have to do more and fantasize less.

On Saturday night, I got a split decision as I stopped myself from freaking after waking from a boob tube nap. It took a few seconds for the stop and drop to work, but I did it.

I’m going to avoid sleeping in front of the TV from now on. If I’m that tired then I’ll go to bed.

And, just to be the safe, I’m going to stay the hell out of Baltimore.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Three Shades of Black

I threw the light switch on in my bathroom Friday night and winced in surprise.

The bathroom lights had fizzled on me earlier in week, the same time I was hacking my way through a cold, and the return to normal service had caught me by surprise.

I had been living in both darkness and denial, hoping that the situation would somehow work itself out on its own, and the lights would come back to life like Tinker Bell.

Oddly enough this approach—which I apply far too often in my life--did not work, so after a couple of mornings of showering in the dark, I decided to arrange for an electrician to stop by and take a look.

This plan proved to be successful and now I can shave without having to wear a miner’s helmet.

I’m feeling better now, but I decided to permit myself a little more TV time this weekend, which allowed me to check out an old Twilight Zone episode called “I Am the Night-Color Me Black” that deals with a much more toxic kind of darkness.

I had already seen this episode at least twice before in my life: once when I was a child, when it scared the living hell out of me, and then again as an adult, where I found the program preachy and dull.

I needed a third viewing as a tiebreaker.

First broadcast on March 27, 1964, “I Am the Night-Color Me Black” is about a man who is wrongly convicted by a small-town jury of murdering a bigot and sentenced to hang.

But on the morning of the execution the sun does not rise and the night does not end.

Where the Sun Refused to Shine

And when the condemned man is finally hanged, the sky gets even darker, as we hear news reports of the sun failing to make an appearance at several locations throughout the world, including Birmingham, Alabama and “a street in Dallas.”

“Do you know why it is night all around us?” A minister, portrayed by Ivan Dixon, asks after the hanging. “Do you know what the blackness is? It's the hate he felt, the hate you felt, the hate all of us feel, and there's too much of it. There's just too much. And so, we had to vomit it out. And now it's coming up all around us and choking us.”

Rod Serling, the Twilight Zone’s creator, wrote the episode in reaction to the assassination of John Kennedy, which had recently occurred in Dallas the previous November.

The idea of a world without light terrified me when I first saw the episode, so I was bit surprised when I had such a negative reaction upon seeing it a second time.

The dialog was clunky, I thought, the characters are one dimensional and the whole thing feels terribly dated.

So, on Saturday morning I watched this show one more time and I came away with a split decision.

On the one hand, it is a bit pedantic. But the episode also has a genuine power and it’s gained a new life since we live in such an incredibly hateful age.

The number of hate crimes has been increasing in the United States, spurred on in large part by a president who delights in belittling and insulting anyone he perceives as a threat.

Jim Crow laws have returned to many states under the guise of “Voter ID laws,” and mass shootings plague the nation as hate-filled psychotics are allowed to acquire the most horrific weapons.

Hatred extinguishes light on both a societal and personal level. I know when I give in to my angry impulses I can’t—or won’t--see a thing.

It’s not enough to just hope the lights will back come on by themselves. You have to fix them in your own life and the world beyond.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Why They Call It the Blues

“Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude."--Martin Luther King Jr.

I don’t have much in common with Elton John, but this weekend the Rocket Man and I were both appearing live in sick city.

For Sir Elton, who told fans that he was “extremely unwell,” it meant canceling the Indianapolis leg of his farewell tour.

For me, who was also pretty goddamn unwell, it meant hacking and sneezing while working from home on Friday and watching my weekend Halloween party plans with my sister blow out like a candle in the wind.

It sucked big time, but I’m trying to extract something good from this extremely crappy turn of events, so I can continue my efforts to make this the Best Year Ever (BYE).

I keep a pretty tight schedule—work, gym, writing class—and this cold has forced me to slow down.

In the last few days, I’ve been watching tons of crap TV, putting off my clean-up plans, and—ugh—eating bread.

I’ve also taken time to detach and observe my thought patterns, as Fred the Shrink likes to say, and I’m a little disappointed with my progress.

I’m still carrying around a lot baggage in my head: old wounds, insults, and disappointments that I review and relive all-too-regularly.

I know I’ve written about this before and please forgive me for being repetitious, but I’m still not getting my own message.

I keep hearing about forgiveness being a path to freedom and while I can accept this concept intellectually, my emotional side is having a hard time forgiving all the scumbags who have done me wrong over the years.

If I forgive them, I feel like I’m letting these humps off the hook, and essentially saying it’s okay to go breaking my heart.

But what has holding onto this grief down for me-except make me more miserable?

“Get over it,” “let it go,” and similar bits of bumper sticker advice haven’t helped me worth a damn.

Above All Else

I’ve decided that what I have to do before I forgive anyone else is to forgive myself: for not defending myself, for letting relationships fall apart, for not being more daring, and for giving into my fears and phobias instead of trusting myself more.

I look back on my life, wondering why the hell I stuck with people and places I despised, and I think the problem was that I didn’t love myself enough to speak up for myself. I didn’t think I was worth defending and I was afraid of the unknown.

But the devil you know is still a devil and he still means you harm.

I go on ad nauseum about moving to Los Angeles, but I could have done that decades ago if I had been serious.

The truth is that I was afraid to make that commitment and then I hated myself for being afraid, thus ensuring that the ugly cycle of self-abuse will continue.

Yes, other people had absolutely no problem moving across the country in their early Twenties, but all I can say is that I’m not other people.

I didn’t have the courage or faith in myself to make that big step. That sucks, but now it’s time to put down the whip and forgive myself.

Self-love will only come after self-forgiveness.

This is a lifelong journey, of course, since you can’t simply obliterate decades of unhealthy thought patterns with a blog post.

But I want to at least start trying to forgive myself and putting the past behind me--instead of letting it running alongside me like a pack of starving bloodhounds.

I’m not a fan of TV preachers, but I do enjoy Joel Osteen’s messages and today--this very morning--he devoted his entire sermon to the perils of bitterness.

He cited a line from Proverbs which says “above all else, guard your heart with all diligence, for everything you do flows from it.”

We should all guard our hearts, monitor our thoughts, and don’t let the sun go down on another bitter day.