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.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Mile Square

During World War I more than 3 million US soldiers passed through Hoboken, NJ on their way to Europe and their desire to come home soon led to General Pershing’s line “Heaven, Hell or Hoboken…by Christmas.”

I just finished my first week at my company’s new office in the Mile Square City and while you’d never mistake it for Heaven, it certainly isn’t the Hell I feared it would be.

Honestly, I like Hoboken. I like it a lot. And it ain’t even Christmas.

It’s true that I have a longer, more expensive commute, and I have to struggle through the waves of office lemmings who charge into Manhattan while I go against the flow of traffic.

However, once I take the short ride on the PATH train to the other side of the river, the pace slows down dramatically.

The streets are much less crowded here, so unlike the crushing mass of cars, trucks, and bodies that clog up Broadway. I feel like I’m a small town…which, of course, I am.

But it’s a small town in a great location--a kind of hip version of Mayberry, if such a thing is possible.

My office building is a just short walk up River Street from the train station. There’s a beautiful park right behind our building and we have a spectacular view of the river and the New York skyline from our office cafeteria.
And I like my new office. It’s cleaner, brighter, and newer than my last location and I’m seated around some pretty cool people. I’m also meeting new ones.

I Coulda Been A Contender…

Hoboken has a rich history that I’m only beginning to explore.

This is the birthplace of Frank Sinatra, William de Kooning, and Michael Chang to name a few. And this is also where On The Waterfront, one of my favorite films, was shot.

There are some fabulous old buildings in this town and the Hoboken Terminal is an absolute work of art.

Hoboken was one of the first greater New York areas to become gentrified. When I moved back to the city I actually looked for an apartment there, but they were too expensive.

My Uncle Joe in Los Angeles, who hasn’t seen Hoboken in decades, couldn’t believe it when I told him how the place has changed.

“There used to be an Irish bar on every corner,” he said.

Well, Hoboken still has plenty of bars and restaurants and I intend to do some serious reconnaissance of the local haunts.

Going against that tide of commuters each morning and evening can be a bit unnerving. But I’m trying to look at these encounters as a chance to be more mindful.

And I like being able to watch the throng of people from the other side of the escalator. I feel like an observer of the human condition and it’s pretty cool.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been dreading this move for all these months. There’s still a lot of turmoil in my life right now, so I’m quite happy to report some good news for a change.

Here’s hoping for more of the same.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Fade Out

Well, at least I found my umbrella.

I cleaned out my desk at 195 Broadway on Thursday and tomorrow morning I start at my company’s new location across the river in Hoboken.

Moving out an office is a scaled down version of moving out of an apartment.

You find stuff you’ve forgotten about, useless crap you wonder where you got and why you kept, and you take a personal inventory, looking back on your life and wondering what the hell you’ve been doing with your time.

I’ve been working at the downtown Manhattan location for close to seven years and I don’t relish a longer, more expensive commute, but I’m trying to think positively.

My old building is beautiful; it’s the original headquarters of American Telephone and Telegraph and Western Union, and the lobby itself is a work of an art. A scene from the Oliver Stone’s Wall Street was shot there, but you don’t really see much.

I always talked about shooting a short film in this fabulous location, but like a lot things that I talked about, I never actually did it.

During the clean up, I came across a pair of old boxing gloves, crumpled restaurant menus, outdated forms, and about a dozen dead batteries for my tape recorder.

I found a two-year old letter from Nationwide Insurance regarding my father’s estate and an article from Oprah.com entitled “Are You Listening to the Great Creator?” that I don’t think I ever read. Maybe I’ll review it tomorrow during the ride on the PATH train.

And there are all the books. Stack after stack of paperbacks and a few hardcovers that I had acquired over the years from the fourth floor cafeteria where others had left them.

I picked up so many books I could’ve opened a satellite branch of the New York Public Library in my cubicle. Most of them remain unread.

Making Book

I’ve tried to whittle down the pile over the last few weeks, joining my coworkers in dumping unwanted books on a shelf near the vending machines, which is starting to resemble the Island of Misfit Toys from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

All those words and stories that will most likely end up in the trash. For an aspiring author it can be a little sobering seeing how all these books, all that creativity and hard work ends up.

And then there’s Chin Wong.

I’ve changed his name a little bit for privacy reasons, but I’m still wondering why I found a New York University ID card from 1995 bearing the name and the face of a total stranger.

I’ve got a fascination with ID photos and I’m wondering if I held on to this one with an aim of doing a blog post about it. Possibly—but where the hell did I get it?

It might have been in my desk before I moved in, but I don’t recall seeing it. Whoever he is, I hope he’s doing well. And I really hope he doesn’t want his ID card back because I managed to lose it on Friday.

The rest of the stuff I packed into two cardboard boxes that will be shipped off to Hoboken. Then I tacked a photo of Grumpy Cat on the wall of my cubicle and left 195 Broadway behind.

I worked from home on Friday and when I looked through my laptop’s carrying case I found an umbrella that I had misplaced weeks ago.

I have no idea how it got into the case, but in light of tomorrow’s dismal weather forecast, I’m very glad I found it.

Thunder is rumbling all around my house right now and there’s a storm raging in my mind. I’m nervous about the change and about the future, but I think it’s best if I switch off all this drama and put everything into the hands of the Great Creator.

I’ve got a new desk to fill.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Big Wheel Keeps On Turning

“This life is a master novel, written by God, and man would go crazy if he tried to understand it by reason alone. That is why I tell you to meditate more. Enlarge the magic cup of your intuition and then you will be able to hold the ocean of infinite wisdom.” --Paramahansa Yogananda

I turned 58 years old today and so many thoughts are running through my mind.

I’m thinking of the shocking passage of time, and how I’m quickly closing in on the 60 year mark.

I’m thinking about my late parents, and my grandmother, who shared a birthday with me, and how I miss them all very much.

I’m also thinking about a couple of kids I saw in Shore Road Park last weekend. (That may sound awkward, but please bear with me.)

These two boys went racing by me as I sat on a park bench. The older one was on a razor scooter and he was pulling ahead of a younger boy on a bicycle. The little guy was having a hard time with this.

“Stop doing that,” he yelled. “Stop it!”

But the older boy kept on going, leaving the younger one behind, and finally the little guy pulled over, sat on the ground and started crying.

Yes, kids cry every day and then they get over it and go back to having fun, but this incident really upset me. I felt so badly for this kid.

I wanted to tell him that it’s better to find your own way then chase after people who don’t care about you and that you shouldn’t get upset over something as trivial as a race with another kid.

But, of course, it wasn’t trivial for him. This was a terrible blow in his world and I was happy to see the boy’s father come along a few moments later to console the little guy.

Then on Friday it was my turn.

Waterworks

We got out of work early due to the Memorial Day holiday and, having failed to make any firm plans, I decided to go home.

Big mistake. As soon as I got home I realized that it wasn’t even 7 PM yet and I had pretty much tanked the evening.

I’m in kind of rough patch right now as my future is a bit overcast. I’m trying to remain positive, focus on the good things in my life, and express gratitude, but it can be very hard some days.

I was feeling out of sorts so I decided to call my aunt just to talk, but I felt so tired, so fearful, and so goddamn lonely that my voice started to crack.

“Honey…” my aunt said, anticipating the deluge.

Then I lost it, weeping and wailing like my buddy in the park. I know that a lot of this comes from concerns about what’s going to happen next, but I couldn’t seem to rein in the tears.

Finally I calmed down and assured my aunt that I was okay.

I felt guilty about unloading on her, since she’s dealing with some serious health issues, but my aunt—just like my mother--can see right through me and there’s no way I can hide my fears from her.

Now that I calm I can see really appreciate how lucky I am to have people as loving as my aunt, my sister and other friends and family, who can listen to my problems and talk me down to earth. That’s a great gift indeed.

Today I will be going to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden with my auntie and sister and then we’re heading off to Wing Hing, a fantastic Chinese restaurant, where I intend to eat everything on the menu and then menu itself.

I’m taking a day off from thinking about my problems, worries, and disappointments. This is a day for gratitude and celebration.

Like my little friend in the park, I see that sometimes the only thing you can do is pull over, sit down, and cry your eyes out.

Then you wipe away the tears, get back on your bicycle, and start pedaling.