Sunday, November 11, 2018

A Big Ball of Irony

It feels like someone broke open the gates of Hell.

Wildfires have been ripping through California, killing at least 25 people and burning more than 100,000 acres.

California was the site of our latest Second Amendment massacre, which happened in Thousand Oaks, where a deranged gunman shot up a local bar on Friday, killing 12 people, including Ventura County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Helus, who was planning to retire in a year or two.

The slaughter was committed by yet another loner psychotic with a gun who also killed himself.

There were all the usual elements of a mass shooting: footage of survivors and family members sobbing in each other’s arms; lines of police cars and ambulances streaking up to some blood-soaked location, and, yes, thoughts and prayers for the victims.

There’s also the mini-biographies of the victims, most of whom were so young and ready to start their lives.

Several of them had actually witnessed last year’s Las Vegas mass shooting and one of them, Telemachus Orfanos, survived that massacre only to die in this latest obscenity.

His mother, Susan Orfanos, furiously rejected the thoughts and prayers routine for the worthless bilge that it is.

"My son was in Las Vegas with a lot of his friends and he came home,” she told reporters. “He didn't come home last night, and I don't want prayers. I don't want thoughts. I want gun control, and I hope to God nobody sends me anymore prayers. I want gun control. No more guns.”

Even the killer was having none of that, as he made social media posts during the massacre.

“I hope people call me insane,” he wrote. “...wouldn't that just be a big ball of irony? Yeah... I'm insane, but the only thing you people do after these shootings is 'hopes and prayers'... or 'keep you in my thoughts'... every time... and wonder why these keep happening...”

Call Me Insane

You have to wonder just how bad things are when even the killers are calling bullshit on the whole thoughts and prayer schtick.

I should mention here that I actually do pray for the victims, even though the list gets longer every week. I don’t have any power to change what’s happened so often prayers are the best thing I have to offer.

But I also know that there are times when prayers aren’t enough and that God really does help those who help themselves. God didn’t give Noah the Ark. He told him to build one, warning him that the Great Flood was coming and that Noah should get busy with the hammer and the saw.

That’s what we have here, only instead of water we’re drowning in innocent blood.

But nothing will change. After the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, Donald Trump said guns had nothing to do with the fact that all those people had gotten shot.

Who could argue with that kind of logic?

The orange goon is also peddling a right-wing fairy tale about the wildfires, blaming them on “gross management of the forests,” instead of climate change, and threatening to pull federal funding if California doesn’t “remedy the situation,” like some cheap hoodlum.

Today is Veterans Day, the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. President Bone Spurs is in France now, but he couldn’t drag his fat ass to Aisne-Marne American cemetery because of allegedly bad weather.

This is the “man” who spends more time on golf courses and attending rallies than he does on Pennsylvania Avenue.

My father was a World War II veteran and he told me that his platoon spent so much time training in mud-covered areas that they were dubbed “Lenihan and his Muskrats.” I wonder what he would have thought of Trump’s excuse for skipping a memorial service.

A century ago, politicians pushed this lie that the First World War would be the “war to end all wars.” It reminds me of the NRA fantasy that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” and Trump’s own gem about climate change being a hoax created by China.

You could twist words anyway you like, but the fires are still burning, the mass shootings are still happening, and the gates of hell are flying off their hinges.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Eye in the Sky

There’s a scene in Martin Scorsese’s mob classic Goodfellas where Ray Liotta’s uber-paranoid gangster is convinced a helicopter is following him.

As the coked-up criminal frantically tries to escape the mysterious chopper, Harry Nilsson’s “Jump into the Fire” cranks up on the soundtrack.

I always loved that scene, but recently I got a chance to experience what that guy was going through.

I had gotten up nice and early one morning for my daily meditation. I’ve been meditating for a few years now and I am slowly seeing the benefits of this daily practice.

I set the timer for 20 minutes and do my very best to be mindful and present. And I think it’s helped me a lot.

I’m a little better at taming the anger and reining in the depression. It’s been an extremely slow process, but I’m encouraged by my progress and I want to continue improving.

Now some sessions are better than others and on this particular morning I was really nailing it—if I do say so myself. I was breathing so deeply and slowly that it was almost like an out of body experience.

In this raucous, crazy city a short period of early morning silence is solid gold.

And then a helicopter flew over my house.

All right, I thought, give it a few seconds and it’ll be gone. The pilot is just zipping overhead on his way to somewhere else. It was mildly annoying, but this is New York, after all, and you can’t expect to live in total stillness.

Only the thing didn’t go away. For whatever reason, the chopper pilot double-parked in a patch of sky right above my head and refused to budge.

I tried to ignore the noise and focus on my breathing, but that wasn’t working.

You Can Climb a Mountain, You Can Swim the Sea

Okay, then, I reasoned, since focus is an important part of mediation, I could focus on the helicopter’s noise and still achieve my higher state of consciousness.

But that didn’t’ work either.

I found myself getting angry, which is exactly what I’m trying to avoid when I meditate.

I thought of the old “black helicopter” conspiracy theories that were big in the Nineties, when the tinfoil hat crowd was convinced mysterious choppers were mutilating cattle or taking over the government or some other such conspiratorial chazzerai.

Only this was real.

The timer eventually went off and I was about as close to mindfulness as I was to the North Pole. And the helicopter was still there.

The whole meditation was ruined, I grumbled.

Of course, any yoga or Zen master would’ve gently dismissed such a pedestrian idea.

You can’t ruin meditation. Any attempt at meditation is better than no attempt at all and mindfulness is a lifelong practice, not something you do for 20 minutes in the morning.

I’ve been suffering from a nasty cold for the last few days and the negative thoughts have been roaring through my mind like the attacking helicopters in Apocalypse Now.

These enemy aircraft—anger, despair, resentment—have been buzzing around for years, but they’ve been hovering in my subconscious for so long that I've just tuned out the noise.

Meditation has helped me spot them sooner. It’s just tougher to fight them off when I’m sick though because my guard is down and I slip back into the old bad habits.

Okay. I know this illness will pass, I’ll get back into my routine, and I will continue to improve.

And when the helicopters come after me, the first thing I’ll do is jump out of the damn fire.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Bloody Curtain

I was sitting in the theater yesterday when I had this stray thought about the outside world.

While I was thoroughly immersed in The Ferryman, Jez Butterworth’s riveting drama about a rural Irish family that gets caught up in The Troubles of sectarian violence, I briefly wondered what was happening in the so-called real world.

The play runs over three hours and I was unable to appease my I-phone addiction and, given the current political climate, I had this strange feeling that something major could be going on.

Well, I found out a short time later over dinner that “something major” was yet another mass shooting in America, this time at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where an anti-Semitic psychopath shouting “All Jews must die!” allegedly shot 11 people to death and wounded six others before the cops shot him and took him into custody.

I almost wish I hadn’t looked at my phone.

I keep saying that it’s pointless to write about these slaughters, that nothing will change thanks to the gutless whores we have in congress and in the White House.

In fact, I was even working on another post for this week, but I can’t ignore this latest horror show, especially given the appalling week my country just endured.

In addition to the Pittsburgh nightmare, we also had a Trump-loving lunatic—which sounds redundant—send pipe bombs to two former U.S. Presidents and several major leaders and supporters of the opposing party, as well as CNN and Robert DeNiro.

Right-wingers were all too eager to suggest or outright say that the attempted bombings were a so-called “false flag” planted by Democrats, but in the end, as Bill Maher noted, the suspect turned out to be “an angry asshole in a red hat.”

We had another crazed white gunman in Kentucky gun down two African-Americans--Vickie Lee Jones, 67, and Maurice E. Stallard, 69—at a Kroger store.

Make America Hate Again

Police said the alleged murderer tried to enter a historically black church minutes before heading to the grocery store.

And during this terrible time, we’re saddled with Donald Trump, a raging narcissist and shameless bigot, who managed to blame the victims of the synagogue slaughter by saying the facility—a house of worship—should’ve had an armed security guard.

The nerve of those pesky Jews getting shot like that. Of course, four of the wounded were armed police officers responding to the incident and guns didn’t seem to do them much good. But don’t tell that to the Trumpanzees. They don’t handle reality very well.

This is the same nationalist president, by the way, who managed to tweet about the World Series just hours after the Pittsburgh massacre, so we know what his priorities are.

He also tweet-bitched that the pipe bomber was taking the attention off the really important things, like the alleged caravan of migrants who are inching their way up from Central America to steal our jobs and commit acts of terror.

However, at the rate they’re moving and the frequency of these mass shootings, there may not be anyone left to terrorize when they finally do get here.

Mike Pence, Trump’s bible-blabbing android, spewed the standard “thoughts and prayers” horseshit, which not only doesn’t help, but actually makes things just a little bit worse.

The Ferryman covers such issues as extremism, corruption, and senseless violence, and during the climax, when things spin completely out of control, one of the characters frantically cries out “what do we do? What do we do?”

The play ended 24 hours ago and I’m still asking that question. What do we do?

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Time of Our Lives

It seems like it just a minute ago we were all so young.

I met up with some friends from high school earlier this month and I can’t stop doing the math.

Was it really that many years ago that we all first met? Are we really that old?

And, for the love of God, can we get a recount?

The mini-reunion got me thinking about other people I knew back when I was a teenager and I decided to waste some of the time I have left by poking around on Facebook.

I noticed that one of my friends had friended a guy I knew in high school who was nicknamed “Pooch.”

We weren’t close, but we were friendly enough, at least for a while. At some point, though, things soured somewhat between us and I’m not sure why. I am certainly partially to blame for the rift because back then I was quick to take offense and all too eager to hold to it.

This is still a problem, by the way, but at least now I acknowledge it and I’m trying to improve.

I never saw Pooch after high school and I didn’t think about him at all until I ran across him on Facebook. He had become a doctor and was also the father and a grandfather--which spooked the hell out of me.

I started feeling badly about how we had left things off back in the Seventies. I thought it would be a nice if we could talk and clear things up—assuming, of course, he even remembered who I was.

But I made absolutely no effort to turn this thought into reality. I just…thought about it.

And then I clicked on to his page and saw that Pooch had died last year at the age of 59. It felt so strange looking at his photo while recalling the kid in high school. And I feel so badly for his family.

Back to Work

A few months ago, a freelance reporter contacted me about a murder case in the Poconos I had covered in the 1980s.

He was working on a book about the case and wanted to shake up my memory, but honestly, I was of very little help to him, as I had just covered the arrest and very little else.

At some point I mentioned my old editor at the paper and he told me that he had died a few years ago.

Now I was not friends with this editor in any way—in fact, we had some pretty nasty encounters during my time there and I was convinced that he showed extreme favoritism to another reporter whom I absolutely despised.

I was so angry with the management at that place that I had hard time putting them out of my mind even after I moved on to another paper.

But now all the bickering and the hostility that occupied so much of my time back then seem meaningless now.

Yeah, the situation at that newspaper sucked big time, but I know I could’ve handled things better.

And, failing at that, I could have—and should have—gotten out of there a hell of a lot of sooner than I did.

People are always going to butt heads. That’s inevitable. But you have to guard your own health and happiness, so if you’re in a bad spot, get out of it as soon as possible. If you want to patch things up with someone, do it as soon as you can.

Keep the toxic emotions to a minimum and you won’t have to be sorry later on.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Temple of Zoom

If I knew I was going on an adventure I would’ve worn a pith helmet.

I met up with a friend on Saturday to check out an old building and wound up doing some serious time traveling.

We were enjoying the annual Open House New York event, where hundreds of the city’s normally off-limits sites and attractions are open to the public.

My aunt suggested checking out the old Dime Savings Bank of Brooklyn on DeKalb Avenue, a building I had spotted a few weeks ago while running an errand downtown.

At the time I snapped a photo of the outside and wondered what the interior looked like. Here was my chance to find out.
So, I contacted my buddy Maria for a little urban exploring.

Now I have to confess that I was a little concerned that I was inviting my friend to view a musty old mausoleum. What a great way to spend a Saturday, right?

However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The second we walked into the place I knew we had discovered a real gem.

Designed by Mowbray & Uffinger and built between 1906 and 1908, the Dime Savings bank is a work of art.

The vast building was made to look like Greek temple complete with a rotunda supported by red marble columns that were made from stone imported from ancient Greek quarries. I’ve been in a lot of churches in my life and this place definitely seemed like holy ground.

“I feel like Indiana Jones,” I whispered.

The rotunda was lined with marble benches and several quotes were carved into these benches to give you a lesson as well as a place to rest your caboose. These included little ditties like "Honesty is exact to the penny,” “Sloth is a motor of poverty,” and “From saving comes having.”

Walking around, I imagined men with derbies and canes and women in long dresses with parasols, coming in here to do their business. You could almost feel the souls passing through you.

Everywhere you looked there were fabulous carvings or symbols of some type. The designers were real artists and they wanted to build something that would last.

This neighborhood, like so such much of Brooklyn, is changing rapidly, with old buildings being either renovated or torn down and new structures sprouting up every time you turn around.

The bank is going to survive this onslaught—more or less.

There are plans to build a 73-story mixed-use tower with nearly 500 rental apartments next door to the bank. It will be the tallest building in the borough and the Dime will be used for retail space.

We were having such a good time that Maria checked her phone to see if any other landmarks in the open house were nearby.

“The Wifi here is terrible,” she said, and I had to laugh at the incongruity of mentioning the internet in a such an ancient place like this.

When she finally got a connection, we learned that the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument, a memorial to more than 11,500 American prisoners of war who died aboard 16 British prison ships during the Revolutionary War, was on the list and just short stroll DeKalb Avenue at Fort Greene Park.

The park is located directly across the street from my alma mater, Brooklyn Technical High School. Now I was a student there back in the Seventies, when the area was a crime-infested hellhole and nobody, I mean nobody, wanted to live there.

I went to Tech for four years but I never even thought about putting one foot in the park back in those dire, dark days.

Saturday was the first time I actually went in there, though I confess it took me a little while to relax because I was half-convince some lingering freak would bum rush us.

But that didn’t happen. The park is beautiful and it was filled with people having fun, not criminals raising hell.

After a brief stop at the Greenlight Bookstore on Fulton Street, we decided to wrap things up.

As we walked down Flatbush building we heard a terrible crash coming across the avenue. We saw a huge cloud of dust and realized one of the crumbling buildings on that block had come tumbling down.

It sounded like a disaster instead of a controlled event, but I did see some kind of construction equipment nearby, so I reckon it was planned. It was scary nonetheless.

But I guess that was the sound of time marching on, rolling over the past and constantly building anew.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Pay What You Wish

Is there an oddsmaker in the house?

I had a chance encounter recently at the Whitney Museum of American Art that I’m still having trouble believing actually happened.

If I had to pick a theme song for this particular Friday night in the Meatpacking District it would unquestionably be OMC’s 1995 hit “How Bizarre” because that’s the only word that fits the situation.

I had gone to the Whitney’s new digs on Gansevoort Street in my half-hearted effort to get the hell away from the DVR and walk amongst human beings.

It was pay-what-you-wish night, which caused a massive but relatively-fast moving line to form outside the museum’s front door. Once I was inside I went to the top floor and worked my way down.

The new Whitney building is a work of art on its own with observation decks on several floors that offer fabulous views of the city. I thought some of the exhibits were a little strange, but I was trying to keep an open mind.

Plus, the Whitney has a number of Edward Hopper paintings that I absolutely love.

After a while I decided it was time to go home and I was riding the elevator down to the lobby when I realized I hadn’t seen the exhibits on the fifth floor.

Oh, screw it, I thought, you’ve seen enough. Go home. The couch and the remote are calling out to you.

It's Making Me Crazy

But I didn’t want to bail. I have a habit of leaving places too soon and going just as the party gets started. I didn’t have any place to be and I wasn’t sure when I’d be coming back, so why not stick around?

I zipped back up to the fifth floor, stepped off the elevator, and locked eyes with my old friend Phil, who I have not seen in years.

It was just so twisted running into him after I had pretty much given up on seeing him ever again.

If Albert Einstein tried to work out the odds of meeting someone in New York in the same museum on the same night his head would explode. I was leaving for God’s sake, and it was just a last-minute decision to go back upstairs.

In many ways this felt like running into an ex-girlfriend, which I’ve also done.

We chatted for a little while and I told him about my accident and that I was looking for work.

There was nothing heavy, as this was neither the time nor the place, and, frankly, I don’t think there will ever be a time and a place for that kind of conversation.

Phil was with some friends, who were preparing to leave, so we parted company and I exited the Whitney—for real this time.

Nothing was resolved, as far as I’m concerned, but I am grateful than I saw him again and I can accept the fact that, for whatever reason, we have gone our separate ways.

But what I’m feeling most of all is shock. I still can’t believe we ran into each other in this city of eight million people.

I have asked God for so much in my lifetime, but even I don’t have the nerve to ask the Almighty to pull an almighty crazy-ass stunt like this. Maybe it’s a case of don’t ask and you shall receive.

As OMC would say, how bizarre.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Empty Seat

We lost such a beautiful voice last week.

I’ve been taking this fabulous class “Five for Five” for the last three years and not only have I learned so much about the craft of writing, but I've also had the privilege of meeting some fabulous people.

One of those people was Kathleen, a lovely woman and an amazing writer, who died last week from cancer.

I’m still having trouble accepting this terrible news.

The class is going to start up again in a few weeks and it’s hard to believe that we won’t see Kathleen again, that she won’t be sitting on the couch in our teacher, Rosemary’s, living room, sharing her writing, her thoughts, and her heart.

Every week I looked forward to hearing her work, much of which was autobiographical. Kathleen was an Irish Catholic like yours truly so I appreciated her stories about our tribe.

She was also so insightful and supportive when commenting on our work. One night I was suffering from a hideous cold and I somehow managed to drag myself to class, follow Rosemary’s prompts, and produce something readable.

I was happy to get through the class without keeling over, but Kathleen made a point of approaching me when we were leaving and complimenting my work.

“You did great work tonight,” she said. “And you were sick!”

Those few words did more to make me feel better than a crateful of Vitamin C. And Kathleen and her husband were kind enough to come to my book signing last year, along with the rest of my classmates.

You Will Know That I Am Gone

As her illness worsened, Kathleen started missing classes. She was due to come to a recent class, but at the last minute we learned that she had taken a bad turn and had to go to the hospital. A short time later we found out she had died.

Several months I posted a link on Facebook to Peter, Paul, and Mary’s rendition of the Sixties folk song “500 Miles.”

“That’s from my generation!” Kathleen wrote in the comments section.

The song opens up with the line “if you miss the train I'm on, you will know that I am gone,” and those words have taken on a new meaning for me.

People like Kathleen are rare in this life and I feel so blessed for having known her.

There are so many things that I want to tell her and ask her, and it hurts to know that I'll never get the chance.

I saw Kathleen at our group reading in August. Her work was fabulous, as always, and I was just so happy to see her. I had no idea it would be the last time.

I wrote to her in June to tell her how much we all missed her and she told me how the disease “had me on a roller coaster.”

“I want to get back to my real life immediately and that just does not work,” she said. “If I rest now I will have a life to live.”

Kathleen thanked me for writing and added that “at least I’m over the ‘poor me’,” which is a testament to her courage and a lesson for us all.

She ended her message with “Lots of love, Kathleen.”

That’s what I’m feeling now, beneath this terrible sadness, I have lots of love for you, Kathleen, and I always will.