Sunday, December 10, 2017

Deep in Your Heart

“Is this going to upset me?” I asked my TV the other night.

Naturally my TV didn’t answer. It’s a smart TV, but it ain’t that smart. No matter.

I was gearing up for yet another crying fit as I watched a commercial—a goddamn commercial!—about an abandoned teddy bear looking to be loved.

“Oh, yes, it is!” I shouted to no one, and began sobbing.

I forgot what product was being peddled in this ad, but it doesn’t take much to get me reaching for the tissues.

I don’t know if it’s age or lunacy, but I find that I’m getting tear-eyed at the slightest emotional prodding. If someone ever starts a group “Shameless Weepers Anonymous,” I will gladly sign up.

While I’ve always been overly sensitive, lately I’ve been balling my eyes out at absolutely anything. And I wonder if there’s a part of me that looks for something to get emotional about just to get the weepy release.

Recently I came across a stray memory of a short film that ran on Saturday Night Live 30 years ago called “Love is a Dream,” that starred Phil Hartman and Jan Hooks.

The film was directed by Tom Schiller, who made some hilarious short films for SNL, including “La Dolce Gilda,” “Don’t Look Back in Anger,” and “Java Junkie.”

However, Schiller took a break from comedy with “Love is a Dream” and created a beautiful, touching piece of work.

Hard to Explain, Just How You Feel

The film opens in black and white as an elderly woman enters a bank on a cold winter day, walks by an old security guard and removes a tiara from a safety deposit box.

The moment she puts it on her head, the film shifts to color, and a handsome, young soldier steps forward and dances with her as they lip synch a song set to Straus’ “Emperor Waltz” from a Bing Crosby film by the same name.

The dance ends, the soldier disappears, and Jan Hooks returns to being an old woman again.

She puts away her crown and as she leaves, the aging security guard turns and we see it’s Phil Hartman who gives her a little salute.

The film is touching enough on its own, but the emotional wallop gets cranked up one hundredfold when you factor in the shockingly untimely deaths of the two wonderful leads.

I recently tried to describe the film to my sister and auntie, but I started blubbering five seconds into the story.

My sister and auntie have suffered through my bawling scenes for years now and they saw this one coming.

“Don’t start crying,” my auntie said to no avail.

When the women in your family are getting fed up with your sob stories, you know there’s something wrong with you.

Now that the holidays are upon us, I’m sure I’ll be wailing my way through all of my favorite yuletide classics, like Scrooge, It’s a Wonderful Life, and The Mousehole Cat.

Are they going to upset me? You damn right they are, and I’m going to enjoy every moment of it.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Rand Old Time

As the lights dimmed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Friday night, the man sitting next to me leaned in my direction.

“See you in four hours,” he whispered.

And with that we settle in for the BAM’s mammoth adaptation of Ayn Rand’s turgid potboiler
The Fountainhead.

Two days have gone by and I still don’t know how the hell I feel, but after suffering through this thing I feel like somebody owes me either an apology or an explanation, but I’ll settle for a t-shirt.

For the record, I despise Rand and her crackpot views on individualism with a passion.

She peddles a particularly virulent strain of horseshit that magically makes mythic figures out of self-centered, money-grubbing assholes, which explains why Paul Ryan, Donald Trump and the rest of the Republican scumbags jizz their shorts at the mere mention of her name.

In addition to being a five-star fraud, Rand, who is also responsible for that other literary slagheap, Atlas Shrugged, is a terrible writer who deposited reams of mind-numbing prose on a defenseless world.

I never thought I’d have anything to do with her, but then the BAM announced back in September that the incredibly talented director Ivo van Hove would be mounting a production of Rand’s story of renegade architect Howard Roark making his way through a world full of pesky humans.

My family and I had the pleasure of seeing van Hove’s brilliant staging of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge and The Crucible and his adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky’s Network is currently lighting up the London stage.

The guy’s vision is so original, so outrageous that his name alone is enough to have me lining me up at the box office. The gentleman with whom I had been speaking at the start of the show was also a big fan.

Ivo, Ivo, It's Off to Work We Go

And van Hove didn’t disappoint. The production is stunning and van Hove employs all kinds of wild effects, including video screens that give us aerial views of the action. If I were making a recommendation solely on stagecraft, I’d be telling everyone I know to hightail it down to the BAM with all due haste.

But it’s still Ayn Rand and I’m still somewhat perplexed that such a talented director would waste his gifts breathing life into such shockingly substandard material. The characters are little more than clunky hand puppets who exist solely to spew Rand’s rancid ravings.

It’s like having Luciano Pavarotti sing “99 Bottles of Beer of the Wall.” Yeah, I’m sure he could do it, but why in God’s name would he want to?

In an interview, van Hove said he liked the book “because it asks the question of the essence of creation,” but other writers have asked the same question with much better results.

I’ve been having trouble lately with my knees as they start hurting if I sit for too long, and “too long” is the optimum phrase for this event.

When intermission finally arrived, I got up for some much-needed relief and when I returned I found that my companion and his lady friend had vacated the premises, leaving me alone with Ayn Rand. I guess even Ivo couldn’t keep them in their seats.

Things went to hell quickly in the second half of the show. I alternated between nodding off and wishing someone in the theater would pull the fire alarm.

The monstrosity finally ends four hours and change later with the hero standing on the stage and giving a lengthy harangue about the pursuit of happiness. The only happiness I wanted to pursue was getting the hell out of here.

So, what’s the verdict? Well, I’m still a van Hove fan and while I’m glad I experienced this, I wouldn’t want to do it again. I said the same thing after getting a colonoscopy, but I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.

Now where’s my t-shirt?

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Tooth and Fail

All I wanted was a tube of toothpaste.

A simple shopping trip went full-on fiasco this Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, as a I dragged my bloated self through the day in a tryptophan stupor.

I did actually accomplish a few things one day after a fabulous turkey dinner with my sister auntie.

I got my printer back online after getting my computer’s operating system replaced, a relatively easy task that I had inflated to crisis-level proportions through the power of my nervous disposition.

And I made some (very) minor progress in cleaning up my computer room, though that job is a long way from done.

I finally got out of the house in the late afternoon to do some shopping and treat myself to a much-needed massage, but first I stopped off at a neighborhood thrift store for the aforementioned toothpaste. And that's when the owners’ kids decided to rub me the wrong way.

The lady who owns the place has two lovely daughters and a really cute little boy. The two girls were acting a bit rowdy upon my arrival and I suspect I amped them up a bit as I laughed while the oldest daughter danced and sang what sounded like a Chinese nursery rhyme

The little brother very slowly and deliberately chomped on a candy bar and would continue to do so throughout my visit.

I rummaged around the place until I found the toothpaste and walked up to the cash register whereupon the oldest girl squinted at me and dropped the bomb.

“Are you a boy?”

“What?” I shrieked.

“Are you a boy?” she repeated.

“Yes, of course, I am,” I sputtered. “Why would you ask me something like that?”

Return to Gender

I stood there clutching my tube of Crest and wishing I had stayed the hell in bed. My ego is fragile enough without getting the piƱata treatment from an 8-year-old.

“Why you wear that?” she said, indicating my earring.

Now I’ve had this stud in my left ear for nearly 20 years now and I barely think about anymore. Apparently, however, other people do.

“Boys can wear earrings,” I protested. “Maybe I’m a pirate!”

I should’ve clammed up right then and there, but, no, Joe Schmuck had to lift his ski cap and displayed his hairless pate.

“Here,” I said, as florescent beams bounced off my coconut. “Girls don’t do this!”

I know there are women who shave their heads, but I wanted to keep things simple for my audience. However, all I did was get the middle daughter riled up.

“How come you got no hair?” she asked.

“I shaved it all off!” I shouted.

“They ask a lot of questions,” their mother said with a trace of weariness.

They certainly do. I was waiting for the baby brother to give me the business, too, but he was far too busy munching on that candy bar and I suspect he would keep doing so even if Satan himself crashed up through the floor and started singing “Swanee River.”

I grabbed my package, got my change and got the hell out of there before those kids found something else about me to mock.

Now being a good Catholic boy I must confessed that I was only moderately flustered by their antics.

The truth is I loved every second of this adorable abuse and since this is the time of year for giving thanks, let me add this little episode to the list of things I’m thankful for this year.

But I think next time I’ll get my toothpaste somewhere else.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Long Time Passing

We were doing fine until we found that shoebox.

For the last few Saturdays, I’ve been going over to my auntie’s house in Manhattan to help her clean her apartment.

Last week we made some progress reducing the clutter in her walk-in closet and yesterday we renewed our attack, directing our efforts to the various boxes that sat on the shelves.

We discovered two boxes of shoes that she apparently hadn’t worn in a while and then I reached up for a third box expecting to find yet another pair of kicks.

But this time we struck gold.

This box was filled with dozens of old family photographs, a ton of jumbled memories, many without names or dates, all thrown together in a haphazard history.

The moment we pulled back the lid, my auntie and I both knew it was quitting time. I switched off the closet light, we pulled up some chairs, and went back in time.

Clicking through digital images doesn’t begin to compare with looking at these old pictures, where you can almost feel the years passing by.

There were photos of my nieces when they children (they’re both adults now), a number of people I didn’t know, and two old black and white images. The first shows a couple and their three children, while the other is picture of their four-year-old daughter sitting outside their house.

The man and woman were my grandparents. I never knew my grandfather, though I’m told he cried easily at sad movies, a weakness that passed from him, to my mother, and down to me. My grandmother was elderly when I was growing up and she died when I was in the fifth grade.

A Long Time Ago

Their oldest daughter in the photo was my Aunt Mary, who had come to America from Italy with my grandmother and died when she was 18 years old. Growing up I heard a lot about Mary, but it took a long time for me to fully understand her loss, and feel the pain of a life that ended far too soon.

The young boy is my Uncle Walter, who would grow up to be a bomber pilot in World War II.

And then there’s that little girl who appears in both photos.

“That’s your mother,” my aunt said.

I stared at the photograph in disbelief. That beautiful like child clutching a stuffed animal, seated near a little wagon, and looking at the camera with this slightly confused look on her face—that’s my mother?

Of course, she’s not my mother in that picture, not even close. She would have a long way to go before me and my siblings make our appearance.

I wanted so badly to speak to my mother, squeeze her hand, and tell her much love her and how badly I miss her. I took everything I had to keep from crying.

I remember once when we were kids and my mother got fed up with our fighting.

“Life is over in second,” she declared. “You may think it’s long, but it’s really just a second.”

And looking through those old photographs I see how right she was. One moment she’s a little girl and the next moment she’s a grandmother. And now she’s a memory.

I looked through the photos of my niece Kristin on her first Holy Communion and my youngest niece Victoria on vacation and appearing on stage in Kabuki make-up for a school production. I wish my mother could be here to see how they’ve grown.

I took some photos of the pictures, put everything back in the shoebox and then it was time to leave.

So, yeah, we didn’t get much accomplished in the way of cleaning yesterday, but my heart sure got a hell of a workout.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

One Lump or Two?

You see them in all corners of this great city of ours, just itching to spring into your life.

New York has a seemingly vast population of unique individuals that some crass folks might refer to as nuts, kooks, weirdos, or freaks.

But, hey, come on, without these characters this town would be nothing more than a plus-size Topeka.

These people are very helpful in the event you forget what city you’re in.

One look at their bizarre antics and you’ll shake your head and say, “Oh, yeah, that's right; I’m in New York.”

Take, for example, the gentleman I spied last week walking down Fourth Avenue here in beautiful Bay Ridge shortly before the start of the New York Marathon.

He was in his forties, wearing shorts and a straw hat and carrying a massive plastic fish slung over his neck like a Gibson guitar.

I’m not sure where he acquired this particular item, but I suspect one of the local seafood restaurants might be missing a sign.

And just to make sure we were all looking at him, this fellow was howling out an ear-splitting rendition of the old Sly and the Family Stone hit, “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” at the top of his lungs. I honestly don’t think anyone on this earth could stop this guy from being himself.

I would’ve taken his picture but I was concerned he might pummel me with his giant tuna.

Next we have the cheerfully psychotic fellow I unwillingly befriended on the crosstown bus the other night after a theater outing with my sister and auntie.

For some reason, the crosstown bus requires a ticket rather than a Metrocard. The bus driver doesn’t usually ask to see the ticket but you can get an $150 summons if you’re caught without one.

I don't know the logic behind this, but it's not a hardship by any means--at least not for most people.

So the three of us got our tickets, crowd into the bus, and I happen to be standing over this rather stocky chap with a shaved head and a bushy mustache. I thought he was chatting to the woman sitting next to him, but I soon realized he was addressing the world at large.

And then he made eye contact with me.

Lookin’ at the Devil, Grinnin’ at His Gun

Yes, sadly, when it comes to head cases, I’m a walking piece of flypaper. The loons spot me and streak in my direction like salmon surging upstream.

“You got that ticket, huh?” he asked me.

“Yes,” I said, praying the conversation would end there, but knowing it wouldn’t.

“They give you a $150 fine if you don’t got that ticket,” he said. “Man, someone tried to give me a summons I’d lump him up.”


“Yeah,” he declared, “I don’t care if I go to jail. I’d lump him up.”

He seemed quite fond of that expression “lump him up” and said it repeatedly. I was hoping he wouldn’t turn his words into action.

“We don’t got them tickets in Queens,” he said. “You try that in Queens, we’d lump you up.”

It was getting awfully lumpy on this bus, like poorly stirred oatmeal. I kept looking out the window, hoping that our stop would come up soon.

“Let someone try and give me a summons,” my travel companion was saying. “I’d lump him up.”

Yes, sir, I fervently believe that you would lump this person up. Now can we change the subject?

“I’d go to jail,” he said, “I don’t care.”

A seat became available across the aisle, and I sent my keester in downward mode. As I made contact with the nice plastic chair, a woman sitting next to me promptly got up and walked away.

“Don’t worry, lady,” my friend called out to her, “he don’t bite.”

Somehow I don’t think this lady was concerned about me, but was rather attempting to avoid any contact with my buddy. I was going to point this out to him, but I didn't want him to lump me up.

We arrived at our destination, I bid Willy Lump-Lump good night, and bounded off the bus with all due haste. My sister and I had a good laugh about my encounter and I couldn’t wait to tell people about it.

I just hope my plastic fish won’t be jealous.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Run for Your Life

And I was actually starting to feel hopeful...

The New York City Marathon went off without a hitch today, just days after eight innocent people were slaughtered in Manhattan in the name of a psychotic delusion.

Once again, my home was the target of a fundamentalist murderer, 16 years after the September 11 attacks.

This latest scumbag told the police that he had planned his attack for Halloween because there were would be more people on the street.

His victims included five friends from Argentina celebrating their high school reunion and a young mother from Belgium. Yeah, I’ll better Allah is just tickled pink by all these dead infidels, you asshole.

I didn’t think things could get any worse, but then that Putin-loving fuckwad in the White House proved me wrong by tweeting a vile load of politically-motivated bullshit before the victims’ bodies were even cold.

What the hell is wrong with this scumbag Trump? And what the hell is wrong with his idiot supporters who still stand behind him after all the lies, screw-ups, bigotry and flat out corruption?

He didn’t make any political comments after the Las Vegas massacre; Republicans were too busy shrieking “too soon!” at the slightest mention of gun control.

I lived through the Bush years, when that imbecile stood upon the charred remains of the 9/11 victims and ordered that disaster in Iraq, which helped create Isis.

What's the Good News?

The scandal-wracked Trump Administration is in desperate need of something to get the Russia investigation off the front pages and starting a war is an all-time favorite among imperialists and two-bit dictators.

Impeach, impeach, impeach…

So that's why I was really looking forward to watching the marathon pass through my neighborhood. I do this every year, but today I was really in need of some good news.

And for a while it worked. The weather was crappy, but nobody seemed to mind. There were runners from all over the world, runners in wheelchairs and on crutches. Black, white, Asian, Hispanic, they were all racing through the streets of my city and charging the atmosphere with beautiful vibrations.

I was having a blast, high-fiving runners, taking photos, and shooting the breeze with fellow spectators. Watching all those athletes rolling down Fourth Avenue, I starting to feel some stirrings of optimism.

Yes, these fundamentalist mother fuckers are a curse upon the world. And, yes, I am afraid for myself and my loved ones because I don’t know how we stop these suicidal sons-of-bitches from striking again, and again, and again.

If someone decides to take his own life, all the pathetic macho man posturing in the world won’t do shit to stop him.

But look at all those runners out there, I thought. Look at all those good, decent people, who just want to enjoy their lives. They’re stronger than any terrorist on earth. And I know that Trump will fall and fall hard.

And then I read about Texas where a gunman invaded a small-town church, killing at least 26 people. The dead include the pastor's 14-year-old daughter.

Her father said she was "one very beautiful, special child."

We don’t have all the details yet, but what fucking difference does that make? Nothing will change, the killings will continue, and there will be no place to run.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Bridge Game

Uncle Joe was mighty proud of me.

I like to talk to my uncle in Los Angeles regularly to see what’s going on with the West Coast branch of the family.

I’ve stayed with Joe and his wife more times than I could possibly count and it’s always nice to shoot the breeze with him.

Joe called me this morning and I filled him on a recent trip I talk to Fort Wadsworth in Staten Island that turned out much better than I had anticipated.

“So,” he said after I finished, “you got up off your arse and did something different?”

Indeed, I had.

I had been trying to decide if I wanted to go on this trip with one of my Meetup groups and, as usual, I was coming up with all kinds of excuses not to join in.

My apartment was a mess, I haven’t been doing enough writing, I was tired. And I don’t know my way around Staten Island—what if I got lost?

But I also knew that if I stayed in my comfort zone and spent the day by myself, I’d be miserable. Finally, late on Saturday morning, I made up my mind to go, jumping aboard a S51 bus and hoping I wouldn’t end up an X-File.

I arrived in 20 minutes.

The bus went over the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge and two stops later I was walking a half-block up to Fort Wadsworth.

It was embarrassingly easy to get there, but I had turned it to such a bear in my mind. And even if I had gotten lost, so what? Getting lost in Staten Island is one thing; getting lost in Antarctica is another.

Fort Wadsworth, an area on the Narrows first fortified by the British in 1779, is in a beautiful location. It’s almost directly across the water from where I live, but seeing the same site from the opposite angle was a trip.

“Fort Wadsworth?” Joe said when I told him. “I went there sometime around 1938. I forget what it was all about, but I know I was there. Funny you should bring it up.”

Photo Finish

The rest of the group was coming from Manhattan via the Staten Island ferry, so I chilled outside in the warm autumn sun outside the Visitor’s Center until they showed up.

A park ranger took us on a tour of this eerily empty place. I tried to imagine what the place was like back in the 19th Century, when Staten Island a rural place.

After the tour, we walked up to the Alice Austen House.

Born in 1866, Alice Austen was America's earliest and most prolific female photographers, who lived in her family’s home Clear Comfort, which is right on the Narrows. She was also gay and her home is a national site of LGBTQ history.

Her earliest existing in photograph dates back to 1884 and over the next 40 years she produced around 8,000 photographs, focusing on the daily of New Yorkers.

This was long before I-phones and Ms. Austen had to lug around nearly 50 pounds of photographic equipment in order to photo subjects.

She lived off the interest from money left by her grandfather but the principal was lost in the Wall Street Crash of 1929, and by age 63, she had no income.

She sold off silver, art works, and furniture, took a mortgage on her home, but the bank foreclosed in 1945 and this incredibly talented woman ended up in the poorhouse, where, as one person said, “there was a single, bare lightbulb hanging over each bed.”

I found myself getting quite upset as I learned how Alice Austen had suffered in her final years. But there is some good news.

Eventually her work was the subject of a Life Magazine article in 1950 and she was able to move into a private nursing home, where she died on June 9, 1952.

I’m glad I got to learn about Alice Austen and I know I’ll be going back there and Fort Wadsworth to enjoy other events.

You sure can learn a lot by getting off your arse.