Sunday, October 15, 2017

Good Citizen

Christopher sounds like quite a guy: he wants to save the country, build houses for the homeless and be a good citizen.

I became slightly acquainted with Christopher this week while walking along Third Avenue one morning last week. I was coming home from the gym when I saw a composition notebook on the ground.

I have this fascination for lost writings and photos, so naturally I stopped to take a look.

I saw instantly that the notebook belonged to a child—I couldn’t make out the last name, but “Christopher” was written clearly across the cover.

I was a little surprised to see an old-school marble notebook, since I figured kids today are using I-pads, smart phones, and robots to do their homework instead of pencil and paper.

I’m not good at determining children’s ages, but Chris is probably a first or second grader. He proudly declared his desires about adulthood on the first page:

When I grow up I want to be in the army,” he writes, “so I can go and save the country from the bad guys and destroy there (sic) country so they won’t have a home so that is why I want to go to the army so I could save this world.”

I think it’s great that this young man wants to save the world, but I’m not sure joining the army is the best way to do it. And it’s rather depressing that terrorism is on this young man’s mind, but then I guess that’s not surprising given how terror attacks have dominated the news.

My Back Pages

Christopher drew two figures on the bottom of the page, one labeled “Gab” and the other “Me.”

I thumbed through the notebook and found another entry where Christopher said he wants to build houses for the homeless so they’ll have someplace to live. He writes that he wants to be “a good citidisent” which I believe is meant to be “citizen,” but he was close.

I felt badly because I sure that this notebook means a lot to this young boy. I lost a notebook on the subway a few years back and I was devastated. I had used it to write down ideas for stories and other things and while I’m sure it mostly gibberish, I’m equally certain I lost some gems as well.

I keep journals at my shrink’s urging and they’re very helpful.

Journaling is a good form of self-discovery and I find a lot of the things that are troubling me often lose their power once I pick up the pen and commit my fears to paper.

I stood there on the street holding a child's dreams in my hands and wondering what to do.

If Christopher had written his home address or his school in the notebook, I would’ve gladly tracked him down, returned his journal, and encouraged to keep up with the writing.

In the end, I left the notebook right where I found it. Maybe Christopher will retrace his steps and retrieve it, though that seems unlikely.

But I do hope Christopher grows up to live his dreams, that he beats the bad guys and builds homes for the homeless. He sounds like he’ll be a good citidisent and we need more like him.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

58 Crosses

Well, at least we can send thoughts and prayers.

I just finished reading the Times’ story on Stephen Paddock, the latest American psycho to unleash his twisted fury on innocent people—this time at a country music festival in Las Vegas, where he fired down into the crowd from his hotel window, killing 58 people and wounding hundreds—yes, hundreds, of others.

The carnage has been called the deadliest mass shooting in American history—until the next one, of course. And we all know that there will be a next one.

Paddock is a man contrasts, according to the Times, who doesn’t fit the mass shooter profile, but we do know he was a fucking lunatic with ridiculously easy access to a shit-ton of firearms.

The video footage of the shooting is sickening, with the unmistakable sound of machine gun fire ripping through the air while the singer on stage stops to figure out what’s going on and then turns to run. It makes me ashamed to be an American.

The stories emerging from the shooting are horrible, with people dying as they used their own bodies to shield their loved ones from the merciless assault.

Paddock wasn’t a Muslim, though ISIS is claiming he was, and factions of the right wing media are working overtime to make some kind of Islamic connection to distract us from the blistering reality that this son-of-a-bitch was a Caucasian American male that neither a border wall nor a travel ban would’ve stopped.

So now we have the vigils, and the speeches, the thoughts and fucking prayers that didn’t do jack shit to prevent last year’s slaughter at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando or any of the other mass shootings before or since.

Death from Above

A group of volunteers is planting 58 trees to honor the victims, while another man is planting 58 crosses. I think these are touching, commendable tributes, but I can’t stop thinking about the 58 corpses.

The gun lobby and its paid hand puppets immediately launched into loathsome, bogus wails of “too soon” at the very mention of control, as if they actually gave a shit about the victims or their loved ones.

It’s strange how it’s never too soon to discuss changing the law after a deadly fire, plane crash or other such tragedy. Only when guns are involved do politicians hit the brakes on change and get all protective and worried about people who are beyond saving.

Ladies and gentlemen, please go fuck yourselves. You have no intention of changing the law, even with talk of banning the bump stock, which helped Paddock rack up such a sizeable body count.

The Second Amendment chimps are hooting that there are other ways of killing people, like fertilizer bombs, runaway trucks, and hijacked jetliners.

No doubt, but by introducing some kind of sanity to our gun laws, we could at least shut down one potential avenue of mayhem.

We could, but, of course, we won’t.

I don’t know why I even bother writing about these shootings anymore. People are more upset about football players kneeling during the National Anthem than they are about mass murders.

So, by all means, send your thoughts and prayers to Las Vegas, but save a few prayers for yourself and ask God to spare you from the next massacre that’s surely heading our way.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Light and Day

I’m not sure, but that might’ve been a panic attack.

I’ve been bouncing in all directions for the last few weeks, so I guess this probably wasn’t the best time to watch The Light Between Oceans, an incredibly moving story that I thoroughly enjoyed, though I’m sure some people would dismiss it as just a tear-jerker. Fuck them.

The film tells the story of a couple living in a lighthouse in post-World War I Australia, who make an understandable but nonetheless disastrous decision when a boat containing a dead man and a live baby comes ashore on their island.

It’s painfully ironic that people who are entrusted with providing this guiding light could stumble down such a dark path, but so many of us have trouble finding our way even at high noon.

The thing had me weeping and wailing as the inevitable confrontation takes place, but I also found an excuse to conjure up all these terrible thoughts about what a lousy son I was, how I caused my parents all kinds of worry and misery with my constant screw-ups.

What all this grief has to do with a lighthouse in Australia I have no fucking idea, but when I’m upset, it doesn’t take much for me to go full-on Chernobyl.

I’m finally switching to a new bank after months of rage and madness at my old institution, which is gleefully screwing me over the hacking of my accounts.

Light the Way

I was hoping for a quick resolution to our dispute, but it’s looking more like the siege of Leningrad.

One of the managers at the new place sat me down Saturday for their version of 20 questions. He smiled when I told him my mother’s maiden name.

“She’s Italian?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, wincing at his use of the present tense.

My mother’s been gone for 15 years and I still miss her terribly, especially when there’s bad news on the doorstep. I was going to correct this fellow, but I thought better of it. Why embarrass the man and make myself miserable as well?

I went out Saturday night to unwind at a happy hour event, but my attitude was severely off.

I had been making improvements with the anger management, I really had, but the banking woes have made me super-irritable, so Saturday’s atrocious train service made my foul mood that much worse.

And while I met great people that night and had some nice conversations, I just don’t think a 60-year-old man should be hanging around in bars.

I got pretty depressed, thinking that I was too old to have fun and destined to haunt the bingo halls and I think many things contributed to my intense (over?) reaction to the movie.

So I think that banker had the right idea. I should think of my mother in the present tense, make her a part of my daily life instead of the fading past, and let her be my lighthouse guiding me through the unforgiving ocean.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Ferry Man

Life got so awful last week I just had to ship out.

I didn’t go far, but my brief voyages downriver did help wash away some of the rage, worry, and fear that have been eating away at me.

The city recently introduced a ferry service from my neighborhood in Bay Ridge that stops at Red Hook, Dumbo, (that's "Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass" for all you out-of-towners) and ends up at Pier 11 in Manhattan.

Red Hook and Dumbo are difficult to reach by subway or bus from Bay Ridge so the ferry makes my life a lot easier.

The ferry leaves from the 69th Street pier, which is a few minutes from my house, and where the Staten Island ferry used to sail from back before the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge opened in 1964.

I have an extremely faint memory of sitting in my parents’ car as we lined up to get on that boat. The city shut down this service shortly after the bridge opened and that was it for the ferry in my corner of the world—until now.

This ride costs the same as a subway, though it is infinitely more pleasant. When people say “half the fun is getting there,” this is what they mean.

And I’ve been taking that boat to Dumbo a lot lately. I’ve had a horrible time with my finances and I just learned last week that all of my hacked money may not be returned to me as I had been told.

I can’t say much right now because there could be some legal action springing out of this, but let’s just say I feel like I’ve been victimized all over again.

Shoving Right Off Again

I’ve been on the phone all this week screaming and cursing at all sorts of paper pushers from here to Bangladesh and I accomplished absolutely nothing except jacking up my blood pressure and endangering my health.

I know I was making progress in controlling my anger, so these last few days have been very upsetting.

Now on Friday night I had planned to hide in my house, guzzle wonton soup, watch a DVD, and wallow in self-pity. But the weather was so beautiful—the first day of autumn looked more like the first day of summer—that I decided, “oh, screw this, I’m going to sea!”

I sailed down the river to attend a music festival in Dumbo. People around me were taking selfies as if they were on cruise ship and, I think in a way, they were.

The city looks so beautiful from the water and there are no delays, screeching brakes, babbling lunatics or other such grief that you routinely run into on the train.

And this neighborhood is so vibrant and lively, especially on a warm night. There are shops, restaurants and beautiful parks. It’s such a contrast from the Seventies, when the area was empty, abandoned, and rotting. The streets were dark and creepy enough back then to make a dozen horror movies.

Now there's live music, great events, and people, people, people all over the place. It was just the thing I needed to shake free of my grief and I had such a good time that I went back again on Saturday.

My problems haven’t disappeared, of course. I know they’ll be waiting for me when I get up tomorrow morning.

But it was nice to sail away for just a little while.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

A Time to Every Purpose

When in doubt, there’s always the little yellow book.

I’ve been going through a rather strange period lately.

My identity has been hacked, my bank account has been robbed, I’m making all sorts of bonehead mistakes in all facets of my life, and I’m starting to seriously wonder just what in the hell is my mission on this earth.

About the only bright spot in all this grief is that my missing funds have been restored, and I’m incredibly thankful for this.

I still don’t know how the theft happened and so right now my personal computer is in the shop getting a malware check to make sure it didn’t occur on my end. I blame my bank, but then I am pretty angry about the whole situation.

I’m a great believer in signs and portents—fuck logic and facts—am I right, people?--and I’d like to think that this all started a few weeks ago when my cable unit went all schizoid and the repair guy decided that the only way to address the problem was to replace the entire unit without telling me.

I was about five feet away working on the company laptop in my kitchen at that time, so I don’t think consulting with me before taking such a drastic step would’ve been exceptionally challenging.

When I asked him if I still had access to all the movies and programs I had recorded on my DVR he shook his head in the negative. Among other things, I was saving my 2010 appearance CNN when I read my father’s poem about World War II.

“I’m sorry,” he said, sensing my consternation.

I thought I’d be angry, but I was reasonably okay with it. I’d had several of those films for years and I never even thought about looking at them.

Turn, Turn, Turn...

And I’m pretty sure I can track down that CNN interview if I have a great desire to watch it again. If I can’t, well, that would suck significantly, but it would certainly be survivable. Still, I do wish I hadn’t tipped that guy…

I had an extremely rough week on the professional side, and combined with the hacking business I’ve been a bit of an emotional dumpster fire.

Friday, the day I normally live for, was particularly bad and I was quite literally praying on my Rosary beads in search of relief.

I did get some—thank you, Lord!—but I feel like I’m on the verge of a major change and I don’t know if it will be good or bad, but I know things can’t stay the same much longer.

Which brings me to the little yellow book. A while back Fred the Shrink gave me a copy of A Guide for the Advanced Soul, a collection of powerful quotations. The idea is that you focus on whatever is troubling you, open to a random page in the book, and you’ll find an answer.

On one level this sounds perfectly ridiculous and about as reliable as Ouija boards, tarot cards, and the Magic 8 Ball.

But I’ve already expressed my disdain for rationality and so on Friday, when I was ready to run screaming down the street in my underwear, I took hold of my little yellow book, pondered the future, and opened it up.

To everything there is a season,” it read, citing the open line of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8and a time to every purpose under heaven.”

Okay, then. Besides being a hit recording for the Byrds, what does this have to do with me?

The passage seems to be about seeking balance, something that is sorely missing in my world right now.

Perhaps a season of my life is coming to an end and a new one is about to begin. Summer is changing to fall as I write this and it’s is a good time to let the old, useless parts of my life drop away like autumn leaves.

I’ll do whatever I have to do to be happy, I’ll always carry my little yellow book, and if I do any screaming I'll make sure to keep my pants on.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Where or When

This is the day that never should’ve happened.

Today is the 16th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, when I stood with a crowd across the street from the World Trade Center and watched life as we knew it go straight to hell.

That day was also my father’s 80th birthday and the day after my parents’ anniversary.

My mother was in Lutheran Medical Center’s intensive care unit at the time, but they moved her in anticipation of a wave of injured victims that never came. On 9/11, it was just the living or the dead.

I recall the horror of that day, the chaos that followed; I remember the flyers, the desperate appeals that papered the city, looking for missing people who would never be seen alive again.

And I remember the smell, how I remember that awful stench that hung over the city like a funeral shroud.

I was listening to the radio on Sunday and Jonathan Schwartz played this fabulous recording of Frank Sinatra singing “Where or When.”

He made that record nearly 70 years ago—on September 11, 1950, the day after my parents got married in Our Lady of Angels Church in Brooklyn.

How different the world was back then. This country had recently emerged from World War II and people knew nothing of jihadists or radical Islam back then. They were hopeful about the future.

I didn’t get to the memorial service at Ground Zero this year, so I listened to the reading of the victims' names on TV. I didn’t stand outside the Brooks Brothers store where I was on the day the planes hit.

Until the Shadows Lengthen

I work from home now and I don’t go to Manhattan unless it’s absolutely necessary. (That sounds awfully lame as I read it.)

I was looking through my strong box for my Social Security card the other day and I came across all these old papers and photos and mass cards that had my crying in no time at all.

And I found a mass card for a young man named Neil who was killed in the Trade Center attacks. I don’t recognize him and I don’t know how this card came into my possession, but I’ll gladly keep it with my other artifacts. We were all family on 9/11.

Neil, who was 28 years old, is smiling broadly in the photo and news reports said he loved to cook and had planned to join his family in Italy in mid-September.

I wonder about Neil and all the other victims, what their lives would’ve been like had they been allowed to remain in this world.

I think of the children that were never born, the relationships that never happened, the great vacations, the wonderful memories, the incredible ideas, the good times, all brutally cut short.

The front of Neil's mass card bears the image of St. Francis, restorer of lost things and the Prayer for Holy Rest appears on the back.

Oh, Lord,” it says, “support us all day long of this troubled life, until the shadows lengthen and evening comes and the busy world is hushed and the fever of life is over and our work is done, then in thy mercy grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last.

Amen to that.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Urgent Appeal

I saw this loser heading my way as I prepared to take a picture of the Tower Bridge in London.

He was hairless, like yours truly, but nowhere near as gorgeous, of course.

His eyes were bugging out of his head as he walked in front of a guy aiming his camera at the bridge and flipped the two-fingered salute—a variation of the American middle finger.

I was on vacation and didn’t want to deal with freaks, but I realized that all big cities have their lunatics.

I didn’t make eye contact as he walked by me—I am a New Yorker, after all--but I watched him until he was gone.

To be quite honest, the incident paled in comparison with the belligerent costumed characters and aggressive desnudas who stalk Times Square on any given day.

But a few days later I saw a poster outside my hotel with the douchebag’s face under the words “Urgent Appeal.”

City of London Police have released a CCTV still of a man they are looking to speak to in connection with a number of harassment incidents in the vicinity of the Tower Bridge,” the flyer said.

I don’t know if the cops ever found this bum, but I feel like I’m battling with his twin brother somewhere out in cyberspace. I went to my bank last week and learned that the hack of my account was much worse than I thought—much, much worse.

I don’t want to give out any numbers, but it seems this prick has been syphoning money from my savings account since July. Yes, I should’ve been more aware of my finances, but clearly my bank was asleep at the switch too.

Tower Treasure

I sat in one of the cubicles while one of the bank executives showed me a list of fraudulent transactions. This is where my mother used to sell life insurance, where I used to visit her or call her when I lived out of town.

This place used to be a sacred place to me, but now it felt more like a hellhole.

The police are involved and today I spoke with a detective who says it’s a case of grand larceny and he intends to subpoena my bank—soon to be ex-bank.

I’m getting welcome messages from various financial institutions that think I’ve opened an account with them and I’m contacting them to say I most definitely have not. 

I have to give a super-secret password every time I call my bank, while the goddamn hackers can walk around my savings account like it’s a public men’s room.

I’ve spent over $100 on security software for my computer because the bank claims I’ve got some kind of malware in my computer—even though I believe this is horseshit. So, far I’ve found nothing.

And I’ve been losing my temper with the bank, the software company, and myself for getting neck-deep in this misery. All my attempts at anger management have gone straight down the crapper as I've yelled, screamed, and screamed some more.

After the meeting, I staggered toward the bank’s exit door. I stopped at the place where my mother’s desk used to be and I prayed to her, asking for strength and courage to get through this disaster.

I felt like crying and running away, but that’s no solution. And I know my mother wouldn’t want me to do that. She’d want me to stand tall, face my problems, and give them all the two-fingered salute.