Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Day in the Park

I couldn’t stay in the house one second more.

It was late Saturday afternoon and I was losing my mind.

I had spent a good part of the day either at the bank or in front of my computer as I prepared for my upcoming vacation and I still hadn’t knocked off several important items on my to-do list.

I was angry at myself for blowing two hours on a Netflix detour and for failing to make plans for the day or evening—but the weather report said it was going to rain all day and I figured this would be a great time to get my chores out of the way.

Then my computer starting slowing down and my blood pressure starting climbing and, once again, I found an excuse to get angry over nothing.

When the sun finally came out at around 5pm, I grabbed a book, bolted out of the door, and made for nearby Shore Road Park where I could read, relax and rejuvenate.

And that’s when I met Jacob.

He was nine-years old and he walked right up to me, giggling and clutching a plastic ray gun. His father was right behind him and we both watched Jacob pick up a piece of cardboard that someone had left on the bench.

“Hey, buddy, how’s it going?” I asked and Jacob just giggled some more. “What’s your name?”

“His name is Jacob,” his father told me. “He’s non-verbal.”

Jacob’s dad, Carl, was accompanied by his wife and Jacob’s younger sister, who was about 5 years old and very interested in a butterfly that was flittering around the nearby bushes.

Usually this is when I start internally whining that I just want to be left alone, but this time I felt I really should put aside my anti-social tendencies and talk with these people.

That piece of cardboard could be folded into a bank and Carl began putting it together while Jacob laughed and tried to snatch it away from him.

Carl told me that he had moved to Shore Road a few years ago, that his family was Norwegian and we talked about how his people once ruled Bay Ridge.

Is This Seat Taken?

“We still have the Norwegian Day Parade every May,” I said. “It was a big deal when I was a kid. The mayor used to come and give a speech.”

“Yeah,” Carl said, “but it’s much smaller now.”


Carl told me he was 56 years old, apparently thinking I’d be shocked, but then I told him that I’d just turned 60 in May.

By now Carl had finished the cardboard bank and he handed it to his son, who began tossing it at my head. Carl was trying to get him to stop, but I assured him I didn’t mind—and I really didn’t.

As they walked away, Carl nodded to me.

“Thank you for your patience,” he said.

Patience? In my six decades of existence no one, and I mean absolutely no one has ever thanked me for my patience. I thought of that grouchy nitwit who was cursing at his computer just a short time ago.

And I thought of Carl and his wife, the kind of patience these people must have to handle Jacob—from the very second they open their eyes in the morning they have to watch him to make sure he doesn’t hurt himself.

They’re not a young couple—this could be a second family for both of them—so it looks like they’ll be taking care of Jacob for as long as they live.

I’m trying to actually learn something from this experience about life, devotion, and yes, patience, instead doing my usual routine of bashing myself in a coma with a guilt-studded club, which doesn’t do anybody a damn bit of good.

I didn’t get much reading done on Saturday, but that family had given me a story I will never forget.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Under My Umbrella

At least the umbrella lady was nice to me.

My identify theft woes continued this week when my bank sent me an email asking if I had authorized some yin-yang called Jorge Osoria to use my credit card, which of course I hadn’t. So, I had to dump another yet another credit card.

This latest bit of misery follows my recent run-in with cyber-cretin Ruth Dingfield, who taunted me via email and whom I would cheerfully ding with a frying pan and bury in a field of skunkweed.

The bank security woman told me that it’s probably some malware in my computer that could be reading my actual key strokes. (If that’s the case, Jorge, tell me what this says: “F-U-C-K-Y-O-U!”)

I had already done a malware search and turned up nothing, but I downloaded a new program which took nearly eight hours to review every scrap of information in my computer and do you know what it found?

Absolutely nothing. So, however these humps are getting to my account, it ain’t happening on my end.

Things got even worse on Friday when I got this feeling my checking account was a little low. And it was low for the very simple reason that some scum sucking son-of-a-bitch was taking money out of it.

Naturally I freaked and called my bank screaming like a loon. They shut down my account and refunded my money, but I don’t really see this misery ending any time soon. Clearly there’s a breach and no one seems to be able to stop it.

Now I have to go back and have all the automatic payments and deductions—like direct deposit and my credit card and cable TV bills—and set them up with the new account.

All that summer we enjoyed it...

I feel like I’m the criminal here, trying to hide what is rightfully mind, while some misbegotten mole rat with a keyboard merrily wipes his boots on my privacy.

And I feel stupid, convinced that, despite what the virus scan says, this is all somehow my fault. As a reporter, I’ve done plenty of stories about cybersecurity and now I’m the one getting nailed. It’s not a good feeling.

Which brings me back to the umbrella Iady. After all this grief, I was in pretty serious need of a kind gesture and I got it Friday as I was trying to leave my gym in the middle of a monsoon.


I thought the rain would have eased up by the time I finished my workout but I called that one wrong, too. I stood in the gym’s lobby watching the deluge while time slipped down the drain.

I had neglected to take my umbrella because I couldn’t find it and even if I could I’d be embarrassed to use it since it’s falling apart.

There’s a CVS right next store to my gym so I thought this would be a great time to finally deliver on my promise to get a new bumbershoot.

I was about to make the mad dash out the door when a cleaning lady who works at the gym told me to stop. She didn’t speak English very well, but she indicated that she would let me share her umbrella with her.

It was such a kind offer and the timing was perfect given all the online agony I was living through.

Out we went into the deluge and she laughed when she realized how short my walk actually was. But it’s not the distance, it’s the decency that counts. I thanked her profusely, entered the CVS and promptly purchased an umbrella big enough to protect the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Now if I could only get something to keep Jorge Osoria out of my life...




Sunday, July 30, 2017

Dream of My Father

My father and I had a nice chat the other night, even though he died 10 years ago.

This was a dream, of course, but I was grateful to have a enjoyable meeting with my dad, even if I had to be asleep to make it happen.

I was standing in my parent’s bedroom at our family’s old house on Senator Street, where I used to sleep after they died.

Apparently, I was still living there because I was putting away some clothes when my father just strolled into the room and started talking to me.

He was elderly, but in relatively good condition, a sharp contrast to his final years, when dementia and mounting physical problems had robbed him of so much of his memory and mobility.

I can’t remember one single thing we talked about, but I do remember that it was a pleasant conversation. There was no arguing, no shouting, no rude interruptions, or sarcastic remarks that marred far too many of our real-life encounters.

One thing from the dream does stand out very clearly in my mind: after my father and I had talked for a while, my dad started telling me about the health benefits of coffee and advised me to start drinking the stuff.

I’ve never been a coffee drinker, no how, no way, and I don’t see that changing now despite my father’s good intentions.

So why this dream at that particular time? I believe my subconscious was searching for peace and reassurance.

No Tea or Tomato Juice

I was flying to the Midwest that morning, and, as usual, I was nervous as hell.

My fear of flying is legendary and can only be abated by serious amounts of Xanax.

On top of that, I hate dealing with people at the airports because I’m convinced that there will be some bit of paperwork, some form of identification that I forgot, or something will be wrong with my boarding pass, and then I’ll be drop-kicked out of the door like an old suitcase and be forced to watch my plane depart from the ground with all the other rubes.

And, to be unblinkingly honest, I still have some lingering resentments toward my dad—yes, even after all these years. The hostile memories serve no earthly purpose now, except to make me unhappy, yet I keep hitting the rewind button in my mind and go through them one more time.


So, I really needed to calm down and move on and I think my mind chose a peaceable talk with my father to help me do both.

My brain was making a peace offering to myself and telling me to let go of the fear and bitterness, and all that other grief from the past.

And I have to say it worked because when I woke up I felt very calm and relaxed--not relaxed enough to board the plane without a bucketful of tranquilizers—let’s not be ridiculous here--but I was amazingly serene considering I was scheduled to be streaking through the sky in just a few hours.

The Midwest trip was an absolute blast and I’m happy to report that I didn’t get bounced off any planes. I’ve got another trip coming up in August and I’m sure my mind will be searching for more calming images to get me through that adventure.

I’d better put on a pot of coffee.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Up, Up, Up!

Ruth Dingfield can go to Hell…

Today is the 15th anniversary of my mother’s death and I’m thinking of how she used to try and cheer me up whenever I was feeling down.

She knew me so well that I didn’t even have to say anything when I was upset.

She’d see this morose look on my face, give me a most beautiful smile and, referring to my spirits, she’d say, “up, up, up!”

I wish I had listened to her when she was alive. I wish I had kept a more positive attitude around her and showed that I was making an effort to be happy, instead of playing the victim far too often.

And I could sure use her help today.

My bank account was hacked last week and the sons-of-bitches were able to get my birthday and my Social Security number, which is pretty much everything in today’s society.

I thought I had taken care of things by changing the password on my bank account, but then I got a call from Bank America checking to see if I had applied for a credit card.

Of course, I hadn’t.

Then they told me that someone using my name had applied for a credit card at TD Bank. So, I called them and asked to please rip up that fraudulent application.

I feel violated, exposed and stupid. I’m blaming myself even though over 15 million people are the victims of identity theft each year.

Social Insecurity

And that brings me back to Ruth Dingfield. When I first saw this bogus email address on my bank account page I wrote to the sender just to see what was going on.

I got some vague response and then when the credit card fraud came up I wrote back telling this scumbag to cease and desist. And “Ruth Dingfield” responded.

“Rob, I’m the one who stole your identify,” the email said. “Do you wanna know who I really am?”

No, I don’t. I wanna see swinging by your neck from the Eiffel Tower with a harpoon through your head. Do you think you could arrange that?

It was creepy actually getting a response from this denizen of the Dark Web, but I guess this is the world in which we live now.

Anonymous thieves crash into other people’s lives, help themselves, and then move on to the next victim.

I contacted the Federal Trade Commission and the IRS about the hack and I had to boost the security on my bank account so now I have more passwords than Mata Hari. And I still don’t feel safe.

I’ve got a new credit card and now I freak every time I see a charge I don’t recognize, convinced the bastards have hacked me again.

And it angers me that I’m writing about this bum today of all days, when I really should be focusing on my mother.

I’m feeling all sorts of pressure both personally and professionally and this latest round of misery isn’t helping. I strongly suspect this business with the hacking is going to get worse—possibly much worse—before it gets any better.

But since I’m calling up all these memories of my mom, perhaps the best thing to do is take her advice and aim high when life leaves you low.

Up, up, up…

(I'll be taking of next week for a very important trip. See you soon)

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Hat Crime

Poco Loco esta perdido…

Please forgive me if my grammar is off, but I’m in mourning. I lost my Poco Loco Club hat this week and I can’t stop thinking about it.

I had gotten this blue cap sometime in the early 90s, possibly on a trip to Mexico when I covered then-Connecticut Governor John Rowland’s trip south of the border.

The cap sported the cartoony image of a toucan in red-polka dot shorts with the name that means “A Little Crazy.” And I was more than a little crazy when I discovered it was gone.

Yes, the cap was losing its color and shape and I was seriously thinking about tossing the thing away. But I wanted that to be a conscious choice and not as a result of negligence.

My auntie has relocated to her summer place in the Berkshires for the next few months and I had gone to her apartment to clean out the refrigerator and do a few other chores.

I had been there earlier in the week and had forgotten the Poco Loco hat.

Once I was done, I gathered up my backpack, stuffed the cap inside it, and bounced up to the express bus stop at West 30th Street.

I was strolling up to Fifth Avenue when I saw the light was about to change and I launched into my rat-psycho mode and took off running.

You have to understand that showing a changing traffic light to a New Yorker is like throwing down the gauntlet.

Loco Motion

Other people will wait until the light changes in their favor, but a New Yorker will shriek “get the hell outta my way!” and take off as if Satan has just climbed out of the nearest sewer.

I charged across the avenue and raced to the bus stop to wait for a bus that was nowhere in sight. But at least I showed that street light who was boss.

And apparently somewhere in that mad dash I managed to drop the Poco Loco sombrero. Naturally I didn’t discover the loss until I was on the bus and heading back to Brooklyn.

The toucan had flown the coop and I was feeling muy estúpido. One of the oldest warnings in history says to “hold on to your hat!” How did I fuck that up?

Yes, this is only a battered cap that should’ve been nuked a long time. But I was so annoyed at my carelessness, that I had actually ran across the street with my backpack half-opened and expected everything to be perfectly in place when I finally stopped.


I’m always running someplace, damn it, and I don’t think I have a hell of a lot to show for it.

I googled “Poco Loco” and found someone was selling an atrocious canary yellow version of the cap on eBay.

Someone else was peddling a “vintage” long-sleeved shirt with the logo emblazoned across the front.

I’ve resolved to be more careful with my backpack and try—really try—to be a little less loco when I see a yellow caution light.

I hope some needy person found that little toucan and is giving him a nice home on top of his or her head.

And I really hope they give that bird a new pair of pants. Those polka-dot things have gotta go…

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Wild About Something

It started out with “Open Your Heart to Me” and it kept on going from there.

I went on an impromptu Madonna binge the other night, which is strange, seeing as I was never a particularly big fan of hers.

The other day I was screwing around with YouTube instead of writing, something I do far too often, and after playing one of her songs for old times’ sake, things just kind of snowballed from there.

By “old times” I mean the Eighties, which I still think of as the recent past, when the decade is in reality 30 freaking years ago. (Oh, Jesus, I’m glad I’m sitting down.)

YouTube ran the table with “Like A Prayer,” “Live to Tell,” “Express Yourself,” “Crazy for You,” “Holiday” and, of course, “Material Girl.”

Yes, it’s pop music, but it’s really well done pop music and once these tunes get into your head, it’s hard to get them out.

My nostalgia trip started when I rented Something Wild, Jonathan Demme’s 1986 film that stars Jeff Daniels as an New York executive, whose life is hijacked by a strange young woman, portrayed Melanie Griffith, and winds up in Pennsylvania going head-to-head with Ray Liotta, who plays Ms. Griffith’s psycho husband.

I’m a huge fan of Ray Liotta’s, which I think is why I rented film in the first place. And I lived in a small town in Pennsylvania for about five years, though most of the movie was shot in Florida.

I remember when this movie first came out, but I never got around to seeing it until now. And now that I have seen it, I’m still not even sure if I liked the damn thing or not, but it’s still sticking with me.

The story is alluring, a nice fantasy of taking off from the routine and finding romance and danger, but I didn’t buy into it.

You Make My Heart Sing

But, most of all, I think I rented the movie because I wanted to slide back to the 1980s. I love the music from that era and the clothes—skinny ties, unstructured jackets. And I was a huge fan of Miami Vice, at least initially.

Now to be brutally honest, the Eighties wasn’t the greatest decade for me. I was struggling with my health, my career, and my life. The latter portion particularly sucked if I remember correctly, though the memory is a little vague.

But I was younger and, even though I had a lot of negativity in my heart, I still felt there were possibilities for me.

That was the decade I got into journalism—or more accurately, backed in journalism, since I wasn’t sure what the hell I wanted to do for a living--until I became famous, of course.

I just thought that reporting was something I would do for just a short time before my novel or my screenplays took off and I would soon be working people like Jonathan Demme.

The movie opens up with a nice bouncy salsa tune performed by David Byrne and Celia Cruz as the camera travels up the East River and we get a nice clear view of the Twin Towers, which we all thought would stand forever.

It ends with a Jamaican singer named Sister Carol doing her own version of "Wild Thing."

I’m not going to give away too much of the plot, but if you’ve seen enough movies I doubt if you’ll be terribly surprised by anything that happens in Something Wild.

Ray Liotta looks so young I couldn’t believe it was him. In the film, he shows up at a high school with reunion with a young woman played by Margaret Colin. She now plays Ray Liotta’s wife on the NBC cop show Shades of Blue.

Jonathan Demme, who went on to direct Married to the Mob, Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia, died earlier this year. He was 73 years old.

After all this time, the movie is more of an artifact than art. I just can’t get it out of my head.

Kind of like a Madonna song.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Fools and Drunkards

One of the toughest things for a reporter to do is speak with a victim’s family.

During my five years as a police reporter in the Poconos, I had to interview—or attempt to interview—people who had lost their loved ones due to fires, crashes, or crime.

It was a grim business, obviously, since answering a stranger’s questions about a deceased or injured family member was the very last thing that people wanted to do.

I tried to be sensitive to their suffering, but I always felt like a rat for intruding on their grief during one of the worst moments of their lives.

Some people told me to go to Hell, hung up on me or ordered me off their property. But there were others who willingly answered my questions.

One man, whose father had committed suicide by burning their house down, shook my hand, and, with tears in his eyes, actually apologized for not being able to speak to me. I didn’t know what to say to him.

I got a little better at approaching people as the years went by, but it was never easy. And there was this one time when something totally unexpected happened.

It was a quiet Sunday afternoon in Stroudsburg, Pa. circa 1991. I was at the Pocono Record’s old Lenox Street building when the scanner went berserk, erupting with all kinds of signals for mayhem.

I listen to the windstorm of police and fire codes and realized that someone had either fallen or jumped nearby into McMichael Creek.

The dispatcher was calling the police, the fire department, and—most serious of all—a MedEvac helicopter for the flight down to Lehigh Valley Medical Center in Allentown. This was nasty.

I raced out the door fully expecting to meet up with Bob Allen, the county coroner, and get the lowdown on the victim.

The scene was so close to the paper that I’m not even sure if I took my car. But how ever I got there, I ran into the middle of all the confusion looking for eyewitnesses.

Man Overboard

And then I saw her.

There was a rather tough looking woman in her fifties standing near a police car and I immediately sensed that she knew the victim—wife or girlfriend, and she could give me some good material for my story.

I took a deep breath. There was a strong possibility that she’d blow up, call me all kinds of horrible names, and maybe even attack me. But I had to at least try to get an interview. So, I walked up to her.

“Excuse me, miss,” I said softly. “I’m sorry to bother, but I’m with the Pocono Record and I wanted to ask you about the man who fell into the creek—”


He’s an asshole!” she shrieked and then promptly stormed away.

I stood there in shook. People usually tell me how kind and considerate the victim had been. Was this any way to talk about the dearly and very recently departed?

And then I looked into the police car and saw a man, also in his fifties, soaking wet, handcuffed, and grinning like an idiot.

That was the guy, the one who had gone into the creek. But he wasn’t dead or even hurt in any way. He seemed to be the only one having a good time.

The cops said he and his lady friend had been drinking rather heavily at a nearby rat hole of a bar when for reasons unknown he threatened to jump into the creek.

She waved him off, though, so he promptly made good on his promise-diving into some rather deep and turbulent waters and earning himself a ride to the county jail in the process.

I went back and told me editor what had happened and he decided that we would give the story very little play—nothing more than a blotter item—to avoid inspiring copycatting nitwits.

I was a little concerned about suppressing the news, but I think he made the right call.

When I went to the local YMCA the next morning to work out, I mentioned the incident to some of the guys in the locker room and they all laughed.

“What a story!” one of them said.

For the record, that was a very stupid stunt that wasted time, money and energy, and potentially diverted the first responders from a real emergency.

But that was one hell of a quote.