Sunday, January 15, 2017

Future Tense

Imagine a world where the air is so foul that people are forced to live underground.

And imagine that America is a fascist state run like a corporation with a slew of vice-presidents.

In 1971 author Philip Wylie imagined such a world in a script for the NBC series The Name of the Game.

The show centered on a magazine publisher, an editor, and a crusading reporter, but this particular episode took a sharp turn into science fiction.

And what was the title of this show?

LA: 2017.”

Yes, exactly, the hideous world depicted in the program takes place…now.

I watched the show when it was first broadcast on January 15, 1971—46 flipping years ago today--and it floated back into my memory last week when I should’ve been doing something else.

I immediately began searching for some background on the show and I learned this episode was directed by a young man named Steven Spielberg, who I believe has been fairly successful in the movie business.

The story involves the magazine publisher, played by Gene Barry, who is driving home from a conference on ecology when he passes out behind the wheel and wakes up in the eponymous dystopia.

Prior to keeping over, Barry is dictating a memo to the president, warning that the threat to the environment is so serious “it could be the beginning of the end of the earth as we know it.”

And I Feel Fine...

For a detailed description of the show, you may want to take a look at John Kenneth Muir’s Reflections on Cult Movies and Classic TV.

My memory of the show is quite hazy, not surprising, I suppose, given all those years. I recall Gene Barry waking up in the polluted planet, a terrorist bombing, and not much else.

I also read a novelization of the script written by Wylie, but I remember even less about that.

While the program was ahead of its time in many ways, it does look somewhat creaky now, judging by what I on found on YouTube, like an excruciating scene with some aging hippies.

But it’s easy to look back and mock the past. The show did highlight the dangers of pollution, but clearly we didn’t get the message.

On Friday, a deranged “businessman” who claims climate change is a scam invented by the Chinese will be sworn in as the President of the United States.

All of a sudden being driven underground by polluted air doesn’t seem so farfetched.

There’s a scene in “LA 2017” where Gene Barry berates the vice president for maintaining a totalitarian state, but the VP asks why didn’t the wealthy publisher do something to prevent this twisted world from happening when he had the chance back in 1971.

Why, indeed.

I have very little hope for our environment, our economy, or our democracy as this new gang takes over the government.

Already there’s talk of shutting out reporters from the White House and the President-elect can’t seem to hold a press conference without a gang of goons cheering on his every move.

We’re heading into some very rough days, I fear, and we’re a lot closer to the end of the earth as we know it than we were way back in 1971.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Freeze and Thank You

I thought the library was supposed to be quiet.

I went to the Bay Ridge Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library on Friday in search of some heat. Not in the form of racy novels, mind you, but real heat, as in the hot air that keeps you from freezing your ass off.

The heat in my building had gone belly up the night before and since I work from home, my office was getting chillier by the moment.

The repair guy got it running for a short time early Friday morning and I made the mistake of celebrating too soon, thus encouraging Fate, Karma, or whoever the hell controls the eternal thermostat to snort and shout “that’s what you think, skinhead!” before promptly shutting the boiler down again.

No problem, I told myself. I’ll just grab my laptop, skedaddle over to the neighborhood reading room and do my job on the fly.

Hell, I’ve written stories in airport terminals and hotel lobbies and conducted phone interviews in speeding taxies. The library is also where I developed my reading habit as a child, so this gig would be a bit of a homecoming.

Okay, well, it didn’t quite work out that way. First of all, the place was crowded and I had trouble getting a seat. Then there was a small army of toddlers running, screaming, and crying in all directions.

And on top of that there was a lady conducting an English conversation group for them what don’t know how to talk right.

But I accepted all that, particularly in light of that fact that I was feeling actual warmth. I knew I could handle the noise.

However the real problem was with my laptop, and more specifically…me. I had trouble getting into my company email account, which meant I couldn’t communicate with my editors or file my stories.

It’s the Latest, It’s the Greatest

You have signed out, the message on my screen read.

"No, shmuck, I didn’t sign out," I growled at the inanimate object.

True to form, my mind started churning out all these awful scenarios of missing deadline and getting in trouble. And then some little kid went completely over the wall and start screaming to hell and back.

This must’ve been the first time in my life that I ever wanted to be in an office.

I began cursing at my laptop, a habit I picked up from my Italian grandmother who used to tell the TV to shut up whenever it got on her nerves.

Finally I’d had enough. I was undoubtedly annoying people around me by adding to the noise level, so I slammed down the lid on my laptop and hightailed it back my igloo.

On the way home I grumbled about how unfair it all was and I reminded myself that the New Year wasn’t a week old yet and already I was giving the anger management resolution a hernia.

Anger really has become a habit with me and I could hear myself fuming about how awful everything was knowing full well that I really wasn’t as pissed as I sounded.

It was like I was playing a part rather than reacting with my true feelings.

My ongoing dread of technology is part of the problem, but only a small part. It’s this addiction to rage that I want to quell.

Anyway, I got to my apartment, kept on the sweater and the ski hat and got cranking on my stories.

The heat came back on at about 3:30pm and it stayed on this time, which is good as we had a snowstorm on Saturday and brutally freezing temperatures tonight.

And now I’m thinking of a homeless I see most mornings when I go to the gym who sleeps at the base of a street lamp at Broadway and Vesey Street.

He’s huddled under some rags with only a piece of cardboard separating him from the freezing concrete. I’m sure he’d be very happy to have a roof over his head, with or without the heat.

If I see him on Tuesday, I’ll be sure to say a prayer and put a dollar in his cup.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Picasso’s Disciple

“What do you is what counts and not what you had the intention of doing.” – Pablo Picasso

I’m not going to waste any time listing my New Year’s resolutions.

I truly love the idea of making all these annual promises to change, clean up my act, eat better, work harder, learn a foreign language, and solve all the world’s problems in the next 12 months.

But I’m thinking I might tone it down a little. I already know what I want and what I have to do to get what I want.

So this is a tune-up, a check-in to see how far off the path I’ve wandered (pretty far) and what I have to do to get back on track. I just can’t take the cynic’s route and dismiss the potential for change.

I know that I’ve slipped up pretty seriously in several areas and it’s all for the same reason—a lack of discipline.

For one thing, I’ve been wasting far too much time screwing around on YouTube. I do love the site, but I’ve allowed it to take over my life.

There’s always an old song or instructional video, or movie clip or some other such time-burning bullshit to keep me from writing, reading, meditating or otherwise improving my life.

I’ve also been watching too much TV and not even good TV, but a lot of crap. And let’s not even mention Facebook.

Start Here

I’d like to be more disciplined in my reaching my goals and I want to use “discipline” in a positive sense, not the self-defeating, psycho drill sergeant browbeating mentality that bludgeons my soul into a fetal position.

That kind of abuse just sinks you deeper in the mud.

The followers of Jesus Christ were called disciples, and they didn’t follow Him out of fear or guilt; they followed Him out of love, and that’s how I want to approach my goals—with love, not dread.

What I’d like to achieve is a state of striving gratitude, where I am thankful, truly thankful for everything I have--from my family to the roof over my head to the food on my table—while still working hard to make my life better.

And while it’s certainly true that you can change your life any day you chose, New Year’s Day seems like a good time to start.

The Picasso quote at the top of this post is going to be my guide for 2017 and discipline is going to be my mantra.

I already know I’m going to stumble. God knows I’ve done it many times before. The only way not to fail is to do nothing and then you fail at life.

The kind of regret from not attempting something hurts a hundred times more than trying something and failing. I know this from some very personal experience.

I have a specific set of goals, most of which have been around for several years. But I finally published my novel last year and if I can scratch that sucker off the list, then I’m free to move on to others.

And if I could learn how to speak Polish and bring about world peace this year as well, so much the better.

Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

We Spirits of Christmas

I’ll be packing extra tissues today.

It’s Christmas and I’m off to my sister’s house for great food, fabulous company and lots of weeping and wailing as we enjoy our favorite holiday movies.

The two biggies are Scrooge, the very best adaption of the Charles Dickens classic and The Mousehole Cat, a beautiful animated story that puts me around the bend no matter how many times I’ve seen it.

I've watched these movies many times over the years—particulary Scrooge- and it’s impossible not to think of my parents and, thus, it’s impossible not to cry.

In addition, I’ll be having plenty of wine, pretty much guaranteeing that the tears will flow like the mighty Mississippi.

During last year’s movie event I got a little lubricated, nodded off, and woke up just in time to start crying at some tender scene in Scrooge.

“Go back to sleep!” my sister said and promptly threw a tissue at me.

Ah, family, that’s what the holidays are all about.

I keep telling myself that it doesn’t feel like Christmas, something I do every year. I’m always surprised by how Christmas keeps coming around, like some kind of stealth holiday, but all you have to do is keep an eye on the calendar.

I’m happy to say that I made it to confession yesterday after weeks (months?) of being away from the booth.

The church was nearly empty and it was all decorated for Christmas, just waiting for people to fill the aisles.

I told the priest that I’m still struggling with the anger and resentment burdens that take up far too much of my life.

Christmas Eve You’ll Find Me…

“Forgiveness is one the most difficult things Jesus asked us to do,” he told me. “And, remember, when He was on the cross, He said ‘forgive them, they know not what they do.’”

Yes, well, God knows I’m a long way from that state of mind, but there’s nothing like unburdening to get you back on the right path.

I came out of the confessional feeling emotionally better and physically lighter.

And I made a point of walking around the church and reminding myself how lucky I am to have my family with me at this time of the year, when so many other people are suffering.

Yes, the world is in sorry shape. Yes, we’re still senselessly killing each other. And yes, the election didn’t go the way I wanted it to. But I still have my family.

I’m particularly thankful this year since I got my book published and I regained my job in October after losing it in August. So, yes, I’m quite thankful.

One of my favorite moments in Scrooge happens when the Ghost of Christmas Present explains to Ebenezer just how things work.

“Mortal,” he says. “We Spirits of Christmas do not live only one day of our year. We live the whole three-hundred and sixty-five. So is it true of the Child born in Bethlehem. He does not live in men's hearts one day of the year, but in all days of the year.”

And that’s the best description of the Christmas spirit you'll ever hear.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Lost Family

I met them back in the summer and I still don’t know who they are.

Sometime in August I did a walk around the Central Park Reservoir with a Meet-up group I had just joined a few days earlier.

It was a nice summer day, the people were cool, and the walk was excellent. By the end of the second—or was it the third?—revolution, I was ready for rest, food, beverage.

We walked over to a bar on the West Side and sat down for what I thought would be good food and stimulating conversation.

Well, the food was passable, but the conversation quickly went south when some people within the group started chattering among themselves and left me and a few other stragglers lingering in social limbo.

I’m not sure how this happened and I guess I have to shoulder some of the blame for slipping into the void—it’s happened before--but it seemed like the stream of talk that came so easily during the reservoir walk dried up as soon as our butts hit the chairs.

Whatever the reason, I decided it was time to bounce, so I rolled down Broadway to a nearby New York Sports Club facility at 80th Street for a sauna and a shower to clear the physical and emotional grime.

And that’s when I saw it: a pile of photographs spread out in the street like so much trash.

I got a little closer and saw they were family photos, and they included a Polaroid profile of a smiling man in a suit and tie and a stained picture a baby waving at the camera.

Photo Finish

It was disturbing seeing these intimate images exposed and discarded. Yes, they were strangers to me, but these people were somebody’s loved ones. How did they end up like this?

I wondered if someone in one of the nearby apartment buildings had moved and dropped the pictures unknowingly. But there were so many, it’s a little hard to believe someone didn’t notice their absence.

Perhaps an elderly resident had died and their treasured memories had been callously hurled to gutter by a barracuda landlord looking to clear the place out and jack up the rent.

I feel a connection to these people even though, of course, none exists. I want to know everything about them, where they lived, what they did on the holidays. Where are they now?

And how did they fall into the void?

There could be a very rational and quite boring explanation for all this, but I just can’t imagine anyone willingly parting with these photos.

I shot a few pictures with my smartphone and left the photos right there. I supposed I could’ve tried to track down the rightful owners, but I didn’t see any labels or name tags that could identify these people.

And I’ve brought strangers’ photos home before and I didn’t want any additional drama.

But now I regret it.

I know nothing lasts forever and that for all the effort we put into making our mark in this world, most of us will be forgotten and our treasures will be regarded as refuse by the next generation.

Still this sight was unnerving and it reminds me of the need to connect with people in the here and now.

And if they don’t want to talk with you, then keep on walking until you find someone who does.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Angel Voices

In 1843, the parish priest in the French town of Roquemaure asked a local a wine merchant and poet named Placide Cappeau to write a Christmas poem to celebrate the renovation of the church organ.

Cappeau was seemingly an odd choice for this task, as he had never shown any interest in religion. But he obliged and wrote the poem “Minuit Chr├ętien" during a stagecoach ride to Paris.

A short time later the composer Adolphe Adam set the poem to music and the song became “O Holy Night,” one of my very favorite Christmas carols.

When done properly this song can bring tears to my eyes.

And that’s exactly what happened last week when my sister and I took the train out to Long Island to meet up with our cousin Chris and her husband Art at the Milleridge Inn in Jericho.

In the past we’ve had our Thanksgiving dinner with them at this historic spot, but we decided to take it easy this year and meet up the following week.

It was nice sitting down for a meal at this place when it wasn’t packed to the rafters.

After hours of great food and fabulous company, we decided to take a stroll around the shops that make up the Milleridge Village before getting the train back to New York.

The place was all done up for Christmas and this included a trio of lovely women who sang carols on a small stage.

They had just finished “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” when I showed up. One of the women asked for any requests and when no one said anything, I asked if they knew “O Holy Night.”

“Of course,” one of the women responded, and they promptly did their thing.

It was so delightful to hear these women sing those beautiful words.

In Sin and Error Pining…

I know that the idea of me coming to tears is hardly earth-shattering news, but, honestly, this was really something special this time (as opposed to all those other times).

A number of people in the crowd had walked away by then so it felt like they were singing just for me.

I got all weepy telling Fred the Shrink about it on Tuesday. Being Jewish, he didn’t know the song and asked me to fill him in. So I recited a few lines.

“…a thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn…”

“So it’s a song about hope?” he asked.

Yes, indeed, and I think that’s why I get so emotional when I hear it.

Christmas can be a heart-wrenching time of the year when we remember the loved ones we’ve lost and look back on our own lives.

Hope can be in awful short supply right about now so the thought of new and glorious morns can do wonders for a battered soul.

Like many beautiful things, “O Holy Night” must be handled with great care and I’ve have heard the song abused something fierce by singers who mistake shouting for emotion.

For years, Paul Shaffer, the bandleader on the David Letterman Show, mercilessly mocked Cher’s rendition of the carol.

My favorite version is by Nat King Cole, who is also one of my favorite singers. When this man says fall on your knees, it’s awfully hard not to genuflect right on the spot.

I always swore I would never listen to anyone else sing it.

But I’m willing to amend that opinion now and tip my hat to three lovely ladies in Jericho.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Sunrise in Paris

I looked anxiously out the cab window as I rode with a friend through the streets of Paris on our way to catch a train.

This was during my European vacation in the summer of 1982. The sun was coming up and there seemed to be no one around this most wonderful city.

I was so tired and stressed about making the train that I don’t think I fully appreciated that beautiful morning. (And we did catch the train.)

Sunrise will be at 8:25AM in Paris tomorrow morning. I only know this because my smart phone offered to share this bit of information with me when I hit a button and didn’t make my original request fast enough.

This was one of a series of queries or tasks that my phone suggested, which included the score of the Giants game (I don’t follow football) and sending an email to Brian, whoever he is.

Smart phones didn’t exist back in 1982, so I wasn’t carpal-tunneling my thumbs into numbness on Twitter or photographing the back of the driver’s head or shooting a video of the passing scenery. And I sure as hell didn’t send an email to Brian or anybody else.

I just looked out the window while the sun rose over the City of Light.

There was no Internet back then, of course, so if you wanted to know the height of the Eiffel Tour (984 feet), you couldn’t ask your phone and get an instant answer. You had to check a guidebook or go to the library.

It doesn’t seem like that long ago, but obviously it is. I took pictures on that trip, but with a film camera and I didn’t photograph my breakfast croissant or snap a selfie with a wheel of camembert.

You couldn’t store your pictures in your phone or computer, so I have absolutely no idea whatever became of those photos.

The Last Time I Saw Paris

I always swore I’d never turn into my parents, but it looks like I have.

I talk about the good old days, tell techno-deprived war stories about how back in my day we didn’t have Facebook or Instagram. If you wanted friends you had to go out and get them.

I’m sure young people in the vicinity of my ravings must be shaking their heads and thinking “get a load of this fossil.”

But if humanity doesn’t destroy itself in the near future, millennials will experience the same irritated amazement at the next generation’s marvelous machinery.

I asked my phone to give me that list of questions again only this time it—she?—handed me a link to some website that listed the 50 most important questions and I tried answering a few.

What does happiness mean? Can you define real happiness? Still working on that one.

If you had to move to a distant land without your friends and family would you do it? I have a desire to spend some time in Australia, especially since the recent election. But it would hurt like hell to move so far from my family and friends.

What are your thoughts on Karma and do you believe in it? A shrink once asked me that and after some dodging I had to finally admit that while it sounds good, karma or fate don’t seem at all possible in this world.

Does the Universe have a fence or boundary around it? What the fuck are you talking about?

We’re in the midst of yet another holiday season and I recall the words of Robert Duvall who once said that when you’re old it seems like it’s always Christmastime. I laughed at the time, but not so much now.

After Christmas comes the dead of winter, my least favorite time of year, where I swear once again that I’m moving to Los Angeles. Or maybe Australia.

But I’d even settle for a cab ride through Paris at sunrise. I’ll think I email Brian and ask him to join me.