Sunday, September 15, 2019

Spam On It

Hey, boys and girls, according to the clock on the wall, it’s time for another look through the old spam mailbag.

Every so often I like to bring the lunatic fringe out to center stage and try in vain to make some sense of all the gratuitous gibberish.

These robo-comments are stuck onto the nether regions of the blogosphere the world over like barnacles on the bottom of an oil tanker.

They peddle various products and services while actually pretending to give a rat’s ass about my ravings as they dump their messages on unsuspecting posts like a team of over-fed Clydesdales.

So, when I wrote a post about my local massage service back in 2014, Chassiday felt compelled to tell me about “the pretty queens from Pakistan” who are “extremely the fantastic call girls in Dubai.”

“Dubaikik (?) bring the charm and luxriousness girls from all over the Pakistan in Dubai,” the comment continues. “If you are a true fan of Pakistani hot girls and are looking to appoint one of your desirable Pakistani escorts in Dubai than you are at the accurate place.”

I’m sure Pakistani hot girls are very nice, but I wouldn’t really classify myself as a “true fan”-- no offense to all those Pakistani hot girls out there.

This organization assures me that their “well-educated employees short list hot girls that suits under the authentic prerequisite of our customers and then recommend making them optional.”

I’m not sure what any of that means, but I do hope the well-educated staff is at least better educated than the person who wrote that line. The Pakistani hot girls shouldn’t have to work with dimwits.

“Call Mr. Kumar for booking this girl??” the comment asks.

You’re asking me? This is your comment—shouldn’t you know?

Spam comments tend to be short and vague so they can be attached to as many posts as possible.

In 2012, I wrote about the terrible back trouble I was having, which moved Anonymous to boldly declare that “I think this is among the most important information for me.”

'Eternal Plethora of Paradise'

“And I’m glad reading your article,” Anonymous continued. “But should remark on some general things, The site style is perfect, the articles is really great. Good job, cheers Also visit my website…”

Thank you, Anonymous, but I’ll have to skip your website because Kold Kadavr flatliner also commented on this very same post—what the hell is it about my back trouble that gets trolls so bent out of shape?

I believe I’ve written about Kold Kadavr flatliner before, though I think he, she, or it used a different nom d’crazy.

Kold Kadvr, who sounds like a reak hot mess, warns me to “look forward to an eXXXplosion in the comin year, with alla the outta-work, underpaid, lower-class families in this hardcore, whorizontal depression caused by the OWG. (Old white guy)”

“They need work?” he asks. “Selling their flesh is maybe the only way besides praying and asking for forgiveness. Nyah! They’re too proud. See why our Mother sed only 1/4 of humanity is gonna make it?? If you delete this, the sin is on YOUR head. I’m only the prophet.”

Kold Kadvr really starts to heat up, sending this OWG right into a hardcore, whorizontal depression and thinking about abandoning the Internet.

“Wanna be at my BIG-ol, kick-ass, party-hardy celebrating our resurrection for eons and eons in Heaven Above, girly?” Kold Kadvr asks.

Oh, yeah, this guy. He stopped by once before, called me “girly,” and still hasn’t gotten my gender straight. And he left a creepily similar comment the last time, only this one is a bit shorter, suggesting that he's cutting down his output or the men in the white coats finally broke down his door.

“A profusion of peace, eternal plethora of paradise, palm trees, 72ish degrees, fuzzy-navels, point-blank, passion-in-primetime, pink, picturesque-portions-we’ll-possess, delicious-and-nutritious perennial pleasures, too, without price, nor pride, without passwords, nor plastic, nor pretext,” Kold Kadvr tells me. “You’re more than welcome, girl; you’re definitely invited.”

I’m tempted to call the preceding missive a word salad, but salads are supposed to be good for you and this adjectival assault is giving me a monstrous migraine.

But, thank you, Mr. Flatliner, I would love to attend your BIG-ol, kick-ass, party-hardy and I certainly appreciate your kind offer of A profusion of peace, eternal plethora of paradise, palm trees, 72ish degrees, fuzzy-navels and all the rest of that stuff, but I have to call Mr. Kumar for a date with some hot Pakistani girls.

I’m glad you read my article, but I should remark on some general things…like leave me the hell alone.

I deleted all these comments this morning, so the sin is on my head, girly. Or what's left of it.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Hole in the Sky

I got off the ferry this evening and saw a group of school kids gathered on the pier.

They were musicians who were taking part in the local 9/11 memorial services.

As I walked by them, a man who had been riding on the ferry with me stopped and nodded in their direction.

"They don't look old enough to remember 9/11, do they?" he asked.

"No, they don't," I said.

It's 18 years today when the World Trade Center came crashing down to earth, when fundamentalist psychotics crashed hijacked jetliners into the iconic buildings, destroying thousands of lives and ripping right through this nation's heart.

All that time gone by since I stood with the crowd across the street from trade center, outside the Brooks Brothers store, and watched the North Tower burn, and ran with everyone else
when the second plane crash into the South Tower.

All those years, all those people.

It was my father's 80th birthday and I always tell people how beautiful the day was--how the sky was so clear, and the sun was so bright.

And the day gets even more beautiful as the years go by and my mind keeps polishing the memory and removing the imperfections.

I find myself thinking sometimes that maybe that beautiful day was a warning, that something so stunning could never last, and would inevitably be followed by something equally terrible.

But then there were also incredible acts of kindness, which I experienced firsthand as I walked over the Manhattan Bridge with thousands of others, and we were greeted by people, just ordinary, regular people, who offered us bottled water and use of their cell phones.

A total stranger gave me and other stranded R train riders a lift up Fourth Avenue in his van after the transit system was shut down. Nobody asked him to do that, nobody paid him or countless other people for their tremendous efforts that day.

The Way Home

Of course I thanked that man as I was getting out, but I didn't ask his name and I can't even begin to remember what he looked like. I'm sorry I didn't stay in touch with him. I hope the last 18 years have been good to him and wish him all the best for the future.

When New York started climbing out of the rubble, the city started a free ferry service from Sunset Park and every morning I rode to Wall Street with the smell of the burned towers lingering in the air. It was a toxic mix of all sorts of foul materials and things I don't want to think about that is still killing people to this day.

I couldn't get to the 9/11 ceremonies this morning, even though I work a few blocks away from Ground Zero. But I did manage to go back to that spot where I was standing 18 years ago to say a prayer for those who died and those they left behind.

The Brooks Brothers store is gone now, the property is vacant, like so many locations in the area and throughout the city, and the Freedom Tower stands across the street.

At lunch time I went to Our Lady of Victory Church on Pine Street, where my mother used to worship over 60 years ago, to receive Communion and listen to a visting Russian choral group.

I woke up this morning with my usual list of grievances all ready to go, and I've been doing my usual nightly rant at my computer's excruciatingly slow response time.

I should be thinking about all those lives that were so brutally snuffed out, all the dreams that never happened, all the connections that were never made; I should be thinking about the survivors, living every single day with this agony.

It's embarrassing to write about this when I think of the real losses that the 9/11 victims families suffered and I have to keep chiding myself, schmuck, you're doing this today, of all days? Haven't you learned anything?

Apparently not, but then I have plenty of company. Other than getting used to standing in long lines at airports, I don’t think we as a people have learned a goddamn thing from 9/11.

We’ve had wars, more terrorist attacks, mass shootings, and a sickening rise in hate crimes. We have completely forgotten what this is all about.

Those young musicians I saw tonight have no idea what the Manhattan skyline looked like back in 2001, when you could see the World Trade Center from the 69th Street pier. Of course there are photographs, but they can't convey the sense of loss, how the attacks tore a hole in the sky that will be never be filled no matter how many Freedom Towers we put up.

9/11 is history to them, just like Pearl Harbor, which was a real and terrible event to my parents, was history to me.

I have no reason to think we'll improve, but still I hope that those young people grow up in a much better world.

I hope they turn from hatred and bigotry and, if the worst does happen, I hope they respond like a total stranger in a van did 18 years ago today.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Bread and Clutter

I am writing to you from deep in enemy territory.

I’m in my computer room, the place where I blog, write my fiction, think my great thoughts, and watch kitty videos on YouTube.

It’s my Bat Cave, my Fortress of Solitude, the adult version of the little boy’s tree house.

It is also dump.

I don’t like saying this; it’s quite painful to admit, actually, but it’s the truth. And what hurts even more is that I am the reason that this allegedly sacred space is in such awful condition.

There are piles of stuff all around, stacks of books and papers, there’s a plastic storage container filled to the brim with God-knows-what and a “caja grande” cardboard box that the movers gave me when I first arrived here something like 8 years ago.

Every single year on January 1st I say that this is the year I get organized, the year I throw out all the junk, crap, and trash, and every year it doesn’t happen.

I’ve been telling myself this pathetic lie that all I need is a few hours on a Sunday afternoon and the place will look brand new.

This is insane, of course. My clutter problem was years in the making, it cannot be eradicated in one day, and thinking that way just guarantees failure and despair.

A few years ago, at my auntie’s urging, I bought a book called Unstuff Your Life by Andrew Mellen, which is described as a guide to kicking the clutter habit--a good way to put it, because there is an addictive aspect to living surrounded by your possessions.

I think I read the opening chapter, put the book down someplace, and I forgot where I left it. I also forgot about cleaning up my apartment.

Last week I rediscovered my copy of Unstuff Your Life—buried beneath a pile of old newspapers. There's irony there to set off every metal detector in JFK.

I recently lost 10 pounds and I’m feeling pretty good about myself. I’m doing everything I can to keep the weight off, but I’m also looking to shed other things in my life that are weighing me down.

Mind in the Clutter

This includes negative thoughts, unhealthy behavior, and yes, damn it, clutter. I simply have too much stuff in life and I’m sick of it. I want freedom, I want clarity, and I want land, lots of land and the starry skies above.

But even I as write this I can feel the panic slowly building because I don’t know what I should throw out and what I should keep.

And that bit of dread feeds into a greater fear that I will fail at this latest attempt and look foolish. But the only foolishness here is fear itself.

I was very upset when I realized I had put on so much weight. I kept stepping on my scale to make sure I had read the numbers properly or that maybe I could con the mean machine into giving me better results.

But the numbers wouldn’t change. I had to change and the first step was to stop lying to myself.

I wanted all those pesky pounds to vanish instantly, but I recalled the words of Mr. Viverito, my high school hygiene teacher, who told us way back in 1973 that you could only safely lose two pounds a week.

Back then I didn’t worry about weight, so I was barely listening to the guy, but a quick Google search showed me that things hadn’t changed any in this regard since Mr. V’s day.

I was so frustrated by what sounded like an impossibly long time, but I stuck with it. And as the weight slowly came off, I felt more confident that I had this problem under control.

And that’s what I want to do with the clutter. Now I see that it’s going to take time and I’m willing to make the investment.

Clearly, I’m not alone in this problem, as decluttering is a big business with the likes of Mellen, Marie Kondo and a slew of videos on YouTube dedicated to helping people clean up their acts.

Personally, I’m fond of a YouTuber named Ronald Banks, who comes off as very logical and supportive, and always ends his videos with the line, “be true to you.”

So, the journey begins. This afternoon I devoted a whopping 30 minutes to cleaning my file cabinet. I barely made a dent in the debris in that meager amount of time, but like those extra pounds, I do feel a little bit lighter and a little bit better.

I’m hoping that I’ll reach my goal this time and that one day I’ll be writing to you from a neat, organized computer room.

To the Bat Poles!

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Federal Case

Every day after lunch, I get up from my desk, leave my office, and walk among my people.

Well, they’re not exactly my people.

They’re the tourists who come to the Wall Street in droves to visit Federal Hall, the stock exchange, the 9/11 Memorial, and so many other fantastic sights that the financial district has to offer.

But seeing as I’m a born-and-bred New Yorker who has worked in and around this area for a dozen years, I feel a bit of a connection with these folks who have traveled to my hometown from all corners of the globe.

They come alone, or with their spouses and families, and often in groups led by mic’d-up tour guides who stand before the building where American democracy was born and speak with great authority—apparently—in languages I don’t begin to understand.

On Thursday there was actually two tour groups standing side-by-side
before the towering statue of George Washington.

I don’t know what they’re saying, but I get a real charge out of the energy coming off these people.

I get a similar feeling when I’m in an airport and I’m surrounded by all these people, all these stories, streaming through one location on their way to somewhere else.

Times Square may be the Crossroads of the World, but Wall Street gets an awful lot of global foot traffic.

It’s exciting to see people experience this area, which I see every day, for the first time in their lives.

"....Summoned By My Country..."

The financial district is the oldest part of the city with these narrow streets, so you get to see the expression on people’s faces and hear the excitement in their voices.

I have to be careful not to step into somebody’s vacation photo, which ain’t easy in such cramped conditions where people are constantly clicking off selfies in front of the stock exchange or posing before the Washington statue.

There are food carts—like the Jamrock Jerk cart that always has a huge line and staff of at least eight (!) people. I’ve yet to eat their, by the way, but the smoke coming off the grill smells delicious.

There’s the souvenir guy who peddles all sorts of lowbrow New York memorabilia and who tends to grumble “buy something” at meandering tourists.
There are also the occasional knuckleheads who try to sell you something, but I’m pretty good with my “I’m a New Yorker, pal” sneer, which usually sends them packing.

One day I tried to speak with a young man holding a “Who is Q?” sign who was peddling some pathetic right-wing conspiracy theory about child molestation rings operating in a Washington D.C. pizzeria, but I gave up.

My lunch break is not long enough to waste time debating with a fanatic. I can only imagine what George Washington would have thought about such idiocy, but I’m sure he would have defended this misguided fool’s right to speak.

I usually wrap up my visit by walking down Wall Street, turning right on to William Street and going one block over to Pine Street to visit Our Lady of Victory Church, where my mother used to worship back in the Forties when she worked at the Wall Street Journal.

My father worked at a bank in this area and my parents met at a Child’s Restaurant which I believe was located on Cortland Street. I have some very deep roots in this area indeed.

I’m grateful to these tourists who remind me every day how important Wall Street is to me as an American and a New Yorker.

This is the Labor Day Weekend, the end of summer, and I suspect I’ll see fewer tourists as the temperatures get lower.

But then visitors come to New York all year around and as long as I’m working down there I’ll be around to welcome my people.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Mr. Sandman

I had all my excuses lined up and ready to roll when my sister’s voice came slicing through my brain.

Get on the train and go!

This was excellent advice and what’s really interesting about the situation was that my sister was nowhere near me at the time.

No, her urgently encouraging comment rang through my head like an alarm bell after getting a whiff of the Grade A bullshit I was trying to tell myself.

Last week it looked like I was heading for yet solitary Saturday, where I go to the gym, catch some sun in my local park before heading home for a night of take-out and Netflix.

I was actually trying to tell myself that I couldn’t find anything interesting to do—in New York freaking City. Yeah, I know, that’s a majestic load of crapola that bears absolutely no resemblance to reality, but the comfort zone works in all sorts of sneaky ways.

I dismissed this screaming falsehood, checked a website listing for events in the Big Apple, and I came up with a humdinger.

It seemed that the 2019 Annual Sand Sculpting Competition was happening in Coney Island at the very moment. It sounded so cool—artists were coming down to the beach to create some incredibly beautiful work.

My mother had creative spirit and a love for ceramics and working in clay. While she was never a fan of the beach, this contest made me think of her and I really thought I should go.

“But it’s too late,” I whined. “It started already and I have to recharge my phone before I leave and that’ll take forever…”

And that’s when my sister-voice alarm went off, just as it done back in January when we forged our Mutual Yentah Agreement, vowing to help each other achieve our respective resolutions.

Back then she had pushed me out the door to go to a local Meet-up event with the words “Get in a cab and go!”

Those words came back to me last week. Hell, all I had to do was jump on the N train and I’d be at Coney Island in no time. But it would mean—gasp!—changing my routine and getting up of my ass.

Send Me a Dream

And that’s what I did, reminding myself that, schmuck, it doesn’t matter if the competition started already.

Right now, the artists have nothing but sand piles to work on. It’ll be a couple of hours before anything really emerges. Get out that Metro Card and head for the beach.

Of course, the N train was out of service and I had to get a D train instead and I was pissing and moaning the whole time.

And speaking of pissing, nature started seriously calling halfway through the trip and those last grinding minutes as we pulled in the final stop had more suspense than an Alfred Hitchcock film festival.

I’m happy to report that I made it to one of the boardwalk’s facilities without an industrial accident. And I’m absolutely ecstatic to tell you that the sand sculpting competition was fantastic.

I arrived at the halfway point of the contest, so I could see where the artists were going with their vision and how they had started with nothing but sand.

There were castles, alligators, octopi, and a naked lady just to name a few of the sculptures.

I slammed so many photos onto Facebook that my phone percentage total was down to the single digits.

I was amazed at the patience these people were displaying, working so hard even though their work would vanish back into the beach by sunrise.

It was a beautiful sunny day and even though I was by myself, I was doing something I wanted to do.

Plus, there was such a cordial atmosphere that I was soon speaking with artists and spectators alike.

In fact, after the competition I struck up a conversation with a woman walking down the boardwalk and we wound up having dinner last night and going to see Shakespeare in a neighborhood park.

Years ago, I read about sand mandala, a Buddhist tradition of creating and then destroying elaborate geometric configurations to symbolize the belief in the transitory nature of spiritual life.

Yes, material life is transitory, but there’s no law that says we can’t have some fun along the way.

You just have to listen to your sister.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Pedal of Honor

The instructor had a message for me emblazoned across her T-shirt, but I refused to see it.

I went to my gym last week to take a cycling class and I was all psyched for a really great workout when a substitute teacher walked into the room.

I had never seen this woman before in my life, but I immediately decided that the class was going to suck big time and I would get a crappy workout.

I saw the words “Do Not Judge” printed on her shirt, but I was too busy judging her to notice.

I want my regular instructor, I thought, channeling my inner infant. Who is this interloper? Why wasn’t I informed?

And look her, for God’s sake—she’s kind of…heavy. What could she possibly tell a miraculous physical specimen like yours truly about burning calories?

It turns out this woman—Tina—had a lot of tell me and not just about working up a good sweat. She also reminded me how important it is to embrace new things—and new people—and to stop being such an obsessive loon.

I was still inwardly resisting her as she cranked up the sound system and blasted the old dance number “I’m Gonna Get You” and--I swear to God--started singing and dancing in front of the class.

“Why waste your time?” Tina wailed. “You know you’re gonna be mine!”

What the hell is this? I grumbled Amateur hour? I thought Star Search went off the air years ago.

But then I started getting into the class and I realized that song was an excellent choice, since it’s about winning over somebody over. And that’s exactly Tina did.

Her attitude was so positive and so infectious that I started singing along with her. In the immortal words of Bugs Bunny, “what a character!”

Yo, DJ Pump This Party!

But she was also a great instructor. I had so much fun during her class that it took me a while to realize what a tough workout I was getting.

Instead of riding on the bike with the rest of us, Tina walked around the class talking and encouraging us.

At one point she had us stand up the bike to simulate riding uphill and, as she walked by, she suddenly stopped short and looked me right in the eye.

“Climb every mountain,” she sang, shifting into Julie Andrews mode.

Oh, yes, this woman was nuts—but in all the right ways.

Tina had a fondness for 90s dance music and she wanted us all to know it.

“Some of you young people probably don’t remember these oldies,” she said.

I didn’t want to mention that as a disco era survivor the words “young” and “oldie” are relative. So, I just clammed up and enjoyed the music.

Tina had such a great way of motivating her class. While some instructors go heavy on the drill sergeant routine, Tina got you moving with humor and positive vibes, so that I really wanted to work hard for her.

By the time the class was over I drenched in perspiration and quite satisfied with my workout. And it turned that Tina was also subbing for a Zumba class in the neighboring studio.

“If you want more, come next store,” she said.

It was a tempting offer, but I had places to be and I was wiped out from the spin class.

I’d love to work with her again, but Tina told us that this particular gym was too far from where she lived, so it was unlikely we’d see her again. I was disappointed, but I was grateful to have at least taken this one class with her.

"If you liked the class,” she said. “I’m Tina the sub. If you didn’t like the class, then I’m just the sub.”

Of course, I love my regular instructors, but it was nice to work with someone new and give myself a break from the routine.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Rather Knot

The heavyset woman walking toward me Saturday morning had a message on her tank top for all the world to see.

I’d rather be sleeping, it said.

I knew the feeling. I wish I could’ve stayed in bed myself, but I had someplace to be.

I had volunteered to conduct podcast interviews for the IFC’s Festival of Cinema, which was being held in Forest Hills, Queens, a grueling 90-minute subway trip from my home in Bay Ridge.

I did the same thing last week and it was an exhausting day that completely upended my precious little weekend schedule.

But it was also a terrific experience where I met and worked with fabulous, talented people, and got a chance to expand my interview skills by speaking with filmmakers on camera—something new for this old print and website reporter.

And this all happened because I ignored that “rather” that told me to preserve the status quo at all costs—even though it was doing absolutely nothing to improve my life.

I’ve been doing an inventory of my “rathers” and I find there’s a dark branch of that family that can hold us back if we’re not careful.

Now, like every other working person on earth, I’m pretty tired when I get home at the end of the day.

Yeah, I’d rather sit in my living room and watch Netflix all night and then go to bed. But then what happens to that next book I want to write? Or the play that’s forming in the back of my mind and demanding attention? Or those scripts sorely in need of revision?

By Bread Alone

I’ll tell you what happens to all those projects—nothing, that’s what.

I recently went diet after I noticed some scary numbers popping up my scale. I did a quick recon of both my diet and my brain and I saw that I eating far too many carbs, subconsciously deciding that I had to have bread at every meal as if it were some papal bull.

Oh, it was bull alright, straight up bull that had me struggling to zip up my pants.

Yeah, I’d rather have all that bread, cheese, and bananas anytime I wanted, but I was unhappy with the extra weight. So, I ignored that rather as well, and that little bulge around my gut is nearly gone and now I can slip into my pants with the greatest of ease.

It’s important to be realistic about your efforts. I don’t lie to myself and loudly declare that I don’t miss bread. I do miss it and I miss snacking between meals and I miss stuffing myself with pasta.

But I don’t miss that gut and that realization has been keeping me out of the kitchen after dark.

I’d rather stay home and watch TV on weekends. I’d rather be alone than meet new friends or have a serious relationship. These rathers may be satisfying an immediate desire, but they also suffocate long-term, and long-lasting goals.

Certainly, there are good rathers that apply to the kind of work you do or who you want to spend your life with. These are perfectly acceptable—as long as they help you grow.

I finally got to Forest Hills on Saturday and I had a blast, conducting two interviews, chilling with my friends, and exploring a new neighborhood. I was tired and a bit cranky by the end of that long day, but I’m so glad that I ignored the message on that woman’s t-shirt.