Sunday, May 19, 2019

Slam I am

I took hold of the refrigerator door with both hands and cranked my shoulders back as far as I could.

I was going to show this irritating icebox who was boss.

This was Wednesday morning. I was running late for my ferry and now, for no apparent reason, the refrigerator door, which has always worked perfectly, had suddenly decided to stop closing.

I’d closed the door and it would snap back open. I moved around some items on the shelves, convinced that I had removed the obstruction, and closed the door again.

And it promptly bounced back open.

Okay, I thought, there must be a logical reason for this. Let me and rearrange the stuff on the shelves again. This time I had it right. Except that I didn’t because the damn door refused to close.

I have been trying to stick to my Hey 19 resolution for the (former) new year where I put a brake on the anger, one of my most destructive habits.

I’ve been making some decent progress in this effort, if I say so myself, but this refrigerator business was making me boil over. What the hell could possibly be causing this?

And that’s when I got ready to smash that door closed, all set to overreact as I had so many times before.

Only this time I stopped. I told myself that if you do this, you’ll probably break the door or crack the shelves or inflict some other kind of serious damage that cost you a pile of money and a ton of grief.

So, I looked one last time and I saw a vitamin bottle had tipped over and was causing the all the aggravation. And I thought vitamins were supposed to be good for you. I set the bottle upright and the door closed easily.

Ice Rage

I was so happy that day—and I am still am—because I broke an old, unhealthy pattern and if I can do it once, I can do it again until I create a new pattern.

I’m going to be 62 years old at the end of the week and I’m just too damn old to have these temper tantrums.

Or so I thought. Life has this way upping the ante, as I learned on Friday during my evening commute. I had worked out at the gym, so I was pretty tired and crabby and when I got on my bus, a woman with this hideous cough decided to sit behind me and hack all the way to Brooklyn.

I know it sounds selfish and mean-spirited, but I’m card-carrying hypochondriac who freaks at the very mention of the word “germs.”

And why the hell did she have to sit behind me on a nearly empty bus? She could’ve polluted the last 5 rows of seats and nobody would’ve given a shit.

I was too upright to change my seat for fear of hurting this woman’s feelings, which is pretty ridiculous as I didn’t know her and would probably never see her again. At least I hope not.

I jumped off the bus at my local pizza parlor for a spaghetti dinner and another coughing woman got behind me. Hey, do I look like fucking Doctor Kildare?

And the pizza guy had the TV and the radio blasting at the same time, which did wonders for my nerves. I was one angry dude when I left that place.

I’m tempted to think that I destroyed all the good work I had done on Wednesday, but I’m not going to give into that point of view.

It’s so easy to just throw up your hands and so there’s no hope. But I recognize that curbing my anger is work, serious work that I have to do every single day.

The universe sent me a message on Friday, telling me that I have to be on my guard at all times, change that old behavior, and keep working until I slam the door on my anger.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Newark State of Mind

I take back all the bad things I ever said about Newark.

Well, to be honest, I don’t think I ever actually badmouthed that particular New Jersey city.

In fact, I applied for a job there as the mayor’s press agent several years ago and I was set to move there if I had gotten the job.

I never got the callback, but I didn’t take it personally.

After that, I really didn’t give the place much thought at all, until yesterday, when my sister, auntie, and myself, roared over to the Holiday Inn near Newark Airport for an all-too-brief rendezvous with my brother, Jim, my sister-in-law Amy, and my niece, Victoria. We also got to meet Victoria’s boyfriend.

They had flown in from Colorado the night before and were heading out to Ireland on Saturday evening. We didn’t have much time together, but we made the most of it.

I had not seen my brother and his family in a few years when I went out to see them in Colorado.

We speak on the phone, of course, and Victoria, who has made a second career out of abusing yours truly, always makes sure to unload all manner of sarcasm about my failing memory and dwindling longevity.

Naturally, I was a nervous wreck until we actually got together, convinced that the car service would not arrive in time to pick us up or some other disaster would occur.

I got my freak-out on when we arrived at the motel and the front desk guy told us that he had no listing for my brother and his family. A lot of murder mysteries begin this way.

Fortunately, this fellow was mistaken and we all soon got together for hugs, talk, and age-related insults.

This event took place on this special weekend when we celebrate Mother’s Day and my sister’s birthday.

House & Gnome

Our mother’s been gone since 2002 and I just wish she and my father both could have joined us there in that motel dining area. The last time they saw Victoria she was just a little girl.

They would’ve been amazed at how their granddaughter has grown up to be a confident young woman and world-class wiseass. She even floated the idea of opening up a Lenihan Rest Home for all the aging family members—like me.

Now Victoria’s had a thing about garden gnomes and there was this one time when she wanted me to dress up as one of those mythic freaks for Halloween.

I had hoped that this was just a phase, but on Saturday she and my sister-in-law gave me an early birthday present in the form of a gnome statue sitting cross-legged with his eyes closed and his hands in prayer position.

“You should take him with you into a bar,” Victoria said. “Women will be attracted to you.”

I’m pretty sure that the only woman who’d be attracted to a man carrying a gnome statue would be a psychiatrist—and then only long enough to administer some very strong sedatives.

Victoria’s boyfriend suggested we name the gnome Tinky Winky, which goes back to this strange episode when my sister-in-law said she got the essence of the Teletubby character coming off me.

Yeah, it doesn’t make any sense to me either, but I didn’t want to argue.

The day ended all too soon and the three of us crawled back to the city in horrendous traffic to grab a drink at a bar near my auntie’s home.

I placed Tinky Winky in the middle of the table and when our waitress—a lovely young Brazilian woman named Camilla—came over, I pointed to meditating gnome.

“No drinks for him,” I said. “He’s driving.”

As Camilla burst out laughing, I started to wonder if my niece was on to something.

Maybe women are attracted to guys with gnomes…

Sunday, May 05, 2019

All Over Town

There’s a scene in the Wizard of Oz where the Wicked Witch of the West sends her flying monkeys to kidnap Dorothy.

In the process, they literally rip the Scarecrow limb from limb and toss his body parts in all directions.

“They tore my legs off and they threw them over there,” the battered strawman tells his companions. “Then they took my chest out and they threw it over there!

“Well, that’s you all over,” the Tin Man says.

Yes, it’s a play on an old expression, but it came back to me on Friday in its original meaning as it held up a mirror to one of my most unhealthy traits.

I had just gotten to my office, taken off my jacket and hoodie but, instead of hanging them in the nearby closet, I draped them over my chair, sat down, and started working—with my back pressed against the hoodie.

Now, oddly enough, this was extremely uncomfortable. But I didn’t remove the hoodie, I didn’t hang it up or even put it somewhere else. No, I kept on doing my job with this ungainly lump pushing between my shoulder blades.

Pretty soon I found myself getting short-tempered and frustrated as I tried to work.

Finally, I’d had enough and pulled the damn thing off my chair. And in that moment, I recognized a pattern of behavior that has plagued me for most of my life: I remain in uncomfortable, unpleasant, and downright awful situations far too long.

“That’s you all over,” I said to myself.

Indeed, it is.

I think of the jobs, the relationships, the people, and the locations where I spent far too much time being miserable without taking any serious action to change my situation.

There’s a quote by Jim Rohn that says “if you don’t like how things are, change it. You are not a tree.”

Stuff & Nonsense

I may not be a tree, but I sure as hell behaved like one. I stay rooted in my misery, getting angry—like those mean old apple trees that attacked Dorothy and the Scarecrow.

Since I’m putting so much into changing during 2019, I’d like see if I can rid of myself of this unfortunate tendency.

A large part of this comes from fear. I’ve always been wary or downright scared of changing my routines or trying something different.

Of course, routines weren’t always routine—they were new at some point in our lives and we made the decision to try something new. Then they become familiar, and then comfortable, and somethings they can be unhealthy.

I often joke about staying home with Chinese takeout and a DVD on weekend nights, but it’s really not that funny.

I live in New York City, one of the most exciting places in the world, yet some nights I might as well be holed up in a cabin someplace in the Caucasus Mountains.

I’ve recently parted company with some situations and people in my life and in both cases I was very unhappy and desperate to get away. Yet I stayed with them without making an attempt to get out.

Once again, I let these conditions exist for far too long, I planted myself in rocky soul and complained about being stuck.

I’ve been a bit lax in my Hey 19 resolutions lately. I haven’t been socializing enough and I would like to get back on track.

One of my Chinese dinners came with a fortune that said “Let your social instincts off the leash and talk to all and sundry.” Sounds like good advice to me.

I give myself credit for catching myself in this negative pattern. You can’t solve a problem until you face it.

Now it’s time for action, so I can enjoy life and avoid all those flying monkeys.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Fathers & Daughters

Paul Savage was born in Warren, Ohio in 1925, and like my father, he was a veteran of World War II.

Savage was a Marine who earned a Purple Heart at the Battle of Iwo Jima. He would go on to become an actor and writer on such TV shows as 77 Sunset Strip, Murder She Wrote, and the Dukes of Hazard.

I’d never heard of Paul Savage until a week or so ago when I saw his name in the credits of an episode of Gunsmoke, the classic western for which he wrote 27 scripts.

This particular show was called “Owney Tupper had a Daughter,” and I’m still thinking about it after all this time because it’s packed so much drama and raw emotion into one hour.

The episode stars the fabulous character actor Jay C. Flippen as Owney, an aging, widowed farmer who has to resort to desperate measures in order to regain custody of his beloved daughter.

By time the show is over, Owney has lost his daughter, his friends, and the simple, happy life that he had enjoyed for years.

The show, which aired on April 4, 1964, also has an intriguing place in history. It was originally scheduled to be broadcast on November 23, 1963, but the episode was preempted by the coverage of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy the previous day.

We first meet Owney and his daughter, Amity, on their rundown farm as they playfully chase a fox away from their chicken coop.

Matt Dillion shows up and advises Owney to clean up the farm and make plans for his daughter’s future, since Owney is not getting any younger.

“If I thought about the future, I wouldn’t enjoy the time with my daughter now,” Owney says.

Hangman's Knot

If you know anything about TV, you know the father and daughter are just too happy and are due for a fall. Sure enough, things quickly go to hell when Owney’s sister-in-law shows up and demands custody of Owney’s daughter, whom she wants to bring back to St. Louis for an allegedly proper upbringing.

A judge orders Owney to hand over his daughter until such time as he can make enough money to support her.

Determined to get his daughter back, Owney, who turns down all offers of money, starts working ferociously—planting corn, expanding the chicken coop, and doing all kinds of odd jobs.

Things get even worse for him when he loses his supply of seeds in a storm and, with it, a vital source of income.

While this is going on, a local man goes berserk and guns down his former girlfriend and her husband in cold blood. He is sentenced to hang and the judge decrees that the execution must be carried out in Dodge City.

Marshall Dillion advertises for a hangman and Owney reluctantly takes the job.

The people in town are outraged by the murders, but, hypocrites that they are, they turn their backs on the struggling farmer for doing the dirty work.

Things take a disastrous turn when the dead man’s father pulls a gun on Owney forcing him to kill the guy in self-defense.

Owney finally realizes he can’t properly provide for his daughter and encourages her to return to her aunt’s home in St. Louis. The episode ends with Owney, who has now killed two men, looking around his soon-to-be empty farmhouse.

“Why did they have to bother us?” he asks.

I see a little bit of myself in Owney Tupper. There have been times in my life when I've tried to find my place and it always seemed like everyone else on earth had their lives in perfect order.

I didn’t have a child to worry about, but I sometimes wonder if I had found my way sooner in life I might have settled down and become a full-fledged adult with a wife and a family. Who's to say?

Paul Savage was nominated for a Writer's Guild award for this episode and it’s a shame he didn’t win. For what it’s worth, he has my admiration and gratitude for turning out such a terrific, heartfelt story.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Our Lady of Paris

In the summer of 1981, I got on a line outside of Notre Dame in Paris waiting for my chance to see the inside of this most famous cathedral.

I was 24 years old and one of roughly 12 million people who visit Notre Dame each year.

There was a rather heavyset American man standing in front of me and he was talking to this young woman about the church’s history.

I was much younger then, with a bit of an attitude, and I was somewhat annoyed with this man’s seemingly nonstop chatter.

Who is this know-it-all, I thought, and why the hell does he have to be standing in front of me?

We got about 10 feet into Notre Dame when this man became extremely agitated. I suspect it was claustrophobia because he told his companion “I can’t take this,” and staggered out into the daylight.

I felt momentarily embarrassed for the guy before taking a tour of the church and checking it off of my list of places to see. After that, it was off to the Eiffel Tower.

I hadn’t thought anything more about Notre Dame until Monday, when fire tore through the roof. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the spire tumbling to the ground.

Notre Dame can’t be destroyed, I thought. It will always be a part of our lives.

Of course, nothing is guaranteed in this life. Churches, people, pretty much anything or anybody can be taken away from us at any moment.

That’s not a happy thought, but it can be liberating in that free us from false notions. You do your best to make this a sane, orderly world, knowing that you don’t have much say in the matter.

Mourning Friday

Today is Easter Sunday and so many people have said that the fire could at Notre Dame not have come at worse time.

Of course, there is never a good time for something like this to happen, but perhaps if Notre Dame had to be so terribly damaged, maybe Easter Week is the best time for it to occur.

Jesus suffered the most in the days leading up to Easter Sunday. He was betrayed, arrested, beaten, and nailed to a cross. He had to suffer and die before he experienced the glory of the Resurrection.

Right now, we’re in an awful time in Notre Dame’s history, but we have to believe that the cathedral will be reborn.

The rebirth is not happening without controversy, of course. We are talking about human beings, after all.

Many of the “Yellow Vest” protesters are frustrated that the international effort to help Notre Dame has drawn more attention than their movement against wealth inequality.

Demonstrators clashed with police in Paris on Holy Saturday.

I’d like to think that both issues can be addressed, that Notre Dame can be restored and that income equality will be taken seriously because it’s killing people. But it’s easier to repair a building than it is to repair a mindset.

And as I’m writing this, Sri Lanka is reeling from a series of bombings on Easter that have killed over 200 people. Where does it end?

I wish I had paid closer to attention to that man on the line to Notre Dame back in ’81.

I feel badly that he didn’t get to the church that day and I hope he found a way to overcome his fear and experience Notre Dame in the real world.

I’ve got my own set of irrational fears and all they do is make your life smaller, darker, and shorter.

This is a time of rebirth and new life. Let’s enjoy it.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Phone and Games

I was doing fine until the cat showed up.

Getting your smartphone hacked can be a real nightmare. I know this because I had a nightmare where my smartphone got hacked.

If that sounds strange to you, don’t worry; it’s about to get a lot weirder.

By this time in my life, I should probably be accustomed to the technicolor ravings of the red-eyed mutant carnival that I call my subconscious mind.

I’ve been having these bizarre mental home movies for as far back as I can remember, so there shouldn’t be any surprises.

And yet I still find ways of freaking myself out.

This latest detour into Loonyville began with me calling a former coworker for reasons I don’t recall. She wasn’t home, so I spoke with her husband, who sounded like a nice guy—at least in the dream he did. He even invited me over for dinner.

As soon as I got done speaking with this gentleman, I spotted an alley cat across the street. I’m forever posting photos of cats on Facebook and Instagram and I thought this fellow looked like a perfect candidate. He even hung around while I set up the shot.

Most cats will either bolt outright or contort themselves until all you have for your efforts is a dozen shots of the backs of their heads.

I focused my phone on this fearless feline, but instead of seeing his image on the screen, I got linked into some Asian dating site.

No matter what I did, I couldn’t get take a picture. I kept scrolling through a series of profiles with photos of young women that were accompanied by Asian lettering I assumed to be their biographies.

How did this happen? And, more importantly, what the hell could I do about it?

For a Good Time Call…

I’m notoriously hopeless with computers and smart phones and just about any other device that’s more sophisticated than a squeeze mop. I finally decided I had to go to my local computer store for help. The cat had long since wandered off.

It was dark out—dark like winter, dark like streetlights hadn’t been invented and the sun had gone on strike. And the streets seemed devoid of people and traffic or any other signs of life.

I was trudging up Fifth Avenue in my neighborhood when it occurred to me that the store might be closed.

No problem, I thought, I’ll call them on my phone.

And then I remember that my phone had been turned into a handheld lonely hearts club.

I looked around and spotted a payphone, which are pretty much extinct in reality. But that didn’t matter, since the second I turned toward the phone, some loser came bolting out of the darkest end of nowhere, cut in front of me, and started punching the buttons.

Hey, pal, was your smartphone hacked by an Asian dating site, too? If not, get the hell out of my way.

Thankfully, this is where I woke up and in the morning I attempted to decipher these twisted images.

The call to the former coworker? I suspect that was related to a feeling of unfinished business and a desire for connection.

As far as the meaning of the dating site, well, I am giving some thought to trying online dating, but I still don’t understand the Asian angle.

The hacked phone and the jerk hogging the payphone both clearly represented feelings of frustration and resentment. Lately, I feel like I’m going nowhere and it’s getting on my nerves.

The cat, I think, was just a cat. But I suspect he knew more than he was letting on.

Now I’d like to take that payphone image one step further. Payphones are antiquated, outdated, and in the way—like a lot of the thoughts rambling around my head. It’s time to get rid of them.

So that’s the latest installment of my internal soap opera. Can’t wait to see what my psyche comes up with next.

Now you’ll have to excuse me as I have dinner date with some people who don’t know it yet.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Ship to Shore

“A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are built for.” — John A. Shedd

I returned to my home Wednesday on the Wave of Wonder.

That may sound like an LSD trip or a theme park ride, but it was actually the name of the ferry that I took in lieu of the subway or the express bus.

The name of the vessel seemed fitting at the time since I was wondering what the hell I was doing with my life.

I’ve some more upheaval recently and whenever that happens I have a habit of reviewing (regurgitating?) all my past missteps, mistakes, and misfortunes in self-destructive spiral to make myself feel even worse.

Riding home that windy day, I felt so isolated and alone. I may have been going up the Narrows, but I was all at sea.

This latest incident was a failed relationship…sort of. I say “sort of” because this was a long-distance affair that had no hope of becoming real.

I wasn’t in love and I knew wouldn’t be relocating, but I was lonely and longing for some kind of connection no matter how flimsy. The whole thing was a mirage, but I refused to admit the truth.

But as tenuous as this bond was, it was a bond, and now I have one less in my life.

Once again, I surrendered to the comfort zone, a horribly toxic state of mind where I stick with something no matter how pointless because it’s safe and familiar.

This is largely the reason why I never moved to Los Angeles despite all my talk, why I've lived in towns and worked for outfits I hated, and why I stayed “friends” with people who were anything but.

I am prone to self-sabotage, a result of self-loathing, and the two feed off each other like starving pit bulls.

I recorded an episode of the Twilight Zone this week called “And When the Sky was Opened” that provided a life lesson as well as some much needed entertainment.

It's the story of three astronauts who return from a mission in outer space and slowly disappear one by one. And what’s really eerie is that as each astronaut vanishes, he is completely forgotten by the entire world—except for the next one to go.

The Key to Imagination

Rod Taylor stars in this episode and he struggles vainly to tell his fellow space traveler that they were on a three-man mission, not a two-man mission as his buddy believes.

Only all the evidence of that third man—including newspaper photographs--has vanished. It’s the Mandela Effect on a very personal level.

We never learn what causes these men to disappear. It seems that they weren’t supposed to survive the mission and now whatever force is out there has decided to correct that error and remove them from this world.

In my darker moments I feel like I’m disappearing, that something is pulling me away from life. Only in my case the force behind this situation is no mystery—it’s me.

I’m jettisoning myself into a twilight zone of solitude and disappointment.

I vowed I would do things differently in 2019 and I am sticking to that promise.

While I know I won't solve all my problems in 12 months, I will at least acknowledge that I have problems, and that I’m trying to change my unhealthy habits.

To that end, I forced myself out of the house on Saturday night to attend the Brooklyn Museum’s First Saturday event. The place was loud and crowded, but it was good to be out amongst humans instead of cozying up with the widescreen.

And last night I ordered an online course about dealing self-sabotage. I’m not sure how much I’ll get out of this program, but any insights will be greatly appreciated.

When the ferry docked at 69th Street Wednesday night, the winds were so fierce that we were rocked brutally from to side. Walking up my street, I felt a current of air from behind blowing so powerfully that it actually pushed me forward.

Now, if that isn’t a sign from God, I don’t know what is. Move forward, leave the past behind, and head for the sun.

Life is a wave of wonder, but you can’t enjoy it by standing on the shore. You’ve got to get on the damn boat.