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.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

A World Without Collisions

I did my best to keep it together, but I finally had to reach for the tissues.

I’m a world famous weeper and I make no attempt to hold back the waterworks when I’m in the privacy of my home, where I can wail to the rafters and nobody’s the wiser.

However, on this particular occasion I was at the Signature Theatre on 42nd Street in Manhattan taking in a performance of Athol Fugard’s Master Harold…and the Boys.

But I couldn’t keep from crying, despite the crowd, as this is simply one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful plays I’ve ever seen.

The language is fabulous and the emotions so raw that I never had a chance. I don’t know what the man sitting next to me was thinking when I start sobbing and after a few seconds I didn’t care.

This was the third time I’ve seen Master Harold since 1982 when my oldest brother and I saw it with James Earl Jones and a young Danny Glover.

I saw it again in 2006 with my sister and our late father and this time Danny Glover was playing the older character Sam. I didn’t cry during either production, but when I went this latest time with my sister and auntie I pretty much fell apart.

I guess it’s because I’m older now. Our father is gone; I’ve witnessed how short and fragile life is and I’ve seen how people—myself included--can lash out at the ones they love the most.

What is so brilliant about the play is that despite being set in South Africa nearly 70 years ago, it still resonates today by addressing so many important themes about love, family, race, and friendship.

The story takes place on one rainy after in 1950 in a tearoom in Port Elizabeth. Apartheid is the law of the land and the play gives us a very personal view just how destructive this hateful system was.

‘Nobody Knows the Steps

Hally, a 17 year old white boy, whose parents own the tearoom, is working on a paper for school while Sam and Willie, two black employees, are setting up the chairs and tables.

These people care for each other very much and Sam is more of a father to Hally than the young man’s real dad ever was.

Sam and Willie tell the teenager about an upcoming ballroom dance contest and when Hally asks what happens when couples collide with each other on the dance floor, the two men laugh at the absurdity of such an occurrence.
“There are no collisions out there,” Sam says. “Nobody trips or stumbles or bumps into anybody else. That's what that moment is all about. To be one of those finalists on that dance floor is like . . . like being in a dream about a world in which accidents don't happen.”

The real world tragically crashes into the dream, though, when Hally learns that his alcoholic father is coming home early from yet another stint in the hospital.

Filled with helpless rage, Hally brutally turns on Sam, using him as a target for the anger he really feels toward his father. These scenes are so terrible to watch and you can’t take your eyes away from them.

“Nobody knows the steps,” Hally angrily declares, “there's no music, the cripples are also out there tripping up everybody and trying to get into the act, and it's all called the All-Comers-How-to-Make-a-Mess-of-Life-Championships.”

Lately, it seems like this world has nothing to offer but collisions and I don’t think it’s going to get better anytime soon.

I’m going to keep on going to see Master Harold for as long as producers keep putting it on stage. I’ll keep the tissues handy and hope someday that the world without collisions will extend beyond the dance floor.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Book Ends

I think I’m getting better at this.

I had two book signings this week for my novel Born Speaking Lies and I’m starting to get this whole author thing down.

On Wednesday I had a book launch party at the Mysterious Book Shop on Warren Street in Manhattan, where I’ve attended many readings. Now it was my turn.

For years I’ve dreamed of standing in front of a group of people and reading from my work, but when I first arrived I saw nothing but empty seats. The list of attendees wasn’t that long to begin with and I had four cancellations before I even walked through the door.

“It might be just the three of us,” I told my dear auntie and sister when they arrived.

I was trying to chalk it up to experience; this was my first book, people have busy lives, and the old standby, shit happens.

But none of that took away from the numbing sadness that had gathered around my heart.

This was going to suck.

When a UPS driver showed up to make a delivery I half-jokingly suggested we make him stay. A body is a body, after all.

My lovely sister tried to get some poor schlub browsing around the shelves to stick around—something I didn’t have the guts to do—but the guy hit the bricks.

In the Beginning...

And then slowly people started trickling in. For every cancellation it seemed there was a surprise guest. My sister had announced the event on her Facebook page and at least two folks showed up as a result.

A dear friend from my writing class, a buddy from the gym, and one of the original members of a Brooklyn blogging group all cheerfully showed up to support yours truly.

Hey, somebody untie the UPS guy!

I read a section of the book, and, to be honest, I could’ve gone slower and made more eye contact, but at least there weren’t any outrageous screw-ups like I had been experiencing during my rehearsals.

Today I did another reading at the Bookmark Shoppe on my home turf in Bay Ridge and things started off the same way with me looking morosely at a herd of empty seats.

Only this time it was a hell of a lot colder outside and I was wearing a pair of drug store spectacles after losing my regular glasses during an evening out with my family the night before.

And there were no UPS guys in sight.

But once again, the trickle in theory came into play as my writing class buddies, my sister’s friend, and two honest-to-God strangers starting filling the vacant chairs.

This time I read a little bit slower and I added more flair to the narration. I’m still working on the eye contact thing, but I’ll get there soon enough. I just want to do more of these.

It’ll be Thanksgiving in a few days but I feel like I got a jumpstart on the holiday with all the support I received at these two events.

Now I have to order a new set of eyeglasses and hope the UPS guy doesn’t freak out when I answer the door.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Simian’s Rainbow

Thank God for the theater.

My sister, auntie, and I saw Finian’s Rainbow at the Irish Repertory Theater today and we enjoyed a wonderful show filled with beautiful songs, fine acting and no Donald Trump.

It was the closet thing to a remedy from Tuesday’s nightmare scenario that has one of the country’s largest KKK groups planning a parade next month to celebrate Trump’s election.

Racist attacks have skyrocketed around America since Trump's victory so we shouldn’t be surprised that the boys in the white sheets have decided to come out of the closet.

Trump claimed that he wasn’t aware of the incidents (was he in a fucking missile silo?), said there was only a small amount and told people to “stop it.”

It seems fitting that there’s a character in Finian’s Rainbow who is an avowed racist--until he’s magically turned into an African-American. He learns pretty quickly what oppression is really like and amends his bigoted ways.

Where’s a leprechaun when you need one?

Trump scrounged his way into the spotlight with his racist attacks on President Obama’s citizenship and used that and other equally despicable lies to claw his way into the Oval Office.

He labeled undocumented Mexicans as rapists, threatened to ban Muslims from America, and peddled this pathetic fantasy about building a wall along the border and sticking Mexico with the bill, which, of course, they’re already backing away from.

The Idle Rich

Maybe if the Donald walked a mile in a Mexican’s shoes he’d sing a different song.

Or perhaps we could turn President Pussy Grabber into a woman for a day, so he could see how it feels to be groped, degraded, and threatened. Who says you can’t teach an old pervert new tricks?

Mike Pence, our vice-president-elect, has made a career out of persecuting gay people, going so far as to propose cutting funds for AIDS and using the money for bogus “conversion therapy” programs.

I have gay friends who were absolutely heartsick after the election and were it in my power to somehow transfer their pain into the people who voted for Trump I would do it in the blink of an eye.
Then they would know firsthand what it’s like to be called “faggot” and “dyke;” they’d know how it feels to literally fear for their lives just for being who they are.

I was looking over the photos from a Halloween party my sister and I attended and the gay couple who threw the affair look so happy.

It seems like such a long time ago, but it was only a week or so before Election Day. My friends aren’t smiling anymore.

The names being bandied around for the new administration sound like something from a DC-version of The Walking Dead.

Newt Gingrich and St. Rudy of 9/11 are two of the more appalling candidates with many more to follow. Maybe we could try conversion therapy on them.

There are going to be some very difficult days ahead and we’d best keep looking to the rainbow until things improve.

How are things in Glocca Morra? Better than here, that’s for goddamn sure.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Upon This Rock

My Halloween costume this year was painfully appropriate.

I had made a last minute decision to buy an old time prisoner outfit, complete with striped shirt, pants, and cap.

I didn’t think much of it, at first; it was just a standard issue costume intended to get me through the holiday. But it got a lot of positive responses, especially from total strangers.

“I know you,” one young man said to me as my sister and I rode the F train. “We did time together in Alcatraz.”

We were going to our friends’ apartment in lower Manhattan and we had a wonderful time, starting with the doorman who threatened to call the cops the moment he saw me.

Our outfits were a big hit (my sister was a nun), we met some great people, and ate too damn much.

When we left our friends’ apartment, I started running for a bus, prompting a man walking his dog to point at me and say to my sister, “he’s getting away!”

Everything was fine, at first, but then the evening suddenly morphed from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde. And I morphed right along with it.

Apparently the entire New York subway system was possessed by an evil spirit, as we had to contend with closed stations, rerouted lines, and one train that hid in the tunnel like a frightened gerbil just outside the Canal Street platform and refused to come out for several excruciating minutes.

I tried to keep my temper in check, honestly, but as the misfortune piled up I got angrier and angrier, and by the time we got to Brooklyn I was bouncing off the four walls.

Even when we tried to get car service to go home, some stumblebum with a shopping car managed to get into the place ahead of us and snaked the last car. It sucked something fierce.

But it didn’t end there. The following night my sister, auntie, and myself went out on one of our theater escapades and after dinner we called car service to come pick us up.

Ocean of Sins

And then we waited. And waited. And waited some more. The car, which was supposed to be a few minutes away, was nowhere to be seen. It was raining cats and dogs and elephants, and baboons and still there was no sign of a car.

I wasn’t wearing the convict outfit, but I was a prisoner nonetheless, held captive by volatile emotions.

I’ve written so many posts about my anger issues, how I can’t stand living this way, how I’m going to change my ways. And then I freak out all over again.

It’s been almost a year since I went to confession during my Hawaiian vacation and finally admitted my problem. I remember how the priest told me not to get discouraged if things don't change immediately.

I tried going to confession Saturday, but apparently Charles Manson was in the booth ahead and seeking mercy for every sin he’s committed since birth.

As I waited, I felt the anger starting to rise in me once again…until I realized that losing one’s temper while waiting to confess to the sin of losing one’s temper seemed especially ironic.

I waited a few moments and not only did I calm down, but I felt empathy for whoever was in that confessional.

He or she must be hurting pretty badly to be spending so much time with the priest; maybe they were hurting even more than I was. I’ll go back this week.

Now one thing about Catholicism is that there’s a patron saint for anything that ails you.

A quick Google search revealed that Peter is the patron saint of anger management and so I’m asking for his help with this runaway rage of mine.

Peter is an excellent choice, as he is the apostle who denied Jesus three times but still became a saint and holds the keys to the gates of Heaven.

One of the prayers to St. Peter asks him to “lift me from the ocean of my sins,” a very powerful image to me since losing my temper feels an awful lot like drowning in the middle of some very hostile waters.

I’m not making any more sweeping promises to change because that only leads to sweeping disappointments. Like any other addict I have to confront my demons one day a time.

But the only day I want to be a prisoner is on Halloween.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Sir Rob of Dallas

I got the text shortly after 5pm last Sunday night.

Hello, Sir Rob,” it said. “How are you?

It was a message from the cab driver who would be taking me back to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport two days hence, and I got such a kick out of being called “Sir Rob” that I think I’ll start signing my checks that way.

My driver, a Bangladeshi man who has lived in Dallas for 17 years, was a real hustler.

I was in the Lone Star State on business so I didn’t get a chance to see the sites, and since my hotel was on a street with virtually nothing but other hotels I can’t tell you much about the third largest city in Texas.

I did get to visit the George Bush Presidential Library on my last night in town, and, well, let’s just say that fantasy is best left to the folks at Disney. At least they try to be entertaining when they make shit up.

I mean, seriously, people—“Bush,” “Presidential” and “Library”—those are three words that don’t belong together under any circumstances.

I also managed to work myself up into a serious case of the heebie-jeebies for absolutely no reason, which really isn’t news given the way I’ve chosen to live my life.

I was worried about missing the plane. I was worried about not missing the plane. I was worried about losing my luggage, losing my laptop and losing my job.

The only thing I wasn’t worried about losing was my mind as I had already said, “Vaya con Dios” to anything vaguely resembling sanity a long time ago.

One of the highlights of the trip occurred at my hotel’s health club as I stumbled on one of the treadmills early Tuesday morning.

The treadmill is one of my least favorite exercise routines. I much prefer my boxing class where I work hard with a bunch of great people, as opposed to going nowhere fast all by myself. That’s just a little too close to life for my taste.

All Hat

My mind was in about a dozen different places, as usual, but I finally got hold of enough of the present moment to notice a white-haired lady chugging away two treadmills down.

She wasn’t moving very fast, but she was determined and methodical. She must’ve been at it for at least a half-hour and when she finally stopped I just had to speak with her.

“I’m impressed,” I said as she wiped down the machine.
“I’m 68 years old,” she told me, “and I like to stay active.”

“I’m going to be 60 in May,” I said. “So life goes on?”

“Oh, sure,” she said. “No problem.”

She told me she was from Iowa, wished me well, and then she was gone.

We only spoke for about 30 seconds, but I’m so happy I met this woman. She was the best thing that happened to me in Dallas—even better than the George Bush Library.

My driver picked up right on time on Tuesday afternoon and gently chided me for not visiting the Sixth Floor Museum, which wasn’t far from my hotel.

The museum examines the life of John Kennedy and given my father’s undying adoration of JFK, I wish I had checked the place out. Another time, perhaps, when I’m traveling on my own dime.

“Are you married or single, sir?” my driver asked.

“Single.”

“Oh, you should’ve told me,” he said. “I would’ve taken you to some clubs.”

See? I told you he was a hustler. I thanked him for his thoughtfulness, but noted that my clubbing days are well behind me.

So now I’m back in Brooklyn and none of the things I worried about actually happened. I have no immediate travel plans, but I’m thinking that I’d like to visit Iowa some day and see what makes the people there so happy.

Sir Rob needs to get off the treadmill.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Climbing the Stairs

I stood at the top of the stairs and watched my father emerge from the basement carrying a stack of presents.

This was Christmas Eve, God alone knows how many years ago, and I had gotten out of bed to investigate the sounds I heard coming from downstairs.

We lived on the second floor of our house back then, and the stairs leading to the cellar had a medieval dungeon look to them, disappearing quickly into a critical shade of blackness that seemed to defy the strongest beams of light.

Our cellar was something of an underground junkyard. We put just about everything down there—old clothes, furniture, books--even a couple of refrigerators. Why the hell we didn’t just go ahead and throw this crap out I can’t rightly say.

At the bottom stairs was this small storeroom and one of my brother’s had scrawled “Frankenstein Lives Here” across the room’s green wooden door in an attempt to frighten me. I maintained I wasn’t scared at all, but I avoided that room until I was a teenager.

I kept watching my dad climb the stairs until he looked up and saw me.

“Get back to bed!” he snapped and I quickly did what I was told.

This may have been Christmas, but my dad had a rough temper and could connect with his inner Frankenstein with alarming speed.

Strangely, this was not the night that I suddenly realized that there was no Santa, no elves, and no eight tiny reindeer.

Yes, Virginia…

No, my illusion wasn’t shattered on this particular holiday.

I kept a firm grip on my loyalty to Kris Kringle and reasoned that Santa must have left the presents in our cellar—we didn’t have a fireplace—so my father could bring them upstairs and put them under the tree when he was ready.

Santa was real, I decided, and Dad’s just helping him out.

I was so committed to the fantasy that I refused to believe what I was seeing with my own eyes: a hard-working, flawed man lugging a pile of brightly wrapped presents that he probably couldn’t afford.
I didn’t tell my siblings about seeing Dad on the stairs because in my mind there was no news to report.

Christmas happened as it always did and my faith in Santa Claus and all the surrounding mythology was as solid as the tree standing in our living room.

I believed in Santa for a few more years until the magic of Christmas gave way to the reality of shopping in crowded stores, wrapping presents and eating too much.

I live alone now in a third-floor walkup and the only person who climbs the stairs on Christmas Eve, or any other night, is me. I don’t put up a tree or any decorations, but I’m thinking now maybe I should try and make the apartment look more festive.

But I still remember the little boy standing so high over the gloom, so devoted the man who sees you when you’re sleeping, who knows when you’re awake.

We all have a bit of a Saint Nick and a bit of the monster inside us. We’re all balanced on the brink of darkness, waiting to see which one is climbing up the stairs.



(I'm posting a little early this week as I have to fly to Dallas tomorrow on business. Take care, one and all)