Saturday, September 24, 2005
Thank God for the cannoli.
That beautiful Italian pastry was the only thing that pulled me from the edge of madness tonight. And just barely.
I COULDN'TA BEEN A CONTENDA
The day had started out all right. I did some chores, grabbed lunch, and headed into the city to take a gym class and then meet up for happy hour with some of my over-forty amigos from MINY.
The boxing class was hell on earth. Not only was it brutal, but there were only two people in the entire class, so hiding in the back of the room was not an option.
I think the instructor, a young Arabic-American fellow named Saadi, has a future in the torture business, since he is quite inventive and seems to enjoy his work. Sprints, suicide runs, wheelbarrow races, squat thrusts--take that, skinhead! Why didn't I go to Pilates?
Then Saadi decided we should spar--just hitting to the body--and he proceeded to whale the tar out of my middle-aged body for three seemingly endless rounds. It's amazing seeing his skill in throwing punches--fast, brutal, accurate, and all of it coming my way.
As the blows tore into me, I had a kind of out of body experience, which was good, as my body was taking quite a thumping. I could admire Saadi's technique, the relaxed, almost rubbery motion of his arms, combined with the ruthless, machine-like delivery of the blows. It was like getting your ass kicked by Gumby.
My shoulder is still hurting me and I'm ready to drop, but I know this was a good experience because he wanted to bring out the animal in me. Only in my case the animal was a terrified gerbil.
I like to spar if only to remind myself how dangerous fighting really is. The boxing classes are great, but they can have you thinking you're a killer with all the posing in the mirror, hitting the bags and shadow-boxing. When you're being bashed by someone who knows how, you quickly realize how important it is for us to all get along.
Okay, so I survive my boxing class. I get to this place in Chelsea, hook up with my friends and have a grand time. I'm talking to total strangers, they're talking back, it's beautiful. But the boxing lessons weren't over yet.
We're about to leave when we see two men at the end of the bar wrestling over a cell phone. A lover's quarrel, is how one friend described it and I'm sure she was right. Women just have that gift to see these things. I just figured it was two jerks rough-housing as my old scout leader used to say.
But then it gets ugly. One takes the cell phone, throws it on the floor and stomps on it. Then the other guy loses it all together and begins punching the cell phone abuser, backing him up against the wall and pounding him silly.
I was stunned. I started yelling and walking over there--very slowly and Charles, one of our group, was way ahead of me. I'm just not good in these situations I'm afraid, and I don't feel like getting in the middle of domestic war zone. Where's Saadi when I need him?
The bouncer, a monstrous bald fellow, came over, put the puncher in a full nelson and dragged him the hell out. The guy stood outside, just on the edge of the property and went through a series of threatening poses, but never moved one inch closer. I suspect bouncers see a lot of this posturing in their line of work.
The victim tried to clean himself up and we helped him search for his glasses, but to no avail. So we headed for Little Italy.
"BUT ON YOU IT LOOKS GOOD"
It's chilly out and Charles decides he's going to buy a jacket some place along the way. I figure what the hell, I'll get one, too, as I don't want to catch cold. We go into this no name clothing store and I find a denim number I think is pretty cool, check the label--20 bucks, or so I thought--and head straight for the checkout counter.
I found out while handing over my credit card that the jacket was actually one hundred and twenty bucks. A denim jacket, an article of clothing first used by cowhands and plough jockeys--and this no-name store is charging me a grand total of $130 for it. A cowboy could have retired on that 100 years ago.
Did I scream drop dead? Did I shout, hell no, I don't want that? Do I do anything but stand there like a schmuck and pay for the damn thing? Yeah, you know what happened.
As I was leaving the owner told me to come back later and buy the matching pants. Yeah, then I can wear them both to bankruptcy court.
I walked out in shock. This hurts more than anything Saadi could ever do to me--even if he brought the queens along with him as back-up. I thought, okay, maybe it has magic powers, that will enable me to fly or pick winning lottery numbers. Maybe I can become invisible. Or maybe I need my head examined.
I finally blurted out my bonehead play to one of the women in my group and she ordered me go back in there and return it. I only paused a second but cheapness and sanity won out over shyness. I mean these bastards weren't shy about charging all this money for a denim freaking jacket, so why should I be shy about telling them to shove it?
So in I go. And now I can't find the receipt. Three minutes gone and I manage to lose the one thing that can free me of this horrible mistake. I emptied the contents of my pockets--and damn near the contents of my stomach--on the counter.
I pulled everything out of my wallet, but all I could find was the cash register receipt, not credit card receipt, which the cashier said she needed to void this whole nightmare.
Finally she decides to go ahead and scrub the sale without the receipt. I had picked up a shirt for 27 bucks, just so I wouldn't look like a total loser, and ran out the door, promising the staff I would never come back--for their sake.
The whole thing happened because I was afraid of how I looked. Not how I felt or what I wanted, but how I looked. God help us and save us, I've got to get over this hang-up before I buy some ermine underwear.
So we take the train downtown and I'm still trembling from this near fashion disaster. I wasn't keen on going to the Feast of San Gennaro beacause it gets so crowded and noisy, but I didn't want to ditch my friends so early.
Why do I do this? I'm a native New Yorker, I can get Italian food any time I want and I can get it in Little Italy at any other time of the year. Why do I go there when its crawling with tourists and apprentice gangsters?
I must say the feast is a riot for the senses. People milling around these narrow streets, the aroma all of kinds of fabulous foods, music coming out of the restaurants, your brain can barely take it all in.
But this year the crowds were out of control, the ninth circle of hell with zeppole. We got to one street and there was a solid wall of people. It was like something out of "Day of the Locust," with bodies everywhere you looked.
One kindly older gentleman behind me kept on repeating "this is bad, this is really bad," just to make sure we weren't missing the point.
No one is moving, I'm having a claustrophobic conniption fit and I want to shout, "All right, I'll buy the damn jacket!"
We finally get out of that block, find Ferraro's and get on a huge line for pastry. I got the aforementioned cannoli--it's been years--and I loved every morsel. I was finally feeling human when my buddies want to go to dinner.
I was tired, shaken, and not terribly hungry, and when they started heading down yet another body-packed street, I knew it was time to go. I wanted this and I didn't care how it looked.
RING AROUND THE ROSARY
I said the Rosary while waiting on the platform and for a good part of the trip home. I've been doing this more often and I find it very comforting. I relax and breathe slowly, much like I do while meditating. After all the misery the Catholic Church has caused me, this is the least it can do to help me out.
When I was done I looked at my funhouse reflection on the opposite side of the car. My forehead was so swollwen I looked like The Leader from the old Hulk comics, though I don't think he'd ever be suckered into buying a $130 denim jacket.
I made it home and checked my shoulder for brusies. I was actually kind of glad to see a red horseshoe forming on my left shoulder. I could look at that thing and feel like a bad-ass.
Yes, I run from brawls with bickering homosexuals, I panic in crowds and I choke at the thought of saying no to a cashier. But at least I have my red badge of courage.
And a cannoli.