Monday, October 24, 2005

White Boy Slugfest

It was a hell of a way to start a weekend.

I got out of work one Friday night a few weeks ago and walked down to Battery Park City.

Was I heading for happy hour at some uber-chic saloon? Hell, no. A romantic rendez-vous with a lucious Eastern European supermodel? Jesus, it hurts to even dream about that.

No, I was on my to the New York Sports Club to take a boxing class. Now why the hell I do this, I don't know. Of course there are the surface reasons: it's great exercise, you get to work out in a group, it saves me from the murderous monotony of the treadmill and the barbells, and it lets me get out my aggressions.

The gym wasn't crowded that night, a sign possibly that people were out having a life rather in here wheezing and perspiring. I found out that boxing class was even more mob-free--I was the only person there.

Sal, a young African-American boxer and martial artist was teaching the class and when others failed to show up, my first thought was, oh, no, he's going to cancel the class. Then a few more minutes went buy and then I thought, oh, no, he's not going to cancel the class.

So he started running me through the whole routine, push-ups, jumping jacks, jumping on the stepper, and then on to the heavy bag and the focus mitts. It looked like a scene from some prison movie where the sadistic guard runs the heroic (and innocent)convict into the ground.

This happened only one other time before, at the Union Square gym on a holiday weekend, and the instructor put me through 15 minutes of work before splitting. And I didn't mind. But Sal went for the whole bleeding hour.

I couldn't believe it. I kept looking at the clock, thinking, ok, we're done here, right? I may not have a life, but surely you've got some lovely young thing waiting for you. Well, I guess she was patient, because Sal did not ease up.

Great White Dopes

While Sal was running me into the floorboards, I noticed a personal trainer had come in and was working his client through a series of excerises, including some punching drills on the mitts.

Like Sal, this trainer was African-American, and like me, his client was a middle-aged caucasian male. I imagined Sal and this other man taunting each other in the locker room, saying, "hey, my white boy can whup your white boy."

That would have been a smoker, kind of like Gerry Cooney vs. Duane Bobick, a fight I'm sure everybody was dying to see back in the 80's. It would have also been a variation on a theme, having white fighters go at it before a minority audience, though hardly entertaining for lovers of the Sweet Science.

Sometimes I feel like an invader when I try boxing, since it's such a huge part of the Black and Hispancic cultures. Who the hell am I kidding? Even if I were younger, I wouldn't dream of getting into the fight game for a living. Just because of my background, I have a lot more choices than most of these poor bastards that punch each other into oblivion.

I see the original White Dope, Sylvester Stallone is making yet another Rocky movie, only this time he'll be 60 years old (!) I remember when I saw the first Rocky back in 1976, at a sneak preview on the East Side. I was going to Hunter College and I saw it with a guy in one of my film classes. I had such a fabulous time, cheering along with everyone else.

But Stallone had to take a good thing and beat it to death, pounding it the way Apollo Creed blasted Rocky's head in the first two flicks. Now I guess he'll climb into the ring on a walker and take on Apollo's granddaughter.

I Knock People Down

Now if you want a fight movie, you should check out Hard Times with my man Charles Bronson.

I watched it again the other night and I had forgotten how good it was. Not just the fight scenes, which were great, but the acting, thanks to James Coburn and Strother Martin, (Bronson didn't say much, but with that mug, who cares?) and some really great lines.

The fights are bareknuckle, grim, and dirty. Fighters kick, choke, and butt with their heads. It is pretty the anti-Rocky, though it's a fantasy as well.

The fighters in this movie are more like gunfighters, with killer reputations; and Bronson has this habit of turning away and walking off into the night at various times in the movie. Once is dramatic, but it seems to happen an awful lot. And no one ever says hey, Charley, where the hell are you going?

The film was shot in New Orleans, which I think gives it another layer of importance, as we're probably looking at places that are no longer there. I guess every film ever shot in the Big Easy now has the distinction, even that crappy Jean-Claude Van Damme thing. They're preserving history.

Lemme at him!

Needless to say the NYSC White Boys did not battle, which was lucky for that other sap, because we all know I would have dropped kicked his ass onto Broadway.

I thanked Sal for giving me what amounted to a private boxing lesson and hit the showers. I went out and did something, I think, though now I can't seem to recall what it was. I guess that was the highlight of my evening. Hmm...

I went to the gym tonight and I'll probably hit it over the weekend. I'm not the exercise junkie I was when I was in college, but I'm still a little too obsessed for my own good. I keep expecting I'll be healthier if I keep working out, but that, of course, doesn't have anything to do with the health problems I've had over the years.

But it's still fun. And give me a few more lessons with Sal and I'll be ready to take on any paunchy caucasian male in town.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Dad's Accident

I had to give my father a shower the other day.

It was Sunday morning and he and my sister had just come home after having breakfast at a local diner. She and I were talking in the kitchen when my father walked in between us and went into the bathroom.

A few seconds later the smell reached us and we knew what happened. My father had "an accident", as my mother would have said.

In other words, he shit in his pants.

Poor bastard. He's 84 years old, suffering from Alzheimer's and he's got to deal with this. We got his shoes off and I threw his underwear into the wash. My sister left and I went out to do some shopping, but when I got back the smell was still coming off him.

I told him to get undressed and saw the stains on the back of his legs. I got him into the shower and turned on the water; he was like an old circus elephant, once so powerful and terrifying, now docile and quiet as I hosed him down.

His doctor warned us that, as the disease progresses, my father will lose control of his bowels and I'm afraid that time has come. My sister thinks the huge breakfast he had at the diner may have upset his system and this would be a one-time occurrence. I hope she's right.

A short time ago I would have been traumatized by this: cleaning up shit and hosing down my father's naked body. I would have freaked and either run away or bitched the whole time. But I guess--I hope--I'm a little stronger, a little more mature. He took care of me when I crapped my diapers, so how can I complain now?

My mother once had an accident in the kitchen. She was terribly sick, as she had been most of her life, and her system couldn't hold it in.

I was in the bathroom at that time, getting ready for school or work, I'm not sure now it was so long. I just remember hearing my mother yelling outside the door and then it was too late. The whole kitchen floor was covered and my poor mother was mortified.

I got dressed and walked out of the house, leaving my father to do the clean-up.

Years later, when my mother's condition had worsened, she called me into the bathroom. She finally blurted out, "can you wipe my backside?" I did it and she shook her head sadly.

"Oh, Robert," she said, "there's no dignity."

No, there isn't. We hear all this crap--the real shit--about the Golden Years, and TV makes old people like cute little cartoon characters. But at some point it just goes downhill and there's nothing cute or dignified about it.

I was talking with my shrink tonight and he marveled at my ability to put things off, the novel, screenplays, relationships--pretty much life in general, as if I were going to live 400 years.

I panic when he talks this way because I know he's right. We have only a certain amout of time on this earth, if we're lucky, and only portion of that time is open for exploration and adventure. Then you're crapping your pants and being hosed down by your children.

I remember when my aunt's husband was in his final year. He had trouble getting around toward the end and my aunt told me to see and do things now before I got too old, because it would be late by then.

If life is so short, if life is so precious, then it's too short, too precious to waste time complaining or mooning over mistakes, or freaking when my father has an accident in his pants.

Yeah, I wished I moved to L.A. when I was 20, I wish I had done something to get into the film business, in any way, rather then becoming a reporter. What the hell was that anyway? Because it was writing? Christ, painting billboards is writing too and at least then I wouldn't have to work in an office.

I can make excuses, but that's another waste of precious time. I can only deal with now, I can only apply myself to my various projects and hope one of them pans out.

And if there are any more accidents, I'll clean them up and get back to work.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Faces in the Crowd

You can see a lot by just looking. ~Yogi Berra

Two men left the same building at the same time and they could not have been more different.

I was taking the elevator going last night when a man in a wheelchair got on board at the 12th floor. His body was shrunken, misshapen, and from what I could see, he only had the use of one arm.

I had my usual feelings of sympathy and guilt--whining about my health issues seemed pretty pathetic in light of this man's terrible condition. His whole life is a health issue.

When we got out into the lobby, I watched him roll toward the door, ready to be the good citizen and help him out.

As he rolled toward the door, a man who was pretty much his polar opposite stepped out from another bank of elevators. This man was tall, with broad, weightlifter shoulders. He wore an immaculate, expensive suit and, of course, he had a cell phone plastered to his head.

In my instant analysis, I decided this guy had it all. Great job, beautiful woman, maybe a few of them, fabulous apartment, and a kind of confidence that could repel artillery blasts and stampeding elephants. I felt obligated to hate him, but my heart wasn't really in it. It's no crime to be successful, though somedays I wish it were.

There are millions of people in this city and so many of them walk down Wall Street at 5 p.m. But I couldn't take my eyes off these two. They barely noticed each other as they headed to the revolving door, parting company only when the wheelchair man rolled toward the side door with the handicapped button.

The door was closing and the wheelchair man was about to turn back when I rushed up and hit the button for him. The door gently opened and he looked at me.

"Thank you," he said before wheeling out to the world with his good arm and joining the river of humanity.

I stopped and looked once more at the cell phone guy. He was outside the building, still on the cell phone. I thought of that movie "Unbreakable" where Samuel L. Jackson's character goes to maniacal lengths to find his polar opposite, a man whose body is as resilient as Jackson's is fragile. I had a feeling I was watching my own version of this movie right outside 14 Wall.

I found myself in a kind of limbo, floating between these two men, infinity more fortunate than one, not where near as lucky as the other.

I wonder what it would be liked if they switched places for a few minutes, so the handicapped man could know what it's like to be strong and powerful, and the cell phone man could get a taste of what its like to be so helpless you needed people to open doors for you.

I don't know what any of this means, if it means anything at all. Maybe I should mind my own business, clean up my act, and get a life.

Hell, I could be completely off base on this. The wheelchair man could be perfectly happy and going home to a lovely wife and a 20-room mansion. And the cellphone guy could be on the phone with his lawyer preparing a plea bargain agreement that just might keep him out of the joint.

Tonight I came home after work and after the gym and there was a blind man tapping his way up the steps of the train station with his cane. One passenger steered him toward the turnstiles so the blind man could get out.

I stood and watched to see what direction the blind man would take. I was tired and I really feel like helping anybody, but I have a need to be a hero I guess.

The blind man walked to the opposite staircase, away from me and thus, I decided, out of my jurisdiction. I went up the stairs on my side of the street and went home.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Rainy Night in Brooklyn

It feels like it's never going to stop.

It's been raining all week here and now on Friday night, it's raining even more.

I got soaked coming home from work and I feel lousy, like I've got some cold or virus or voodoo curse and I'd like to hop on the next plane to Bermuda and never come back.

Not that I'm bitter, of course.

I'm just feeling kind of low and torrential downpours do little to cheer me up. I've been fighting this cold all week, and I'm even angrier because I was feeling pretty lousy just two weeks ago.

I've had problems with my health for years now, ever since I came down with mono back in...Jesus...what year was it? '84? '85? Oh, hell, no, don't tell me that.

Well, whenever the hell it was, it was a real turning point in my life. Prior to that I'd get sick like anyone else, get better, and that would be the end of it.

But then one day I woke up and felt like I had been run over by a freight train. At that time I was working at this godawful job--one in a sad, pathetic series of godawful jobs--at ADT, the alarm company. Christ on a cracker, what a mistake that was.

I was working on the 92nd floor of the World Trade Center, yes, that World Trade Center, and I hated every minute of it.

Now that I was sick I had to drag myself to work on the subway, ride up the express elevator, which was like being shot out of cannon, work with people I couldn't stand doing a job I positively loathed.

But I had an awesome view of New Jersey.

Things went from bad to worse. The doctor I was going to at the time was somehow unable to diagnose mononucleosis, which I figure is pretty much a given if you want to get out a medical school.

He was a fat slob, this doctor, with green paint stains on his jacket. I used to wonder if he was painting his deck in between appointments, but I thought it would be rude to ask. Now I wish he had made painting a full-time gig.

So I got worse. I remember sitting at the dinner table one night and someone asked me something and I didn't get what they were saying at all. It was like I had left the world for a few seconds and then I remember my mother saying "My God" is disbelief at my mental state.

I was angry all the time and I recall the morning I was walking to the train station one morning and thinking all of a sudden, Jesus, what if I have something really serious--even fatal?

I finally went to a different doctor and this guy diagnosed me the second I took off my shirt. My glands were so swollen it left little doubt and when he did a quick blood test, that sealed it. I was a mono, not a stereo.

I went on disability and stayed in my bedroom for most of the time. At Christmas time, I was watching "It's A Wonderful Life" and even though I'd seen it a dozen times before, I cried my eyes out.

(The scene with Mr. Gower always breaks my heart. When the old pharmacist realizes what a terrible mistake he's made and hugs the little kid, I go through a whole box of tissues.)

I didn't do any shopping that year and I didn't go anywhere, of course. I eventually went back to that job, but I got fired and I'm glad because I hated it so damn much.

And while my health did come back, it left me open to just about every kind of illness on the planet.


I get these spells that are similar to mono: weakness, congestion, stomach cramps. It's not enough to take me out of commission, but just enough to make me want to hide under the bed until spring.

I've had people say, "gee, you get sick a lot," like this was some kind of news flash to me. I've been forced to cancel appointments, skip parties and give my apologies because I was too goddamn sick to leave my house.

I had one ex-girlfriend suggest I was some kind of AIDS carrier, and this was from a woman who would sleep with anyone who paid her bar tab. Can you say "transference"?

The irony here, of course, is that I'm such a gym rat that every time I have to skip a workout I go into withdrawals. I feel fat and out of shape, though out of shape for what I can't quite say. It's not like I'm training for the Olympics here.

I've tried vitamins, visualization, prayer, tai chi breathing techniques, and nothing seems to work.

I wonder if this obsession will health and sickness is somehow contributing to my problem. I worry so much about my immune system that I could be taxing that system and leaving myself open to illness.

I get so negative at these times, more so than usual. I have stupid, ugly thoughts, I acutally wish I were dead, like some teen-ager with a broken heart. It's a kind of temporary insanity on a permanent basis.

The World Trade Center is gone now, destroyed on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. I was working across the street from that place at the time, and I used to think about that ADT job, way up in the sky and think, thank God I'm rid of those bastards.

But on that morning, I thanked God I wasn't working in the trade center anymore because if I had been on the 92nd Floor, I won't be sitting here complaining about the weather.

I feel so small when I look back at all those times I wished I were dead and all the pain I caused my family, particularly my mother, for talking that way. On 9/11 I was surrounded by death and I didn't like it one bit.

I'm still working on Wall Street, just a few blocks from the hole in the ground where the trade center used to be. I try not to think about how terrorists still have designs on New York and the financial district in particular.

And I really don't belong there. I don't like financial writing, I just got into it by a fluke and the only good thing about the business beat is that it got me out of chasing fire engines.

I'm going to a new doctor on Monday. My sister recommended him and he seems to think he can do something for me. I hope I'll be feeling better by then. I hope it'll stop raining.

And I hope this man can help me get rid of this temporary insanity of mine...permanently.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Later Man

Later Man, Later Man,
Puts things off as long as he can

Trouble's near, danger's great,
he'll just ask,
Can't it wait?

I was leaving work the other night when one of my co-workers bid me goodbye with the words, "Later, man."

The phrase stuck in my head and by the time I got to the elevator I had come up a bogus superhero--Later Man. I played the old "Spiderman" cartoon theme in my head with new lyrics, describing my hero's amazing power of procrastination.

I pictured my satirical superhero putting off saving the world to do something--anything--else. He possessed a unique combination sloth, fear and ADD that made him impervious to completion.

I saw him in my mind's eye, masked, the big "L" on his chest sitting in front of a TV while his wife tried to pull him off the couch. It could be a funny bit, I thought.

But it took me a few days to realize that Later Man already exists. I see him every morning in the mirror when I shave.

Later, man.

That seems to to my motto in life. I keep meaning to go places, take courses, finish projects, do all sorts of incredible things, but they never get done.

There have been a few exceptions, of course. I started this blog so I could write something without doing research or conducting interviews, where I could just write something from start to finish and get it the hell out in the world.

There's my script, Siren Central which I finished and posted on the web site. It's gotten a number of viewings, but, so far, no sale. But at least the bastard's done. That hasn't happened often for me.

Is he slow?
Listen, guy,
by the time he gets here,
you might die.

The latest example of this condition was the comedy sketch writing class I wanted to take at the Upright Citizens Bridge. It starts Sunday and runs for about 7 weeks. I thought this would be good for me, give me a chance to stretch some writing muscles I've never really worked with.

But then I thought, I've got the meditation class going on for the next several Wednesdays. (This is a great class, by the way, and I'm so glad I signed up for it--after putting it off for a year.) I didn't have sketches ready yet and I don't want to fill up my schedule with classes and work, especially since I've got to finish the novel and shoot that short film, and keep an eye on my dad, and dig an eight-lane tunnel to Piscataway.

I made up the last one but I think you get the idea. And there was that two-day film school class that was running this weekend, which I've been threatening to take for years, and for which I didn't sign up for either.

I kept on checking the UCB web site this week until I saw that class had sold out, so the matter was officially out of my hands. I was explaining this all to my shrink when he looked at me in surprise.

"You didn't take the class?" he asked.

"No," I said. "I had all this other stuff."

"So," he said finally. "Another week has gone by."

Yes, another week, where I haven't done anything, where I haven't made good on any of my grand schemes. It was blunt and it hurt, but I needed to hear it.

I believe part of my resistance to this class and others like it is based on the negative feelings I have toward self-improvement.

What, I rationalize, I'm going to take this class and the SNL producers are going to call and off me a job? I've taken classes before and my life isn't one bit better. This one's going to be different? Yeah, right...

But my shrink said this class has nothing to do with my career. He saw it more as an opportunity to socialize with other writers. The meditation class is fine, he said, but that's pretty much internal. And he's right. I have nodding acquaintance with a few people, but even that's a stretch, since one of the cuter women in the class suddenly acted this week like she didn't know me.

That was a trip. I'm sitting in the Open Center, waiting for the class to begin and this woman starts talking to another guy in the class. I felt the surge of jealousy and anger and I started voodoo thinking toward them, stop talking, stop talking, which had no effect whatsoever and pissed me off even more. It was a great way to start the search for peace and contentment.

But the sketch writing class would have put me in a group where people would probably talk amongst themselves quite a bit. And, once again, I let it slip away.

To him, life is a great big hold-up,
wherever there's a hold up,
you'll find the Later Man.

Why do I do this? My shrink and I kick this around at just about every session. Part of it is fear of failure, whatever that means in a situation like this. So I take the class, drop $300, and I decide hey, this really sucks. So what?

That's a good bit of change, but it won't break me by any means. And 7 weeks doing something I don't like is not appealing, but I've done that at some jobs for years. Two months would be a cakewalk.

I have this obsession about making mistakes and bad choices, about doing the wrong thing instead of the right thing, and feeling like an idiot when the smoke clears. But every decision in life can be "right" or "wrong" if you choose to look at it that way. And, as we all know, no decision is a decision.

Do I find something addictive in not finishing things? As long as a manuscript is incomplete it can't be sent out to be reviewed and possibly rejected. It exists only in my head, perfect and brilliant...once I get it done.

Yes, there'll be other sketch writing classes and I'm sure I'll sign up for one of them. And I might pitch "Later Man" as a sketch.

But I see that another week going by becomes a month, then a year, then a life gone by. I don't want my tombstone to read "Later, Man" because by that time there'll be no more laters, just a pile of regrets blowing in the wind.

And there's nothing heroic about that.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

No Comment...Please

Who the hell are you people?

I started this blog to showcase my writing and the hope was that people would read my work, be overwhelmed by my powerful prose, and leave adoring messages under the "Comments" section.

That hasn't quite happened.

Instead I'm getting message like these, from my devoted fan, Joern Lillehagen, who took the time to write:

It's time for the best of the Weblogs, Inc. Network.
The Weblogs, Inc. network features over 100 independent, unfiltered bloggers producing over 1,000 blog posts a week across over 75 industry-leading blogs.
Hi there! I just visited your blog and it`s really cool!
I have a coastal vacationns site/blog. It pretty much covers coastal vacationns related stuff.
Come and check it out if you get time :-)

So first old Joern plugs something called Weblogs, then he greets me and praises my blog and finsihes off by pushing his "coastal vacationns site/blog" and related stuff. Gee, thanks, Joern, I'm so glad you like my work.

And then there's Melanie Alamo, which I think might be a fake name, who couldn't wait to tell me:

A real enlightening blog. Don't stop now. Don't miss visiting this site about how to buy & sell everything, like music on interest free credit; pay whenever you want.

Pay whenever I want? How about never, Melanie? And you can go back to the Alamo with Davy Crockett and General Santa Anna and never visit my blog again. I feel like I'm inside the Alamo fighting off all these twits who are trying to bash down the doors.

Your blog is good, but it could be a teensy eensy bit better.

My blog could be a whole lot better if you didn't strain your teensy eensy brain by writing crap like this.

Some other yo-yo who calls himself "Business" has a tea cart (?) blog/site that he says "pretty much covers tea cart related stuff."

At last my prayers have been answered! A tea cart site, with all the related stuff. Now I know how Stanley must have felt when he finally met Livingstone. And they probably had tea, too. And two for tea.

And then there's the dating web site where the guy exclaims "I Have Done All the Work for You!" Oh, yeah? So how come I'm not getting laid right now?

All right, obviously--duh--these aren't real people here. It's just a cyber version of the snake oil salesman of yesteryear that's managed to survive with the resilience of the cockroach, only without as much dignity.

Related Stuff

There's a similarity here, as if they were all written by the same computer. "Related stuff" is a favorite along with the sign-off that my buddy Joern employs: Come and check it out if you get time. I've got the time, Joern, it's just the interest I'm lacking.

We shouldn't be surprised by this misery, but it's annoying as hell. Cyberspace was suppose to be the new frontier and when we get there we've still got to look around the billboards. It's like those irritating online ads that explode across the screen--kind of like cockroachs--and plug the latest suck-ass movie out of Product Placement Land.

And I love it when you hit the "Close" button in good faith and instead of wiping the thing off your screen it opens another window and inflicts more crapitalism on you. Isn't that false advertising? No, Bubba, it's free enterprise. What are you, some kind of terrorist?

The strange thing is I have the word verification setting in place yet "people" like Rex Madden still get through and plug his "Your Won Travel Businesssite/blog." Perhaps if there's any real humans reading this site they can help me out.

Or maybe I should go old school and call in a priest to cast out all these vile beings, chase Melanie Alamo, Seva Alieva, TS, Broadband Guy, and, yes, even Joern, and all their related stuff to the fiery pits of hell.

That's eternal damnation guys, check it out if you get the time. But leave the tea cart.