Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Man Down


My father fell down in his room last night.

I was working on my computer when I heard this terrible crash and at first I thought it was the people upstairs. They're a pretty noisy bunch and I figured one them tipped over a bureau or some other large piece of furniture.

But I knew in my heart that the sound was a body hitting the floor and hitting hard. I walked out to the living room where I thought my father was watching TV and saw the couch was empty. Then I got frightened. He's 84 years old, suffering from Alzheimer's Disease and he can't afford to fall down.

I ran to the back to his room, and, through the darkness, I saw him on the floor. He looked like an infant struggling to get to his feet.

I did my best not to panic. I asked him if he hurt himself and when he said he was okay I helped him to his feet, coaxing him gently all the way. He told me he had been reaching for the bed in the dark and missed.

I think that's been happening to him a lot lately. He reaches for something with either his hand or his mind only to find it's no longer there.

I'm getting good at picking my loved ones up off the floor. A few years back I pulled my mother off the same bedroom floor after she had collapsed because her lungs were failing, a condition that eventually killed her.

My father came into my room early that morning and said he needed a hand, matter of factly, like he was moving the couch. I never understood his behavior that day or other times when he argued with me about calling an ambulance for my mother. He was on a different wavelength.

When I walked into their room and saw my mother on the floor, trembling on her hands and knees, I screamed "Mom!" and got her on to the bed.

She went to the hospital that day, the start of a long, downward spiral that ended at St. Vincent's Hospital in Staten Island on July 16, 2002.

I remember that morning, when I got her on the bed, she was in shock, and she said weakly, "I'm going to die." I told her no, that wouldn't happen. And she held out for a long time--a couple of years, really--but eventually the disease was too much for her.

It's different with my father. I'm so used to him being strong that seeing him helpless on the floor is very frightening. And now we have to think if its time to look for a nursing home for him. I hate the thought of doing that, I'd rather he'd leave this life from his own home, but he can hurt himself if there's no one around to help him.

Memorial Day

I got him into bed and later I thought of that terrible fight we had back on Memorial Day--the day set aside to honor fallen soldiers. I was tense and cranky that morning, as opposed to most days when I'm just a ray of sunshine. I wasn't certain if his health care aid was coming over on this holiday or not that morning and for some reason this was making me very angry.

Of course, I was also slightly troubled by being out of work, having no wife or girlfriend and living in my father's house at 48 years old. Other than that Mrs. Lincoln...

I remembered we were next to each other in the kitchen--only two people in this house and yet it seems we're always on top of one another. And he yelled at me, like he has so many times over the years, and I just lost it. I cursed, shoved him hard, and he went sailing back on the floor, like he was made of paper.

I remember watching him get up slowly, like a downed prizefighter, and I backed up into the living as he came staggering toward me. He made a fist and I screamed "I'll fucking kill you!" And he snarled "you couldn't kill anyone, you..."

It was horrible. I saw that deranged look in my father's eyes, something my mother, my siblings and I all lived up with. He wasn't human at that moment and I wasn't either.

I shouted, "fuck you, cunt!" and stormed out of the house. I walked aimlessly until I found myself on Third Avenue, among the various old soldiers--guys like my father--getting together for the Memorial Day parade.

I was disgusted with myself, for attacking my father, an old man, for sinking to his level, though perhaps it's my level, too. I told my sister that I had shoved him down because he was about to hit me, that I was acting in self-defense, but that's not true. I just got sick of him yelling at me and I reacted like he usually did.

I came home a little while later and George, my father's aid, was there. He knew something was up because he said my father had been asking for me. And my father came over to me and said in a low voice "just forget it." But I can't.

I did a terrible thing that morning and if writing this all down amounts to a confession to a crime, so be it. Whenever I replay that image of my father going down to the kitchen floor I certainly feel like a criminal.

My father has never been your typical Fifties dad. He wasn't the pipe-smoking, cardigan wearing intellectual who read books in his study. (His study?) He always seemed to be so angry at something and he'd often turn it on his family. Yes, he loved us and supported us, but there was also a hostile streak there, like he was doing unto us when had been done to him.

I was walking into my office the other day thinking how I can't talk to him anymore. Age and Alzheimer's have put him so far out of reach. That reasonable, intelligent man with whom I could discuss things with is gone. But so is the beast.

I hate using that word, but I'm afraid it applies. And not just to him. I saw it myself on Memorial Day and I've seen it many other times in my life, moments I wish I could erase from the history of my life, moments were I could say "just forget it." But that would be cheating.

I found an old family picture from one of our vacations. My dad is holding me in his arms, while my brother and sister stand on either side of him. In the picture he's tall, young, has a full head of hair and powerful, thick forearms. It looks like he could carry me for the whole day.

Now I pick my father up from the floor after time, age, and illness have ganged up him and knocked him down. And I know one day he won't get up, that he'll stop fighting the inevitable and give in.

And, of course, I can't help thinking about myself at these times, middle-aged, childless, single.

What will happen when--and if--I get to be his age? Will there be anyone to come help me when I fall in the dark, when I reach for something that isn't there?

Or will I lay there in the dark, thinking of the day I turned on my father and became a beast.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Kid Cannoli


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.

ROUND TWO

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.

BASTA, BASTA

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.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Violent Swiss Almond


There it was sitting in the deli freezer, ready to tear my throat out.

I had just come in to get some orange juice, when I looked down and caught the label on a carton of ice cream: Violent Swiss Almond.

Say what? I'm just reaching for my wallet and I'm being threatened by a psychotic drupaceous fruit in lederhosen?

Then I looked again. My eyesight is going, along with everything else in my system, and I had read the label too quickly, reading "Violent" when it actually said "Vanilla Swiss Almond." Maybe I should contact Ben and Jerry.

Yeah, I need glasses, or contacts or one of those laser zap jobs that'll give me X-ray vision and the power to read men's minds. Of course everybody will probably be thinking hey, stop reading my mind, you stupid bastard, and get some glasses.

Yesterday I had a number of these little eyeball malfunctions. First, I was reading an item about a man who had a "stinking resemblance to Robert Reford."

Come again? I've never met Robert Robert but he always looked clean. Then I read the line again and saw this fellow had a striking resemblance to Mr. Sundance.

Then I saw an online ad about a "Spook Market Pioneer." I immediately pictured a ghost with a coonskin cap and a shopping cart. There had to be something wrong with that, and indeed there was. The ad was referring to a Stock Market Pioneer. Sorry, Casper.

But it's more than just my eyes going south on me. My mind is moving ahead of my vision and inserting a word it thinks is appropriate. And look at the choices: violent, stinking, spook. No positive images at all. (A violent, stinking spook?) A shrink would see a pattern here. And then charge you a finder's fee.

My favorite incident occurred after leaving the office on Friday. I walked by a building and saw a sign reading "Craven Management." I stopped dead in my tracks, squinted, read the sign again and discovered...it did say Craven Management.

Hell, sounds to redundant to me. All management is craven. That's how they got to be management. (Except my present employers, who are fine, upstanding, dedicated professionals.)

I've always had trouble with misspellings, typos, and dropped words in my writing. This is particularly serious for a reporter and I've had a number of stories ruined because of bonehead errors. (There are probably a few in this post. Gotta get those laser eyes.)

I used to bitch about the copyediting at the various newspapers I worked at, but the truth is that it's got your name on it, so it's your story. Printing out the story and reading it aloud, even softly, has proven to be the best method for me. I just look like a lunatic mumbling to myself, but that's a small price to pay.

During my interview with Stars & Stripes, I confessed my lack of proofreading prowess to the two editors interviewing me long distance from Japan.

They had asked me to name some of my flaws (I'm so great I'll make everybody else jealous!) and rather than admitting to being a short-tempered, paranoid, manic depressive, goof-off who will come in late, leave early and surf porn sites in between, I figured I'd tell them my spelling sucked. There's plenty of time for them to find out the other stuff after they hire me.

Well, I never got the job and now I'm wondering if my candor is the reason I'm writing to you from Brooklyn instead of Iraq. Not that I'm complaining. I never thought the buggers would call me and when they did I felt compelled to pretend I wanted the gig. Hell, I was out of work and desperate at the time. Even the Army looked good.

I also have a feeling that if I had gotten that job I would been immediately voted Al qaeda's Infidel of the Month, with my picture on the Osama Network's web site and directions to my crib in Bagdad. Pop that bald guy, oh, my brothers, and take the HOV lane to paradise.

I know some day I'll have to get glasses. I'm long overdue. I hope I will adjust to them and not be vain and try to hide them at every chance. I just want a little more time to look at life without glasses of any color.

And if Al qaeda sends any violent Swiss Almonds after me, I'll just give them a yodel and run like hell.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Oh, Look How Young He Is


When I was a child, I used to watch in amazement at my mother's reaction whenever she saw an actor she liked in an old an movie.

"Oh," she'd say in disbelief, "look how young he is!"

To my kid's mind, this made no sense. Someone like Henry Fonda or Jimmy Stewart looked like they always looked. I didn't see any age in their appearance--they were all adults anyway, which automatically made them old in my eyes. What did it mean for someone to look young?

All right, I'm older now, probably close to my mother's age when we were watching TV in the livingroom on the old Motorola. Now I watch DVD's on my computer (Jesus, this was all Flash Gordon stuff when I was a kid. And if you don't know who that is go change your diaper)

The other night I watched "Taxi Driver" on my computer. That movie--brace yourself--came out in 1976, the year of the bicentennial. It'll be 30 flipping years old in a few months. And I looked at Robert DeNiro as Travis Bickle applying for a job as a cab driver and I knew finally what my mother was talking about.

"Oh," I said, "look how young he is!"

You have to understand. This wasn't the jowly caricature who's being grinding out a series of forgettable movies for the last 10 years. This man was young, wiry, filled with dangerous energy. The city he inhabited was crumbling and violent, no Starbucks, no Barnes & Nobles, no Disney Store--only bodegas, whore houses and the Belmore Cafeteria.

Aging is something you can't understand until you go through it. I remember the leading men of my youth, the young studs who had starring roles in all the big movies, and now they play the old guy on sitcoms, named some variation of Pops, and usually serve as clueless dinosaurs begging to be mocked by some young upstart.

I was out with some friends the other night, all of whom are younger than I am, and we were talking about this movie we had seen, "Hollywood Outlaws," which featured interviews with many comedians, including George Carlin.

Carlin (oh, look how old he is!) made his career as the hippy dippy weatherman and other counter culture creations, but he talked about his early career, when he wore a tie and did straight stand-up comedy.

I told my friends later that I remembered that time of Carlin's career, that I had vague memories of Carlin appearing on either Jackie Gleason or Ed Sullivan's show doing his "Indian Sargeant" routine. Then I noticed one of my companions smirking.

"Showing your age, Rob," he said.

Yeah, I guess so. I certainly don't know how to hide it and I'm not going to try. And what the hell did that have to do with my comments? I would have hit the little weasel with my cane but the arthritis was giving my grief.

It kills me when I walk by a business and see a sign that says something like "Serving the Public Since 1982." Since 1982? What was that the Bronze Age? I remember 1982, pal, I was just a few years out of school and ready to make great movies and write great novels. I was all set to show the world a thing or two, turn heads and shock the system into a frenzy.

And then I do the math. And I realize, holy crap, that was over 20 years ago. What the hell happened to all that time? And why have I got so little to show for it?

Moping about the passage of time doesn't slow it down any. You just wind up wasting even more time. I found my old college ID card the other day and took a look at my mug from 27 years ago.

Full head of hair, sideburns, smooth skin and this rather confused on my face. Most of that has changed, of course, except for the look. If anything, I'm even more confused.

I suppose I could get depressed, look at myself in disbelief and cry out, Oh, look young I am.

Or maybe I should thank God for the good times I've had and try to make these times a little better. Hell, I've been serving the public since 1957. That's got to count for something.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Remembrance


It was four years ago today that I looked straight into hell.

Four years since I heard the first jetliner hit the north tower over my head, and then, a little while later, ran for my life when the second jetliner struck the south tower.

It was my father's 80th birthday and my buddy Hank was playing a set somewhere in the Village. My mother was at Lutheran Medical Center being treated for the lung disease that would take her life 10 months later.

Four years since I sought refuge in the lobby of a senior citizen's home near the Brooklyn Bridge, while the towers and the world as we knew collapsed in a heap of dust and ash.

I remember that terrifying walk over the Manhattan Bridge, where I felt like a sitting duck in the middle of the sky, with jets screeching overhead. Only later did I find out that those were American fighters, scrambled much too late.

I was walking with a woman from Long Island, Eva, who is an attorney from Long Island. After the attacks she didn't know how to get to the LIRR, so I walked her to the Atlantic Avenue train station.

I write to her every year on the anniversary and tell what I've been up to, how I'm doing and she does the same. (Her dog, Cody, died and her husband is working in the same building that she is) She considers me a hero for walking to the train station with her and I don't know whether to laugh or cry about that, but I guess I should take it and be grateful. Doesn't happen too often.

LIVE EVERY MOMENT

I try to recall my thoughts on that day before attacks began and the whole world changed forever, how, early that morning, I was bitching about someone taking one of my towels at the health club while I was in the shower. And then the planes hit.

After the attack, I swore I'd never complain about anything again, I'd be happy with my life, even if I never did become famous, or rich, or meet scores of fabulous babes, because all I wanted to do is live.

Haven't done such a great job of keeping that promise, but the anniversary of 9/11 helps reinforce the message.

My mother never came home from the hospital. She died in July of 2002. I remember on Sept. 11 my sister and I had decided not to tell her about what had happened, so as not to upset her.

We didn't know my father already had told her when he gone to see her earlier that day. She was unable to speak because of the tube in her throat, so she made a gesture with her hands indicating the collapse of the towers. It told the whole story in a very chilling, concise way.

My dad has Alzheimer's disease now and he is looking so frail. I hate the fact that his birthday and this horrible moment in the nation's history are linked, even though it's just a coincidence.

I'm out of Goldman, but I'm still on Wall Street and I think about how the city in general and the finacial district in particular are still targets. Not much I can do about it, unless I want to go back to living in small towns. And maybe I will.

Since 9/11, we've had the Lie in Iraq, the tsunami, bombings in Bali, Madrid, and London, and now the flooding of New Orleans. You can drive yourself crazy looking for patterns or curses or vicious design. Maybe the message is just the simple one about living every day because it just might be your last.

Rest in peace, all 9/11 victims. Comfort to your loved ones and may God be with us all.

(Editor's Note: I wrote about my 9/11 experiences for my old paper, the Pocono Record, a month after the attacks happened. The link no longer works, so here is the text of that story:

Wall St. a month after

Editor's note: Rob Lenihan, a Brooklyn native and former Pocono Record writer, works for Goldman Sachs in lower Manhattan. He submitted this reflection on life in New York City's financial district.

It doesn't take much to draw you back to Sept. 11.

Wall Street seems to be back to normal little more than a month after terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center. People come to work, complain about their bosses over lunch and long for the weekend.

With a little effort, you can almost convince yourself that you've moved on and put the atrocity behind you. Then you spot the awful gap in the sky, or look down the block and see National Guardsmen in camouflaged uniforms standing at the corner.

Or you just inhale and, even after all this time, the burning, acrid odor emanating from the wreckage hits you like a wave of dirty water. And then you're sliding right back to that first terrible day.

Loud noises, typically ignored in the past, make heads turn now. Sirens, such a basic element of the city's rumbling soundtrack, can halt conversations and freeze people where they stand.

I was about to enter my office across the street from the trade center on the morning the planes slammed into the city's tallest buildings and changed the course of our lives. Everyone on Church Street looked up in disbelief as the first tower burned. We all thought it was over — until another plane streaked out of the sky and hit the second tower.

It seems like a century ago that people ran screaming through the streets, first to escape the explosions and then to flee from the crumbling buildings and the huge debris cloud that roared through the manmade canyons like a demon bursting out of hell.

After the dust finally settled, I joined the throng of sudden refugees who hiked back to Brooklyn across the Manhattan Bridge as fighter jets shrieked over our heads.

The stock market was closed for several days after the attacks, and those first days back to work were something beyond surreal as the smell from Ground Zero dominated the air and humvees rumbled through the streets of my hometown.

It took me a week to walk up to the trade center, to look at the spot where a society roughly equal to the population of Stroudsburg was wiped out in less than two hours.

The trade center was a world unto itself — shops, restaurants, art exhibits, concerts and, of course, people. Name the race, creed or color and you could find it somewhere within those shimmering steel walls, people of all kinds streaming in and out of the huge complex to work, live and play.

I think of the people I stood next to at Border's bookstore, or ate with at the sandwich shop, or walked with on my way to the Cortlandt Street subway station. I wonder how many of them are dead now.

As America heads deeper into war, the fear of reprisal adds to the tension around the financial district.

Mundane decisions take on a new and probably irrational significance in light of the trade center horror stories where the timing of appointments or arrival at the office literally meant the difference between life and death in so many cases.

It's crowded at Ground Zero. Some people walk right by the ruins without even turning their heads. Others push up against the barriers to stare at the devastation and take photographs. I can easily understand why someone would want a record of this spot, but I could no sooner take a photo of this horrible scene than I could of a mutilated body. It just feels wrong.

The smell is still potent here, and you'll spot people wearing facemasks like surgeons on the way to the operating room. Cranes and bulldozers push aside the painfully familiar rubble, and firefighters hose down the hot spots. Your mind tries to undo the destruction, put everything back the way it was.

I can see my old building, Liberty Plaza, where officials commandeered the Brooks Brothers store in the lobby and turned it into a frontline morgue.

Reportedly the building is structurally sound, but now it stands forlorn and empty on the wrong side of the barricades.

A Buddhist monk was here recently, sitting in a folding chair and relentlessly intoning prayers as the crews did their heavy labor. Christian groups came down as well, too, handing out their leaflets promising salvation to passersby.

Street entrepreneurs are always close by, hawking American flags and photos of the twin towers in their glory, proving that nothing can stand in the way of commerce. The other day on Broad Street, a flag lady shared a corner with a man selling watches from a case.

The loss of the Twin Towers is more keenly felt in close quarters. You got so used to having them there. Even if you didn't go into them for days at a time, you knew they were always overhead, standing guard over the neighborhood.

Now my stomach lurches when I look at the old church at Broadway and Vesey Street and see nothing but the sky. Nearby, a makeshift memorial to those lost in the disaster has sprung up in front of a bank.

Years ago as a reporter for the Pocono Record, I traveled to Homestead, Fla., to write about the impact of Hurricane Andrew. I remember the blocks of ruined houses, the shattered trailer parks reduced to mounds of twisted metal.

I felt sorry for the people who lost their lives or their homes, but like most people, I never thought such destruction would strike so close to me. I think about the deaths I covered as a police reporter, the house fires and car wrecks and how all those tragic stories disappear in the shadow of this monstrous crime scene.

The giant American flag still hangs off the New York Stock Exchange, and the posters of the missing — hastily assembled biographies that blend the hard facts of a wanted poster with a loved one's desperate plea for help — are still visible on lampposts. The posters are grim reminders that the hope of anyone being rescued has long since faded.

The attack has led to rapid changes in New York's alphabet soup of a subway system, which has been reworked so many times a lifelong resident can feel like a tourist from Wisconsin. I take a newly created ferry line to South Ferry now, complete with a police boat escort.

I'm working on Water Street at another building and every morning I surrender my shoulder bag over to the X-ray machine, walk by the bomb-sniffing dog and ride the elevator up my office on the 40th floor.

I forget how to breathe for a second when I look up from my desk and see a group of co-workers charging down the hallway. I can relax only when I realize they're running for a meeting and not for their lives.

When a supervisor begins a sentence with the words, "We have an emergency," and I learn he's only talking about work, I want to grab him by the lapels and shake him until he realizes nothing we do in this office could ever constitute an emergency.

I came into my office recently and spotted a suitcase in an empty cubicle.

I did my best to ignore it, asking myself what terrorist would take the trouble to come all the way up here, walk through the maze of desks and plant a bomb right next to me.

But I couldn't take my eyes off it and finally I asked around until a woman sitting near me claimed it.

"Don't worry," she said, smiling. "You're safe."

I can almost believe her. Until I go outside and smell the air.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

'Baby Stab Horror'


So I get up this morning to find that the city's dueling tabloids, the Post and the Daily News, have identical headlines: "Baby Stab Horror."

They were referring to the same terrible incident, where some psycho on the street stabbed an innocent baby. I confess I never got around to reading either paper's version of the story, having been stopped in my tracks by the Siamese front pages.

I was a police reporter for five years so I've covered my share of terrible stories, but something about these headlines are so awful. All they do is make things even worse.

After I saw the headlines, I went about with my own life, like everybody else around me. This was my third day of my new job and I expected it to be a tough one, a kind of make or break deal that would separate the men from the boys, put it all on the line, and all that kind of crap. It turned out to be quiet manageable, but I had no way of knowing that, and being the King of Catastrophe, I just worried all morning long.

Riding the subway into work, I realized that I had left my cell phone at home. I panicked, cursed, and wondered what the hell I would do when people started calling me and couldn't find me. I remembered I was recharing the phone and had left it plugged into the kitchen socket.

I, of course, pictured the house catching fire, or the phone melting into a puddle of bubbling plastic. Naturally, none of that happened, and I didn't get a call all day. But it wasn't a good start to the day. Not a baby stab horror, but still a crappy morning.

I did thumb through the Post while I was in the can at work, which seems to be the proper place to read that rag. I scanned the captions of the baby story and saw they had a cast of characters, such as the Brave Nanny and the Grateful Dad. (Weren't they a band? In fact, "Baby Stab Horror" sounds like some 70's punk group with safety pins through their lips.)

I had a fairly decent day at work and finding the people are really nice. I may get a beat change, which I don't like, but, hell, there are no specialists in newsrooms. And there are no atheists. in foxholes. But are there specialists in foxholes? We already know about the atheists.

And you know I never did read the entire "Baby Stab Horror" story, so I don't know what made the Nanny brave or the Dad grateful, but I sincerely hope everyone is all right. (Except the bastard who did it, of course.)

And I'm glad I don't have to cover stories like this anymore. I may hate business journalism, but it spares me the misery of grieving families and midnight house fires in the dead of winter.

Monday, September 05, 2005

What if They Offered a Job...


...and I didn't come?

Tomorrow I start my new job as a reporter for thestreet.com and I am not very happy about it.

I know I should be thankful, given current economic conditions and my own lengthy jobless stretch, but I'm just not enthusiastic.

The money is not good, the job sounds like grunt work and I'm sick of business writing anyway. So I'll be working at a job that I can't rely on and doesn't get me enough money to live the life I want. Great.

I'm thinking of it as a temporary assignment, sort of like life, and looking forward to my next gig, but I don't want to fall on my sword here. (I'm good at that--if sword falling were an Olympic event I'd be wearing a gold medal around my neck.)

There are the obvious complaints: full-time work means less time for writing, research, and piddling crap like shopping, bill-paying. I guess I'll have to join the human race and make the time for these things when I can.

I envy people with careers, real jobs and lives. I live in this half-fantasy world of success and contentment, while struggling through one situation after another. I have talent, but no skills.

I spent my last day of freedom at Shore Road. I had gone down there hoping to run into Theresa, the Polish beauty in the blue bikini. She's got a bit of a saggy belly, but I don't mind. I actually had the nerve to walk up and speak to her yesterday, and we had a nice chat.

Today was a different story, as I could barely get a word out of her and I figured I'd shuffle off to the the other side of the park. I can tell when someone isn't interested, but I'd like to be a little bit more nervy in these situations. So how about dinner some time? Hell, that's easy enough and it'll clear the air in a hurry.

I was about to leave when I saw my good friend Angelica--she of the black bikini and pierced navel. She gave me a nice pep talk, which convinced me that she'd be a great catch.

And it's high time I focused on the mental training. I'm working up a sweat in the gym, yet I still feel inadequate and unworthy. It's time to put my mind on the treadmill, too. Work it out and make it work for me, not against me. I already know the power of negative thinking. Let's turn it around now.