Sunday, January 29, 2006

Year of the Dog

So much has been going on, I almost forgot that this is the Year of the Dog.

I just ran into my little buddies, Maggie and Kelly, two Chinese girls, ages 4 and 2, who live next door to me.

They were off to visit relatives to get their packets of money for the holiday.

"Hey," I told them, "bring back some money for me."

Fortunately, they didn't understand English that well, so my lame joke fizzled in the rain.

I went to the Chinese New Year festivities in New York when I was in college and it was a blast, literally.

I was tutoring English back then and one of my Chinese students, Cathy, had invited me to come along with her and her friends to watch the celebration.

It was fabulous; Cathy took me to a neighborhood restaurant, where the waiters counted the plates rather than wrote down our orders. And Cathy told me the dragons represent different villages in China.

She said that a lot of planning went into the appearance of these dragons, making sure none of them run into each other and thus avoiding potential conflicts and brawls.

There were fireworks exploding all over the place. I felt like I was a real insider, instead of some gawking tourist staring at the locals. In fact, a gawking tourist tried to take Cathy's picture while we were watching one of the dragons go by.

Smile, Though Your Heart is Breaking

Cathy was a small, very lovely young woman with glasses and on that day she was wearing this beautiful flower print jacket.

I felt her little hand pull me close to her and I wasn't sure what was happening until I looked up and saw this woman with a camera and a three-foot telephoto lens, which she aimed straight at Cathy's face.

What is with people? Do you think that such behavior might be just a tad bit rude? To be honest, Cathy was indeed pretty as a picture, but you don't photograph living people like they're totem poles.

The woman got the hint and started asking Cathy all sorts of dumb questions about the dragons and their meaning. Yeah, lady, now go back to Ohio.

Later, Cathy and I went uptown to see "Kramer vs. Kramer" because she had to see the movie for some class she was taking. At one point, I'd swear she put her on my shoulder, for just a second, mind you, but I'm sure it happened.

Cathy was such a sweetheart. During our tutoring sessions, I used to pretend I was angry and scold her in the little Italian I knew. She put up with this for nearly two semesters until one day she began berating me in Chinese.

She caught me flatflooted for a second, since I had no idea what she was saying, and then we both started to laugh.

I didn't realize to years later how much I cared for Cathy, how I wanted her to be my girlfriend, rather than just my buddy.

I was in a very dim phase back then, where I constantly made jokes and wisecracks as a way of showing people I wanted to be their friend.

I was hardly the only person doing this. Just about all the people in my group of friends at the time did this sort of thing. I guess it's the stupidy of youth, but I know it cost me my friendship with Cathy.

I joked around too much and she got tired of me and after graduation I never saw her again.

Stupid, stupid, stupid. What's wrong with just telling people you care for them? Why did I feel this need to sling insults instead of paying compliments, why didn't I make people feel good about themselves, instead of pissing them off?

I had Chinese food the other day and one of my fortunes read "If you have not been hurt, embarrassed, ashamed or humilitated you have not lived." So I guess losing people is part of the game.

And I see that, according to an Web posting, people who are born in the year of the dog "have a deep sense of loyalty, are honest, and inspire other people's confidence because they know how to keep secrets."

I wasn't born in the year of the dog, but I like those attributes and I think they're worth cultivating. That way I'll keep my friends closer, rather than chasing them away.

So to all my friends out there, happy new year.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Once Upon A Time in Bay Ridge

So I finally figured out how to work the DVD player and sat down last night to watch Sergio Leone's gangster epic "Once Upon A Time In America."

I was still feeling a little under the weather so I figured I'd stay in, even though it was a Friday, and chill with Robert DeNiro, James Wood and God knows who else was running around the flick. I half-expected to see myself in some of the crowd scenes.

This was the fully monty version of the picture, all 3 hours and, hell, I don't know--45 minutes?--of it, told in the fractured sequence that the Leone had orginally intended. And what a piece of work.

My mother used to make this Italian vegetable dish that she lovingly referred to as "my mess" and that's how I feel about "Once Upon A Time In America." It's a mess and I can't get enough of it. I've got about a list of complaints to rival the Manhattan phone directory and I still love this movie.

Wandering plot lines, twisted dialog that sounds like poorly translated Italian and the lapses of logic are completely overwhelmed by the movie's undeniable power. This is a sweeping saga that sweeps, but never sags.

Say Hello to My Little Friend!

I actually met one of the actors who appears in the movie, a young man named James Hayden. He had starred in my friend's student film early in his career and when I met him he was co-starring with Al Pacino in "American Buffalo" at Downtown Circle in the Square Theater in New York.

It was Good Friday, 1982, I think, and my friend, Sal, myself, and one of Sal's buds, decided we'd wait until the show was over and go meet Jimmy. I wasn't eating meat because it was Good Friday, of course, but Sal had gone completely old school and wasn't eating food at all.

However, that didn't stop us from drinking. We went to a bar near the theater, got completely hammered on several rounds of beer, and made four-alarm fools out of ourselves as we played Pacman. Yes, you read right. This was the Eighties, after all.

For some reason I thought Sal was pulling my leg about knowing Jimmy, but when the play ended and the crowd was filing out, I followed Sal into the theater and watched as Jimmy got off the stage and gave Sal a first class bear hug. Dang, my boy was telling me the truth.

Then Jimmy took us upstairs to meet...Al freaking Pacino. I was still drunk and the lighting was poor, but I'll never forget this very small man, like the size of a jockey, approaching me and putting his hand out. Between the darkness and the suds I kind of missed his hand and I had to adjust my grip. But I did it, I shook hands with Al Pacino.

We followed him downstairs to the street, the ultimate hangers-on, where a small crowd gathered outside the stage door to express their admiration for Pacino's performance. He took off for parts unknown, while I went with Sal, Jimmy and several other people to a local restaurant for a late meal.

Facts Stand by Themselves

I recall sitting next to Sal's friend, who was engaged at the time, and listening to him trying to impress a woman at our table.

There are few things more torturous than having to hear someone else's line of crap--I can barely stand the sound of my own--but I managed to get through the evening. And I drove friends and family to distraction for weeks afterward bragging about my friend Al.

I never saw Jimmy Hayden again and then the next thing I knew he was dead from a drug overdose. It was 1983 and he was 29 years old.

He had a good part in the picture, working alongside the likes of DeNiro. Watching the film now, I try to imagine what his career would have been like if he had lived.

I remember when I first saw this movie, or at least a truncated version of it, back in 1984, at the old Fortway Theater on Fort Hamilton Parkway. I saw it with Lousie, my girlfriend at the time, a woman I thought at one time I was going to marry, and, as I look at my life now, I sort of wish I had.

Lousie was a local girl from the neighborhood, someone with a solid head on her shoulders and a very good heart. Me, I was an idiot. I had been involved with several freaks before I met her, like women who went out with me when they really wanted to be with someone else.

But Louise, she wanted to be with me. She loved me, believed in me. But that was back when I could not keep a relationship going, when I had a paralyzing fear of intimacy, and an over-powering urge to run away instead of facing my problems.

It didn't help that I was going through a battle with mononucleosis and then Epstein-Barr disease, and that I was seemingly incapable of holding a job for more than six months at a clip. And then I was hitting on everything else in a skirt didn't go into the plus column.

Every Little Breeze

Jesus, I was a mess back then, and, worse yet, completely unable to admit it. So Louise finally dumped me, and, only then, as stood on the front steps of her house, did I realize that I had lost so much.

She wished me well, and meant it. She told me she cared and advised me to get help, which I eventually did. But it was too late to get her back.

"Once Upon A Time in America" deals with loss and betrayal, and the unbelievably swift passage of time, where characters seemingly look over to find 30 years have slipped away.

The old Fortway theater is closed now and I haven't seen Louise since that night in, I believe, 1986. A lot of time has slipped away from me, too.

I see its the 20th anniversay of the Challenger disaster. I get so tired of hearing myself say things like, oh God, it's been that long since whatever event is being recalled. Makes me sound so damn old.

But I really do remember what I was doing that day in 1986. I had gone to a job interview, because as usual, I was out of work. This was the Eighties, after all, and I think this was actually the only time in my life I had ever been late for a job interview.

I remember getting dirty looks from the secretary when I came in 20 minutes late and while I waited to meet with the interviewer, I heard her say to someone in the outer office, "well, you were on time for your appointment." Unlike a certain little bald fellow I could mention.

I came home with my tail between my legs, knowing I had screwed up royally and my mother asked me if I had heard about the Challenger. I think the whole country had grown accustomed to the shuttle launches by then, so I asked, what about it?

Challenger, Go at Throttle Up

"It blew up," she said.

I couldn't believe my ears. Space shuttles didn't blow up. We were well beyond those early Cape Canaveral days, we had this space flight thing down pat. But clearly we didn't.

This was before the Internet and cable TV didn't have the hold on our lives that it does today, so I had to hear about the disaster the old fashion way: word of mouth.

I remember that horrible footage as the major malfunction exploded in front of the entire world. I'll never forget the reaction of the friends and loved ones of the astronauts who were watching as the Challenger turned into a fireball.

People were screaming and sobbing, and I believe a TV cameraman forgot about his job for a few seconds and embraced a crying woman with one hand while balancing his huge videocamera with the other.

I remember writing in my diary in those pre-blog days, noting that I had been so miserable and frustrated until I walked into the house and heard the news. Then I saw that life itself was and always will be more important than any stupid job.

Fifteen years later, when I was standing across the street from the World Trade Center as the planes slammed into the building, those words came back to me.

So all this time has gone by and these people have dropped out of my life. I never got married, never saw Louise again, my mom died, and even though Sal and I talked about making films and actually tried to get a few of them off the ground, I became a reporter and spent too many years chasing fire engines.

Today I took my first class in a four-week digital film course. So maybe I'll make that film after all. It may not be on the scale of "Once Upon A Time in America" but it's going to have all the flavor one of my mom's beautiful messes.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Rob the Gambler

If you're going to strike out with women, then you might as well do it at a nice location.

I learned this the other night when I went to an event at Lincoln Center and proceeded to get nowhere with three women in a row. Yes, I bit the dust, but I did it such nice surroundings. I wish I had rented a tuxedo.

The event was part of Lincoln Center's "Young Friends of Film" series, where this group shows a movie and then everyone goes out to a room by the lobby to eat, drink and schmooze.

At 48 I hardly qualify as young, but I do love movies and a shaved head is better than Grecian Formula for hiding those pesky gray hairs. With the proper lighting--like, say, total darkness--I don't look a day over 46. And nobody looks bad in Lincoln Center.

Which Way to the Eats?

This being a Friday night, I didn't have to worry about getting home early, so I figured I'd sneak in, check out the movie, and swipe some stuffed mushrooms before hitting the bricks.

I wasn't feeling well, I was plain tired of trying to meet people and sick of the 20 questions routine: what do you do? where do you live? what are your feelings about bestiality? Enough already. I just wanted to pretend I was socializing to satisfy my Jiminy Cricket of a conscience and then go home to watch Letterman.

The movie was "Bob le Flambeur" or "Bob the Gambler," a 1955 French crime thriller directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. I've seen it before and I've enjoyed it, though I'm not as quick as others to declare it a classic.

But there are nifty location shots of Paris and the film takes place largely in this pre-dawn nether world of pimps, gamblers, whores, and cops. I give it a thumbs up for the atmosphere alone.

The leading man,Roger Duchesne, is so cool and suave it can make you wince. He lives on the edge of this twilight world, constantly losing at every game he plays, but never losing his cool. Jesus, I freak if I get the wrong change at the drug store. Maybe it's the French accent.

Anyway, this is a caper flick, and Bob gets the inside story on a big casino haul and decides to take the place down. He rounds up a crew and comes up with a plan to rip the place off.

Bob's role in the scheme is to go into the place as a customer, which he does, but in this fabulous ironic twist, he starts winning, I mean winning like an animal. His lucky streak is so powerful he forgets about the robbery and zones in on the game.

He was winning so much he really didn't need a gun to clean the place out.

A Turn of the Wheel

So the movie ends, the lights come on and I hang around for a few seconds to try and talk with some women sitting next to me. They were clustering, though, so fine, I go out and start mingling.

My concerns about being too old for this event quickly vanished. I saw people with canes, one guy in a wheelchair and people with all sorts of wrinkles, gray hairs, and pot bellies. Hell, I looked like an Adonis by default.

The first woman I met was standing by herself so I just started chatting with her. She seemed nice, though the conversation was not particularly illuminating. I followed her to the bar to get a drink and when I turned around she was talking to another guy.

Ouch. It bugged me for a second then I figured I was free to go look for someone else. So I see one of the women who was sitting next to me during the movie and I step up and start chatting with her.

We get about two words into what I think is going to be a fine conversation when one of her friend barges in and says she wants her buddy to meet someone. The friend looked at me and apologized, so I don't think this was a rescue mission. (As in, let me save my friend from this bald-headed Euro-trash wannabe.)

No, I think she did want her friend to meet someone--who turned out to be another guy.

Thud. All right, I figure, let's nail some more food and find someone else. And then I see a very nice young woman, who turned out to be French, so I wormed a few questions out of that little tidbit and I learned the she, like I, was in the news business.

She was a travel nut and expressed a desire to go Tajikistan or some other such fun place. I explained to her that I tend to avoid places that end in "-stan" as they can be a little rough on the tourists. But I admire her sense of adventure and I know I could use a little bit more myself.

The talk was fading and she excused herself to get a drink. I didn't bother following her because while I may not know what good chemistry is, after all this time and all of these events, I surely do know what it ain't.

Bon Soir, Mon Ami

I hung around for a few more minutes, but I was feeling desperate and needy. The fun had gone out of the evening so I decided to head home. I hadn't met anyone, but I did make a good faith effort, I enjoyed myself, and I got to hang in Lincoln Center.

It pains me to admit this, but not very long ago I would have had a lot of trouble just approaching a woman at one of these get togethers. So I guess I was a bit of a gambler that night myself, taking a chance, putting myself out there. My luck wasn't good that night, but gamblers know this is bound to change.

I learned a lot of relationships when I was throwing out our Christmas tree earlier this month. I had gotten all the decorations off and I was dragging the tree by the bottom to the front door so the sanitation men could take it.

I get halfway through the door when a branch got hooked up on a table in the porch. Frustrated, I started tugging and cursing until it dawned on me that nothing was happening. So I went back into the house, gently untangled the offending branch and slid the tree out the door like a greased pig on water slide.

So when people wonder about all the mysteries of love and relationships, I just tell them to forget everything they've ever heard and remember that finding the one you love is a lot like throwing out a Christmas tree.

Now, I think I'll slip on my tux and take a walk around Carnegie Hall.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Pigs in Office Space

Some lowlife at work stole my lunch today.

This happened 8 hours ago and I still can't believe it.

You get ripped off on the subway or your pocket gets picked in a crowded saloon, well, that happens.

But when you put your food into the refrigerator at work in the morning and come back a few hours later to find it's gone, that's pig slop.

I've brought my lunch to work a few days each week since I started there and nothing like this has ever happened before. It's never happened anywhere I've worked, and, believe me, I punched the clock at some serious hellholes in my time.

My dad's aid, Mary, is a great cook and yesterday at my request she put together a huge serving of her famous pasta and vegetables.

Now my dad doesn't like Mary's pasta--he doesn't like much, come to think of it--but I sure as hell do. I had some last night for supper and there was enough left to take for lunch today.

This saves me money, as Manhattan eateries are notoriously expensive, and, frankly, Mary's home cooking is better than any of the food I can get around Wall Street.

Scene of the Crime

I went to my gym at noon, came back to file a story, and then headed over to the cafeteria at about 2:15 p.m. to get my veggie pasta. Only it wasn't there.

Whoever the son-of-a-bitch was, he or she ate my lunch and then put the empty container back in the refrigerator without washing it.

I don't know why that no washing bit bothers me so much, but it does. It's ridiculous to think that this bum, who has no trouble stealing from a co-worker, would take the trouble to clean up after himself, but somehow that really pisses me off.

So you're thief and a slob? Goodness, your mother raised you right.

How am I supposed to react to this? If I start raising hell, I look like an idiot for making such a big deal over a such a small issue. Nobody died, right?

But, by the same token, if I let it go, I feel like a wuss. What am I, some schmuck kid in the playground, you can steal my lunch money and get away it?

I mean, Jesus, Mary, and Ralph, what the hell is wrong with you? It's so disgusting I hate thinking about it, but, I can't shake it out of my head. If you were starving, all you had to do was ask, and I'd gladly share. Hell, I'd give you the whole damn thing, it's no big deal.

But to so brazenly steal from someone you work with, it's like giving the finger to the whole office. Screw you, I don't care about anybody else, I just want to stuff my face. Whoever you are, I hope you choke on it.

Freeze, Pig Boy!

I fantasied about banging out an obscenity-laden e-mail throughout the office telling the sneaky swine I know what you did and when I find you I'm going to stuff your genitals in the microwave.

Then I saw myself cleaning out my desk and telling prospective employers when they ask why I left my last job, "well, you see, I had this veggie pasta..."

One of my co-workers mentioned this has happened before and he shook his head, saying "people around here steal."

I mouthed off to one of the human resources people, declaring that if it happened again I'd go the hell home, no matter how much work was on my desk.

Then I get a call from the head HR android who takes me into a private office and says, "I've been here six years and this has never happened before."

Yeah, and so? I quickly informed her about my co-worker's experience and told her to speak with him about it.

But now I am mondo furious at this paper-pushing dimwit. What the hell did she mean by that? I'm lying? I imagined the whole thing? What the hell was I supposed to do, dust for fingerprints like CSI: Wall Street? Bite me, sweetheart--no pun intended.

I am so angry right now I want to go to her office tomorrow, stuff a salami up her nose and ask, "hey, honey, did this ever happen before?" If my next post is from Riker's Island, you'll know I've been busted for illegal use of seasoned pork.

I spent the rest of the day at work looking at my co-workers suspiciously. Maybe it's that computer geek who never gives me the time of day. Maybe it's that surly English dame who looks like the offspring of the British Bulldogs wrestling tag team.

The guys in the mailroom? The bunch in accounting? Like Inspector Clouseau, I suspect no one; I suspect everyone.

Salami, Salami, Baloney

I tell you, this last few days, I feel someone's done the salami number on me, only somewhat south of my honker.

First I go into the movies and run into this woman I briefly dated and ran away from 12 years ago and then I've got to ditch a dead alley cat who died in my garage, and then yesterday I get an e-mail from Lee, a woman I briefly dated just before the holidays, who ran away from me.

We went out twice and, I thought we had a decent time, but when I called her for a third date, she didn't get back to me and I never heard from her again.

Until yesterday. That's when I get an e-mail for her that starts off "Remember me?" Yeah, I guess, but I don't know why. It seems she's writing to tell me that she thought we had no chemistry and didn't see the sense in going on.

But for some reason, nearly two months later, she decides to write to me now and apologize for not giving me the chemistry lesson to my face.

How's that? I didn't think we had much going on either, but I thought it was worth a few more dates before we called the coroner. She felt differently; fine. She couldn't bring herself to tell me up close and personal? Whatever.

But now she feels like contacting me to say she's sorry and then to officially tell me we're toast? No, I don't think so.

I was hardly devastated at the loss of Lee, but a stupid e-mail after all this time ticks me off. At this point, don't even bother contacting me. Let's just keep moving in opposite directions.

Maybe Lee stole my lunch and sent the e-mail as a clever ruse to distract me while she made off with my veggie pasta. It's a bit of a stretch, that would probably require her to have the power to become invisible, move at the speed of light, and travel through time, but if you're paranoid the pieces all fit together very nicely.

I still have her e-mail. I actually imagined she'd get back in touch with me, but in my version she begs for me to take her back.

There's a part of me that hopes I can get back with her, even though I know we have nothing in common, even though the last line of her e-mail says "so long," as in, goodbye, have a nice life, don't let the door hit you on the ass on the way out, here's your head, what's your hurry?

I ditched one woman, another ditched me. I guess there's a kind of symmetry in that, but I still end up alone.

As soon as I post this piece I'm going to nuke Lee's e-mail. She's not the one, she's never going to be the one. I have as much chance of getting back with her as I do getting back Mary's veggie pasta.

It's time to move on from both unpleasant incidents and order something else from the menu. I just have to be careful where I put it.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Happy Blog Day!

It was one year ago today that I began this blog.

I had heard about blogs for years, but it never occurred to me to actually start one of my own.

So many blogs seemed to be straight out of the "Dear Diary" school of writing that I figured there was nothing there for me.

But I slowly changed my attitude. First of all, what's wrong with Dear Diary? Everyone has a story to tell and you can find life lessons in the most routine lives.

I love to write and I want to be a newspaper columnist, but none of the news organizations I've ever worked for never gave me the chance to write a column.

Instead I had to cover car crashes, house fires, or write about insurance, taxes, real estate and other such thrilling topics. I decided I had to have some kind of showcase for my work, instead of telling editors, "hey, I'm a great columnist, take my word for it. Now give me a job."

So I typed "blog" into the Google search demon and came up with the site. I pressed a few buttons and now, I, a card-carrying techno-phobe who has trouble with the DVD player, am part of the information superhighway or whatever the hell they're calling the internet these days.

All right, let's get this show on the road. This is my first post on my first blog.

Ah, yes, my first words as a blogger. I described myself as "47, marooned in Brooklyn without a job, wife or children.

"Most of my big dreams have crashed and burned like the Hindenburg," I blogged, "but that hasn't stopped me from climbing the next bag of hot air and heading back into the sky."

Of course I misspelled the name of the great zepplin in that first post, which I have since corrected. Sorry about that.

Back then I wasn't sure what to write about. I didn't have a theme, I'm not inclinded to write about politics, and even though I love movies, I don't see myself as a critic.

I had recently struck out with two women I had briefly dated and so, taking the "Dear Diary" approach, I wrote about my disappointment. Today I can't remember their names.

I do have a job, and I thank God for it every day, even though it's not a columnist gig, and I still haven't finished the novel. But, if nothing else, I think the attitude is better.

That's also true of my personal point of view. I still don't have a woman in my life, but I'm feeling positive about that, too. All I have to do is find her.

Hello, Out There!

I wrote much shorter back in the day, just a couple of graphs and then I got out. I got over that issue in a hurry and I think I'm well on my way to having a book happening here.

I didn't use illustrations at first, but looking at other blogs convinced me of the need to slip a picture in there, just to give people a break from solid type. Now I wouldn't think about posting a story without an image to go with it.

Back then I had no readers at all, except some twits who would use the comment section to boost their products or services.

I wrote a posting complaining about this very thing on October 4 and got my first real human response from Marsha, who let me know there was at least one person on the planet looking at my work.

More were to follow. My two desert buddies, DesertPeace and Desert Wench soon checked in and Barbara J. Moore dropped by, too.

I can't thank you guys enough for your interest and support. For the longest time I felt I was just shouting into the void, so getting a response back from the cyber-jungle is a tremendous feeling. Again, my thanks and God bless you all.

I want to get more tech knowledge under my belt to make this site more visually appealing. I finally figured out how to link to other blogs, but I don't want to quit there. I want to get in touch with my inner geek and make this blog wail.

At the same time I want to work on my proofreading. Dropped words, misspellings, typos, and other such bonehead errors have no place in any serious work. I apologize for the mistakes and I'll clean up my act. And if you find any typos in this post, well, I'm sorry about that, too.

I'm going to break with tradition and keep this posting short for a change. I just want to say I'm glad I got on board the blog wagon and thanks to all of you who put up with me for the last 12 months.

And now on to Year Two...

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Option Three

I sure hope there's a cat heaven.

I had to remove the body of a dead cat in my garage yesterday and since I can do nothing for him in this life, I pray he'll find comfort in the next.

My neighbor, an elderly Chinese man with limited English, actually found the body and flagged me down as I left my house yesterday.

He gestured to my garage and since the door got stuck in the up position God knows how long ago, the place has been a haven for local alley cats. I started leaving food outside the house in hopes of attracting cats and frightening away any vermin, though that plan has been less than successful.

My neighbor pointed to a spot in the garage and I saw the striped cat curled up behind some old wire fencing we used when we planted tomatoes in our garden. My neighbor kicked at the fence in an attempt to rouse the poor thing, but the cat didn't move.

I knew in my heart he was dead, as no self-respecting alley cat would ever let you get that close.

I feel terrible about this. Since I've taken to feeding the cats around here, I feel like this poor animal died on my watch, that its demise is somehow due to my negligence. Crazy, I know, but I'm Catholic and the only time we're not feeling guitly is when we're asleep. And then we feel guilty about that as soon as we wake up.

My sister, the cat lover, was very good about consoling me. She knows what its like to lose cats, personal pets that she loved dearly. In fact I went with her when one time when she had to have one of her cats put to sleep. It was painful, but she had no choice.

My sister's cats had a roof over their heads, three squares a day, a loving owner and still illness and disease found a way of getting by all the care and attention and taking them away.

I guess an alley cat hasn't got much to look forward to in this life. Digging in garbage cans, living through all kinds of weather, when they get sick, there's no one to take them to the vet for medicine and treatment. They just keep going until their lives give out.

That seems to be the situation here. This cat must have been ill and struggled to find a warm place to curl up and take his final nap. I hope it was painless.

There was, however, the very real issue of disposal. First, I had to go out to my backyard, pick up the corpse with a snow shovel. God, it was awful.

Even though he was frozen solid, I knew he was once alive, and then I dropped him and his body hit the garage floor with an icy thud. It was liked being kicked in the stomach.

Fruit Flies...And Doesn't Come Back

This was part of a very strange and hectic weekend. On Friday--as in Friday the 13th--I fell asleep on the subway with a plastic bag containing a bottle of Powerade, a bag of unsalted nuts and an orange. I'm trying to eat healthy snacks.

Anyway I open my eyes, see its time to get off and when I go for the bag, I find the orange is missing. I look under my seat and the surrounding area and find nothing. Two track crew workers, all done up in reflective vests and hard hats, were sitting nearby and I notice they were staring at me.

"You looking for the orange?" One of them finally asks.

"Why, yes," I say. "I am."

"It rolled off at Pacific Street."

Rolled off? He made the orange sound like a living thing, like it decided to get off and catch the express. At least the orange could have said something before it left.

I got another orange at lunch time, but I'd like to know what happened to my original. (Orangial?) Did some needy person get it? Highly unlikely. It was probably stomped on or kicked to the tracks where it'll rot with all the other garbage down there.

Then on Saturday I get my brother to carry a new(er) TV out to the living room and then roll the big old wooden monstrosity into a corner of the dining room where I'll keep it until I find someone to take it off my hands.

That old set is huge, built back when TV's were considered furniture. We kept a ton of framed photos on top of it, and now I'm trying to find a place to put them all.

The picture quality was fading and the TV is so old there's no remote control unit. A whole generation has grown up never knowing what it was like to get up off your ass and change the channel with your hand.

I'd like to think this set has some re-sale value, but I doubt it. Some things are treasured heirlooms, sought after by collectors willing to pay a lot of money, and some things are just old. I think the TV falls into the latter catergory.

So now I have to dispose of the old TV and the cat's body. Who am I--Tony Soprano?

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Sunday comes and all hell breaks lose. It's cold, horribly cold, especially compared to the weather we've having over the last week.

I plan on going to the gym and then hooking up with a group of strangers I met over the internet to see a movie. I had to get my dad's breakfast, put the cat's corpse in a bag, and wait for my dad's aid to show up before I could shove off.

During breakfast the lights go out. Why? Who the hell knows? I go to the cellar and fell around the circuit breakers, because the lights are out and my only flashlight died on me this very morning. I know I'll worry all day about an electrical fire.

Some people would get all paranoid over this, but not me. I know for a fact that it's all part of vast conspiracy to get me.

Anyway, I pull this mess together some how, take off for the gym and box three rounds with a professional fighter, who's an instructor at the health club and who lets me work out with him for no extra charge.

He peppers the crap out of me, but I kind of like getting in there with him. After guilt, abuse is the Catholic boy's favorite food.

Okay, I get showered, dash over to the theater and look for the movie club people. I find two women in my age bracket in the lobby and start chatting with them. One of them keeps eyeballing me and I figure she's just unfriendly. I excuse myself to get a soda and she gets on line behind me.

"So," she says, "you really don't remember me?"

Christ, that's a line right out of a movie, usually said when someone whips off a mask and takes out of a gun. No one in the real world says this kind of thing, do they?

"We went out a few times," she tells me.

I'm a drawing a blank the size of Mount Rushmore. God knows I'm no love machine with so many conquests I can't tell one from the other. So what the hell is going on here?

"It was several years ago."

I have no absolutely no memory of the person; it's got sci-fi memory movie written all over it. Am I about to be framed for murder, caught in a web of intrigue and corruption, and manipulated by forces beyond my comprehension?

"I guess I didn't make much of an impression."

But Who Knows Where or When?

By now I'm thinking I've been hit in the head too many times, but then she says it was an event in downtown New York and I remember every little thing. It was 12 years ago, I was living in Connecticut and I had come into town to hook up with a friend at this singles event.

I met this women, we went out a couple of times, but back then I was in such a terrible mental state, suffering from such a staggering self-loathing and a fear of intimacy that I broke it off. It was a terrible for me and I really hurt this woman.

She cried, she yelled at me, which I richly deserved. It was a nightmare and all of my own doing. And out of all the movie theaters in all the world, she walks into this one.

You see? I told you there was a conspiracy, but did you believe me? No, of course, you didn't.

She had changed somewhat, put on weight, like a lot of us do, but there was more to it than that. She seemed completely different, like her mind had been transported in somebody else's body.

It was awkward, but I straight up apologized, told her I was a jerk, a manic depressive who has gone into therapy and hopefully improved since that time.

She claimed she wasn't angry, that it was a long time ago, but I don't think the passage of time excused my behavior at all. When you hurt somebody, you make amends. She told me to buy her a soda and call it even.

After the movie we all went to dinner and she sat two chairs away from me. I wondered if I should ask her out again, create that kind of movie reunion where the guy wises up after a dozen years, gets back with the girl and love blooms forever.

But that's also a line for the movies. I'm just aching for a girlfriend now and that longing can make you think the strangest thoughts. The whole thing was best forgotten.

At the end of the evening we said our goodbyes and I went home to take care of a dead cat.

Knocking On Heaven's Door

Now I wanted to do the right thing by this poor creature, so my sister contacted her vet's office, who offered to gladly cremate the cat's body for a mere $110.

Crash! That was sound of nobility colliding with reality. Yeah, I'd love to make sure this cat got the attention in death that he never got in life, but, by the same token, do I feel like shelling out that kind of dough? A beloved family pet is one thing, a stray who happens to die on my property is quite another.

My sister told me we could also take the body to the local ASPCA, where they'd do the same thing for less money. But they're closed tomorrow, I don't think I can get there during the work week, and, honestly I don't feel like doing that.

Then there's third option. I can put the body in a plastic bag, put a sign reading "Dead Cat" and put the whole thing out with the garbage.

Yeah, that's what I did and this poor bastard is out there with the empty cartons and discarded food, the kind of things I guess he was eating until he died. I just hope the garbage men take him tomorrow and put an end to this fiasco.

About a year ago, these two little Chinese girls who live next door to me, Maggie and her sister, Kelly--my "Little Buddies" as I like to call them--were standing in my backyard with their grandmother. They were staring so intently at something, you could have set a bomb off behind them and they never would have noticed.

I peered into the backyard and saw their object of their amazement was a stray cat. It struck me how children find such wonder in something so mundane.

How many times does a stray cat go by us and we barely notice their presence? Yet these two looked at this lowly animal the way some people view the Grand Canyon or the Great Pyramid at Giza. I think they're on to something.

Maybe we should all look at such minor things with the same kind of reverence, find the beauty in the lowest of the low. Perhaps we'll have fewer cats dying alone in freezing garages.

A few weeks ago I greeted Maggie and Kelly in the alley way and Maggie, who speaks a few words of English, put her hands out and said "No cat!", indicating the lack of any felines in our neck of the woods for quite a spell.

Well, no sooner does she say this then I spot Opal, a big black cat with piering green eyes, darting across the end of the alley and into my backyard. I led the charge as my little buddies screamed with delight.

We found Opal (my dad gave him that name) on top of my garage, looking down at us. Maggie shouted a booming "Hello!" while her little sister just shrieked. Finally Opal decided he'd move along and as he disappeared into a neighboring backyard, Maggie sent him off with loud "goodbye!"

I thank God these two lovely kids didn't see the dead cat's body. Let them know the wonder of nature a little longer without dealing with its harshness. Let them know life without having to think of death and illness, pain and loss.

There's plenty of time for them to experience the ugliness that must accompany beauty. For now, let them think of alley cats as creatures of mystery, who come and go with the wind.

I sure hope there's a cat heaven. And I hope this little guy is there right now, where's its always sunny, where the mice are fat and slow, and the balls of yarn never end.

Rest in peace, my friend. God knows you've earned it.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Cell No

I left my cell phone home today.

I thought I had trained myself to the point where I wouldn't be able to walk out of my house with picking it up and clipping it on to my belt.

I figured I'd go three feet from the door and then my legs would whip around on their own and send me back inside. Don't leave home without it, indeed.

Today I went farther than three feet. In fact I was just taking my seat on the R train, watching the doors slide shut, when, oh, goddamnit, I realized I left the bastard home.

I did this a few months ago and I actually left the train station, wasting the fare, to retrieve my cell. I found a dollar in the street on the return trip, so I got a piece of my investment back.

It's not like I get that many calls on the thing. I can go days at a time without my cell making a peep and I have to check to see if I turned it on. (That's another problem I have with this thing.)

But I've grown used to touching the spot near my hip to see if it's still there; I take comfort in having that little black box pinned to my body like a new appendage. Today I kept reaching down to touch my cell and felt somehow diminished when it wasn't there.

I tried playing headshrinker, asking myself just why would you forget your cell phone? Are you avoiding responsibility? Do you secretly wish to avoid contact with family and friends? Or are you just a dimwit?

Great Moments in Cell Phone History

I was telling this to a man in the locker room of my health club this afternoon and he said he's only forgotten his cell phone twice in his life and both times they were on very important occassions.

"Oh," I said as I put my shoes on, "sounds like something's going on there."

It's so much easier to play Freud with someone else's psyche. And I didn't even charge the guy.

I think I may have been the dead last person on God's green earth to have gotten a cell phone.

For ages I maintained I didn't need one, that people who had them was just twits who blundered down the sidewalk bloviating into their cell phones about absolutely nothing at all. And I still believe that.

I kept a running tally of bizarre cell phone moments. Like the time I was on Bowling Green during my lunch break and there was this rather deranged woman walking by shrieking into her cell phone.

"Tell me why!" She screamed. "Tell me why I'm a fucked up person!"

Hmmm. Well, it's hard to put my finger on it, lady, but I think screeching obscenities in the middle of the street could be a factor.

Another time I walked into the men's room of a Barnes & Noble on E.86th Street. In an example of exquisite timing, I walked in just as a guy in the stall said, "hey, how's it going?"

"Why, just fine," I blurted, flattered that a stranger was being so friendly, but confused as to how he knew I was there.

But then he continued speaking and I realized he was on the cell while on the can. And from what I heard of the conversation, I see no reason why it couldn't have waited.

But the lack of easy access to a phone was getting on my nerves. I kept breaking dollar bills to make sure I had change at all times. I was constantly buying sugarless gum or the Daily News just to make change for the pay phone. The only ones using pay phones were me and the local drug dealers.

Reach Out and Touch Someone

Pay phones were my lifeline to home when I move to Stroudsburg, Pa. and then on to Waterbury, Conn. I remember my first day at the Pocono Record in Stroudsburg and I was driving out to cover a township meeting in the West End of the county.

I got a panic attack, convinced I couldn't do this job, certain I was going to fail. I pulled over to a phone booth on West Main Street and even though I was--allegedly--a grown man I called home and start wailing about my plight.

And way back in Brooklyn, my father said, "look, if you don't like it, just turn around and come back home right now."

I was touched by his concern, but somehow when he said that, I knew I couldn't just quit. Somedays I wish I had, since it was a really rotten place to work, but I'll always be glad I didn't give into my fears.

A similar thing happened in Waterbury a few years later. Again, I had a panic attack, again I was convinced I would fail, and again I was alone in a strange city. I didn't have a phone in my apartment yet, so I went to the bottom of Scott Road and called home on a pay phone.

I was a little calmer this time, but my dad still sensed my anxiety and he said "you know we love you, right?"

I started crying as he handed the phone off to my mother and she had to explain to him what was happening. When I left Waterbury, I should have uprooted that pay phone and kept it for myself. It was a family treasure.

Lately, though, I've been tired of being unreachable, sick of searching for a working pay phone. People would be looking all over for me and unless I phoned in and got them while they were home, I might as well have been living in a cave.

Last spring was the kicker. I got this awful part-time job, working at night in this boiler room office on Park Avenue South. I had to watch godawful TV shows and write these trivia questions for market research. I hated it.

I would go in on a Friday night and see people getting together at bars and restaurants, living like real humans. Me, I was just a nameless rat in front of a glowing screen. Since I was part-time, I had no phone, and I couldn't rely on people handling the company phone to pass along any messages I might get.

My dad is elderly now, not as able to comfort me as he once was. He needed to be watched so that if something went wrong, people could find me.

It was time to get a cell phone.

Quick, Watson, I need you!

I went to a local Verizon store in my neighborhood and looked for the simplest, cheapest model I could find. No cameras, no windshield wipers, no radar or rocket launchers, just give me a damn phone.

And no complicated plan that puts the theory of relativity to shame. I'm strictly pay as you go. I'm sure I could get a better deal, but I can't fathom these payment schemes, so I just treat the phone like a gas tank. When I'm get close to "E" I fill 'er up.

I had this weird feeling of caving in to a trend, but once I got my phone, I was ridiculously excited about it. Look at me, I've got a cell phone. Yeah, pal, you and everybody else on the planet including the homeless and people in mental institutions.

It took a while to get used to this thing ringing down near my groin. I kept forgetting I had it and then I'd jump whenever it went off, like I tripped a burglar alarm.

I remember walking down to that awful job (see above) and I was talking on the cell phone, like all the other twits in town, gabbing with my best buddy, who couldn't get over the fact that I had actually cracked down and got one these things.

"I can't believe it," he said. "I'm glad I'm sitting down."

Me, too. Apparently I was speaking too loudly that day, and he advised me to work on my cell phone speaking style. I think I've improved.

I Got You, Babe

So I joined the ranks of the terminally reachable. People could find me, I could find them--usually. It got a little strange over the summer, when my sister, my aunt, and a friend went up to Wave Hill in the Bronx and I got separated from the crowd.

I knew where they were and I was walking to catch up with them when my phone rang. It was my sister.

"Where are you?" She asked from about 200 feet away.

Gosh, remember the old days when people used to shout their business down the street? Could almost make you feel nostaligic.

Too late now. Cell phone technology is unstoppable. We've got people with the wireless headphones walking around now moving their lips like monks saying their evening prayers.

Since I constantly talk to myself and have pretty much given up trying to stop, I think I might get a fake set of headphones and then babble all the doo-dah day without anyone realizing I'm insane.

I came home tonight and immediately went for my cell phone, greeting it like a lost pet. No, there were no messages. And while I would be undressing for bed in a little while, I switched it on and clipped it to my belt where it's resting right now.

I may not get a call, I may not make a call. But my cell phone and I have been reunited and it feels so good.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Little Christmas

I'm almost done removing the decorations from our Christmas tree. I've been doing it slowly, a few each day, and now only the lights remain.

Once I get them off and remove the stand, I'll drag the tree out in front of our house Sunday night and leave it for the garbage men.

This being Little Christmas, the day the Three Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem, I suppose I should respect tradition and take the tree down before midnight, but I'm in no hurry.

It's sad to take down such a fine tree, the first we've had in our house in a long time. We had such a nice Christmas this year, I hate to see the old guy go.

As I removed the decorations, it felt like I was taking the medals off a soldier, but I think now it's more like preparing a departed friend for burial.

I wish I could take this tree back home to the woods, set it ablaze in a snow-covered field, and say a silent prayer of thanks as the ashes could curl up to the winter sun.

Leaving it on the street to be devoured by a New York City Sanitation truck isn't quite the same.

Of Tree I Sing

I remember one year my dad took our Christmas tree down and tossed it into the garden in the back of our house, where it stayed for weeks, becoming brown and shriveled.

I forget why he just didn't throw the thing out like everybody else in the world, but, whatever the reason, that tree stayed in our lives until it was almost spring. I'd go to the backyard to put out the trash, look toward the garden, and there it was, leaning against the back fence like the body of slain mobster.

After so much time went by, it was like we couldn't throw it out; we missed our chance. My father would joke about the tree at the dinner table, saying "I'm going to put some tinsel on it."

And then one day he actually got rid of it, sans tinsel, but still very late in the day. I was at school, thank God, but my dad said the garbage men were shocked when they saw it, and they're a pretty tough bunch.

Over the weekend I realized I never got around the Christmas tree at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is hands down my favorite tree in town.

This tree is set up inside the musuem, so you're protected from the cold and the snow, and it's decorated with 18th-century Neapolitan figures. Instead of one tree lighting, the Met's tree is lit twice a week on Fridays and Saturdays throughout the holidays.

I recall the first time I saw one of the Met's tree lightings. The lights were on already and I muttered, "what? They're gonna turn it off and then back on again?"

That's exactly what they did and it was beautiful. Unlike other tree lighting ceremonies, where somebody throws a switch and the whole thing erupts in an explosion of lights, the Met's tree comes to life gradually.

The lights were turned down and then a single beam shined on the manger, while "Silent Night" played over the sound system. Slowly the other lights came on, until this magnificent tree was fully lit. It brought tears to my eyes.

Form a Line, Please

Now the holiday decorations are coming down all over the city as things get back to normal.

This week, a crew of workers took down the huge and, I think, rather tacky, display in the lobby of my office building.

There were mechanical teddy bears, elves, and other assorted creatures propped up on bogus snow mounds where they twisted back and forth, dancing, I guess, with endless holiday glee. It looked as if they were trying to escape and get some rest. And you could hardly blame them.

Sometimes there was music playing to accompany the stopless dancers, but if not, the lobby was filled with the joyous sounds of humming machinery and squeaking gears. It could be a little creepy at night.

I found the whole thing rather low-rent, but I'd see people with their kids pressing their faces against the lobby windows, mesmerized by the display. And the security guards let them come in for a look, like it was a tour of the Sistine Chapel.

I hate to be a grinch, but, hell, if you go uptown a little ways, you'll see the tree at Rockefeller Center and beautiful window displays in some of the most famous stores in the world. This lobby display might wow 'em in Peoria, but this is New York, right?

Now that its gone and the lobby is so empty, I feel like I'm walking through an airplane hanger. Maybe they should keep the display up all year round and put different costumes on the figures for every holiday.

Dress them up like Lincoln and Washington for President's Day; turn them into leprechauns for St. Patrick's Day, and then go all out for July Fourth. And for the dry spells, we could give them little briefcases and cellphones, so they'd look like all the other working stiffs in the building.

And I saw today that the Salvation Army man who used to stand with his kettle near the stock exchange and ring a bell is gone, and the guy who handed out flyers for a topless nightclub has returned. And now I'm wondering if maybe its the same guy working both jobs...

Kris Krumble

There's a little fear mixed in with the sadness and relief. I created quite a big to-do list in the weeks leading up to January 1, 2006, all the things I put off until--(dramatic pause)--after the holidays.

I usually start using that expression in early November, promising I'll learn how to speak Latin, get a master's degree, learn to mambo and remake Ben-Hur with a hand-held video camera and a cast of stray cats. I'll do it all..after the holidays.

But once the holidays are over, the excuses disappear like plastic Santas and cardboard chimneys.

It's time to make good on those resolutions, get busy on those projects, and prove to myself and the world that this year is going to be different from all those other years where I made a stack of promises and watched them wilt like Frosty the Snowman in a turkish bath.

First I'll finish taking down our Christmas tree. Maybe after I struggle to get the thing out the door, I won't speak so fondly of it anymore.

Maybe, as my hands become smeared with sap, as pine needles become imbedded in the furniture, where they'll keep turning up until August, I'll ask myself, what the hell was I thinking when I agreed to bring this monstrosity into the house?

But then I'll remind myself that it's a new year, and time for a new attitude. I'll wash my hands, clean up the pine needles and get to work.

Now where's that video camera...?

Sunday, January 01, 2006

A Clean White Page

Just for today, do not worry.
Just for today, do not anger.
Honor your parents, teachers and elders.
Earn your living honestly.
Show gratitude to every living thing.
—Dr. Mikao Usui

When I was a student at Our Lady of Angels School in Bay Ridge, my third grade teacher, Sister Mary You're-Going-To-Hell, would give us new assignments by telling us to open our notebooks to a clean, white page and begin our lessons.

Now I hated Catholic school as much as the next man or woman unfortunate enough to go through that nightmare, but that phrase, that image of a pure white piece of paper stuck in my mind. And on this first day of 2006 it seems quite appropriate to think about it.

It's a new year, a fresh start, a chance to begin again. Yes, those words are pretty tired by now, especially if you've seen enough New Year's Days come and go. But what is the alternative? Nothing changes, no new beginings, same old, same old? Sorry, but that's not doing it for me.

So I'm going to start anew, put the past behind me and look forward instead of looking in my rearview mirror.

Yeah, I've made these promises before and didn't do so well. But every year I get another chance to get it right and I gladly take it.

Midnight Run

As much as I love the idea of New Year's Day, I loathe the concept of New Year's Eve with a mind-bending passion. What is the point of acting like a drunken idiot merely because we cross over from one year to the next? It should be a time of quiet reflection, but good luck telling that to the Times Square crowd.

This was damn near one of the worst New Year's Eves of my life. Once again I found myself this year streaking toward Dec. 31 with no party plans. I know my social life needs work--a major project for 2006--but, still, it shouldn't be this difficult to find a party when the whole earth is getting down.

My sister very kindly invited me to join her and her friends for the evening, but that didn't appeal to me. I love my sister and I get along with her friends, but I knew I would feel like a tag-along if I joined them.

I answered an ad on craigslist for a dinner in Brooklyn Heights, something I did last year and thoroughly enjoyed, but the woman who placed the ad this time sent me an e-mail saying she had not gotten enough responses.

I even posted my own ad on craigslist, basically asking for someone to do something with me around midnight. Nada. Zip. Bupkis.

Okay, don't panic. There's a bar just two blocks from my house, the Killarney Pub that I've been threatening to check out for ages. It looks like an old-timer, blue collar working guy's kind of place filled with the people I like to write about, but really don't spend enough time with.

But my sister said I'd probably have a better time with people my own age and she had a point. It would seem unlikely I'd run into anyone with similar interests at a place like this.

Fine. I belong to a social group that does all sorts of things around the city and one of the members posted an event on the group's site about New Year's Eve bash at a bar in downtown Manhattan, just a few blocks from Ground Zero.

I didn't like the idea of riding the subways on New Year's Eve, and the location wasn't very exciting, but being alone was even less appealing. So, ever the slave to commitment, I clicked "Maybe" and sort of planned to go.

Pity the Fool

I got all dressed and ready to out when my dad walked by me on the way to the bathroom and I got that unmistakable odor telling me that my father just had one of his "accidents."

All right. I told him to get undressed, took all his clothing and chucked them in the washing machine. Then I put on a pair of old shorts, got my father into the shower, and hosed him down.

I could have gone the "why me" route, saying stuff like, look what I'm doing on New Year's Eve! Everybody else is going to great parties, having fabulous dinners.

They're wearing tuxedos and gowns, they're pouring Champagne into towers of crystal glasses in the finest hotels, falling madly in love, and dancing until the break of dawn. And here I am hosing down this old guy who just crapped himself. Where is the justice?

But self-pity has never gotten me much and I knew in my heart that everybody wasn't having a great time. A lot them were suffering something fierce, without food or shelter. My father needed help and it wasn't like I was racing to make an 8 o'clock curtain. There was no sense in making a bad situation any worse.

I got my father into bed, hung the wash, got re-dressed, and out I went. I got to the bar on Chambers Street at about 9:45 p.m. It was a loud, neighborhood place with a lot of young people and no sign of my group. One fellow looked something like the organizer, whose photo is posted on the group's site, but I wasn't certain.

He was sitting at a table with a three other people--a woman and another couple. So even if it was him, I had no urge to pull up a chair and play the fifth wheel concerto.

This was starting to seriously suck. The juke box was blasting country music (!?), the young men were shouting louder and louder. And then I saw this man, who seemed to be about my age, walking by with a cardboard sign around his neck reading "Pity the Fool."

I pictured myself with that sign around my neck, begging for people to like me, to invite me to join their group and celebrate with them.

It was time to go.

Killarney In My Dreams

But go where? I couldn't bring myself to call my sister and ask to meet up with her. My best buddy was at a concert at a Lower East Side club, which was probably packed to the gills.

I got on the subway thinking I'd find a local place in Bay Ridge, but I really think I was looking for an excuse to go the hell home.

I walked down my block and I see one of my neighbors is having a party, which was filled with people I grew up with. Sounds perfect, so close to home and filled with people I know.

But I hadn't been invited and I hadn't been in contact with these people in a long time and showing up now so I could welcome the new year in a crowd seemed wrong. It's not right to use people.

I was set to switch the TV and watch Dick Clark ring in 2006 all alone when I forced myself to put on my jacket and go out the door. I walked up to the door of the Killarney Pub, but then I pulled back.

I can't go in there now, I thought. I can't just walk into a strange bar like this. They'll boot me out on my keester.

As I stood there in the cold, I figured this would be good time to change, to lose my fears of trying new things. I have a crippling fear of failure, but what would failure mean in this context? The bar sucked? The people were ugly? I've been through that many times before and lived to tell the tale.

Walking away would mean I was giving in yet again to my insecurities, that I was choosing comfort, even if that "comfort" was making me miserable, over something new and possibly better.

So I went in.

The Wild Colonial Boy

I worked my way through the small knot of people at the door and found myself a seat at the bar. The woman next to me smiled and wished me a happy new year. Immediately I felt at home and I figured I had made the right decision.

Yes, the place was full of strangers, many of whom were a bit older than I. But I wasn't a tag-along here, I wasn't somebody's friend or brother desperate to find a party before midnight.

I chose this place. I was part of a crowd enjoying a band of middle-aged men and one younger woman work their way through a bunch of songs by the Stones, Elvis, and the Beatles.

The TV was switched on to one of the New Year's Eve specials, but the sound was off, so while some forgettable pop star sang mutely on the small screen, with twirling dancers gyrating through lame aerobic steps all around her, I listened to the Groove do a rousing version of "I Saw Her Standing There." And I felt quite satisfied.

Midnight came and we all shouted "Happy New Year!" For just a second, I imagined myself experiencing this moment alone at home in front of my television. I shuddered and banished the image from my mind.

I shook a few hands, no kisses, but that's all right. I want a relationship, not a quick hit on New Year's Eve. After things quieted down a little, the lead singer of the Groove did a belly dancing number ("rock-a-belly" I believe was her term) which was quiet hot, actually, and I kind of wish I had gotten a kiss from her.

I left just before 1 a.m. and walked the two blocks home. It was a happy new year indeed.

Prayers From A Stranger

A wrong number got me out of bed at about 8 o'clock this morning. I was all set to give whoever it was a piece of my mind, but I stopped before picking up the receiver and reminded myself that this was the first day of a new year. Let's give the hostility a rest, shall we?

Turns out it was a woman in some prayer circle and I believe she was attempting to contact the people she was praying for. She apologized profusely and I assured her it was no problem--and I meant it. And this stranger, this voice on the telephone, wished me a happy and a healthy new year. I should get more wrong numbers like that.

I don't know about making resolutions this year. One self-help guy I read says resolutions are a waste of time, that you should set goals for yourself, which has a much more solid ring to it.

I think my most important goal/resolution for this year will be to organize, since so much flows from that. My room looks like someone blew up a Salvation Army clothing store. I can't find anything and I've probably wasted years of my life looking for stuff here, getting angry and frustrated in the process.

So no more. I'll organize--my room, my thoughts, my emotions, my vision of myself. I'll budget my time so I can work on my various projects and ditch this negativity I have worn around my neck for so long.

I saw a sign on the subway the old day that told passengers "No Diversions Planned" for the weekend. Life doesn't tell us about diversions ahead of time, unfortunately, so we have to handle them as they come.

Let us all now open to a clean, white page and start again.

Happy New Year.