Friday, July 28, 2006

L.A. Lightning

They don't get lightning storms in L.A.

That's what my Uncle Joe told me the other night when he called me from L.A....during a lightning storm.

He had called to see how we were doing and while I love talking with the guy I was wincing every time another lightning bolt cracked through the sky.

We've been having a streak of thunder storms in the northeast lately, big, massive affairs that sound and feel like artillery attacks going on in the clouds. The kind of storms where it's not a good idea to talk on the phone.

"We don't get storms like that out here," he said, as I held the phone three feet from my head. "I miss them."

I found it hard to believe that L.A., the land of extremes, didn't have thunderstorms, not with the brushfires, mudslides, endless rainstorms, and Charles Manson. But then we don't get earthquakes in Brooklyn, so I guess it all evens out.

There was a guy on our block who got hit by lightning as he spoke on the telephone. I was about four or five years old when it happened and I still remember the sound of the thunderbolt hitting his house. It was like dynamite going off right over your head.

The next thing I heard were sirens and I remember looking out the window and seeing an old police emergency truck, which were green back then, tearing up Senator Street in the wrong direction.

We heard that the kid had been knocked clean across the room when a lighting bolt had gone through the phone lines of his house and came blasting out of the receiver.

Judging by the sound of the thunder, I would have thought there would be nothing left of the guy but a pair of sneakers and a pile of smoking ashes, but he pulled through apparently no worse for wear.

"My father used to makes us sit by the window and watch thunder storms," Joe told me. "He wanted us to see how beautiful it was."

For years my dad told me a variation of that story, about how, as a little boy, he would run and hide whenever there was a thunderstorm. And how my grandfather wouldn't say a word, but just sit by the window and loudly enjoy the storm, cheering each bolt of lightning and every roar of thunder.

Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself

Gradually, my father said, he would come out of his hiding place and go sit next to my grandfather and enjoy the show.

There was a terrible thunderstorm this afternoon when I went to visit my father in the hospital today. The car service driver had pulled up to the door as the rain started coming down and a huge bolt of lightning carved through the air just as I was putting the metal house key into the steel doorlock.

I had this image of myself being fried on the spot, of being hurled across the street, stretched out in my neighbor's front yard while emergency vehicles raced up the street in the wrong direction to rescue me.

That didn't happen and I made to the V.A. Hospital. My father had some kind of seizure the other day, with all the outward signs of a stroke--slurred speech, weakness on the left side of his body, confusion--it looked pretty serious.

Today the doctors are backing away from that preliminary diagnosis and it looks like my father may have had some kind of temporary condition that mimics a stroke, but is far less harmful. I guess it's like a small scale thunderstorm in his brain that rages for a bit and then moves on. Let us pray.

My father was in bed, his hands bound after he had climbed over the railing of his bed and tried to go for a walk. The hospital staffers are afraid he'll hurt himself, so he's tied up like some lunatic from a cheap horror movie.

He was his usual self, harassing the nurses and trying to get out of bed. He has this annoying habit of kicking his blanket away and leaving his lower half exposed in a little production I call "Nutsack Theater."

"Haven't I got enough problems?" I growled as I fed him his dinner.

He was still somewhat disoriented, asking me what hospital he was in. Apparently he thought he was in some kind of restricted area.

"What lie did you tell to get in here?" he asked.

"I didn't lie," I said. "I just walked in. I can visit my father without having to lie."

My father was always kind of free with the facts. In other words, he lied a lot. To his customers, his family, and himself. So I guess so part of his brain is still thinking like the salesman he used to be, trying to find an angle, so he could put one over on somebody.

The shift doctor is a young woman, something my father can't seem to understand, even though he's been examined by a dozen female doctors over the years. When she left the room, he looked over to me.

"Don't tell Joan," he said, referring to my siser. "She'll be jealous that this woman is a doctor."

I was about to argue with him, say that my sister is a successful teacher, that she has a law degree, but then he threw out another little nugget.

"Robert will be jealous, too."

I was wondering if I should explain to him that I was Robert and that I wasn't jealous of the female doctor, either. Or maybe I should pretend whoever he thought I was and let him give his uncensored view of me.

Which One Are You?

I ended up pointing a thumb at myself and mouthing the words "I'm Robert."

It took him a few seconds to realize what I was saying then he shook his head.

"Who am I forgetting?" he asked.

I mentioned the one brother in San Francisco, the other brother here, but by then he seemed to have lost his train of thought. A large black nurse with a lovely smile came into the room to check his various hook-ups. When she left he nodded toward the door and made a piston motion with his fist.

"She's looking for a boyfriend," he said, indicating I should make my move.

"I wish her luck," I said tersely.

I hate talking about women and sex with my father. He can't help but put a sleazy edge on things--generational, I suppose. Plus he always tried to show us up when we were kids, so I figure if we got into a talk about sex he'd want to get the less word in on that, too. Best to change the subject.

I broke a date with a woman the other night when he was admitted to the hospital and she never got back to me. If she's mad at being stood up, I can't say that I care. She had my cell phone number and all she had to do was call.

But I just get this feeling she had never intended to keep that date. I hadn't heard from her for a few days and I've been on a pretty serious stand-up streak for the last few weeks.

I broke another date with another woman so I could see him tonight. I didn't want her to wait around in the city for a couple hours as she lives in Queens. I honestly wasn't feeling so strongly about her after the phone calls and e-mails, but I still want to meet her in the flesh.

Now I have a date with a woman tonight and I made it for later in the evening. Let's see if I get stood-up again.

I told my dad Uncle Joe, his brother had called and wished him well. I thought of all the times I had threatened to move out to L.A. I always end my conversations with Joe with the promise that I'm going to move out there some day. I'll be 50 next year and I still haven't done it.

Joe had warned me last night that things were going to get worse with my father, that there was nothing anyone could do about it.

"It's a shame you guys are stuck with it," he said.

Ah, hell, I don't feel stuck. He's our father. And one day there'll be a storm that will take him away from us. It's the kind of storm you can't escape, even if you live in L.A.

I left my dad watching Seinfeld and walked down the hallway to the elevators. I heard this sing-song voice saying "goooodniiight" and it took me a second to realize someone talking to me.

I turned and saw the heavy black nurse in the doorway, the one my father was convinced need a boyfriend. She was smiling at me. I thanked her for taking care of my dad and I introduced myself.

"You can call me Flo," she said.

I got on the elevator wondering if my father was so out of touch after all.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Hospital Run

Well, it's been a hell of day.

My father is in the hospital right now, having suffered what the doctors fear is a stroke.

When my sister and I left him, he was being difficult and annoying, which is pretty much par for the course with my father. But he needs to be watched and tested over the next few days.

It started yesterday when I got a call from the nurse at the senior center where my father goes twice a week. He had fallen down and while the nurse couldn't find any sign of injury, she was concerned and wanted to speak with my dad's doctor.

It got worse when my dad's aid, Mary, called me at work to say my father was home and insisting she call his old company in Albany, NY. Even though he's long since retired and the company went out of business about 30 years ago.

I had noticed some unusual behavior the other night, when my father got up at around midnight to tell me something about "two guys breaking out of jail." I told him to go back to bed.

At Mary's urging I got my father an appointment at the V.A. hospital today. I had a date tonight with a woman I had met online and I was selfishly thinking that I didn't want any grief this evening to screw up this date.

That all went out the window. At around 4:30pm, my dad's doctor called me and said he didn't like the way my father looked: he was unsteady on his feet, the left side of his face seemed to be drooping, and he had some difficulty speaking--all classic signs of a stroke.

He sent my father and Mary over to the emergency room at the hospital and it looked like he was going to be admitted. If you can believe this, part of me was still thinking I could make this date. Then I spoke to Mary and I knew I had to get over to the hospital as soon as possible.

I called my sister, asked my boss if I could split, (he was very good about it, by the way) and then banged out an email to my almost-date telling her the situation. I apologized profusely and got my tail down to the train station.

Everything moves so slowly at times like these. The R train crawled all the way back to Brooklyn. When I got out at 95th Street, the last stop, I decided to walk over to the V.A., crossing over the Belt Parkway, where the traffic was already backing up as drivers headed toward the bridge.

Don't I Know You From Someplace?

I found my sister, Mary, and my dad in the emergency room. The doctor, a very bulky fellow who looked more like a wrestler, said a CAT scan couldn't find any sign of damage to my father's brain, but he added that he thought my father had "some kind of stroke."

"I recognize you," the doctor said. "It's funny, I don't recognize your father, but I recognize you."

I think I met this doctor a year or so ago, during another run to the emergency room when my father's blood sugar dropped to a seriously low level.

While we waited to the staff to get my father's room ready, the old man did his best to piss me off. He was constantly waving his hands at us, muttering about another man in the waiting room, and, of course, trying to feel up the nurse.

I knew I was overreacting, that my father was not about to clean up his act after all this town. Maybe I was tired, pissed about missing the date. But I had a hard time keeping my temper. My sister told me to calm down and then my father asked her what was the matter with her teeth.

"What's wrong with my teeth?" she demanded, forcing me to gently remind her about not losing her temper.

The other man, who was in his late 50's or so, had come in feeling poorly and found out he had diabetes. He was looking at a whole new lifestyle and he mentioned that he didn't eat any of the foods listed on the hospital's "Do Not Eat" list.

"What do you give up?" he asked with a weak smile.

The man left and the nurse took my father up to the 12th floor. My sister and I went up the public elevator and we made the long walk down the hospital floor, going by room after room, each one with two or three old men, coughing, hacking, sleeping.

It was such a sad, familiar picture. Between my mother and now my dad, my sister and I logged in a lot of hours at varous hospitals. We got my father settled in and fed him his supper, most of which he refused to eat.

"Salisbury steak," he sniffed. "Alias hamburger."

We finally left the hospital at about 8 p.m. and my sister was talking about what we'll have to do now that my father's condition has apparently gotten worse. I was so hungry at that moment, all I wanted do was eat.

We had dinner at a new Asian restaurant in the neighborhood, where I flirted with the very young waitress--runs in the family, I guess.

The woman never called me, never returned my email. Perhaps she's angry at being stood up, but I would think that the news someone's father is in the hospital spark some kind of interest or concern.

It doesn't matter much now. I get the feeling things have changed a lot around here and not in a good way.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Mickey, We Hardly Knew Ye...

"I'm the most translated writer in the world, behind Lenin, Tolstoy, Gorki and Jules Verne. And they're all dead..."

--Mickey Spillane

My watch stopped the other day. I’m getting strange phone calls.

The whole world is going to hell faster than a greased pig on a water slide and now I find out Mickey Spillane is dead.

My gut tells me there's more to this than meets the eye.

Tuesday started off like any typical day. I got up and went to work. At lunchtime, I had...lunch. And when I got to my office that's when I saw it.

The LCD readout on my watch had disappeared.

I tried to recall when was the last time I actually looked at my watch, what time was it when I last checked the time?

I had gotten this watch on Canal Street years ago for about 10 bucks and I used to call it the watch that wouldn't die because no matter what I did, the thing kept on ticking away, so to speak.

And yet now here was, dead as Kelsey's nuts, as my father used to say. I don't know who Kelsey was and I really don't want to know what happened to his nuts, but that's for another day. At this moment, I had to deal with the Case of the Wasted Watch.

Things got stranger when I got home that night. I checked my voice mail and found I had four messages, a rare occurrence for me. I tapped on the keypad and heard a stranger's voice leaking into my ear.

"Cynthia, this is your left the number on the (unintelligble)...not very smart. Call me on my cell..."

I had no idea who this was, but I knew one thing for certain. My name isn't Cynthia. And I don't have a husband. So that's really two things I know. The second message had been left about an hour later.

"Cynthia, this is your husband again...please call me."

Same guy. I could tell by the voice that he was Hispanic, about 5' 10'', 189 pounds, lefthanded, walked with a limp, and had an unnatural fear of bowling alleys. Other than that I was drawing a blank.

Two more calls came after that. But each time, the caller hung up without leaving a message.

I was in over my head. I needed help, I needed somebody who was tough, fearless, willing to get his hands dirty. I needed a private eye.

Famous Shamus

I used to read private eye novels by the truckload when I was a kid. There was something about the modern day lone wolf, the big city gunslinger bringing his own brand of justice to a cruel and heartless world.

Private eyes dealt in danger, had exciting adventures, and bedded beautiful women. They lived by their own rules and didn't have to take out the garbage, study trigonometry, or deal with zits.

Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe was the top of the line. Chandler wrote great novels, with keen observations about mankind's capacity for evil. He once said the best mystery novels are the ones you read even if the last page is torn out and this shows in his work.

And then there's Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer. It's been said that the heroes of many detective novels reflect what the author wants to be when--and if--he grows up. Mike Hammer is the personification of that theory.

The books are two-fisted wet dreams, where Mike, speaking in the first person, of course, is a fearless, unstoppable sex machine. He kills without remorse, fornicates without regret, and beats the ever-loving crap out of anyone who gets in his way.

The books were labled mysteries, but you'd have to be dumber than a sack full of lugnuts to miss the "who" in these "whodunits." Spillane took the old rule about having the murderer be the last person in the world you'd suspect and beat it into submission like Mike Hammer bitch-slapping a stoolie.

So if a story featured a blind nun with no legs who was confinded to an oxygen tent, well, by golly, there was your killer. Spillane would go through all sorts of cortortions and gyrations to get there, but he always arrived at his destination.

The sex scenes were laughable, at least by today's standards. The stories reeked of misogyny, xenophobia, and racism, and the villians were usually intellectual types who used flowery language and literary references to mock people...until Mike shot them, of course.

Spillane could write a good action scene, though. One of the novels featured Mike getting beaten by a group of thugs on a dark country road.

He's struggling to get out his trusty .45 while being mercilessly pummeled with clubs, and he finally does, Spillane describes how the gun blast illuminates the whole scene for a fraction of a second. It's been years since I read that scene and I still remember it.

Of course, diehard fans will know the famous ending of "I, The Jury," the first Hammer novel, when Mike assassinates his naked lover with a bullet to the gut. As she's dying, the lover, who is also the killer--I warned you, didn't I?-- asks Mike how could he do such a thing.

"It was easy," Mike said.

Spillane actually play Mike Hammer in the film of his novel, The Girl Hunters, where the bloodthirsty private eye literally nails a Commie agent to the floor. And Mickey appeared in a series of funny ads for Miller Lite, along with Rodney Dangerfield and a bunch of sports figures.

And, you know, say what you like about his writing abilities, Spillane got the job done. He produced copy and published books. For all my talk and high aspirations, I'm still trying to finish my novel. Maybe I can learn a thing or two from Spillane.

Cold and Rainy in L.A.

I started reading crime novels after I lost my taste for science fiction. I had no taste for Miss Marple or the other locked door mysteries. I wanted tough cops and private detectives.

I tried my hand at the genre many years ago, back when I was in high school. I wrote a six or seven-page story that takes place entirely in the hero's office and ends with him stepping aside and letting a weasely little loser get killed.

The first line read: "It was cold and rainy in L.A. I live in Brooklyn, so I didn't much care." I thought it was pretty cool back then, but I was much younger.

I created my own private eye, Nick Morocco. I took the name after one of my dad's customers and wrote about three or four stories featuring this guy in Brooklyn, with no license, no office, and apparently no common sense as he constantly got his rear end in a sling. I'm sure these stories around here some place, I'm just not so sure I want to read them.

When I was a kid I used to thumb through the Yellow Pages and look at the ads under "Private Investigators." They were mostly security companies, rather than lone wolf types, and most of them were dedicated to divorce work, unlike so many fictional private eyes who would never go near that sort of thing.

One ad featured a cartoony drawing of a detective with a deer stalker cap and magnifying glass. He was grinning cruelly, I thought, beneath a slogan that said "A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words." I was a child, so I wasn't sure what people would need a picture of, but it seemed kind of creepy.

I found one lone private eye in Brooklyn. There was no ad, just the name, Jack Nordell, a Court Street address, and a phone number. I pictured him as this tough-looking guy with a fedora, working out of his office beneath the Brooklyn Bridge. I found out later my geography was a little off. I don't know whatever happened to Jack Nordell.

One time the phone company mistakenly ran our home phone with a private detective agency. Every so often someone would call looking for a shamus and we had to explain the mistake to them.

I imagined what it would be like if I fibbed a little and actually took a case. I could solve it on my own and show everyone I had what it takes to be a private eye.

One time my mother picked up the phone and the woman at the other end of the line got right down to business:

"I want a man followed," she said, skipping any kind of greeting.

We never did find out what that woman's story was, but it sounds like a straying husband. It's ironic, too, that my mother took the call, because during the bad days of my parents' marriage--my mother called them "The Troubles"--she actually hired a private detective to follow my father.

My father was cheating on my mom with some tramp. He made very little effort to hide it and had become quite abusive to my mother. It got so bad around my house we all used to groan every night when we heard my father's car coming up the alley because we knew we were in for a night of screaming, fighting and misery.

My mother got the private eye just to make everything legal for the upcoming divorce.

Watching the Detectives

I remember the night she served the papers on him. The detectives showed up at our house and took my mother to the girlfriend's apartment. I remember one gray-haired man who looked like an-ex New York cop, all business in this light gray suit. I later found out that they angled their car up against my father's, so it would look like they had crashed into it.

Then they went upstairs, knocked up the apartment door and said there had been an accident and they needed to talk to my father. When he opened the door, my mother, who was standing in the hallway with the detectives, formally identified my father, the detectives served the divorce papers, and got the hell out of there.

My mom and the four kids took off for a hotel in the neighborhood where we lived like criminals, hiding from my father, I guess. My mother used the name "Helen Morgan" when she signed in, causing the clerk to mention a famous singer by the same name.

I called myself "Matt Morgan," my first official work of fiction. I wanted a bogus name, too. I wanted a whole new identity, someone who didn't have to live like this.

We got back to our house a few days later and found my father had smashed the front window with a brick and forced his way into the house. He wasn't around and when my brother and I left for school the next morning, my mother said if we saw our father we should keep walking.

Do not get into his car, she said.

We joined a few of our friends and walked half-a-block to Fifth Avenue, and there he was; my father was sitting in his car, waiting for us. He got out and approached us, and my brother ran like hell. He chased us for a few yards, but I guess thought better of it, not wanting to make a scene.

My brother and I took a convoluted route to school, trying to escape my father the way a good private eye would shake off a tail. We stopped in an alley one point and I asked my brother "do you see him?" We could have used Mike Hammer right about then.

When we finally got to school, our friends approached us, and I can still remember how their eyes bulged in disbelief at what they had just witnessed.

"What happened?" one of them asked.

I don't know what we said, what reason we gave to our friends for running away from our own father. I wanted to be Matt Morgan again.

My parents never got divorced. My father moved into our basement for a time, so the house was like Berlin under the Russians. There was a lot of tension, but he eventually talked his way back into our mother's life.

We were so angry with her, but I suspect as an unemployed woman with four children didn't have many choices back then.

Now my mother is dead, my father is so old and feeble it's nearly impossible to believe how this man once terrorized his wife and children. "The Troubles" were so long ago, it seems like fiction, an old episode of "Mannix."

My watched only needed a new battery. The guy who called me looking for his wife must have finally figured out he was dialing a wrong number and, I hope, tracked her down. Matt Morgan and Nick Morocco are dust-covered shadows from my childhood.

I don't read private dectective novels much anymore. They all seem the same, with the snappy patter, cut rate philosophizing, cardboard femme fatales. To me, the genre is as dead as Kelsey's nuts.

But I still tip my fedora to Mickey Spillane for taking me out for a spin through his world of neon, lipstick, and murder.

How could I do such a thing, you ask?

It was easy.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Thank You for the Goodness

I broke a promise to myself the other day when I bought some used books from this guy on 73rd Street.

He's a big, husky black man and he sets his table outside the Chase bank branch on Broadway, a block or so away from my shrink's office.

I always tell myself, no more books, you have piles of them you still haven't read yet.

But then I'll see a novel I've been looking for, or I'll read the jacket copy, and, think, gee, it sounds pretty good, and it's only a couple of bucks...

So that's what happened again on Thursday, when I picked up a copy of House of Sand and Fog and some English novel that won the Booker Prize in 1988.

As I handed over my money, the proprietor of the sidewalk business nodded to me.

"Thank you for the goodness," he said.

It's a good line and it comes to mind today, the fourth anniversary of my mother's death. Her mass card says she "Entered in Eternal Life" today and I surely do like the sound of that. I usually describe it as the very worst day of my life.

My mother had been hospitalized for months, possibly a year, and we had grown used to visiting her at St. Vincent's Hospital in Staten Island. Her condition had worsened as time went on, as her lungs grew weaker.

Time's Winged Chariot

I went to see her a few days before she died and she was barely able to move. Her face was covered in sweat and I had to give her water by dipping a stick with a small sponge one the end and putting it into her mouth. When she sucked on the sponge it made me think of a wounded animal.

I got up to leave because I had to get home and order dinner for my father. I remember my mother's face falling as she looked at me.

"You're going?" she asked weakly.

I told her I had to go take care of Dad, though looking back I don't see why he couldn't have called the restaurant and ordered his own supper. I promised her I'd be back on Wednesday and I left, not realizing that those two words would be the last thing my mother ever said to me.

My sister and father went to see her the next day. They suggested I come out and see her, but again, it was like I put a pair of blinders on my mind. I told them I'd see her on Wednesday, even after my dad said she might not last that long. Still, I didn't go.

I think now I just couldn't bare to see her in such terrible condition. I conned myself into thinking that this awful situation was working on my schedule, when in fact none of us had any say in the matter.

I came home that night and found my father had created this fiction, which he told me and everyone he spoke to on the phone.

"The doctors said if Mom gets through tonight, she'll be okay," he said.

I'm fairly no doctor said that to him, that he made this condition up as way of not facing the inevitable. I was in no place to point fingers.

My mother's doctor called me the next day, Tuesday, at my office, and told me my mother had gone into cardiac arrest.

I was working at Goldman Sachs, right on Water Street, and after calling all my relatives and telling them to meet me at the hospital, I ran downstairs to get the Staten Island ferry, only to see it pulling out into the water. There wouldn't be another ferry for something like 30 minutes.

I ran around in circles for a few minutes, then decided to take the train back to Bay Ridge and then jump on the bus to the hospital. By the time I got to 86th Street, I said, screw this, and dashed around the corner to a local car service and got a car to take me to St. Vincent's.

I have to confess here that as I headed for the car service, I saw a young woman, attractive, bare midriff, and I thought how good looking she was. Then I reminded myself this was an emergency, you pig, and get your ass in gear.

The car pulled up to the hospital 20 minutes later and as soon as I stepped to the curb, I heard my sister shouting my name.

"Mom's dead," she said to me as I approached her.

Oh, I never cried so hard in my life. I threw my arms around her and I wailed, I didn't give a damn who was looking, what they thought or what they did. I could hear my sister saying "we have to be strong for Dad," but at that moment I wasn't being strong for anyone. I was going to pieces.

Family Gathering

My Dad showed up and as he spoke I noticed his voice was high, cracking, and then I realized he was crying, something I had only seen him do once, years before, when he was watching a special about JFK.

We went upstairs to my mother's room. It was horrible seeing her body in bed like that and I quickly left the room. I heard my sister say "I love you, ma," but I couldn't go near her. My brother noted that she was free of all the machines and tubes that needed to keep her lungs working. She was away from all that misery now. She had entered into eternal life.

The hospital chaplain came up and I blurted something stupid about how I wish I had done more with my life before my mother had died, which is rather self-centered and, if you knew my mother, completely unnecessary. She didn't give a damn how successful we were, just so long as we were happy.

"I hope you have someone that can help you process that," the chaplain said to me.

Process? I'm not sure what she meant, but it sounded an awful lot like her job.

The next days were consumed by preparation for the wake and funeral. It was bizarre, picking out a coffin and the clothes to for my mother to wear. Life really does go on, you have things to do even when you'd rather run off and hide in a some cave, you just can't.

It was terribly hot on the day of my mother's funeral and I remember sitting in the limo as we rode down Fifth Avenue, right by the bank where my mother used to work, I looked at the people outside, on the street, living their lives, doing their Saturday shopping. I wanted to be out there, too, living a normal, mundane life.

After the funeral we all tried to get back to that normal life. I called my father from the office the first Monday after my mother was buried and he stared crying again.

"I'm missing, Mom," he said, his voice drenched with pain.

I started crying and I got off the line quickly and ran down the hall to the men's room, my face pointed downward.

Four years have gone by and it's hard to believe. My father has since been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and has become quite frail.

We planned to visit the cemetery on Saturday, one day early, as my brother had made plans to look at a new house with his new wife on Sunday. He was driving, so that pretty much settled things. I was watching TV on Friday when my father approached me.

"Where's mother?" he asked, quite seriously.

I paused for a second. I hate having to remind him that his wife of 50-odd years has been dead since '02.

"She's gone," I said softly. "We're going to go see her tomorrow."

Four years, so hard to believe. We all piled into my brother's car, went over the bridge to the cemetery in Staten Island. For a while, when my father was still able to drive, he would come out here nearly every day, telling me, "I went to see mom today."

I hated that phrase, but I saw how important it was to him to think he was visiting rather than standing over a patch of ground. I used to worry because his driving skills had deteriorated so severely I was convinced he'd get killed in a car crash. I'd call every day from work at 4 pm, praying he had made it home safely.

Now he's unable to drive and my niece, Kristin, who used to sit on my father's lap, was helping her grandfather out of the car and walking him over to my mother's grave.

We went to breakfast and then headed home. I guess time has taken some of the sting out of my mother's death, but I do miss her. The late blues singer, Johnny Adams, does a song called "You Don't Miss Your Water" about a busted love affair, but it makes me think of my mother. You really don't miss your water until the well goes dry.

For a long time after my grandmother died, my mother would begin crying at the slightest thing. I was a child and it felt strange and awkward seeing her cry. She would often ask me, "do you remember grandma?" Of course, I did.

When I chose Martin as my confirmation name in honor of St. Martin de Porres, to whom my grandmother prayed and gave money, my mother was sure this was a miracle and she cried again.

I didn't what she was going through at the time, how much it hurt to lose your mother. I didn't know this until I lost her. And now I know all too well.

I want to think about the good times we had, how my mother was always there, always supportive. How she put up with temper tantrums, my whining, and outright stupidity. If I had shred of goodness in me, I know it came from her.

So thank you, Mom, thank you for the goodness. I'll do my best to pass it along.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Going Up

Four strangers get on an elevator in a downtown building: the Asian woman, the tall man with glasses, the beefy middle-aged office guy, and me.

We each press the buttons for our respective floors: 9, 11, 12, 15, and then fall silent staring straight ahead. It is eerie, no office chatter, no discussions of weekend plans, just four strangers in an elevator, 9, 11, 12, 15.

We look at the mini-TV screen in our elevator, which reels off news headlines, weather reports, and of course, advertisements. God forbid we spend the few seconds on an elevator not watching television, not being hit with more commercials.

The company that makes the elevator TV's is called Captivate, which is scarily appropriate. The only way you can avoid looking at the thing is to turn and face the wall.

I actually applied for a job there, back when I was a "consultant" at Goldman Sachs. "Consultant" was corporate speak for "temp" and while it looks great on a resume, the truth was all too apparent. Nobody ever consulted me about anything during my whole time there.

I wanted to get a real job, one with benefits and paid vacation--vanishing concepts in today's cutthroat consultant atmosphere. So I e-mailed the Captivate folks and they wrote back, asking my current salary.

I was making good money at Goldman, very good money. But with no sick days, minimal benefits and a rather questionable future, the quality of the paycheck was few notches below the number on my check.

But, like a dummy, I just told these people my flat salary, not explaining the lack of all the goodies that make a job tolerable. I think they must have keeled over at the number, as I never heard from them again.

It's a shame because I had an idea for installing TV's in bathroom stalls. What better time to hit people with commercials? I was going to call it Crap-tivate. You never know.

I'm struggling with yet another illness, something between a cold and a gypsy curse, that will not let go, even in the middle of the summer. Several people in my office have it and people cough and hack so loudly you'd swear it was the dead of winter.

Love in an Elevator

I need something to take my mind off my poor health, my rage, my frustration. I hate being sick, I hate myself for being sick. I am not one inch closer to my goals than I was five years ago and illness only turns up the flames on my despair. So I look around at the faces in the elevator.

I love when its just me and a woman on an elevator. I am so flirty, so outgoing, so unlike every other situation, where I look down at my shoes and take 20 minutes to get up the courage to say hello. I mean, I am getting a little better, but in a elevator I am borderline predatory.

Nothing has ever come of my elevator efforts. I did get a very nice black woman's phone number one time--it was her phone, but it was a number.

She got on the elevator when I was working at Editor & Publisher, back when it was a family-owned business located in an old building on, I think, 19th Street? Not sure.

Anyway, she got on, saw my Looney Tunes tie, a gift from a dear friend, and laughed. That was all I needed and we got to talking. I walked her down the corner, saying I was going for lunch and asking her to join me. She declined but gave me her business card.

So I called her a few days later. She sounded somewhat surprised to hear from me and completely amazed that I was asking her out. She was also not interested, and politely declined.

"But it was nice making your acquaintance," she told me.

That was one of the more formal "fuck-offs" I ever got. When I told one of my friends, he was amazed.

"I give you all the credit in the world just for asking her," he said.

Yeah, there is that. And I haven't curtailed my elevator flirting. The TV screen is a good icebreaker. Just point to a story and make some comment. You never know.

Four strangers on an elevator, 9, 11, 12, 15. Each one gets off at his or her floor, and the next one silently moves to the door, like a parachute jumper getting ready for the big leap.

It could be a Twilight Zone episode, where we all become part of some bizarre story, like the one with the clown, the soldier, the ballerina, and some other types I can't remember, all locked up in this strange room. Every few minutes their world got rocked by some tremendous booming sound.

It turned out they were all dolls in some toy drive bin and the booming sound was a child ringing a hand bell on street corner.

Of course, if the cable snapped and we all plunged to our deaths, the Post would run an "Elevator Horror" headline, or something equally tasteful. Or someone could do a take on The Bridge of San Luis Rey, one of those novels I keep meaning to read.

My fellow passengers keep getting off, going on to do their business, live their lives, until it's just me and my virus, going to the top floor. I look up at the TV screen and see there's an online quiz going on.

What do you like best about your city?

I think about the numbers, 9, 11, a spooky combination in this town. I think about the Trade Center going down, the steady of plots to destroy my hometown, blowing up tunnels, destroying train stations.

What do I like best about my city? I like that fact that it's still standing.

And then I get off at my floor.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Uncle B.J.'s Millions

Poor old Uncle B.J. I never met him; I didn't know he existed until last week, but I'm sure going to miss him.

I learned about B.J. from an e-mail I received recently that read "Private and Urgent Message to You: Rob Lenihan" in the subject line.

It was from the desk of Barrister Ambi Peters, Esq., in Togo, telling me that his client, one B.J. Lenihan, "a national of your country," died on Oct. 31, 2003 along with his wife and two children "in a ghastly Motor accident."

Mr. Peters said that after trying to track down B.J.'s family through several embassies, he took his search to the Internet and came up empty. And that's where I come in.

"I have contacted you to assist me in repatriating the money left behind by my client before they get confiscated by the Bank where this huge deposits were lodged," the barrister wrote.

It seems Uncle B.J. has $10.5 million in the bank and Mr. Peters wants to present me as the next of kin so the proceeds can be forked over to me, and then old Ambi and I split up the dough.

"All I require is your honest and cooperation to enable us to see this deal through," my would be partner wrote, taking some liberties with the English language. "I guarantee that this will be executed under a legitimate arrangement that will protect you from any breach of the law."

All I have to do to get the money train rolling is send Ambi my full name and address, my occupation and position (reclining?), my date of birth and my private telephone and fax numbers.

A total stranger e-mails me out of the blue, tells me about the death of another total stranger in a ghastly motor accident and wants me to palm myself as next of kin so he and I can rack in millions of dollars. Sounds legit to me.

It's like something out of cheap suspense novel, where I have to pretend I have to masquerade as a long-lost relative in order to pull some scam. I guess I should study up on old B.J., learn his likes and dislikes, so I can prove we were related.

Ambi will sit me down with a file in his lap and fire rapid fire questions at me, testing my knowledge of B.J.'s life, and if I get one thing wrong, he'll angrily slam the file on the coffee table--we've got to have one--and shout, "no, no, no!" I'm sure Ambi's a nice guy but anyone's liable to be cranky with all this money at stake.

Maybe I should use an upper crusty accent or wear an eye patch. Usually in these stories the real family member shows up in the last act to make things bad for our hero.

I see that old Uncle B.J. kicked the bucket on Halloween and I think that's appropriate. The whole thing sounds like a trick rather than a treat. I know I've got family in California, Michigan, and a few other states, but this is the first I've heard about anyone in Togo. And where the hell did he get $10.5 million?

Togo or Not To Go?

I realized I didn't know much about Togo, except that it was mentioned at the beginning of the old Second City TV show when a television comes flying out the window of a thatched hut. Other than that, I knew nothing. I decided I'd do a little research, since Togo was about to make me rich.

I started with the CIA World Factbook. The Agency may have dropped the ball on 9/11 and weapons of mass destruction, but I figured they'd have their act together on all things Togo. The Western African nation borders the Bight of Benin, between Benin and Ghana.

It is slightly smaller than West Virginia, with a population of 5,548,702.

Togo has come under fire from international organizations for human rights abuses and is plagued by political unrest, the report said.

It seems that Togo's first democratically elected president was overthrown in 1963. He was shot and killed while attempting to scale the walls of the American Embassy to seek asylum. That sounds pretty ghastly, and it wasn't an accident. More recently, I heard Togo got clobbered in the World Cup competition.

When I was a reporter in Waterbury, Conn., I did a story about Nigerian scams similar to this one. The Internet hadn't taken off yet, so the con artists were relying on snail mail to reel in their victims.

If you read this nonsense you'd never think anyone would fall for it, but at least one person, a young African-American man, actually went to Nigeria, apparently thinking he would strike it rich. He wound up being murdered, the poor bastard.

I guess these poverty-stricken places like Nigeria and Togo are breeding grounds for these con games. The criminals there figure America is the land of opportunity and that somewhere within the 50 states will sign up for deal that's too good to be true.

I got an e-mail from a Mr. Heng Sang recently offering me a shot at some big business deal in Hong Kong. There were no long lost relatives in this deal, just a promise of untold riches. Maybe I should hook up Heng Sang with Ambi Peters and let them screw each other.

Then I got an e-mail from some outfit pushing a company called Falcon Energy, which is pleased to announce that it has fully acquired the exploration licenses for five mining properties in the mineral rich region of Mongolia.

It seems Mongolia, Ghengis Kahn's hometown, has a wide variety of mineral resources and the e-mail advises me to get in on the deal now because will "WILL EXPLODE in next 2 weeks!!"

Yeah, I'll get right back to you. Meanwhile, I got another e-mail saying that records (?) show that you I've been contacted in the past regarding my guaranteed cash but I haven't responded.

"This is guaranteed cash," the e-mail says. "We know it's not like you to knowingly pass up on cash so we assume this is probably a mistake. Therefore, we encourage you to log on now and claim your guaranteed cash. Your cash is guaranteed. At no point will you be required to pay anything."

Of course I won't have to pay anything. And Togo is guaranteed to win the World Cup next year.

W.C. Fields used to say you can't cheat an honest man and he was right. People, myself most definitely included, are obsessed with getting rich quick. We see the wealthy movie stars, heavy-hitting business men, look at the godawful jobs we're forced to go to every day, and figure, hey, maybe I can bail out of this nightmare, too.

Everyone's A Winner

Years ago, when I was a reporter in Stroudsburg, Pa., the Pennsylvania lottery became some huge, people were coming from neighboring states to buy tickets. Since Stroudsburg was just over the border from Jersey, people flooded this little town of 5,000 people, all wanting to hit the big number.

The town was going crazy. The police chief told me his officers arrested two guys selling bogus lottery tickets. There were brawls as people got fed up waiting in long lines to buy tickets. One of the Stroudsburg cops told me all the officers in the department had chipped in for tickets.

"If we win," he told me, "we'll be gone and you'll find 12 badges on the desk here."

I thought everyone had gone crazy, but a year or two later, I got it into my head that I might have won the Pennsylvania lottery myself. In early December, the lottery commission said there was unclaimed prize money and warned that if the ticket holder did not step forward before January 1, he or she would forfeit their winnings.

I had purchased a lottery ticket sometime during that year and tossed into the bloated mess that was my apartment. When I read that story, my blood ran cold as I thought I might have the winning ticket and would miss out on hundreds of thousands of dollars. It's not like me to knowingly pass up on cash.

During Christmas week, when I was visiting my family in Brooklyn, I called the Lottery Commission in Harrisburg and tried to get more information. All the woman could tell me was to find that ticket.

I never did find the ticket, so I guess there's a chance I lost a fortune. But I think the odds that I had the winning numbers were about as good as my getting old B.J.'s money. I guess I'll have to keep working for a living.

I got another e-mail the other day, but this one wasn't looking for money. It came to me written entirely in caps, but I toned it down a little so it would be easier on the eyes. I did not correct the spelling, though.

"Please write me," the e-mail said. "I writting this letter with dur respect and heartful of tear since we have not known or meet our selves previously I am asking for your to helpme writte me I will give you more dateils."

I don't know where this came from or what this person wants. It sounds pretty serious, though, so I guess there's only one question to ask.

What would Uncle B.J. do?

Monday, July 03, 2006

My Fellow Americans

Flash Gordon could always whip Ming the Merciless, but around my house he was no match for LBJ.

I was a kid in grade school when President Lyndon Baines Johnson came to Bay Ridge.

We don't get too many U.S. presidents around this way, so it was a pretty big deal, I suppose, but back then all I wanted to do was watch Flash Gordon on the afternoon kid's show.

Flash Gordon was an old movie serial, made in the 30's, so they were ancient even back when I was a kid. My parents watched Flash in the theater when they were kids.

I guess the local TV stations got the rights to these creaky old chestnuts for a song and threw them on the air for adventure hungry kids like me to enjoy.

Station Identification

Looking back, I realize Flash Gordon had pathetic scripts, abysmal acting, and the crappiest special effects on this or any other planet. But back then none of that matter to me. I loved every minute of those silly things.

So this one day I came home from school, sat down in front of the old black and white Motorola and started watching my boy Flash kick ass all over cosmos.

Ah, the old Motorola. What memories I have that battered, unreliable pile of junk. I don't know why my parents, probably my father, bought that thing, but it must have been hexed by a one-eye gypsy with cataracts.

It was always breaking down or hacking up miserable, barely distinguishable images. And if there was an electrical storm anywhere on the Eastern Seaboard, the thing turned into a fuzzy-screened radio.

There was a science fiction show called The Outer Limits that began with this blank screen and a deep, serious voice intoning, "There is nothing wrong with your television." And all us smart-assed kids would say, "that's what you think!"

I was watching The Hound of the Baskervilles once and just at the first victim saw...something coming toward him, as his eyes bulged with terror, and his mouth pulled back for a horrfying scream, the tube blew and I was looking at a blank screen. God, was I pissed.

The TV had this huge bulge on the back, perennially covered in dust, and I always thought it would make a cool army helmet. I thought about prying it off many times but I figured that makeshift helmet would not prevent my father from ripping me limb from limb.

Once, only once, did I see a commercial for a Motorola TV. It starred an actor who played one Phil Silvers' cohorts on "Sgt. Bilko." In the ad, this guy and his buddy go one about the wonders of the Motorola television and all I could do was sit there and shake my head in disbelief. Clearly, they were getting paid to spout this crap.

Tune in Next Week

On this day, though, I was feeling confident the Motorola would stay alive as Flash took off for the stars. Flash Gordon was broadcast in serial form, just like in the movies, and each episode would end with a cliffhanger.

My father would always point out that the actors' hats would never come off during the fight scenes, no matter how hard these guys hit each other. They could throw each other through windows and the hats would still stay on.

All the cliffhangers had the same set-up. Each week it would look like the hero was going to die, with his car going off a cliff or a bomb going off. But in the next chapter, you'd see the same scene from a different angle, showing the hero jumping to safety, or diving behind a brick wall in the last second.

It was a total rip-off and it bothered me even when I was a kid. But I always tuned in for more.

In this particular episode, Flash was about to be cut in half by some half-man, half-lobster creature. Since Buster Crabbe portrayed Flash, I wonder if this was some kind of visual pun--you know, crab...lobster? Get it? Yeah, it is pretty lame, isn't it?

Anyway, old Flash was struggling fierecly in this thing's claws, but it looked like he was going to buy the farm. And that was the exact moment, the very second, when my mother stormed into the livingroom and angrily switched off the TV.

"The President of the United States is coming," she declared, "and you're watching television?"

I watched in shock as the image on the television rapidly shrink into a small dot in the center of the screen. I could not believe her timing; it was like she in league with Emperor Ming.

What the hell did I care about the president? LBJ just ruled America; Flash Gordon conquered the universe, for God's sake. And right now he was in some heavy duty trouble.

Didn't matter to my mother. My parents got us all together, hustled us up half a block to Fifth Avenue and waited across the street from the funeral parlor on the corner of Senator Street.

We had plenty of company as people had lined up along the avenue, all forsaking Flash Gordon for LBJ. What the hell was wrong with these people, I thought.

My memories of LBJ are mostly based on parodies of the man. Every time he went on TV, his face would fill the entire screen. Years later, I come to find out he was something of a ladies man--yeah, I don't believe it either.

This was in the pre-Lewinsky days and reporters just didn't purse stories like that. Supposedly, at some point in his career, LBJ told a bunch of reporters that "just because I go to some places at night doesn't mean you boys have to write about it." Maybe he was charming in person.

I remember Johnson saying "My fellow Americans, I come to you tonight with a heavy heart," and then every comedian in the country picked it up.

The comedian Pat Paulsen, who was running for president himself as he appeared on The Smothers Brothers Show, did a variation on that theme, saying "I come to you tonight with a heavy liver."

There was a impressionist named David Frye, who used to do a dead-on impersonation of LBJ. Frye had a line that always made my father laugh.

"My fellow Americans," he'd say in his LBJ accent, "I never lied to you...I may have kidded you a little, but I never lied to you."

I remember Johnson used to refer to his wife as Lady Bird and he had some name for his daughter, but I can't recall what it was. When he was running for election, his Republican challenger, Barry Goldwater, ended all his TV commercials with the line, "in your heart, you know he's right."

To which my old Italian grandmother would fiercely reply, "In your shit, you know he's right!" Grandma was not one to mince words.

Bar None

So there we were on Fifth Avenue waiting for the president to drive through our neighborhood. There used to be rathole bar on the avenue and a bunch of losers were standing outside half in the bag.

The bar is gone now, but it didn't die easily. Sometime after the LBJ appearance, one of the boozehounds got thrown through the bar's big picture window.

The owner used his head and replaced the huge piece of glass with a much smaller window, which could only accommodate a low flying pygmy, should one happen to be in Bay Ridge and be in need of a drink.

Years later, I was hanging out on Senator Street with a group of friends on a Saturday night when a young man came running down the block and begged us to let him join our circle of friends. He had crashed his car into a vehicle parked outside the rathole bar and its denizens charged out looking to skin him alive.

"Oh, God, I can't believe this," the young fellow said. "Do any of you guys have a gun I could borrow?"

Hmm...let me see. Ah, nothing in pockets, no ankle holster, no, harpoon's in the shop, and the buffalo lance needs to be waxed. I guess I left all my weaponry in my other suit. Maybe I still have that mace in the cellar.

If Flash Gordon were here I'm sure he'd loan you his ray gun, big guy, but he's probably in some other part of the galaxy.

The young man took off a few minutes later, the rathole bar eventually gave way to a heating oil company, and LBJ died.

But that night on Fifth Avenue he was very much alive and keeping us waiting. Waiting equals torture for kids and I was going crazy, just standing there with my family and half of the neighborhood. Where was this clown? I was a seven-year-old kid. Didn't he know I had things to do?

Finally, we heard the motorcade coming and we all looked as this limo flew by us--and I mean flew--and someone waved at us. I reasonably sure it was LBJ, but it could have been Howdy Doody, the car was going so fast.

While most everyone cheered, the drunks outside the rathole bar all booed and my mother turned to my dad and said indignantly, "booing the president?"

Hey, I felt like booing him, too. The big-eared bastard took me away from my program, made us wait half the night, and now he's disappearing down Fifth Avenue like a bat out of hell. In your heart, you know that sucks.

"It was like Mario Andretti was driving that car," I would later tell friends.

It was dark when we walked back home. We thought the evening's excitement was over, but it turned out we locked out of our home. This was a tough situation and I'm not sure even Flash Gordon could help us out of this one.

Now here's where the Motorola of my memory gets a little fuzzy. We got out of this mess somehow, but I can't recall exactly how we did it. One of us--maybe even me--might have gone into my grandmother's first floor apartment through a window, went down into the basement, and then came up through the steps in the cellar.

Whatever happened, we got into our house. As we walked up the stairs, my two brothers started arguing over who had the great idea that got us back in the house. My father finally settled the matter by telling them both to shut up.

I went to bed, feeling disappointed and cheated, having been promised a big event and getting very little in return. That was hardly the first time this had happened and it won't be the last. But I'll always tune in for more.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Stand Up Guy

Okay, I have a right to ask. What's going on here?

I got stood up the other week, which sucks all on its own, but it seems to be happening to me a lot lately. And that really blows.

I met them all through interracial dating sites that brings black women and white men together.

I can give all sort of reasons as to why I got onto this site, but I'll get right to the point: I like black women. Maybe it's from growing up in a white bread neighborhood like Bay Ridge (or the way it used to be), but I do have a thing for the sisters.

I wrote about the first one back in April, when I was ill and this young lady scrubbed the date at the last second. I had to go out on a rainy night with a heavy cold and I didn't get the call until I reached downtown Brooklyn, but that was just fine with me. I did an about-face and went the hell home.

The second one was Shirley, which is not her real name, of course, but I'm not giving her any publicity. Also, she's a lawyer and might sue my ass. Shirley, too, cancelled our first date at the last hour, claiming her ex-husband had stuck her with minding their son for the weekend.

Shirley, You Jest

I wrote about this one, too, in a post called "Honey, Can I Change My Mind?" I got all hot and bothered and left Shirley a harsh voice mail message, she called back and apologized profusely and I felt like a blue ribbon moron.

I thought it was over with Shirley but a few weeks later I contacted her and got a second chance at a first date. We agreed to meet at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, a fabulous place, by the way, and, as usual, I got there first and waited. And waited. And waited.

Shirley called me finally on the cell phone and said she'd be there in 15 minutes later. Okay, I thought, and preceded to wander around the lobby for another 30 minutes. This isn't easy, as BAM's lobby, while very appealing, is not that big.

Finally, I had enough and walked out the door, determined to go home and never have anything to with Shirley again. And that's when she came pulling up in a cab.

"I saw how mad you were," she said, by way of a greeting. And she was right. I was tempted to dump her right there, but I figured I'd make the best of it and took her to a nearby restaurant for drinks.

Shirley was fabulous. A lively, intelligent woman with a variety of interests, connections with the entertainment industry, and plenty of advice for aging showbiz wannabe. All my anger faded as the evening progressed. Even when she told me she was a Republican conservative, it didn't bother me that much. I just wanted to have sex with her.

We walked out of the restaurant holding hands and a young black man came up to us asking for change. I reached for my wallet, while Shirley, her neocon attitude on high alert, began pulling me away.

"He's perfectly healthy," she said with an edge to her voice. "He can get a job."

"I'm sorry," I said to the homeless man. "My wife won't let me do this."

"I'm in a program, ma'am," the homeless man said to Shirley.

It was quite a scene and I was having fun. Finally, I gave the guy a single and promised Shirley that I'd trip a blind man, or kick the cane away from an old lady--something that would warm her frosty Republican heart.

Shirley liked to play both sides of the fence. She talked tough about personal responsibility, but when I pointed out her tardiness she just smiled and invoked CPT: Colored People's Time.

She was blathering all this conservative tripe until I found a dark spot to neary a subway station and started making out with her.

It was nice kissing her; certainly better than listening to her talk. We took a stroll around the block, I took her to a car service and tried to be a gentleman and offered to ride home with her. Shirley took it a different way.

"I'm not sure I want to fuck you yet," she said matter-of-factly.

Christ, was it that obvious? I really was trying to be a gentleman, but I was also really trying to have sex with her. I'm a gentleman and a degenerate.

Date Two...Almost

I thought I was on to something with Shirley, so we agreed to have dinner the following week at an African restaurant not too far from BAM. I get there first, naturally, and I stood outside the restaurant waiting for Shirley. And I kept on waiting.

I crossed the street to look at a statue of some Civil War general. I knew how he felt, just standing with nothing to do. I was hoping pigeons wouldn't start crapping on me. I walked back to the restaurant. I watched the minutes roll by on the Williamsburg Savings Bank clock tower, which loomed over me like Frankenstein's castle. And I got really pissed.

I felt like a drug dealer, for Christ's sake, lurking on the corner waiting for my hophead clientele. I'm thankful I didn't actually go into the restaurant and wait for her at a table like a real loser.

Finally, after 30 freaking minutes, I had to go to the bathroom. I walked the two blocks over to BAM, did the deed, and prepared to race back to my post at the corner like a security guard, but then I stopped. I was not going to hurry for this woman.

I'm not schmuck, not some loser who has to take all kinds of crap just to get a date. She can bloodly well wait for me. I was in the BAM bookstore when my cell phone went off. It was Shirley.

"I'm at the restaurant," she said.

"I was there for the last half-hour," I told her.

"I was late," she said, not even trying to apologize. "I couldn't find your cell phone number."

Okay, you live 10 minutes away, you keep me waiting for so long I've got a five o'clock shadow, you don't have the decency to call me for half-an-hour, and then you don't have the decency to say you're sorry? My God, what a catch!

I started to say something and Shirley pounced.

"So you're standing me up?" she said.

Typical Republican: the rules don't apply to you and when you get caught with your pants down, immediately go on the attack. Somewhere Karl Rove was smiling.

"We could do this another time if you want," she said.

"Maybe that's a good idea," I said, closing my cell phone.

So instead of dinner with a woman on a Friday night, I sat in my living room eating a falafel and watching a Sopranos DVD. That's high living, brother.

The thing is, keeping someone waiting like that, it goes beyond dating. It's just good manners. I wouldn't do that to anyone, not a total stranger, not even a dog, if I should have to meet with one.

And, as a female friend of mine pointed out, the second date is still the magic time when everyone is supposed to be on their best behavoir. If she's yanking my chain this early on, God knows what it would be like six months down the road.

Would it suprise you to hear that I never called Shirley again?

Leslie Does It

And then there was Leslie. What can I say about Leslie, except that's she's a screaming headcase in dire need of medication? I saw her photo on the web site and sent her an email entitled "Such A Lovely Smile." And it was true. She did have a lovely smile.

We exchanged e-mails, had some pleasant phone calls, where I learned she was a Star Trek fan, and then we agreed upon a meet and greet. We kept it simple. We were to meet at the bar of an Italian restaurant in Brooklyn Heights on a Wednesday night for drinks.

I got there first. I grabbed a seat at the bar and waited. And waited. And, oh, Jesus, you know the drill. The time went by, people came in and out of the bar, and I sucked down Diet Cokes. I called her on the cell phone, but I only got the recording. I waited another 10 minutes and called again. No luck.

A woman sat down next to me and I started talking to her. Her name was Elba, she was from the Dominican Republic, and worked at a dress shop a few doors down. I told her I was waiting for someone and she was concerned Leslie would get angry if she walked in and saw us talking.

"That's her problem," I said. "She's late."

So we talked. She told me about her sister, who was visiting her. Elba had five sisters, two brothers and over 100 cousins. She didn't have a lot to do with her family, because, she said "they get under my skin."

I started wondering if Elba was more my type. She was petite, mature, intelligent, and she was there, unlike Leslie, who had apparently been abducted by the Klingons. It had a storybook feel to it: stood up guy meets the girl of his dreams and true love blossoms.

Sounds nice, but I suspect Elba's husband would have a problem with that little scenario. Yep, she let on that she was married. I guess that's why they call them storybook romances as they only happen in fairy tales.

It was time to go. I bid Elba good night and she told me not to worry about Leslie.

"She's not worth it," she said.

When I got home, there was a message from Leslie on my home phone. She had left it at noon, saying she couldn't make it, claiming she didn't have me cell phone number, hoping I'd get this message in time. She was speaking faster and faster.

"I can't do this now," she said, "It's just a bad time for me and I--"

I erased the message. No reason to hear all this psychotic babbling. I was tempted to write her an angry e-mail, something a long the lines of "Thanks, Asswipe," but luckily I didn't. Anyone who would lie so pathetically, who would go through such contortions to avoid seeing me is best avoided.

Elba was right. She wasn't worth it. I'm well rid of her and those other losers and free to go out there and meet someone else.

Let's just hope they're on time.